TAMPA — Growing up in Germany in the 1960s, Martina Emme had such fond memories of her grandfather.
She recalls him surreptitiously taping an apple to a tree in his snowy garden, then convincing his granddaughter he had cultivated a special apple that would flourish in the winter.
“I just loved him,” she said. “He was the kind of grandfather that you’d find in fairy tales, in Hollywood movies. He taught me bicycling, swimming, climbing. He became my buddy.”
But as a teen, that would all change.
After 16 years of institutionalized revisionism in schools and among families regarding the Nazis’ role in World War II, the teenaged Emme finally learned from an unorthodox teacher about the Holocaust. Some years later, after finding a long-missing box of photos and letters, she learned her beloved grandfather had served in Adolph Hitler’s Wehrmacht, perhaps participating in the 1941 slaughter of 3,000 Lithuanian Jews.
Today, at age 54, she speaks softly about that discovery. “I had a nervous breakdown,” she said. “I had a lot of assistance. Therapy. I met with others who had similar experiences.”
And eventually, she helped found One by One, a Berlin-based organization that brings together descendants of Holocaust survivors with descendants of Nazi perpetrators for dialogue groups, speaking engagements, multimedia programs and conferences.
Emme discussed her situation and the One by One organization Tuesday as part of the University of South Florida Libraries Holocaust and Genocide Studies Center's programming. She will do so again at 4 p.m. today at the Atrium at Lewis House at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, and at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Sykes Chapel and Center for Faith Values at the University of Tampa.
Emme said there were subtle signs that something was being hidden in her native Frankfurt. An enormous former IG Farben factory that had manufactured the notorious Zyklon B gas used to kill Jews stood unmarked and unacknowledged.
There were snippets of dinner-table conversation overheard by the self-described curious child after too much wine was consumed by the adults, but her questions were deflected.
“If you talk about the war, you make someone think there are two sides of enemies fighting against each other, eye to eye,” she told about 30 faculty and students at USF’s main library. “But if you talk about the Holocaust, you have to admit that the killing of innocent people, including children, women, seniors … This is a conspiracy of silence. A net of lies. The real message was, ‘We don’t ask, we don’t know, we have done nothing wrong.’ ”
As she came to acknowledge that her grandfather, her father – who had been a member of the Hitler Youth – and other perpetrators and bystanders had indeed done wrong, she founded the One by One group.
She serves as a professor of psychology at the University of Applied Science in Berlin, and holds annual conferences for what have been described as transforming dialogues.
Renate Greenfield of Apollo Beach, a Jewish descendant who has participated in one of the roundtables, said Tuesday, “The air was so thick that you almost could cut it with a knife.” But by day four of the dialogue, she said, “If you’re a human being, you have to say to yourself, we weren’t the only ones to suffer.”
The idea of owning up to history resonated with USF students who attended the event.
“Usually what we hear about is just the horrors, but we don’t hear about the people that are living there now and how they’re having to deal with it,” said Jessica Leon, a junior in math education.
“I can’t imagine what she (Emma) goes through,” said Savannah Moffett, who just graduated from USF with a degree in public health. “Everyone has their own perspective of it, and some of them are harder to take than others.”
After this week’s college visits, Emme will also participate in a reception Saturday at the Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg and the International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony Sunday in Ybor City.