|At the opening of the exhibition, Ms. Barbara Morgenroth, who organized the exhibition, said the following:
Mr. State Secretary, Mr. Mayor, dear Sharon Meen,
Dear children and grandchildren of former citizens of Themar, who are now the focus of our interest,
Ladies and Gentlemen
I now have the honorable task of opening our exhibition entitled “They were Themarers”.
So before I ask you downstairs, allow me to say a few short sentences.
70 years – that’s almost the time of a whole human life – a long time. Generations have now grown up that have completely different problems than our parents and grandparents did 70 years ago. Why the old stories? I would like to give three reasons for this:
1. For the sake of the sacrifices
We gave the exhibition the motto “They were Themarers” and wanted to express a truism: The people who belonged to the Jewish religious community in Themar were craftsmen, businessmen, entrepreneurs, workers, housewives in this beautiful little town of Themar on the Werra . They lived here, worked, created jobs and training positions (today we know how important this is), most of them in the second or third generation. They were pleasant or annoying, had their quirks and their likeable sides, just people like you and me. What made them victims?
The murderous ideology that most Germans followed at the time suited our parents and grandparents because it seemed to provide an explanation for their own misery – the global economic crisis in the 1920s and its effects are difficult for us to imagine today We are afraid of it, especially these days with the daily disturbing news.
The ideology of the Nazi dictatorship made use of old prejudices against a people that had repeatedly been used as a scapegoat throughout history: persecutions and expulsions were part of the history of the Jews. What was new was the extermination, factory-like and thorough.
The graves of old Themar families have been preserved in the beautiful old cemetery in Marisfeld. The memorial stones, which are slowly becoming like the earth, speak to us with the hope of the ancient people of God. Where has this hope gone in Belzyce and Theresienstadt?
Our commemoration today and the small exhibition cannot take on the function of the “good place” – the cemetery, it can only keep the memory alive or revitalize it.
2. For our own sake
Unpleasant things are forgotten. That’s an experience: the golden youth, the beautiful past, everything used to be better. Problems and fears are forgotten. The “thing about November 9th, 1938” is also better forgotten, especially since this date is also historically documented elsewhere. In my family I even experienced a discussion about whether there were any Jews at all in the small eastern Thuringian town I come from. But what we have forgotten catches up with us. Anyone who has ever been to Israel may have met young people who went to Auschwitz to commemorate their ancestors. When I met them, I felt the silent and reproachful question about where my grandparents were at the time. And this question also includes asking about your own position at the time. Where would I have been, which side would I have been on? Would I not have taken cover out of fear and felt too small to intervene or would I, like my grandfather, have become ill because of the knowledge? Or would I have had the courage like a social democrat here in Themar who asked: “What are you doing, aren’t you ashamed?”
You don’t have to have been to Israel. Here in southern Thuringia, too, in our families we can come across such traces of the bitter past: stumbling blocks with names and dates on the streets, photos in family albums where we often no longer know the names. In search of our history, we are looking for ourselves. That is why we also need memory and that includes unpleasant and terrible things.
3. For the sake of our children
The final sentence of a student project on the question of whether Jews still live in southern Thuringia is: “If people were as open-minded and informed as they are today, it would not have gotten to the point where one man misled an entire nation. But on the other hand, you have to look at it like this, if it hadn’t happened back then, it would happen today and we would be the ones who would be tempted by such a monster.”
The sad fact that opportunities for brown marches are constantly being used, that the NPD is making its way into parliaments, and that there is also resentment among us against strangers who supposedly take our jobs, exploit our social system and whatnot speaks against such deep realization Such reservations can still be stirred up in cheap propaganda with bold letters.
Are we prepared for this and can we see through the temptation to look for scapegoats for the problems that arise before us? (Brecht “…the womb from which it crawled is still fertile.”)
If this exhibition and our commemoration has one purpose these days, it is: “Defend the beginnings”.
The 17-year-old students gained profound insight because they made the effort to find out more. We older people have a duty to ask our children’s questions and to talk to them. I would like the exhibition to make a contribution so that we can talk to each other across generations, complement, correct and discuss. Today our discussion partners are the ladies and gentlemen who helped bring this exhibition to life, Dr. Meen, Ms. Bosecker, Mr. Stubenrauch, Mr. Witter, Mr. Saam, Mr. Geißenhöhner, Mr. Radow, Mr. Wenzel, the mayor and of course my husband and I. We are particularly pleased that direct descendants are here today and would certainly like to talk to us. I would now like to invite you downstairs.