Thursday, April 19, 2012
Carmel on the Case: My Father was a Nazi
It's Holocaust Remembrance Day, when the world remembers the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis. The day takes on added significance for one South Florida man, but not for reasons you might expect. 7's Carmel Cafiero has this special assignment report.
WSVN -- Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger has the ultimate skeleton-in-the-closet, and he's not shy about sharing it.
Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger: "My father was not only an officer in the German army during the second world war. He was also a convinced, a 100-percent convinced Nazi and supporter of the system. He was a Nazi."
He's also not shy about how he dealt with it.
Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger: "I'm proud to be a Jew, I'm proud to be an Israeli, I'm proud to have children raised in the Jewish faith."
Bernd turned his journey and his father's past into a book: "A German Life."
Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger: "The story that I'm telling is the story how to overcome hate."
Bernd was born in 1958 and was raised Catholic in Bamberg, Germany.
As a young boy, he admired his father.
Major Arthur Wollschlaeger was a tank commander in World War II and was awarded the Iron Cross by Adolf Hitler.
Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger: "My father was a hero, I had no doubt. The fact that he was a Nazi didn't mean anything to me, because I was a child."
But as he got older, Bernd had questions, questions that his dad didn't answer.
Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger: "His refusal to tell me led me to explore what truly happened."
Bernd was determined to know the truth.
So as a teen, he took a trip to Israel.
Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger: "What I learned about the Holocaust shocked me, not only from the fact of history I didn't know, but also the contrast to my father's stories of heroism. That was not a hero. Obviously, something else happened."
What he learned, he says, painted an ugly picture.
Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger: "He admired Hitler, he admired Hitler during the war, he swore, first of all, an oath on Adolf Hitler. The treatment of the Jews, he never used the term 'murder,' he never used the term 'extermination.'"
Bernd admits his attraction to the Jewish faith was driven by his discovery of the truth.
Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger: "There's no question that my initial step towards Judaism was motivated by guilt and shame as a young German. How could that happen? How could my people do that?"
He turned his guilt into conviction, and ultimately action.
Seven years after starting his spiritual search, Bernd converted, became an Israeli citizen, and joined the Israeli army.
Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger: "I felt comfortable in a family of choice, the Jewish community, versus a family of origin, which rejected me."
Over the years, Bernd's relationship with his father deteriorated.
Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger: "He was bitterly disappointed that his son betrayed him, the son whom he wanted to raise to be a good German betrayed him."
Bernd moved from Israel to South Florida more than 20 years ago, where he now practices medicine and the art of turning patients' heads.
Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger: "They come in and expect a German doctor, because my name is very German, and then they see a mezuzah at door."
He hopes the next generation never forgets and has even taken his daughter to the concentration camps.
Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger: "The entrance to man-made hell. We as human beings have the capacity to do tremendous good and do tremendous, horrific, and horrible things."
But it is rare to have both so uniquely intertwined in one family's history.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
"A German Life"
"Ghosts of the Third Reich"