Germans recognized for work remembering Jews

Monday, January 26, 2004
International News
Associated Press

BERLIN -- On the day Germans come together to remember Nazi atrocities, an American Jew arrived in Berlin from Boston to thank some Germans for their acts of kindness.

Tuesday marks the 59th year since the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp complex - where more than 1.5 million people perished, 90 percent of them Jewish - was liberated by advancing Soviet troops on January 27, 1949. Since 1996, the day has been set aside for Germans remember the crimes committed in their names.

Arthur Obermayer, a Jewish American whose four grandparents were all German, said it was the perfect day to recognize six Germans who have helped to keep the memory of Jews in Germany alive.

While searching for his German roots, he met people who fought to preserve the Jewish history in their own communities and wanted to bring attention to their efforts, Obermayer told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Monday.

"I found there were people who felt the only thing they could do personally to make up for a terrible history was to record and preserve, to do work related to Jewish history in their own communities," he said.

Christiane Walesch-Schneller is one of the people to receive an Obermayer German Jewish History Award. In her town of 13,000, Breisach am Rhein near the French border, she spearheaded an effort to save a historic Jewish school from destruction and plans to create an educational center on Jews and other minorities.

"You're always confronted with this discussion in Germany, with the ongoing anti-Semitism, which you can sense in our town. It made me decide to get involved," she said. "I thought it would be worthwhile to
try in such a small town to reach out to people, to bring back the stories of the 250 Jews who lived there in 1933."

Other people being recognized include a Hamburg man who created a huge genealogical database to assist Jews seeking relatives; a Berlin man who recovered Jewish gravestones that had been used to build staircases, and the creators of a museum of Jewish-German history in Wiesbaden.

Germany marks national Holocaust day with speeches, visits to cemeteries, class lessons, and tours through former concentration camps.