Our study program began in Munich, which is an apt place to start given that Nazism has its roots in the city. We started off with a lecture in a park, where Professor Robert Jan van Pelt set the historic tone by explaining the excessive inflation in Germany’s post-World War I economy. He also gave us each a one billion Reichsmark, which we learned could not even buy an egg in interwar Germany! We then visited German World War I memorials where Professor van Pelt explained to us how anti-Semitism rose during the interwar time. This occurred for a number of reasons, namely, Germans felt that Jews had shirked military duty in World War I. There was also the false idea that it was Jews who had been responsible for the humiliating war reparations and stipulations inflicted on Germany after World War I. Jews, it seemed, had “stabbed Germany in the back.” These myths, taken with the distraught interwar economy, set Jews up as a target in Germany, and laid the foundation for Jews being viewed as outsiders in German society.
Following this we visited and learned about sites and monuments especially important to the rise of Nazism. These included the Feldherrnhalle, where the November 9, 1923 attempted Nazi takeover (the Putsch) was halted in a bloody clash with the police, initiating the idea of Nazi martyrdom which was later used to indoctrinate Germans. We also visited Koeningsplatz, site of the still-existing building of the former Nazi headquarters. Our sunny tour of this modern and beautiful city was inexorably shadowed by Munich’s tainted history, and it is difficult to see the city afresh without also remembering that it harbored one of the most monstrous regimes known to humanity.
In addition to visiting sites from the former National Socialist government our group also visited the site of the old synagogue of Munich, which we were saddened to learn is now an upscale department store. We found a glimmer of hope, however, when we traveled to Munich’s new synagogue. A sparkling building modeled after a tabernacle in the desert, the building seems truly fitting as a Jewish oasis.