Thousands of Jewish memorials in Germany

  • December 10, 2009
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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 walk by your house without thinking of you,” a classmate told my mother when we visited Stockstadt.

She remembered my mother even after the house was demolished in the 1970s. The current owners, who inherited the residence from their father (a Nazi), fought to get a variance. “They couldn’t live with the memory of who once lived in it,” a German friend explained to me.

The new owner's renovated house and store
The new owner's renovated house and store

During the renovations, the new residents uncovered an original beam in the home. On it was written the date the house was built,1721; the family name, Westerfeld; and a Hebrew blessing on the home. Yet, when I met the current owner, she squirmed with discomfort, insisting, “We had no idea that the house belonged to your family.”

Others in Germany live uneasily in former Jewish homes. In Büttleborn, the new resident told me, “I feel like a thief.” In recent years, the former Erfelden home of the Jewish dry goods merchant has been sold many times.

“It keeps turning over,” said a life-long resident of the town. “Nobody wants to live in it.”

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