Dear inhabitants of Jever
Dear Mayor Albers, Dear District Administrator Ambrosy!
I will begin with an episode that took place in Tel Aviv at the beginning of April 1978.
Max Biberfeld, a vegetable farmer, was reading German magazines, some of which were years old, at his hairdresser’s. As he always did when he went there. Suddenly he was electrified when his gaze fell on a report in the 1973 Stern magazine about Jever. It was about the poem “De Fahn” by Oswald Andrae, which was a critical poem about the Nazi era, the bitter debate about it and the defamation of the optician and writer Andrae by parts of Jever society. Max Biberfeld also read the name of a teacher at the Mariengymnasium who had openly spoken out in favour of Oswald Andrae.
To this teacher he wrote – via the school address: “In 1928 I came to the Mariengymnasium in the Unterprima. What I had to endure here as a Jew gave me a shock for life, but on the other hand saved my life because I knew what to expect and soon emigrated after 1933. […] My parents were deported to Riga in 1941 and murdered.” Biberfeld added that he would not have thought it possible that anything positive would ever come from this school. Especially since the pupil who had persecuted him most anti-Semitically in 1928 had become one of the leading generals in the German army with white waistcoat.
The episode makes it clear that the incarnate shadows of the past haunted those who escaped from Nazi Germany, even in faraway and sunny Palestine.
It makes clear why we are gathering here today – indeed, why we can gather at all. By “we” I now mean you, dear guests, and “us”, the locals, in one word.
Max Biberfeld did definitely not want to see Germany and Jever again, but he supported the young people in Jever who were working through the Nazi history of their town from 1978 onwards with further letters and information. Max was by no means the only one who approved of and supported the historical research. All your parents or grandparents, dear guests, shared information – even severe personal messages. A tradition that they established at that time and that they gave to the town of Jever as a gift. It can be maintained today by the GröschlerHaus – thanks to your cooperation.
And I thank Fritz Levy and Erich Levy.They raised their voices in Jever during the decades of intentional silence about Nazi injustice and were therefore placed on the margins of society.
Dear descendants of the families of
- Alfred and Gertrud Biberfeld, Lore Buchheim, Hermann and Änne Gröschler, Julius and Hedwig Gröschler
- Hermann and Henny Hartog, Moritz and Johanne Hoffmann
- Hans-Jürgen and Gerda Josephs, Heinz-Otto and Jenny Josephs, Hartog de Levie, Jonas de Levie
- Salomon and Johanna Mendelssohn, John Walter and Madeleine Pohl
- Alfred and Meta Weinstein
today you live in beautiful places in our world, in Nuremberg, Rotterdam, London, Essex, Vancouver, Kentucky, NYC, Australia, Israel – just to mention a few. And after an arduous and expensive journey, you arrive in a small town that is not called Berlin or Hamburg, but Jever. (I don’t mean that Jever isn’t also beautiful.) And this isn’t the first time we’ve met here in a larger group. First in 2014 at the naming ceremony for the GröschlerHaus, then at the big renovation celebration and shortly before Corona at Jacob’s Bar Mitzvah in the GröschlerHaus.
It is so generous of you, that you give Jever your presence. You make Jever more cosmopolitan. You have given substance to what was founded in the early 1980s and created a living tradition. Jever not only has twin towns in Spain and Saxony-Anhalt, but around the globe – or rather partner families – of the GröschlerHaus.
It remains elusive and ever will be that your parents and grandparents, even great-grandparents, not only reached out with letters and information almost 40 years ago. But that many of them travelled to Jever in person at that time.
There were still enough old National Socialist functionaries and fellow travellers living in the town at that time.
I remember what Käthe Löwenberg-Gröschler said here in 1984 at the reception of the Holocaust survivors almost exactly 39 years ago to the day, as if it were yesterday. Dear Joanne, dear Lori, you were here with your parents in 1984.
“Of course you will understand that this re-encounter with our home town is certainly not easy for any of us. We recognise the streets and the houses in which we and our parents, relatives and friends lived and from which we were all expelled. For the vast majority, that meant the Holocaust.”
Käthe, together with her husband Dr Alfred Löwenberg, had survived in a hiding place in Groningen – protected by courageous Dutch Nazi opponents.
The people of Groningen and the Biberfeld episode make it clear that survival, escape, is the basis of our being together today. The shocked pupil Max Biberfeld studied agriculture and economy and became a vegetable farmer in Palestine.
At the beginning of 1933, Walter Gröschler passed the entrance examination for the Mariengymnasium, which he was not allowed to attend after the National Socialists came to power. Immediately after his bar mitzvah – at the age of 13 – he embarked on a ship journey to his uncle in Palestine.
Trude Haas née Gröschler and John Winston emigrated to England.
Lore Hartog, Frank Gale, Bob Gale and Gerda Stuart owe their lives, like 15,000 other young Jewish people, to the Kindertransports to England in 1938 after Kristallnight. Frank and Bob Gale and Walter Groschler fought in the British Army against Nazi Germany as soon as possible.
Heinz-Otto Josephs escaped to Argentina, Robert Pohl to England.
Hans-Jürgen Josephs survived the Westerbork camp, Lore Buchheim the Riga ghetto and the Stutthof concentration camp.
Descendants of the famous Turnvater (father of gymnastics) in Oldenburg, Salomon Mendelssohn, were banned from working in Germany during the Nazi era.
You are also here today to visit the ancestors – those found a grave – at the Jewish cemetery in Schenum.
Dear guests, you are also here today because many of you have been here before. And you have obviously not found Jever, the town of your ancestors, as it once was.
Theodor W. Adorno said in 1966, that the unimaginable would not be repeated – only because it had happened once. As long as the fundamental mechanisms that led to Auschwitz continue, the unimaginable is possible again. He said:
“Any debate about educational ideals is null and void and indifferent to this one thing, that Auschwitz should not be repeated.”
Käthe Löwenberg- Gröschler said it in her own way at the end of her speech on 26 April 1984: “I would like to combine this with the warning to stay awake. The demon of destruction has been struck, but it is not dead. Nazis and neo- Nazis are again waiting for opportunities.”
I would like to put it carefully like this:
Dear guests, you are here today, I think, also because we are now working on a joint project. You and we. Homeland is not to be equated with origin. Homeland is something that is created together over a long period of time and where resilient trust has been built as a result of the process. We are meeting here today under police protection because you are Jewish.
By “joint project” I don’t just mean the Gröschler House, which you actively support, but also something fundamental.
That we stand against all forms of racism, against the suppression of individual freedoms, and for the lives of all people. Globally, not just in Jever, everywhere. The world is changing faster and faster. “Stay awake” – as Käthe put it.