WASHINGTON, July 17 (UPI) -- Where do you think some severely wounded young Israeli veterans go for a few days of peace after years of living with terror? Would you believe -- Germany?
Can you imagine that some of them would later rave about that first good sleep in a long, long time they enjoyed at Weitenhagen near the Baltic coast? And would you believe that a holocaust survivor is organizing the whole thing?
Even more astounding, the Protestant retreat center where they slept, sang, danced and prayed with Germans of their own age is situated just a short ferry ride from Ruegen Island. It was there that until its collapse in 1989 the East German regime trained Palestinian guerillas.
The young Israeli men and women even met a man who taught the Palestinians their bloody craft while the two-faced communist leader Erich Honecker decorated Edgar Bronfman, then president of the World Jewish Congress, with the Great Star of People's Friendship, East Germany's highest medal.
That ex-trainer of terrorists now owns a photo shop in the ancient Hanseatic port city of Greifswald, a short car ride from Weitenhagen. He said that, given his experiences with the type of people that maimed these young Jews, he now empathized with Israel. So all disabled young Israelis coming to this part of Germany for rest and recuperation would have their films developed for free in his lab.
Ilana Silvan, 20, told this correspondent she was loathe to leave Germany after her 10-day sojourn there. "It is in Germany that I rediscovered my greatest love --- music," she said in a telephone interview from Tel Aviv.
Ilana had thought she'd never play again after on her fourth day in the army an explosive device detonated under her seat in a bus, burning half her body and immobilizing her right hand forever. It turned out that a terrorist had triggered the blast by remote control, using his mobile phone.
That was about 18 months ago. Ilana used to be a saxophonist in a band, and a pianist. "But since that day I have not played. I thought I couldn't ever again."
But as she was relaxing in the Haus der Stille (literally, House of Calm), a retreat center run by the Lutheran territorial church of Western Pomerania, she met a young chemist from Halle, birthplace of George Frederick Handel.
He said, "Come on, let's play together," and chose, naturally, a Handel composition for four hands. Reluctantly, Ilana sat down by his side, playing with her good, left hand. "We were short one hand," she told UPI with a laugh, "still, it was a stirring experience."
Like all the German escorts of the 18 young veterans, this chemist was a supporter of Israel for theological reasons. "They are convinced that Israel is the land God has given to the Jews," explained Czech-born Holocaust survivor Ilan Brunner, 68, who has been sending disabled young Israelis to Germany on and off for the last 10 years.
When Brunner was a kid in Prague, his parents put him on a Kindertransport (transport for Jewish children) to England. There he was placed in a foster home until both his mother and father miraculously managed to escape to Palestine and the family was reunited after seven years.
As an army captain, Brunner worked on the German desk of the Israeli Defense Force. "In that position I discovered how warmly Christians from Germany felt about Israel," he related in an interview.
So he started the one-man enterprise called Disraelis -- short for disabled Israelis -- organizing German holidays for the vets. "He was not adverse to doing a bit of arm-twisting," according to Horst-Klaus Hofmann, founder and chairman emeritus of the OJV Fellowship, a powerful German youth ministry.
"We were at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial for a service of repentance," Hofmann said, "and there was Brunner telling us, 'Words don't grab us. We Israelis are only interested in deeds.'"
And a deed followed. With Hofmann's help, the Rev. Wolfgang Breithaupt, a Lutheran parish pastor and director of the Weitenhagen retreat center, raised funds to bring Brunner and 18 young Israelis to Germany. Said Brunner, "If we had enough money, I could provide a new group to go to Germany every three months or so."
This, then, was the human interest aspect of this story -- a story of friendship between young Germans and Israelis almost six decades after Hitler's death. But it has another political and theological angle as well.
While West Germany accepted the responsibility for what the Nazis had done to the Jews and paid restitution to Israel and Holocaust survivors or their descendants, the communists in the Soviet-controlled East did not. They claimed that since they were, in a sense, ontologically anti-Nazi, the part of Germany governed by them was equally innocent of Hitler's misdeeds.
This view was not shared by the shrinking but still powerful Christian minority in East Germany, which later became instrumental in the overthrow of the Honecker government.
While the government trained Palestinians to fight Israel, Lutheran pastors, especially those of evangelical persuasion, prayed openly for that country, and also urged their parishioners to atone for the crimes the Nazis had committed in their name.
The Rev. Breithaupt was one of these pastors. To judge by the exceptionally good attendance of his services in Weitenhagen's Gothic church, he had -- and still has -- many followers.
To compound the historical irony of this tale, Weitenhagen is not far from the former National People's Army base at Eggesin. It was home to an elite East German armored brigade. Now of course it is run by the Bundeswehr, democratic and united Germany's armed forces.
At Eggesin, said Ilana Silvan, she and others in her group were moved to tears when they were greeted with their national anthem -- and their flag that flew alongside Germany's colors, before they were driven about in Leopard II tanks and then fed Turkey schnitzels.
"The love and respect they received from those Germans made them very proud of being Jewish and Israelis," commented Brunner.
They reciprocated in an interesting way. Both Ilana and Rafi Peretz, 27, another veteran who was severely wounded in an ambush in Southern Lebanon in 1995, told UPI how sad they felt for their young German escorts as they accompanied the Israelis through the Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg.
"They cried," reported Ilana, "they said they were so ashamed of being German and asked our forgiveness. We told them there was nothing to forgive; their generation had not done anything wrong."
Peretz admonished them, "You can be as proud of being German as I am proud of being an Israeli."
But he also told his German hosts that they should not take their peaceful lifestyle for granted. "It was of course wonderful to experience for the first time in one's life the luxury of not feeling threatened," he explained.
Ilana agreed, "You can't imagine what it is like to see someone's handbag left alone on a chair without having to worry if it contained a bomb -- or to go to a disco or mall and feel totally safe."
But, added Peretz, the Germans ought not cling to the illusion that this state of affairs would endure forever, implying that it was wise not to lull oneself into a false sense of security.
Most of the Israelis went to Breithaupt's church service, too, where Ilan Brunner read the 23rd Psalm in Hebrew and Israeli songs were sung. "I wish we had music in my synagogue in Tel Aviv," mused Peretz later.
Another young veteran named Shlomi sat down with the 50-year old pastor and exegeted for him the Genesis story of the tree of life and the tree of knowledge -- meaning the kind of knowledge that was intended to be God's prerogative -- in the Garden of Eden.
Said Hofmann, "Breithaupt, that seasoned theologian, was amazed at this young man's insight."
"I can't wait to return to Germany," Ilana told UPI. According to Brunner she expressed the sentiment of many of the others. But then he went on, "Of course there are others in the Holy Land who suffer, including Palestinians."
So next Rev. Breithaupt will bring a group of Palestinian Christians to enjoy peace and affection in his part of Germany where, ironically, other Palestinians were not so long ago instructed in how to kill Israelis.