On Germany

New blog: Living in the Holocaust's shadows

My German friend, Gert Krell, and I are launching a new blog called "Shadows of the Holocaust: An American and a German discuss the legacies of the Nazi era." The blog will be an ongoing conversation between an American and a German that explores how the Holocaust has defined the lives of a generation removed. Here's a brief bio of my German correspondent: Dr. Gert Krell is a retired professor ...

Thousands of Jewish memorials in Germany

My mother's childhood home in Stockstadt, Germany In Germany, the same house remains in families for generations, handed down from parents to children. My mother's childhood home, built in 1721, belonged to the family for over 200 years. Restrictive policies on teardowns and renovations assure that houses do not change in appearance. Often, former Jewish homes serve as German memorials to those who once lived in them. "I could never ...

'The tea set belongs in your family'

The tea set: What remains of my mother's childhood home On my first trip to Germany in 1991, I wondered whether there would be any physical evidence of my mother’s past. I wrote in Motherland, “What can remain of a family destroyed fifty-two years ago?” But the past has strange ways of inserting itself into the present. When we visited my mother’s dear childhood friend Mina in Germany's Oldenwald Mountains, ...

The story of two abandoned synagogues

My mother’s town, Stockstadt am Rhein, had 2,000 people and only two Jewish families. On the Sabbath, my mother’s family walked to one of two neighboring towns – Biebesheim and Erfelden – where Jews from towns along the Rhein River gathered to form a small congregation. Decades after the Holocaust, all that remains of Jewish life in the two towns are the synagogues. In 1988, fifty years after Kristallnacht, "Night ...

The German for 'Oy Gevalt!'

On a trip to Worfelden, Germany, where my great-grandparents once lived, local residents welcomed my mother and me with a specially compiled pamphlet for our visit that told of the town's Jewish history. In addition to the copies of the original blueprints for the synagogue and brief biographies of the Jews who once lived in the town, the pamphlet listed Yiddish words commonly used in Germany today. Under the heading, ...

Stockstadt am Rhein: On the map

Once, when I was eight years old, my mother raised a subject she had never discussed before – her hometown. “I’m from Stockstadt am Rhein.” “Where?” The town’s name was foreign, but the way she said it, with a thick German accent, revealed a part of her I never knew existed. She went to the shelf, dragged the oversized, heavy Rand McNally Atlas of the World to the kitchen table ...

Burden of memory on both sides of the ocean

In 1938, when my mother fled Stockstadt am Rhein -- the small German town her family had helped settle in 1721 -- it had 2,000 people and two Jewish families totaling eight people. That means the Jewish population in Stockstadt was about one half of one percent, a statistic that mirrored Germany at large. In 1939, 350,000 Jews lived in a country of 50,000,000 people. By 1945, the German Jewish ...
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