In January of 1933, twins were born to a Catholic mother and a Jewish father. When the couple divorced six months later, the mother took one of the twins back to her native Germany. The father raised the other in his native Trinidad. The brothers would not see each other again until 1954. Their next meeting after that was not until 1979. That part of the story is strange enough.
However, that’s not even the most bizarre part.
The first brother, raised in Germany by his Catholic mother, joined the Hitler Youth when the Nazis came to power. He was very careful to preserve the secret of his father’s religious background.
The second brother moved to Venezuela, where he lived with an aunt who was a Holocaust survivor before moving to Israel and serving in the Israeli Navy.
They looked exactly alike. They wore similar clothes and moustaches. They had the same quick temper. They shared many personal habits and both enjoyed spicy foods. Despite the fact that one was a Nazi and one was a Jew, there seemed to be some things that were immutably hardwired into both of them. As a result, they were both fascinated and repulsed by the other.
If you were trying to pitch this story as a movie or a novel, you’d get turned down because it’s so unbelievable. Yet, it’s true.
These two brothers are in the news this week because Jack Yufe – the Jewish brother – died at the age of 82. (Click here to read his obituary.) His brother Oskar Stohr died in 1997. In yet another strange coincidence, their story comes to an end the very week that Jews around the world are reading about the births of Jacob and Esau – two twins who were also completely different.
“When her [Rebekah’s] time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first one emerged red, like a hairy mantle all over; so they named him Esau. Then his brother emerged, holding on to the heel of Esau; so they named him Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when they were born. When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the outdoors; but Jacob was a mild man who stayed in camp. Isaac favored Esau because he had a taste for game; but Rebekah favored Jacob (Genesis 25:24-28).”
One of the amazing things about the Jacob/Esau story is that despite their differences, they found a way to make peace with one another. They ultimately exhibited a mutual respect.
As I read these two stories, I cannot help but think about Israeli-Palestinian conflict. How much of the animosity and hatred is programmed into children by parents, teachers and television? If the Catholic mother had taken Jack back to Germany and the Jewish father raised Oskar, would Jack have become the Nazi and Oskar the Israeli sailor? I think it likely. There are some parts of our kids that we can change and influence, but there are some parts that are innate and unalterable.
So, it gives me hope to think that the Palestinians’ hate for Jews and Israelis is acquired and not inborn. However, it depresses me to think that there’s no one to teach young Palestinians any other way.