Descendant of U-Boat captain closes a circle as he becomes an officer on a new German-made warship in the Israel Navy.
By Yakir Benzion, United With Israel
Benny graduated from the Israel Navy’s ship captain’s course last week and will join the crew of a new German-made warship,
Remarkably, the uncle of Gerloff’s grandmother was a German U-boat commander in World War 2, Ynet reported Monday.
Gerloff was born and raised in Israel, however his non-Jewish parents are of German and Czech descent and arrived in the Jewish state 25 years ago. As a permanent resident, Gerloff is required to enlist in the IDF, and his family are no strangers to national service.
His brother served as a platoon commander in the Kfir Brigade and his sister was a combat fighter in the IDF’s Oketz canine unit. Benny himself was drafted into the Navy’s elite Shayete 13 commando unit – the equivalent of the U.S. Navy Seals – but when he washed out in the final rounds he reached back to the distant skipper genes from his family and was accepted to the Navy’s prestigious seamanship course.
“The people of Israel in the Land of Israel have a significant part in our faith,” Gerloff, who is Christian, told Ynet. “My great-grandfather was a priest during World War II, with the Germans who opposed Nazism and was therefore persecuted by the Nazis and imprisoned for it.”
“Great-grandfather on the other side helped his Jewish friend send food parcels to his relatives in the concentration camps, and to this day we have some of the letters of thanks he sent him. From there, from those days, my love for Israel was rooted in my family and my father came here at the age of 18 to volunteer,” he explained.
“In our eyes, the people of Israel and the Land of Israel are part of God’s plan and that is why I serve in the IDF and it is important for me to defend the country,” he said
In the black-and-white photo he and his parents keep to this day, Lieutenant Gerloff’s unique story takes on a fascinating meaning: the photo shows his family at a wedding held in southern Germany in the early 1940s, featuring an officer wearing the black uniform of the German navy. That was his grandmother’s uncle, who had been a doctor by profession, but was drafted into the German navy after the outbreak of the war and commanded a submarine that was eventually sunk, apparently by the British navy.
“I don’t know much about him, other than the fact that he was required to enlist,” Gerloff said. “My grandmother always emphasized that he was not a Nazi.”
Most of Gerloff’s family members still live in the area of the town of Neuenberg in the heart of the Black Forest on the French border.
His relatives watched the graduation ceremony via Zoom where Defense Minister Benny Gantz pinned his new officer’s bars on his shoulders, and he said they were very excited.
“Most of them live in Germany and grandparents in particular were happy to see me with navy uniform and officer’s rank,” he said, adding his 89-year-old grandmother in Germany always prays facing towards Jerusalem.
Lieutenant Gerloff will serve as a shift officer on the command bridge of a new Navy ship Saar 6 warship scheduled to arrive in the coming months from the port of Kiel in northern Germany.
“It can definitely be a personal and meaningful closing of a circle for me,” he admits.
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