Delegation from Siegburg meets Holocaust survivor

Fred Gottlieb guides the group at Yad Vashem.

September 8, 2011 23:19
3 minute read.
The Siegburg synagogue [illustrative]

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.

“The effect 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.

“My mother wouldn’t let us watch the synagogue burning,” Gottlieb recalled.

“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.

According to 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.

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