The historical processing of Jewish history in Gunzenhausen during the Nazi era
1950s to 1970s
Since January 1939, no Jews have lived in Gunzenhausen. For this reason the processing of the local Nazi history has been and is being carried out by local Christians or by people of other faiths. The same was and is done by Jewish emigrants worldwide.
Shortly after the end of the Nazi regime, people from Gunzenhausen sought contact with former Jewish citizens again. There were among others the Christian families Kleinschmidt, Lux, Schachner and Ulrich, who invited their former Jewish neighbors and friends to come to Gunzenhausen.
And indeed, some Jewish families soon came to Gunzenhausen to see their old homeland and their friends again.
Descendants of the Rosenfelder family in 1963 in front of their parents' former house at Marktplatz 16.
© Helene Vered, Israel
Wilhelm Lux, then editor of the "Altmühl-Boten" began writing down the history of the Jewish community early on. It was important to him to save them from oblivion. His notes were published by the local history association in the "Alt-Gunzenhausen" series.
The 1980s and 1990s
Willy Hilpert, mayor of the city from 1978 to 1996, was the first to maintain official and friendly contacts with former Jewish citizens, whom he also invited to Gunzenhausen.
A remarkable and extensive research work was published by the SPD local association at the end of the 1980s under the direction of the then city councilor Richard Schwager: "Repressed and forgotten - On the traces of the persecution of the Jews in Gunzenhausen".
The teachers Heinrich Kraus and Georg Weigel also dealt with the history of the Jews who had lived here and published their results in Alt-Gunzenhausen and in chronicles.
In the mid-1990s, city archivist Werner Mühlhäußer began to create a "Personal documentation of the Jewish residents of Gunzenhausen". In years of work, he researched the city archives, the state archives in Nuremberg and the regional church archives, documented all the facts and compiled them into a comprehensive reference work. The house book of the city was also created under his pen. It lists builders as well as usage and changing ownership of all houses in the city.
In 2000, students at the Stephani-Middleschool in Gunzenhausen, led by teacher Emmi Hetzner, began a research project on the history of Jewish families and their houses in Gunzenhausen in the 20th century.
The initiative for this came from Georg Weigel and Franz Müller, the rector of the school at that time. The know-how for the technical implementation of the research results in the present website jl-Gunzenhausen.de was provided by Horst Schäfer, at that time head of the municipal information and communication technology department.
The research results were entered online by Franz Müller, who as rector always supported and promoted the activities of the project participants.
The research of the students was initially based essentially on the "Personal documentation of the Jewish residents of Gunzenhausen" and on the Housebook of the city. City archivist Werner Mühlhäußer made these important basics available to them, as well as his professional advice and personal involvement in the work of the young people.
On the basis of all the preliminary work mentioned above, it was possible for the students to draw up at least the basic structure of the family history of almost every Jewish family that lived here in the 20th century. A further completion was only possible because contemporary witnesses who live here in the city or in the surrounding area were willing to open their family archives and give the students information about the past. Survivors and descendants of former Jewish citizens of the city discovered their family history on the Internet on this newly created website, contacted the students and have been visiting them at the school ever since. They continue to contribute further information and pictures about their family history to this day.
In this way the project participants got to know people whose ancestors had been able to escape the anti-Semitic terror that had scattered them all over the world. The descendants of the displaced Gunzenhausers often travelled long distances to visit the school and to tell the young people about their lives. They now also visit all the other schools in the city.
Contemporary witnesses and old school friends also came to these meetings in the classroom.
These visits were often very moving, especially when the students took their guests to places in the city that were once important to their ancestors. Today's homeowners welcomed students and visitors and showed them the inside of their ancestral home.
The support of the city's citizens was a valuable experience for everyone. Above all, the fact that they reported openly and honestly about their behavior towards their former Jewish fellow citizens. Karl Strauss, for example, came into the classroom and said: "I'm still ashamed today that I broke a window of my Jewish neighbor as a boy."
Susanne Eisen from San Francisco, as a native speaker, optimized the English texts of the students into a perfect translation up until 2009.
Fortunately, Lesley Loy from London, who now lives in Gunzenhausen, took up translating all the subsequent texts on the website into English soon after. So today almost all descendants can read the history of their family and add to it, even those who no longer learned the German language.
The mayors who presided over the city during the duration of this project, Mr. Trautner, Mr. Federschmidt and Mr. Fitz, are also to be commended. They were and are always willing to receive Jewish visitors and always supported the project. Likewise Ingeborg Herrmann, the press officer in the town hall, who many Jews know and appreciate.
At the suggestion of Horst Schäfer, the layout of the website has now been renewed and brought up to the latest technical standards by students at Ansbach University.
And so this great collaborative work has become one building block among many, a further contribution towards completing the research into the Jewish history of this city.
Present and Future
The Gunzenhausen-born Berlin author Thomas Medicus published the book "Heimat: Eine Suche" or 'Homeland: a Quest' in 2014, in which he focuses on remembering the time of the Third Reich and the post-war period in his hometown of Gunzenhausen. A large part of it he dedicated to the city's Jews, with whose descendants he maintains good contacts.
The evangelical and catholic congregation as well as the Hensoltshöhe each have put up a plaque on their churches asking the Jews for forgiveness.
In shame and sadness
let us remember the Jewish citizens of this city.
In 1933, 184 Jews lived in Gunzenhausen,
in 1939 the 500-year history of their community ended.
There was silence when their synagogue was desecrated.
And they were silent
when their fellow citizens were
disenfranchised, expelled and murdered.
Today we ask for forgiveness and shalom.
As before, every year on November 9th, there is an invitation to commemorate the Night of Broken Glass. The joint organizers are the churches, the Diakoniewerk Hensoltshöhe and the city together. These commemorations were started by the youth organization of the SPD at the beginning of the 1980s. After a hiatus, they were re-inspired at the beginning of the millennium by Mrs. Rhode, a council member of the Protestant Church community.
Since then, young people, e.g. the participants in the school project, but also the former deputy mayor Peter Schnell, Georg Weigel and the city archivist Werner Mühlhäußer, as well as descendants of Jewish families, such as Walter Joelsen, have been involved in organizing the commemoration.
The Jewish author Lena Gorelik from Munich also came for reading from her book "Wer wir sind" or "Who we are" at one of these commemorative events.
Pastor Matthias Knoch, who maintains good contacts with Jews from Israel, suggested youth meetings between Israeli and German schoolchildren. They are organized by the city's youth worker, Helmar Zilcher. A group from Israel was here a few years ago and a trip there is planned in 2023. Matthias Knoch suggested that Ilan Katz from Israel come to Gunzenhausen regularly and talk to the students at all the schools in the city. In the anniversary year of 2023, he will arrive with a Jewish youth orchestra. Israeli and Franconian young people will play music together for a week.
Werner Mühlhäußer continuously publishes research results on the Jewish history of the city. They are available in the city archives.
Since 2021, a dialogue group consisting of Jewish descendants and citizens of Gunzenhausen, led by Stefan Mages, has been meeting regularly for virtual meeting. In addition to getting to know each other personally and becoming familiar with one another, understanding and wanting to realize what was done by citizens of the city and the entire country to their Jewish fellow citizens during the Nazi regime is of central importance in the talks.
On the Jewish side participate
- Dina Bauer, USA, from the Bauer/ Neuburger family
- Faye Dottheim-Brooks, USA, from the Dottenheimer family
- Bobby Ray Hicks, USA, from the Rosenau family
- Julian Landau, Israel, of the Landau family
- Shulamit Reinharz, USA, from the Rothschild family
- James Strauss, USA, of the Strauss family
- Netanel Yechieli, Israel, of the Rothschild family (*1972 +2022)
- Tami Yechieli, Israel, of the Rothschild family
- Carol Zsolnay, USA, from the Eisen family
From Gunzenhausen participate
- Melanie Gerdes-Oeder
- Ingeborg Hermann
- Emmi Hetzner
- Johannes Kergl
- Matthias Knoch
- Stephan Mages
- Thomas Medicus
- Peter Schnell
This exchange of ideas was initiated by Netanel Yechieli from Israel, who has sadly passed away in the meantime. In gratitude and in his memory, the group now operates under the name "Netanel Lecture Series - Learning for the Sake of Reconciliation". He was a great-grandson of the Jewish physician Dr. Karl Rothschild, who practiced in Gunzenhausen from 1919 to 1934. You can read the story of his family on this website, as well as the family stories of all other Jewish participants in the dialogue.
In the summer of 2022, we were deeply saddened to learn of Netanel's death. This obituary appeared in the daily newspaper 'Altmühl-Bote'.
Netanel visited the city of his ancestors in 2016. Still today, Jewish families come to Gunzenhausen every year. If you are planning a visit, it would be good if you gave advance notice. Then someone would be there to welcome you and show you around the city. You can advice us of your visit directly via the 'contact form' at the top right of this page or to the city archive email@example.com
Jewish visitors are particularly interested in the cemetery where their ancestors were buried. Elke Hartung is responsible for the Jewish cemetery in Gunzenhausen. She offers guided tours there, in which she introduces the burial culture and special tombstones, but also reports on the history of the respective families. In addition, the city archivist Werner Mühlhäußer has designed information boards. Since 2023, family stories of Jewish residents have been presented in the Taharahaus on an aerial photo of the city center.
Happily, Melanie Gerdes-Oeder, teacher at the Simon-Marius-Gymnasium and Johannes Kergl, teacher at the Stephani middle school, are continuing to work with students.
Today, the website is maintained by the city of Gunzenhausen. Responsible are the head of the press and public relations department, Manuel Grosser, and the city archivist Werner Mühlhäußer, who is also the contact person for historical questions.