I am honored today to share with you an essay written by my fourth cousin, once removed, Jennifer Spier-Stern. Jennifer is the great-granddaughter of Minna Ruelf and Isaak Spier, about whom I wrote in my last post. When Jennifer shared this essay with me, I was so moved that I asked her if I could post it on my blog. She graciously agreed to let me do that, and I hope that you also will feel the way I did—that I was with Jennifer in her footsteps as she walked in the footsteps of her family in Rauischholzhausen, Germany.
Walking in Their Footsteps
by Jennifer Spier-Stern
I was transformed back in time as we drove through the narrow streets of the town called Rauischholzhausen. We passed old homes with beautiful flower baskets hanging from windows and well manicured gardens. The narrow street was paved and there was even a sidewalk. I wanted to absorb every corner, every home into my mind so I could never forget these images. I know that 70+ years ago it was not as pristine. I have thought of this day for so many months. Each and every time I envisioned this part of my trip I cried. The tears were for the people that were no longer here to tell me their tales. My father wasn’t with me to show me the way, to tell me about his memories and to stand with me in front of the home where he was born. To walk with me to the Schloss (castle) and show me the places where he ran, where he played, to show me where his family lived and where the synagogue was.
The reason for this trip started many years ago. My father was born in Rauischholzhausen in 1922, a small town a few minutes drive from Marburg. Growing up we heard all the stories of Holzhausen and of the early childhood of my father and his four siblings. We used to roll our eyes and laugh with yet another story of “home.” As young adolescents we didn’t appreciate all that he told us. I wish I had documented everything, but like most young adults, I didn’t. My father always promised my brother and I a trip back to his roots, but that was never going to happen, he passed away in 1998. Since my father’s passing I had fleeting thoughts of going to Germany but not until recently did this strong urge possess me that I had to go and see for myself.
Without going into full details of the history of our family, my father’s brother returned to Germany with his wife and son and settled in Bielefeld in 1959.
My aunt, uncle, cousin and his wife met us at our beautiful hotel and drove us to the house that was 16 Lerchengasse. 16 Lerchengasse was the house where my father lived. The house that bore the name I Spier (Isaak Spier) above the front door frame. We parked the car and walked that last few steps down a cul de sac. I had the vision of the house from few photos that survived the war.
My uncle stopped in front of the house and said, “This is it. This is the house where we were born.” I looked up at this large home, the home of my great-grandfather, grandfather and father. My hands were shaking and the tears rolled down my face. I heard my father’s voice, I heard his stories, I saw him walking up and down the front stairs. I saw him running around the courtyard with his siblings. I haven’t felt my father’s presence as strongly as I did at that moment. I wish I could have knocked on the door and introduced myself. I so wanted to go inside, but I know it is far different than the house my father left on November 9, 1938. I looked at the surrounding homes, and they too were lovely with their planters filled with flowers and lace curtains in the window. Later in the week Hajo (My hero guide) posed the question to me, “Can you imagine this town 65 years ago?”
The next stop was the Jewish cemetery. We picked up the key at the caretaker and then we walked the grass soaked path towards the cemetery. The rain started and the path became very muddy. The land to the right was a beautiful pasture for grazing cows who seemed very curious and walked over to the fence. It seemed surreal. As we walked my eyes were looking down at the path, knowing that my grandparents and many other ancestors walked here to enter the cemetery. They came here to bury. They came here on the holidays to remember those that passed. They came here to say Kaddish. I was walking in their footsteps.
My grandfather Abraham Spier buried his parents, Isaak Spier and Minna Rülf neé Spier. One of the oldest stones in the cemetery is Nathan Spier, my 3rd great grandfather (1792-1866). We stepped into the cemetery where 80% of the graves are family ancestors. I had my dear friend Hajo Bewernick photograph every stone for me. I’ve looked at the photos numerous times and now, I stood before them. I stood there and cried. Emotions flooded my body that I didn’t know how to react. I wanted to touch every stone and place a rock, I wanted to pray. In years to come how many will walk through the gates to pray for all the souls? However, all I could do was cry. Later on I found out that my husband said the Mourner’s Kaddish, (a Mourner’s Prayer) as he stood over one grave, but he said it for all.
I walked in their footsteps. I was thankful that my family who live in Germany were able to share this experience with me. Special thanks to Hajo Bewernick who took the time from his busy work and home life to show my husband and I Marburg. I can never thank you enough for explaining the history of your beautiful town as well as showing us the many historical sites and to our many insightfully deep conversations. You created a three dimensional image for me of my grandparents, my Oma and Opa, by showing us where they would have been, where they would have walked and the buildings from where they were deported. I do not recall the name of the street corner. Hajo was specific in pointing his finger.
Through my research I have come across generous people who devote their time and efforts to the history of the Jewish people. To everyone we thank you for all your hard work. Special thank you to Barbara Greve for always being there with the answers.
One more person I need to thank with all my heart is my husband, Effy. This trip wouldn’t have happened without him. He knew how important this trip was for me and I am glad he shared it by my side.
I never felt closer to my family and my ancestors as I have during these few days in my family’s home town. I know I’ll keep these stories alive with my family and I hope they will continue the legacy.