Today is a very emotional day for us. We are lamenting Sara and Leopold Berger, murdered at the behest of the Nazi regime, and are reflecting on the fate of millions who perished in the Holocaust. Yet we are also thrilled by the opportunity granted the descendants of Sara and Leopold, through the auspices of the Stolpersteine team, to cherish and commemorate the dead, in front of the house where they lived and from which they were violently deported. History has its bearing as well.
It is today, exactly 80 years ago, almost the date, that the Nazi regime adopted, in September 1935, the notorious, racial, Nurenberger Gesetz, which led to Sara and Leopold`s eventual, horrendous, demise. Sara and Leopold were born in eastern Poland. Leopold, or Lemel in Hebrew, was born in Sokolow, in the Rzeszow district, on December 10, 1885. Sara, née Kaufmann, was born in the nearby town Nienadowka on June 16, 1888. They grew up in the same region and at some point, probably after their marriage, moved to Nuremberg. In this city, in the location of this particular house, they had four children: Giza the eldest daughter, was born in 1911. The second daughter, Elsa, nicknamed Ella, and in Hebrew Esther, was born in 1913. Their first son, Zalo, or Shlomo in Hebrew, was born in 1915‘ and their youngest son, Sami, or Shmuel in Hebrew, was born in 1917.
Esther Berger, who walked in these streets as a child, is the mother of Ruth and Ophra, who are with us here today. She is my grandmother. Esther immigrated in 1933 and married Haim Zadok, who became one of the prominent leaders of the young State of Israel, and served as a Member of the Knesset, the Israel parliament, for 20 years and as the Minister of Justice. Also with us today are the children of Ruth - Uri, Ronny and myself; and the children of Ophra - Gadi, Yael and Yair; and Esther’s son in law, my father, Menachem Sella.
Sadly, only little do we know on the life history of Sara and Leopold. They came to Nuremberg without any property, probably in the footsteps of two cousins of Leopold who lived in Munich. We know that through hard work and diligence, they set up a store and a workshop and traded in leather goods. They were good people: honest, hard-working and modest. The upbringing and education of their four children was their primary concern. They lived where we stand right now, in Heugasschen 2, at the corner of Neue Gasse, probably on the first floor. At the same floor lived Sara’s elder sister, Rachel, with her husband Avraham Kalter and their four children. The two families were very close - two families of immigrants, fending for themselves.
The life of the Berger family was not easy, but in the 1930’s it became a horror. Antisemitism in Germany peaked in Nuremberg as the city was favored by the Nazis, as primary site for many party conventions. It was also the hometown of Julius Streicher, publisher of Der Sturmer. It was not a coincidence that the Allied Powers chose this city as the venue for trials of Nazi war criminals.
Shortly after the Nazis came into power, on January 30, 1933, a national boycott was imposed on all Jewish businesses and attacks on Jews intensified. The Berger children, who were involved in Zionist youth organizations, decided to leave and pursue their dream of taking part in the formation of a Jewish state. Esther was the first to immigrante in 1933 and the three others quickly followed suit. In 1936, only Sara and Leopold were left in this house. The children pleaded their parents to join them, but at age 50, Sara and Leopold were not ready for another immigration. They stayed in Nuremberg hoping they would be safe in their home.
We know only little of the hardships and horrors the couple has endured. On October 28, 1938 they were brutally deported to Zbaszyn, western Poland, as part of the mass expulsion of some 17,000 Jews of Polish descent. Deprived of their entire property and withstanding destitute, they managed, some 10 month later, to reach Leopold’s hometown, Sokolow. When war broke out, contact with their far away children became sparse. From Nazi formal records, we gather that Sara and Leopold were murdered in 1942, in the Belzec extermination camp. The last letter from them, delivered by the Red Cross from Sokolow, greeting Esther on her wedding, is dated February 1942.
We look at photos of Sara and Leopold and we look at this house. We know so little about them, and yet we feel close. Giza, Esther, Shlomo and Shmuel did not share many memories of their parents and their life in Nuremberg. The grief over the heavy loss and the thoughts of the brutal death of the parents were kept behind a wall of silence. And now nobody is left to tell us more about them. All four Berger children died years ago - Giza in 1952, Shlomo in 1962, Shmuel in 1988, and Esther in 2011. But the family keeps growing. Sara and Leopold did not live to see it, but they have seven granddaughters, 19 great grandchildren, and to date - 42 great-great-grandchildren. All of them, including those who are not here, join us in commemorating Sara and Leopold. Blessed be their memory.
We have mixed feelings about this country. For many years, Esther avoided travelling to Germany. She later joined her husband when he visited Germany as representative of the State of Isreal. To Nuremberg she returned only once, but left immediately. The hardest moment in that visit was when she saw a man who clearly recognized her, and quickly looked the other way.
The Stolpersteine project does not look the other way. This project of art and remembrance focuses on the lives that ended and on reconciliation between people who lived here in the past and those who live here today. This project is the brainchild of Gunther Demnig, whose unique personality, artistic innovation and devotion, made this project one of the symbols of the humane transformation of Germany. We would not have stood here today without the efforts of Mr. Demnig and the group of people who made commemoration their life goal.
On behalf of all members of the Berger family, I wish to thank the Stolpersteine team - Mr. Demnig, Mr. Hubert Rottner Defet and Ms. Anna Warda - on the help, the patience, and the attentive cooperation they have shown throughout this process. We hope that the stones that were laid here today will bring hearts closer and promote tolerance and friendship. Sara and Leopold Berger do not have a grave nor a tombstone. May these Stolpersteines stand for their memory.