Friday, November 30, 2018

Nikolaus Rittinghausen, an Australian of German heritage, had long felt a sense of guilt about Germany's Holocaust history. This is his story.

'I first came into contact with Initiatives of Change (IofC) through Nyok Gor, who has been working towards reconciliation amongst the various ethnic groups from South Sudan who have been in conflict with each other. I wished to do something proactive myself to heal the wounds of the past. The German and Jewish Friendship Group was born after I met with Athalia Zwartz, Executive Officer at IofC, to discuss ways of promoting community harmony among German and Jewish community members. 

Since we formed, the group has facilitated dialogues on our common history, personal stories of survival and hope, and on how to promote understanding and friendship in the community. We have met a number of times over dinner to share stories of the past and present, and we have visited together the Jewish Holocaust Centre (JHC) in Elsternwick, Melbourne. On that occasion, the group was shown through the centre by Irma Hanner, one of the survivors of the Holocaust. The visit and discussions were enabled by JHC board member Anita Frayman and our group coordinator from IofC Australia, Kirsty Argento. 

At our meeting at Armagh in November 2018, group members Jacques Birnberg, Birgit Goetz, and Adrian Plitzco shared with a wider multicultural group their personal and family stories from World War II, explaining how these experiences have affected their current lives. After some reflection and moments of silence, all dinner participants were encouraged to also comment on their own relevant family experiences.

The Australian lawyer and Aboriginal activist Noel Pearson, in his proposed Declaration of Australia, speaks of the country as a land of three stories. It begins with the story of the oldest living civilisation in the world, our First Nation Australians who have been here for 65 millennia. The second is of British colonisation, which brought our current laws, institutions and democratic government, and the third is the story of the mass migration of people from all over the world, which makes us a successful multicultural nation today.

We are blessed to be able to learn from the many people here who make up Australia. The purpose of the German-Jewish Friendship Group is to encourage all Australians to acknowledge and engage with our own histories, of this land and of the lands we come from, and to participate in reconciling our differences through honest friendship and conversation, shifting perspectives and creating new narratives along the way.' - Nikolaus Rittinghausen

  • For more information about the German-Jewish Friendship Group, contact coordinator Kirsty Argento at IofC Australia.