A ‘bittersweet’ homecoming

A ‘bittersweet’ homecoming

THREE HOLOCAUST survivors told of their bittersweet experiences when they returned home to Germany and were honored by the very cities that were the sites of their persecution at a program on March 15.

“Home Bittersweet Home,” which took place at the Aidekman campus in Whippany, was sponsored by the Holocaust Council of MetroWest.

Panelists include Gerda Bikales of Livingston, Sylvia Cohn of West Orange, and Harry Ettlinger of Rockaway.

Bikales was born in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland), where she was invited to the reconsecration of the White Stork Synagogue, where her family had worshiped until they were forced to flee. Of the town, where she had been persistently persecuted as a child, she said that while “all my memories of home are bitter, very bitter, praying in my childhood synagogue was truly a sweet homecoming.”

Although she was born and grew up in Manhattan, Cohn remembered being called “a German refugee.” Her uncle fled Germany as a young child soon after Hitler’s ascent. An American lawyer, he was the only native-speaking German at the Nuremberg Trials. Cohn was invited to a ceremony renaming a building at the University of Berlin in honor of her grandfather, Leonor Michaelis. As a result of anti-Semitic persecution, Michaelis, a world-renowned scientist, moved to Japan in the 1920s and eventually to New York.

The building was formerly named for a Nazi whose work in the field of eugenics was used by the infamous Josef Mengele in his experiments. The university “rededicated the building as an eye-opener,” said Cohn, and a way to disassociate themselves from the phony science that was the basis of Nazi ideology.

Ettlinger, who was born in Karlsruhe, Germany, was invited to that town of Bruchsal for the dedication of a plaza named for his maternal grandfather, who was a civically engaged philanthropist before the Nazi era. “In Bruchsal, they changed the name from Adolph Hitler Platz to Otto Oppenheimer Platz,” Ettlinger said. Based on his experience with the people he met at the event, Ettlinger said, he is hopeful that Germany’s young leaders and members of the postwar generations have learned the lessons of the Holocaust.

The council is a program of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ; funding is made possible by the Darivoff Family Foundation. For information, contact 973-929-3194 or holocaustcouncil@ujcnj.org.

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