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!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your moving experience! - Janet D.