To forget would be not only dangerous, but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time” — Elie Wiesel.
Tonight and tomorrow, we commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day, and thousands of survivors’ stories will be shared around the world. For some survivors, a battle is still being fought to have their stories told. We must not allow their memory to slip into forgotten history. This is the story of one such person, and of those fighting to preserve his memory.
In the cold, early months of 1938, Flora Rothschild hosted her relative, David Adler, in her home in Antwerp, Belgium. David was on his way from his home country of Germany to the United States. The man that came to her home was not the man she had previously known. He was a shell of his former self; gaunt and sunken, haunted and broken. After what he had been through in Germany, he knew he could no longer stay there, but leaving his country also meant leaving his beloved family, friends, and homeland behind. He knew in his heart the true fate of the Jews of Germany and that he would never be reunited with his loved ones and never return to his country of birth.
Flora wanted to know the details of David’s experience, but it was clear that he was too fragile to press. She waited decades before asking her nephew, Leo Adler, who had reconnected with his Uncle David in the United States, about what David had been through. In his reply, Leo gave the only surviving testimony to the heinous crimes committed against his uncle in 1937.
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They wanted to frame him and the former shochet (butcher) in Burgpreppach, Mr. Levy and a third Mr. Neuberger, also from Burgpreppach, for the unsolved infanticide of Manau, alleging the incident as ritual murder [Blood Libel].
When it became clear to the Gestapo that they could not force a “confession,” it became evident to the prisoners that their survival, and the survival of the Jews of Germany, relied on their strength to endure torture.
Uncle David was taken by car in the night to the scene of the murder in the forest of Manau. He was ordered to get out of the car. Uncle said, “They can shoot me here in the car or while ‘escaping’ — I will not shoot myself.” He understood that if he exited the car, they could shoot him and claim that he had been trying to escape. In this critical moment, a car passed by and, fearing witnesses, the Gestapo brought Uncle back to prison.
The documentation of these events was found after the war in Hofheim. The documents were presented to a Jewish officer in the US army with the request for their delivery to Uncle David. Since then, the papers have been lost; they never made it to Uncle David.
With the simple loss of those papers, David Adler’s name vanished from this tale.
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David Adler never married, and lived out a simple, quiet life in New York. After his death, Leo packed up some of his documents and kept them with him, even after he immigrated from New York to Basel, Switzerland. Leo’s son Sammy found those letters and documents and realized that his great uncle’s story would be forgotten if he did not try to preserve it.
He began to piece the story together from old documents and letters. He found a letter to David from his friend Justin Frenkel, which states, “In memory of those months of our shared imprisonment in Würzburg, at Ottostrasse 2, from your friend, Justin Frankel.”
With this letter in hand, Sammy began researching Justin Frenkel. He found “A Recent History of the Frenkel Family” by Edward H. Frenkel, descendant of Justin, in which he describes the details of his family’s immigration to the United States. He believes that his grandfather’s arrest was the beginning of his immigration story. “In this month [April 1937], just before the Passover holiday, my grandfather was arrested by the Gestapo on the charge of ritual murder, the ancient medieval accusation of Jews in which it is claimed that the Jew needs the blood of a young Christian boy for the Passover service.” This is the imprisonment that Justin was referring to in his letter to David. David was arrested in April, along with Justin Frenkel and several other local Jews, on a Blood Libel charge, no less.
Sammy continued to dig and found an article published in the HaGalil German-language Jewish life publication. It describes the crime: on March 17, 1929, 4-year-old Karl Kessler was found dead with his throat cut in Manau, Germany. A local farmer’s wife remembered the old myths of Jewish ritual murder of Christian children and spread her suspicion through the town. The public prosecutor stated that there was no evidence of ritual murder and no Jews were arrested, but the seeds of anti-Semitism had been planted successfully. The story even made it to the Nazi magazine Der Stürmer, who claimed one of their reporters traveled to Manau and found blood-stained matzah.
The Nazis rose to power, and everything changed. In 1934, the first Jews were arrested for the alleged ritual murder of Karl Kessler, with another seven arrests in 1937. The article in HaGalil lists four of the arrested: the Burgpreppach town butcher Emanuel Levy; Simon Levy, his son; teacher Justin Frankel; and matzah baker Julius Neurberger. Emanuel Levy and Julius Neurberger were both mentioned in Leo’s letter to Flora, with Justin Frenkel mentioning their shared imprisonment in his letter to David. Though David Adler’s name is not included in the article, it is clear that he was definitely among those arrested in 1937 for the Blood Libel of 1929.
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The search for documentation of David’s imprisonment is not over. Where the story stands today: an article in the Würzburg Main Post describing the events says, “The Gestapo files have been preserved for posterity in the Würzburg State Archives,” but the only victim of the blood libel named in the article is Emanuel Levy. The search continues for a key piece of evidence of David’s imprisonment.
We cannot let a single story go untold, a single person to be forgotten. For too many Jewish people, including David Adler, their stories perished along with them. We still have the opportunity to fight to make sure their stories do not remain forgotten.