At my first conference in 2008 I found myself avoiding the Germans. Being a German who had lived in the united states for many years I felt most comfortable to speak English and I did not want to have anything to do with the Germans, who seemed to me so silent, subdued and understanding everybody so well - avoiding conflict in any ways. I did not want to mingle with them- which was of course, a part of the self hatred within me- not wanting to identify myself with being a German. Nor did I want to be identified by others as a German with such characteristics. Instead I felt a little above these Germans hanging out with an international crowd – so to speak. I remember in the 70ies and 80ies among my German friends, while traveling abroad nobody wanted to be identified as a German and was proud when they seemed to melt into the nationality of the visited country.
I learned at the latest conference in 2010 much about myself being a German and what it meant to me because this time I joined the large German group of 31 members. It was indeed the largest ethnic group in this conference. In the beginning in the large circle it seemed very difficult to find a topic. In the end we came up with two themes : German Madness and Livelihood (which was the issue I brought in and which was constantly changed into German Happiness or Fun ( which was mocked about by the Israeli group as the German happiness group).
But German Happiness -fun was not what I had meant. My issue had been feeling alive and being able to feel and experience the full range of human feelings- happiness among them.
The part of the group with the topic “German madness” decided almost immediately to go away and visit the Palestinians. The other Germans should stay back and discuss Livelihood. The general assumption was, too many Germans would be shocking to the others.
My personal assumption was, the other women were more attractive and this was one of the issues covered by political statements. And livelihood was seeked elsewhere , especially with the Palestinans - who were Arab Israelis.
I stayed back with the rest group “livelihood” and experienced very painful feelings.
First of all, I missed the rest of the group which had split immediately and hurried away from us- there had been no time to explore anything at length together. Nor had we been able to reflect our situation as Germans or to talk about the topics we had found.
It turned out I felt totally numb, like within a very dark and deep depression, not feeling anything at all - like being dead inside. It was hard to bear and came along with self-hatred of being an ugly, depressed German, and - as a German middle-aged woman - not being sexy at all. Livelihood was elsewhere, but defiantly not with the Germans. All I wanted was to get away from this group and my feelings within. It was unbearably depressing to be a German in this group.
But behind all the Depressiveness and Deadness was covered something else which turned later out to be deadly aggression (mörderische Aggressionen).
The lost part of the Germans came back - the madness group was at this point not welcomed by the Palestinians. Madness and Depressive feelings came together again and the group became more lively. Song singing was suggested (to my mind there is no harmlessness in singing German Volkslieder any more.) Then the Internationale was suggested. It was discussed. Not sung, fortunately.
When a young Israeli Jew joined our group as a guest, I suggested, we speak English - according to the rules - as he did not understand what our German group talked about.
Nobody agreed, especially since he insisted he wanted to listen to German language.
It felt wrong to me and I felt used by him for whatever experiment he was on. Some Germans though thought it would be nice for him to listen to German language, reminding him of his grandmother (murdered by Germans).
I felt very uncomfortable going on like this and decided to leave the group which had ended up making arrangements to meet with the Israeli group.
A no time it has occurred to anybody to ask for staff help.
I ended up at an international group of “others”, again, where some other Germans gathered, who also – like me - did not want to be with the Germans. They were about to meet the Israelis too. I went with them and met again with my German group. I stayed on, as the “Others’ Meeting” had been over. I was curious what the Germans had to say to the Israelis. And then the “bomb” which had been fantazised by many in the large plenary before - went off.
The setting was a group of almost 30 Germans opposite to 7 Jewish Israelis and one German Jew, who went with them for protection - as she had put it. And protection they needed, as it turned out soon enough.
Starting the meeting one German guy got up and asked the Jews somewhat accusingly, why they had not done anything against the genocide of the Armenian people. Which was understood as: If you Jewish people did not do anything against this genocide - you deserved what happened to you.
The Jews were paralyzed. Nobody moved. Nobody said anything. Dead silence.
Then intellectual and political discussions followed. And a somewhat interrogative way by the Germans asking the Jews. It felt terrible to me and like a Tribunal. There was no empathy for the Jews. Nor any space for really getting into a conversation, into real intercourse. The Jewish group seemed shocked, silenced and in fear.
I found myself sitting in the very back of the room, ready to leave at any time.
I saw everything.
I heard everthing.
I saw the paralyzed and accused Jews.
And I did nothing whatsoever.
My feelings were: I do not belong to this group of Germans, I have nothing to do with them. I am different. I distance myself and despise what I see .
Whereas I could have done many things: Speak up. Go over and sit with the Jewish group . Show solidarity. Take action.
Instead I realized later that I was a typical German bystander.
This is to this day my deepest experience from this conference. And it happened in the here and now.
And it was not about life and death. Or risking anything for that matter.
It was just about to speak up and do something when I see Wrong.
I was shocked and ashamed.
I also learned there is no Livelihood (Lebendig Sein) without integrating the deadly aggression within oneself. The price for the split is deep depression and feeling dead inside. One could of course fantasize about the metaphor of the east-west-German split and the wall which kept both sides apart. And what that would have done the Germans after the reunion. It seems clear to me, that the mörderische Aggression is still inside us and keeps many of us from feeling alive.
But I want to speak for myself. I moved a little forward since the conference. My experiences have been hard und seemed unbearable, but very worthwhile.
It’s all about learning and the experiences I had are the most precious ones in my life so far. I am changing and moving on. As our oldest staff member Jona hat put it, it was the most important conference so far, because the aggression came out into the open.
Lets go on - we have nothing but each other. That´why I will continue to join these conferences.