Last week my family came face to face with its ambiguous past. Like many families we have our artefacts:
a silver Kiddush cup engraved with the letters A.L., very few black and white photos, a video tape my Grandmother recorded
for the Spielberg foundation, a smattering of stories and other lost threads of information.
On Sunday the 9th of November, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the village of Bollendorf offered a chance for some light to be thrown on our unknown shadows. The village
of Bollendorf on the German-Luxembourg boundary paid tribute to the Jewish citizens of the community
who died both in the First World War on active service and between 1937 and 1945 at the hands of the Nazi dictatorship with
a memorial service and the unveiling of two plaques. From what I can gather from various websites and emails from the organisers
of the memorial the Jews in Bollendorf lived before the war in a gentle harmony with their catholic neighbours sharing a bakery
and butchers - both with a kosher section.
The memorial service itself had a strong sense of closure about it.
It began with a piece of music from a local ensemble and was followed by speeches from both the mayor
and local priest on the theme of remembrance and forgiveness. For me the prayer for those who died during the holocaust, 'the
el male Rachamim' and following Kaddish proved to be the most moving element of the ceremony. Immediately after the unveiling
of the two plaques, members of each family lit Yartzeit candles. The ceremony closed with another piece of music and we then
had time to meet the locals, including some whom had know the Jews of Bollendorf. One, in particular, had been my Grandmother's
next door neighbour. As I walked about the village I noticed that without the plaques and those few shared memories there
would be no trace of Jewish life ever having existed, here was a community attempting to come to terms with its past and putting
to rest old guilt in order to move forward. The search for peace within their collective identity stirred something within
me and brought me face to face with my memories of the recent death of my Grandmother.
Earlier this year I returned from Jerusalem to be with my Grandmother
as she departed from this world. In truth, she had begun her journey many years earlier and had been slowly fading deeper
into age and senility. I replayed memories from my childhood of an independent, outgoing woman with a sharp mind, playing
hours of bridge, receiving what seemed like hundreds of postcards from various countries and talking me through the hours
of photographs contained in the cupboard.
By the time I was old enough her illness made it impossible to ask her the questions that confronted
me. In more recent years, as I begun studying Torah and finding a sense of connection with my Jewish roots, more questions
came to mind. The Spielberg interview she had recorded answered some but prompted many others, I wondered what her feelings
were behind each recorded detail, I wondered about the life she had left behind.
My Father relates to me that when I was very young we returned with my Grandmother to Bollendorf to
see what remained. Now I have returned to see for myself - to try to catch a glimpse of what lay behind the veil of years,
to share the common experience of children and grandchildren who have known those who survived, those whose lives before the
war were sometimes mysterious and often totally unspoken. How much of them survived their experiences now depends entirely
on us. As each of us turns to meet the ever approaching end, we know that the meaning of our lives is expressed in the purely
human dimension, whatever remains is what we have imparted and brought to this world, in the lives we have touched and continue
I raised that engraved Kiddush cup and greeted the Sabbath Queen several times in the still peace of
that hospice that was to be her final stop on this particular voyage.
I drew comfort from the stillness and peace that she radiated and hoped that my songs and prayers
would not disturb that tranquillity.
On Yom Kippur we say "the whole world is judged, both the living and the dead", the living for their
deeds and the dead for their continued influence on the world which left. As I stood together with my extended family more
than 40 people who had come from Israel, America and Europe to simply be there, as we swapped tales, memories and ancient
fading photographs, I saw that we had come together for one day to be those Jews of Bollendorf who had never fully perished
but instead become living breathing monuments to the past contained within us.
Jonathan Francis Goldschmidt