A Bittersweet Anniversary: What Was It With Germany?
On September 4, 1990, the Administrative Court of Frankfurt, Germany, formally recognized the Church of Scientology as a bona fide religious institution, one of a long line of similar court findings from other German courts over a period of several years. This one, however, was different somehow.
This ruling specifically delineated the humanitarian ways in which the Church helps outside of its membership and our religious teachings. It reaffirmed utterly and completely our right to practice our religion, as delineated in Germany’s constitutional decree on freedom of belief.
Thirty years ago. A generation and a half.
Three generations earlier the grandparents of the Germans who affirmed our right to believe had engaged in an attack on a religious minority in their country—one that would culminate in the extermination of millions of German Jews and millions more throughout Europe.
What is it with Germany?
I ask because for years after the Frankfurt decision, Scientologists continued to bear the brunt of antireligious attacks. By way of example, boycotts were attempted of the popular film Mission Impossible because its star happened to be a Scientologist.
German Scientologists endured threats of violence and loss of livelihood simply for finding themselves “guilty” of practicing Scientology.
Children were taken out of kindergarten because their parents were Scientologists. Job applications often included the question “Scientologist?” to be checked “Yes” or “No.”
German media fed the frenzy, depicting Scientologists as insects, bats and subhumans bent on global domination, in a chilling mirror reflection of how their grandparents had portrayed Jews barely a single lifetime earlier.
As a Jew and as a Scientologist I have a unique perspective on bigotry.
Yet despite almost universal condemnation from the international community, including the U.S. Department of State, and despite the repeated findings of its own court system, the persecution of the religion of Scientology continued in Germany.
I well remember that phone call one morning in the early 1990s. I don’t remember the name of the caller nor do I recall the sound of her voice. But I remember verbatim the words she said: A German Scientology family is seeking religious asylum in the U.S. Can you sponsor them?
The father, a key executive in a corporation, had lost his job because of his religion, had even seen his name listed in a widely published periodical as a “dangerous” individual who should not be hired. He and his wife now had no way to support their three small children.
Fifty years earlier my father was part of the army detachment that liberated one of the first concentration camps. What he saw there was beyond description: the ultimate end product of hate—murder—taken to the nth degree.
As a Jew and as a Scientologist I have a unique perspective on bigotry. As a Jew I look at the past’s dark yesteryears, and as a Scientologist, I still can see that day, the today of 30 years ago.
My answer was: of course we would sponsor them.
There they were, in our living room. Husband, wife, baby, little boy, little girl—refugees. What should I say to them, I remembered wondering. “Welcome, we can help you”? We ourselves were on a tight budget at the time and could ill afford charity. They’d have to make it on their own, starting from scratch. But considering what they had been through…
We spoke of mundane things, those essential-to-life mundane things like jobs, schools, places to live, and hardly at all about the abuses suffered at the hands of small people who need others down on their knees so they can feel big.
Thanks to us, he said, his only memories are of freedom.
When they were back on their feet, settled and earning a livelihood, they would be ready to move on. And at that point, they promised, they would stay in touch, as did we. We kept saying we would do all we could, kept apologizing that we couldn’t do more. The mother handed the baby to her husband and hugged me, saying, “You have saved us and that’s all we needed.” At that, the two children embraced each of us.
Thirty years later, that family is doing very well. The children are beautiful successful adults, with children of their own. Each time our paths cross, their mother never fails to express her gratitude. Just a few weeks ago, a young man I didn’t know introduced himself to me. He was the baby, and, thanks to us, he said, his only memories are of freedom.
And Germany? Our churches are flourishing there at this writing, as are our people.
Will it stay that way, with no relapse?
Well, that’s up to you, me and everyone else, isn’t it?