Being in Berlin carried extra meaning for European Maccabi Games athlete Daniel Kuhnreich of Potomac. That’s because this summer the gold medal-winning basketball player was the first family member to set foot in Germany’s capital since his grandfather escaped the Nazis in 1936 and came to the United States.
Daniel’s paternal grandfather, George Kuhnreich, participated in the D-Day invasion and was severely wounded around the time of the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, he went to college on the GI Bill and rose through the ranks of industry with the Tandy Corp.
“I really do have a better understanding of what my family suffered and what we had to leave behind. But, I also learned about my grandfather and how he went back to fight the Nazis and how he was wounded in WWII and how we all must not let this happen again,” said Daniel, whose grandfather died in 1991, before he was born.
Daniel, 17, attends Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, where he is entering the 11th grade.
But not everyone got out. Daniel had family who perished in the Holocaust on the same soil the competition took place from late July to early August. Two relatives were murdered at Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, something that Daniel didn’t know when he toured the camp with his team.
“Sachsenhausen was very emotional. None of us knew that some of my family died there when we went. My dad told me later and showed me a picture of our name in something called the Book of the Dead. That was a little scary. But it was important to learn that,” said Daniel.
The book contains the names of those killed at Sachsenhausen, according to Jeff Kuhnreich, Daniel’s father.
Jeff Kuhnreich said the entire experience was numbing for both him and his son, but said that it was important to Daniel that he visited the place where some members of his family were murdered by the Nazis. They both made it a point to mention how hospitable and warm the German people were to all the athletes and their families during their stay in Berlin.
“They pay great respect, great homage to the victims of the Holocaust, especially in Berlin,” said Jeff Kuhnreich. “They’ve gone to great lengths to commemorate the lost lives and accept the culpability of what had happened and are doing their darndest to ensure that it never happens again.”
He added: “The main thing is that there has been this circle where his grandfather had to escape and he came back as a Jewish athlete representing the United States in a basketball game.”
And won a gold medal in Berlin.