Wawern, Rhineland-Palatinate

In 1997, Pascale Eberhard and her husband moved to Wawern, a village close to Trier on the German border with Luxembourg, where they bought a home next to the town’s “very beautiful, small [but empty] synagogue,” sparking her fascination but also prompting some immediate questions: “I wanted to know what happened here and I began to ask people, ‘What about the Jews, where are they, what do you remember?’ The first reaction was not
so good, lots of silence,” she recalls, “and for me I couldn’t accept that.”

In response Eberhard, a professor of French and Communications, quickly began to investigate Wawern’s Jewish past. Her research unearthed never-before-told stories about the fate of Jewish families in the Saar and Lorraine region—specifically, the first 518 people from the areas of Luxembourg and Trier who were deported on October 16, 1941, to the Litzmannstadt (Lodz) ghetto in Poland, only 15 of whom survived the war. But the stories on paper were not enough for Eberhard: “When I began this work, I thought, ‘I must meet the descendants of these families.’”

After four years and immense efforts that included dozens of meetings with Jewish descendants from the region, visits to archives in Israel, Poland, Germany and the U.S., and trips to places as far away as Paraguay, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic to personally meet with members of surviving families, Eberhard produced the exhibition, “Der Überlebenskampf jüdischer Deportierter aus Luxemburg und der Trierer Region” (The Struggle for Survival of the Luxemburg and Trier Jews Deported to Litzmannstadt: Letters, Photographs, Documents). The show—translated into Polish and English, with an accompanying book in German, French and English—made its debut in Trier in 2011—the 70th anniversary of the deportation. The show later appeared in Luxembourg, Mainz, Bitburg, and finally in Lodz itself, two years later on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the ghetto. The exhibition will come full circle and return to Trier later this winter.

Eberhard, co-founder and president of the association Gedenken und Gestalten (Commemorate and Build), says she is driven by the need to fight discrimination wherever
it appears. While “it’s a challenge to make that history relevant” to the high school student of today to whom she teaches holocaust history, she remains undaunted. “My first motivation is humanity,” she says. “I can’t accept that people are discriminated against, whether Jews or Protestants or Muslims,” and she has made it her mission “to destroy stereotypes and discrimination.”

Born in 1954 in the south of France, Eberhard grew up in Paris and later studied German literature and Sociology at Paris VIII University. In the 1980s, she moved to Frankfurt to complete her doctorate about German and Austrian exiles during the Nazi reign. A glance backwards into Eberhard’s family would reveal that resistance to Nazi oppression is nothing new. Her father hailed from the acclaimed southeastern French village of Dieulefit whose residents—including her father and other relatives—hid thousands of Jews during the war. “In my family it was normal to help Jewish people,” she recalls.

Not only that, but Eberhard’s father served in the resistance movement against the Vichy government; as an underground courier, he obtained scarce paper products that were used to make false passports, which enabled some Jews to flee. Captured in Lyon by Vichy police, her father was handed over to the Germans and deported to Dachau, where he survived the war. “He never spoke about it and I always wanted to know more,” says Eberhard. “I asked and I asked and I asked, but he was not able to discuss what he was suffering. It was too heavy.” It was only many years later after settling in Wawern that Eberhard followed her interest and rediscovered Germany’s wartime history—this time, with a clear mission to resuscitate the memory of Jews who were deported and never heard from again.

Eberhard has organized educational meetings and workshops around the “Struggle for Survival” exhibition, which has already been attended by some 20,000 schoolchildren. Ingo Loose, a nominator and a Berlin-based historian at the Institüt für Zeitgeschichte (Institute of Contemporary History) specializing on Holocaust research, praises Eberhard as “a personality who combines thoughtful commemoration and precise research with the constant aim to bring these stories and fates to the public, in order to make those silent voices heard again.” According to nominator Suzanne Mayer Tarica of Bethesda, Maryland, whose parents escaped the Holocaust, Eberhard’s “sensitivity and her sense of justice and morality have made her particularly attuned to the tragedies” of the Nazi era. And while her “efforts serve as a model for raising awareness of the once-vibrant communities that fell victim to the Holocaust…one of her greatest strengths has been the ability to bring together individuals in the many communities.”

Every November since 2008, Eberhard and her association have organized a Klezmer concert at the renovated Wawern synagogue to commemorate Kristallnacht, in what has become a popular event attended by many throughout the region. Looking ahead, Eberhard is working to finish a book about the lives of Jews in Wawern before the war. Meanwhile, she continues to teach and engage not only with students, but also adults, raising issues of injustice and discrimination. “It’s necessary to continue this work, because people forget a lot of things. I’m convinced we have to discuss it with young people and relate the subject of anti-Semitism and any form of racism, asking: ‘How do you feel about your neighbors—and do you have empathy for those who are discriminated against?’ You can motivate young people to react against that.”

Nominated by: Adrian Binke, London, UK; Marc Cukier, Dalheim, Luxembourg; Edmund Elsen, Mainz, Germany; Ruth Hirsch, London, UK; Debbie Hurwitz, Williamsport, PA, USA; Ingo Loose, Berlin, Germany; Françoise Moyse, Luxembourg; Suzanne Tarica, Bethesda, MD, USA