It’s an impossible concept for most people to understand: how do you forgive someone for doing something unforgivable? Not what has become the traditional unforgivable, like maybe someone taking your promotion at work, undermining you in some way, or taking something of value from you. No, unforgivable as in the most pure definition of the word: killing members of your family. Thousands of Americans and thousands of Jews living in Germany today have to deal with this kind of internal struggle. Seventy years is but a blip in time, and the wounds from World War II and the Holocaust may never heal. Forgetting is not an option, but is forgiveness?
American born hockey player Even Kaufmann is showing that it is. The great-grandson of two people who were killed at the hands of the Nazis, Evan is trying to carry on his grandfather’s dream of forgiveness by playing on the German national team as well as the DEG Metro Stars of the German professional league. Not quite elite enough for American professional hockey, Kaufmann went where he needed to go to live his dream, and it happened to be a place where the dreams of millions died.
In a fantastic profile that was published in the New York Times, Kaufmann tries to explain his decision the best way that he can.
“Obviously, you never want to forget,” Kaufmann said. “But everybody deserves a second chance and a right to rectify their mistakes. Most people today had nothing to do with it. I’m not going to hold it against a whole country for what happened long ago. You’re never going to move forward if you keep doing that.”
Germany has done everything it possibly can to atone for the sins of their grandfathers and great grandfathers. Holocaust education is mandatory in schools, and denial of the genocide can land you in jail. But still, it is hard for some to forgive and even harder for some to understand Kaufmann’s decision. Some, like Jason Klein (who left a comment on Rabbi Jason Miller’s blog), do not believe that Kaufmann is making the best decision.
“My family is 25 percent of what it once was pre-WWII. I subscribe to never forgive, never forget and I can’t imagine (no matter how talented I was) a meaningless sport being worthy of this. …Don’t get me wrong. I don’t blame the Germans of today for the crimes of their grandfathers, but I certainly wouldn’t be in the spotlight supporting their country and waving their flag.”
That is an understandable and valid viewpoint. I am Armenian-American, and I would never think to forgive the Turks for what they did to force my great-grandparents to move to America — however the circumstances are different there considering how Turkey refuses to recognize their genocide. Forgiveness is an issue that doesn’t have an easy fix.
Kaufmann’s forgiveness is more understandable when you look at his grandfather, Kurt Kaufmann. From the Times article:
In a postwar letter, Kurt Kaufmann wrote of persisting on chance, turnips and potato skins. After being liberated, he found his sister in a Berlin hospital. Eventually, they made their way to the United States. As he aged, he still had nightmares and other psychological scars, but he felt no ill will toward Germany and its people, said Farley Kaufmann, Kurt’s son and Evan’s father. The elder Kaufmann continued to drink wine from the region, gave an oral history and, before he died at age 68 in 1990, he had planned to visit Wittlich for the first time since his family fled in 1939.
Forgiveness for someone a couple generations removed is certainly admirable, but forgiveness by someone who themselves underwent the horrors of Nazism? There are no words to explain how commendable that is. It’s a blessing for Kaufmann to fulfil both his dream of playing professional hockey and his grandfather’s dream of going home.