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Non-Jewish Germans who preserve local Jewish history awarded

Teachers, museum curators and archivists honored as part of events marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Germany's Holocaust memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe in the heart of Berlin (CC BY-SA Chaosdna/Wikipedia)
Germany's Holocaust memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe in the heart of Berlin (CC BY-SA Chaosdna/Wikipedia)

BERLIN — Non-Jewish Germans who have helped preserve local Jewish history were honored this week at the 17th annual Obermayer German Jewish History Awards.

Rolf Wieland, president of the Berlin House of Representatives, presented the awards — established by the late American philanthropist Arthur Obermayer — on Monday in the Berlin Senate. The ceremony was among a series events marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz 72 years ago.

Virtually all awardees of teachers, museum curators and archivists said they face the same challenge: reaching a younger generation with a history rapidly fading from memory.

Many pupils agree “it’s important to remember, but they also want to be seen as normal people,” said prizewinner Angelika Rieber of Frankfurt, whose 40-year-old, non-profit Jewish Life Project has brought thousands of local teens in contact with the city’s former Jewish residents and their descendants.

“Pupils are afraid to be put on the defendants’ bench. But these fears dissolve through conversations” with Jewish visitors, said Rieber, who was born after the Holocaust in 1951.

The German town of Bruschal (screen capture: YouTube)
The German town of Bruschal (screen capture: YouTube)

In Bruchsal, a town in Baden-Württemberg, inspired by prizewinner Rolf Schmitt, high school students work every year on biographies of Jewish citizens who were murdered in the Holocaust.

They “focus on the fate of Jews for whom ‘stumbling block’ memorials will be laid in the town,” said Schmitt, 64, who was honored for his work to reclaim the town’s forgotten Jewish history. “I am glad to see that these actions are not dying out with old people like me.”

“It’s not always easy, but we do get youth interested,” Wieland told JTA, noting an annual exhibition prepared by Berlin pupils, which this year is titled: “We don’t talk about that?”

Contacts between the second and third generation on both sides “makes it clear that even though the past is very far back, it leaves traces in us,” Rieber said. “That brings us a step forward. The fact that we
still have fears about the past but can work together on the future.”

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