My mother’s speech at the Tolerance event

As part of the events during the trip, we had a tolerance event at a church that had been built on the ruins of a synagogue. This was my mother’s speech.
 
I, Miriam Meisels Griver, returned to Passau (Pocking) today as a survivor of the Holocaust. My late father, Rabbi Lipot Yehuda Meisels, a Hungarian Jew marched here from Auschwitz. Piled among the dead, he managed to move just enough to catch the attention of an American soldier. "That one is alive", the soldier shouted. My father was pulled from among the decaying bodies. My mother and sister and I reunited with him here, where he built a community of broken men, women and children. He buried the men, women and babies victims of the Holocaust, and then he helped to heal the lives of the survivors and nurse back their lives in many ways so they could embark on a new beginning.
 
My parents had seen more evil than can be imagined, but they brought our family up with love, and became a part of the growing Jewish state where more Holocaust survivors live than anyplace else.
 
I became a member of a woman’s organization called Hadassah. The name Hadassah comes from the Bible: it is the Hebrew for Queen Esther who saved the Jewish people from slaughter in ancient Persia. The organization was established in 1912 when an American woman named Henrietta Szold saw the suffering of the children of Jerusalem, Jewish children and Arab children. They were so used to flies in their eyes that they didn’t even bother to brush them away. She went back and used the strength of women who cared to build the infrastructure of medical care: baby clinics, child nutrition and also the needs of adults. The two great hospitals that bear the name Hadassah in Jerusalem continue to do that work: caring for the ill without reference to race, color, gender or religion. Hadassah’s hospitals are noted around the world for their excellence and far-reaching innovations.
 
When I moved to Israel, I saw the work of Hadassah first hand, and became an active member of Hadassah’s Israel chapter. Today, I am the President of Hadassah-Israel, an organization that aims to improve health for all the people of the region.
 
Hadassah-Israel is a national, non-partisan, women’s Zionist volunteer organization dedicated to the enhancement of the quality of life in Israel in the areas of Health Promotion, Education, Absorption, the Status of Women, and the Child at Risk. Hadassah-Israel continues in the footsteps of Henrietta Szold, the founder of the world Hadassah, and has chapters throughout the country. We are guided by the words of Henrietta Szold: “Dream great dreams and take the practical steps to make them a reality.”
Last year, our special project was to help the tiniest patients, the
neo-natal babies, both Jews and Palestinians, who need intensive care.
 
Hadassah has become a symbol of hope to people around the world. This year, legislators and professors in four different countries nominated Hadassah Medical Organization for a Nobel Peace Prize. I am proud of our ability to foster the values of equality, kindness, intelligence and dedication which are hallmarks of Hadassah’s existence.
 
I was one of the lucky children who grew up to establish a loving marriage, a wonderful family with children and grandchildren. But nurturing our own family is not enough. Each of us must give of ourselves by volunteering and contributing to the welfare of our communities.
As a Holocaust survivor I constantly reflect, agonize and struggle with the mind-boggling thoughts of how could the Holocaust to have happened. How did a people, so advanced in intelligence and culture pounce on its own citizens and on other communities all over Europe and bring about such incomprehensible cruelties to untold numbers of humanity; men, women and especially children. It defies logic, understanding and answers… Why?….
 
In Judaism, we have a concept called tikkun olum – the perfection of the world. I stand here today, in the place where so much destruction took place, I seek a pledge that all of us will go beyond hatred and bigotry to build a better world. I ask you to join me.
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My mother’s speech at the Memorial Event

In the year 1938, my parents were married in Budapest. Like any other new couple, my parents, Yehuda and Sara Meisels were looking forward to a blessed future not imagining that t e world around them is about to turn upside down. My sister Yehudit and I, Miriam, were born into the terrible years of the Second World War.

 

My father was engaged in the first years of the war in the task of saving refugees, especially Jewish children from Slovakia. He was caught doing it and as a punishment sent to clear mines from the battlefields. Somehow he survived this perilous work. Then the "Final Solution" came to Hungary. My father who as already marked as a criminal was sent in the early transport to Auschwitz. In this hell he succeeded in staying alive for a year and then was moved in the "Death March" to Buchenwald.

 

From there he was sent to the German Air Base in Pocking. His and his Jewish prisoners’ task was to repair the damage to the airport from the massive bombing of the allied forces.

 

Most of his friends there were killed by the bombing or perished due to the awful hunger. My father somehow survived. When the German forces ran westward, the American liberators found mounds of skeletons and my father was among the few who were barely alive. His 80 kilo body was now an emaciated 34 kilo

 

 After a period of regrouping my father organized the new life for the refugees who gathered from the nearby areas to Pocking. At this time my father found his wife and two daughters who survived the Budapest ghetto. A whole surviving family was indeed a rare sight then.

 

My father was then offered a position as a Rabbi in Chicago. But my father declined this chance for a quiet and tranquil life in America and my father and mother opted instead to devote their life to the rejuvenation of the broken souls who survived the holocaust. They also were privileged to establish new marriages among the refugees where my sister and I served as little bridesmaids to many of them.

 

One of the main tasks and functions my father was instrumental at was the unearthing of multitude burial sites where many bodies were dumped en masse. He reestablished orderly cemeteries to individually bury each remain and erected a monument on the graves of the adults, children and babies who were buried there, outlining the numerous names of the victims, among them victims of other religious denominations.

 

Every leader of a community strives to enlarge his flock. My father did the opposite. His ambition and undertaking was to reduce the size of the community by helping them to start a new life in other lands and mainly in the new and spiritual land of Israel which came into being in the year 1948. When this task was completed after four years, the Meisels family left Pocking and arrived in Israel on the first Independence Day of its rebirth.

 

In a wondrous way my father and Anna Rosmus discovered each other. When they were about to meet, my father, alas, died in Jerusalem. May our wonderful friend, Anna Rosmus, be blessed. She continues my father’s life undertaking to memorialize the innocent victims of the holocaust.

 

I would like to end my thoughts with a chapter from the book of Ezekiel the prophet: "Thus saith the Lord: Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. And ye know that I am the Lord. And I will put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I will place you in your own land; and ye sha1l know that I, the Lord have spoken, and performed it, saith the Lord."

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Trip Diary – Mayoral Tour of Pocking

We were picked up by George at 9am and taken to the Pocking city hall, where the mayor (Josef) and first deputy mayor (Franz) met us. They showed us thru the city hall and its gardens, including the city council room, the mayor’s office and a museum area where they are currently showing photos from an American GI who was stationed in Pocking after the war. Interestingly enough, this area of Germany didn’t revert from American Armed Forces control until 1958 when they had their first local elections.
Josef presented us with a number of gifts from the city of Pocking – a tie with their symbol (a horse rubbing its back on the ground – a local artist was tired of doing standing horses – and this statue sits in the town square by the main church), some stickers and a book on Pocking (in German) that has a mention of the restoration of the monument and my grandfather’s role in Pocking after the war.
Franz then took us on a tour around the area – we saw Bad Fussing (another town near Pocking also known for its mineral baths), and then went to the area where the DP Camps used to stand. There is nothing there now except the old heating station (that heated all the small buildings in the camp). The city has been trying to sell the land but hasn’t had any takers. I mentioned to my mother that Anna should try to buy it to place the memorial museum she wants to build. We’ll see what happens with that.
 
While visiting, we showed Franz some of the pictures from the original dedication and he mentioned that one of the buildings the procession passed was still in town – he took us there.
 
I also had to take a picture of Franz’ car – and old BMW Z1 limited edition (8,000 built, around 6,000 left).
 
Pictures:
  • Us in front of the old heating station
  • My mother in front of the building, holding open the album to the picture with the same building
  • The car from the front
  • Me in the car – note that the door slides down into the body of the car
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Trip Diary – Shabbat in Passau

On Friday night in Passau we had the first Shabbat dinner there in many years in the city hall. It’s an interesting place – with the ceiling painted in scenes from which the stories that Wagner gained inspiration from in his work. Hitler was a child in Passau (and indeed, almost drowned at five in the Danube and was saved at the last minute).
 
We had a short Friday night service where Ami, I and a survivor, Louis (I don’t recall his last name) read from the Torah. The mayor of Passau gave an excellent speech as well, and presented us with autographed books on Passau (in German). After dinner, we had a short slide show of pictures from after the war (taken by the US GIs). We then retired for the night.

Pictures:

  • This grey house in Passau was where Hitler lived as a boy
  • Some of the roof in the Passau city hall

 

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Trip Diary – Day 3 – Pocking, Memorial Event, Beer with the Mayors

Woke up around 7:30 and had breakfast. Began writing this document and transferring photos to the computer. Had a scare when the power caused this computer to make a bad sound and shut down. Left the computer alone, put in a new battery and it restarted, thankfully.

Random Walk around Pocking
We walked around Pocking for a few hours, stopping at bookstores, and at Monika’s store to buy some water. Had a little time to kill before we were going to be picked up by George for the dedication of the Children’s Memorial.

Children’s Memorial Service
We changed into our suits, were picked up by George, and we drove over to Passau, picking up Shelley and heading over to my grandfather’s memorial and the new Children’s Memorial. We got there early so that we could look around at the memorials before the crowds appeared. It was raining lightly (got a little stronger and much windier as the afternoon progressed). The place has a wall and trees between the road and the memorial (put in place when they tried to hide the monument in the 50s and 60s and let it go to waste). Now the wall has some of the names of those buried there (from the original memorial) and the original, tall memorial has blank spaces where the plates with the names used to be. It upset my mother that they moved those plates and she’s going to try to have them fix it. From the main, tall memorial (the original) you go up a short flight of stairs on the left to the new children’s memorial.
 
We also met a woman who had come after reading about the ceremony in the papers. She wanted to place a stone and a rose on the tomb for the children. She wouldn’t or couldn’t describe why she wanted to be there.
 
The ceremony took place. My mother, Ami and I all spoke as did Anna and others. I have it on video and hope to put it online at some point – but it will probably wait till after I have all the text and pictures up. In the meantime, you can read the text of my speech here.
 
A few notes on the memorial for the children – it’s for the children who died in the Displaced Persons (DP) camps. After the war, women had been so undernourished that most of their children were born with spina bifida – and due to the lack of medical capabilities after the war, most of them died from infections – there were also claims that one woman had puctured a number of them with an infected needle as well. I don’t know enough about this story. This was a memorial to those who died after the war, due to its aftereffects.

Beer with the Mayors
We left the service and headed into Pocking to the hotel, where the three mayors met us in our hotel for some beers. Pocking is a town of only 15,000 people, so why does it need 3 mayors? It’s because there’s a tradition that from the time you turn 18, and every 5 years after that, the mayor joins you at your birthday for a party. They can have up to 10 of these a week, and they need the three to eat the cake. <g>

The pictures attached are as follows:

  • Anna speaking. Behind her is her daughter, Bea Grace – recently returned from Iraq where she worked in JAG preparing evidence for the trials of Saddam Hussein and his cronies.
  • My mother standing near one of the plates.
  • The original memorial
  • The new children’s memorial
  • Shelley Shapiro and the woman
  • From left to right: the Rabbi of Passau, my mother, Shelley Shapiro and Anna Rosmus
  • On the left is the mayor, Jakob. To his right is the first deputy mayor, Franz
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Various links about the trip

Here are some links that I’ve found about the trip and the memorial:

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Trip Diary – Day Two – Pocking, Bad Griesbach

Pocking and my grandparents’ old house

Ami and I (we were sharing a room, as were Mom and Yehudit) woke up around 7:30am, showered, dressed and waited for our mothers, and headed down for breakfast around 9am. At 10:30, with church bells ringing (it was a holiday in Bavaria, Father’s Day, and everyone was dressed up and going to Church – many children were dressed up in native clothes), we went for another walk around Pocking, stopped by the main square (where the main church is located) and walking around some residential neighborhoods. We then decided to find the house where Mom, Yehudit and their parents lived right after WW2 (from the end of 1945 to May, 1949 when they moved to Israel). After a number of wrong turns, we found it, having passed it a few times (they had added a front section to the building around 8 years ago, adding commercial space for a grocery store).
 
There was a woman, Monika, cleaning the store. She told us that she didn’t have the key for the upstairs, but showed us around the back of the store – which had been part of the house. The storeroom was where the prayers had taken place (as Rabbi of the town, services were held downstairs in the house), and what had been a small study was now a large bathroom area. Monika gave us the phone # of the family that owned the building so that we could possibly get a key to look upstairs.

I asked how they got the house so quickly after World War Two, and my mother explained that there was a DP camp outside of town where many of the Jews lived while they figured out where they would go. My grandfather, in addition to reburying the mass graves, worked to find homes for the 8000 refugees. The allied command confiscated the house (it had been owned by the town) and gave it to my grandfather to use while doing this work. After the last refugee found a home (most ended up in Israel, US or Canada), my grandfather and the family left as well and the house was returned to the town.
 
Bad Griesbach

After this, we got the mini-bus and Ami drove us to Bad Griesbach. Bad Griesbach is Europe’s largest mineral baths. We went in and went among the various areas – all of different temperatures, some like jacuzzi’s, some with waterfalls, etc. Very relaxing afternoon. We were there from around 3pm to 5:30pm. We then walked and drove around the grounds (lots of resorts and golf courses for those coming for the baths).
 
Dinner in Pocking

Around 6:30pm, we drove the 12 kilometers back to Pocking and had dinner at an Italian restaurant. Excellent Napoli-like pizza, and I had a great Caprese salad. We then drove around the area for an hour, looking to see if my mother and Yehudit could find the location of the old DP camp, but we couldn’t – we think it’s no longer there (note: later in the week, the mayor of Pocking took us to where the camp stood). We then returned to the hotel where I was asleep by 9pm.

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The photos are as follows:

  • Bad Griesbach – central square
  • Entrance to the baths
  • Yehudit and my mother in front of their old house in Poking
  • Ami and Monika

 

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Trip Diary – Day One – Munich, Passau, Pocking

Munich

Landed at the airport around 7am Munich time, walked from Terminal One to Terminal F which is exclusively for El Al. It seems to be an old original terminal – separated from the rest and guarded more carefully by armed soldiers. The main terminal is new – wide aisles, tons of shops and restaurants. You walk about 15-20 minutes to arrive at the old Terminal F. No waiting area inside – passengers only. There’s an enclosed area outside for those who are waiting. I waited till around 10:30 when my mother, Yehudit (aunt) and Ami (cousin – Yehudit’s son) arrived. We met George, a guy around 36 years old, who had been sent by the mayor of Pocking to get us. We then trekked back to my old terminal to pick up Shellie Shapiro who had helped raise funds with Anna Rosmus to restore the memorial.

Pocking

George drove us the 2 hours to Pocking, dropping off Sheila first in Passau (a town around 20 minutes away). Sheila was joining a tour of WW2 vets in progress before meeting us on Friday for the rededication ceremony.

We checked in at our hotel, met the assistant Mayor who welcomed us and informed us that we were going to join Anna in Passau at the Museum of Modern Art (a private museum – we met the owner, a 90 year old man who spoke no English). We had an hour to clean up and unpack, and then George drove us back to Passau.  

Passau

The museum was interesting, the best part being a private tour (the photographers from the local paper and TV were asked to leave) of his room full of around 15-20 original Picassos. He stated that they weren’t ready to be shown until he found the proper building for them.

After the museum, we walked around Passau (by the Danube) for an hour to a library which had been the birthing hospital. One woman we were with had been born there – they showed us around and gave her a gift as a memento from the library store. Anita – a woman from NY who had moved to Passau in the 60s drove us back to Pocking. I left my phone in Anita’s car (it fell out of my pocket as I slept – jet lag). I called her later and made plans to retrieve it on Friday at the memorial ceremony.

Pocking redux

We had dinner at the hotel restaurant (only 3 vegetarian items – Gnocchi in a red sauce, Spaetzle in cream and cheese, and boiled veggies with cheese). We shared all three.

Ami, Mom and I went for a walk around Pocking (15 minutes, max) – everything was closed but Ami did get some ice cream. We then went to bed – asleep by 9pm.

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The photos are as follows:

  • Yehudit, my mother, and me on the minibus on the way to Pocking.

  • George, Yehudit and Ami near the minibus.

  • The programs from the three events we attended. The left one is the tolerance event, the middle is the dedication of the children’s memorial near the memorial my grandfather erected in 1946, and the right one is the Sabbath service in Passau.

  • The group in front of the library that used to be a maternity hospital. The woman 3rd from the left was born there. Anita is fourth from the left.

  • Ami on the minibus.

  • George and my mother.

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Pre-Article about the memorial event

This was posted on the Remember the Women Institute’s website before the event:

Anna Rosmus, an Advisory Board member of Remember the Women Institute, is organizing a 60th Anniversary of the Liberation of Germany along the Danube River by General Patton’s Third Army. American veterans from the 65th and the 71st Infantry and the 13th Armored Division, survivors of concentration camps (KZ-Aussenlager) in the region, including Straubing, Hersbruck, Plattling, Eggenfelden, Pocking, and Passau, and from the DP camp established at Waldstadt after the liberation are traveling to Passau. The event is scheduled to take place in May 2005…

http://www.rememberwomen.org/Projects/danube.html

You can read the whole thing there.

 

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My grandparents are reunited after the war

After the war, when my grandfather was placed as one of those working to find homes for the refugees and as Rabbi in Pocking, a man came saying he was going to head to Budapest. My grandfather asked him to see if he could find any news of my grandmother and his kids. The man (don’t know his name), went to the main synagogue in Budapest and found a sign among hundreds that said that Sarah Meisels is alive and living at ‘x’. He visited her and told her that her husband was alive and Rabbi in Pocking. My grandmother didn’t believe him, but said that she’d go to see. She left her daughters (my mother and aunt) with her aunt (who had also survived) and headed to Pocking. She found my grandfather and they spoke for hours. Finally, she said “I’ve been here for hours and you haven’t asked about your daughters”. He answered that when he saw her without her daughters he was afraid to ask. My grandmother then returned to Budapest and picked up their daughters and returned to Pocking around December of 1945.

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