It is August 1942. I am seven years old and, as usual, I am spending the summer vacations with my beloved Tante Babett in Dettendorf, a village about six kilometers East of my town Neustadt an der Aisch. Late one afternoon my papa called and requested that I to return home for helping out in his machine shop.
So I head back. I still have two hours of daylight and I only need an hour if I take the shortest way through the forest on to the Sensenhammer (“scythe hammer”, a waterwheel powered sledge hammer mill). But having arrived at the forest, I decide to march on the road to Diespeck instead of turning left into the forest lane. At last, on this occasion, I want to explore the mysterious Judensäcker. It is located on this road, just beyond the forest. By the way, one can enjoy a beautiful view of three valleys: the upper Aischtal with Neustadt in the middle ground; the lower Ehetal with Stübach in the foreground and the Ullstadter Berg further back; the Steinachtal with the monastery church of Münchsteinach in focus and with Gutenstetten at the bottom.
Just below this high vantage point, the beauty of which always makes me stop for a while, the Jewish graveyard is located. It is surrounded by a gray sandstone wall about two meters high, the gate is locked . It is supper time with nobody around. So I climb over the obstacle. Inside, it looks surprisingly tidy. The grass is cut, the gravestones are neatly lined up. No flowers, as in Christian cemeteries, but there are no Jews left to plant and water them I think.
My mind wanders: ‘How may the Lux family be doing in Poland’? I enjoyed playing with Alice and Deborah; little David was still a baby when they left, after that terrible night (1). There was only one limitation for us children: A table in the kitchen was taboo, “kosher” the keyword.
So I walk around among the graves, read the names, some strange: Sternschein, Wollenreich, Blaufelder, but also Sämann and Stahl. Then I come across a small war memorial and am surprised:
The isr. local community
in faithful memory
to her for the fatherland
(this being a word-for-word translation from German),
is carved into the gray sandstone; above the text is a bas-relief: steel helmet, diagonally pushed through by a bayonet, together in the laurel wreath. Underneath the text dedication: 1914 X 1918. (The X stands for the star of David, for which my laptop has no key). The monument stone is directly based against the eastern wall of the cemetery. In front of it sit ten smaller tombstones, identical except for the engravings: Simon Hecht, Norbert Hecht, Fied. Wilh. Kraus, Theo Sämann, Fritz Sternau, Ludwig Stahl, Justin Dingfelder, Adolf Dingfelder, Justin Kohn, Leo Wollenreich.
(All abbreviations are as in the original). Also indicated are the fallen soldiers ranks and location of the battle, e.g. Private, Verdun. All are low ranks but one, the highest a sergeant; only Ludwig Stahl had made it to a lieutenant.
Why do I know these details so well? Because I saw them again. In the year 2008 I visited my old friend Gerhard. He lives in Diespeck, close to the Judensäcker. We experienced the nostalgic joy of another shared adventure, climbed over the wall and I took some pictures with my digital camera some as attached. – By the way, to the still locked gate is a metal plaque fixed that documents a desecration of the site in 2002 or 2003. What a shame; the only one in the history of this historic place. Even the Nazis had not touched it. Did they show respect for the fallen? – To come back to the Nazis on this occasion: Their racial doctrine, their racial legislation was sheer madness. Our Jews were Germans of the Judaic faith, just as the others were Protestants or Catholics or, most modern “Gottgläubige” (deists without the Bible!). Their emancipation had progressed so much before the First World War, that their children barely bore Hebrew names, as the fallen sons show: only one Simon is present, but one Adolf; what an irony! And they died “for the Fatherland” that Germany was for them, what else? Then WWI field marshal Ludendorff came up with his poison: “The Jews do not participate proportionally in our war effort”.
The humble war memorial makes him a liar. Even an internal investigation of the imperial army stated succinctly that young Jews had volunteered above the national average. Unfortunately the Ludendorff lie was never officially denied. That and the so called dagger legend provided substantial ammunition for the lethal propaganda of the Nazis only a little later. Nevertheless, it remains for me an unsolved mysterious question: why could the Holocaust happen in a nation of such cultural ranking, in the “country of the poets and thinkers” as we like to be called? Although I reject a collective, ever-lasting guilt, including one for me personally, since I was only ten years old at the end of the war, I will be haunted by these facts until the end of my life, especially in the vivid, up close experience of the “Reichskristallnacht” (1). I deplore the lack of a plausible explanation for this mystery. Many experts in world history have tried it. No human being with the exception, perhaps, of Jesus of Nazareth, was philosophically, psychologically, gastro-entero-and otherwise – logically taken apart and reassembled like Adolf Hitler. “And at the end, nobody knows nothing” my grandfather decided, not aware of the grammar mistake (typical for our Franconian dialect and often made in English as well: double negation!) –
(1) The “Reichskristallnacht” (Night of Broken Glass) was a well-organized onslaught on Jewish individuals, families, their homes and businesses, in October 1938. My family and the Jewish Lux family shared a rental house in 13 Nürnberger Strasse, they on the first we on the second floor. At about 10,30 in the night a lot of noise arose in the street. My mother, curious and fearful went downstairs to investigate. When she arrived at the house door, SA – men in uniform also arrived and started to intrude, shoving my mother out of their way and calling her names like “Judensau” (Jewish Pig). She came back up in tears and cried aloud; I could not console her and my papa was away on a repair job in a distant grist mill. The SA guys smashed in the two doors from the hallway into the Lux apartment, toppled all the furniture, threw kitchen utensils and everything mobile around, ripped pictures off the walls and trampled most of the stuff kaputt; the row, mixed with the cries of the Lux family and the yelling of the SA thugs, was catastrophic. I saw the extend of the destruction the next morning on my way to kindergarten, peeking through the open doors. The Luxes were sitting on piles of trash, silent and still in shock. From that horrible night on my mama and I were done with the Nazis.
After the Wehrmacht had conquered Poland, in the Fall 1939, the Lux family was deported there. The Nazi propaganda told us that they would receive a piece of land to settle. My parents expressed their sincere hope that this would be the truth and the Lux family would be fine.
Only after the war we learned the horrific truth and had a very hard time believing it.
Excerpt from my memoirs, “All My Aunts”.