Here is an article about a woman from Metairie (outside of New Orleans) who discovered her roots in the Holocaust:
Bruce Nolan for The Times-Picayune, November 8, 2010:
On Kristallnacht, she told them, Nazis launched a terror campaign across pre-World War II Germany, torching 250 synagogues, looting thousands of Jewish businesses, shattering thousands of shop windows and arresting up to 30,000 Jewish men in 1938.
But this year the anniversary for the first time carries a more personal meaning: Loewy recently learned that her elderly great-grandfather, a small-town antiques dealer named Adolf Baer, was forced out of his home on Kristallnacht and hounded up the street in his underwear, bound for the Dachau concentration camp, where he would die within the month.
Tuesday is the 72nd anniversary of that horrific night.
Last spring, Loewy, her mother and other relatives stood in front of that same house during a ceremony in which the townspeople expressed remorse for what an earlier generation had done to Baer and others that night, and in the years that followed.
The mayor was there, with several dozen others. They placed two white roses at the doorstep of the old Baer house, near two memorial cobblestones a German artist cemented in place to remember Baer and his daughter, Hedwig, who also died in the Holocaust.
Certainly Loewy knew the Holocaust uncommonly well.
Both her parents had fled Germany as children. She knew the Nazis had murdered at least five of her great-uncles. She taught about Nazi Germany at the synagogue where her husband is the rabbi.
But this was a new level of knowing.
“I know all about Kristallnacht,” she said. “I taught it year after year, but I never had any idea it had personally touched me — that here was my great-grandfather taken, and humiliated.”
For five years before Kristallnacht in 1938, Jews under the new Nazi regime had been subject to increasing economic harassment, losses of civil liberties and, more ominously, increasingly frequent public humiliations and beatings approved by local officials who looked the other way, said Peter Black, senior historian at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
Kristallnacht was the watershed: a spree of arson, looting and beatings delivered as a matter of state policy, Black said. And the lack of public outcry by German non-Jews signaled to Nazi policymakers that it was safe to lay the groundwork for the mass deportations and murders that would shortly begin.
The story of Adolf Baer came to Loewy by way of Bernd Wetzka, a 61-year-old high school history teacher who, for the last eight years, has annually assigned his older students to research the fates of the half-dozen or so Jewish families who once lived in their town of Bad Wimpfen, in south-central Germany.
It is a tiny, picturesque town with half-timbered houses, some farming and nearby industries.
Wetzka said that two years ago, through records and interviews, he and his students discovered what happened to Baer that night.
They interviewed Gerda Opp, a woman who lived next door to the Baers as a child. She told Wetzka and his students that she was awakened by the sounds of the Nazi storm troopers shattering the glass of the old man’s antique shop in the middle of the night. It is her witness that provides the last public image of Baer — an elderly man forced out of his lodgings upstairs and driven up the street in underwear and slippers.
Wetzka said Dachau’s records note his death at 83 or 84, barely three weeks later.
The Nazis came for his daughter, Hedwig, four years after that. She died in an unidentified camp in 1942, Wetzka said.
He said his project, with support of the mayor and some residents, is an effort to confront the past and express remorse.
Separately, an artist, Gunter Demnig, has traveled around Germany crafting brass-plated “stolpersteines” — which means “stumbling blocks”— engraved with the name of each victim. Demning embeds them in the street or sidewalk before the house each lived in.
“We want to remember,” Wetzka said. “It’s the only thing we can do for this family, who lost a relative, who lost a grandfather, who lost an aunt. To show that Bad Wimpfen is now a place where one can see the names of Adolf Baer and Hedwig Baer, and the other names, each in front of their houses.”
Night of Broken Glass
In April, the town invited Loewy’s mother and sister — Baer’s two living granddaughters — to come to Bad Wimpfen with other relatives for a ceremony of public remorse in which two of Demnig’s memorial stumbling blocks would be placed before Baer’s old house.
Well more than 100 residents attended two weekday ceremonies, as well as a religious service in the local Catholic church.
Loewy said she went not knowing what to expect. She knew next to nothing about Baer. Her mother, who last saw him at age 11, said the family was told he had died in 1938, but his fate was never spoken of. His death was a blank.
Now, Loewy feels a connection to a stranger formerly known only in a faded photo.
Moreover, as she explained to her congregation, she came away with a sense that a new generation of Germans is willing to confront the past and ask for forgiveness.
“I spoke about ‘teshuva,’ or forgiveness. And I said I think we’d forgiven the German people.
“I don’t think we went with that intention, but because of the wonderful response we had from everybody… we all just realized that this is a different generation. It’s not fair to hold them responsible for the sins of their fathers.”