For Miriam, Henry and Michael this is their first joint visit to their Ancestral Home. They began a discussion with the pupils and explained that their parents had attended the Samson-Raphael-Hirsch-Schule, so the Group Project “Jewish Life In Frankfurt” arranged for them to speak to students at Gagern-Gymnasium. The school carries many memories of the earlier Jewish Hirsch-Realschule as its ground is today part of the Gymnasium.
Asked about their feelings visiting Frankfurt, Henry said that he wasn’t stirred emotionally, it wasn’t a ‘guilt-trip’ and they were warmly welcomed everywhere. Miriam said that she found the Jewish cemetery in Vienna, which she had visited 14 years ago, more impressive but she experienced more anti-Semitism there; people would go out of their way when they found out they were Jewish. England also has anti-Semitism, mainly from the Moslems and intellectuals. Michael, in this conference, pleaded for tolerance.
In the audience at this talk, there was a mother of one of the pupils. She asked if the siblings were religious because one of the brothers wore a ‘kippa’. He replied that in wearing his kippa, he was demonstrating his religious commitment. Before the Holocaust no Jewish man wore a kippa publicly, only at home and in the synagogue, so as not to stand out. Today there is no more fear to wear the kippa.
The siblings also wanted to know something about the students. Michael Israel asked if any of them had spoken to their parents or grandparents about the Second World War. The pupils were silent, perhaps not daring to answer the question. The Israels also wanted to know what the students thought of the Neo Nazi groups to which the pupils replied that they were active in Eastern Germany. They also wanted to know if the class had visited one of the concentration camps and were told by their history teacher, Hannelore Ochs, that a trip to Buchenwald was planned in the coming school year. The students always find the discrepancy between the Concentration Camp’s Memorial and the Weimar State very hard to understand.
Another teacher asked the siblings Israel/Sklar of their opinion on the solution of the Israel -Palestine conflict. Henry Israel said “There is no solution in the near future. The schoolbooks in Palestine picture Israelis as enemies and perpetuate hate. Negative propaganda is the problem. It will take at least two generations to overcome that attitude.” And he added: “Israel is a normal country.“
The welcome by the school and the talk with the students made a great impression on the Israel siblings.
“We were most impressed with the students’ quality, their understanding of the subject, their English (!) and their openness and friendliness. The headboy and headgirl were amazing and a great advertisement for the school. Their teacher and their headteacher too, are wonderful and impressive leaders. If I could turn the clock back and go to school again, she would be the teacher I would like to be taught by! I forgot to add thanks to the Headmaster and others for the lovely reception they gave us after the visit and for being so thoughtful to provide us with all kosher products. This was really much appreciated by us all.”
Searching for the Family’s Roots
The Israels were very proud of their long family line in Germany. Firstly, Henry has for many years been busy researching his family roots. With much help from Hans-Peter Klein, a researcher of Jewish History of Northern Hesse he was able to compile a family-tree resulting from this work. Here are some excerpts:
“The family originator was Salomon Heinemann who lived 1710 to 1780 in Zierenberg near Kassel. The second generation called themselves the Zierenberger Heinemanns Israel. From the fourth generation, in the mid 1800s, many descendants moved to the larger cities of Kassel or Frankfurt or Goettingen, Hildesheim, or Darmstadt. The first Israel born in Frankfurt was Arthur Israel on April 14, 1903, the first son of Salomon/Sali Israel and Rosa Israel. There then followed the siblings Walter, 1905, the father of Miriam, Henry and Michael Israel, Toni, 1907, and Harry, 1922. After the death of Rosa Israel following the birth of Harry, Salomon/Sali Israel married a second time, Bertha Goldschmidt from Felsberg. Together they had two further children, Selma Ilse, 1925, and Irmgard, 1928.”
By their visit to Frankfurt the siblings were able to pursuit their roots search and obtained new information and details, such as, that the fate of their Uncle Harry was unknown though there was a plaque noting his name on the memorial wall on the outside of the Boerneplatz Cemetery.
Whilst Miriam was very unsure at the outset whether to accept the invitation by the City of Frankfurt, all three siblings were happy that together they could research their family roots in Frankfurt and Northern Hesse and that they had the opportunity to speak to the students in Frankfurt.
“This was a remarkable trip and also brought us into contact with other lovely ex-Frankfurters. Thank you for the opportunity.”