Leipzig 2012

A memorial march honoring the 70th anniversary of the first and largest deportation of Jews from Leipzig was held with Holocaust survivors from Leipzig and with representatives from the city, different churches, and the Israeli religious community.

On January 1st, 1941, one day after the Wannsee Conference, 559 Jews from Leipzig were deported to Riga.  Only 29 of them survived the Holocaust. 

Exactly 70 years later, descendants of Nazi perpetrators came together with the local Jewish community to bear in mind the victims of the Holocaust.  The Marsch des Lebens (March of Life) in Leipzig was implemented through the initiative of the TOS Church.  Representatives from different Christian denominational backgrounds including historians, contemporary witnesses, Holocaust survivors and more than 200 residents of the city of Leipzig came together to set a clear mark against silence, forgetting, and modern Anti-Semitism.   

Out of consideration for the Jewish Shabbat, the official memorial event took place on the Saturday evening leading up to the march.  The March of Life was held on Sunday, January 22nd, 2012.   What was very special about these events, and totally unique for the city of Leipzig up until this point, was the close cooperation between Christian, Jewish and Secular groups, as well as the very personal way in which they faced their collective past.

Following on the Saturday evening, Stefan Haas, as the representative of the March of Life movement and Pastor of the TOS Church in Leipzig, introduced the history and concerns of the movement.  After the greeting from the Rabbi of the Israeli religious community was read, and Ellen Bertram from the Board of Trustees of the Ephraim-Carelbach Foundation gave a historical introduction on the matter, Rolf Kralovitz, an eye-witness of the deportations, addressed the audience in Leipzig by means of a message recorded on video.  As this 86-year-old man, who is almost blind, remembered the details of the day as Jews in Leipzig were given lists stating who would have to be ready to be sent into the unknown the very next day he says, “This day, this Sunday, in the Jewish homes was (starting in 1939,all Jews had to move into special ‘Jewish homes’- editor’s note), whether their names were on this list or not, the feeling of the imminence of the end of the world, because everyone knew of course, where they would end up.  – What we did not know, was that you were sent to Auschwitz and there on a ramp selected and then sent on the same day to the gas chambers.  Such an imagination is something we of course did not possess.  But we were afraid of ending up in a work camp, in a camp where you did not receive anything to eat, where you hat to work hard, and so on.  But that they were killing people, we of course were unaware of that.”    

Eve Maria Hillmann from the Israeli religious community in Leipzig shared her story as the daughter of Jews who were deported during that time.  She was staying with friends of her family as her Mother and Sister were taken.  Both survived, but her Sister committed suicide in 1971, which Eva Maria Hillmann calls “Hitler’s delayed victory”.

After the names of those who were deported were read, Friedrich Magirius, the first General President of the City, generally the Superintendent and Chairman of the Jewish-Christian Working group in Leipzig gave his input and made a call to vigilance in matters of Anti-Semitism.  All who were present will always remember another Holocaust survivor, who had agreed to come but did not feel capable under any circumstances of expressing himself publically in regards to this subject matter.  That night, he took the microphone spontaneously and shared his story in detail, as he never had before. 

On Sunday, the participants of the March of Life gathered at the historical spot on Ernst-Pinkart Street, where Jews were collected 70 years ago to be taken away.  Today, it has been turned into a parking lot at the Konsum-Markt (grocery store).  Steffen Held, who has made many contributions as a historian on handling the city’s history, as well as representatives from different churches, spoke at this opening event to the freezing participants.  The day of deportation in January 1942 must have been much colder; back then, 127 men, 346 women and 86 children were consigned into unheated train cars at the Engelsdorfer train station, in -20°C (-4°F) weather.

The memorial march, leading up to this point, was approximately 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) leading through the city.  The streets had been blocked off for the occasion.  The Leipzig Public Transportation Company offered bus rides for those who could not endure the long walk.   The bus followed the March at the walking pace of the participants.  Some open anti-Semitic heckling from residents up to a “Heil-Hitler” greeting proved how bitterly necessary it still is to handle that which has happened, to prevent it through education, and to take a stand against Anti-Semitism even until today.  

As is always essential to the March of Life, the descendents of the perpetrator generation, who have dealt with the concrete guilt of their parents and grandparents, took responsibility in Leipzig in a very personal way and asked for forgiveness.  In doing so, the idea was not to lift an accusation, as so many do in order to “ruin the memory of the deceased”, but to break the Veil of Silence and to make reconciliation possible between the perpetrators and victims.  Because just as tangible as Rolf Kralovitz had shared from the “Day of Lists”, another participant from Leipzig reported about her family’s past, “My Grandmother sorted out Jewish birth certificates, separating them the Germans.  And so she betrayed the Jews.  I ask for forgivenness.“ 

The March of Life, the commemoration and the plea for forgiveness were spread by the media throughout Leipzig and beyond.  This should serve as a model to further address the past and organize similar events, which will lead to true reconciliation.  At this time, when many cities in Germany in the coming year will be honoring the 70th anniversary of the Day of Deportation, further Marches of Live should take place as well.

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