German federal election 2017

Lizzie Doron: Coming to Germany from Israel for equality, freedom and compassion

Germany was the manifestation of hell when Israeli writer Lizzie Doron was growing up in the 1950s. Now the winds of tolerance make it a desirable place, she writes describing her complex relationship with the country.

Lizzie Doron quote

"So will it be Merkel???" asks my friend who owns a bookshop as we sit together in the shop's coffee corner.

"What do you think?" he wants to know without providing further details.

"The refugees, what do you think of the refugees?"

I shrink; refugees are an issue that touches my soul.

"And if you were German, who would you vote for?" he insists.

"But I'm not," I tell him.

***

Top of the list of taboos

Germany and I have a lengthy and complex relationship. As a person born in the '50s in the State of Israel to parents who survived the Holocaust, Germany was present in my life from birth. People said they had come from hell, and that hell was Germany.

Any product "Made in Germany" would be thrown out of my home and my friends' homes and would be swallowed up in the ground. German was a forbidden language and traveling to Germany was at the top of the taboo list at the time.

However, secret of secrets, my childhood was accompanied by my mother's strange whispers: "Germany has known other times", "Germany is the cradle of culture," "not all Germans are bad," "Germany is the place I dreamed of living in."

She managed to confuse and annoy me.

"But I have a country," I told her angrily.

"Two are better, und du brauchst zwei Heimats," she would say to me repeatedly.

***

The '90s

My mother is no longer with us, many of the people with whom I grew up as a child have passed away. My childhood events and memories, my life story have become a series of books. When my first book was published, it was a German publisher that first decided to translate my book.

Following the book, the taboo was gone, I came to Germany.

Watch video 26:00

Germany and Israel: A frayed relationship?

The falling walls of fear

I came in fear, anxiety, step by step and cautiously I developed relationships with many of the second and third generation, torn by trauma, guilt and self-reflection. 

With every new book I published, the walls of fear would fall.

A slow, difficult and excruciating process of transformation began to generate within me and eventually I was willing to listen to other peoples' life stories.

When I subsequently met Palestinians I felt that the interpersonal relationships we created and the insight I gained provided material for my two latest books. To my surprise, Israeli publishers rejected these books and, in the end, they were published only in Germany.

Students of a variety of races in a Bonn school

Germany is a desirable destination for people from around the world

Living in two worlds

Since then, I have lived in both worlds. I am learning to handle the problems of managing my life in a language I do not speak fluently and within the restricted time that I am allowed to stay.

As I watch the complex and evolving relationships between the German people and foreigners, as I observe the economic changes and the social upheavals they cause, a sense of concern envelops me — and on the days when the neo-Nazis stage protests, I discover the profound anxiety within me.

"I don't think I could live here," I say to myself.

***

"I just hope the right doesn't rise to power," I surprise my friend after we had already become immersed in a conversation about the summer of 2017 that refused to come to Berlin.

"And what about the left, the extreme left also creates dramas here," he says with unease.

Read more: Left party defends use of swastika to help election campaign

We somehow returned to the subject of the election that had been hovering above us and as if to calm things down he adds, "For the time being, they are still fringe groups in Germany."

We experience a few moments of silence.

***

Winds of tolerance

Recently, my circle of German friends is growing. I have also been blessed with new friends, including a Syrian artist, an Iraqi author, a Tunisian playwright, an Iranian architect and a Greek chef. Every day that I spend in Germany, I meet people and hear stories that I can only encounter here. I think about the fact that my son, who has come to Germany as an artist, also finds his place here. My daughter and her female partner, who live in Israel, already informed me they would hold their wedding in Germany because it is possible there.

"So what, four times Merkel?" he asks.

"A privilege afforded to guests, not to make a fuss over things," I respond.

A campaign poster for Merkel in the city of Bitterfeld

Opinion polls put Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of the competition in this month's election

"You know," I tell him, "we only have to mention America today, or even Britain, Hungary, Poland, and Israel (heaven forbid). Turkey, Russia, North Korea, Syria and the list goes on and on." I spill out the list in a single breath.

"Currently, the winds of tolerance are blowing in your country, turning Germany into the 'desirable place.'"

He smiles.

"It seems you have turned your wish into reality; at the end of the day, you, like me, know only those who are living in our bubble."

"The era of ideology is crumbling around us. Enough with capitalism, communism, nationalism, racism and religion. People are coming to the bubble in Germany from many places and under various circumstances, asking to live in equality, freedom, protection and compassion. This bubble may be the first stage on the way to breaking down those walls."

I saw his surprised and skeptical look.

"But you have already torn down a wall here," I reminded him. "That was probably the start of the process we're now living through."

Customers entered the bookstore. We had to end our conversation and the things I had expressed surprised even me.

"So who would you vote for?" he does not let go.

"For present day Germany in any case," I say.

***

A pair of homelands

"You need two homelands," I heard my mother's voice as I left the shop. It suddenly occurred to me that it was my mother who had first exposed me to a different narrative, the first to tear down the walls.

"Ja," I respond.

I felt this was the time to satisfy her. I guessed she would be smiling.

Born in Tel Aviv in 1953, Lizzie Doron has written seven books and won several international prizes for her writing.

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