5 Germans honored for helping to preserve Jewish history and culture

25 January 2007

BERLIN (AP) - Five Germans were honored by an American foundation Thursday for their commitment to preserving Jewish history and culture through activities ranging from teaching German Jewish history to restoring the nation's oldest mikvah, or ritual bath.

One recipient, Inge Franken, was honored for lecturing at different schools around Berlin about making moral decisions in the face of peer and societal pressures and informing students about Jewish life in the city before World War II.

Like so many children in postwar Germany, she grew up without her father, an officer who died in Russia, Only years later, after reading his wartime letters, did she learn that he had been a "big Nazi believer."

"There was so much that went unexpressed; there was so much mistrust," Franken said.

Now Franken - a former school teacher - also researches the history of a once-forgotten Jewish children's home from which dozens of orphans were deported to their deaths in 1942.

Continually facing her past is a trying task but one with emotional rewards, she said.

"My work is my liberation," Franken said. "It has totally changed my life because 1 have learned to face the truth."

The awards, now in their seventh year, are funded by American philanthropist Arthur Obermayer, from Boston, whose grandparents were German Jews. He said the awards were inspired by the help he received from Germans while researching his own roots.

"All Germans are conflicted about how to deal with their terrible past," Obermayer said. "But Germans more than people in any other country have reconciled themselves to understanding what they did and how it happened, and are more sensitive to the different factors that could prevent it from happening again."

Recipients in 2007 also include:

  • Johannes Bruno of Speyer, who helped restore Germany's oldest mikvah, or Jewish ritual bath.
  • Lars Menk of Berlin, who published a dictionary with more than 13,000 German Jewish surnames.
  • Ernst Schaell of Laupheim, who volunteers at a Jewish cemetery to repair and rebuild tombstones.
  • Wilfried Weinke of Hamburg, who preserves the works of forgotten German Jewish artists and intellectuals.

While the awards recognize the efforts of select individuals, they also serve as a reminder of the path of intolerance, repression and fear that led to the Holocaust.

"It's a slippery slope. The Germans more than anyone else recognize, the signs of how that can happen," Obermayer said.
"I wish that people in other countries could learn from Germans the signs that lead to the Holocaust."