“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world”, remarked Mr Frank Gale, who together with his wife Helen and daughters Joanne and Lori has just returned from a visit to his home town in Northern Germany. His words reflect the same feelings the other participants felt, who travelled from all over the world to be together once again in their town of origin.
The trip was organised and financed by six students and two teachers of the High School in the small town of Jever.
It all started three years ago when the students who were studying history wanted to know why their curriculum ended at 1933. Curiosity and genuine interest lead them into asking many questions. At first they were fobbed off by the authorities, but this small band of young people were not prepared to give up easily. Encouraged by their teacher, Herr Peters, they delved into the past, researching through old newspaper cuttings and photos and digging up information from the archives.
They spoke to the people of Jever and were horrified by some of the stories they heard, so decided to create something positive out of such a negative chapter in the history of not only their small town but their country as a whole.
Contact was made with the head of the Association for Christians and Jews, who still held records of names and addresses of the people who had fled their homes back in the 1930’s. The Project Group, as they became known, decided to invite back the Jewish survivors and hear their side of the story. They set up an exhibition of “Jews in Jever” during Nazi Germany and displayed it in their school. They also arranged concerts and other fundraising activities.
Slowly the money came forward. They wrote to the people whose names and addresses they had, telling them of their intensions. Costings were calculated and a travel agency gave them discounts, free rooms in hotels were also offered. Their smallest donation was 73 pfennigs ranging to 500 Marks from a private pledge. It took many months for the enthusiasm to build up from both the invitees and the town people, but the Project Group were determined.
Last Summer one of the girls Antje Naujoks came on holiday to Great Britain. Whilst in London she met with Mr & Mrs Frank Gale at his brother’s home and asked their opinions and suggestions about what they were trying to achieve. Phone calls were also made by the Project Group to other names on the list in Canada and North America. Shortly afterwards letters and phone calls passed between the invitees who had received copies of the list, and contact was made with long lost friends. At first, everyone was sceptical at the unusual invitation to people who had been driven from their homes by the Nazis and have memories of those not so lucky to escape. The Jewish Community had never been large, about 35-40 families, but had flourished before the war.
The effort that was being projected by the Project Group gave most of the people who could, the encouragement to accept the invitation. A certain amount of curiosity also lay behind their decisions. With this news the town of Jever backed the students, helped to organise a programme, the town Council gave 10,000 Marks, making a total of 50,000 Marks raised by the Project Group and so the mission was ready to take place.
It was a week of very deep emotions as a group of about 35 persons met. Friends and families came together again, some for the first time in over 40 years. It was also an opportunity for new friendships to be made. The Project Group, a lively, helpful, happy group made everyone feel very welcome. People came from North and South America, Canada, Holland, England and one lady from Germany. The eldest was Mrs Angres, who at 86 years of age, still managed to travel from New York City to meet up with her friends from the past, and the youngest Mr John Winston 53 was from Nottingham. Unfortunately, there were people who had been invited, some from Israel, England and Australia, but for one reason or another were unable to make the journey.
When the group of people first gathered together in the Headmaster’s office of the school, it was a buzz of activity as people recognised each other, talking a mixture of languages. The looks on their faces was wonderful to see. Everyone was officially welcomed and cameras clicked as photos snapped up such a memorable event. The week had a packed agenda with very little free time. There was so much to do in a few days while everyone was together. A walk around the small cobbled streets, where the words “I lived there” or “My house stood here” were spoken and memories flooded back of the early years. Water pumps still remained in the streets and stories of festivals and parties were reminisced.
In the centre of the town the tall tower of the Schloss stood visible from all over. It’s the focal point of Jever and a tourist attraction during the Summer months. For Jewish people who came back it held many memories. My father told me stories of how he had played around the castle and had fallen in the moat during Winter crossing the ice, and of the secret hole which we all tried to find but to no avail. A civic reception was held in the Schloss where the Burgermaster, the town’s Mayor, welcomed and thanked everyone for coming. Chamber music echoed around the very ornate room. “I never dreamt I would sit in this room as a guest drinking tea” said my father.
Press, TV and radio followed and interviewed the group as it travelled around finding so many memories of the past some happy some sad. A visit to the Jewish cemetery just outside the town was very moving. Some tombstones dating back to the seventeen hundreds and some more recent. A memorial stood at the far end, to the Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust and a part of the old Synagogue now stood in the cemetery. That and a plaque on the wall in the street where the Synagogue had once stood before being burnt down on the Kristallnacht in 1938, was all that was left.
An open evening was held in the Church rooms and members of the Jever Community came to visit their old friends. A warm atmosphere buzzed as an old girl friend or school pal kept popping up with memories and stories, bringing back their childish past. The Pastor, the Lutheran Priest, was very knowledgeable of the Jewish religion and joined the group on many occasions. On Friday night he opened his home to everyone for their Sabbath meal. Rabbi Brandt from Hanover was invited and everyone sat around a table decorated in blue and white. The Sabbath candles were lit and kiddush was made. “How strange”, said Rabbi Brandt, “the site of the Synagogue was no more than 100 meters away, yet we recite Kiddush here in the Pastor’s home”.
It was the first time since before the war that any Jewish ceremony or any Hebrew had been spoken in the town of Jever. Saturday morning a Service was held in the Pastor’s Church, together with a Catholic Priest. The three Holy men all prayed for the same peace amongst people, no matter who, no matter where. The Rabbi said Kaddish and the Pastor his Lord´s Prayer. It was a unique scene, the organ and the choir in the background as the three men prayed to the one God.
The last night everyone was together for a farewell dinner. Again, some people from Jever joined the party. A magician was the floor show and the Youth Choir sung “Hine Ma’Tov” perfectly. The Mayor gave his farewell speech and said “The Youth have paved the way which was been most fruitful, it has been such a big event for such a small town and if only one friendship has been replaited it has all be worth while. You can only forgive”, he said, “not forget and when you leave this time you may have a tear in one eye, but hopefully a smile in the other”.
Presents were given to all the group, tasteful Souvenirs of their home town and Mr Walter Groschler from Canada presented a plaque to the Project Group on behalf of his family and friends, thanking them for all their efforts to open the door of friendship.
The week was a wonderful experience and proved to be a great success. The new friendships and the rekindled old ones, were only a part of what the week had meant to all those who travelled from near and far to be together again. As the week ended and the goodbyes were being said, the Project Group sad to see everyone go, must have felt proud of their achievements.
Promises to keep in touch and more invitations passed around the people, no-one was sorry they had accepted the Project Group’s offer and left Jever with a good feeling and a desire to go back yet again.
(veröffentlicht am 1. Juni 1984, Jewish Chronicle, London)