I smiled at the rows of strangers waiting patiently in the Leipzig City Library. Only a few were visitors to the German city where my mother was born and left in 1936 to escape the Nazi regime. Most of those attending were contemporary Leipzig residents who had come to hear the story of my search for my mother’s past.
For me that story had begun in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Prior to that, I knew almost nothing about either of my parents’ history, only that they had both been fortunate to escape early enough. But when Germany was unified in 1990, I learned that I might be an heir to a property in Leipzig. It had once belonged to my grandparents but had been taken away by a policy of systematic confiscation called “Aryanization.” I was shocked to hear that word pertaining to my own family, and not sure I wanted to re-open those forgotten chapters of my family’s suffering.
But history had a different plan. The opening of that concrete wall also opened a door to information, understanding, and a realization that my ancestors did not want to be forgotten. In 1995 I traveled to Leipzig to walk in my mother’s footsteps. This June I returned again as a guest of the city, with an invitation to present my book during an annual event called “Jewish Week in Leipzig.”
I discovered that many German people, especially a couple of generations after the Third Reich, had a strong desire to include the role of Jewish culture in their own heritage and to find an understanding of their history, no matter how painful. One local resident who read my book said to me: “We cannot go from this earth without resolving this history. We cannot ask the next generation to carry the bitterness.”
Bringing “The Woman in the Photograph” to Germany gave me a profound opportunity to honor my family’s past and to go forward without repeating the divisions and blame of the past. My search brought me full circle back to my family roots where I unexpectedly found new friends and fans in the city of Leipzig, Germany.
See photos, articles and excerpts about “The Woman in the Photograph” at http://manifeniger.com.