Blind Faith: One Woman’s Journey through East Germany

November 26, 2014
Parts of the Berlin Wall at UVA

Anyone who walks down McCormick Road, toward Clemons and Alderman Library can see pieces of living history that are almost too powerful to describe.

U.Va. was fortunate enough to have two pieces of the Berlin Wall put on display across from the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library last March. In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, the University hosted the Berlin Wall Symposium, a week featuring various speakers, presentations, and other events.

When looking over the list of events for the week, one in particular caught my attention.  Salomea Genin, author of Blind Faith: My Life as a Jewish Self-Hating Communist in the GDR, flew in to Charlottesville from Germany for the event and performed her first reading of her novel in English. As someone who loves reading personal stories of history, I knew that I wanted to attend this event.

From reading about her prior to the event, I found out that Salomea fled Nazi Germany with her family in 1939 only to return to the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany, in 1963 as an active member of the Communist Party. While living in East Germany, Salomea faced both implicit and explicit discrimination for being Jewish and became ashamed of her heritage. She was asked to cut off communication with all foreigners, including her family and friends overseas, and was constantly reprimanded for questioning various party policies. The political aspect and uniqueness of her story convinced me that it was an event I couldn’t afford to miss.

What surprised me most about the event, however, was how open and personal Salomea was with the audience members.

Holding nothing back, she told us, “I had given up self-respect for the sake of belonging. The party had become my family.”

Contrary to what I would have guessed, she endured this discrimination and self-hatred for decades before she became disillusioned, left the Communist Party, and joined the opposing political side. Now through her writing she provides the world with a new look at life in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Salomea’s story opens the modern world’s eyes to another side of history to which we are not often exposed. Her discussion of the reading throughout the event allowed her to explain various aspects of her story that might have been lost in translation or difficult to understand without her personal discussion. Her engaging personality, sincerity and wonderful sense of humor add a human face to this period of history and draw her readers into her own thoughts and feelings.

Her readers are able to come to an even deeper understanding of the struggles of the Jewish population living in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989. All of us in attendance of the event left deeply moved by Salomea’s story and realized that there is more to history than what you learn in a textbook.

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