How to Change the Mentality of Hate
Son of German-Jewish Family Says Understanding is Key
It’s easy to understand why the descendant of a 1930s era German-Jewish family would harbor ill feelings toward his family’s homeland. However, understanding is precisely why Torkel S Wächter no longer hates the nation that fostered the rise of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party.
“My father, Michael, never discussed his upbringing even though he was obsessed with Germany, and I took that as an additional reason to despise the country,” says Wächter, who was raised in Sweden. “We were never allowed to talk about it because the pain from the past was still alive in him.”
After his father’s death, Wächter opened the boxes that had remained sealed all of his life. They were filled with his father’s and grandparents’ diaries, letters, articles and other documents. From these Wächter wrote “The Investigation,” a book that highlights questions about personal responsibility and evil during pre-war Nazi Germany.
In addition, the story of Wächter’s family is retold on his website, www.onthisday80yearsago.com, in diary fashion. Posts about both personal and historic events appear on the day they occurred in 1933 -- the 80th anniversary. It’s an artistic/literary project called “simulated real time,” a way of personalizing for readers events that were inexorably leading to world war eight decades ago.
Wächter says the documents not only revealed meaningful insights to his father’s life; they offered a glimpse of a different Germany. It is one he has made his peace with. He explains why:
- Jews in Germany – the success story: Before the rise of Hitler, Germany had been a unique success story for Jews. From the 1700s to 1933, when there were roughly 522,000 Jews in the country, immigrants were able to flourish there. “It’s much more difficult to hate something that you come to understand,” Wächter says. “I’ve realized that my father actually loved the country – he had a great upbringing there. But because of what occurred under Hitler, he felt such betrayal and pain that he could never bring himself to talk about it.”
- Friends of the oppressed: In his book, Wächter describes characters like Nazi and anti-Semite Werner Herbrechtsmeyer and the untrustworthy opportunist Carl Fraude. But also revealed are the close, supportive friends of the Wächter family – Franz Wegener, Hans Heinrich Sierau and Klara Henseler. While there were many desperate and ignorant Germans who happily took to Hitler’s philosophy, many forget that German citizens also suffered mightily, both during the ascendancy and decline of Nazism,” he says.
- A rich culture: Finding his father’s hidden boxes led Wächter’s to an investigation of both his father’s past, and the German language and culture. Germany and Austria have produced many giants of western culture, including Goethe, Mozart, Beethoven and many of the most important philosophers, including Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Wittgenstein, who came from an Austrian-Jewish family.
“I’ve regained the German citizenship that was taken from my family 20 years before I was born,” Wächter says. “I spend much of my time in the Federal Republic of Germany with my family, which includes Gustav Wächter’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”
About Torkel S Wächter
Torkel S Wächter is the son of a German-Jewish family that suffered under the Nazi regime. His book, “The Investigation,” outlines the experience as recorded by his paternal grandfather and father. Wächter studied Economic History, Development Theory and languages at the universities of Lund, Melbourne and Barcelona, as well as Jewish Studies at Paideia, The European Institute for Jewish Studies and Architectural Restoration at The Royal University College of Fine Arts in Stockholm. After a stint as a fashion model in Paris and Barcelona, Wächter trained as a diver in the Royal Swedish Navy and then went on to an aviation career. During the 1990s, Wächter served as a First Officer with Scandinavian Airlines and frequently flew into numerous U.S. airports. In 1997, Wächter published his first novel, “Samson”, and in 1999 he published the first Swedish e-book. Wächter lives in Stockholm and Barcelona with his architect wife; together they have four children.