Zippert, Christian: Remembrance for the sake of the future. Speech on the occasion of the opening to the public of the restored synagogue in Roth on 10 March 1998. Marburg 1998:
http://archiv.ub.uni-marburg.de/sonst/1998/0008/welcome.html - also as: Zippert, Christian: Remembrance for the sake of the future. Speech on the occasion of the opening to the public of the restored synagogue in Roth on 10 March 1998. Ed. by Kreisausschuß Kulturamt des Landkreises Marburg-Biedenkopf, Marburg 1998
Remembrance for the sake of the future
Speech on the occasion of the opening to the public of the restored synagogue in Roth
on 10 March 1998
By Bishop Dr. Christian Zippert
To the german version
When the synagogue of Roth is made accessible again to the public after years of inner and outer renewal, this is done first of all for the sake of remembrance. The synagogue can stand for many other synagogues near and far and makes history concrete and comprehensible; history here means Jewish history, which ist, at the same time, part of our German history. The building shows a multitude of traces that generations of people have left behind up to today. Among them there are bright and beautiful ones, but also dark and ugly traces. One way or another, they tell us something about the people whose history they give evidence of. This is what this building is meant to stand for, as a reminder of similar histories in many other places in Germany. But what is it we are actually doing when we remember? Why remembrance and what for?
The synagogue itself can point to the direction in which to look for the answer. In its interior two inscriptions have been preserved. Both are Biblical sayings. One is intended to remind the visitor of the special nature of the place, "Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth." can be seen written in Hebrew on the northern wall - a quotation from psalm 26, in this speech rendered in the translation of Martin Luther [Herr, ich habe lieb die Stätte deines Hauses und den Ort, da deine Ehre wohnt]. The other inscription is intended to remind the visitor of the correct behaviour as one who visits a place where God's glory lives. On the south wall it says, also in Hebrew, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" - a quotation from the third book of Moses (19,18).
Both are Bible sayings which are thousands of years old. What they have in common can be taken as typical of Biblical remembrance: its present relevance. Whoever reads the ancient commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" should practice it today and should practice it here. And whoever reads the inscription from the psalms should become aware that this is a holy house, the home of God - and should show the appropriate respect.
Rememberance in the Biblical sense does not belong to a museum but is relevant to present times. It has an interest in the present because it considers the future of the people living now to be of the utmost importance. "Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth" and "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself": without the love of the presence of God and without the love of your neighbour this future is at risk. We must be reminded of both - for the sake of the future.
Such remembrance that is directed towards the future belongs to the essence of Biblical faith. In central places in the Old Testament one is repeatedly urged to think of one's own history. Biblical faith cannot do this detached from God but only within the horizon of God. For this faith, as former Bundespräsident Richard von Weizäcker said on 8 May 1985 to the German Parliament, remembrance is the "experience of the work of God in history".
"Remember his marvellous works that he hath done; his wonders, and the judgements of his mouth", urges the worshipper of psalm 105. And in the following the history of Israel is narrated in great detail, starting with the covenant and going on to the life in captivity in Egypt, the exodus and the wanderings through the desert and on to the arrival in the promised land. Why? Because something can be learned from this for the future.
For one thing the miraculous salvation by God. In remembering this, one is lead quite naturally to thanking and praising God, "O give thanks unto the Lord; call upon his name: make known his deeds among the people" and one feels invited to go on asking about God and his power: "Seek the Lord, and his strength: seek his face evermore." Because he can be trusted to save his people also in the future.
For another thing it is an invitation to remember also the dark sides of one's own history, the godlessness and the disobedience and the consequences this may have for one's own fate: "They forgat God their saviour, which had done great things in Egypt; Wondrous works in the land of Ham, and terrible things by the Red sea. Therefore he said that he would destroy them, had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach, to turn away his wrath, lest he should destroy them", we can read in psalm 106. A memory of forgetfulness! And again, this kind of memory does not happen for the sake of the past but of the future. It is intended to save is from godlessness and the consequences thereof and to encourage us to be obedient to the command of God.
Why? So that life has a future. This is why the memory of the history of forgetting and disobedience leads to the wish: "Blessed are they that keep judgement, and he that doeth righteousness at all times."
If this occasion today makes comply with Biblical demand to remember our own history, then it is first of all the period of not remembering and of disobedience, in which - not only in Roth - people tried to blot out completely the memory of Jewish communities and Jewish houses of workship through their destruction, that figures in the foreground.
We must not close our eyes before this National Socialist past, even if it has weighed very heavily on us up to today. We must not do this for the sake of the victims who were killed. We must not do this for the sake of the victims who survived and of their descendants - they are amongst us today. We must not do this for the sake of a future where we hope to be reconciled. Only if we are really aware of the past can we hope for a future reconciled with survivors, their descendants and the whole of the Jewish people.
In 1985 Richard von Weizäcker appealed irrefutably to our conscience: "Whoever ... closes their eyes to the past, becomes blind to the present. Whoever refuses to remember the inhumanity will be susceptible to new dangers of infection." And addressing himself to the young generation: "The young are not responsible for what happened then. But they have a responsibiblity for what becomes of it in history."
In accordance with this spirit the Committee of the Protestant Church of Kurhessen-Waldeck declared last November: "The horrors of the persecution of the Jews must not be forgotten. Reconciliation needs remembrance." I would add to this: reconciliation needs specific remembrance. Without specific remembrance it would remain without obligation. A non-committal reconciliation would be a contradiction in itself.
What is it exactly that we should remember? In the interior of the synagogue the marks of destruction have been preserved. The whole of the interior furnishings are missing. On the east wall differences in colour betray the former place of the Torah. One of the supporting pillars in the gallery has been knocked out of its foundation. Approximately in the middle of the pillar there are deep notches made by axes. It cannot be overlooked and it shouldn't be: The interior was destroyed in November 1938.
It was the SA from Niederweimar, camouflaged in civilian clothing, who purposefully carried out this act of destruction. In their wake there were also men from Roth - presumably baptised Christians - who saw a welcome opportunity in this operation to give way uninhibitedly to their destructive mania. It should not go without mention that some people did not agree with what was happening. It was a woman who protested to the mayor and to the leader of the local National Socialist branch, "How can you demolish a house of God?" Her lonely cry of protest went unheeded. The mayor is said to have threatened her: "If you are not quiet, you'll be taken away."
It was the Jewish neighbours who were 'taken away' not long after the pogrom. Those who hadn't been able to emigrate before, were deported in the autumn of 1941 and a year later in autumn of 1942. This was the fate of 15 of the remaining 33 Jewish citizens of Roth. We don't always bear it in mind that these people were Germans, Germans of the Jewish faith.
We have to thank especially Herbert Roth for having researched and recorded the history of the Jews of Roth. The report has as yet not been published. He and his family were able to emigrate to the USA in time. He is among us today and I hope I have his permission to quote from his work. He writes, "The last act of the liquidation of the Jews of Roth was carried out in the early morning hours of 6 September 1942. According to reports from inhabitants of the village the mayor himself arrested the Jews, put them onto a one-horse cart ant took them to the train station at Niederwalgern, where they were transferred to a train at 8.56 am. The houses were locked and the mayor reported that he had carried out the instructions. The head of the district administration reported to the Gestapo, 'Everything went without a hitch.' Thus ends", says Herbert Roth in his last sentence, "the lives of the Jews of Roth after 250 years."
This end did not happen abruptly. It had been preceded by the gradual exclusion from society and deprivation of rights since the assumption of power by the National Socialists. Do we allow ourselves to be reminded of this? In the newspapers and magazines, on the radio and in films, and also in school textbooks the distorted image of the Jew, as one evil by nature, was disseminated. The propaganda had an effect, here in Roth as well. Christians under the influence of National Socialism reduced their social contact with their Jewish neighbours, didn't greet them any more, didn't go to their shops any more. The Nüremberg laws of 1935 deprived the Jews of their civil rights. In 1937 Jewish children were barred from attending state schools. After the pogrom in November 1938 it was forbidden to trade with Jews, to visit them or even to talk to them. From 15 September 1941 all Jewish had to wear the yellow star on their clothing. From December 1941 they were not allowed to leave their houses except for the one hour they were permitted for their shopping.
All this must not and ist not to be forgotten. The exhibition "Excluded - Exiled - Killed", which will be opened today here in the town hall, shows this hostile development in four individual cases - and it does this much more vividly than words could do it. Suffering assumes a human face.
Afterwards a clay plate in the form of the star of David will be installed in the synagogue. It will save the names of the victims, which have been engraved on the plate, from oblivion.
The memory of the Jewish part of the history of our community would fall short if it was limited to the period of 1933-45. The history of the Jews of Roth goes back much further - to about the middle of the 17th century. The first census in Roth in the year 1710 records 6 Jewish families with altogether 38 members. Herbert Kosog and Herbert Roth deserve our thanks in also having brought to light from the darkness of the archives the time before 1933 through extensive research.
What is especially important to remember in this connection? For long stretches it was an arduous history, in which it was made very difficult for Jewish families to lead a normal life like everybody else. This can easily be demonstrated by referring to the most important stages.
Most significant for the first phase was the revision of the already existing Jewish laws by Landgrave Karl in 1679. It put the Jews under the protection of the Landgrave and granted them the right of abode in the area of Marburg and gave them permission to earn their living. But they had to pay dearly for the necessary letter of save-conduct and the stipulated rights were only granted on condition of numerous restrictions. It is hard to believe, but it was deemed perfectly normal, apparently, that the local vicar could oblige Jews to participate in Christian services. Outside the jurisdiction of the Landgrave Jews could not move freely. Another statute restricted trade to certain goods only, and these few goods could only be sold if there were no Christians in the place offering the same goods. Herbert Roth considers this regulation of competition as the decisive reason "why Jews settled in villages like Roth": because there was no such competition.
Hardly a generation later, in 1736, there were already 13 Jewish families in Roth. The Jewish community now consisted of 54 members: It makes one think when Herbert Roth puts forward the fact "that the vicar who was in charge of Roth lived in the neighbouring village of Fronhausen" as one reason for this growth. This way, according to Herbert Roth, "the source of anti-semitic influence was limited."
The growth of the Jewish community in the thirties of the 18th century soon gave rise to an offical complaint to the Landgrave of Hessen-Kassel. I quote from this complaint: "These Jewish families are growing so fast that there will be soon as many Jews as Christians in the village. If this process continues it will be our ruin. In addition, there are many fights where Jews are involved." The complaint culminates in requesting the Landgrave "to expel from the village those Jews not in possession of a letter of safe-conduct written by the Landgrave."
This request had no immediate effect but a delayed one. Seven years later, in August 1744, the Landgrave in fact issued a decree that expelled all Jews from Roth, except the two richest families. As an immediate consequence the Jews communities of Roth, Fronhausen and Lohra had to unite in order to make up the stipulated quorum of ten adult males necessary for the Jewish service. Again Herbert Roth thinks "that in view of the growing numbers of Jews in the area the church took action." There seems to be no indication that this supposition is not true. The history of Christian anti-semitism and its influence on the growth of anti-Jewish sentiments throughout large sections of the population and the authorities has still not been research properly. Its alarming extent is only gradually being realised.
Thus it is all the more necessary that the Committee of the Protestant Church of Kurhessen-Waldeck in its statement on the relationship between Christians and Jews admits: "the examinations of church history leads one to the realisation that the disastrous estrangement and hostility of the Christians towards the Jews helped to prepare the ground for the crimes against the Jews.
What were the further developments for the Jews communities in Roth and in other places? The establishment of the kingdom of Westphalia, which swallowed up Kurhessen, as part of the process of the foundation of the Confederation of the Rhine after Napoleon's victory brought a ray of hope. A decree of 1808 for the first time granted the Jews full civil rights. Even though these rights were revoked after Napoleon's defeat, in the long run the development of rights could not fall behind the once achieved status. In 1818 the issue of letters of safe-conduct to Jews was dropped. 1823 saw the decree introduced by the Elector Wilhelm II that prepared the conferment of full civil rights which were granted the Jews finally in 1833.
In the same year the Jewish community decided to build a new synagogue a year after the old synagogue together with the adjoining Jewish school had burned down. At that time there were a few more than thirty Jews in Roth. Together with Fronhausen and Lohra the Jewish community counted about 100 people in the middle of the 19th century and was in fact the second largest of the five synagogue communities in the district after Marburg. Although the economic situation of the Jewish families was gradually improving and some of them owned small houses with a little ground, we should not have any illusions about their living conditions. Most Jews - cattle merchents, traders, artisans and small farmers - were poor.
Their best time was to come with the foundation of the Reich through Bismarck and it continued until the eve of the seizure of power by Adolf Hitler. After the occupation of Hessen by Prussia Jews were put on an equal footing with non-Jews in all respects in 1867. Membership of religion or race was not recorded any more on a separate document. In other words: the Jews had become full citizens of the Reich. Their children went - also in Roth - to regular schools and could make friends with non-Jewish schools mates - a course of events the importance of which must not be underestimated. About this Herbert Roth notes: "During this period the Jews completely identified with their German heritage and accepted German culture and German national ambitions as their own." German culture became part of Jewish culture and Jewish culture became part of German culture.
This more or less successful growing together was put to the test in the first world war. It has often been pointed out, rightly so, that many Jewish men went to war as soldiers of the German army to fight for the Kaiser and the fatherland. Since names are often mentioned only in connection with the National Socialist genocide I would like to mention them in this place too. According to the research by Herbert Roth there were from Roth: Herman Höchster, Berthold Stern, Joseph Bergenstein, Herman Stern and Herman Nathan. Berthold Stern was wounded. Herman Stern was killed in 1917 at the age of 19. The soldiers of the world war Herman Höchster and Josepf Bergenstein however, were killed later by the National Socialists.
The German defeat at the end of the First World War worsened the situation for the Jews considerably - especially through the effect of the myth of the stab in the back. Against their better knowledge Field Marshals von Hindenburg and Ludendorff, among others, put about the rumour that it was the revolutionary movement, which had sprung up towards the end of the war, that had stabbed the undefeated front line army in the back. This untruthful, but convenient answer to the question why the war had been lost was widely believed, also in the respect that especially the Jews were made responsible for this betrayal. Despite the earlier phase of normalisation, anti-semitism had survived in the heads and the hearts of even the highest representatives of state and society. I will quote from a letter from Kaiser Wilhelm II, which he wrote from exile in 1919 to Field Marshall von Mackensen: "The deepest and most evil shame that ever a people achieved in history the Germans have committed it, against themselves. Incited and seduced by the tribe of Judah, who are hateful to them and who had enjoyed the right to hospitality amongst them. This was their thanks!" This is followed by sentences which are so detestable that I cannot read them out. It cannot be disputed that the roots of what happened to the Jews after 1933 go back to imperial times.
Remembering - as we will have noticed - is exhausting and arduous, especially when this memory makes us painfully aware of events which we wish had never happened and of which we are ashamed. Such remembering takes time, a lot of time. From the end of the National Socialist tyranny it took thirty, if not forty, years before not only individual but widespread remembrance of the Jewish heritage was possible for us. I am thinking of the book by Lea Rosh and Eberhard Jäckel entitled 'Der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland' [Death is a Master From Germany] (the title is from Paul Celan's Death Fugue), which was published in the mid-eighties. I am thinking also of three great films, 'Holocaust', 'Shoa' and 'Schindler's List'.
I am also thinking of the effort, which has been growing within the churches, to analyse seriously the Christian roots of anti-semitism and to find a way to establish a new relationship between Christians and Jews. In our own church, too, we have come to regognise again the fact that our particular closeness with Israel is an essential part of our Christian faith.
Finally, I am thinking of the by now numerous regional researchers investigating locally. The result of such research has been made available by now in the form of two documentations by Barbara Händler-Lachmann and Ulrich Schütt. In 1992 Hizeroth [publishers] published 'Unbekannt verzogen oder weggemacht. Schicksale der alten Juden im alten Landkreis Marburg 1933-1945' [Moved - address unknown or got rid of. Destiny of the Jews in the old administrative district of Marburg 1933-1945]. And three years later this documentation appeared from the same publisher: 'Purim, Purim, ihr liebe Leut, wißt ihr was Purim bedeut'. Jüdisches Leben im Landkreis Marburg im 20. Jahrhundert ['Purim, Purim, dear people, do you know what Purim means'. Jewish life in the administrative district of Marburg in the 20th century].
Any memory of the heritage of Jewish life confronts us with the difficulty that we are faced with a heritage that has been almost completely wiped out. We are gradually becoming aware of the dreadful extent of outer and inner emptiness the holocaust has bestowed on us. The holocaust not only destroyed our Jewish neighbours but also a part of our identity as Christians in Germany. Thus, it is all the more important to preserve and nurse the still existing traces of the heritage of Jewish life and to fill them with new life as far as possible. We need thinking space in order to remember the heritage of Jewish life - for the sake of the future.
It is a rare stroke of luck, or put in a better way: a token of God's protection that this beautiful synagogue here in Roth has survived its complete destruction. It is the only preserved example of a small village synagogue in the administrative district of Marburg-Biedenkopf. After sixty years it can be opened to the public again, restored as an important testimony of extinct rural Jewry. Everybody who has made this possible and has given their support is to be thanked.
What matters now is that this facility be made good use of in the shaping of the future. It is to be a place of cultural interest and a memorial, the concept of which is to include also the comprehensive school in Niederwalgern. This would be an important step towards future oriented active remembering.
I hope that this venerable monument will inspire and encourage many people to remember. To remember in a way that will contribute to a situation in which Jewish people will dare again to come and live amongst us - gladly and without fear. For this there are hopeful signs. Germany does not yet have many Jewish communities again. But they are increasing in number and they are growing. We have every reason to be thankful and to rejoice about this.
I am especially glad that so many survivors and their families have come to this ceremony and that District Rabbi Mr Lipschitz and the chairman of the Jewish community in Marburg, Mr Orbach, are participating together with further members of their communities. This is a particularly good and encouraging sign.
I dare to read this sign as an indication for what the Jewish writer and theologist Schalom Ben-Chorin expressed in the following Biblical metaphor in a song: "Friends, is not the fact that the almond branch is sprouting and blossoming again an indication that love is staying?" It is in this spirit that he urges us to remember actively: "That life has not died, however much blood cries out, don't hold this cheap in the darkest of times."
This is where this synagogue can help us. We best show our respect for life by taking to heart its inscriptions for our remembrance: "Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth." And "Thoug shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Without love for the presence of God and love for our neighbour there cannot be a good future.
[Translator's note: all Bible quotations have been taken from the Authorized King James Version.]
Translated by Gudrun Vill-Debney