Badische Zeitung, Thursday, 29th January 2004

Couragiously mastering the past
Award for Walesch-Schneller

From Berlin reports our colleague Veronika Burget

BREISACH/BERLIN.. Christiane Walesch-Schneller, the chairwoman of the Society for the Promotion of the Former Jewish Community House in Breisach, was honored on Tuesday evening with the „Obermayer German Jewish History Award“. Along with four other prize-holders Walesch-Schneller received the award for her honorary work in helping to save the former Jewish community house from demolition.

Today the “Blue House” is a place of research and culture as well as a starting place for German and foreign Jews, who have their roots in Breisach or who are interested in the project. The award, which Walesch-Schneller received, comes with a donation of 1,000 Euro.

The award ceremony took place in the Abgeordnetenhaus (House of Representatives) in Berlin on the memorial day for the victims of national-socialism. The “Obermayer German Jewish History Awards” have existed for the last few years and are given to German citizens, who maintain and promote Jewish history and culture in their home towns on a voluntary basis and through their work “repair” a small piece of the world, which was destroyed between 1933 and 1945.

The ceremony was opened by the president of the Berlin House of Representatives and former Mayor of Berlin, Walter Momper. In his speech he commented on the historical significance of the location and the day and thanked the prize-holders for dedicating their time and energy to the promotion of tolerance and humanity.

Arthur Obermayer, president of the American Obermayer foundation, told those present of how his predecessors came from Germany and how some of his relatives had to leave the country in the 1930s, because of their Jewish faith. He was always curious about his families roots and often traveled to Germany. During his visits he met many Germans, who were working to revive the Jewish life in their local communities. These experiences led the American businessman to found the Obermayer foundation. He wants to create a signal through the awards and improve the image of Germany abroad. The picture of Germany abroad should not be dominated by Neo-Fascists and attacks on asylum seekers, but rather by the ability of normal Germans to engage themselves with the past and carry this knowledge in to society.

 

History as a challenge

The vice-president of the central council for the Jews in Germany, Charlotte Knobloch, praised the work of the prize-holders in her speech. She stressed that although their work was primarily concerned with history, it had a great relevance for the present. Knobloch commented that “People are meeting in the ‘Blue House’ in Breisach again and suddenly interest in the destroyed Jewish community awakens in the town. In this way the previous existence of Jewish life and the unfelt gaps left by the holocaust can be experienced again. The vice-president sees the work of the prize-holders as a courageous attempt not to see history as a burden but a challenge, which needs to be mastered.

Julius H. Schoeps, Professor of modern history at the University of Potsdam, described the difficult path to a normality in Jewish-German relations. “The time will come when Jews and Germans will again be on the same level.” As the prize-holders show, patience and courage are needed.

After having received the award from Momper and Obermayer, Walesch-Schneller emphasized that the work in Breisach is only a bookmark in a great Volume. At first she did not want to accept the award. The work is an honor in itself. Nevertheless the award will encourage her to continue in the work in the ‘Blue House’. An academic conference on the history of the Geismar family is planned with excursions and speakers from America and France.

Translated by Samuel Harding

 

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