Nazi’s daughter helps Shoah survivors
After learning of father’s past as SS officer at age 18, Didi Henke of Germany visits Israel, later moves to Jewish state to dedicate her life to helping Holocaust survivors. Now, some 20 years later, she is honored by Social Affairs Ministry
David Regev, YNet News, January 31, 2010
"Suddenly, at the age of 18, my life was turned upside down. To learn, out of nowhere, that your father was a Nazi officer – it’s hard to describe the shock." The 67-year-old Didi Henke still finds it difficult to speak of the moment she learned that her father was a senior SS officer.
Following the earth-shattering discovery, Henke decided to move to Israel and dedicate her life to the State and the wellbeing of Holocaust survivors.
Henke learned of her father’s past by chance, during her studies at university in Germany. "In one of the courses we were asked to learn about the history of our cities," she recounted.
"I searched information sources in the university’s archives, and all of a sudden, I found out that my father was an SS officer, who, among other things, was in charge of energy in the city. I was shocked. It felt horrible. I went to talk to him, but both he and my mother refused to cooperate."
The fact that her father showed no remorse for his actions led Henke to cut ties with him: "I took him out of my heart and I decided to dedicate the rest of my life to Holocaust survivors, in hopes of rectifying what my father did."
Fell in love with Israel at first sight
Henke made her first visit to Israel in 1978. She fell in love with the country and returned to it 52 times. In 1987, when she retired, she decided to move to the Jewish state. At the time, her parents had already passed away, and her siblings, who remained true to their father’s Nazi upbringing, barely kept in touch.
Since 1990, Henke has been a volunteer at the Yad Sarah organization and has been aiding Holocaust survivors. "Some of them had a hard time with my German accent, but with time, we created good relations, and I even have friends who are Holocaust survivors," she said in the fluent Hebrew she has acquired over the years.
Henke currently lives in Jerusalem. She says life in Israel and her volunteer work give her much joy. "I belong to the second generation of Germans. We should also be held responsible for what happened there," she said.
On Tuesday the Ministry of Social Affairs held a ceremony honoring Henke and 1,500 other foreigners who arrived in Israel this year to carry out volunteer work. The volunteers, many youths coming from Germany, Holland and Italy, have been living in Israel for several months now and have been volunteering in various fields.
Speaking at the ceremony, Welfare and Social Services Minister Yitzhak Herzog said: "At the end of their stay in Israel, the volunteers become loyal ambassadors of the State of Israel."