Iron Cross to Jewish Star: How a Nazi’s son became a Jew


He had sealed his past years before and never spoke of it — not to his peers in the Israeli Defense Forces, not to his colleagues, not to his wife, not to his children. But when his 14 year old son asked, “Who is my grandfather?” he knew that he had to answer.

He told his Jewish, tefillin-wearing son that his grandfather was a decorated World War II tank commander and Nazi officer. When his son raised his hand on heritage day at school to relay this information, the school’s principal called home for confirmation.

The principal encouraged Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger to tell his story and the importance of conveying it.

Wollschlaeger spoke to rapt audiences at the Young Israel of Woodmere on Shabbat after musaf and again after mincha. After Shabbat, YIW screened the movie, “The Ghosts of the Third Reich,” that documents the anguished stories of descendants of Nazis who confronted their family’s past and their feelings of guilt.

Wollschlaeger, a board-certified family physician in private practice in Aventura, Florida, was educated in Germany and Israel and completed his residency training in Miami.

Bernd was born in 1958, in Bamberg, the second child and only son of a German mother who was a refugee from the Sudetenland as a result of World War II and a Nazi tank commander, who had fought for the Nazis throughout the war and personally received the Iron Cross from Adolf Hitler. His father reverently called Hitler his Furhrer and felt that their cause was just, never admitting to or seeing the evil that had been done, especially to the Jews during the war. Bernd grew up learning the history of Germany but was aware of a gap in that history, where the most recent events were not discussed.

He had glimpsed a six-pointed star on the door of a building when he was a young boy and his mother, a religious Catholic, silenced his questions. But the first crack in his seemingly unified world came at age 14 during the Munich Olympics of 1972. Again he saw the star as the Israeli athletes triumphantly paraded with their flag on the family TV and a cold silence descended on his parents and their invited friends as they watched.

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