Siegburg synagogue 311.
(photo credit: Yad Vashem)
A group of Germans from Siegburg were guided this week around the Yad Vashem
Holocaust memorial by a former resident of the city, Fred Gottlieb, who fled the
city as a 10-year old boy in 1939.
The mission, which includes Andre
Kuchheuser, the director of the Siegburg municipality’s department for culture,
is in Israel as part of a broader city program entitled “Encounters with
Israel,” comprising a series of events and lectures designed to foster
understanding of the State of Israel in Siegburg.
“The purpose of the
trip is to form a connection with Israel and with its citizens here, as well as
to gain further insight into the events of the Holocaust,” Kuchheuser said. “We
are also here to gain knowledge of the cultures and religions that are found
here in Israel.”
As part of the week-long trip, which began on September
1, the group also visited what has become known as the Siegburg Torah, currently
kept in the Ramat Eshkol synagogue in Haifa. The Torah scroll belonged to the
synagogue in Siegburg and was saved from destruction by wine merchant Moritz
Heymann who snuck into the synagogue on Kristallnacht as it was burning and
smuggled it out of the city.
It was eventually brought to Haifa where one
of Heymann’s sons settled after the war. Present at the synagogue was Uri
Heymann, another of Moritz’s sons, along with Haifa resident and Science and
Technology Minister Daniel Hershckowitz.
“Viewing this Torah, which came
from my hometown was very moving and emotional,” said Christiane Wurm, one of
the participants on the trip. “Seeing the scroll was especially meaningful for
me because my grandfather rented shop-space and an apartment from Moritz Heymann
so I feel a real connection with what happened to the synagogue, the Torah, and
the Siegburg Jewish community.”
On the tour in Yad Vashem, Gottlieb
recalled some of his experiences as a young boy in Siegburg.
that Nazi policies had on Jewish life in the city was clear even to a 10- year
old,” he said. “I heard songs sang by Nazi supporters such as one that went
‘When Jewish blood splatters from the knife then all will be well.’ It was a
priest, friendly with my father, who warned him two weeks before Kristallnacht
to get himself and his family out of Germany and that’s what he did.
mother wouldn’t let us watch the synagogue burning,” Gottlieb
“She took us into her bedroom to protect us but I saw the
windows being smashed and people being arrested.”
Gottlieb’s father, a
family physician in Siegburg who fought for Germany in World War I and was
awarded two Iron Crosses, fled to Cuba after Kristallnacht after which
arrangements were made for Fred and his sister to enter the UK through the
Kindertransport program in 1939.
There they were met by their mother, and
the entire family was reunited in New York in March 1940.
Gottlieb, who published an account of his childhood in Siegburg between 1929 and
1938, in which he also researched the fate of the city’s Jewish community, there
were approximately 300 Jews living there before the war, more than two-thirds of
whom survived, many having, like his own family, fled the country before the
Holocaust began in earnest.