heidi & peter

“love brought me here and love keeps me here”

Heidi: The first time we met was in Cologne and rather ironically at an event for an expat group that we both belonged to. Peter, in fact, was the organizer. I have to admit, that I had seen his picture before the evening, so I was aware of his last name. Perhaps it motivated me, or some friends might refer to it as “stalking my curiosity.” I was indeed piqued to want to know more about him. I looked him in the eye and said “Nice to meet you, I am also an Ashkenazi.”He looked at me perplexed: “Is this a long lost relative?”, he thought. “Hope not because she is beautiful!” As the evening unfolded, the truth came to light.

Peter: We are both expats living in Germany. There is a social platform called »Internations«, an initiative for people that live abroad and want to meet other professionals with similar stories of living and working abroad. So, I was back then running the Cologne group: Organising events, parties and being responsible for the organisation. I was always at the entrance of the venues taking care of guests and greeting people. Heidi was one of the guests in a venue in Cologne on a rainy summer evening. I saw her and checked her invitation. Later, during the evening, she came to me and said this sentence:”I am also an Ashkenazi!” And so steadily our love story began.

Heidi: My reference to Ashkenazi refers to my ancestry, my Jewish roots from Central Europe. Peter didn’t know at the time that we both belonged to the same “tribe.” Jews originating from Eastern Europe are ‚Ashkenazi, and more closer to our mutual histories, is “Ashkenazim”, referring to Jews of Germany. How odd I thought that his family name was a version of the name of our “tribe Askanazy.” And so it all began, with an immediate common denominator and an immediate attraction to one another. Neither of us grew up as observant Jews, in fact, Peter was baptised as Catholic. I grew up in a family without any religion; however, at age 21 I chose to embrace my Jewish roots and travelled to Israel where I lived and studied. I have been practising Judaism ever since and am a staunch supporter of Israel.
Yes, it truly was the name that drew us together, the history behind it and the connections we both shared. But as our story evolved, we developed our own version of what it means to be Jewish, and how to observe it. We both have a disdain towards dogma and find it difficult to prescribe to the “do and don’t list” of a religion. We observe rituals rather than rules, and in doing so, we also pay respect to our forefathers. Peter’s father survived the Holocaust, how he did that to this day, nobody really knows. One thing is for sure, he did not want his family to endure what he had experienced, so he turned his back on being a Jew, moved his family from Germany to Spain. Heidi’s mother grew up in Berlin living a very anxious childhood, fearing that the real identity of her Jewish father would be revealed. At about the same time that Peter’s father, Gert Askanazy, moved his family to Spain, my mother, Anneliese Elsholz, also made the same decision to move as far away as possible from Germany – to start a new life in Canada without any connection to being Jewish.
My decision, years later, to move to Germany was not met with much enthusiasm from my mother and several of my Jewish friends. How can you move to “the enemy?” they said to me. Love brought me here and love keeps me here. The negativity which I heard and still hear makes my decision more resolute than ever. If I consider Germans “the enemy” than for me Hitler has won. The Talmud says: “Live well. It is the greatest revenge.” Peter left Barcelona to study in Mainz, with no intention of staying past his graduation. But a poor economic situation in Spain in the early 90s kept him from leaving. Employment, love and then later two children has kept him here. Whenever Peter’s mother would hear about an anti-Semitic attack in Germany, it would worry her, and a phone call would immediately follow with her reminding us to be careful.

With all this being said, you can’t help but see that this is a story of true serendipity:
How is it that these two people – Gert Askanazy and Anneliese Elsholz – could both have children who returned to the very place which these two escaped before. And that these two children find each other – through the very means which their parents both denied? It happened. And remarkably at age 47.

Peter and Heidi married in a traditional Jewish ceremony on July 22nd, 2018 in the garden of the house which Peter’s father built in San Vincenç de Montalt, Catalonia, Spain.