Start of Main Content

Accepting History: Return to Adelsheim, the Second Time

By Esther Starobin

The letter had been sent to Bertl, my sister, by Reinhart Lochmann in September 2000. In his letter he described the special program he was planning to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the deportation of the Jews from Adelsheim and Sennfeld, Germany, to camps in southern France. I said it seemed a pity for this commemoration to happen without the presence of some Jews. My sister said she was thinking the same thing, so we quickly began to plan a trip to Adelsheim, our home before the war.

We checked out flights and made arrangements to go on a Lufthansa flight that would land in Frankfurt. Our niece, Renee, decided to join us and made her own arrangements for travel. On the Internet, I checked out possible places to stay overnight in Frankfurt and found there were no rooms available—it was the week of the annual book fair. We, of course, had never heard of the book fair and were quite surprised. We spoke to Reinhart again and learned that his sister was married to a man from India who had a friend with a hotel in Frankfurt. Through this connection we were able to make a reservation.

Once we had made our plans to fly to Germany, with Bertl’s prompting I contacted Timm Kern, a German we had met through the Jewish genealogy Web site, to see if we could stay with him and his family to visit Rexingen. Timm e-mailed back and said we were very welcome. We arranged to meet him at the train station in Stuttgart on our second day in Germany. Renee had found a flight that took her directly from California to Stuttgart. After Timm picked Bertl and me up at the train station, we did a little sightseeing and then proceeded to meet Renee at the airport. Renee came off the plane carrying an unbelievable amount of camera equipment. She was working on the TV show The West Wing at the time and had borrowed all kinds of cameras and lights.

We went to Timm’s family home, which was in a small suburb not far from the city, where we received a warm welcome from his parents. They had arranged for Renee to stay in a local hotel while we stayed at their home. Once we were settled in, Timm took us to the local Jewish cemetery. It was well kept and quite large. Bertl told me that 40 percent of the residents of Rexingen before the war were Jewish. We walked around the cemetery and found the graves belonging to members of our family. Renee took many, many pictures, with Timm as her helper holding lights according to her directions. Later we went to a restaurant in an old castle with Timm and his family. We were made to feel very welcome and enjoyed lively conversations throughout our stay.

The next day we went to meet Adolf Sayer, who had written a book cataloging all the Jewish gravesites, along with information about the people buried in each grave. Bertl bought his book, In Stein Gehauen (In Stone Engraved), with all this information. We went with Mr. Sayer to the building which had been a synagogue. It is now used for a different group, but there were display cases within it telling the history of the Jewish community. On the outside there was also a plaque in memory of the Jews killed in the Holocaust. Again, Renee took many pictures, again with Timm as her helper.

On Friday, Timm had arranged for us to go to the local newspaper to be interviewed. It was an odd experience because of our need for translation. I found myself wondering what the interviewer was really thinking. The article, which was published in the Horber Chronik on October 24, 2000, described us as “elderly, but mentally remarkably alert ladies,” and explained our connection to Timm, as well as the history of our family during the Holocaust. After that, Timm drove us to Adelsheim to spend the weekend with the Lochmanns. It took us a very long time to get there because the Autobahn was clogged with people in cars going away for the weekend.

The Lochmanns have a home with many rooms, so we were all able to stay there. Reinhart also had put an article in the local paper to announce the upcoming events and our arrival from the United States to participate in them. At this point, Bertl was still translating what was being said in German so Renee and I would know what was going on. Almost as soon as we arrived, Bertl showed Reinhart the message she had written to deliver at the ceremony. He took the English version and translated it into proper German so that Bertl could practice.

During the early afternoon, two women came to visit. Bertl had gone to first grade with them. They talked about events that had happened in their childhood. I remember them discussing that a girl in their class had died and at the time they didn’t know why. Bertl asked them if they wondered what had happened to her when she no longer came to that school. They said their parents had given them some explanations that they didn’t remember. It was a strange evening, with Bertl talking to these people as though they were at a school reunion, as though no war and persecution of the Jews had occurred in between. When they left, we drove into the shopping area to buy a few things. Imagine our surprise when we couldn’t use our credit cards. I guess Adelsheim is still a small place. Later we went to visit the Jewish cemetery, which was well-maintained. It was odd to walk through and find stones on the tombstones. Reinhart said he visits sometimes and always leaves a stone. Again Renee took many pictures.

On Saturday we visited various local places, went to a program at Reinhart’s school, and talked to some other people who knew our family. In fact, we met a woman on the street who said her mother used to trade food for items our mother had. The Germans set up rationing in the late 1930s, but the Jewish families did not receive ration books. Another person we met said his father used to leave food, after dark, on our family’s doorstep. He said his mother was upset about this because she was afraid her husband would be caught. I asked Bertl how we could know if this was true. Bertl told me that our mother had written about it in letters she sent to Bertl in England. About this time, Bertl’s German had become quite fluent and she often forgot to translate for Renee and me. Sometimes, Reinhart or Heide would tell us what was being said, but frequently we really had no idea.

At some point, Reinhart disappeared for a while. He had to make sure everything was set up and ready for the ceremony on Sunday. The building was also open in case people wanted to visit the exhibits that day. When he returned, he brought copies of the deportation orders and of the lists the Germans had made of the contents of our home when our parents, brother, and aunt were deported 60 years ago. The list was long and very detailed. Of course it was in German, so I couldn’t read it. We also received copies of the Baulander Bote, the official bulletin of the city of Adelsheim, for October 20, 2000. In German it said, “This hour of commemoration on Sunday afternoon at the Sennfeld Synagogue was dedicated to their [the Jews’] innocent suffering, their gruesome death, the mourning of their surviving children and relatives and the responsibility of the later born generation of the people which has to bearn the common guilt for the perpetrated crimes when atonement and peace should characterize the present and the future….” As I collected all this written material, I knew that I would have a lot to think about when I returned home and had it translated.

On Sunday we went for a very nice lunch at a typical small-town German restaurant. We then proceeded to the old synagogue in Sennfeld for the ceremony. When we arrived there was a small police presence outside. I asked about it, and Reinhart said it was just a precaution. Inside the building, several bulletin boards were set up. On each, Reinhart told the history of one of the area’s Jewish families. He had made photocopies of pictures, letters, and information that he and his students had collected while doing research. I found it a very moving display—done totally without government support. There was also a display with a menorah and I had brought one of the memorial candles that our temple brotherhood distributes each year on Yom Hashoah.

About a hundred people attended the program. There were officials from the town, young people from the schools, and residents from the area, but we were the only Jews. Of course, Renee was there with her camera recording it all. Reinhart had set up a varied program combining speeches, historical information, and music.

After Reinhart gave the introduction, he invited Bertl to deliver her message. She went up to the podium but broke down in tears and was unable to proceed. She stood there with Reinhart while he read her message to the assembled group.

Unfortunately, the only thing I understood on the program was the music. However, it didn’t matter. The program was very moving and somehow, without understanding the words, I felt the regret, the horror, and the searching for understanding that had gone into this event. I felt a deep thanks to Reinhart for not letting my parents’ lives and deaths be dismissed and forgotten, especially when he read one of our mother’s letters from Gurs. Many people came up to speak with us after the program to share their appreciation that we had attended the event. Somehow, it made the history seem more real and personal to them. In this trip, I did not feel isolated from the people who now live in Adelsheim in the way that I had on my first return there. This time I felt that there were residents of this area trying to understand what had happened, as I was doing.

We left the next morning. Reinhart took us to the train station on his way to school. Luckily, the station master accepted credit cards. After I got back to Silver Spring, Maryland, I spent time trying to find someone to translate all that had been said and written for the occasion. Finally, I found a member of our synagogue who was a translator by profession and I learned what the German said. Again, I found it very moving. I sent the translation through the technical wonders of the modern world to all thegrandchildren of Adolf and Katie Rosenfeld. 

©2005, Esther Starobin. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.