Survivors Come Back to Leipzig to Honor Contributions of Jews

The word “Shalom” has many meanings in Hebrew.

In this case, its meaning was, at best, bittersweet.

Printed in large Hebrew letters on blue-and-white placards that were displayed throughout Leipzig, Germany, during the first week in June, the word trumpeted the city’s commemoration of the 150th anniversary of its Jewish community.

Among the highlights of the weeklong event were a memorial service at the city’s synagogue, a concert of Jewish music, the opening of an exhibit on the 150-year history of Leipzig’s Jews and talks by survivors at high schools – - where the Holocaust is part of the curriculum.

Speaking at a service in the Keil Street Synagogue, the only Jewish house of worship in Leipzig not burned down by the Nazis during Kristallnacht, Leipzig Mayor Hinrich Lehmann-Grube said, “We remember the worst time of our history.”

Citing the prominent role Jews had played in Leipzig’s history, Lehmann-Grube said he hoped that the city’s Jewish community would increase. Approximately 180 Jews currently live in Leipzig.

The synagogue, spared because it was located in an apartment building that housed non-Jewish families, was renovated by the city in 1993.

Though Jews traded at Leipzig’s market as early as the 12th century, they were not permitted to reside in the city until 1845. In 1933, when Hitler came to power, Leipzig had a thriving Jewish community of 14,000.

American troops who liberated the city in the spring of 1945 located a mere 24 Jews.

The Leipzig Synagogue Choir, which performed Yiddish and Hebrew music at the concert that took place during the week, also participated in the Keil Street Synagogue services.

The group is composed entirely of non-Jews. In its 25 years of existence, it has traveled to New York, Jerusalem, Paris and Odessa.

Eighty Holocaust survivors from Leipzig, now in their 60s, 70s and 80s, attended the event as guests of the city. They came from Israel, the United States, Great Britain, South Africa and three South American nations.

For most, it was their first visit to their birthplace since the end of World War II.

High on their agenda was locating their former homes and seeing schools, streets, stores and parks that have long lived only in their memories. Many of the buildings they remember, of course, no longer exist.

The survivors said they harbored no anger at the city’s current residents. Israeli Josef Levy told the teen-agers they were not to blame, but added that he could not forgive their great-grandparents.

Realizing that the survivors were their age during World War II, the young people wanted to know how they experienced the Nazi era.

One asked, “Were you afraid when you went outside?”

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