Menorah that belonged to Auschwitz victims returns to grandson

An empty house in Osnabruck led German reporters to relatives of its past owners.

February 19, 2018 15:34
3 minute read.
Menorah that belonged to Auschwitz victims returns to grandson

From left to right: Hubert Baumeister, Roswitha Baumeister, Yotvat Palter Dycian, Aviva Palter, Guri Palter hold the menorah at the home of Hubert and Roswitha Baumeister in Osnabrück on February 5th. (photo credit: JÖRN MARTENS)

A menorah that belonged to a couple killed during the Holocaust has been returned to their grandson, after his father gifted it to good friends of his parents before he left Germany.

Raphael and Alma Flatauer were killed in Auschwitz in 1943 but their children survived, having previously fled the country.

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Their son, Hans, escaped to England, while Kurt left Germany for British Mandate Palestine in 1934, gifting the menorah before he left to their neighbor, Heinrich Grunge.

This month, that menorah made its way back to Kurt’s son, Guri Palter – the fruits of an investigation launched by two German reporters who became intrigued by an empty house in the city of Osnabruck.

The dilapidated grand villa stands empty and conspicuous in an upscale part of the city. The so-called “stumbling blocks” or memorial plaques outside the house signal that Jews once lived in the house before they perished in the Holocaust, but it appears as though nobody set foot in the house for the past 20 years.

Journalists Corinna Berghahn and Kathrin Pohlmann, for the Osnabrucker Zeintung, set out to find out why the villa, which they described as “a rotten tooth in an otherwise flawless set of teeth,” had been neglected.

A three-month investigation finally led them to living relatives of the original owners of the home.

The house, which today is gray, covered in graffiti with broken windows, was once a grand and elegant home to the wealthy Flatauer family who built it in the 1920s – one of many properties they owned.

In 1938, the Flatauers were forced to sell their properties, according to new Nazi policies on Jewish assets. A farmer from the area bought the house.

After the war, there had been a reparation trial between Kurt and Hans, and the farmer’s family, but Kurt gave all the money he received in compensation to Kibbutz Givat Brenner, where he had settled.

Like many Holocaust survivors, Kurt left everything behind in Germany and never spoke to his son, Guri, about his life there. Guri only knows that his father, as a boy, was beaten in a basement by the Gestapo, and wound up in hospital.

After his father’s death, Guri found an album of his grandparents at his father’s home – the first item he had to connect him to his ancestors.

Besides for connecting Guri to the house where his grandparents had lived, Pohlmann and Berghahn’s article now also led Guri to another heirloom.

The menorah had been passed down the generations of the Grunge family, remaining with Roswitha Baumeister for the last 60 years.

When she read in the newspaper about the mysterious house, she knew immediately that it had been the address of her grandparents’ good friends. She read that the descendants of the Flatauers – Guri and his wife, Aviva – had, as a result of the journalistic investigation, visited the house in Osnabrück. She reached out to them, wishing to give them the menorah, understanding the value it would have for them.

Thus, Guri and Aviva made a second trip to Osnabrück to meet Baumeister and received the menorah.

“Baumeister and her husband invited us to their home and said that while it is not normally polite to give a present back, in this case it seemed appropriate,” Guri told The Jerusalem Post last week in Tel Aviv, soon after returning from Germany.

“It’s a direct connection to our past and our grandparents,” he said.

The Palters recount that they were warmly received by many people in Osnabrück, including the mayor who welcomed them for a meeting with him at City Hall and with whom they exchanged gifts.

The municipality would like to restore the house and make it a heritage site, however, the elderly woman who owns it refuses to sell it, though nobody lives in it. The next-door neighbor has started a petition for the preservation of the house.

“It’s interesting to see what, if anything, will come of it,” said Daniel Flatauer, Guri’s cousin and the son of Hans. He’d like to see the house restored and turned into a center to commemorate the Jewish community of the city.

Guri’s two brothers also plan to visit the house, and the family is planning a reunion in Israel in the summer with American family who got in touch after reading the article.

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