As a German Jew Raising a Family in America, I Did Not Sign Up for This

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 13: Members of the National Guard walk through the Visitor Center of the U.S. Capitol on January 13, 2021 in Washington, DC. Security has been increased throughout Washington following the breach of the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday, and leading up to the Presidential inauguration. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images)

The Spanish-born, U.S.-educated philosopher Jorge Santayana wrote in 1905: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Growing up Jewish in Germany, this was a leitmotif. My maternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors, and the legacy of the Third Reich — the idea that democracy is fragile and ethnocentric nationalists were to be feared — was preeminent. This became especially apparent in the aftermath of the German unification, when the country saw a rise of violent xenophobic neo-Nazism, targeting people with immigrant backgrounds, Jews and, yes, democracy.

Around that time, my parents took us on a vacation to Washington D.C. and New York. I remember how amazed I was to see how close one could get to the White House, an indication of how strong democracy was in this country. In New York, I was fascinated by the diversity and peaceful coexistence one could experience in everyday life. Most of all, I was amazed how a diverse, self-confident and creative Jewish community was part of this metropolis.

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