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.
It is not every day that a Muslim Reformist speaks to a Jewish audience about having the Chutzpah to repair the world, but Irshad Manji is not just any Muslim, and AJC is not just any Jewish organization.
I had the privilege of interviewing Irshad before her presentation to our Bergen County community, and asked her about her Moral Courage Project and how her ideas of healing the world relate to the Jewish ideal of Tikkun Olam. She shared that she felt she was approaching the idea of healing the world in much the same light as the Jewish ideal saying, “even my own faith of Islam leads me to this and not surprisingly, since Islam is an offshoot of Judaism and Christianity.”
As I was trying to encourage attendance from the Bergen Jewish community for this program I was asked why AJC would invite a Muslim woman to speak on what is considered a “traditional Jewish concept.” I asked Irshad that very question, and she said, “When I think about my own values, some specifics come to mind: individual liberty; freedom of non-violent conscience; pluralism of peaceful ideals; universal human rights. These are the same principles AJC stands for unequivocally.”
Throughout the interview and in fact throughout her talk I was amazed by Irshad’s forthrightness even when pressed with hard, challenging questions at the end of the program. She began the evening telling the audience, “I want tonight to be among the more honest evenings that you have ever had to share with one another,” and throughout the program she maintained that honesty.
“It is the reformist Muslims,” Irshad began, “not the moderates who will make change. In times of moral crisis moderation is a cop out. In order to uproot corruption you have got to dig deeper than what moderation will allow. You have to get to reform.” Questioned by a somewhat skeptical audience, Irshad stood by her belief that though the number of Muslim reformists is increasing and that one by one their voices are being heard, though change is not imminent.
To those who doubted her words she compared Muslim’s struggle with reform to our own American history first with slavery and later with the civil rights movement. Unfortunately she told the audience, “the cultural and religious and reform will likely take longer than this century has the patience for.”
Her final remarks were a challenge not just to the audience but to herself as well. She said, “I have to wonder if we were more willing to challenge our egos, the egos that insist on being right, what would that contribute to healing the world.”