Destroyed East-German Communities – And What
Would My Late Grandfather Have Said About It?
By Reuven Merhav (Markowicz)
Jeckes, Modesty and Thriftiness
Our dear fathers had a few typical
characteristics to them, some blessed, others less: some say they
were characterized by thriftiness, others say it was not only
thriftiness, but stinginess. As any generalization, this one too, is
lacking, and we all know people of Central-European descent who are
very generous, as well as others who are quite the opposite.
However, we will not be mistaken if we say that the Jeckes, even if
they were blessed with wealth, never showed it. The late Arthur
Biram, founder of the 'Reali High-School of Haifa, knew what he was
doing when he determined that the school emblem, worn by students on
their uniform, would say "Hatznea Lechet" (carry yourself modestly).
The school uniform itself also expressed communal solidarity, so as
not to emphasize the status of those students from families that
were better-off. In addition to this, Biram also introduced other
German educational traditions, which he enforced strictly.
Jeckes and Lending a Helping Hand
Ever since they came to the land of Israel, our
fathers supported practical acts of mutual assistance for new Olim
and laid the foundations for important organizations, which exist to
this day. Suffice it to mention the mutual aid given by means of
local Kupot Milveh (mutual credit), the Mutual Assistance Enterprise
that still exists today, and the Parent Homes - a ground-breaking
innovative organization in the realm of welfare for the elderly.
These actions, although innovative and new, were carried out without
any pomp and circumstance, without public relations or smugness.
Rather, they were regarded as the obvious thing to do in light of
the tradition of "Hatznea Lechet". To these were added other various
actions taken in recent years to preserve the tradition and educate
the Israeli society, and to aid the absorption process of hundreds
of new Olim from Central Europe, while allowing our members voice
their opinions in the Pages of "MB - Yakinton" – our monthly
publication - and other places. We can say with great satisfaction
that we are the only organization in Israel that has been able to
preserve its uniqueness for 75 years, and at the same time we have
managed to innovate and respond to new challenges, without becoming
corrupt, always keeping a clean house. All these initiatives focus
first and foremost on our community and on what it would like to
impart to the Israeli society. However, in the field of welfare we
have hardly ever gone beyond our community.
"Jecke" Funding to Survivors of Nazi Persecution
However, revolutionary changes have taken place
in this regard in recent years. For 15 years, the Jewish people have
been receiving an enormous "Jecke" contribution - from unclaimed
Jewish property originating in East-German Jewish communities that
were destroyed in the Holocaust; these funds, of a "Jecke" origin,
have been slated to support hundreds of thousands of needy survivors
of Nazi persecution in Israel and in the Former Soviet Union.
Before the agreement for the unification of
Germany was signed in 1992, The Claims Conference, an international
Jewish body established in 1952 and recognized as the successor
organization to unclaimed property belonging to German Jewish
communities and Nazi victims, negotiated with the German government
and achieved an agreement according to which the same recognition it
got in 1952 will now apply to property in the former East Germany.
After the Second World War, USSR Jews – Nazi victims - returned en
masse Weststward from the mass evacuation to the east. Today, there
are over 125,000 Holocaust survivors and victims of Nazi persecution
living in the FSU. They have been receiving ongoing support from
Jewish organizations for over 12 years; this minimal support
includes food, medicine and home care, which may also mean at times
the possibility to bathe and the opportunity for minimal social
interaction. Without this help, these elderly people, most of whom
are living on a very small pension equivalent to a few hundred
shekels – or less than $100, may not have been able to survive. In
many towns, such as in the Ukraine for example, time seems to have
stalled; Poverty is everywhere, Chagall's goat is still on the roof,
the roads are impassable and from under the dust cloud one imagines
a thick-bearded Jew holding the reins of his bony horse, with
surrounding houses all sunk into the ground, with wells and
dilapidated bathroom shacks on their lawns. The Jewish aid system
operates in tens of centers called "Hessed", financed both by the
Claims Conference and by the American Joint. (JDC)
And What about Our Brethren in Israel?
During these past 12 years, the Claims Conference
has also transferred approximately 400 million US dollars to Israel;
200 million were for direct aid to 12,000 Nazi victims, most of whom
are immigrants from the FSU, and 150 million for construction and
renovation of geriatric and rehabilitative wards in hospitals and
old age homes, all of which was carried out according to the
criteria of providing for the needs of victims of Nazi persecution.
Approximately 50 million dollars were allocated to commemoration,
education, research and documentation, and were transferred to
organizations such as Yad Vashem. In addition, a fund was
established in order to guarantee continued support of the needy in
the future. And all of the above funds were allocated in addition to
regular payments transferred directly to Nazi victims in accordance
with the existing agreements with the German Government, such as the
agreement on payments for slave labor and hardship - concentration
camp and ghettos, etc. As part of these programs, the Claims
Conference transferred in 2006 alone approximately 170 million
dollars directly to those entitled to such payments in Israel.
And What about Us?
Only a very small fraction of these funds was
allocated for our organization - for the Mutual Assistance
Enterprise and the parent homes. These funds too, were allocated
according to the Claims Conference existing criteria and standards,
without any priority. The Jeckes of our generation exhibited great
generosity by not insisting that a large amount of the money,
inherited from our communities in Germany, be allocated to them – as
did others in similar, respective, instances.
The current public discourse in Israel has
recently focused on Holocaust survivors/victims of Nazi persecution
living in Israel - approximately 40%, 250,000 of 600,000 throughout
the world, live in Israel. This is a difficult issue and as long as
these victims are alive, Jewish communities and organizations from
all over the world, including – of course - the government of
Israel, must help them live in dignity. In this public discussion,
the unclaimed East-German inheritance is a single source of light.
We can and should be proud that the proceeds from these unclaimed
properties in East Germany is now in the hands of the Jewish people,
and is being used for such important purposes.
Our Families Came From There
A significant number of people in our
organization came from the German territories, which have become a
part of the German-Communist 'Democratic Republic' in 1949. Tens of
communities there were wiped out with no one to inherit them and
many thousands were killed without being survived by even a relative
or an acquaintance. We know and remember that the East German
territories and those annexed to Poland and the Soviet Union after
the World Wars - Posen, Silesia, East Prussia and others, were the a
major source that enabled German Jewry to develop in the nineteenth
century and the early twentieth century. During this time, thousands
of Jewish families moved from Eastern Europe to these places to find
refuge from the Tsars in Russia and from the long military service
imposed on them in Russia as of 1827. Prussia, where Jews received
gradual emancipation in 1835, was perceived as a safe haven, and the
Jews who arrived there were easily integrated into existing Jewish
Within a generation or two, the immigrants from
the East were absorbed into the German culture, were those who
contributed to the amazing economic growth in Germany in the 19th
century and were continued by their descendants, who became leaders
of cultural and academic prosperity in all areas. Shoken, Federman,
Krakauer and Zondek are but a few names of the many prominent
representatives of that generation, who had also played later an
important role in the building of the State of Israel. But there
were also thousands others, less known, which went through a similar
personal and geographic path. I want to tell you about one of them.
My Great-Grandfather Was Also There
In 1847, Yehuda Shmuel Hacohen Neuhaus' family
encountered an extremely difficult dilemma. They lived in a small
town near Tarnopol in the Ukraine, not far from the border
with the Austrian Empire. Their son, Shalom Naftali, who had
just celebrated his 17th birthday, was about to be drafted for
a 25-year service in the Russian army, which meant being
separated from his family for years and risking his life in
Central Asia or Siberia, or being converted by force. The only
plausible alternative was to send him away to safe refuge,
thus separating him from his family, yet giving him the chance
to lead a reasonable life and preserve his Jewish identity.
The family didn't have any money to bribe the authorities to
prevent his drafting and the decision was to be made hastily. The decision was to escape to Prussia. Mama
Neuhaus, whose first name no one remembers, was extremely
resourceful. She somehow managed to get an ID with the name "Markowicz"
on it, and the boy bed his family farewell and left on an
Markowicz and Samuel Shalom Naftali Markowicz (Hacohen -
He traveled north, crossed the Vistula, reached a
small town near Posen, West Prussia, and married a Kosher Jewish
girl, the local baker's daughter, Mina Fraenkel.
He then opened a business for iron merchandise and work tools.
Family tradition has it that he also studied
Torah and was known as "our teacher" – 'Morenu' - in the community.
The couple had eight children, five daughters and three sons. All
Julius and Ludwig, were drafted to the
Prussian army, grew stiff mustaches, and became Jewish
Prussian-German patriots. Having completed their service, they
opened their own businesses in close-by towns and gradually moved to
Posen and Breslau, to proceed with their business and provide their
sons with good schooling and matriculation.
These sons, one of whom was my late father,
served in the army of Wilhelm the Second on the Russian front during
the First World War, caught onto the Zionist idea and became Zionist
activists after their discharge and during their university studies
back in Germany. All of them, including our late parents,
Dr. Walter Markowicz and
Dorothea Adler-Elias, immigrated to Israel
late in 1935, in the Fifth Aliyah.
Julius Jusef and Regina Markowicz - Hacohen:
Photo c. 1915
My late grandfather, Julius
Joseph Hacohen Markowicz, was not as lucky as his other two
brothers, Wilhelm and Ludwig, who managed to escape in time from the
Nazi hell and lived a quiet life close to their children in Israel,
where they passed away. Our late father and our aunt Sidonia never
forgave themselves for not having rescued him in time, and whenever
they spoke of him, sadness covered their faces. In April 1942 he was
sent from Breslau to Theresienstadt, and in November of that year he
perished there. Maybe he was lucky to have died there and not have
been sent to Auschwitz, along with other family members - his
daughter Thea, his son in law Albert, two of his grandchildren and a
few of his sisters and their families. I found his name in the
Theresienstadt records and in August 1991 I held a symbolic funeral
for him, from the block to the mass grave
What Would My Grandfather Have Said?
I did not get to know my grandfather – I was
always told he was a generous and good person. I am sure that were I
to ask him if we could use the proceeds from unclaimed Jewish
property in order to enable their brethren, victims of the Nazis, a
better living, and to allocate part of those funds for commemoration
of and education on the Holocaust and its terrible lessons, he would
have given his blessing and generous consent.
The article appeared in the
June 2007 'MB – Yakinton' edition, marking
the 75 Jubilee of the association.
Pictures: The Markowicz Family Records 2007, and the
help of Judith Gil, Shmuel Merhav, Haim Porath and Aviva Hadas.
Internet version editor - Yair Gil