Last Jews of German village died in 1945, but graves are still hit

May 25, 1993|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Berlin Bureau

EISENHUETTENSTADT, Germany -- The tiny Jewish cemetery in Furstenburg has once again been vandalized, tombstones toppled and Nazi swastikas scrawled over the fallen marble markers.

The 15 graves in the forlorn little cemetery were desecrated in January, repaired in February and desecrated again in late March.

L "Young rowdies," people say, when they're asked who does it.

The neo-Nazi violence and vandalism that surged through Germany last fall and winter has subsided under a belated government crackdown. But anti-foreigner and anti-Semitic incidents continue steadily, like a chronic, low-grade fever. Eighty-one incidents were reported in April; 600 since the beginning of the year. More than 80 Jewish cemeteries and memorials have been damaged in the past year.

And virtually none of the vandals here is likely to have met or even seen a Jew.

No Jew has lived in Furstenburg since 1945. The small Oder River village was incorporated into the city of Eisenhuettenstadt when it was founded in 1951 to make steel. No Jew has ever lived in Eisenhuettenstadt.

Furstenburg had a Jewish community of 60 or 65 people on the eve of the Holocaust. Jews had lived there since the beginning of the 18th century.

The last Jew was a shopkeeper named Siegfried Fellert, who was born in Furstenburg and killed there by Nazis as Germans and Soviets battled on the banks of the Oder River less than a half-mile away. His wife, Emma Statius Fellert, a Roman Catholic, was killed with him.

The Rev. Heinz Brauer, a retired Lutheran pastor, reads from a yellowing account of their deaths. He's a tall, stark man, ruggedly erect at 76.

Emma and Siegfried Fellert were sheltered by friends and neighbors through most of the Nazi era, he says. But when the Soviet army reached the Oder River in February 1945, Furstenburg was evacuated, and they were discovered.

On Feb. 13, 1945, they were locked in a little room for 14 hours. They asked for a small piece of bread. "Both of you will be fed enough today," they were told.

They were taken before a military court for a 10-minute trial and found guilty of being "at the front illegally."

Emma Fellert was twice asked if she wanted to leave her Jewish husband. She refused.

They were shot together in the street in front of the train station. Their bodies lay where they dropped and disappeared in the rubble of war as the Soviet army pushed the Germans back.

There's a street named after them in Furstenburg: Fellert-strasse. And plaques mark the building where Siegfried was born, the house where they were hidden and the place where they died.

Mr. Brauer feels affinity with Jews and a responsibility for the German past. "We share a Bible story, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob," he says. "And we share a terrible history."

He often visits Jewish congregations in Germany and Poland. They ask why.

"I don't want anything," he replies. "I can't repair anything. I just want to sit with you an hour."

The cemetery in Furstenburg is visited only rarely by relatives of the dead. The last anybody remembers was Harry Nomburg, a 70-year-old retired postal worker from New York City.

"My great-grandfather on my mother's side is buried there," Mr. Nomburg says, during a lively telephone conversation. "His name was Isidor Baron. He was a grain merchant. He died in 1922."

Mr. Nomburg came last July, and he'll come again in August. He found the cemetery in good repair. It is well-cared for by the city. The state of Brandenburg has allotted 7,700 marks ($4,800) for restoration of the vandalized monuments.

"I was one of the lucky ones," Mr. Nomburg says. "I was sent alone to England with a children's transport in 1939."

He was 15 years old.

"My parents took me to the station and kissed me goodbye. It was May 21, 1939. Mother's Day."

He never saw his parents again. The Nazis shipped them east to Lodz, Poland, where they were lost in the extermination of the Jews.

Mr. Nomburg went on to join the British army and landed at Normandy on D-Day. "My grandfather was the chairman of the Jewish community of Furstenburg," he says. "He was very much respected by his fellow citizens."

They named him an "ehrenburger" -- an honored citizen. Mr. Brauer has just been named ehrenburger, the first since Isidor Baron.

In his acceptance speech, he'll say he'd like to see Jews return to Furstenburg.

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