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February 10, 2012  RSS feed
World News

Text: T T T

German city bringing back its long-lost Jews

By HILLEL KUTTLER JTA news service


Some Weinberg Village residents visited University of South Florida Hillel on Friday, Jan. 20 for Shabbat eve services. Some Weinberg Village residents visited University of South Florida Hillel on Friday, Jan. 20 for Shabbat eve services. BALTIMORE — John Schwabacher was 12 years old when World War II ended. He and his brothers, Michael and Thomas, emerged from hiding in their hometown of Wurzburg, Germany and joined their father in San Francisco. Their grandmother and countless other relatives were murdered in the Holocaust, and their mother and grandfather died just prior to being deported.

When Schwabacher would travel overseas on business for the semiconductor equipment company he founded, he often would detour to visit his hometown. His most recent visit was a decade ago, for the birthday party of a woman who helped save him and his brothers. This April, Schwabacher, now 79 and retired, will bring his family back to the northern Bavarian city, including his brother Michael (Thomas is deceased).

Wurzburg’s mayor is inviting Jewish natives to return with their spouses as honored guests for a weeklong visit, airfare and lodging included. Approximately 25 couples from Israel, U.S., Argentina and England have registered, and the city is seeking others.


USF Hillel Student President, Erica Freedland, lights Shabbat candles with some of the Weinberg Village residents. USF Hillel Student President, Erica Freedland, lights Shabbat candles with some of the Weinberg Village residents. Wurzburg’s outstretched hand is meaningful to Schwabacher. It is “an acknowledgement that the Jews accomplished a lot in Germany, and that [Germany is] overcoming the reluctance to admit that the Jews contributed a lot,” he told JTA. “I’m going because it’s an official recognition of the Jews.”

Other German cities have hosted such visits over the years, but this is a first for Wurzburg. The April 16-23 program will include a reception at town hall; a Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony in the synagogue, which in 2006 was incorporated into the community building and ceremonies dedicating plaques, known in German as “stolpersteine” (stumbling stones), in the sidewalks near buildings where Jews resided before they were deported.

Fewer than 1,100 Jews now live in Wurzburg, nearly all recent arrivals from the former Soviet Union. Before World War II, about 8,000 Jews lived in Germany’s lower Franconia region, about 2,000 of them in Wurzburg, Ries said.

Josef Schuster, who lives in Wurzberg and serves as vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, explained that Mayor Georg Rosenthal revived earlier, aborted initiatives to host former Jewish residents. Rosenthal, who is not Jewish, is committed to the preservation of Jewish history.

A notable moment, he explained, occurred with January’s publication of a book documenting each of the 1,455 Jewish tombstones used to construct a centuries old building that was razed in 1987. The book represented the climax of a lengthy research project by three local and two Israeli historians. The tombstones, some dating to the 1300s, now are kept in the Jewish community building.

Schwabacher is looking forward to showing his grandson the home of the former’s grandfather, Wilhelm Schwabacher, who owned several flour mills and saved people after World War I. “I want that [information] not to die with me.”

(Send a message to seekingkin@jta.org if you are a Holocaust-era Wurzburg native who wishes to participate in this program)


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