In 1999, Werner Schubert placed a notice in a local newspaper. He was searching for witnesses to the Kristallnacht pogrom in his town, Weisswasser, in former East Germany. He wrote it was almost too late to find people who could report from their own experience about what happened then.
Schubert, who had been a Hitler Youth leader and a soldier in the Nazi army, is dedicated to uncovering the truth about the Jewish community in the town where he has lived since the end of the war. In a fully self-reflective way, he has explored what it meant to be a part of the Nazi regime. He also has explored what it meant to live in communist East Germany, where the subject of Jewish history - particularly the fate of the local Jewish community - was taboo.
According to communist dogma, Jews were mostly capitalists
- and all capitalists were supposedly bad, says Schubert. “It was not a theme. No one was interested. In every
Victims of the Nazi regime were officially categorized, with Communist resistance fighters at the top. “Only they were seen as victims because they had fought against the regime. Only then came people who were persecuted for religious or racist or other reasons,” he said.
As soon as he was able, after German unification, Werner
began working in archives that had long been closed. He
reconstructed the history of Jewish life in Weisswasser, made
The special grave of Schweig (1850 – 1923), who had
turned Weisswasser into an internationally famous center of
glass production, “was leveled after the war. There was no
“This history was almost lost,” Schubert says today. And “only two names of Holocaust victims were known. Now,
we know the names of fourteen who died,” thanks to books
Schubert has produced or co-produced several books and articles and has helped preserve local Jewish historic sites. In addition to focusing on the contribution of Schweig, Werner Schubert has documented the history of several Jewish families from the town, and made contact with generations of their descendants.
He relocated the site of the former Jewish cemetery, which had been razed quite late in the East German phase. The site is now preserved and protected. Over the years, Werner Schubert has faced both subtle and overt opposition to such work. The history of the Jewish component of local history is now openly and proudly told in all sorts of local institutions, thanks in large part to his efforts. He also has written about courageous opponents of the Nazi regime. In his writings, he has exposed the perpetrators of persecution and genocide, and explored the checkered history of postwar “denazification”.
When he discovered (at the archive of the Haus of the
Wannsee Conference near Berlin) that a leader of a Nazi
mass killing unit came from Weisswasser, Schubert made it
his task to put together a biography of the man, because he
was convinced that only through learning local history will
young people internalize the lessons from the past.
Schubert has “made history come alive,” wrote school
Principal Andrea Herda in her nomination. “Not only did
Schubert has a strong personal motivation, she added, to “ensure the past is not forgotten and to make a connection between history and democracy today in Germany.”
“Not only do the school children [today] learn about the Jewish influence and their fate,” wrote Schweig’s granddaughter, Ingrid Kellerman-Kluger of Haifa, Israel, in her nomination: “Mr. Schubert keeps the memory of the Jews of Weisswasser alive” for posterity.
He “gives a human face to the Jewish history of Weisswasser,” seconds Peter Müller of Blankenfelde, Germany, a great-grandson of Schweig.
Over the years, Schubert has faced opposition to such work. A few years ago, a local historian told him that “Before, the Nazis persecuted the Jews. And now, the Jews are persecuting us.” This historian did his best to hinder Schubert’s work, he says. Nevertheless, the Jewish component of local history is now openly told in all sorts of local institutions.
Schubert’s efforts had another profound effect: He “helped us regain confidence in the German people, whom
before we were not willing to visit,” wrote Yehudit Schweig
of Jerusalem, a great granddaughter of Joseph Schweig, who
took her children to Germany in 2007. Schweig added that
she decided to keep the family name “as there was no other
“I really felt as if I was part of the ‘royal family,’ of Weisswasser – something which isn’t very trivial for a Jew in former East Germany,” wrote Jonathan Kellerman of Ramat Hasharon, Israel. A great-grandson of Joseph Schweig, he visited Weisswasser in 2009.
“As strange as it may seem, the children growing up today in Weisswasser [know more about my great-grandfather] than I did until recently,” he wrote. That is “due to the indefatigable efforts of Werner Schubert.”