Jewish son of Nazi officer describes growing up under shadow of Holocaust denial

Bernd Wollschlaeger says he didn’t know the enormity of his father’s crimes until he visited Yad Vashem, but after converting and serving in the IDF, has found a way to forgive him

Bernd Wollschlaeger (Screengrab: YouTube)
Bernd Wollschlaeger (Screengrab: YouTube)

The son of a decorated Nazi officer who discovered the nature of his father’s military service and went on to convert to Judaism and eventually join the IDF, recalled his relationship with his father and discussed his childhood in an interview with a British newspaper.

“The more I studied, the more I came to the conclusion that my father was a liar,” said Bernd Wollschlaeger in the Tuesday interview with London’s Daily Mail.

Born in Bavaria in 1958, Wollschlaeger said that he was told as a child that the Holocaust was a lie and was raised to admire his father as a decorated war hero. He said Arthur Wollschlaeger would still wear the “Knight’s Cross around his neck” at Christmas, years after the war was over.

Wollschlaeger was awarded the Iron Cross by Adolf Hitler for his actions in battle against Soviet forces.

In the interview, Wollschlaeger noted the 1972 Munich Massacre, in which 11 Israeli athletes were killed by Palestinian terrorists, as a major turning point in his relationship with his father.

In this Sept. 5, 1972 photo, a member of the Arab Commando group which seized members of the Israeli Olympic Team at their quarters at the Munich Olympic Village appears with a hood over his face on the balcony of the village building where the commandos held members of the Israeli team hostage. (AP Photo/Kurt Strumpf)

“For the first time, at least in my life, the old wounds were opened and we were forced to deal with the past and why it’s such a big deal that Jews are being killed in Germany again,” Wollschlaeger told the Daily Mail.

“He actually referred to the slaughter of the Israeli athletes, saying, ‘Look what they do to us again! They, the Jews, are tearing down our reputation to make us look bad.'”

In the interview, Wollschlaeger said his father’s reaction to the massacre confused him, and that eventually, his teachers told him the truth about the Holocaust.

“I was not only shocked to hear about it, I was perplexed because my father was a war hero, he must have known something,” he said.

“I asked him and he told me that this was all a lie, that my teachers were communists and that the Holocaust never happened,” Wollschlaeger said.

Bernd Wollschlaeger speaking at New Synagogue of Netanya (Screengrab: YouTube)

“I started to fill in the blanks because I suspected there was a big gap – a dark hole that my father didn’t want to shed light on, and the more I read, the more I learned.”

He went on to describe how his father admitted to the Nazi extermination of Jews.

“He told me once the world should be celebrating what the Germans did, because we got rid of the vermin. He said we did the dirty job that nobody wanted to do but everybody was complaining about,” Wollschlaeger said.

In the interview, Wollschlaeger said that going to Israel and being taken to Yad Vashem by a Holocaust survivor was a transformative experience.

“There I realized the extent of the murder and I broke down emotionally. I cried.”

Two Nazi soldiers with rifles in their hands ready to fire. (Artsiom Malashenko/ IStock by Getty Images)

After converting to Judaism in Germany in 1986, Wollschlaeger eventually decided to go to Israel and join the IDF. When he said goodbye, his father “didn’t want to see me. He called me a traitor, he was drunk like always but he called me a traitor. And that was that.”

After his father’s death, Wollschlaeger said his father’s will stipulated that he could not come to the funeral.

“I was also forbidden to carry his name, I was forbidden to approach his graveside and I was called a traitor.”

Wollschlaeger told the Daily Mail that he eventually forgave his father. “I forgave him for who he was – not for what he did to others – but for who he was to me.”

The empty Warsaw Ghetto Square at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, during the Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 21, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Wollschlaeger added that the state of the world and the fact that polarization is keeping people from talking to each other worried him.

“We’re living in a cacophony of madness,” he said, “Everybody is sitting in an echo chamber, only listening to what they want to listen to, and they don’t communicate and don’t have the ability to talk to each other. We need to return to opening up and being vulnerable and listening to others before we condemn them.”

Today, he is a family physician in Miami, Florida, and has three children.

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