Seussen Is Now Free of Jews: World War II, the Holocaust, and Rural Judaism

Seussen Is Now Free of Jews: World War II, the Holocaust, and Rural Judaism

Seussen Is Now Free of Jews: World War II, the Holocaust, and Rural Judaism

Seussen Is Now Free of Jews: World War II, the Holocaust, and Rural Judaism

Synopsis

Sssen Is Now Free of Jews offers a close look at the legacy of a few Jewish families from Sssen-a village in the District of Goppingen, which is located in the state of Baden Wurttemberg in southern Germany. The author, Gilya Gerda Schmidt, looks at this rural region through the lens of two Jewish families-the Langs and the Ottenheimers-who settled there in the early twentieth century. As a child, she shared with the Langs the same living space for just a few months. She remembers her mother's telling her of the Jews who lived in Sssen until the Holocaust. More than thirty years later, in a used bookstore in Knoxville, Tennessee, the author accidentally found documentation verifying the Jewish presence in a book about the surviving Jews of Wurttemberg. In it, she found confirmation that there had been Jews living in Sussen until the Holocaust. For the first time, she had the proof she needed to look into the reality behind this lingering mystery. Here began her detective-like journey to find out what happened to the Jews of Sssen. A decade of research into local and regional archives ensued, and this very penetrating study is the result. In it, the author attempts to shed light on not just the original question of what happened to the two families during the Holocaust but also on a host of other questions: What was it like to be Jewish in rural southern Germany a century ago? What were the Jewish traditions of this region? What were the relations between Jews and Christians before the Holocaust? And where did those family members who were able to escape or who survived the concentration camps go when they left Sssen or Goppingen? Few witnesses came forward, yet the documents in the archives spoke volumes. This micro-history records the not-so-romantic journey of two Jewish families who lived in the Fils Valley. The study also addresses issues of being an American prisoner of war; of resuming life after the Holocaust; of the bureaucratic nightmare of requisitions, restitution, and reparations; and of life in America. This unique book will be of interest to a general readership and is an important book for scholars in German and Holocaust studies.

Excerpt

During the persecution of the Jews in the Nazi period, dark spots also formed on the clean vest of Süssen, a small village in the center of southern Germany. At the bottom of a list of names of the sixteen deported Jews, to whom an additional name has to be added, we read in perfect Sütterlin handwriting the cynical sentence, “Süssen is now free of Jews!” in contrast to other places where violence or even physical attacks on Jewish fellow citizens occurred, this did not happen in Süssen. Rather, when the need of the local Jews was greatest, they were secretly supported by a number of Süssen citizens, through groceries that were secretly left on their doorstep, for example. Most of the repressive measures against the Jews were brought into the village from outside. Non-Jewish citizens, too, understood the meaning of deportation. After a Jewish neighbor said goodbye, the son of a couple overheard his father saying to the mother, “They will not return.”

Until the beginning of the twentieth century, the village had no Jewish history whatsoever. To be sure, the names Judengasse and Judenzoller are mentioned in old accounts and maps. These hints refer merely to a street for Jewish travelers, for whose use they had to pay a fee.

The history of Jews in former Gross-Süssen began in 1902 and ended with their deportation on November 28, 1941, with a brief continuation when three of the sixteen who had been deported, and who survived the hell of the labor and concentration camps, returned in 1945. As was the case in many other villages and towns, the memory of the former Jewish fellow citizens was repressed. Nevertheless, a few Süssen citizens maintained contact with former Jewish residents, especially with Hugo Lang, who was the last to succeed in emigrating to the United States.

The passage of time allowed for a more open conversation of the events from the Nazi period. Hence, in 1989, then Mayor Martin Bauch extended an invitation from the city council to the surviving members of the Jewish . . .

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