Berlin Jewish Museum | Rudi Leavor

Having made contact with curator Frau Leonore Maier at the still-unopened Jewish Museum inBerlin in 2000, I made an appointment to deposit several artefacts on 12 September 2001 which was the date of its planned opening. On 11 September I had just finished being filmed in my old Jewish school in the Grosse Hamburger Strasse when the producer received a telephone call from her husband about the terrorist attacks in the USA. All public buildings closed down and the opening of the Museum was postponed. As I had made a special journey to Berlin I was invited into the otherwise closed building, presented my artefacts and was given a private tour of the Museum by the Frau Maier. She eventually introduced me to the
chief curator Herr Aubrey Pomerance who a year or more later invited me to lead two workshops. A group of young non-Jewish people would spend the morning studying a few particular aspects of the Holocaust, having previously studied it in general. We then met in the afternoon when some of the people would present a resumé of what they had studied and I would add comments. They would then ask questions about my own experiences.

 

I have since led several of these workshops. One group was of members of the association 'Aktion Sünezeichen' which consisted of young people who already had degrees, who wanted to atone for the sins of their ancestors by working for Holocaust related organisations. Another group came, surprisingly, from Luxembourg. They spoke German, English, French and Luxembourgish (a mixture of all three). These workshops, subsidised by the Berlin/German Governments, help to keep the history and knowledge of the Holocaust alive.

My old Jewish school was founded in 1778 and, although there were some Jewish schools in Berlin of high status, it became arguably the best Jewish secondary school in Berlin, perhaps in Germany. One small story concerns the director in the 1930's, Dr. Heinemann Stern. When the threat of Nazi disturbances loomed he was replaced by the deputy director Dr. Georg Feige who was 'only' half-Jewish in the hope that his Christian half would prevent such disturbances, but alas without success: the Nazis closed the school, representing the acme of distinguished learning, down in 1942. In those years the school was used as a collecting point for Jews to be deported to concentration camps.

 

After the 'Wende', the fall of the Deutche Demokratische Republik, the school eventually reopened under the directorship of a Christian man Dr. Uwe Mull. The school had always accepted Jewish as well as non-Jewish pupils and now to appoint a
non-Jew was a masterstroke of hope, fortitude and above all reconciliation. Reunions of former pupils have taken place regularly but as with survivors of the Holocaust attenders are getting fewer and fewer. I have attended all of these. Just
before the last one in 2013 the name of the school was altered to 'Jüdisches Gymnasium Moses Mendelssohn'. Moses, b. 1729, was a philosopher who espoused moral and ethical principles. He is buried in a small cemetery next to the school
which was devastated by the Nazis during the war, but re-established after the 'Wende' and his grave renovated. Angela Merkel and Klaus Wowereit, Mayor of Berlin sent messages of congratulation for this last re-union.


On each occasion on which I attended a re-union I was given the opportunity of addressing one or two classes of pupils so that they could connect with its pre-war history and learn something of the conditions prevailing then.


Rudi Leavor, né Librowicz
Bradford, UK.
August 2013