I travelled to Germany from November 9 to November 17 to participate in the annual Kristallnacht commemoration conducted by the German community from which my relatives were deported in 1942 and to attend the installation of Stolpesteine memorial blocks in this community.
Sunday, November 9
What began as a letter finding experience several years ago involving relatives killed during the Holocaust, has a grown into a relationship building experience with members of the German community in which my relatives lived - Elmshausen-Lautertal. On November 9, I participated in a Kristallnacht commemoration in Lautertal. I attended the program, which featured 9th grade students recounting the events of Kristallnacht in their community, along with my uncle and cousin. The commemoration culminated in a candle lighting ceremony at a bridge adjacent to the former synagogue building. The building still stands.
Wednesday, November 12
This morning I joined a class of German 12th grade students to discuss the American political system, and current
challenges around the globe. Tomorrow I will meet with another group of students to explore possible
opportunities for intercontinental collaboration on Holocaust education.
Thursday, November 13
This morning I meet with 12th grade students in Pfungstadt, Germany to explore ways we could collaborate on
Holocaust education programs for the future with an eye towards using primary source documents. I found the
students engaging and insightful, and look forward to working with them and their teachers:
Friday, November 14
Today I visited the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen - one of the largest depositories of Holocaust related documents in the world. I knew they had several records related to relatives killed on my mother's side of
the family, but I was stunned to see the deportation list containing the name of my paternal great-grandfather, Berl
Gehlbard, who was deported from Vienna to Sobibor.
Monday, November 17
Today I attended the ceremony in which three Stolpersteine, "Stumbling blocks" were set by the Cologne artist Gunter Demnig in Lautertal-Elmshausen in memory of Theodor, Mina and Walter Israel, my relatives, who were killed during the Holocaust. A display of photography also brought back memories of the Israel family.
Just a few meters from the "Radlett Square" bus stop, where the stones were laid, was the Israel family home on Nibelungenstraße.
I joined local students and residents, who took part in the Stolpersteine installation. The ceremony featured a welcome by the Mayor, Frank Maus (who researched my family history), Klaus Schneider, Wolfgang Hechler and a student Jule Melzer, each of whom provided information about the Israel family members and their life in Elmshausen. Theodor, Mina and Walter Israel were arrested on March 18, 1942 by the Gestapo and deported to the concentration camp Piaski. Walter, who was 16 years old at the time, was killed in the Majdanek extermination camp on July 10, 1942.
The installation ceremony culminated when attendees had the opportunity to take rubbings of the Stolpersteine on copies of a “secret” Gestapo order, which instructed the Elmshausen mayor to falsify the local records so that there would be no evidence of a deportation.
The Stolpersteine project has been implemented in approximately 1,100 locations with over 46,000 stones laid by Gunter Demnig.
Stones have been engraved in Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Switzerland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Ukraine and Hungary.
In Romania, there are plansto have Stolpersteines as well. Also in Lautertal more memorials will follow.
Thursday, November 20
This morning, just fresh my Germany trip I spoke at the AJC Central New Jersey Breakfast about my journey researching my family history and about this culminating trip to Germany and the memoriam to my family.
My wife Hattie and I attended the AJC workshop-Bridging our Beliefs: Introduction to Islam on Thursday, October 30th. It was led by Rabbi Ephraim Gabbai, AJC Assistant Director, Interreligious and Intergroup Relations and attended by approximately thirty AJC members. It was the first of two AJC workshops being held in AJC NY’s offices regarding Islam. The second workshop,Bridging our Beliefs: The Global and Local Muslim Communities, will be held on Thursday, December 4th. The purpose of these workshops is toeducate AJC leaders on Islam and the global and local Muslim communities, and prepare participants for deeper bridge-building work with Muslim leaders.
We decided to attend these workshops because each year we have attended AJC Global Forum we have been very impressed with the Muslim presenters. Through these presentations, we have realized how important it is for the Jewish community to develop better, deeper relations with Muslim moderates. The world will be a better, safer place and the global initiatives of AJC, including supporting the security of Israel and combating anti-Semitism, will be significantly advanced through successful interaction by Jews, AJC members in particular, with Muslim moderates.
The first workshop was awesome. Rabbi Gabbai speaks fluent Arabic and is an authority regarding Islam. Through his superb, enlightening presentation followed by his expert responses during Q&A, we have been successfully introduced to the religious and political nature of Islam, now have a solid grasp of the theological underpinnings of Muslim beliefs and practices and will be comfortable approaching Muslim neighbors.
We are hopeful that AJC NJ will have the time and resources available to initiate significant discussions with moderate leaders within New Jersey’s Muslim communities. We would be honored and excited to participate in such dialogs.
We look forward to the second workshop with great anticipation.