Shalom Life | December 25, 2014

Son of a Nazi Speaks About His Inevitable Conversion to Judaism

Bernd Wollschlaeger, keynote speaker at Toronto's Dinner of Miracles event, recalled how his father introduced him to "hatred"

By: Caitlin Marceau

Published: December 16th, 2014 in News » World

Son of a Nazi Speaks About His Inevitable Conversion to Judaism

Photo Caption: Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger at the Dinner of Miracles event

Photo Credit: Avital Zemer


The 10th annual Dinner of Miracles took place on December 11th in Toronto, and it was like no other. In a room full of 300 people, mixed with young adults looking to have an open dialogue and understanding of the horrors of the Holocaust as well as Holocaust survivors all with stories to tell, keynote speak Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger, now a full-fledged Jew, declared that he was the son of a Nazi soldier.

Wollschlaeger, author of “A German Life: Against All Odds Change is Possible,” spoke to the audience and told them of his family’s past, and his journey to both Judaism and Israel. He grew up in a post-war Germany with mixed opinions and tellings of the events that shook the world. His father was a proud Nazi, who told him harrowing war stories that painted him as a hero. However Wollschlaeger had begun to learn of the Holocaust at school, and the systematic genocide of the Jewish and non-Aryan peoples.

As he explained at the event, as reported by The Canadian Jewish News, “I grew up with the image of my dad as a hero. But the truth came out, in phases.”

Filled with guilt over his family’s role in the mass genocide, Wollschlaeger sought out his local Jewish community, which included 30 Holocaust survivors. He spent years with the community, forming bonds and having open dialogues with them. His parents, horrified, kicked them out of their home. He then moved to Frankfurt, where he studied Judaism under the guidance of a rabbi.

In 1986, Wollschlaeger converted to Judaism and moved to Israel, without any money or family to take him in. He eventually was drafted to the Israel Defense Forces, serving as a medical officer, met and married an American-Jewish woman who also lived there, and together they had a son. He decided he’d never tell his child of his parentage.

However his son wanted to know why his father never spoke of his father. Eventually, Wollschlaeger explained that his father had been a Nazi, and how he’d in turn looked to Judaism for peace and atonement. His son was proud of him, and even invited him to speak at his school. Wollschlaeger was reluctant at first, but upon speaking to his son’s classmates, found the experience to be liberating and now lives in Florida, where he speaks of his family’s history openly.

Recently his family made the trip back to Germany, to visit the graves of his parents. He now preaches acceptance and love, and stresses the importance of challenging hate, prejudices, and fear in the face of what’s seen to be different.

As he explained at the Dinner of Miracles event, “The lesson is to speak up, have courage, and understand that, against all odd, change is possible.”

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