BERLIN, Nov. 4 (JTA) — On the eve of the 65th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a Holocaust survivor is making a significant gesture toward affirming the future of Jewish life in Germany. Last week, Alexander Moksel, 86, donated more than $500,000 toward the construction of a new Jewish community center in Munich. The money will go to protect the cornerstone box from a Munich synagogue that Hitler ordered torn down in June 1938. The discovery of the box was announced Oct. 28, less than two weeks before the cornerstone is to be laid for the new Jakobsplatz Jewish center at the original synagogue site. The box, which contains architectural plans, documents signed by local dignitaries and coins from 1887, sat forgotten in a storeroom of the Munich City Archives, where it had been left after the synagogue was demolished. Moksel said he was deeply moved when he heard about the discovery of the cornerstone box. "My family disappeared without a trace," he said in a statement. "In memory of my family, I want to ensure that the cornerstone box of the old main synagogue on St. Jakobsplatz has a home and a secure future" — the very things taken from his family in 1941. Moksel, who never before had spoken publicly about his personal history, was born in Poland and lost nearly his entire family in the Holocaust, including his wife, his parents and most of his siblings. Only one sister survived. Moksel managed to flee from a labor camp, remaining with a group of partisans until they were liberated by the Soviet Army. He never has been able to document the fate of his family. But his philanthropic gesture has more to do with the future than the past, he said. "My greatest concern is for our children and grandchildren," Moksel said. "I want my donation for the Jewish Center on Jakobsplatz to show that they have a secure, peaceful future, a home." The entire project is expected to cost more than $10 million. Nicholas Kettner, spokesman for the board of the planned center, told JTA that the box was discovered recently by a team of historians hired to document the synagogue´s history. The public will be able to see the box after the Nov. 9 cornerstone laying. The day marks the 65th anniversary of Kristallnacht, when synagogues across Germany and Austria were destroyed. "November 9, 2003 is not only a milestone in German Jewish history, but also a foundation for a common future on which Jewish life can build with confidence," Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria, said in a statement. Kristallnacht "must never be forgotten," said Knobloch, who also is a vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. "We will therefore take responsibility for preserving the old cornerstone box and, together with our descendants, we will make sure that the new main synagogue on Jakobsplatz will exist for all time." The discovery of the box less than two weeks before the cornerstone dedication "is a good sign for our project," said Harald Stroetgen, head of the board of trustees of the building project and president of the Stadtsparkasse Muenchen bank. Up to now, historians believed that no part of the old synagogue had survived the war, Kettner said. The original organ, which had been spirited away by some churches as the synagogue was torn down, was destroyed during air raids. Kettner said the Nazis set the box aside because they were supposed to examine its contents for valuables. But no Nazi ministry was prepared to deal with it, he said, and "then war broke out and it was forgotten" in the archive.
Toby Axelrod is JTA's correspondent for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. A former assistant director of the American Jewish Committee's Berlin office, she has also worked as staff writer and editor at the New York Jewish Week. She has won numerous awards from the New York Press Association and the American Jewish Press Association. She has published books on Holocaust history for teen-agers.