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Bridge of Understanding
an article by Sarah Kaplan, UNA-SD

Last September I had the privilege of participating on a program called Bridge of Understanding (www.bridge-understanding.de). As one of 15 American Jewish university students to attend, I traveled with my peers to Germany for a two-week reflective journey. We were sponsored by the German government and the Germany Jewish community to experience modern-day Germany for ourselves, particularly to witness how Germany has dealt with its Nazi past. As the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, my image of Germany has always been slightly tainted. For this reason, I felt it was necessary to participate on Bridge of Understanding, to move beyond my own stereotypes and misperceptions of a country I now eagerly desire to revisit.

Our journey began in Munich, which is infamous for having become the Nazi headquarters. Today, trendy restaurants and boutiques abound in this charming city. At first glance, it is easy to dismiss the city's haunting past until one stumbles into Odeonsplatz, one of Munich's main squares, where Hitler used to address the masses.

I tried imagining what the locals felt passing through this square on a regular basis. This square, which I recognized from haunting textbook photos of Nazi Germany, is simply another place for locals to hang out. I was first put off by this realization, feeling that Odeonsplatz should no longer be frequented because of its notorious history. Soon after, I discovered that whereas the locals have moved on and accepted their past, I was still stuck in it. They have reclaimed the city as their own, creating a metropolis focused on the future that is still, however, constantly reminded of its past.

Moreover, our visit at the Bavarian State Ministry of Education in Munich taught us that out of all the German states, Bavaria is the most committed to Holocaust education. My experience in Munich enabled me to understand that although Germany cannot shed itself from its past, its past should no longer define it.

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This report was posted on April 10, 2006.