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Germany

"Germany Should Lead Fight Against Anti-Semitism"

More than 60 years after the Holocaust, Jewish life is beginning to flourish again in Germany. Rabbi Leo Trepp, a Holocaust survivor, has close ties to the country he was once forced to flee.

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Holocaust survivor and rabbi Leo Trepp is concerned about growing anti-Semitism

Rabbi Leo Trepp, 93, is a Holocaust survivor. He was forced to flee Nazi Germany in 1938 and made his way to California, where he continued to work as a rabbi, eventually becoming a professor of Jewish theology and philosophy. Trepp is the last living rabbi to have survived the Holocaust. He has been active in Jewish-Christian dialogue in Germany for decades.

Face to face with hate

Nazi Germany, 1938: Leo Trepp, a young rabbi in Oldenburg, is forced together with all the Jewish men in the city to march past the destroyed synagogue where he had preached. After that he is imprisoned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

NPD Demonstration in Oldenburg

Some 100 neo-Nazis demonstrated last September in Oldenburg, where Leo Trepp was arrested by the Nazis in 1938

Now 93 years old, Trepp remembers the atrocious details. "The commandant came out and shouted such a horrible speech at us. He said, 'You are the scum of humanity! You don't even deserve to be alive!' I had the feeling that next he was going to tell his gunmen to shoot us all," he said.

"But God was with me in the concentration camp. I told him, 'Dear God, I'll die for you, if needed.' But he didn't let us get shot."

Recovering the past and ensuring the future

Trepp lived in constant fear during that time. His congregation was disbanded and the synagogue was torched. Unlike so many other Jews, the Nazis let him live.

After three weeks in the concentration camp, Trepp immigrated with his wife to England and then on to the US. In California, he worked as a rabbi and later became a philosophy professor. But he didn't forget what he had seen and experienced.

From the 1950's on, he visited Germany from time to time -- even though his mother had been murdered there by the Nazis. He currently lectures at the University of Mainz as an honorary professor and focuses especially on teaching young Christian theologians.

But there is yet another topic that he passionately dedicates himself to: The old liturgical music from the Jewish congregation in Mainz that was passed on orally for generations. This musical tradition had disappeared along with the obliterated Mainz synagogue. But Trepp collected the liturgical melodies and published them in 2004 in the form of sheet music accompanied by a CD recording.

BdT Schäden am Holocaust-Mahnmal

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, completed in May 2005, is an abstract work comprised of 2,700 concrete blocks

No guilt, but responsibility

Trepp has been active in Jewish-Christian dialogue for years. With standard publications like "The History of German Jews" and "The Jewish Worship Service", he has contributed significantly to a greater understanding of Judaism, particularly among non-Jews. However, Trepp is concerned about growing prejudice against Jews, even in Germany.

"Anti-Semitism has become acceptable again -- by nationalists on the one hand and, on the other hand, by Islamists. Israel and the Jews are viewed as scapegoats. Sometimes I ask myself: Has what I've done had any impact?"

The Christian religion instructors and pastors that Rabbi Trepp has taught at the University of Mainz have encouraged him to fight against anti-Semitism. And he also has a message for them, and for other young people in Germany:

"You bear no guilt for what your grandparents did. But there is responsibility. Germany must become the leading country in the fight against anti-Semitism."

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