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West German Town Hosts Jewish Survivors Who Fled Nazis

A handful of surviving Jews who once lived in the north German town of Jever, returned there on a visit last month at the invitation of the town authorities who paid all expenses, including air fare from far-off places.

Such projects are not uncommon in West Germany where Jews who fled the Nazis between 1933-1945 or survived the concentration camps and later moved abroad are invited to re-visit their native towns, all expenses paid.

But Jever is a special case. High school students studying their town’s history during and after the Nazi era discovered that no attempt had ever been made to uncover or inform its inhabitants of the fate of their one-time Jewish neighbors, many of whom perished in concentration camps.

TOWNSFOLK MADE TO CONFRONT PAST

The story of the persecution of Jews in Jever has never been told or documented and the students were determined to correct that historical omission and force the inhabitants to confront their past.

In 1982 they mounted a special exhibition on the persecution of Jews in Jever, based on their own exhaustive research. It opened on November 9, the anniversary of the infamous “Kristalnacht” in 1938 when Jewish property was wantonly destroyed all over the Reich and thousands of Jews were sent to concentration camps.

Last year, the youths decided to emulate other German towns and invite the survivors for a visit. With the help of older residents who witnessed the events of the thirties and forties, they compiled a list of Jewish survivors, now living in such places as Melbourne, Australia, Santiago, Chile, San Francisco and Haifa.

They initiated a local fund-raising campaign to pay expenses. The town authorities demonstrated their good will by agreeing to bear most of the costs. Of the 24 former Jever Jews known to be alive, a total of 17 responses were received from one-time residents of the town, including their spouses. They arrived in Jever to a warm welcome and spent a week there sightseeing, meeting local inhabitants and the students who initiated the project. They were guests at a reception at the town hall and attended a theatrical performance.

One of the returnees, Lieselotte Spitzer, wrote later, in a letter published in the local newspaper: “It was a nice dream. Jever was my home town. It is there that I spent the first 30 years of my life, until it became impossible anymore. We admire these young people who made possible the visit. This week in Jever was an unforgettable experience.”

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