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The only Jewish boy in a Catholic school

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Why my father decided to leave Germany
Uri Avnery Social activist
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My father, who had moved to Hanover from Beckum – the town that I was born in – was no longer a banker, but had opened an office which in German was called 'Trusteeship', but the intention was, in fact, receivership. Therefore if someone declared bankruptcy and went to court, the court appointed a receiver. Because my father had a reputation that he was 'straight as an arrow' he was rather sought after. And that was what he did. He had an office on the main street. Sometimes my mother, who had been a secretary by profession, assisted him when there was too much pressure. I saw all the commotion of the various parties, each wearing its own uniform, through the window or out on the street. This was increasingly ataking over the streets and life in general. In 1933, in January, the Nazis came to power.  It was not a dramatic life-changing event – not at all.  At first we thought, well, instead of one prime minister we will have a different prime minister. Fine, so he's rather right-wing and perhaps a bit of a demagogue and he likes to make speeches and he voices incitement against the Jews – but after he gets used to power, in  a few months, it will all disappear.  Perhaps he will deport some of the Polish Jews from Germany, which the German Jews would not have been sorry about.  My father – who was apparently an extremely wise man –  understood from the outset that something had happened here from which there was no turning back.  I believe that from that moment – at the most, two or three months later – he decided that this was it, that we would have to leave while there was still time. There are many versions of how he decided and what he decided. One version is that because he was a receiver, he had lots of dealings with the courts and once, at one of the trials, a young lawyer told him, 'We do not need people like you in Germany anymore, Mr Ostermann'.

The other people in the room heard and they didn't react. My father was so offended and hurt, that he decided to leave Germany immediately. That is one version. But the truth is that perhaps it helped that my father had been a Zionist from a very young age. A Zionist in Germany – that was how the joke went – that a Zionist is a German who takes money from another German in order to send a third German to the Land of Israel. Zionists in Germany did not dream of emigrating to the primitive land of the 'Hottentots'. But it could be that it helped him to make a decision as soon as that happened, to comprehend, years before the majority of Jews in Germany, what was about to happen.  

אבא שלי, שעבר להנובר מבקום, מעיר מולדתי, הוא כבר לא היה בנקאי, כי אם פתח משרד של, זה נקרא בגרמנית "נאמנות" אבל הכוונה הייתה לכונס נכסים בעצם. זאת אומרת אם מישהו הכריז על פשיטת רגל והלך לבית המשפט, בית המשפט מינה כונס נכסים. ומכיוון שאבא שלי היה לו שם שהוא ישר כמו סרגל, אז די חיפשו אותו שהוא יהיה. ובזה הוא עסק. והיה לו משרד ברחוב הראשי. לפעמים אמא שלי, שהייתה מזכירה כזכור, במקצועה, לפעמים עזרה לו, כשהלחץ היה גדול מדי. ואת כל ההמולה של המפלגות, כל אחת במדים שלה ראיתי מהחלון או ברחוב. וזה יותר ויותר השתלט על הרחוב ועל החיים בכלל. ב-1933 בינואר, הנאצים הגיעו לשלטון. וזה לא היה איזה מאורע דרמטי ששינה את החיים. לא. בהתחלה חשבו: טוב, במקום ראש ממשלה אחד, יש ראש ממשלה אחר. טוב, אז הוא קצת ימני, אז הוא קצת, הוא דמגוג, אז הוא אוהב לנאום, אז הוא משמיע כמה דברי הסתה נגד היהודים, אבל אחרי שיתרגל לשלטון, אחרי כמה חודשים אז כל זה ייעלם. אולי יגרשו מגרמניה כמה יהודים פולנים, שהיהודים הגרמנים לא היו מצטערים על זה. ואבי, שהיה כנראה אדם מאוד-מאוד חכם, הבין מהרגע הראשון שפה קרה משהו שאין לחזור ממנו. ואני חושב שבאותו רגע, מקסימום אחרי חודשיים-שלושה הוא החליט שזהו זה, צריכים לעזוב בעוד מועד. יש כל מיני אגדות איך הוא החליט ולמה הוא החליט. יש אגדה אחת שהוא… הרי הוא היה כונס נכסים, אז היו לו הרבה עיסוקים בבית המשפט, ופעם אחת, באחד המשפטים עורך דין צעיר אמר לו: "אנשים כמוך, מר אוסטרמן, אנחנו לא צריכים יותר בגרמניה.” ואנשים שמעו ולא הגיבו, באולם. אבא שלי כל כך נעלב, כל כך נפגע, שבו-במקום החליט לעזוב את גרמניה. זה סיפור אחד. אבל האמת היא שאולי עזר שאבא שלי היה ציוני מגיל כל כך צעיר. ציוני בגרמניה, זו הבדיחה הייתה, שציוני זה גרמני אחד שלוקח כסף מגרמני שני כדי לשלוח גרמני שלישי לארץ ישראל. ציונים בגרמניה לא חלמו להגר לארץ פרימיטיבית שמה אצל ההוטנטוטים. אבל יכול להיות שזה עזר לו לקבל החלטה ברגע שזה קרה. לתפוס, שנים לפני רוב יהודי גרמניה, מה עומד להתרחש.‏

Born in 1923, Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer, journalist and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement. As a teenager, he joined the Zionist paramilitary group, Irgun. Later, Avnery was elected to the Knesset from 1965 to 1974 and from 1979 to 1981. He was also the editor-in-chief of the weekly news magazine, HaOlam HaZeh from 1950 until it closed in 1993. He famously crossed the lines during the Siege of Beirut to meet Yasser Arafat on 3 July 1982, the first time the Palestinian leader ever met with an Israeli. Avnery is the author of several books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including '1948: A Soldier's Tale, the Bloody Road to Jerusalem' (2008); 'Israel's Vicious Circle' (2008); and 'My Friend, the Enemy' (1986).

Listeners: Anat Saragusti

Anat Saragusti is a film-maker, book editor and a freelance journalist and writer. She was a senior staff member at the weekly news magazine Ha'olam Hazeh, where she was prominent in covering major events in Israel. Uri Avnery was the publisher and chief editor of the Magazine, and Saragusti worked closely with him for over a decade. With the closing of Ha'olam Hazeh in 1993, Anat Saragusti joined the group that established TV Channel 2 News Company and was appointed as its reporter in Gaza. She later became the chief editor of the evening news bulletin. Concurrently, she studied law and gained a Master's degree from Tel Aviv University.

Tags: Hannover, Germany, Land of Israel

Duration: 4 minutes, 42 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2015

Date story went live: 10 March 2017