Jewish Heritage Report
Vol. II, Nos. 1-2 / Spring-Summer 1998
Stein und Name

Michael Brocke, Eckehart Ruthenberg, Kai Uwe Schulenburg
Stein und Name. (Neue Bundestlander/DDR und Berlin) as Band 22 in the series Veroffentlichungen aus dem Institut Kirche und Judentum (VIKJ)
edited by Peter von der Osten-Sacken Berlin, 1994 pp. 720. ISBN 3-923095-19-8.

The three authors are members of the post-War German generation.  The oldest of them was born seven years after the end of World War II.  Brocke is a professor of Jewish Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin; Ruthenberg is an artist; Schulenburg, after a short but rich life doing required military service, menial jobs, unpaid work helping residents in an old-age home, and assisting in film studios, is now studying film and television in Berlin and working in that field.

The book grew out of an effort to document and, where possible, to put in good order, Jewish burial sites in Eastern Germany.  As a book it had a slow gestation in difficult circumstances.  The authors' work came to be and grew spontaneously.  They worked individually and then as friends (one of them as early as 1982, photographed remaining tomb stones in two essentially destroyed, abandoned cemeteries, the other -- moved by what he saw on a walk with his daughter -- began in 1984).  Eventually they were supported by many individuals who supplied local information, etc.  They received no help, no encouragement from local or regional authorities--not even from the Association of Jewish Communities.  The tale of the authors' woes vividly reinforced my memory of my own tentative efforts, as a representative of the International Survey of Jewish Monuments (University of Illinois), to seek to initiate just such grass-roots efforts as these men and their friends accomplished.  This is not the place to report on the walls (soft and invisible walls, to be sure) which quickly cut me off, but my memories tell me all the better how moving are the efforts of these men and of many others who in other parts of the world -- Western Germany, Poland, Russia, China, even the United States, and many other places where social prejudice still lingers -- inquired, studied, photographed, drew.  The diary entries printed in the foreword tell the story of human interest and compassion that first prompted these men  and then helped them persist in this undertaking.

Once completed, the book was warmly welcomed.  In a letter printed at the beginning of the book, Ignatz Bubis, as chair of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, emphasizes the importance of tomb stones to the preservation of memory, both of individuals and of communities and expresses his gratitude to the authors and his hope that this work that so fruitfully unites Jewish and non-Jewish efforts may be extended to other regions of Germany. As Bubis points out, the authors found many more cemeteries than the 125 officially known to DDR statistics.  They have records of almost 300.
The reports of the individual cemeteries are preceded by a full and yet brief and simple account of Jewish burial rites, an explanation of the traditional symbols used on stones (especially in communities following the German tradition), the verses traditionally inscribed on the stones, and a brief but telling account of the types of sites which communities found it possible to purchase for burial.

The next part of the book is devoted to a meticulous study of the history of Berlin’s cemeteries.  The third is devoted to the other communities, in alphabetical order.  Obviously, at least in the eyes of the authorities, most of the locations were free of Jewish inhabitants by the end of the war, including Berlin which was officially declared "clean" in 1942.

Where there is an early history to report, it follows the statistical records of burials at the site and of Jews registered in that location, usually of 1910 and 1913, taken from census figures and other official accountings (all listed on p. 695, surrounded by lists of other sources consulted in the preparation of this work).  The authors examined all the sites they learned about, located stones (even fragments and, where possible, stones re-used as building blocks), examined, read and translated and often photographed them.  They prepared site plans where feasible and maps that locate the sites within their territory. The authors do not claim that they have been able to find all sites where there had been cemeteries. In some cases, all they have is a record that "in 1910 there were 4 Jewish inhabitants" in a  place without any information as to a possible burial ground.  In a few cases all they can report is hearsay that there once was a cemetery in a place, and in some cases, nothing but a document that indicates that once Jews (or a Jew) lived in a particular location.

This is a brief account of the rich and carefully documented information contained in this work.  It is and (one can only hope) will be a very useful tool in the hands of historians.  (And the introductory section and its explanations will instruct Jews far removed from their traditions in how to bury their dear ones, how to be buried themselves.)  But just as important as it is as a tool, it is as a document of humanity.

Reviewed by M. Raina Fehl

M. Raina Fehl is a founder of ISJM and founding editor of ISJM Newsletter (now Jewish Heritage Report). She lives in Rome and is editor of the Cicognara Project, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, I-00120 Città del Vaticano.
 

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