20 years of Blue House: Many conversations at home
What is new? What remains? In the garden of the Blue House, ceramic sculptures connected with ribbons hang from an installation by Gila Wiemer. 24 small pieces of paper hang from clothespins on the “wish tree”: a small drawing by the youngest participant of the encounter week, five-year-old Ella Silver, whose great-great-grandparents lived in the Blue House. The second oldest guest Ronia Beecher (87 years) hopes for “a world with less hatred”.
Forty-two guests, ranging in age from five to 92, have since departed for their home countries: the United States, Israel, England, France and Switzerland; all guests have roots in the Breisach Jewish community, which lived at the foot of the Münsterberg for 300 years.
For the start, the guests and hosts gathered in the cathedral and listened with fascination to Jens Peter Maintz, who – having traveled from Berlin – set the mood for the encounters with two solo suites by Johann Sebastian Bach. Mayor Oliver Rein welcomed the guests in the meeting room of the municipal council.
MITEINANDER REDEN – under this heading stood 30 most different meetings with the descendants in the past week. 14 groups of students met the guests mostly in their classrooms of three Breisach schools. Valeska Wilczek had worked out the plan with teachers in weeks of preparation: they even talked at a cooking workshop – in English, of course!
Getting to know each other and sharing family stories moved all participants in the discussion rounds in the garden of the memorial. “Here is a place where people listen and talk about the very personal: how could a family escape from Nazi Germany, how could the family build up and survive in the new environment (in Henry Levi’s case in Africa), who stayed behind, who was deported, who was murdered? Did the parents speak to their children after the war? For some of the guests, Breisach has already become an important point of reference in their lives for twenty years. Through this week, the Blue House became a piece of home even for those who participated for the first time,” says Valeska Wilczek, one of the organizers of the anniversary week. The Blue House team was supported by Florian Kemmelmeier, who moderated the talks.
Speakers traveled from New York and Berlin to talk with guests about the past and present. Klaus Hillenbrand spoke about his research into the fate of Karolina Cohn of Frankfurt. Her silver amulet had been found in 2017 during excavations at the site where a quarter of a million people had been murdered in the Sobibor extermination camp. Karolina Cohn was a niece of Cantor Michael Eisemann from Breisach.
In Freiburg, the Eisemann family and the group of guests visited together the grave of Michael Eisemann at the Jewish Cemetery in Freiburg. They attended the stumbling stone ceremony for Ronia Beecher and her parents in the city center and learned about the conflict-ridden installation of the memorial fountain at the Old Synagogue Square. Julia Wolrab took them to the construction site of the Nazi Documentation Center.
For the first time since November 10, 1938, Synagogue Square was transformed into an open-air synagogue. Led by young Rabbi Scott Kalmicoff (a descendant of the Grumbach family from Breisach) and cantor Marlena Taenzer (whose husband is from the Burgheim family), Shabbat was welcomed. The Hebrew language of the fathers could be heard in the former Judengasse. A small Jewish community formed here, celebrating their life and connection with dancing and laughter with dance and the ritual Kiddush. Shabbat bread (berches, challa) had been baked in the Blue House oven.
“Our strong team of volunteers helped make it possible for us to carry out the planned program in this way,” Wilczek said. On Sunday during the commemoration ceremony, they set up a table for 100 guests on Kupfertorplatz, a place for a communal “picnic.”
The buffet was filled by the volunteers of the Blue House to talk together. As a surprise gift, the choir around Melinda Liebermann serenaded the guests. It was the first performance of the singers, who have been rehearsing every Tuesday at the Blue House since the beginning of the year.
The stay of those who were born before 1945 and survived the Holocaust was supported by the Foundation Remembrance Responsibility Future. A grant of €10,000 from the federal program “Talking Together” contributed to the program implementation and cinematic documentation.
Five-year-old Ella was clearly feeling at home in the Blue House. “I am going to see Daddy,” she called, to the astonishment of her mother Lauren Silver and grandmother Michelle Stoneburn, and trudged up the stairs. By “Daddy,” she meant Ralph Eisemann, her great-great-grandfather, the son of the last cantor, Michael Eisemann, who grew up in the house “surrounded by a happy family.” He laughs from an oversized photo on the second floor.
Lauren Silver, as well as Nathan Uffenheimer, had spoken for the guests on Sunday at the synagogue square.
The guests’ gaze went back to the terrible past of their families and the community, but above all forward. There are many common plans: the joint processing and research of the collection of letters.
For this, Bob Bahr entrusted the original letters of his family to the Blue House. Jonathan Hollander from New York (Battery Dance Company) – on a stopover to Nigeria in Breisach – is thinking about a new edition of the “Dances for the Blue House”, twenty years after the unforgotten premiere. In the meantime, he has taken the program to sixty countries around the globe.
All the guests found their visit, the fellowship they experienced and the friendly welcome extremely valuable: they would like to join in again next time.
Andreas Nicolaus Vetrone, Valeska Wilczek und Gerard Zivy
Links to the TV reports from Baden TV Süd:
“Das Blaue Haus in Breisach besteht seit 20 Jahren”
und “Das Blaue Haus in Breisach organisiert zum Bestehungs-Jubiläum eine Begegnungswoche”