Former German Ambassador to the United States Wolfgang Ischinger flew from Munich to Minneapolis this week to speak to the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. He covered a broad range of subjects from Iran to Israel, to Syria and the role of the United States in leading the world toward solutions.
He also spoke of the Holocaust. He spoke clearly about Germany’s atrocities during World War II. He would not gloss over a part of history that his audience has pledged to never forget. When he was done, the Jews gave the German a standing ovation. They recognize a good man when they see one.
Two of the people standing and applauding were Farley and Karen Kaufman. They have a special interest in things German and know personally that Germans recognize a good man when they see one.
Evan Kaufman is their son. He was a standout hockey player for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. After college, he tried out for the Dusseldorf professional hockey team in Germany. He is now a recognized member of Germany’s version of the NHL. Because his family heritage reaches back to Germany, the government granted him dual citizenship.
Evan’s father, Farley, told me, “I went up to the Ambassador after his speech and asked him if he was a sports fan.” Ambassador Ischinger is, indeed. But he is more a fan of history and told Evan’s father and mother that their son’s story is important for reasons that go beyond sports.
Evan’s great-grandfather, Edward Kaufman, was starved to death by the Nazis. Nazi guards killed his great-grandmother at Auschwitz. His grandfather escaped. He was a survivor. Farley told me, “My dad never held grudges, despite what he’d seen. In fact, the year he died, he had been invited by German authorities to return to Germany. He never made it. But, he never held a grudge, and he passed that on to us. Evan is an example of that.”
Now, at the end of every season, Evan plays for the German National Team. A Jew from Minnesota, a high-scoring forward, is the first Jewish hockey player to wear the German jersey since the 1930s.
“Evan is an ambassador, himself,” Farley said. “It is a big deal in Germany.”
It might be said that Evan is a symbol of what Germany has done to make sure that nothing like the Holocaust will ever happen again on German soil. Holocaust denial is a felony offense in Germany. Children in schools are taught the truth about the Nazis. German Jews have returned by the thousands to their homeland. Ambassador Ischinger called the change in German attitudes and the friendship of Jews with today’s Germans nothing short of a miracle.
Still, said Farley, “Evan is often the first Jewish person any of his German hockey teammates have ever met. And, what they come away with is that Evan is a great teammate.” Period.
Americans, and particularly Minnesotans, hold dear the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympic games when a bunch of college kids beat the vaunted Soviet National team.
Here, my friends, is another miracle on ice.