“Eighty years ago, we endured the Holocaust, but today, we are proudly dancing down what was once called Adolf Hitler Street.”These were the words of Chabad emissary of Freiburg Rabbi Yakov Gitler who described the celebration as Jews inaugurated a new Torah at its Chabad synagogue on Sunday in the capital city of Germany’s Black Forest.
Rabbi Gitler told The Jerusalem Post that “the Jewish population is around 800 Jews, but we have about 40,000 Israeli tourists that come through every year, especially during the summer months, so we work with them a lot too.” He explained that the ceremony that took place included 250 Jews from the city.“It was a very special Torah,” he continued. “The Torah was started 14 years ago by a bar mitzvah boy whose father died in a terrorist attack at Cafe Hillel. The bar mitzvah boy was partnered up with another bar mitzvah boy and [his family] celebrated together with another family. At the bar mitzvah, they decided to start writing the Torah.”According to Rabbi Gitler, the Torah was written together with other terrorist attack victims who survived. It was also “taken to places where terrorist attacks happened and [was] written in at those places as well.“That is the reason the Torah took so long to be written,” Gitler explained. “It was a long project and it was finished here – the last letters were written in Freiberg.”He added that the sponsor of the Torah “decided to give it to us because he felt this Torah was a Torah of unification for Am Yisrael, and that Chabad represents this by accepting everyone no matter their religious status.”Gitler said they started the ceremony in a hall in one of the oldest buildings in Freiberg, and “from there we walked outside to the square outside a cathedral and danced along the main street of Freiberg.“Today and before the war the street was called Kaiser Joseph Street, but during the Holocaust it was changed Adolf Hitler Street,” he explained. “There are pictures from the Holocaust that show the street covered in swastikas, and in the square where we began [the celebration]... the Nazis would have gatherings and do Nazi salutes there.It was extremely emotional to take this Torah… and walk down a street that was once called Adolf Hitler Street,” he said. “We made a strong declaration – 80 years ago we endured what we endured [in the Holocaust], but today we are proud to be Jewish, even though there is a rise in antisemitism, which we do feel in the city.”He made it clear that despite the rise in antisemitism, “it is not a reason that we should hide our religion.“We proclaim the opposite,” he told the Post. “We showed everyone, especially the local people in the city, and the local Jews, that we need to be proud of who we are, we are Jewish and we need to...show everyone that we are not afraid to practice our religion – just as every other religion can be practiced freely, we should be able to practice Judaism freely.”Rabbi Gitler realized the police were the ones “escorting us through the street during the parade – there were a lot present and they were helping us... Eighty years ago German police helped the Nazis round up people and round up Jews, but now 80 years later, the police were standing side by side with us, helping us and protecting us.“They were helping us to do this so openly,” he said, adding that it was very moving.He said that one man asked if “we can we get any louder, and someone responded that ‘we can never be loud enough on [what was] Adolf Hitler Street.’”“People have never seen anything like this before and there were many who were crying,” he said. “One person told me that he felt the same emotions he had when he put on tefillin for the first time.“We really showed that light triumphs darkness,” he stressed. “Eighty years ago, everyone thought there was a complete end to Jewry, but today 80 years later, we are here taking a Torah down the street.“It wasn’t just one person or two people but hundreds of people,” Rabbi Gitler said.
Jews in the German city of Freiburg dance down a street that was once Adolf Hiter Street with a new Torah (Credit: Chabad of Freiburg)