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Überrascht! A Surprising Series of Events

Dear Friends who pray for us,

Another update, so soon after the last one? 
We wanted you to hear about our visit to Koblenz because through your prayers, God's gracious acts were released.
 

A Thin Red Line

Frequently when we are together as a group seeking God’s direction, Hans-Peter, our good friend from Austria, suggests that we should trace the path of “the thin red line”. Speaking in his quiet tone, he says, “Look back and see how He has led, a thin red line will indicate the way ahead.”

Today, March 22, 2017, I scribble in a notebook as we drive through green, rolling Eifel hills toward Koblenz.

Eifel landscape

In the years between 2008 to 2012 while I was writing A Garland for Ashes: World War II, the Holocaust, and One Jewish Survivor’s Long Journey to Forgiveness, I attempted to research the story of my three aunts, my mother’s sisters, Johanna Schneider, Dorothea Schneider and Elisabeth Schneider. They lived in Koblenz and they died in the Holocaust. I have no photograph, only a letter and a postcard. The typed letter is dated 2, August 1939, signed by my Aunt Johanna and sent to England days after my arrival. She addresses my host family, shows loving concern for her niece Hannelore and expresses thankfulness to this English foster family and hinting at the emotional turmoil in our Jewish family.

And the hand-written postcard is from Tante Elisabeth. She writes with tenderness and concern. The card is addressed to my room in the Jewish hospital in Köln dated only days before I left Germany on the Kindertransport for safety in England.

With sadness I accepted the meagre facts that I could  discover about their deportation and deaths in the east and yet a longing has remained with me over all these years…to grieve for them with greater understanding and somehow, to honor their memory.

In 2007 we settled in Dahlem, an Eifel village. In the following years we enjoyed visiting Café Harmonie, drinking coffee, eating homemade cake, and conversations with Conny, the owner.

Three years ago Conny invited the Dahlem community to her café for an evening book reading, from Meine Krone in der Asche (the German edition of A Garland for Ashes). 

Tamara was among the attentive listeners, packed into the small café.

Following the book reading, Tamara, a young mother in the legal profession, left a note in our mail box asking if I would consider doing a book reading at Kloster Arenberg in Koblenz. She and her husband met at the Kloster while on retreat, away from the pressures of their working lives and it is a special place for her. 
Evening view from Kloster Arenberg

As I prepared for the book reading at Kloster Arenberg in April 2016, I wondered, “Which section of Meine Krone in der Asche should I read, perhaps Koblenz? Why not read from Chapter 15 where I describe the memory of staying with my aunts as a small child and the taste and smells of breakfast in their Koblenz apartment, Markenbildchenweg 30.p.t.?”

At the end of the reading the questions and discussion focused on my aunts and how to deal with the past, Koblenz, and its former Jewish citizens.

After the book reading

Days later, we were introduced to the leader of the group working on the history of the Jews in Koblenz. We asked him, “How could Stolpersteine be placed for my three aunts?” His response was warm and sympathetic. And then, a long pause until March 21, 2017 when the thin red line became clearly visible, again. An email landed in our inbox. Bettina, the wife of Martin, who had arranged the book reading in Kloster Arenberg, wrote inviting us to join them the next day in Koblenz for the 75th Anniversary of the deportation to the East of the first Jews from Koblenz.

Liebe Hanna und lieber George,
 
wir wollten Euch darauf aufmerksam machen, dass am morgigen Mittwoch, 22.3., hier in Koblenz "Gedenkgang" zum Gedenken an die erste Deportation von 338 Koblenzer Juden vor 75 Jahren stattfindet, an der wir auch teilnehmen werden.

Der Gedenkgang beginnt um 18 Uhr im Hof der Freiherr-vom-Stein-Schule, Steinstraße 20. Die Kulturdezernentin hält eine kurze Ansprache, mit Sternen und Lichtern gehen die Teilnehmer dann den Weg nach, den die Koblenzer Juden 75 Jahre zuvor gehen mussten. An der Synagoge wird ein Totengebet gehalten, am Güterbahnhof Lützel verlesen Schüler die Namen der verschleppten Juden. Insgesamt soll die Veranstaltung nicht länger als zwei Stunden gehen.

Vielleicht seid Ihr gerade in Deutschland und mögt auch daran teilnehmen.

Wir erinnern uns noch sehr gern an Euren Besuch mit Vortrag und Gesprächskreis im Kloster Adenberg.

Alles Gute für Euch und ganz herzliche Grüße

Martin und Bettina Hofmeir

Almost immediately we knew we were to say “yes!” and through God’s grace and the prayers of our intercessors we are now on the road to Koblenz.

Remembering our past experiences in Gemünd, Köln, Bonn, Lodz, and Chelmno, walking with Jesus, confronting past pain, in each situation we have been given German friends who have been God’s care-givers, ministers of light and grace in the bleakest darkness. And so, again in Koblenz, Martin and Bettina lovingly walked and stood with us on the evening of March 22, 2017, seventy-five years after the deportation of the first group of Jews from Koblenz. Three hundred thirty-eight men, woman, and children were ordered to assemble in the Gymnasium of the Freiherr-von-Stein-Schule with one suitcase weighing no more than 50 kilograms containing clothes, cooking and eating utensils, and food, everything else had to be surrendered.

Gathering at Freiherr-von-Stein-Schule

Seventy-five years later we gather with more than 200 citizens of Koblenz in an open space behind the school that had largely survived the World War II bombing. We are standing on the same ground where the 338 Jews had slept one night on straw in the former Gymnasium.

Holding yellow stars and lit candles, we listen to a description of the circumstances and are invited to consider the emotions of the group assembled there in 1942. Were they depressed? Despairing? Or grasping a few tattered shreds of hope? 

Uniformed men herded the group of Jews out of the school into Steinstrasse. Where were Johanna, Dora, and Elisabeth in the long line of 338 men, women, and children? Were they mourning the loss of their former way of life? Were they overcome with shame? Did they fear for their lives as they marched through the streets in broad daylight carrying their suitcases? 

What about us? Police in cars and motor bikes accompany us  making a path through the traffic. We follow the steps of the Jewish citizens toward Lützel Railway Station, used in 1942 for goods, not people.

Lützel Railway Station

We stop half-way at the old Jewish cemetery. We climb the steps and stand at the entrance of the prayer house, now a synagogue, used by the current Jewish congregation, mostly Russian Jews.

Prayers at the Jewish prayer house

We listen to prayers in Hebrew and German. The sky darkens as the long line moves forward, slowly and quietly, over cobblestones and concrete, crossing the Mosel River bridge before snaking down the steps to Lützel station.

The crowd forms a silent semi-circle facing a microphone.

Reading 338 names

One by one, students steps forward to read from the list of names. The name of each human being is read slowly and with respect, entire families, children, mothers, fathers, grandparents. I wait for Johanna, Dorothea, and Elisabeth. The names are read alphabetically, Schneider comes toward the end. I can hardly take in the significance of each name being read exactly 75 years after they were herded into cattle cars. How can it be that I am present at this moment of time, the anniversary of my aunts’ goodbye to their hometown? The crowd holds yellow stars and flickering candles, they stand still and silent. Our deep emotion is tangible. No one moves. No one breaks the silence. We are bereft and without recourse. 

I feel Jesus nudging me forward. I sense He is saying, “This is why I brought you here.” I approach the little group of organizers and ask if I can say a word of response because the names of my 3 aunts were read aloud. They eagerly lead me to the waiting microphone. Looking back, I marvel at the flow of words that were given to me, in German no less! I feel the crowd’s sense of relief as I thank them for honoring the memory of my 3 aunts and the other 335 Jews.

Koblenz newspaper article (the journalist mistakenly assumes that my presence and speech were part of the original plan!)

After the long march through the streets and standing in the cold, barren station, how can we walk all the way back to the beginning and find our parked car? 

Martin runs back to the school. Bettina takes us to the nearby old Koblenz center for Abendessen. As we talk and eat the name Chemin Neuf  is mentioned and we discover that all four of us have been spiritually blessed by Chemin Neuf and Gerold Jäger in Bonn.

Then our gracious friends drive us back to our waiting car.

The Thin Red Line

Thankful for each of you,

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Hanna and George Miley · 1101 W. 34th Street · Box 315 · Austin, TX 78705 · USA

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