„They just picked them up? And nobody protested?“
Rana Ahmad is crying. She can’t believe what happened back then. She’s standing near a fountain in Cologne where there was once a Jewish school. The school was closed by the Nazis. The children were rounded up and later murdered simply because they were Jews. Overwhelmed by her emotions, she kneels and strokes her hand over the names of the children. That same evening, she wrote on her Facebook page the words #NeverForgetHolocaust.
August 31, 2016 is a beautiful summer day. Rana and I are taking a walk in Cologne. Although we know each other a mere few hours, we already share a deep friendship. We speak English with each other, because she’s only recently arrived in Germany. Previously, she lived in Saudi Arabia. However, she has a Syrian passport. She grew up in Riyadh, in a world of oppression. She was not allowed to leave the house unveiled and then only accompanied by a man. In public, she had to wear a full veil, „a prison made of fabric“, as she calls it. „The niqab is not freedom,“ she says, adding: „It’s religion that controls women in Saudi Arabia.“
Rana is an atheist, who doesn’t believe in God. In Saudi Arabia, she wouldn’t dare articulate her doubt publicly. To renounce Islam means certain death. „I do not believe in God. I’m an atheist. But even as an atheist I was forced to dress like a Muslim. God does not interest me. I’m interested in particle physics. My dream is to work at the European Organization for Nuclear Research.“
Saudi Arabia is not the place for such woman. She wasn’t even allowed to drive a car. An escape from this prison, which enclosed her body and her spirit, was thus inevitable. She had to keep her plans secret from her family. „They shouldn’t know.“ Her escape began on May 26, 2015. „My father went to work, like every day. He didn’t know that he wouldn’t see me again. I looked at him and said goodbye with my eyes. I haven’t seen him since.“
The first stage of her escape was Turkey. There, she through off her veil to dance to the melody of a street musician. „I was a bird that left its cage.“ In November 2016, the next stage was crossing the Mediterranean Sea in a refugee boat to Greece. A very dangerous journey. From there, she traveled through Macedonia, Slovenia and Austria to finally arrive in Germany.
On August 31, 2016, I sat with her on Rathenauer Square in front of the synagogue and sipped on a beer. It was a beautiful summer day and she wore a sleeveless dress. A year ago that would have been prohibited. And now she was even conversing with a man! One of my first questions was: „Why do women in Saudi Arabia put up with the oppression?“ She answered:
„It’s the religion. Islam embodies a sense of fear. Islam has nothing to do with the mind. Women in Saudi Arabia who read the Koran believe it’s the word of God. They don’t want to upset God and Mohamed. God sees everything. And the family, the patriarch, the state and society are also watching. You are constantly under scrutiny and eventually you think you’re a good person, if those who watch you are happy.“
Breaking the circle of fear can be extremely dangerous. „I’m afraid that my older brother, if he should ever come to Germany, would kill me. For my brother, my way of life is not only shameful, but a reason to kill me.“
„And that shows that you’re right,“ I added. „You don’t want to kill anyone. You’re not angry. You are happy. But, your brother’s not!“
„That’s true,“ she said, „but there’s one thing for which I can’t forgive my parents. They veiled me when I was just ten years old. They stole my childhood. My female friends in Saudi Arabia were married away at the age of 14 years. The husbands were thirty and older.“
„How is it to live in Germany as a refugee?“
„In Germany I’m confronted with refugees who are often devout Muslims. Although I’ve left the place where religion rules and oppresses; in Germany I’m back together with refugees, who are fleeing war, but represent exactly that religion I fled from. They hate me because I’m an atheist. Christians also have a hard time here. Only recently in a refugee camp in Berlin, LGBTs were attacked by refugees. They also live in danger. There’s no place for us. There’s no room for people who criticize Islam. And I not only criticize Islam; I hate it. How can I not hate the religion – along with Mohamed, which demands I be murdered.“
Momentarily, Rana’s eyes wander to the Star of David on the roof of the synagogue. She asked me: „Is there a place in Cologne which commemorates the victims of the Holocaust where I can place flowers?“
That’s why I was with Rana at the fountain on which the names of many persecuted and murdered Jewish children can be read. „Many people in Saudi Arabia are happy that the Holocaust took place. There is so much hatred! Jews were just picked up and nobody protested?“ „Yes,“ I said. „They were picked up from schools, from their homes, from their neighborhoods. No one protested.“ „That’s unbelievable,“ she said. „Now I understand why there is Israel, why Israel must exist!“
„I would also like to show you the place where the idea of the state of Israel has its roots,“ I said. „That place is also in Cologne.“ And so we visited the spot where the building once stood where Maximilian Bodenheimer and David Wolffsohn developed the idea of a Jewish State in the 19th century.
We continued walking through Cologne. We talked about this and that, and laughed a lot. Then I said to Rana: „You didn’t run away from home; you arrived home. You belong here, along with your humor, your curiosity, your tolerance and your knowledge. You’re not a stranger to me. I understand you. I don’t understand the fundamentalists. They are strangers to me. You’re not. Welcome home! „
Since that day I’m good friends with Rana. Here are a few interesting posts from her Facebook page:
Rana Ahmad celebrates herself:
She expresses her thoughts publicly:
She thinks it’s funny that in Germany advertising for an erotic show with lots of sex can be seen near a mosque:
She fights publicly for the rights of LGBT people and Israel:
She gives women courage:
And she’ catching up on her childhood:
A courageous woman!
(Translation: William Wires)