Saturday, November 9, 2013

Remembering and Honoring

This is a follow-up to my last post about how my mother-in-law helped rescue her family after Kristallnacht, 75 years ago today. The day after I published that posting, Audrey received an email from a teacher in Bad Konigshofen (her mother’s hometown in Bavaria) who described how the town was remembering that terrible night and honoring the Jews who were hurt, imprisoned, or forced to flee after November 9, 1938. I wanted to share that email and fill in a few more blanks.
But, first, a little background.

My daughter Amanda spent the first semester of her junior year of college in Prague, studying a little and socializing and traveling a lot. Twice her travels took her into southern Germany. The first was, of course, to Munich during Oktoberfest. The photos she emailed us showed a happy, glassy-eyed young woman in full celebration mode. And they were taken at 9:30 a.m.!

Her second trip was a labor of love carried out a few months later. As I noted previously, my mother-in-law left her home in Bad Konigshofen in 1937 under not the best of situations. Conditions were getting worse for Jews in southern Germany, and she decided to flee. I am not sure why the rest of her family stayed behind, but I imagine they were not as fearless or adventurous as my mother-in-law. Or maybe they still believed that Hitler and the Nazis were a passing phase. Luckily, the immediate family members—her parents and brothers—eventually made it out safely. Many other close relatives did not.

My mother-in-law left Germany for good in 1937 and maintained a promise she made to herself never to return, even for a visit. Still, she hoped that her daughter or grandchildren might one day visit her childhood home and connect to their roots there. And Amanda was doing just that in early December 2004. Through connections too intricate to explain, she had been put in touch with a woman in Konigshofen born after the war but deeply interested in the plight of the town’s Jews, all of whom had fled or been forced out in the late 1930s. The woman, Elisabeth Böhrer, had offered to meet Amanda at the train station in town and give her a personal tour of all the places that might have a connection to our family. That tour included the building in which the Malzer grain business had been located and the house nearby where they had lived until 1939. It also included the Jewish cemetery in which the graves of at least three generations of ancestors were located. Sadly, most of the headstones from the cemetery were toppled or out of place. They had been knocked over by the Nazis and used as steps. We know this because of information included in a touching article written by a local reporter discussing Amanda’s visit.
A few gravestones that have been set upright

Here is an excerpt of that article, with translation provided thoughtfully, and hopefully accurately, by Google. It seems pretty amazing to me in its criticism of both the Nazis and the German Republic’s actions following World War II.

On the trail of Jewish grave fields

Bad Königshofen—Amanda Goodman from New Jersey, USA, is a student in Prague. As a person interested in history, she visited the nearby town of Bad Königshofen to explore the roots of her family. . . .

Her grandmother, Franzi Malzer, emigrated to England in May 1937 and continue on from there in 1940 in an eleven-day crossing to the United States. She still lives in New York and now calls herself after marrying Frances Katzenstein. Her parents Max and Bianca and her brother Hans followed to England in 1939 and 1940 to the United States. Thus, they would flee the Nazi captors.

Her Uncle Albert died in 1936 in King Mayrhofen and is also buried here. His wife Regine came to a Würzburg nursing home and died shortly before the beginning of the deportations and is buried in Würzburg. The grandparents are also in the cemetery at King Mayrhofen.

In conversation with Elizabeth Böhrer from Sondheim in Rhon, who is familiar with Jewish history in the region, Amanda said that her grandmother Frances reported for the first time about her history after Amanda had visited Theresienstadt near Prague where her other grandparents had died.  For over half a century she (Franzi) had been silent about these horrific acts.

The tour also led the American past the memorial stone for the synagogue. The synagogue had been built as a proud religious expression in 1901 when the Jewish community had almost one hundred members and inaugurated in 1904.
A plaque noting Nazi destruction in Bad Konigshofen

The impressive building was then perceived as an ornament of the city and a cultural enrichment, as evidenced by contemporary accounts. Moreover, the building added to the outstanding architectural ensemble of the Bamberg road. After the looting and desecration in the pogrom and in the following years was found after the war, no one who wanted to preserve the cultural showpiece. The synagogue was sold and removed in the early 50s.

In this way the Federal Republic of Germany destroyed testimonies of Jewish culture in the beginning of the democratic life. The Jewish cemetery was another destination of Amanda Goodman and Elizabeth Böhrer. This repeatedly desecrated place that is called in the Jewish religion as the "House of eternal life" or "House of Eternity," reflects the barbaric reality of the German past. Of the 47 grave stones that were built from 1921 to 1938, only a small portion remain and only a few are found at the right place.

The majority of the stones had been removed and used in the time of National Socialism as steps in the park. This is done as unprecedented desecration of the responsibility of the city at that time. The "eternal rest", a fundamental part of Jewish faith, was effectively destroyed.

Amanda’s visit made my mother-in-law feel very proud in the way it connected her own youth to her granddaughter’s. I think it was emotional for Amanda too.

Jump ahead a few years, and last fall Audrey received a request from a teacher in Konigshofen seeking photographs of her grandparents. We weren’t sure just what they were needed for, but we scanned in formal shots of the pair and sent them along.

Here is the message we received yesterday. It fills in more blanks about Audrey’s family in Germany and provides some insight into how the town is reflecting on its own past as it commemorates the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht.:

Last year you sent me a picture of Max and Bianca Malzer. Thank you very much!

I had the opportunity to show them to my students and to a public audience several times.

During the last months I found out more about Max. He was no member of the city council, but his brother Albert was. Albert also played an important role as president of the Jewish community in the time when the synagogue was constructed. I think, the brothers had a good time until 1933, but afterwards they were victims of anti-Semitic attacks:

Both brothers, Max and Albert, were arrested and kept in prison at Bad Neustadt in March 1933 for two months. There was no trial, the Nazis called it "Schutzhaft" [protective custody].

In 1938 Max was arrested again and brought to Dachau.

Tomorrow, 75 years after the Pogrome of Nov. 9, 1938, the people of Bad Königshofen and the surrounding region "Rhoen-Grabfeld" are invited by priests of the two Christian churches to come together at certain places to remember the evil that was done to the former Jewish inhabitants. One of these places is the Jewish cemetery here at Bad Königshofen. After a short ceremony in memory of the victims of persecution the people will go home and put a candle light in one of the windows of their house.

It seems very appropriate that the people in Konigshofen will put candles in their windows in the same month that Jews will display Chanukah candles on their own windowsills. The Chanukah lights are a testament to Jewish continuity in the face of oppression, whether by Romans, Syrians, or Germans. We can only hope that the brightness of the candles, German and Jewish, can outshine the fires of Kristallnacht.

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