A German remembrance of November 9th

  • November 11, 2010
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From Gert Krell, my German blog partner at shadowsoftheholocaust.com:

Chagall's rabbi

Last night, as we do every year, we joined a group of people from Hofheim at the “Türmchen“, the little former watch tower in the old town wall which had been a synagogue until the “Reichspogromnacht” (the night of the pogroms) in November 9/10, 1938. A group of pupils from the local grammar school sang a song in Hebrew, and Mr. Schelwies from the Association for Christian-Jewish Cooperation gave an introductory speech. Mr. Krull, another Protestant vicar, then talked about Marc Chagall’s painting “The Rabbi with the Thora-Roll” from 1941. The rabbi’s face is Chagall’s and his name is inscribed on the thora in small Hebrew letters below the shields of David.

After another song, we all lit candles and put them down at the wall of the “Türmchen” in memory of the Jews from Hofheim who were expelled or murdered. Among them were Adolf and Hermine Oppenheimer. When a policeman had called upon them in August 1942 for their deportation, their Christian neighbours had come down to join them in the street to say good-bye. Adolf and Hermine Oppenheimer begged them: “Don’t forget us.”

When I woke up the next morning, I thought about the non-medical practitioner I will see next week. I fantasized she would ask me what I would cry about if I wanted to. I would cry about the Holocaust and about World War II, which I so narrowly escaped. (I’m currently reading the new book about the German Foreign Ministry during the Nazi era. Meanwhile, the papers say that the Finance Ministry had also been much more involved in the persecution and murder of the Jews than had been public knowledge.)

I would cry with my head and my heart, but I would cry with all my body about the loss of our first child in 1977, who would be 35 on November 13. It makes a difference whether you read or hear about the early death or the murder of somebody else or whether you lose someone very close to yourself. But I do have a sense of how other people feel about their losses. Rabbi Manfred Aron from Hofheim-Wallau, which was a separate village until 1977 with its own synagogue, lost his wife and most of his nine children in the Holocaust. He had escaped to Holland in 1939 and wanted to get his family out, too. It was too late for that, and he only survived because a Dutch family hid him in their house.

Mr. Schelwies told us about Rabbi Leo Trepp from Mainz, who emigrated to the United States after the Nazis had taken him to Sachsenhausen, but who always came back to his former Heimat after the war to teach Jewish studies until he was over 90 and in a wheelchair. (He died in September this year, one day before the consecration of the new synagogue in Mainz, at the age of 97.) In one of his lectures, Rabbi Trepp had said, he believed that God had taken the lives of his more than 20 relations in the Holocaust, and that he would commit suicide, if he imagined that a scoundrel had murdered them. To me, this sounds a little strange, because – as I have told you already – I don’t think that God is omnipotent. But I agree that there is a different order beyond life on earth, and also beyond hatred, murder, and death.

It is very sad that so often people die before their time, particularly if their lives are taken away by other human beings. But at least they are safe now and rest in peace. They have literally become part of the universe again, miniscule as that part may be; of an incredibly and unfathomably fascinating universe. Is there love in this universe? Probably not by itself. But there is, if we remember the dead and honour them.

To read Gert’s current blogs about German Industry and Forced Labor, please visit www.shadowsoftheholocaust.com.

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