We thought we were only going for the Stolpersteine…

Dear Friends,

We were in Phoenix when an unexpected email arrived. We were being invited to Koblenz, Germany, for a May 8 laying of Stolpersteine (commemorative brass bricks placed in sidewalks) in remembrance of Hanna’s three aunts who perished in the Holocaust: Johanna, Dora and Elisabeth Schneider.

Laborious digging into the family history, searching for facts while writing A Garland for Ashes (Meine Krone in der Asche) had yielded sparse results. But now the city of Koblenz was acknowledging their history and honoring their memory. 

Almost immediately we knew we were supposed to go. We began to invite friends in Germany to join us.

In Koblenz on May 8 it was already…

Stolperstein Verlegung in Koblenz: May 8, 2018

My heart-felt thanks to all of you who have come to witness the laying of Stolpersteine for my three aunts. 

Perhaps the year was 1937. I would have been five years old when I walked through the front door of the grand house that stood here at Markenbildchenweg 30. I had come to visit my aunts. 

My mother was the eldest of four sisters, daughters of the Schneider family, Weinhändler, originally from Heddisheim, now Guldenthal, near Bad Kreuznach. 

By 1937 my mother had settled in the Eifel region, but her sisters made their home here on this street in Koblenz. 

I only have faint memories of my three aunts, their appearance or personalities. Aunt Johanna was a business woman, strong and efficient. Aunt Dorothea, or Dora, cared for the house. I see her wearing an apron— kindly, quiet and timid. The youngest aunt, Elisabeth, I remember having curly black hair and laughing eyes. I have no photographs. They were single, all three, and I was the only child in the family—loved intensely. 

For many years, it was too painful for me to even ask the question, “What happened to my aunts, Johanna, Dora and Elisabeth?” 

It was only after I experienced the healing of my wounded history that I received the courage to search out their story. The facts are few. On May 22, 1942, they left Koblenz from the Güterbahnhof Lützei on the first transport carrying around 300 Koblenz Jews to the east. 

The three of them were among the 11-15,000 Jews who were ultimately brought to Izbica, a small shetl in Poland.

My aunts died in the summer of 1942. Did they die by gassing in the nearby camps, Belzec or Sobibor? Or from typhoid, shooting or starvation in Izbica? 

About a year ago, George and I were in Koblenz. We walked with a large group of local citizens, following the route these first deportees took, under guard, on their way to the Güterbahnhof Lutzei.

In the evening darkness we stood together at the station, holding lighted candles and yellow stars. We listened as all the names, ages and addresses were read by students. 

And now, today, we are together here, honoring Johanna, Dora and Elisabeth, remembering them with Stolpersteine. 

I am deeply thankful to Gunter Demnig, who has already laid so many Stolpersteine throughout Europe. And from Koblenz, especially Wolfgang Hüllstrung and his team, and all of you gathered here as witnesses. Some of you have travelled hundreds of kilometers to be here. 

I would like to close with the Aaronic blessing. The role God intended for Jews was to bless all peoples. I pray this prayer today, asking God’s blessing on all of us gathered here, and on the city of Koblenz:

The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you.
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you
And give you peace. 

July 1 in Gemünd Germany…

Hanna was honored in the same town that sent her into exile, and her parents to death, more than 70 years ago. They made her the patron of their 800th celebration of the founding of the town! They laid Stolpersteine in front of each house where the Jews used to live – including Hanna’s old house. See the powerful compilation by Thomas Cogdell below.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOOrGloCTJk?feature=player_detailpage&w=640&h=360]