Creglingen Jewish Museum

History from the Personal Standpoint
of Arthur Obermayer

My maternal grandfather was born in the town of Creglingen in the northeastern corner of Baden-Wuerttemberg, very close on three sides to Bavaria. My maternal grandmother was born in the hamlet of Archshofen, which is about three miles away and is now considered part of Creglingen. These were farming communities, and Creglingen in particular was an old walled town that celebrated its 650th anniversary in 1999. Many of the old buildings are still standing, and parts of the old town walls remain. Through genealogical records I had obtained from family and archives, I had been able to trace my ancestors back in this town to the late 1700s. Two years ago, I received an e-mail from a woman who lives in Creglingen named Claudia Heuwinkel. She had been employed by the town on a one day per week level to search the city archives to learn about the history of a particular building in the town. During the course of her work, she learned how to trace through the yearly tax records of homeowners in the town, which allowed her to find out how long a family lived in a particular house. Most houses remained, perhaps for centuries, within the same family by being passed down from father to son. Claudia sent me a lot of information that she had uncovered about my family history, and I in turn sent her the genealogical information that I had in my possession about my ancestors. That got her started in using the tax and court records in the archives to uncover a number of interesting stories about how the Jews lived and participated in community activities.

The highlight, however, for me was when she was able to take my family back to the early 1600s. My earliest ancestor, 12 generations back, was Simson the Jew, who lived in a house at Badgasse 3, near the center of town. The house was continuously occupied by his descendants until 1879, when it was converted into a stable. Recently the city wanted to get the farmer and his animals out of the center of town, and they were able to purchase the house for rehab by a developer. When I learned about this, I felt that it would be very exciting if the house could be in the hands of family members again, and considered the possibility of purchasing it. Of course, the practical question was, what would I do with a house in a little town in southern Germany where I have no intention of living? The solution I seized upon was to convert the house into a Jewish museum. Initially, this seemed pretty far-fetched because no Jews lived in the town. In fact, the nearest Jewish residents were about 20 miles away. However, as time went on, the pieces began to fall in place, and the Jewish museum has become a reality. It seemed to fit in quite effectively with the needs of this German community.

Current Attitudes

The museum has the strong support of the local German community, as it has become very important to them to honor and commemorate their Jewish history. The younger generation of Germans has a very different attitude toward the Holocaust than their elders. They feel that as Germans they have an obligation and responsibility to preserve the history of the Jews who once lived there. However, they resent being made to feel guilty for the Holocaust. They were born long after the end of World War II, and did not choose their own grandparents. They want to be judged individually on their own values and actions, and not on those of their ancestors. They feel that German-Jewish history should be treated in its totality and not focus only on the atrocities during the Third Reich.

Creglingen in particular has a very shameful Holocaust connection. On March 25, 1933, the leading Nazi in the community brought in storm troopers and identified 16 Jews (including my great uncle), who were beaten up unmercifully and tortured. Two of the Jews died as a result of this treatment. These are considered the first two Jews in all of Germany to be killed by a Nazi group just because they were Jews after Hitler came to power. Every year on March 25, the local and regional newspapers include articles about this event, and German news media when referring to Jewish connections with Creglingen, normally had started off with a reminder of March 25, 1933. Creglingen has two Holocaust memorials, one of which uses the room where the two Jews were murdered.

The idea of a Jewish museum has allowed people to remember their past Jewish connections without focusing on the Holocaust. The museum celebrates the life and contributions of the Jews to the Creglingen community and demonstrates what was lost when the city lost all of its Jews. It emphasizes the life of Jews as opposed to their death, but deals forthrightly and completely with the Holocaust. The concept for this museum has received strong support from leading Jews in the U.S. and Germany. Extensive media exposure has made our small museum very widely known, and its constructive approach to Jewish history is becoming well recognized. It is also helping Germans gain a better understanding of how best to cope with their horrible past. What started out as a genealogical venture has turned into a major source of reconciliation and appreciation between Jews and Germans.