Ghetto Fighters’ Museum sends first-ever group to Germany, ends boycott

By Assaf Uni and Eli Ashkenazi

Tags: Holocaust, Germany

After 60 years of boycotting Germany, the Ghetto Fighters’ Museum has sent nine of its instructors to Berlin for a seminar about the Holocaust attended by German educators, Haaretz has learned.

The unwritten prohibition, initiated when the institution was established, was maintained long after Israel and Germany normalized relations. Until last week the management had refused to send delegates to Germany or receive official visitors from that country.

“We realized that we needed to change our ways,” museum director Simcha Stein said.

The museum is next to Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot [Ghetto Fighters], south of Nahariya, which was founded by Holocaust survivors. Over the years, the museum has seen some angry discussions about cooperating with German institutions. Some veteran workers even walked out on some of these discussions. Most of the museum employees were members of the kibbutz, which declared a ban on the use of German-made products. “With time this sentiment was eroded,” Stein concedes. He himself has never visited Germany, but he says he supports the decision to send the teachers and instructors to Berlin.

That erosion, Stein recalls, included the museum’s hosting of German university students in the 1970s, after the students presented written approval for their visit by then-chancellor Willy Brandt, who had helped fight the Nazis.

A decade later the museum agreed to host the Federal Republic of Germany’s ambassador to Israel, but only as part of a private visit and not in his official capacity as a representative of the German government. The visit, Stein says, was hotly contested by some of the older employees.

The current landmark visit was made possible because of a German activist working to promote dialogue between Israelis and Germans. The activist, Mania Kasten, called the museum from Germany a few weeks ago to talk to Tanya Ronen, who is responsible for relations with Western and Central Europe for the museum.