Relics of a Jewish and Nazi past in Cologne.
Sailing the rivers of Moselle and the Rhine is an
Ancient stony castles sit on craggy hilltops. Miles and
miles of green vineyards precariously grow on impossibly steep inclines to
produce the best Riesling wines in the world. Pleasant-looking towns and
villages dominated by church spires. The peaceful Moselle gives way to the
watery superhighway of the Rhine carrying boats ferrying unusual freight and
While visiting peaceful and picturesque locations, and
learning of their turbulent histories, I began to notice an emptiness that was
referred to in places, and ignored in others. The emptiness was the missing
Jews of the Rhine. Who were they? What happened to them? And how are they acknowledged
by the towns that housed them, and destroyed them?
There were Jews in Cologne (Koln) since the year 321, almost
as long as Cologne itself. Over history, the Jewish community suffered
persecution, expulsions, massacres and destruction. In the Middle Ages, they
were exploited by the rules and the Church and were killed in the name of
Christianity, though the real reason was, by killing the Jew, the Archbishops
were relieved of having the burden of repaying the debt.
The Nazi era was the last in a long history of Jewish
persecution. Jews numbered 19,500 before World War 2. Over 11,000 were killed
by the Nazis.
There is a Jewish section in the Koln Municipal Museum where
the grim story in recounted with evidence of the Nazi crime. Jewish artefacts
are on display on the first floor in this museum. When I was there, German
schoolchildren were being guided through the permanent exhibition.
The Gestapo headquarters were located at 23/25
Appellhofstrasse. This building today houses the National Socialist
Documentation Center where 18,000 wall inscriptions tell of persecution,
torture and murder under the Nazi regime.
The Jews of Cologne were deported to Thereisenstadt between
28 July and 5th
In many German towns Stumbling Stones have been laid into
the sidewalks outside what were the homes of Jewish residents who were marched
to their fate by the Nazis. In Cologne, I saw the stones reminding us of Dr. Max
Goldberg and his wife, Olga, who in 1942 were deported to Thereisenstadt.
Later, I stood at the stones recalling Theo Hannes who was deported to Drancy
and then to Auschwitz where he died in 1942.
The Synagogue was destroyed on 9th
A new synagogue was built in 1959 on Roonstrasse.
Today, Cologne’s Jewish community number about 4,500, mainly
Jews from Russia.
Koblenz is pivotally located at the junction of the Rhine
and Moselle rivers. Like most German towns, strategically placed along the
Rhine, it was bombed by the Allies during the war.
Most of the buildings, which
contained architecturally picturesque buildings dating back to the 17th
century, were reconstructed after the war in the same style making them a
delight to wander along the alleyways, small streets and squares.
However, it was in this town that I had an unpleasant
experience. I was in a group and our local guide, Werner, spoke excellent
English and explained things with a sense of humor and in detail. He was
extremely knowledgeable about the development of Koblenz from the Roman and
Germanic times through the ages until today.
What began to annoy me was his precision in describing the
Allied bombing. He recounted the number of planes, the tonnage of bombs that
feel on this town, the number of houses that were destroyed, and the number of
people killed. In a sympathetic voice he told us that “they”
the women and children to safety in advance of the expected bombing.
Something was missing in his detailed explanation of the
history of Koblenz – the Jews.
When I asked him how many Jews were in Koblenz prior to the
war, he didn’t know. When I asked him if there had been a synagogue in the town
he told me that it had been located in a building he had pointed out to us in a
square more than half an hour before. His silence on these issues was troubling
We arrived in another square where he pointed out a building
with steps leading up to the entrance and an archway leading into a cellar
section. He told us that it had been the town hall up to the war but the
present town hall is located in a newer building in another part of the town.
As we continued walking I asked him if the building he had
shown us had been the Gestapo headquarters. He hesitantly answered its use was
something like that.
I began to be emotional and angry. Out of a pent-up rage I
asked him if this was the square where the town’s Jews were assembled before
they were marched to the train station. He hesitated and mumbled something
oblique in a failed answer to my questioning. I pressed my point and asked him
where the train station was located and, indeed, it was not far away from that
To Werner, there were no missing Jews. There was no
admission they existed at all in his town.
Shaking with fury I told my wife I was leaving this tour
group, explaining to her my anger at his failure to acknowledge this part of
his town’s history. Was I being an over-sensitive Jew? At the time I didn't think this.
It was a sheer
coincidence that no sooner had we left our group that we heard voices in
Hebrew. It was an Israeli group being led by their Israeli guide.
Later, we came across stumbling stones listing the Daniel
family – Otto, Juliane, and Flora – who were deported to Sobibor on 22 March
1942 where they all died.
Koblenz had a population of 80,000 and, in 1929, the Jews
numbered barely 800. By May 1939, there were only 308. Many had fled in advance
of the rise of the Nazi regime. The synagogue was burned down in November 1938
as part of the infamous ‘Kristallnacht’ – the Night of Broken Glass. Only 22
Koblenz Jews survived the Holocaust.
There is a memorial to the 6 million Jews of the Holocaust.
It is located in the old Jewish cemetery located at Schwerzstrasse 14.
After the traumatic experience in Koblenz, I needed a
pick-me-up and got it with a sympathetic local guide who led out group in the
delightful town of Bernkastel. This is a little jewel of a place. However, as
in all German towns, it has its black Jewish history.
The first Jewish presence was recorded in 1289. Almost as
soon as they arrived they became victims of a blood libel pogrom. During the
Black Death the finger of suspicion fell on the Jews who were persecuted or
fled the town. It took until the 17th
century for a permanent Jewish
presence to be established in this Moselle riverside town.
The fate of the Bernkastel Jews seemed reflected in the fate
of the town’s synagogue. A synagogue with a mikveh (ritual bath) was not
established at 77 Burgstrasse until 1852, but it was destroyed by fire in 1880.
In 1852, it was rebuilt and rededicated.
Bernkastel is a small town and the peak of Jewish existence there
was in 1886 with 110 Jewish citizens.
On Kristallnacht in 1933, the SS and local citizens plundered
the synagogue and destroyed its interior. Rampaging Nazis and locals destroyed
Jewish property and attacked the small and defenseless Jewish population. 32
Bernkastel and Kues Jews escaped Germany in the early 30s.
15 others fled to
other parts of Germany where they remained unsafe from the rise of Hitler and
Nazism. The last 4 were deported to Lodz in October, 1940.
At least 21
Bernkastel Jews perished in the Shoah.
Our guide took us privately to the stepped alleyway that once
housed the synagogue. In another part of town there is a memorial plaque that
was unveiled in 1988 to Bernkastel’s Jews. A sign in German points to way to an old
Jewish cemetery outside the city walls.
Trier is a town that dates back
to the Romans and archeological evidence of that abounds throughout this
town. Entrance to the town is through
the impressive Roman Porta Nigra gate.
Jews have been in Trier, on and off,
since the 3rd
century. Judengasse can be found by the market
fountain. This alleyway leads into what a cramped and narrow Jewish Quarter.
The Jews of Trier had a checkered history, to put it mildly.
The Jews were in trouble as early
as 1066 when they were accused of causing the sudden death of Archbishop
Eberhard. Then they were forced to provide provisions for the Crusaders for
their expedition to the Holy Land. This was a period when Jews were banned from
practicing their faith if they wished to remain under the protection of the
archbishop. This did not stop the mob from massacring many of Trier’s
Jews. This period of oppression lasted
until the reign of Henry 4th.
The Jews were attacked again during
the Black Death of 1349. The plague, caused by the unhygienic habits of the
inhabitants, was blamed on the Jews who remained free of the plague’s ravishes
due to their traditional and ritual cleanliness. Death and destruction of the
Jews and their property ensued. Even the Jewish cemetery was desecrated. The
Jews fled the town in panic and fear. They did not return until 1356 under an
edict of King Charles 4th
By 1418 the Jews had, once again,
been banished by order of the archbishop. The properties of the Jews were sold
or requisitioned. These included a hospital. Although some Jews drifted back
into Trier, they were expelled in 1589 only to be allowed back shortly after in
1593 on condition that they wear a yellow star to distinguish them from
Their turmoil was not over. In
1675 the Jews were accused of giving aid and comfort to the French troops that occupied
part of Trier after the French had surrendered. Jewish homes were looted and
destroyed and several were killed or injured in the rioting against them.
Although limitations were placed
on them, Trier’s Jews enjoyed a period of tranquility from 1723. A synagogue
was built in 1762 on a house that had formerly belonged to Rabbi Mordechai
Marx, the grandfather of Karl Marx who was born and grew up in Trier. Indeed,
Karl began to develop his communist philosophy in Trier during a period a great
depression and poverty where he saw the poor workers going without food and
living in abject conditions while the Prussians flaunted their wealth and their
The rise of Hitler led to a
largescale exodus of the city’s Jews. On Kristallnacht, between 9-10 November,
1938, the synagogue was destroyed. Almost all the Jews that remained in Trier
were deported to Theresienstadt in 1941, never to return.
The Gestapo HQ on Haupmarkt is
now an H & M store. A new synagogue has been built and Jews are, once
again, returning to Trier.
17 Jews, including 10 children
were killed in Cochem in a blood libel massacre in 1287. Cochem’s Jews were victims of slander and
death in 1337 and blamed for the Black Death and killed in 1349. They were
expelled in 1418, and again in 1589. Although the Jewish population had swelled
to over a hundred before the rise of Hitler, many escaped or were killed in the
There is a Jewish cemetery in the
woods below Cochem Castle but I could find no memorial or sign indicating the
fate of Cochem’s Jews, although there is another Jewish graveyard in Kelbergerstrasse
with grave from 1940. Cochem’s history,
it seems, revolves around other historic matters.
What is maddening is to visit
peaceful, semi-isolated small towns far away from the major centers of Germany
that were still so fevered with Nazi enthusiasm that synagogues and Jewish
cemeteries in tiny places like Bernkastel, Cochem and Rudesheim had to be
destroyed and their local Jews beaten and dragged away to concentration camps in
a Jew hatred that infected every town and village along the Rhine and Moselle
Anne Roiphe, in a fascinating
article in The Tablet, narrates how the Crusaders slaughtered the Jews of Mainz
on their way to Jerusalem. So brutal was
this act that the Mainz Jews elected to commit a collective suicide. Read also Soloman Bar Samson’s ‘The
Crusaders in Mainz, May 27, 1096.’
The Jewish population and
influence in Mainz was so strong that, at the time of the Black Death, when the
Christians turned on the Jews in bloody and deadly pogroms, in Mainz, the Jews
defended themselves against the mob and killed over 200 before the Christians
could reorganize and take their revenge. On one day alone, August 24, 1349,
they killed 6,000 Jews in Mainz
There were over 200 synagogues up
to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. Kristallnacht 1938 was the start of Jewish
destruction in Mainz. Over a thousand Mainz Jews died in concentration camps.
Synagogues were destroyed. It has to be noted that the bishop of Mainz
organized a group of people to help Jews escape from Nazi Germany.
Today, many Jews from the former
Soviet Russia have made Germany their home, including in Mainz.
Our Mainz guide told me that he
had attended and enjoyed an Israeli Film Festival that had taken place in Mainz
the evening before our tour.
I found much of my attention
turning to how towns acknowledged the fate of their Jews into their narrative
of the long history of their towns. Most were respectful. Others were withdrawn
to the point of being dismissive. I was, therefore, pleased to end my
investigation in Breisach where my wife and I went on foot is search of traces
of Jewish presence in this Rhine town. At one time, 14% of the town’s
population was Jewish.
With the aid of a city map we
made our way to the Blaue Haus (Blue House) in a tiny a street named Michael-Eisemann-platz
that, until 1940, had been a center for Jewish life in the town. Following the Shoah, it is attempting to
again attract German Jews to participate in its new activities. It was closed
when we arrived there but there was a notice advertising commemoration events
in memory of the 70th
anniversary of the Nazi terrors and the Jewish
deportation to Gurs. They had used the top floor of this building for prayers
after the destruction of the town’s synagogue during Kristallnacht.
More than 100 Breisach Jews met
their deaths in various concentration camps. Some committed suicide out of
despair. This was brought home to us as
we crossed the street and came across a corner that Breisach has dedicated to
the memory of its Jews.
A marble tiled floor displays a
menorah on which stands an impressive brown memorial in the shape of an Aron
Kodesh – the holy ark. Engraved upon it
is Psalm 25:6 “Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your loyal Covenant
as of old.”
Before this memorial there is a
table with a loose leaved document file. In it are recorded the personal details
of the Breibach Jews caught up in the Nazi Holocaust. Visitors can read the
names, dates of birth, addresses in which they lived, the dates on which they escaped
or were deported and, in the case of those who perished, where they met their
fate and when.
A sign points the way to
Synagogenplatz, a small street that leads, I suppose, to where the synagogue
once stood. It is now a commercial yard, but we did stumble across an old
Jewish cemetery at the end of this lane from the period 1755-1874. There was partial destruction of gravestones
It was satisfying to end our tour
in a town that knows how to respect their missing Jews.
Barry Shaw is the author of ‘Fighting
Hamas, BDS and Anti-Semitism.’ He holds various titles in the fight against
anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
|Breisach Jewish Memorial.|