This article was first published as “Son of a Nazi, now a Jewish doctor, speaks in Palo Alto” in JWeekly.
When Bernd Wollschlaeger was a teenager in the early ’70s, he had more than the usual adolescent identity issues to work out.
At age 14, he learned that his father, who had portrayed himself as a decorated World War II hero, was actually a “hard-core Nazi” who had no remorse for the Holocaust or for his actions in Hitler’s army.
Wollschlaeger spoke April 21 at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto at an event hosted by Chabad of the Greater South Bay. The 55-year-old physician made the trip from his home near Miami to share his story, which he wrote about in his 2007 book “A German Life: Against All Odds, Change Is Possible.”
In Palo Alto, he told a rapt audience of 100 that the painful discovery about his father eventually led him to adopt both Judaism and Israeli citizenship.
When Wollschlaeger’s father would take him hunting in the forests near their home in picturesque Bamberg, Germany — where there had been a Jewish community dating back to before 1300 — he would proudly tell the boy about Hitler awarding him the Knight’s Cross, the Nazis’ highest award for bravery or leadership, or about his days as a Nazi tank commander.
Those stories were emblematic of Wollschlaeger’s youth, when his entire picture of World War II was painted by his father. But as a teen, he began to discover bits of the truth from an amazing first-hand source: the widow of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (a man who was shot dead for his involvement in a failed 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler). She lived upstairs from the Wollschlaegers in a two-story building that belonged to the von Stauffenberg family.
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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.