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The Nice German

May 8, 2009 | by Tzvi Nightingale

At the German consulate with my father, a Holocaust survivor.

My father is of the age where he no longer drives very long distances. He is willing to go a few blocks to the bank or to the grocery story, but beyond that he lets others do the driving. It was one such occasion when he recently asked me to accompany him to downtown Miami, to the German consulate. I picked him up from his condo where he stays to escape the Canadian winters and helped him into my car and off we went on our little journey.

We reached our destination and I let him off in front of the building so he would not have to walk too far. As I left to park the car, I reminded him that he is going to the 22nd floor and that I would meet him up there soon.

The nearby municipal parking lot was a bit of a rip-off. They charge $6 for the first three-hour increment, even if you are on a half-hour errand which we were. I made a mental note that when I return to my car, I would give my ticket with the remaining time to someone else to put on their dashboard. Why should I let the city gouge two people if I could prevent it?

Upon entering the building, I told the security guard that I am going to the consulate and he walked me to the elevator and punched in a multi-numbered code and then hit the button for the 18th floor.

"Isn't the consulate on the 22nd floor?" I asked him.

"Which consulate are you going to?"

"The German one," I replied.

"Oh," and he then punched in a new code and hit 22.

When the elevator doors opened at the 18th floor I could see a large panoramic photo of Israel on the wall. I guess my kippa created the assumption. A fellow with me in the elevator commented on the irony that both the Israeli and German consulates are in the same building. "Yeah, we have come a long way, haven't we?" I responded.

I joined my dad and waited in the sparse but clean waiting room while ladies behind glass partitions did their bureaucratic work. Fifteen minutes later they announced over the intercom, "Irving Nightingale, Room 1." As I opened the door for my dad, he said to the young blonde German woman, "This is my son. Would it be okay for him to join me?"

Her smile indicated fine. She slipped the document beneath the glass partition through the bank-like metal tray for him to sign. It was the form that proved that he was still alive and therefore still entitled to war reparation payments from the German government after the Holocaust.

The whole thing took only a minute, but for those few moments that I sat next to my father during this very uneventful process, I could not help but note how utterly bizarre and surreal the whole thing really was. Here was this sweet, pleasant young German woman so kindly and politely assisting my father in receiving funds from the German government and, in my mind, I contrasted this to the horrible, savage treatment that he had endured at the hands of her predecessors over 60 years ago. I wondered if my father sensed the irony of the moment but I could not summon the courage to ask.

We have come a long way, haven't we?

I bear no hatred toward this young woman, nor do I assume her grandparents had anything to do with the treatment of my father or the murder of his parents. If anything, at least the German people have taken some responsibility and have remorse for their history, unlike the Cambodians, Soviets or many other nations that have committed similar atrocities but sweep it under the rug. It was just that ... well, I guess that small exchange I had with the fellow in the elevator summed it all up: We have come a long way, haven't we?

We left the building and I told my dad to wait in the lobby while I retrieved the car. At the parking lot I remembered the promise to myself and searched for someone who could use my ticket. I found a nice young touristy looking couple who were a bit distraught because they deposited only three dollars into the parking machine but received no ticket and had no other cash.

I gave them my ticket and they thanked me profusely. Judging by their accent and their appearance I could tell that they were German.


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