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THOUGHTS ON OUR TRIP TO GERMANY

 

Dear Friends:

After having put it off for years, this summer we decided to go to Germany. The issue was family history.  When you grow up as assimilated as I was, then you become detached from your family tree; you don't know where you came from.  There were even questions whether I was a Kohain, a Levi or a Yisroel.  In any case, one wants to know one's roots. 

I had never known any ancestors who were observant Jews.  In any family, one can go back a few generations and find holy Jews.  If you know that your great grandfather was a Talmid Chacham with a long beard then it is an inspiration to you to follow in his footsteps. 

We were not anxious to go to Germany, but we realized that the only way we would get the facts would be to go ourselves.  A store owner in Borough Park convinced me of that a few months ago when I brought in my watch to be repaired!  So we decided to stop in Germany on our way to Israel, and I am now writing this from Jerusalem!

It is with mixed feelings that I tell you how respectfully we were treated from the moment we stepped onto the Lufthansa plane.  I say "mixed feelings" because I know that even in the inferno of the Nazi years, the Germans often behaved with superficial politeness as they slaughtered us.  Until Moshiach comes - and possibly beyond that, after Esav has been rendered powerless -- we will never be able to forget "Esav sone es Yaakov," Esau hates Jacob.  But I record because it is true that they were consistently respectful, and I never took off my yarmulke at any time in Germany. 

Our driver took us directly from the plane to our hotel in Frankfurt.  Having unloaded our suitcases, we drove an hour and a half southwest to a cemetery in a small community called Winnweiler.  There is a non-Jewish man in Winnweiler who has devoted himself to building a museum commemorating the Jewish presence there and taking care of the cemetery.  He spent the afternoon with us, putting on a yarmulke as he led us into the cemetery. 

It was with a tremendous sense of awe that we stood at the grave, which was clearly that of my great-grandfather, Elazar Neuberger, who died in 1883.  We were later told that if a stone from that period in history was written in Hebrew rather than German, that indicated the deceased was a religious Jew.  My great grandfather's stone said, in Hebrew, "ish emunim ... niftar b'shaim tov," a man of faith ... who died with a good name.  We understand from this that my great-grandfather was a respected, religious Jew. 

Now, having found this grave, and also the nearby grave that we believe belongs to my great-grandmother, we can attempt to go even further back in time to previous ancestors.  We have hired a religious Jew in Israel to work with us on this, for indeed it requires the intuition and skill of a detective to follow these intricacies of the past. 

Since we had another day and a half before we were to leave Germany and we had accomplished all we could in terms of tracking down my own family members, we went to other locations to see where giants of Jewish history had lived and died.  Is it not amazing to go Worms, where Rashi learned in yeshiva!  Is it not amazing to go the graves of such world-shaking giants as the Maharam d'Rottenberg, the Maharil, Rabbeinu Gershom, the Pnai Yeshua, the Baal Shem of Michelshtadt and Reb Shamshon Refuel Hirsch!  They lived in these communities over the last thousands of years. 

It is truly amazing, my friends, to understand that in these very places, the most brutal and incomprehensible attacks took place upon our ancestors.  If you read the Kinna in the Tisha B'Av Machsor describing what happened during the Crusades in these very communities, and you think of the mass slaughter of our people continually through the centuries, culminating in the Holocaust, you comprehend what a miracle it is that even one Jew exists in the world today! 

"MI K'AMCHA YISROEL, GOY ECHAD B'ARETZ!" WHO IS LIKE YOUR NATION ISRAEL, UNIQUE IN THE WORLD! [1]

This is the impression we took away with us.  From Frankfurt, we flew directly to Israel, which is in itself amazing.  Seventy years ago, no one would have thought such a thing could ever be possible!  And yet, I sit here writing this article in the Holy Land of Israel, knowing that the intense of love of the Nation of Israel for our G-d and our Torah has enabled us to survive the flames and torture of Exile in Europe.  This same devotion is our one and only ticket to survival now as we await with intense longing the coming of Moshiach ben Dovid and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in the City of Yerushalayim, may we see it soon in our days!


My great-grandfather's gravestone.

 

Roy S. Neuberger

 

© Copyright 2009 by Roy S. Neuberger


[1] II Samuel 7:23

 

 

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