Family Items in Berlin Museum Are Pieces of German Jewish History

Joseph Lautmann remembers the first Jewish museum in this city, opened by the Jewish community in 1933 and closed by the Nazis five years later.

It was right in his own neighborhood, “the Scheunenviertel, where every house had Jews in it,” said Lautmann, 85, who escaped Nazi Germany for Palestine in 1938. He plans to donate family items to Berlin’s new Jewish Museum.

The museum was one house before the synagogue, on the second floor,” said Lautmann, who today has homes in both Berlin and Israel. “I visited it very often. It was famous. I am very glad we have a new one.”

Lautmann was one of several hundred guests at Berlin’s City Hall on Monday, where Mayor Klaus Wowereit thanked those who had donated personal items to the museum.

“You have given a part of yourself,” Wowereit said, adding that he hoped the new museum would “have many guests who are interested not only in Jewish history but also in encounters between Jews and non-Jews.”

Among the donors are Gerda Levisohn Marcus and her husband Shimshon, who live in Jerusalem. Both are “real Berliners,” said Gerda Marcus, who was born here in 1910.

Their donation includes the suitcase Shimshon’s parents took from Berlin to Palestine in the 1930s.

Gerda Marcus’ family was not so fortunate. She and her mother, Mathilde Schustermann, were deported to Theresienstadt.

There, Marcus was put to work typing the names of Jews arriving or being sent to Auschwitz. One day, she said, “I had the record of my mother in my hand. She was being sent away. To ‘the east.’ I ran out. And then two or three days later, my mother was on the train.”

Marcus’ mother didn’t survive.

Marcus is ready to share these memories with non-Jewish Germans, she said, because “for the next generation, education is the big word. Without education, you fall back into the middle ages.”

An intangible yet priceless contribution comes from Ernest Lenart, 88. An accomplished actor forced to leave Nazi Germany, Lenart made a recording for the museum in German and English of a passage from Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s “Nathan the Wise.”

“Lessing lived over 200 years ago, and he was like a lightning bolt at the time,” said Lenart, who came for the museum opening from Green Valley Lake, Calif., with his wife, Renate, and their daughter and grandson.

In the passage, “Nathan pleads for tolerance and understanding among different faiths,” Lenart said. “He says, ‘How can I believe less in my ancestors than you do in yours?’ “

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