By Hailey Philbin
Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
When I think of Germany, I think of warm, apple strudel, twisted pretzels, the Bavarian Alps, and, of course, a stein of cold beer. However, I also think of Germany’s complex history. The mid-20th century witnessed the rise of the Third Reich under the power of the Nationalist Socialist German Workers’ Party. During the reign of this extremist and cruel ideology, Nazi leaders masterminded the Final Solution and annihilated the Jewish population. Years of propaganda, discrimination and cruelty accumulated in the Holocaust and resulted in the murder of approximately 6 million Jews.
Although it has been over 70 years since the liberation of the last concentration camp, the memory and reality of the Holocaust is still very much a part of German life. Whether it’s mourned at a memorial, remembered at a museum, or taught in school, the Holocaust has not and will not be forgotten. Germany is now a united and diverse democracy with a complicated past, and the honest memory of that past is an important part of the German future.
Currently, a German Jew is in the headlines in a show of positive historical transformation. Tamar Morali, from Karlsruhe, Germany, is the first Jewish woman to reach the final stages of the Miss Germany competition. No Jewish woman has ever gone so far as Morali in this competition, and now the 21-year old has a chance at becoming the second Jewish woman to win the Miss Germany competition.
In 2011, Valeria Bystritskaia was the first Jewish woman to win the Miss Universe Germany Competition. Unlike, Morali, Bystritskaia was silent about her faith for fear of further persecution or unfair discrimination in the competition. After continued verbal persecution in her native Russia, Bystritskaia fled to Germany with her family. According to The Times of Israel, Bystritskaia dealt with years of bullying because of her faith and “kept her Jewish heritage a secret.”
Now competing in a separate Miss Germany competition six years later, Morali is able to compete as an outspoken and proud member of the Jewish community. If Morali wins her competition as an outspoken member of the Jewish community, her success may inspire others to be proud of their faith and no longer feel like they need to keep their heritage a secret.
“I see my candidacy not only as a personal achievement but as an achievement for the State of Israel and for the Jewish people in the Diaspora – that in Germany, a country with a very complex history with regard to the Jewish people, there is the first contestant for the title,” Morali said in a The Jerusalem Post article.
Following the end of World War II, Holocaust survivors were often left homeless and forced to move to liberated countries in Western Europe in order to feel safe. Jewish people went from captives to displaced persons left without a home and, oftentimes, a country. Like Morali, many Jews migrated to Israel where they could practice their faith with the confidence of their safety. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Possibly as many as 170,000 Jewish displaced persons and refugees had immigrated to Israel by 1953.”
As victims of the Holocaust, German Jews had been persecuted, discriminated against and killed in the country that was as much their home as their murderer’s. Returning was often not an option for Jewish families and many did not wish to live in the country where such horrors happened.
Decades later, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, German Jews had begun growing a community again. Many of those communities were hesitant to share their faith identity despite the years since the end of the Nazis party. Riots were common and anti-Semitic vandalism still occurs across Germany.
Today, this German Jew is not afraid to share her faith identity. On national German television across international news, Morali has spoken out about her achievements as a German, Jewish woman. Her success in the Miss Germany competition would mark a first in the national competition as well as an acknowledged transformation in the equality and respect of Jews in Germany.
In 2017, a Jewish woman is a welcomed competitor in a national competition. In a country that persecuted her people only a few decades ago, Morali is serving as vocal role model for the achievements of Jewish women while simultaneously proving that Germany is a country of positive change.
The Miss Germany pageant began in the 1960s and the 2017 competition may crown a Jewish woman. This reality would have been something of fiction to anyone in 1940s Germany. “I am proud to be a German Jew,” Morali said. Her success and outspokenness could be a source of inspiration for other Jewish woman around the world.
Germany’s past may be riddled with cruelty and discrimination, with the achievements of individuals like Morali, Germany’s future and respect for Jewish people is starting to look much brighter.
Hailey is a senior history and communications major. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.