Author Richard Wiener’s childhood in Wittenberg, Germany could be described as ‘normal,’ family-centered, and even enjoyable…until 1933 when he and his family experienced the imposition of oppressive anti-Semitic measures instituted by the Nazis.
Most grievous for Richard were the ostracism and emotionally and physically cruel treatment by his former classmates and friends. While they joined Hitler Youth and wore swastika armbands, Richard was isolated and confused by the profound change in his playmates’ attitude.
Compared to Jews who were sent to Nazi death camps, Richard’s story is fortuitous. Yes, he witnessed Nazi thugs wrecking his aunt’s apartment, the destruction of every Jewish-owned store and residence in Wittenberg, expulsion from school, and his father’s arrest and deportation to Buchenwald in 1938.
But after 6 years under Nazi persecution, Richard was able to emigrate to England via the Kindertransport. In time the Nazis released his father from Buchenwald, and both parents were permitted to travel to the UK. About 18 months later Richard and his family departed England for their new life in the U.S.
In 1988 Richard made contact with the one classmate who had not deserted him. Two years later after Wittenberg and the rest of East Germany were liberated from Soviet rule, Richard decided to put the past behind him and visit his hometown. He learned that most of his classmates had been drafted at 15. Many were killed or permanently injured during the war. Richard writes that he “began to realize how much suffering the Nazis inflicted not only on the Jews, but on the entire German population.”
Three years later Richard returned to Wittenberg to celebrate its 700th anniversary. During a third visit in 1997 he met former classmates one of whom asked for his forgiveness. This moment was a turning point in his life. During a fourth visit to Wittenberg Richard was made an honorary citizen in recognition of his work on reconciliation. More about his return visits to Wittenberg is recounted in his recently published autobiography, Survivor’s Odyssey.
Richard’s life mission is to be an advocate for reconciliation, not only between individuals, but also among nations. He writes that his “painful past also contained a gift, in that it sensitized [him] to the sufferings of others and the need for compassion for every human being.” In addition to his many speaking engagements, Richard conducts workshops called “The Power of Forgiveness” which enables attendees to address their own forgiveness and reconciliation issues.