Story and photos by Anemone Rueger
U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden Public Affairs Office
“I will give them a name in my sanctuary better than sons and daughters,” recited Wiesbaden Rabbi Avremi Nussbaum from the book of Isaiah as he addressed hundreds gathered Jan. 27 to dedicate a memorial to Wiesbaden’s Jewish citizens murdered under the Nazi regime.
After months of construction, years of planning and decades of research on the fates of the members of Wiesbaden’s once flourishing Jewish community, the memorial on Michelsberg Hill at the location of the once majestic synagogue was turned over to the public.
“It is a place for relatives to mourn, for the victims to have a name and to prevent us from forgetting,” said Wolfgang Nickel, chairman of the city parliament. His predecessor, Angelika Thiels, known to many U.S. military spouses here as a great friend and supporter, was instrumental in uniting all stakeholders to make the memorial a reality. She passed away before seeing the result.
Jan. 27 is observed worldwide as Holocaust Memorial Day, commemorating the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp by the Russian Red Army in 1945, a few months before the official end of World War II. One and a half million lives were extinguished there, making it the horror-filled symbol for the systematic annihilation of the Jewish people by Germany’s Nazi regime.
“A few months ago I followed the extensive news reporting on the castor trains transporting nuclear waste through Germany,” said Moritz Neumann, chairman of the Association of Jewish Congregations in Hessen. “I observed the incredibly dedicated demonstration of civil disobedience as protestors tried to prevent the transports, risking their lives to stop the trains. And I wondered, what if the same had happened 67, 68, 69 years ago as Jewish neighbors, colleagues, friends were deported to death in the camps in cattle trains, along the 970 kilometers from Wiesbaden to Auschwitz — before the very eyes of the public.”
In the place where Wiesbaden’s synagogue was burnt down and destroyed in a devastating wave of violence against German Jews on Nov. 9, 1938, the high walls of the memorial now carry 1,507 names of local Jewish entrepreneurs and shop owners, goldsmiths and tailors, teachers and scholars, pensioners and children. Words such as Maidanek, Treblinka and Auschwitz document the unspeakably cruel end of their lives.
“This ceremony is very special for me,” said Doron Zahavi, a guest visiting from Petakh Tikvah, Israel, as he looked around during the ceremony. “The ground we are standing on is the very place where my father was born. My grandfather, Joseph Goldschmidt, was the custodian of the synagogue.”
“Look. Look what I just discovered here,” he said with excitement, pointing to a small map of the synagogue grounds in a documentary book handed out to ceremony attendants. “You see this little house here behind the synagogue? This is where my family used to live.”
“My father loved Wiesbaden and Germany,” said Zahavi. “He used to ride his bike along the Main River to Frankfurt to visit his cousin, watching the ships along the way and dreaming of faraway destinations.”
The names of Joseph and his children are not on the wall. “The family decided that the kids would leave when the first brown shirt entered Wiesbaden,” said Zahavi. His father Ernst and two siblings left Germany in 1935. Grandfather Joseph left for England in 1939, and later for Israel, after surviving imprisonment at the Buchenwald camp following the Pogrom Night of November 1938, from where he was released after six weeks thanks to his military awards as a front fighter for the German Empire in World War I. Upon arrival in Israel, the name Goldschmidt turned into Zahavi.
“Behind each one of the names, there is a personal story, a fate that touches each one of us,” said Nickel, addressing those who had come to commemorate. “This is an important day for Wiesbaden. We are taking responsibility for our history. We want to lift the victims out of anonymity.”
“Today I have closed a circle,” said Zahavi, looking up Michelsberg hill into the nightly sky.
The memorial wall is located within walking distance and just up the hill from Wiesbaden’s city hall. Aktives Museum Spiegelgasse on Wiesbaden’s Spiegelgasse St. 9 behind the Nassauer Hof hotel offers extensive research material on the history and individual stories of Jewish Wiesbadeners. It is open Thursday and Friday 4–6 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and also upon request. For more information, visit the museum’s website at www.am-spiegelgasse.de.