Non-Jewish Germans Honored for Preserving Local Jewish History

A preacher, teachers, businessmen and an artist receive the 16th annual Obermayer German Jewish History Awards.

Screenshot from last year's Obermayer German Jewish History Award Ceremony. January 26, 2015.
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Non-Jewish Germans who have helped preserve local Jewish history were honored on Monday with the 16th annual Obermayer German Jewish History Awards.

The awards, established by the late U.S. philanthropist Arthur Obermayer, were presented in the Berlin Senate as Germany prepares to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Among the awardees were a preacher, teachers, business leaders and an artist, who have faced a mix of support and resistance over the years.

One awardee, Peter Franz of Weimar was undeterred when neo-Nazis destroyed an exhibit on local Jewish history and left two pigs’ heads outside the Praeger Haus, a memorial and meeting center he helped create in his town.

In Frankenthal, some residents did not want brass “Stumbling Block” memorials to former Jewish residents in front of their homes, said award winner Werner Schaefer. “Then our mayor personally approached the homeowners” and convinced them, he said.

In Berlin, after years of “paying lip service” to the history of “Aryanization” of Jewish businesses, local retailers in 2013 finally joined in an annual commemoration of Kristallnacht, said Nils Busch-Petersen, managing director of the Berlin-Brandenburg Retailers Association, who won a distinguished service award.

In general, local politicians and city administrations have been supportive, the awardees agreed.

“But there are also many people who remain silent” about local Jewish history, said Almut Holler of Norden, a retired pastor who shared the award with retired teacher Walter Demandt.

Other awardees were:

Elizabeth Quirbach and Hans Schulz, who helped turn the site of a former Jewish school and rabbi’s house in Braunsbach into a museum and educational center.

Reinhard Fuehrer, former member and leader of Berlin’s House of Representatives, who earned a distinguished service award for early support for the Obermayer Awards and his work to preserve Europe’s largest Jewish cemetery, in Weissensee.

Elmar Ittenbach, who wrote a history of Thalfang’s Jewish community and a biography of Rabbi Samuel Hirsch, a founder of Reform Judaism in the 19th century.

In other events, German Chancellor Angela Merkel attended the opening of an exhibition, “The Art of the Holocaust,” featuring 100 works created by concentration camp prisoners and ghetto residents, on loan from Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. According to news reports, 24 of the artists did not survive the Holocaust.