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Monday, December 13, 2010

Journey Back-Poland (Germany) 7 (Halberstadt)

Streets of Halberstadt
We don't know why my grandmother's family left Poland when she was three and moved to Halberstadt (200 km southwest of Berlin near to Magdeberg).  It may have been motivated by a particularly gruesome pogrom (there is historical evidence for this), by the need for better employment opportunity (there is the suggestion that my great-grandfather had trouble finding work), by the growing and thriving Jewish intellectual community, or my some combination of all of these.  What we do know is they were not the only family to make this move so they had a number of contacts and perhaps friends among from Smigrod among the community in Halberstadt. So perhaps it was fitting that when my mother and I arrived for our visit, we were greeted not only by our guide but by a visitor from Israel who was originally from Smigrod but who had grown up in Halberstadt (knew my great-grandmother) before fleeing the Nazi's as my family had done.  
Mom getting oral history
And so we settled in not only for lunch among resettled Russian Jews (who are the only current Jews inhabiting this city) but for tales of life in Halberstadt, including ones about our family.  A culinary and emotional treat!  I learned that my great-grandmother was known for her baking-the neighborhood children would gather outside her home when they knew she was baking in hopes of catching a morsel or two.  She also confirmed where my family lived so we were able to visit not only the street but see the actual home!  We had left a relatively short time to visit Halberstadt on our way from Poland to Berlin and after meeting this woman, I regretted our plan.  Here was a slice of history and our opportunity limited.  Fortunately, we also learned that in Israel, she lived near to our relatives ther and through the wonders of modern technology, she has now met them and has continued to relate her oral history and memories to us through them.  So the world may indeed be flat!
"Silk Bag"-my family's street
Mom in front of our family's home

One of our priorities in Halberstadt was to visit the grave of my great-grandfather.  For some reason, the Jewish cemeteries in Germany were sometimes left alone (I have previously written about the desecration of most of the ones in Poland) and we knew with advanced arrangements, we would be able to pay our respects.  Our guide first showed us around the remains of the synagogue, a lone wall standing in a semi-arranged garden as silent memorial to Nazi devastation.
Synagogue in Halberstadt-silent memorial
We then traveled through the other limited remains of what was once a thriving, prosperous intellectual center for Jews including a Mikva.  One of the former synagogues (Berend Lehman) has become the Moses Mendelssohn Academy serving as community center, gallery and overseer of Jewish history.  We then made the short trip to the large cemetery where we located Joshua's grave and said I said a silent Kaddish.  Here, more than anywhere else I had been on this trip, I felt inexorably connected to my ancestors.  I guess there is something to be said about gravestones as a palpable way to honor our past.

Soon after, we said goodbye-we had one final stop to make before returning home.  Following my grandmother's path, we pointed ourselves toward Berlin-where she traveled after marrying my grandfather.

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