It’s not a place Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger ever imagined he’d be: a guest speaker at a synagogue in Palm Beach, Florida.
After all, Wollschlaeger grew up in Germany, the son of a decorated Nazi officer.
“He considered still his awards that he got from Adolf Hitler personally as a recognition of his service for his country,” Wollschlaeger said.
As a teenager, Wollschlaeger started asking questions. He said he eventually realized his father was not a hero, but a monster.
“I was kicked out of the house. And that was, for me, OK,” Wollschlaeger said. “Because I had one principle: I want to help and I will be on top of what my father did and give something back.”
Since then, Wollschlaeger has not only studied Judaism, he’s converted. He’s lived in Israel and even served in the Israeli army, defending the very people his father wanted to annihilate.
“Moving forward with a conviction that whatever I can and will do, I will do to talk against, act against hatred, bigotry and racism,” he said.
And that’s exactly how Wollschlaeger wound up at Palm Beach Synagogue. Tuesday was Nov. 9, the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the beginning of the Holocaust.
The synagogue invited Wollschlaeger to be their guest speaker at the service.
“I think this is a voice that we need to hear and share with the world,” said Rabbi Moshe Scheiner, explaining why he wanted Wollschlaeger to speak to the congregation.
And in the crowd Tuesday night was a Holocaust survivor. Jacqueline Goldman was 8 years old when her family was chased from her home in Paris.
She said she still doesn’t care to be around Germans, but Wollschlaeger is an exception.
“This is one that stands out,” she said of Wollschlaeger. “That’s one that stands out.”
Wollschlaeger said that’s the kind of reaction he appreciates, a reaction that helps him spread his message that we can all be part of the fight against hatred.
“Every person can change,” he said. “And against all odds, change is possible.”