Roots trip to Germany: Day 3

Our third day in Michelstadt centered less around the Jewish and family aspect, and more on the general history and background of the town.

Otto and Heidi took us on a lovely tour of the town, viewing the historical center and the town hall, built in 1484.

Michelstadt town wall

The wall of the “old town” of Michelstadt, from the hotel car park. Our grandparents and mother lived just next door to the tower, next to the synagogue

Michelstadt town hall

The historic town hall, built in 1484

We continued with a view of the “thieves’ tower” – the old prison, followed by a trip to the old “tithes office” – what would nowadays be called the Revenue or Income Tax offices. Maybe we should have seen these in the reverse order. 🙂

Michelstadt thieves tower

The Thieves’ Tower in Michelstadt

Michelstadt tithing office

The tithing house aka the Income Tax offices in ancient times of Michelstadt

Continuing our walk through town, we admired the historical church, completed in 1490, with its magnificent interior and vaulted ceiling, and followed that with a walk to the town’s castle, occupied today by the current Count’s mother, with the Count and his family living in the beautiful house opposite.

Erbach Furstenau Palace

Palace of the Count of Erbach-Furstenau, situated in Michelstadt

A short while later we were given a guided tour of Einhard’s Basilica, built in the early 9th Century. Einhard was  Charlemagne’s chronicler and confidant.  This Basilica is one of the very few Carolingian buildings that have largely survived intact.

Einhards basilica

Einhard’s Basilica, built in the 9th century

This very interesting day returned full circle to recent history and the present day with a reception held in Michelstadt’s Town Hall by the Mayor, Stephan Kelbert, the vice-mayor and several other local dignitaries and citizens. Mayor Kelbert gave a very moving speech (simultaneously translated by Otto Haag) where he welcomed us as the family of survivors from Michelstadt, acknowledged the evil perpetrated by the Nazis, and explained how the town was determined to commemorate and memorialize the Jewish citizens of the town who were murdered in the Shoah. He described how the project of the “Stumbling Blocks” began and was carried out, and we then saw a short presentation of pictures of the stones being placed and their “inauguration ceremony”. (Apologies for the quality of the photos. The lighting wasn’t very bright).

Stolpersteine before embed

Photo from the presentation of the “stumbling blocks” before they were implanted in the ground

Stolpersteine presentation

Picture from the presentation of the implanting of the stumbling blocks in Michelstadt. The Mayor stands on the left, looking on

Stolpersteine after presentation

Picture from the presentation: townspeople of all faiths join hands in prayer after the inauguration of the stumbling blocks

Michelstadt town hall reception

Mayor Stefan Kelbert and town dignitaries welcome us at the reception in the Town Hall (Otto Haag standing on left)

Michelstadt town hall reception David

The Mayor presents David with a book

David gave a short impromptu speech in reply where he thanked Otto and Heidi Haag,  Mayor Kelbert and the townspeople for their warm welcome to us and for all their courageous efforts in commemorating their Jewish citizens.  He also made an important point for us personally: the years that our grandparents, our mother and her siblings lived in Michelstadt were the good years, and they  had a perfectly normal happy childhood in the town.  The family only moved to Frankfurt after a false accusation was made against our grandfather by a local Nazi in the local newspaper, even though the accusation against our grandfather was thrown out by the courts – by a Nazi judge at that!

The reception concluded with another surprise for us: the Mayor presented us each with a beautiful book about the Odenwald region, while we surprised the Mayor in return with a book about Israel. Great minds think alike!

From the Town Hall we proceeded back to our hotel, Zum Gruenen Baum, itself a historic building (about which more in a later post), to a dinner held in our honour by the same townspeople and Mayor. This time there were no speeches, just lots of conversation, laughter and football commentary (this last courtesy of my other half who was following a match between Bayern Munich and Barcelona).

Michelstadt gala dinnre

Gala Dinner in Zum Gruenen Baum hotel in Michelstadt

A word of thanks on behalf of our family was given by my husband who is fairly fluent in German. In his own family tradition he claimed the last word, expressing our gratitude to the Mayor, Church leaders, lay people and ordinary citizens of the town who made such great efforts to make us feel welcome and honoured, and who are so clearly sincere in the wish to “make good”, to correct the injustices of the past.

And of course, once again our boundless thanks to our hosts and organizers of our visit, Otto and Heidi Haag.

Our next day (Wednesday) day 4, was another extremely intense day with a visit to Frankfurt, our grandfather’s home town. More on that in the next post.

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14 Responses to Roots trip to Germany: Day 3

  1. Amy Cheung says:

    These blogs are very touching and special, especially because I’ve been to Germany twice. The first time for an extended backpack+EuroPass tour during a summer in the 80s. The second time in 2007 with my daughters mainly for a “music history tour” in Germany/Austria. Your photos here remind me of Freiburg and Rothenburg. I’ve been learning German on and off for decades and yet still cannot manage a reasonable conversation. LOL. But I’m learning Hebrew now instead. I hope I can achieve better results and when I go to Israel again, I can read the signs displayed in shop windows, or know how to take the buses. Looking forward to your experience in Frankfurt am Main!

    • anneinpt says:

      Thanks for your comment Amy. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed my posts about our trip. I was actually amazed at how much German I understood. Obviously the 4 years I studied German in high school plus hearing my grandparents speak it embedded enough in my brain to come to the surface after a day or two. Luckily though Otto speaks perfect English and Heidi manages pretty well too.

  2. Pete says:

    Anne … thank you for the continued coverage. Fascinating.

    The Town Hall of Michelstadt was built BEFORE Columbus discovered America.

    WOW !!!!!!!!!!

    Pete, USA

    • anneinpt says:

      Indeed, the ancient age of most of the buildings in the region is incredible. Houses built in the 1700s are considered almost modern! Of course there is plenty of modern building too, but they have managed to preserve the historic character of the old town.

  3. Maurice Ernst says:

    I have experience of business dealings with Germans, some over the years have become my friends. In a way it is a closing of a very painful past that we experienced through the silences of our parents. Recently I have come to the realization, that the Germans cultural understanding and expressions of friendship and morality is different to ours. Our perception of their actions is faulty and misleading. This can be easily seen by their extreme need to show they are regretful, not anti semitic, whilst concurrently the same individuals are fanatically supportive of Palestinian aspirations without any critical reservations of violence and terror which without doubt is an expression of anti Semitism. The shtachim are full to overflowing at any time of tens of thousands politically correct “regretful Germans” . They are incapable of individual moral self criticism or self judgment, and are duty bound sole and body to their peer group. Today their employer, in the past the German state. Today they are educated to regret the holocaust, and condemn Israel, tomorrow otherwise. I find your gullibility as to your “warm” reception disappointing and insulting to our parents and grandparents.

    • anneinpt says:

      Maurice, I take great issue with your comment and feel personally insulted by it. I’m no idiot and no gullible crawler eager to be pleased. Similarly, as you know David and Rina, and I think my husband too, you ought to realise that you’re pretty far off the mark.

      I don’t think the individual Germans – maybe as opposed to the German nation as a whole – are uncritically following a trend or a need to be bound to their peer group. On the contrary, the Germans we met, Otto and Heidi, their church friends, the Mayor of Michelstadt and its city council, Briggite Diersch from Erbach, etc., NOT ONE OF THEM was acting out of anything other than guilt feelings for what their parents, grandparents, or simply the nation’s previous generations had committed.

      Contrary to your snide accusation, these people have put themselves into quite an awkward position and have made life quite difficult for themselves on occasion with their battle to correct the evils of the past and to educate the local population about the Shoah.

      Regarding their sincerity and if they are “following the crowd”, firstly as I said, I disagree with your assumption. But more importantly, what difference does this really make? Have you seen any attempts at apology or “making good” from Poland? France? Holland? Belgium? Not to mention Britain for closing off the gates of Palestine. Not to mention the Americans for not bombing the rail lines to Auschwitz. Not to mention the Canadians for not taking in ONE SINGLE JEW.

      Do you honestly prefer a stubborn refusal to apologize and pay reparations over an attempt, whether genuine or not, to make good? I know what I prefer.

      Regarding the do-gooders who swarm the shtachim making trouble for Israel. Yes, there are thousands of them. They re not all Germans although of course many are. There are thousands of Scandinavians, French, British etc. who are much more keen and much more adept at making trouble for Israel.

      The Germans under Angela Merkel have proven to be one of Israel’s strongest friends in the international arena. Where do you think our Navy has received its submarines from? I can reliably inform you that they did not come from Britain, France or the USA.

      I am also deeply personally insulted and offended by your rebuke of me that I have insulted our parents and grandparents. How dare you?! What do you know of what they would have thought of all this?

      Look at your own plate and judge your own deeds, and leave the great judgement to Hashem.

  4. Reality says:

    I was touched & moved beyond words by this blog. I wish all towns all over Europe would put in these “stumbling blocks”. This way a new generation would realise how many innocent people used to live there . It would be a constant reminder of “Never again”. The town is so pretty. I cannot imagine going to pay taxes in such a gorgeous building! Do they appreciate that?! I think it was very fitting that David expressed not only thanks, but a reminder that even though terrible atrocities occured in Germany, and even possibly in Michelstadt, (you haven’t mentioned if that was the case), he mentioned that your grandparents, actually had a normal life there until that accusation against your grandfather.(thrown out by a Nazi judge?-that could happen?). Please continue with these updates & photos. Enjoy today.

    • anneinpt says:

      The stumbling blocks project is being done all over Germany in the smaller towns.

      I think you misunderstood about the tax office. It’s not used any more. It was used in the Middle Ages!

  5. Pete says:

    Maurice …

    In one sense I understand your deeper sense of frustration and outrage. But I don’t think that the true apology that you are hinting at – can ever exist. It’s not possible to blame “todays Germans” for the SINS of their grandparents. You are talking about TERRIBLE events that happened 75 years ago. The current generation of Germans is not responsible for the actions of the Nazi era. I think that the “Stumbling Blocks” on the street sidewalks are a very visible reminder. So are the Apologies in the cemetaries. At least Germany has gone that far.

    If you look at other countries, the genocides have been swept under the rug completely. What about Turkey and the Armenians – complete denial! What about Cambodia under Pol Pot … where are the reminders? What about Rwanda … they have a few “points of interest” but NO widespread plaques like Germany.

    Genocide is a terrible thing. But it is a “human behavior” … or perhaps I should say … “an INHUMAN behavior”. The weakness exists in all human beings, unless we have the moral courage to say NO!! When people live in regimes that are dominated by fear, with leaders who suffer from xenophobic extremes, these terrible horrors are possible. I think the normal person on the street tries to push these thoughts out of their consciousness. I’m not sure that “Apologies” take us to a resolution. Only real Moral Courage can defeat this kind of thing, and only if enough people support it.

    Pete, USA

    • anneinpt says:

      Pete, thank you! Thanks for your rebuttal of Maurice’s assertions. Of course we can’t know how sincere their apologies are, but why should we have to look beneath the surface? No one forced them to apologize and to go so far as to insert “stumbling blocks” and create memorials and reminders of the genocide.

      As you say, where are the other apologies for all the other genocides that have taken place? Not to mention the apologies from other European nations to the Jews for what they did, playing the eager handmaiden to Germany’s crimes?

      At least Germany is trying, which is more than can be said about others.

  6. Amy Cheung says:

    Just compare Germany with Japan, it is so obvious which country repents and which not. Germany has made it into their high school curriculum to educate their new generations the crime of their fore fathers, whereas in Japan to this day they are still changing their history books and whitewashing the atrocities done to China, Korea and other Asian countries (just recently their Prime Minister said comfort women were caused by “human trafficking”… seriously?!). One prominent Taiwanese scholar Lung Ying-tai (also best selling author and appointed “cultural minister”) who married a German has raised two sons in Germany. Her elder son wrote a book together with her mother and in one chapter he talked about the deep reflection he’s been through in his schooling about the war and so he chose to refuse military service on the basis of conscientious objection.

    • anneinpt says:

      That’s very interesting Amy. I had no idea that Japan still has issues with the war. I thought they had “atoned” or made good, like the Germans.

      The Japanese seem so peaceful today, it’s hard to imagine there was a time when they were not.

      • Amy Cheung says:

        In this part of the earth, every now and then we get TV news of PRC and/or South Korean government issuing warning to the Japanese government when they change the history books, deny the Nanking Massacre, evade the comfort women reparation claims, or their top officials visiting the Yasukuni Shrine half-yearly to pay tribute to their dead “A Grade War Criminals”. Now the current PM is lobbying to pass an act that will enable Japan to send military troops outside of Japan, which has been forbidden since their defeat in WWII. Regarding real “atonement” and deep self-reflection, there are some Japanese who have shown true and deep regret, like some earlier politicians, and the great animation master Hayao Miyazaki, but the Japanese government on the whole has never really apologized. They just pick some vague words to say they feel sorry for the suffering of the Asian countries etc.

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