Germans honored for preserving Jewish history


A former Wehrmacht soldier was one of five Germans honored this year for helping ensure that local Jewish history and culture are not forgotten.

The 12th annual Obermayer German Jewish History Awards, one of several events in Germany marking Holocaust Remembrance Day, the 67th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, come as a new study reveals that one-fifth of young Germans do not even recognize the name of the Nazi death camp.

The award presentation on Jan. 23 at Berlin’s Parliament House was followed by news of the survey of 1,002 individuals, released Tuesday by the German polling institution Forsa and Stern magazine, which showed that 21 percent of Germans aged 18-30 did not know what Auschwitz was.

Fighting such ignorance is a mandate of Obermayer award recipients, virtually all of whom are educators this year.

The awardees are:

  • Werner Schubert, 87, of Weisswasser in the former East Germany, a retired schoolteacher who is largely responsible for educating all ages about the rich Jewish history of his hometown after being taught as a schoolboy in Nazi Germany that so-called Aryans were “the chosen people” and that Jews were inferior. He also teaches now about the biography of a local perpetrator who was at the notorious Wannsee Conference, where the genocide of the Jews was mapped out 70 years ago this week. The ex-Wehrmacht soldier has made contact with descendants of former Jewish citizens, many of whom have visited the town in recent years.
  • Christa Niclasen, a Berlin elementary school principal whose pupils since 1994 have been building a wall dedicated to the memory of former Jewish neighbors. Each brick bears the name of a Jewish person whose life story is adopted by a pupil. This year, the 1,000th brick will be cemented in place.
  • Retired high school teacher Wolfgang Batterman, of Petershagen, North Rhine-Westphalia, who helped rescue a former synagogue and school from oblivion and created an information and documentation center on Jewish local and regional history going back more than 450 years.
  • Rolf Emmerich, a former chemical engineer and schoolteacher who lives in Laupheim, Baden-Wurttemberg, and has written about the Jewish past of his hometown, co-founded a museum dedicated to the history of local Christians and Jews, and helped preserve gravesites in Laupheim’s Jewish cemetery.
  • Fritz Kilthau of Zwingenberg, Hesse, who has raised awareness of local Jewish history in his region. He says his work is a response to right-wing extremism, which he contends is alive and well in the region.

The award was initiated by Arthur Obermayer, an American-Jewish philanthropist inspired by his contacts with historians in his family’s ancestral town of Creglingen. Recipients generally are nominated by Jews around the world who, like Obermayer, still have ties with the towns from which their ancestors fled.