From Yedi’ot Chadashot ,  8 Nov 1968


Uncle Alex [Falk] of Beckum

Gavriel Stern


Sometimes in conversations with visitors from Germany, talk gets around to that little Westphalian country town Beckum.  Most often, this provokes mild amusement.  For the Westphalian, Beckum means the same as Schilda does further east, and Chelm even further east in the domain of former Polish Jewry.  The chances are that this will trigger a storytelling competition about the antics of those Schildbürger of Beckum.  (See: General Information about Beckum).  The people of Beckum are proud of their fame, and at the time of the Inflation in the 1920s they even issued emergency notes with those Schildbürger as the topic.  Regretfully I am unable to join in this kind of jovial entertainment, and this almost makes me feel like a spoilsport.  On such occasions one feels again and again the depth of the gap between us and our guests, however nice and sympathetic those may be in most cases.  In particular in the case of the younger generation.


The reason is, that for me Beckum primarily means – Uncle Alex.  He was the widower of my mother’s sister (nee Lenneberg), whose mother also had belonged to the Stern family.  My earliest memories of this Uncle Alex are not from Beckum or the Münster region, but rather from Attendorn in the Sauerland where I myself was born.  As a small boy I looked rather frightened, but also inquisitively, to those serious, almost gloomy uncles in their peculiar garments and top hats.  They used to come from far, to assemble in our home in order to participate in some family festivity, or maybe more often a funeral, or a jahrzeit. A funeral in that Jewish mini-community was always a sensation in our townlet.  In spite of warnings by teachers and priests, there was always an assembly of children and youngsters around the cemetery near the mountain slope.  They noisily imitated the strange prayers: “regards to father Abraham – miau, miau, miau!”


I am not sure if this parody was heard also elsewhere.  I had totally forgotten about this, until I suddenly recalled them last year, when I for the first time visited the Abraham-mosque above the Makhpela Cave in Hebron.  At the tomb of our patriarch I tried in some way to transmit the messages of those far too many of that community who had perished…  Incidentally, on a visit to Attendorn two years ago, I was glad to note that the small Jewish cemetery had survived the years of terror unharmed.  It is well taken care of, mainly thanks to the last head of the community Alfred Cohn.  He looks after the cemetery from his present residence in England.  Thanks are also due to the nearby plant nursery Hielscher.  Otherwise nothing is left of that community, apart from the sign board of the firm of my great-grandfather Raphael Lenneberg, that is still discernable under the whitewash…


Alex Falk of Beckum was special among those uncles.  The top hat and the stiff collar were clearly uncomfortable for this tall, white-haired, blue-eyed and tanned horse-dealer who also did some farming.  He was known in the family as stubborn and hot tempered, thus a true Westphalian. 


He was in his real element when traveling through the countryside in his two-wheeled coach and could talk “Platt” (the local dialect) with the peasants.  The Falk family had resided in the region for many generations.  His grandfather – my great-great-grandfather – who himself was born in Beckum, died there at the beginning of the century aged 109.  He reached that age, so we were told, thanks to a diet of Pumpernickel with a great deal of smoked meat and goose breast (the Jewish substitute for Westphalian ham), fried potatoes, and not least, large quantities of Doppelkorn (spirits).  I well remember the smoked meat of Beckum.  Not, however, with Pumpernickel, but rather with Matzot.  That was because my visits to Uncle Alex usually took place during the Easter holidays.  It was there that I experienced my first Seder evenings, which we did not observe at home.  Like most Westphalian country Jews my uncle was far from being a scholar, but rather a strictly traditional Jew, and proud of the pretty synagogue of his little community.  Incidentally, the grandfather of Knesset member Uri Avnery, by name of Osterman, had served there as teacher and community leader.  Alex Falk had thus been a good Jew.  This however did not prevent him from singing in the church choir in his younger days.  That was at the request of the catholic priest who liked his voice.  Kaddish  and mass, in the parlance of Heine… 


But this idyll was not to last.  Already during one of his coach travels, probably around 1930, it came to intense disputes with some peasants who insulted the Jews, in all friendship with the welcome guest: “Of course, we do not mean you, Herr Falk!  If all Jews were like you…”, and similar such all too well known phrases.  But the uncle would not buy this.  His head became red in anger, as I had never seen him before, and he exclaimed: “You speak of Jewish exploiters?  And what about those big land owners, the Count S. and the Prince v. F., who are harassing you like no Jew – all good Christians?”  The peasants agreed sheepishly that this might be so, but “That is something different altogether.  They are people of our own kind!”


However, those were only the early warnings.  The brown clouds became thicker and thicker.  But Alex Falk did not leave his home: “What could possibly happen to me?  Everybody knows me here!” the old man used to say.  Then there was the 10th November 1938, the “Reichskristallnacht” as the Nazis called it in their perverse sense of humour.  Among the 195 synagogues that were set on fire in that night there was also the one of Beckum.  But when those brown hooligans prepared to set fire to the synagogue (so I was told many years later) the old Alex Falk who had known the grandfathers of some of those ruffians, stepped forward with the courage of despair, and hit the nearest of them with a resounding slap in the face.  At first, the mob seemed paralyzed at the courage of the old Jew.  But they soon recovered and beat him mercilessly until he was dead.  Alex Falk was one of 36 Jews who were murdered on that day in Germany.


Today on the 30th anniversary, we remember this upright Jew, whose name continues to live in a Keren Kayemet grove in the Galilee, together with the other martyrs of that day, and all the six million victims.


Translated from the German by Zeev Raphael.  May 2007


See also HEBREW article on Alex Falk


The following Biography of Gavriel STERN is taken from a project that was conducted during 2006/07 by Grade 9 of the Attendorn St Ursula Gymnasium.  The project was based on the book Jüdisch in Attendorn - Die Geschichte der ehemaligen jüdischen Gemeinde in Attendorn “ by Hartmut Hosenfeld.


Gerhard Gabriel Stern wurde am 27.10.1913 in Attendorn geboren. 


-    starb am 05.05.1983 in Jerusalem.

-    besuchte die Volksschule und anschließend das Gymnasium. 


-    achtete als einziger in der Familie auf die Speisevorschriften und Fastengebote. 


-    nahm in der 11. Klasse an einem Hebräisch-Kurs teil, den er mit guten Leistungen absolvierte.

-    war seinen Freunden, die Nicht-Juden waren, gegenüber nie rassistisch und ließ sich in dieser Hinsicht auch

      nicht von der NS-Ideologie beeinflussen.

-    bereitete sich durch einen Kurs für Landwirtschaft auf die Auswanderung nach Palästina vor.

-    hatte aber Zweifel, ob er in Deutschland seinen Traumberuf (jüdischer Theologe) ausüben könnte.

-    legte am 14.03.1933 seine Reifeprüfung „mit Auszeichnung“ ab und war der letzte Deutsche mit jüdischem

      Glauben, der in Attendorn die Reifeprüfung absolvierte.

-    hielt den Kontakt zu seinen Freunden durch Briefwechsel aufrecht. Dieser musste aber abgebrochen

      werden, da seine Freunde auf Grund der Briefe bedroht wurden.

-    konnte 1933 (noch) legal nach Holland entkommen, wo er Einzelbauer wurde.  wurde ein Zionist, d.h. er

      setzte sich für die Wiedererrichtung eines eigenen jüdischen Staates in Palästina ein.

-    wanderte 1936 nach Jerusalem aus. studierte dort Judaistik (Bibelkunde, Geschichte des Judentums und

      Hebräisch), Arabisch und Islamkunde, konnte aber keinen Abschluss erreichen.

-    war ein Kenner des Arabischen und der islamisch- und christlich-orientalischen Kultur.

-    diente von 1947 bis 1949 im jüdischen Selbstschutz. war Gegner israelischer und palästinensischer Terror-

      und Vergeltungsaktionen.

-    arbeitete von 1940 bis 1949 als Redakteur bei einer Zeitschrift für jüdisch- arabische Verständigung.

-    blieb sein ganzes Leben Junggeselle. war in Jerusalem auf Grund seiner Verdienste zur Verständigung

      zwischen Juden, Christen und Moslems bekannt und anerkannt.

-    erhielt einen Ehrenpreis für seine Verdienste auf dem Gebiet der Menschenrechte.

-    beschäftigte sich sehr viel mit dem Verhältnis zwischen Christen und Juden. wurde 1979 zu einer

      Vortragsreise nach Deutschland eingeladen, während der er u. a. Attendorn (besonders den Jüdischen

      Friedhof) besuchte.

-    starb an einem Herzanfall. wurde nach seinem Tod in Deutschland und in Israel gewürdigt.



Die Stadt Attendorn hat eine Straße nach Gabriel Stern benannt.

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