Thursday, March 2, 2017

“While I wasn’t looking, the Holocaust went from memory to history”

“While I wasn’t looking, the Holocaust went from memory to history”

Reading this simple sentence evoked a strong visceral emotional response when I read The Book of Joseph, a play by Karen Hartman presented by the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. In a nutshell, it clearly expressed my frequent regrets since my parents died. I not only lost them, but the opportunity to hear directly and understand fully what they and their families experienced in nazi Germany. Their memories are now lost to me and I am left to the imperfect, incomplete family history that I have been trying to construct.

Please take the hint and learn from your older family members.  You’ll only regret it if you don’t.


The Book of Joseph by 
Karen Hartman                                                                                                                                  

After the tragedy of losing his parents in a car crash, Richard Hollander, found a briefcase with various documents and over 200 letters stamped with swastikas.  He  and his father Joseph never discussed his father’s past in detail.  Joseph escaped Poland before the war.  Richard knew little more. Dealing with his grief, he left the briefcase and its contents untouched for 15 years.

When he finally opened the briefcase, he found a previously unknown autobiography that told his father’s story of leaving Poland to escape the Nazis having failed to convince his mother and married sisters to join him. They ultimately were murdered in the Holocaust. The autobiography and other documents told of the torturous time he spent fighting to stay in the US and simultaneously seeking a way to rescue his family in Krakow.  He finally earned US citizenship by joining the army and the war in Europe.

The 200+ letters, in Polish and German, addressed to his father, told a richly detailed story of their lives under the Nazis in Krakow and of the continued efforts of Joseph to rescue them.  The letters offer a rich perspective of what Jews in Krakow endured and of the steadily shrinking life-space the Nazis imposed.

Taking the title from a line in one his Grandmother’s letters to his father, Richard Hollander with Christopher R. Browning and Necham Tec, edited Every Day Lasts a Year, a book which tells Joseph’s story, describes Krakow during the Nazi occupation and includes the letters.   It also describes the experience that Richard and his family had in understanding what they had discovered in that briefcase.

The Chicago Shakespeare Theatre commissioned Karen Hartman to write The Book of Joseph, a play adapted from Every Day Lasts a Year.  Its world premiere was January 29, 2017 at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, directed by Barbara Gaines. The last performance of the world premiere is on March 5, 2017.  The excellent reviews that it has received suggest that other theater companies will be presenting performances in the future.

The play is presented in two acts.  In the first act, Joseph’s family members tell their own stories through the reading of their letters to Joseph.  The staging and lighting artfully bring these characters to life.  It’s not just the family members speaking, but a family movingly tells its story.  Joseph’s actual letters to his family in Krakow, did not survive, but Ms. Hartman has crafted a Joseph whose letters simultaneously show his aching frustration and his desire to keep his family hopeful. 

Act two is the story of Richard Hollander and his family, as the contents of the briefcase are revealed to them and they work to understand their meaning and get to know the family they barely knew existed.

The Book of Joseph is especially meaningful for me as I too discovered letters after my mother died and I too left them unread for too long (8 years in my case) 

In contrast to the remarkable story told by the Hollander family letters, mine number only ten with large gaps in time in between them and only hint at their lives. Read them here: Letters to My Mother 

I highly recommend The Book of Joseph.  But, rather than write a full review, let me refer you to the review by Chris Jones in the Chicago Tribune.  He took the words right out of my heart. Click here to read Chris Jones' review

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Visit to the International Tracing Service (ITS)

Once again, I call attention to Hans-Peter Klein and his good works in support of descendants of the Jewish Communities of North-Hessen.   I asked him for advice in scheduling a visit in October of this year to the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen, Germany.  ITS holds in its archives some 30 million documents recovered from the Nazi regime.  It makes these documents available in order to provide information on the fates of victims of Nazi persecution.  The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington also has access to the full ITS database.

As I have come to expect from Hans-Peter, he joined me on the visit to the ITS that he arranged.  We had a revealing and emotional three hour visit there.  Our host spent the entire time with us and provided surprising documentation of my grandparents’ and aunt’s fate.  In addition, while we were there, she found information on many other members of my family and promised to eventually send more.

The ITS recently published an article about Hans-Peter and our October visit: 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

German Jewish Genealogy: A Case Study - JGSI

Below are links to the presentation slides and hand out

presented to the Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois April 17, 2026

Saturday, April 9, 2016

German Birth, Marriage and Death Record Template Translations

Irene Peters recently posted a link on the German Special Interest Group (GerSIG) Email Discussion Group of broad interest which is listed below.  In the event that the included Dropbox link becomes unavailable, links to the PDF versions of her translations of Birth, Marriage and Death record templates are available here:

Birth Record Template

Marriage Record Template

Death Record Template

Also see the posting in this blog on access to Hessen vital records:  Access to Hessen Vital Records:

Date: Thu, 31 Mar 2016 00:09:57 +0200
X-Message-Number: 3

Dear GerSIGers,

I noticed that with the digitization of many of the German civil
records more and more posts are being made to ViewMate asking for
assistance with and translations of such records.

In order to help with the pre-printed portions of these birth,
marriage and death records I have created English translations for
these forms and put them on Dropbox (thanks for the suggestion, Roger

These documents are in Word (i.e. .docx) format as well as in .PDF
format. Each has an image of a real record attached to it with the
respective translations underneath (numbered, to make it easier to see
what is what).

NOTE: This will not help with the handwritten parts but at least it
can provide the context for those, I hope.

The Dropbox link is:

If you see mistakes etc. please let me know privately.

Best regards, Irene Peters, Berlin, Germany -

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Stories of kindness and the profound effect that one act can have on our lives.

Arthur Obermayer is the founder and primary sponsor of the Obermayer German Jewish History Awards. These awards are given annually to recognize non-Jewish Germans and their efforts to preserve the memory of Germany's former Jewish communities.

It's now Arthur's turn to be recognized for his efforts as he struggles with terminal illness.

National Public Radio station WBUR in Boston produces Kind World, a series of radio/podcast programs which celebrate acts of kindness.  Episode 21, Not Just Some History celebrates three layers of kindness acts: the remarkable deeds of the Germans who receive the Obermayer Awards, those of Arthur in rewarding, recognizing and encouraging those acts and lastly, the loving acts of Arthur's family to support him as he deals with his illness.

I think you'll find this short seven minute program, produced by Erika Lantz of WBUR, to be moving and inspirational.

Sad Post Script:  Mr. Obermayer died January 10, 2016

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Documents from the Jewish Community of Neuwied, Germany


The International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies had its conference in Jerusalem this year with about 800 in attendance. Last year's conference was in Salt Lake City and Seattle will be the host for 2016. Each meeting provides an opportunity for Jewish genealogists to meet, network and attend a wide variety of presentations and other experiences. One of this year's activities was a visit to the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People.

The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People (CAHJP) in Jerusalem, established in 1939, holds a vast collection of medieval to present day archives of hundreds of Jewish communities, local, national and international Jewish organizations and many private collections.  Their long range plans include making digital copies available on the internet. Their online record store can be searched to see a portion of what’s available, but visiting in person is the primary way to gain access.

From their web site:

“Central Archives staff members cannot conduct actual research, as staff of the Central Archives is too small to do so, even for a fee. At best we can inform you whether we have relevant genealogical material from a particular community for a particular time period. You are then welcome to come to the archives or send someone on your behalf to do the research. In some cases, members of the Israeli Genealogical Society can be privately solicited to do research for a fee. Nothing, however, is as good as a personal visit to the Archives, since additional research possibilities not thought of at the outset often crop up in the course of research.”


In preparation for my visit, I submitted a list of records of interest to me. The Archive responded that only two documents from Neuwied, Germany were available, setting low expectations.

While there were “only” two documents, they were quite interesting and useful. They were both clearly original documents of their time and were of a type that I had never seen.  They were original documents of the Jewish community of Neuwied with information on my family.

The first was clearly of interest, but its purpose was not clear. While sitting in the archive with limited time, I was unable to figure out this puzzle. The handwriting was difficult and faded. On top of that, I have difficulty reading the old script. I took photos of all the pages that might have relevance to my family, hoping to figure it out later.

Each pair of pages listed an individual with columns of text and numbers. Whetting my interest, I found a page for Salomon Aron, my second great grandfather and another for his brother Sussmann Aron.  Of note, is that these were the first in my family to take the Aron surname when patronymics were banned in the 1800s and surnames required.

As an example, here is Salomon Aron’s page:

Understanding had to wait. 

At the conference, during the day which included's German Special Interest Group sessions (GerSIG), I attended a very interesting presentation by Fritz Neubauer, a resident of Bielefeld, Germany and an Obermayer Jewish German History Award nominee. (He discussed the recent find of an archive of letters that German Jews submitted to local registrars in 1939 announcing their assumed new given names as required by law. Men were thereafter called Israel and women Sara.) After his presentation, I asked Fritz to help figure out what this first book was about.

He determined fairly quickly that this book was the book of financial accounts for the Jewish community. It took us a few minutes to decipher the title on the cover. It reads “Contos der Gemeindeglieder” or “Accounts of Congregation Members”. Each pair of pages included a journal of billings to each member and a journal of amounts paid - essentially double-entry bookkeeping.  The billings were for items including synagogue seats, student tuition and student taxes.  The first years' entries included the names of children for whom charges were billed, but later just included the number of children covered. The earliest entries were in September, 1856, the last in 1866.

An accounting book like this can provide information to support family history research.  For example, I found the page for Alexander Jacoby, who I believe to be my 3rd great uncle.  His first wife died in 1859 leaving him three children.  He then remarried and had a child with his new wife.  His ledger page in the book showed him paying student fees and taxes for his children. My prior research had shown that he died while his second wife was pregnant with their second child.  The book includes a page that was started for the widow Jacoby. She continued to be billed for and pay for student fees for the children from her husband's first marriage.

Books like this are apparently fairly unusual to find .  Neither Fritz nor I had ever encountered such a document. But once fully understood, it will yield a variety of information including what ages children would be when they started and finished school, when families joined or left the community, the economic cost of being a community member, as we’ve seen, when members died and probably more. 

In retrospect, I should have taken photos of every page, instead of those just relevant to my personal research. The long range plans of the Archive are to scan their collection and make it available online.  In the meantime, the images I captured from Contos der Gemeindeglieder are available here: Contos der Gemeindeglieder.


The second book I reviewed was a register of all students in the Jewish school of Neuwied from 1894 to 1938. It was labeled "Schülerverzeichnis". The value of this list was more apparent at the outset and I took photos of every page: Schülerverzeichnis. Each student is named; the information for each includes date and place of birth, father's name and other demographic information as well as their report card. Here is the first page:

As it starts with student number 116, either this book is a continuation from a prior book or the early pages were lost. 

Student 123 was of interest to me.  He was Sally Aron, listed as son of Adolf Aron. Adolf was my 2nd great uncle, the son of Salomon Aron, mentioned above.  I had not found any record of Adolf having a son Sally due to the unavailability of most vital records for this period in Neuwied.

I was aware of a Sally Aron who was memorialized as killed in World War I (yes, fighting for Germany, as many of my family did), but could not connect him to my family.  But the Sally Aron listed in the student record had the same birthday. As I looked at the records, his birthday was just a month after Salomon Aron had died. Following tradition, Sally was named after his grandfather, as was my grandfather who was born two years later than his first cousin of the same name.

I have forwarded my photos of both books to Rolf Wüst of Neuwied,  He generously offered to transcribe the student listing.  His transcription is available here


Mr. Wüst is the former Chairman of the Deutsch-Israelischer Freundeskreis Neuwied (German-Israeli friends of Neuwied). Under his leadership, this group placed 255 stolpersteine (memorial stones placed in the pavement in front of the former homes of Holocaust victims)  

This brochure describes this remarkable accomplishment:

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Review of The List by Martin Fletcher

The List by Martin Fletcher; Thomas Dunne Books; Reprint edition (October 11, 2011)

Having spent most of my adult life with my head in the sand regarding the Holocaust, I eventually focused on learning what led to this horrible period and what happened to Jews during the war, but not the time after the war.  I occasionally mused on what it must have been like for those who survived the camps and those who escaped before the war and worried of the fate of their dear ones.

Fletcher’s The List takes you into that time.  It looks into the lives of a few Jewish refugees in England and Palestine after the war. Mr. Fletcher’s novel is based on real events in 1945-46 experienced by people like his parents, George and Edith Fleischer.  While not their story, the main characters are, fittingly, a couple named George and Edith Fleischer. 

In London, George and Edith experienced culture shock and joined a rapidly evolving subculture of European Jewish refugees.  They lived in agony, worrying for missing family who disappeared.  George maintains the tear-stained list of their missing family members, suffering as news leads him to cross out names.  Edith’s Cousin Anna, indelibly damaged by her time in Auschwitz, finds and joins them in London.  Her story in London, but not Auschwitz, is told.

The List portrays the everyday challenges and suffering of these strangers in a strange land. Beyond those, it tells of the threat of an ultimately unsuccessful but terrifying London movement to send Jewish refugees “home” in order to free space and jobs for returning soldiers.

The List draws the contrast between these Jews in England and those in Palestine.  The Jewish refugees in London were trying to blend in, take English names and become English.  In Palestine, an ultra-Zionist group employed extreme violence to force the British to raise or eliminate quotas on Jews immigrating to Palestine or to force the British to leave Palestine and let the Jews and Arabs fight it out.  The List shows the irrationality of Britain’s policies in Palestine and the disparity of the response of various Jewish communities.

I recommend reading The List to understand Jewish post-war London from the perspective of those refugees who were fortunate enough to get there. Some portions will be difficult for those who were refugees or their children.

The List recalled a document that my cousin Gerald Stern in England sent me.  It was issued by The German Jewish Aid Committee in conjunction with The Jewish Board of Deputies to Jewish refugees from Hitler’s Europe. It brings a stark reality to the book’s story.  Here is the cover:

It’s in English and German and has the following sections:

·         ORGANIZATIONS Useful for our Visitors

·         HOW TO REGISTER with your Local Police

·         The TOLERANCE AND SYMPATHY of Britain and the British Commonwealth



You can read it here

Friday, July 25, 2014

First Stolpersteine Laid in Borken (Hessen) 10 Jul 2014

My wife Jackie, my son Zach, my daughter Joni and my granddaughter Sydney traveled to Borken (Hessen) Germany to participate in a ceremony on July 10, 2014 at Gunter Demnig's installation of stolpersteine remembering my mother and her parents and sister who perished in the Holocaust. The stolpersteine (stumbling blocks) are pictured below and are intended to have people think of my mothers family and their fate as they pass by where they lived before the horrors of the Nazi regime.  The stolpersteine project is fully explained at:


In 2011 I visited Borken with Hans-Peter Klein (see other posts about Hans-Peter in this blog).   We tried in vain to find my mother’s house. In my mind was the possibility that someday I would seek to have stolpersteine placed there. We knew the address, but the street numbering system changed after the war, so we couldn't find it. We had a picture of what I believed to be their home and walked the neighborhood looking unsuccessfully for houses that matched.  Hans-Peter was later able to determine where the house stood and that it had been razed in 1971.

(It turned out that Mr. Thomas Mainhardt, who lives near where my mother's home had been, attended the ceremony and had a photo album which included pictures of my family's home.  I left Borken with all the photos on a thumb drive.)

With this information, the process that led to the placement of the stolpersteine took over two years.  I first wrote to Bürgermeister Hessler in May, 2012 indicating my interest in the project. Hans-Peter and I met with him and Ingo Sielaff, Borken's historian in November of that year to discuss the project.  Mayor Hessler was very supportive and asked Hans-Peter to coordinate. He asked that I contact other descendants of Borken Jews and let them know of his support should they wish to install stolpersteine for their family members.  As of July, 2014, there are no other projects pending.

We then began a long correspondence to coordinate the schedules of the Mayor, my various family members and, of course, Mr. Gunter Demnig who personally installs all stolpersteine.  Finally, we set on July 10, 2014.

Once the date was set, then all the arrangements had to be made.  All I needed do is arrange air travel from Seattle, Chicago and Boston, a car in Germany that could handle 5 passengers and their baggage, hotel arrangements, coordinating with people in Germany I wanted to see and figuring out things to do other than the stolpersteine specifics which included some things that 9 year old Sydney would enjoy.  Not a small job.

As you'll see by the description and pictures below, Hans-Peter and Ingo had planning to do as well.

The following article was in the Borken newspaper announcing a stolpersteine kick-off meeting. The translation is below.

First Stolperstein Installation in Borken
In memory of the Jewish family Speier

Borken. On Thursday, July 10, the artist Gunter Demnig will lay the first four stumbling blocks in the core city of Borken. They shall remember the Jewish family Speier. In the 1930s,  Levi, Franziska, Ursula and Brunhilde Speier were among the over 150 Borken Jewish residents and lived near the Protestant city church. While Brunhilde Speier, born Rosenbusch, [Brunhilde was born Speier; Franziska was born Rosenbusch] was able to flee to the United States, her parents and her sister were victims of the Holocaust. They were murdered in November 1941 in Kaunas Fort IX in Lithuania. The first Stolperstein laying in the city of Borken, was initiated by the U.S. citizen Dennis Aron, grandson of Levi and Franziska Speier, who will be present with his family.

Information Evening

On Wednesday, June 25, at 7pm, there will be a kick-off event for the Stolperstein laying at the Museum Café "steam coal" in the Theme Park Coal & Energy Borken mining museum. It will be moderated by Hans Peter Klein, Melsungen, and Ingo Sielaff, Borken. Hans Peter Klein is an expert on Jewish history in the Schwalm-Eder district and was recently awarded the prestigious Obermayer German Jewish History Award in Berlin. Ingo Sielaff is a historian and director of the Hessian Brown Coal Mining Museum of the City of Borken. The aim of the event is to draw attention to the laying of the stumbling blocks and bring Jewish history interested citizens together. The two speakers will present the work of Gunter Demnig, recall to memory the history of the Speier family, provide information about the possibility of sponsorships and report on the current state of research on regional Jewish history.                                                                                                                                                               Sb.

Photo Caption: They were Jewish residents in the city of Borken. The couple Levi and Franziska Speier with their daughters Brunhilde and Ursula, who lived in the 1930s “at the church" [the street name] in Borken (Photo: Dennis Aron, USA).                                                                                                                                                                  Sb.

The Stolpersteine Installation and Ceremony

The installation was scheduled for 4pm.  Borken would be the third town that day in which Gunter Demnig would lay stolpersteine.  He lays about 400 per month.

To start the day, Hans-Peter Klein took my family and me on a tour of towns of our ancestors which were close to Borken.  We visited three Jewish cemeteries, saw two of the homes where our ancestors lived, visited the Breitenau Holocaust Memorial which is housed in a monastery built in 1113 and served as a prison and concentration camp and learned some family history.

Then it was time to meet the mayor before the ceremony.  When we arrived at the town hall, we were treated like visiting dignitaries by Bürgermeister Hessler and the city of Borken.  We learned a bit of town history.  Then Jackie and I and Hans-Peter were invited to sign the Golden Book of Borken which is quite an honor. (Gunter Demnig signed later as well)

From the Left: Heinz Meier, president of the city-parliament (Stadtverordnetenvorsteher) of Borken,
Jackie Aron, Joni Swenson, Zachary Aron,
 Ingo Sielaff, Borken Historian and Mayor Bernd Hessler.
Dennis Aron signing.

Gunter Demnig installing the stolpersteine
Link to video of Mr. Demnig. Video by Vera and Justin Klein
The stolpersteine were installed in the street in front of where the Speier house once stood at 84/85 An der Kirche.  The home was demolished in 1971 and replaced with the apartment building which stands today.

Dennis Aron speaking.
The text of his speech is included at the end of this blog entry.
Mayor Hessler at the podium.  To his left,
Hans-Peter Klein who translated Mr. Hessler's
comments into English.

The ceremony was attended by local citizens.
Link to video of Ceremony. Video by Vera and Justin Klein
Deborah Tal-Ruttger of the Gudensberg, Germany Jewish
Community sang a prayer for the dead.

Link to video of Ms. Tal-Ruttger. Video by Vera and Justin Klein

Jackie Aron, Pastor Jochen Löber, Dennis Aron and
Zachary Aron.  Pastor Löber gave a prayer at the ceremony.

Link to Video of Pastor Löber. Video by Vera and Justin Klein
Jackie, Zach and Dennis Aron walking with
Gunter Demnig

Mayor Hessler, the Aron family and Hans-Peter Klein at
the memorial to the Borken synagogue which was destroyed
on Kristallnacht in 1938.
Link to Video by Vera and Justin Klein.

A reception was held at the Historisches Rathaus (Historic Town Hall)
originally built in 1611
Mayor Hessler presented gifts to all the family members at the reception.  Food and beverages were served.  It was a nice and relaxing end to an emotional day.
The following morning we were given a nice send-off with a private tour of the

Hessisches Braunkohle Bergbaumuseum (Hessian Brown Coal Mining Museum) given by Mr. Ingo Sielaff,

Museum Director, Borken Historian and one of the facilitators of the events of our visit to Borken.  I had asked him to focus on Sydney; it worked:  at the end of the trip she said one of the highlights was "Ingo's museum"

This was a remarkable time for me and my family.  For me it provided the satisfaction of completing a life goal that I had set to ensure the memory of my mother's family where they lived.  For my family, they got to see the land of their roots, to see some of their ancestral homes and to understand, firsthand, this important part of our family history.  I am very grateful to Hans-Peter Klein, Mayor Hessler, Ingo Sielaff and all those that made this possible.

*   *   *   *

An article appeared on WWW.HNA.DE: Gedanken stolpern: Erinnerung an das Schicksal der jüdischen Familie Speier.  WWW.HNA.DE is the website of Hessische/Niedersächsiche Allgemeine Zeitung (Hessen/Lower Saxony General Newspaper). I have included a translation of this article as it provides a nice description of the proceedings:

Thoughts stumble: Remembering the fate of the Jewish family Speier

Borken. The house in which they lived no longer exists, but in Borken, in the street "An der Kirche" (At the Church) four stumbling blocks now remember the fate of Speier family. These are the first stumbling blocks that were laid in Borken.

Looking back: (standing from left) Hans-Peter Klein, Mayor Bernd Hessler, Joni Swenson, she is the daughter of Dennis and Jacquelyn (Jackie) Aron, son Zachary, granddaughter Sydney Swenson, center Dennis Aron with Gunter Demnig.Photo: Zirzow
The starting point was a conversation between Mayor Bernd Hessler and Dennis Aron who had traveled from the United States in fall 2012. His mother Brunhilde Speier, who had escaped overseas in 1937, lived with her parents Levi and Frances Speier and her sister Ursula in a house near the Borken church, all three were 1941 victims of the Holocaust,.
Do not forget
Now Dennis Aron was there along with his family, when the artist Gunter Demnig laid the stumbling blocks. Pastor Jochen Löber recalled that it was important not to forget people who once belonged to us. The pastor, it was important to recognize that a Stolperstein stumbles not the feet, but the view is "stumbled" because you involuntarily stay in front of these small, bright shiny nameplates.
"They should stimulate thought and put our feet onto the path of peace and tolerance. In the spirit of Jesus, the Jew from Nazareth "said Löber in his final prayer.

Remember: The stumbling blocks in Borken.Photo: Zirzow
Mayor Bernd Hessler recalled that in 1930 a total of 153 people in 38 Jewish families lived in Borken and worked as teachers, butchers, livestock traders and businessmen, and that after the end of World War II no more Jews lived in the mining town.
Now, thanks to the information from Dennis Aron, we know lot more about the former family Speier. Hessler stressed that the stumbling blocks not only remember a family fate, but also raises the social question of people dealing with each other: "stumbling stones should provide food for thought. They show how close Nazism has played outside our own front door. "
In his moving speech, Dennis Aron thanked the leaders of the city and especially in Gunter Demnig, whose personal merit it was to have laid stumbling blocks for more than 45,000 men, women and children who were persecuted and murdered in the Holocaust.
By Rainer Zirzow

The local newspaper, The Fritzlar-Homberger Allfemeine carried the above article and had a side-bar that isn't available on-line:


Only one survived

Aron could not hold back the tears, as he reported on the fate of the Speier family.  Thus, the audience learned that the family Speier received a travel visa for only one person, and decided that Brunhilde Speier should grow up with her father’s sister in the U.S. On November 25, 1941 the rest of the family was taken, along with another 2930 deportees, to Fort IX in Kaunas, Lithuania, and  herded into a ditch and shot by an SS death squad.  

The American reported further, that his mother Brunhilde never spoke of Germany, because the memories were too painful for her. After his mother’s death, Dennis Aron found letters in German that his grandmother wrote to her daughter in the years 1938-39. He put back most of the letters unread, because their contents were too difficult to cope with after the death of his mother. After the death of his father in 2008, he found the letters again and read the sad insights to the fate of the Speier family. This also applied to Ofra Karo who traveled especially from Israel, because her grandparents Flora and Sally Stern were neighbors of the family and also suffered under Nazi rule.  

After Deborah Tal-Rüttger, a well-known representative of Jewish culture in North Hesse, recited the Kaddish, a Jewish prayer, everyone gathered at the Memorial to the former Jewish synagogue. (ZRZ)  

*   *   *   *   

Presentation by Dennis Aron at the stolpersteine ceremony

I am Dennis Aron.  We are here to remember my mother Brunhilde Aron nee Speier, her father Levi Speier, her mother Franziska Speier nee Rosenbusch and her sister Ursula Ruth Speier who lived at this address. 

Today we install Stolpersteine in their memory, the first in the town of Borken.  This is all thanks to the support and efforts of Bürgermeister Bernd Heßler and Mr. Ingo Sielaff of Borken and my friend, Mr. Hans-Peter Klein of Melsungen.  Also joining us is Ofra Karo of Israel whose grandparents were neighbors of my family living in the adjacent home on Bahnhofstrasse.

I am especially grateful to Mr. Gunter Demnig who is personally responsible for stolpersteine memorials for more than 45.000 who were lost in the Holocaust. He originally conceived of stolpersteine as a way to remember victims of the Holocaust and continues to show unlimited energy and commitment to preserving their memory.  I am also grateful to his support staff who helped fit this stolpersteine installation into his busy schedule.

Some of my family is here to learn about their family roots and to help preserve the memory of their ancestors.  Here is my son Zachary Aron, my daughter Joni Swenson and her daughter Sydney Swenson, and last but not least my wife Jackie.

We are standing where the Rosenbusch family, a German-Jewish family, lived for many generations. In 1920, Franzisca Rosenbusch married Levi Speier of Guxhagen. They came to live with her mother Johanna in the house that stood here.  In 1921, my mother was born. In 1924 her sister was born. The family lived as ordinary German citizens. My grandfather was a cattle dealer in partnership with his brother in Guxhagen.  My grandmother and her mother ran the household.  My mother and her sister lived typical German lives, learning to cook and sew from their mother and grandmother. All was normal for the Speier family until the Nazis took power and began their reign of terror.

As the curse of Nazism spread, it became clear that Jews should leave Germany.  The family obtained only one exit visa. They decided to send Brunhilde, on December 30, 1937, to live with Levi’s sister in Chicago in America.  Levi, Franziska and Ursula perished.

My mother never spoke of Germany; the memories were too painful.  In 2002, after she died, I found letters in German that she received from her mother during 1938-39.  Their contents were emotionally challenging for me, just after losing my mother, so I put them away without reading them.

In 2008 after my father died, I again found the letters and decided it was time. Hans-Peter Klein kindly transcribed them so I could read them. The letters tell the very sad story of the increasing urgency of their desire to leave Germany, their unsuccessful attempt to send Ursula away on a kindertransport, the rapidly diminishing Jewish community in Borken and their increasing desperation. They knew they had to leave Germany. They did not succeed. In 1939, they moved to Frankfurt.

On November 22, 1941, my mother’s parents and sister were in a group of German-Jews gathered for deportation in Frankfurt’s Municipal Great Market Hall on Hanauer Landstrasse. All 992 of them boarded a transport train scheduled to take them to Riga.  Inexplicably, the train took them instead to Kowno in Lithuania.   Upon arrival on November 25, 1941, all occupants of this train with other deportees from Munich and Berlin - a total of 2,934 people – were herded into the trench of Kowno’s Fort IX and shot by an SS killing squad.

We come here today to remember my mother, my grandparents and my aunt, who lived in the house which stood here.   They were observant Jews; they followed the old traditions.  Each Jew who came through the Holocaust emerged, forged by the experience in his or her own unique way. As I matured, I realized that, among other things, my mother’s experiences led her to be a mostly unobservant Jew.  As a result, my brother and I do not observe the old ways. But had we grown up in Borken, we would practice Jewish tradition.  I am grateful to Ms. Deborah Tal-Ruttger for helping us to honor my family’s tradition by saying the Kaddish prayer for mourners.

With the placement of these stolpersteine, the citizens of Borken will now remember their former neighbors and friends when they walk here. It is a comfort to their family that Borken now welcomes home Levi, Franziska and Ursula Speier.

Once again, my thanks to Bürgermeister Bernd Heßler, Mr. Ingo Sielaff, Mr. Hans-Peter Klein and Mr. Demnig for all their support and help in bringing us together today for this ceremony.

The Memorial Book for the Victims of the National Socialist Persecution of Jews in Germany lists 58 individuals, born in Borken, who perished or were lost in the Holocaust and 17 who were listed as Borken residents.  Hopefully over time, they too will be remembered with stolpersteine. Bürgermeister Heßler has expressed interest in supporting the families of former Borken residents in having stolpersteine installed for their lost family members.

May the world, now and forever, be without hate, racism and anti-Semitism. 

Thank you all!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Letters: Friends reconnecting after the war; from Berlin to New York City

From the documents of Erich Jacobs, former Lehrer in Recklinghausen; contributed by Fredel Jacobs Fruhman

This posting gives some insights to the Jewish community that formed in Berlin after the end of World War II in the context of the reconnection of a close pre-war friendship between two families.

Willy and Hanna Katz lived in Recklinghausen, North Rhine-Wesphalia before World War II. Willy was the president of the Recklinghausen Jewish congregation, as well as being a Shochet [ritual slaughterer] and a Mohel [doing ritual circumcisions]. He and Hanna were the proprietors of a kosher restaurant. They survived the war in the Berlin underground. 

Erich Jacobs was the teacher at the Recklinghausen Jewish school from November, 1937 until it closed in July, 1941. After Kristallnacht, when the town’s rabbi took an opportunity to leave Germany, Erich served as acting-rabbi until September 1941 when he, his wife Hetti and their son Jethro (Yitro) left Germany.  They spent the war years in Cuba.  After the war, they immigrated to the United States, living first in New York City and then in Trenton, NJ, where their daughter Fredel was born.

The letters linked to below came from the Katz family to the Jacobs family.  There is one 1941 letter from Rolf Katz, son of Willy and Hanna, to Erich Jacobs, in Barcelona while in transit to the US.  After five years of silence, Willy and Hanna write, starting in 1946.  Clearly the two families had been quite close. 

Fredel Jacobs Fruhman transcribed and translated these letters and prepared the presentations with commentary: