January 26, 2005

Five Germans being recognized for work remembering Jews' history, culture

BERLIN (AP) - Five Germans will be honoured for their commitment to preserving Jewish history and culture in their country in a ceremony timed to mark the 60th anniversary of the Auschwitz concentration camp liberation, an American foundation said Wednesday.

The Obermayer awards are funded by Jewish American philanthropist Arthur Obermayer, whose four grandparents were all German, and are inspired by the help the Boston man received from Germans in researching his roots. Recipients in 2005 include Gunter Demnig of Cologne, who has placed thousands of memorial stones outside the homes of Holocaust victims throughout Germany - markers that sometimes serve as the only memorial of their lives.

"When I originally had the idea, I never thought I would realize this," Demnig told reporters of the almost 5,000 "small monuments" he has now had placed.

He said the stones remove some of the abstraction of the Holocaust for contemporary Germans: "They are a totally practical reminder."

Other recipients are: Robert Krais of Ettenheim, who, spurred by the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, promotes sports exchanges between Germans and Israelis; Ilse Vogel of Uechtelhausen, who, through archival research, has been a link to Jews around the world with the town of Diespeck; Wolfram Kastner, a performance artist whose provocative pieces include recreating scenes of Jews being led away by Nazis in the streets of Munich, and Heinrich Nuhn of Rotenburg, who has investigated his town's Nazi history and helped preserve a Jewish ritual bath in the town.

The fifth annual awards will be presented in a Berlin ceremony on Thursday, the 60th anniversary of the liberation the Auschwitz concentration camp where some 1.5 million people perished - about 90 per cent of them Jewish - in then-German-occupied Poland.

German President Horst Koehler will attend a special ceremony at the camp memorial in Oswiecim, Poland, along with a host of other foreign dignitaries, including U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A poll released Wednesday showed that while 74 per cent of Germans feel that contemporary Germans should no longer feel responsible for Auschwitz, some 47 per cent believe they still have a "special responsibility" to Jews. About 20 per cent said Germans should still feel personal guilt in the poll by the Forsa organization for Stern magazine.

The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

This article also appeared in CJAD Radio (Montreal) on January 26, 2005 and in CBC News (Toronto) on February 7, 2005.