DORTMUND, GERMANY — This week my husband, Jeremy Issacharoff, Israel’s Ambassador to Germany, and I were honored to attend a Stolpersteine (Stumbling Stone) ceremony in Dortmund, Germany in remembrance of my great-grandparents Rosa and Abraham Hacker. The ceremony, in which a brass plaque is embedded into the ground in front of where the Holocaust victims lived is inscribed with the name and life dates of victims of Nazi extermination or persecution.
Our daughter Ella joined us. She is one of many fourth generation descendants of Rosa and Abraham living now throughout the world, though none live in Germany.
I always knew that part of the reason I made my life in Israel was in some degree related to my family’s experiences in Europe. Having the opportunity to live in Berlin has only deepened my appreciation for the absolute necessity for the Jewish people to have their own homeland. Germany was certainly not Heimat (a homeland) for my relatives and the many others here who were profoundly affected by the Holocaust.
Growing up in New York City with my tight-knit survivor family there were so many intense first-person Holocaust stories swirling around the story of my great-grandparents was yet another tragedy that we had to contend with.
And then I found myself living in the country where their story took place, where my mother and grandmother were born and where my grandfather was raised. And thanks to Germany’s truly meticulous recordkeeping I was able to learn, in some detail, about much of their lives and death.
Abraham and Rosa were from Kolomyia, Galicia and moved to Dortmund at the turn of the century looking to this thriving industrial city to build a good and secure life like immigrants throughout the ages. Abraham lived and built a factory manufacturing brushes at 54 Leopoldstrasse, a building they owned. The couple raised five children here, my grandmother Dora, Carl, Klara, Berta, and Sara. My grandma recalled a wonderful life here, excellent German education in local schools, friends, a wedding that lasted 3 days. Her husband, my grandfather Saul was from Hamburg. His life ended when he was murdered and cremated in Auschwitz. Another sad story.
Aryanization and the anti-Jewish legislation in the early 1930s forced Abraham to “sell” his business. Understanding that Germany had become unwelcoming, all the Hacker children left the country before 1938, for America, Belgium, Brazil, and Holland—wherever they could get to as immigration regulations around the world tightened. Although they were begged by their children to join them, Abraham and Rosa, by then elderly, refused to leave their home. A close and loving family by all accounts, they were literally torn apart by the winds of war but surely none of them could have imagined the dystopian horror of what was to come.
On October 29, 1938 as part of the Polenaktion, the first forced expulsion of Jews originally from Poland living in the German Reich, Abraham and Rosa, were driven out of Dortmund by armed German guards with dogs and interned in dreadful conditions in Poland, close to the German border. In time they were somehow able to return to their home on Leopoldstrasse but they found their apartment had been looted either by local German militias or their neighbors during Kristallnacht in November 1938. All their personal belongings were stolen or destroyed. I have a list of the contents of their home, all the furniture, dinner, silverware and glassware sets for twenty-four, shabbat candlestick holders, photos. Clearly, they had a good and comfortable life in Dortmund.
It is said that Kristallnacht was a defining moment when it became clear that there would be widespread public support for the Nazi regime’s defamation and mistreatment of the Jews.
Abraham and Rosa found themselves without any rights. Abraham was arrested and they were subsequently confined to the Dortmund Jewish ghetto. Their last official address was on Parsevalstrasse where they were not allowed to use radios, telephones, or to be on the street without authorization. Rosa died there on December 2, 1941 at age 68. Abraham was deported and murdered in Theresienstadt on April 19, 1943. He was 76 years old.
When I came to Germany, three years ago I had expectations that it was a new time and that the country had truly moved forward. To a large extent I believe that is true. I have met so many engaging and inspiring people here in this beautiful country. People who have rebuilt Germany based on democratic ideals and reject the events of the not so distant past. People in government, in the NGO world and special ordinary citizens who are working hard in word and deed to maintain the progressive values that are by and large the norm. But clearly, much more work needs to be done. `
Since I have lived here there has been a rising tide of anti-Semitic sentiment, incidents and extreme violence that has been shocking to someone like me whose DNA is seared with the trauma of the Holocaust.
How can it be that in the year 2020 Germany Juden is a curse word in many of the playgrounds of the nation’s schools, and that it is literally dangerous to be an identifiable Jew in many German cities. That Jewish cemeteries are routinely desecrated, that not a year ago, Jews were almost massacred in a synagogue in Halle on our holiest day. That people serving in national institutions are adopting and advocating neo-Nazi ideology and even arming themselves to fight against “the other” in their own country.
Not a day goes by that I do not ponder these questions and challenges. Sometimes it just stops me in my tracks, especially when I happen upon a Stolpersteine. I hope that this and all the Stolpersteine plaques will continue to serve their purpose to make people stop, wonder, and help to remember a community who once lived among the German people’s own parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
May the memory of Rosa and Abraham Hacker be a blessing.