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Ghosts in Berlin

Jul 30, 2012 at 03:06:44 PM

I read a very moving story about residents of an upscale apartment building in Berlin who began to ask themselves the question: Did Jews used to live in this building? And what ever became of them?

They took the question seriously and conducted a mammoth worldwide hunt to find out the fate of those who inhabited their apartments – some of the 160,000 Jews who lived in Berlin prior to Hitler's rise to power.

The impetus for this project occurred when Peter Schulz, a resident of the building was viewing an exhibition on Jews before World War II. Suddenly he found himself standing in front of a photograph of two children standing on a balcony – Schulz's very own balcony.

He became obsessed with finding out the identity of those two children. After much research, he discovered that one of them, Werner Vohs, died aged 17 at Auschwitz. The girl in the photo, his sister Margot, was the only survivor among her immediate family. She lives today in Peru.

Schulz called a meeting of the other tenants and enlisted them in his project. It took three years of painstaking research to track down the former tenants, with hundreds of hours spent combing through city archives, and sending letters all over the world to gather information.

In all, they discovered that 28 residents of their building had been driven out by the Nazis. Most were murdered at Auschwitz, Theresienstadt or Treblinka.

One of the former residents, Kurt Landsberger, was 18 when he was forced to leave the building. Landsberger is now 90 years old and lives in New Jersey.

When he was located by the current residents, they invited Landsberger to come visit his old apartment. Landsberger flew to Berlin, where he received an emotional tour of the place where he grew up.

As a culmination of the project, the residents have hung a permanent plaque at the entrance of the building, listing each of the 28 names of the former Jewish residents.

Says resident Gabrielle Pfaff: "I was born in 1949 and I often asked my parents what they did under the Nazis. My parents' generation closed its eyes. I want to make sure that such a crime never happens again."

Published: July 30, 2012


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Visitor Comments: 7

(3) Anonymous, August 4, 2012 8:13 PM

Did they offer to return the apartment to it's previous owner/resident?

Did they offer to return the apartment to it's previous owner/resident? If not, so what in tarnashin is so amazing about letting her come for a "visit"? Big deal!

(2) Ann, August 3, 2012 7:18 PM

The Longing to be Remembered

Such a fine story, one that reminds us that even beyond this life, a neshama longs to not be forgotten. Years ago I moved into an old house, where I still reside. Larger than anything I needed, and one of the village's prettiest estates, I understood that HaShem had sent me here for His reasons and so I moved in. I wondered who might have lived here over its 156 years of existence. As the months stretched into years, I began to sense that it had once been the home of a Jewish family. It seemed unlikely in this very orange-protestant town, but I trusted my instincts. I noticed some walls were left unfinished in corners. And every afternoon, rainbows stream in through the old lead windows, casting beautiful reminders of HaShem's promise to Noach on the walls. A special feeling began to fill me that I was not the first woman 'to Shema' at the small kitchen window facing East, early mornings. Then one day, I learned from the elderly woman who now owns this house, that her husband had bought it from a young Jewish man, 62 years ago. That young man later became a giant in Canada and Israel, his and his wife's community work and tzedakas generous beyond words. How could I have known? I just did. Now, every Shabbat, I set out two special china cups on saucers for that man and his wife, blessed be their memory. My remembering them is a blessing to me and my family, too.

EunKyungHan, August 22, 2012 9:53 PM

very impressioned

Very touched story. I believe your instinct.

(1) Laura, July 31, 2012 3:22 AM

Yes but I have a question for all of them

Do these same people who worked tirelessly to uncover the past of this apartment building support Israel's right to exist? I often find some people may espouse one thing when it comes to the Shoah and Jews, but have an entirely different take on the State of Israel.

Allen, August 1, 2012 5:00 AM

Why The Question???

What a negative outlook to a beautiful story!

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