It was a beautiful sunny day with a crystal clear sky. Outside the airplane’s window we could see Gaza and the ocean beyond. The jump instructor asked my friend, Regina, where she was from; she had such a pretty accent, but he couldn’t place it. Germany, she told him. Alright, her instructor shouted, just like my family before the holocaust, and then he just stared at her. Nothing more was said between them until we reached the proper elevation and it was time to jump.
In Egypt, there were a ton of book stores and nearly every street corner had a news stand. All of the book stores had an English section. It was interesting to see what they offered in English. Most of the books were labeled “classics” but I had never heard of them. One store had a section marked Heroes, which contained biographies on prominent world figures like Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Gandhi, and Hitler. The cover of Mein Kampf was split diagonally with white on the top half and blood red on the lower half, and on that was an unmistakable black sketch of Adolf Hitler. Once spotted, it became unavoidable. There he was, Hitler, staring at us from every news stand and book store. Not every place had it in English and there were plenty more Hitler books available than just the classic Mein Kampf. Our favorite game became find-the-Hitler-book. Without fail, he was at every single place we looked and in a wide variety of forms to suit your Hitler needs.
Gas in Israel is very expensive. My host family mentioned that it costs 200 shekels, about 65-70 dollars, to fill their tank. For this reason, they do not drive with air conditioning. We were headed to their family’s picnic for Rosh Ashanna on a particularly hot day when their son blurted out, I need air conditioning. What is this Auschwitz?
The night was chilly, but not so bad you could see your breathe. My friends and I threw a The-Jews-Who-Stole-Christmas party. We gathered in front of the convenient store in the dorms. A few people dressed in Christmas colors, one friend wore an elf hat, and another wore her Hanukkah presents. A group of Germans who also study at Ben-Gurion University came to join us, and they brought with them family members who were visiting for the holidays. If the visitors asked any of the Israelis for directions, like the bathroom, the Israelis would click their heels together and say, that way, as they pointed straight ahead with a stiff arm and their fingers pressed together. Someone brought beer bottles, but no bottle opener. My German friend Maria used her lighter to open one bottle, but it nearly broke so she didn’t want to use it again. We told her that was a good idea but we needed a solution to solve the problem once and for all. You know a permanent solution. What would you call that kind of solution? we asked. She and the other Germans were too horrified to play along. The more we drank, the more we joked. Eventually, one of the German visitors told us the jokes needed to stop and he shared with us a story about his trip to Tel-Aviv. He met an Arab in the market who was very happy to meet a German. Heil Hitler, the Arab said to him. No, the German responded, get away from me. This angered the Arab who yelled nasty things at him as he walked away. The German visitor shouted nasty things back and threatened to fight the Arab man.
The Germans put up with a lot of harassment when they come here, but it remains a very popular destination for them. Israelis view holocaust and Hitler jokes lightly, but they are quite shocking to the Americans and I can only imagine how dreadful they must be to the Germans. I don’t know if the jokes are a sign of healing or a festering. Yes, I have laughed at the jokes and even make a few, but it doesn’t feel like healing it feels like a cry for help.
Mario Uriarte is a Masa participant studying at Ben-Gurion University in the Overseas Student Program, one of Masa Israel‘s 160 programs.