Hope in Hannover

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Evie Rotstein, Ed.D., Director, New York School of Education, writes:

Stefan Schostok, Mayor of Hannover, center; with Dr. Evie Rotstein, right, and her father, left 

In response to the raging anti-Semitism demonstrations throughout Europe this past summer, a respectable crowd of 5,000 gathered in Berlin on September 14, 2014, to demonstrate their support to fight a resurgence of the hatred that had almost wiped out Jewish life in Germany during the Nazi era. Many applauded when Chancellor Merkel said: "Jewish life is our life. It is part of our identity."

Earlier in the summer, two hundred and fifty kilometers due west of Berlin, in the city of Hannover, my family along with 17 other Holocaust survivors and their families were guests of the city for a week of dedication and remembrance. They came from the US, Israel, England, and Argentina. Their story is very much a part of the German story that Merkel referenced.

Mr. Hauke Jagau, the president of the region and a member of the Social Democratic party, along with the Mayor of Hannover, Stefan Schostok, hosted these families with grace and kindness. During the last ten years the regional council has appropriated over eight million dollars to create a memorial and museum to honor the memory of those Jews who lived in the city of Hannover and in the suburb of Ahlem at the Israelitishche Gartenbauschule.

The gathering this July was filled with powerful emotions as we witnessed the opening of a museum that tells the stories of the survivors and the many that did not. More than 500 dignitaries, both political and academic, participated in a ceremony to honor the memory of the lost Jewish community and a commitment to provide educational programs that build acceptance and tolerance in the present.

Dr. Evie Rotstein and her family

Alexander Moritz Simon (1837-1905), a Jewish philanthropist, built the Ahlem horticulture school in 1893 and students from all over Germany came to study landscape design for the first 40 years of its existence. During the early 1930s the school became a training site (Hachsharah) for young Jewish pioneers preparing to become farmers on kibbutzim in Israel. Then in 1938 the site became a boarding school for Jewish children in the region, many of whose fathers had left on the men’s transports to London. My father, along with 200 other Jewish children lived, studied and worked on the campus for three years. In 1941 at the age of 13, he was one of the lucky few with his sister and mother that were able to secure a visa to the United States exactly three months before all the remaining children were sent to Auschwitz.

Some of the others on the trip recounted their journey from the Riga concentration camp to the Ahlem satellite concentration camp. There were four men in their eighties who cried as they told their story of pain and suffering working in the camp. Our German Jewish translator corrected one of the dignitaries when he used the word “prisoner” and declared emphatically that these men were actually "slaves."

As the summer fades into the fall season, the bleak prospect of a secure cease fire between Israel and Hamas and the rise of anti-Semitism throughout Europe, one must admit that this event was a ray of light in our very dark and complex world.

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu