Neurobiologist Eric Kandel wrote in his work, In Search of Memory, that people have the desire to destroy people outside the group to which they belong. “There may be an innate response,” he writes, “that is capable of being aroused in almost any cohesive group.”
In my mother’s town, Stockstadt am Rhein, a village of 2,000 people and two Jewish families, that phenomenon was evident in 1938.
My grandfather was a respected civic leader in town, which his family had helped settle in 1721. No farmer in the area could bring his crops to market without the services of my grandfather, Siegmund Westerfeld. In addition, my grandfather introduced the cucumber as a cash crop. His family had the first telephone and the first car in the area. The family was assimilated into the town and he served as a trusted lender to many members of the community. In fact, most families in the town had borrowed money from my grandfather; that way, they could stay solvent and keep their farms afloat.
When Hitler came to power, as Kandel puts it, “the successes of the Jewish community generated envy and a desire for revenge among non-Jews.” The townspeople of Stockstadt did nothing to defend or protect Westerfeld and his family. After all, how convenient it would be if the town lender would simply disappear and the loans would be eradicated.
A member of a family who had borrowed money from my grandfather came to me about ten years ago and cried. “My father owed your grandfather a great deal of money,” she said. “I feel that his blood is on my family’s hands.”
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