Back to the Roots
In the Summer of 2023, Thirty Descendants of Jewish Families Visited the Homeland of their Ancestors
In 2023, Gunzenhausen can look back on 1,200 years of documented city history - a good reason to remember all those who helped shape or even enriched this history.
Jewish families, who had lived in the city as citizens since the 14th century, played a significant role in this. Many of them are still mentioned in chronicles today, mainly because of their social commitment to the community, including the Christian one.
Discriminated against by neighbors and 'friends' under the Nazi regime, stripped of their dignity, expelled and murdered, some still managed to survive. Scattered to many countries around the world, where they first had to learn the language, they were able to build a new existence for themselves. And some of them even started to visit their 'hometown' again. They were always welcomed because old friends had remained loyal to them.
For the first time in the city's history, descendants of these families have now been invited as a group. The members of the German-Jewish dialogue group and their families were addressed.
And they came.
About 30 Jewish descendants, who now live with their families in Israel and the USA, were in the city from July 30th to August 1st. A youth orchestra from the Israeli town of Kfar Vradim was also here for a whole week to rehearse pieces together with young German musicians, which they then performed together as concerts in churches and public places - with great success.
Tami Yechieli from Israel documented the course of this visit with pictures and texts for her family at home. She gratefully made this successful documentary available for our website and allowed other participants to supplement it with pictures or short texts.
The guests from Israel landed at the Munich Airport. Werner Hirte, a friend of Pastor Matthias, took them in a big car, for a two-hour drive from Munich to Gunzenhausen.
Some of the guests had already arrived the evening before.
On Sunday afternoon, the group met with the German dialogue group participants for their first lunch together in the Hafner Restaurant. The menus had already been ordered by email before arrival. Those who live kosher had their food delivered from a kosher kitchen by Werner Hirte.
After lunch we went straight to the concert of the youth orchestra of Kfar Vradim and the local youth orchestra.
The concert took place in the Protestant church. Although Jews try to avoid entering churches, they decided to go inside.
The orchestras played very nicely.
The highlight was the playing of the German national anthem and the Israeli national anthem “HTIKVA" by the two orchestras while standing. There was singing along.
Jews and Germans in the church
Mayor Fitz welcomed the Jewish guests.
He recalled the time of National Socialism and expressed his regret at the terrible things the citizens of this city and this country did to the Jews.
In his words, he mentioned Netanel Yechieli and his meeting with him in 2016. He said that he really appreciated that his parents and sister came to Gunzenhausen.
Eyal Shmueli, head of the Kfar Vradim local council, thanked for the welcome and said the "Yizkor" prayer in memory of the murdered Jews in the Holocaust in general and Gunzenhausen in particular.
The two cities are in discussions with each other about a planned city partnership.
Pastor Mathias spoke and he also mentioned Netanel and the importance of reconciliation between nations.
Pfarrer Matthias asked Tami to speak. She didn't have time to think, but she thanked the mayor for the invitation and his warm words about their son Netanel.
This plaque can be seen on all churches in the city.
With shame and sadness let us remember the Jewish citizens of this city. In 1933, 184 Jews lived in Gunzenhausen, in 1939 the 500- year history of their community ended. There was silence as their synagogue was desecrated. And they remained silent when their fellow citizens were deprived of their rights, deported and murdered. Today we ask for forgiveness and peace.
Signed: The churches in the city November, 2016
Later there was dinner at the Gasthof Adlerbräu.
About half of the group stayed overnight in the associated hotel.
After Dinner all went to the Bethel hall on the Hensoltshöhe, which is a spiritual Christian center.
Almut and Max Pfahler played music for the guests.
There was a lecture by Mr. Purim, the director of the Jewish Museum in Munich.
And mayor Mr. Fitz spoke. He recalled the time of National Socialism, especially the terrible acts that the citizens of this city and this country did to the Jews.
He also mentioned Netanel Yechieli and his meeting with him in 2016 and emphasized his initiative to found the German-Jewish dialogue group, which is why he very much appreciated the fact that his parents and his sister Yael came to Gunzenhausen.
There were also interested citizens of the city in the audience.
Also a guest was Dr. Ludwig Spänle, the Bavarian government's anti-Semitism commissioner. He spoke to the audience and mentioned the importance of this reconciliation work in order to counteract anti-Semitism.
Sonya Bradski, Manfred Rosenfelder's daughter from Marktplatz 16, experienced a special moment that evening.
Deaconess Ursula from Hensoltshöhe came up to her and showed her a class photo of her father with his Jewish friend. Sonya took a closer look at the picture and recognized her father Manfred in the photo.
He sits in the front row on the far left.
Sister Ursula is often in Israel for a few months to work in a retirement home for Holocaust survivors.
Monday - after breakfast we split into two groups - the Rothschild/Rosenfelder families group and a group of the other participants.
A group began the tour of the city and the Rothschild group first visited the cemetery.
Elke Hartung, the cemetery caretaker, was there and explained everything you should know about this cemetery. Tobe Levin Freifrau von Gleichen translated into English.
At the Jewish cemetery
Thomas Medicus and Werner Hirte with Netanel's sister Yael Yechieli
The Gunzenhausen-born Berlin author Thomas Medicus published the book "Heimat: Eine Suche" or 'Homeland: A Quest' in 2014, in which he focuses on remembering the time of the Third Reich and the post-war period in his hometown of Gunzenhausen. A large part of it he dedicated to the city's Jews, with whose descendants he maintains good contacts
A deaconess from Hensoltshöhe and retired rector Franz Müller were also there. Both are doing a lot to come to terms with Jewish history during the Nazi regime and to make amends.
The descendants of Dr. Karl und Thekla Rothschild hold a memorial for grandmother Thekla and said Kaddish for the ascension of her soul.
The most important ideas of the Kaddish prayer can also be found in the Christian Lord's Prayer, attributed to Jesus of Nazareth in the New Testament.
There is a small exhibition worth seeing in the Taharahaus.
On the front of the TAHARA House there are 3 large plaques in German that describe different aspects of Jews and Judaism.
The blue square shows the numbers of Jews in Gunzenhausen from 1609 to 1938.
On the left of this panel you see the stonemason Fuchs, who made the gravestones for the Jewish cemetery. The Landau family lived for a short time as a renter in his house on Sonnenstrasse 7. Max Landau, Julian Landau's father, was born there in 1906.
This Christian stonemason learned the Hebrew characters so he could carve them into stone.
The Hirmer family, who now live in Steinmetz Fuchs' house, showed Julian and Sarah Landau what it looks like there today.
On Monday we had lunch in the Lauterbacher restaurant.
After lunch the city tour with Emmi started. She led the guests to Jewish homes and those places that were of great importance to their ancestors.
She is literally a living encyclopedia of the history of the city's Jews because she knows where every family lived and where every business was located.
The current homeowners opened their doors to show guests the house where their ancestors had lived. That was a moving moment for everyone.
Here Rothschild descendants stand in front of their house at Bahnhofstrasse 35.
Four descendants of the Eisen family on the property of Jakob and Rosa Eisen. They were invited into the house by the Ebert family.
Vera Held, an employee of Bavarian Television, is Ingeborg's daughter. She made a short film about this visit that was broadcast on television.
Julian Landau's ancestors lived in this house during their final years in Gunzenhausen. Today the Turkish community has its prayer rooms there. They greeted Julian and Sarah very friendly and showed them the interior.
David and Faye Dottheim Brooks, together with their friends Larry and Lynny Axelrod, visited the Marschall family at Burgstallstrasse 1. Heinrich Dottenheimer, Faye's great-grandfather, built this house in 1900 and ran his large wine shop here.
Two granddaughters of the banker Nathan Rosenfelder and his wife Selma saw their ancestors' house at Marktplatz 16 for the first time. Lilian Foster and her sister Sonya Bradski with husband Gary, as well as their two daughters Moriah and Simcha, were in Gunzenhausen for the first time.
Jeweler Tröster showed them everything he had found out about the history of the house.
They were very touched when they realized that they could see their grandparents' house from their hotel window.
Emmi showed a picture of the synagogue from the moment when a tower dome was torn down (November 1938).
The Jewish ancestors prayed here.
In front of the former site of the synagogue and the Jewish elementary school, Emmi showed a class picture with the teacher Max Levite. Tami Yechieli recognized her mother, Hannah.
Maybe others will recognize someone from it.
There are memorial plaques with the names of the victims of the Shoah on the house of the shochet. They have lived in Gunzenhausen or were born here. Almost every guest found names of murdered people from their family.
After dinner we walked to the modern hall - the city hall, and there a panel was held, with five of the Jewish participants of the journey sitting on the stage. Each of them prepared a slide about his/her family members. The moderator asked each of them to talk about their family and what they see on the slide. What was surprising was that there were also present in the hall about 100 Germans living in Gunzenhausen who came especially to watch and hear the speakers on the panel.
Daniela Eisenstein, the director of the Jewish Museum Fürth, kindly moderated the evening. She responded sensitively to the participants
translated skillfully into German and English.
The evening was opened by Stu Goldberg, who is a grandson of Dr. Karl Rothschild. And he is a successful musician and composer who has already received numerous awards, for example for film music.
He played a piece of music that he had composed in honor of his mother Eva, who was born in Gunzenhausen and spent the first six years of her life here.
After the musical section, Deputy Mayor and member of the dialogue group, Peter Schnell, read a speech entitled
“Nazism did not fall from the sky”.
This was not natural violence that it could not be prevented. There were harassments from residents of Gunzenhausen towards Jewish families. He then explained in detail the history of harassment against the Jews from 1923 onwards.
Then Pastor Matthias gave a very moving speech and of course mentioned Netanel and his initiative for reconciliation between people and nations.
Stefan Mages, the moderator of the dialogue group, also spoke to the guests. For three years he has been ensuring that the group's meetings can take place regularly and with challenging content. He was responsible for organizing the visitor program.
On Tuesday morning we met in pouring rain. On the occasion of the city's 1200th anniversary, a tree will be planted for each of the Jewish families that once called Gunzenhausen home.
It started with the families visiting the city this year. And these were mainly those from the visitor group.
The city gardeners planted the trees and each family attached their sign to their tree.
Second Mayor Peter Schnell spoke to the guests on this occasion. The idea to plant trees was initiated by professor Shula Reinharz and she also spoke at the ceremony.
Each tree has a sign with the name of the family that lived there. A QR code on it makes it possible to read the history of the story.
After the tree planting event, many sat down in a nearby cafe to warm up and chat.
The journey ended with a typical German ceremony of drinking coffee at Emmi’s house.
There were amazing cakes, baked by Ingeborg, Renate and Alexandra.
At the beginning, Melanie and Ingeborg served Franconian sparkling wine to commemorate the Dottenheimer wine shop. Because they mainly sold Franconian wine, as Sigmund's wife came from the wine region near Würzburg. Both were Faye's grandparents.
Many guests stood up and spoke briefly about the thoughts that had moved them during these three days in Gunzenhausen.
Jonathan Rothschild told the moving story of the first time he stood in the snow in the Jewish cemetery here many years ago. A strange man explained everything to him and suddenly a rainbow appeared in the sky in the middle of winter.
Friedrich Kolb was thankfully there for three days to film and photograph.
When he has finished editing, films corresponding to the respective topics will be able to be opened via a link.
That evening, the guests sat down in their hotels for a little farewell entertainment.
At the airport in Munich, tired but satisfied
Some incidents and impressions from the trip to Gunzenhausen by the Nethanel Yechielli Dialogue Group in July-August 2023
Julian Landau from Israel was kind enough to select a few from the many online messages we exchanged during this time that are typical of how we now relate to each other.
From Melanie Gerdes-Oeder, who lives and teaches in Gunzenhausen –
“Welcome to our dialogue group WhatsApp chat.
We are really looking forward to meeting you in person over the weekend.
We wish everyone a safe and pleasant journey and we are very happy to finally see you in person!!”
From Sonya Bradski, daughter of Manfred Rosenfelder (born and raised in Gunzenhausen) and granddaughter of Nathan Rosenfelder (who owned a bank in Gunzenhausen) –
“I had such a special experience last night. We attended a lecture and afterwards there was a German nun at the refreshment table. She showed me an old photo, from 1929, of her Dad in school in Gunzenhausen. I then told her – in German – that my father was also in the picture. She gave me a hug because although our fathers had already passed away, but were classmates in Gunzenhausen.
This interaction made the entire trip!!!”
From Sonya Bradski-
“I am so excited to stay in the hotel behind my dad’s house.
My dad grew up at Marketplatz 16 (green house in picture) and we stayed at Adel Brau Hotel.
I met the new owner of my dad’s house. He has a jewelry business there.”
From Thomas Medicus, who was born in Gunzenhausen and is an author and journalist –
“Goodbye to everybody. I have to leave today unfortunately. Thank you for coming to Gunzenhausen. It was a great pleasure to have you here, we are honored so much. Have a safe trip back home or where ever you will go. All the best!”
From Yeshayahu Yechieli, husband of Tami, whose mother was born in Gunzenhausen and father of Netanel Yechieli who founded the Dialogue Group -
“Thank you so much Thomas, for all you did for us.”
From Lisa Adler Hale, whose first ancestor, Max Eisen, settled in Gunzenhausen in the mid-1600s-
“Sonya, thank you for the photos of the meeting at Emmi’s house.
Is was very nice meeting you and everyone.”
From Emmi Hetzner, who has lived in Gunzenhausen since 1974 and, as a teacher, began the program of research into the history of the last Jewish families in Gunzenhausen –
“Dear Rothschild group:
The picture below is Gunzenhausen’s former prison. I forgot to show it to you. It is directly opposite the Posthotel. The house has been empty for a long time. On the morning of March 25, 1934 Karl Rothschild’s patients had gathered in front of this house and demanded his release. He was actually one of the first to be released.
Greetings to all of you. I am very happy to have met you.
I wish you all a safe journey home and look forward to hearing from you and seeing you again”
From Tami Yechieli, whose mother was born in Gunzenhausen and whose son Nethanel organized the Dialogue Group -
“Thank you, Matthias, for your devotion in getting up so early in the morning and driving us and the Landaus to the airport.
Hope to see you and all our friends and relatives in Israel.”
From Sonya, Gary, Moriah and Simcha Bradski –
“Thanks, Emmi, for hosting the coffee yesterday.
And thank you everyone for an incredible couple of days.
We had such a wonderful time.”
From Stu Goldberg, grandson of Dr. Karl Rothschild and the oldest son of Eva Milligan, the youngest daughter of Dr. Rothschild –
“Wonderful, deep, moving days and nights together with everyone. We so appreciate all the Gunzenhausen hospitality and the openness you all shared with us.”
From Peter Schnell, Deputy Mayor and a member of the Gunzenhausen City Council –
“These were very intense, emotional days and hours that I really enjoyed and moved me a lot.
I’m sorry that I said goodbye so briefly at Emmi’s house yesterday. I just didn’t have he words to express what I had in my heart.
All the best to you and your families.”
From Stefan Mages, who has lived in Gunzenhausen for 25 years and is the moderator of the Dialogue Group –
“Have a safe trip home my dear friends.
Looking forward to seeing you in the future.”
From Ingeborg Hermann, who has worked for the city of Gunzenhausen as Director of Adult Education and is now its press officer –
” Some wonderful days in Gunzenhausen come to an end now.
Many thanks to all of you for coming, for every open word, for all the experiences and for your open hearts.
Many thanks for the wonderful words on the letter you wrote me.
May everyone have a safe trip wherever you are going.”
From Jonathan Rothschild, grandson of Dr. Karl Rothschild and son of Max Rothschild who lived in Gunzenhausen for many years –
“Such a wonderful, memorable trip, meeting special people, whom I will always remember … Liebe in meinem Herzen.”
From Lynny Axelrod, who is a friend of Faye Brooks –
“It was so good to be able to meet and talk to all but especially to see Ingeborg after 20 years.”
From Matthias Knoch, a pastor of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church near Gunzenhausen –
“Dear all, thank you for coming, for making this visit. And thank you for letting us be part of your history.
I take with me moments of life I had never been aware of before: joy and sadness, mourning and comfort, tears and smiles and being close to one another.
Feeling the sun at the cemetery and the raindrops while planting the ten trees – a minyan, by chance?
Many things had been so meaningful – the whole trip and to be with one another.
I thank God and I pray for his blessing on our way – the Birkat Haderech.”
From Naomi Reinharz, daughter of Shula Reinharz, whose grandfather was Dr Karl Rothschild of Gunzenhausen –
“Thank you all so much for a very meaningful, interesting, fulfilling and important three days of talking, listening, learning and processing.
I never imagined I would travel to Gunzenhausen and initially went because my mother invited me. But later I was so glad I went, not only to spend time with so many relatives, from near and far, but also for my own personal growth and to honor my grandfather Max’s life and memory.
Please stay in touch and let me know if you ever come to Florida.”
From Tova Rothschild Lovett, sister of Shula Reinharz –
“I am so glad I came to Gunzenhausen and had this experience with the Dialogue Group, my relatives and other Jewish descendants.
You have helped reinforce my belief that there are wonderful moral people like Stefan, Matthias, Peter, Emmi, Ingeborg, Ursula, Thomas and others who would have helped save my family if it was possible.
Thanks again for hosting us and for making this a very memorable experience.”
From Bea Schutz, a cousin of Shula Reinharz and Tami Yechieli –
“On behalf of Charlie and myself, I also want to say how thankful we are for the chance to reconnect with relatives, to make new friends and to learn.
I’ll be thinking about all we heard and saw for quite a while.
Many thanks to all the hosts and guests, those who spoke and those who listened, and for way too much food (do we know any other way?)
Just when I’m certain that some humans are really evil, I’m reminded of the love and conviction of those with tolerance and open hearts.”
From Kenny Goldberg, a cousin of Shula Reinharz and Tami Yechieli –
“Let me second Bea’s comments.
It was wonderful to reconnect with family and to make new friends in Germany.
Thanks to everyone who worked so hard to put the events together.
Until next time.”
From Lynny Axelrod -
“Just wanted to thank you all for making Larry and I feel comfortable and share with you all this amazing experience - despite not being descendants of Guzenhausen or of German Jews.
We came based on our relationship with Faye and David but have since connected with many in the group and have tried – and will continue – to contribute where we can.”
From Emmi Hetzner –
“Warm and heartfelt New Year wishes from me too.
I wish you a good year. May all your personal hopes be fulfilled in a good way and the world remain – or become - worth living in and peaceful for all of us.
It’s nice to read your wishes because they are the same ones we say to each other on New Year’s Day. Once again we recognize that all people have the same fears and the same hopes.
I am very happy that we met in person here and I will always remember you fondly.
Stay healthy and happy.”
Lillian Foster TV Interview in October 2023:
Sonya Bradski Trip Reports Germany