German couple that survived the Holocaust return to help restore Judaism

ich hatte ja bereits über die neue torah rolle geschrieben, die wir für das kolleg erhalten haben. ein zeitungsbericht aus den usa berichtet noch ein wenig über das ehepaar, welches die rolle für das kolleg nach deutschland gebracht hatte:

German couple that survived the Holocaust return to help restore Judaism

Eva Susskind and Fred Ashner, both in their 20s and single, discovered they shared much in common when they met in 1959 at a Passover seder in New York City.

As children, both had been forced from their native Germany by the Nazis. Both had lost parents in the war. Both had traveled a tumultuous and violent road to this moment in a strange new land. A year later, they were married.

Nearly 50 years later, the Ashners returned to the place where men had tried to eradicate their faith.

Armed with the most powerful symbol of that faith, they flew from St. Louis, where they’ve lived since 1990, to their homeland last month to participate in the re-establishment of German Judaism.

The Ashners took a Torah scroll, donated by their synagogue, United Hebrew Congregation in Chesterfield, to the first liberal rabbinical seminary established in continental Europe since the Holocaust.

“People ask us why we went on this trip, but it wasn’t a trip for us, it was a mission,” said Fred Ashner, now 78. “It was a mission to signify that we survived. Judaism survived.”

Rabbi Howard Kaplansky of United Hebrew said the congregation decided to donate one of its Torah scrolls to the seminary in gratitude for a new scroll it commissioned and dedicated last year.

United Hebrew chose Abraham Geiger College, a seminary in Berlin and part of Potsdam University, “because it is training rabbis to help in the rebirth of liberal Judaism in Germany,” said Kaplansky.

Before moving to St. Louis, Kaplansky was a rabbi at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Pittsburgh, where his mentor was Rabbi Walter Jacob, a native German and a Reform Judaism leader in the United States.

Jacob went on to found Abraham Geiger College, whose namesake is a 19th-century German rabbi and one of the founders of the Reform Judaism movement.

“The presence of the scroll (at Abraham Geiger) is like the presence of our congregation in Germany, helping to restore Jewish life to Germany and that part of the world,” said Kaplansky.

The Nazis closed the seminary’s predecessor — founded in the 19th century by Rabbi Abraham Geiger himself — in 1942, four years after the Susskind and Ashner families fled Germany. Eva was 4 when her family escaped to the Philippines, and Fred was 8 when his family made it to the Netherlands.

Japan occupied the Philippines in 1942, and Eva’s father was killed by the Japanese in Manila in 1945. She and her mother were finally able to make it to Delaware, where they had family, in 1948. Eva, by then 14, attended high school in Wilmington, then moved to New York with her mother.

In 1940, two years after Fred and his parents arrived in the Netherlands, the Nazis invaded, and by 1943 the family was imprisoned in a transitional camp there for three months. They were then transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany for more than a year, where Fred’s father died.

In April 1945, the Germans put Fred and his mother — along with thousands of others — on freight trains to transport them away from the camp. The train the Ashners were on was liberated by Russian troops just south of Berlin. But by then Fred’s mother had contracted typhus, and she died a few weeks later.

Fred, by then 14, buried his mother and made his way back to the Netherlands. His parents’ Dutch friends took him in until he turned 19, then he headed for New York, where he had an aunt and uncle.

Although he was not yet a citizen, Ashner was drafted into the U.S. Army in the Korean War. He returned to New York and began working for the agribusiness company now known as Bunge North America.

Eva and Fred married in 1960, a year after they met at the Passover seder. In 1990, they moved to St. Louis, and they became members of United Hebrew Congregation a year later.

The original plan for the synagogue’s Torah scroll was to have a group take it to the seminary in Berlin. When that didn’t happen, Kaplansky asked the Ashners to carry it across the ocean. They agreed, and last month they returned to Germany.

The day before giving the scroll to Abraham Geiger College, the Ashners, accompanied by a rabbi from the seminary’s faculty, visited Fred’s mother’s grave, south of Berlin where she died.

The Ashners were impressed by the energy and dedication of the small student body at Abraham Geiger, most of whom are from eastern Europe. Some of them held a chupah aloft as Eva and Fred walked the scroll through the streets of Berlin.

“It wasn’t just that we were bringing the Torah back to this German seminary that had special meaning for us,” Fred Ashner said. “But we were walking with a Torah through streets of Berlin, which is, and was, the capital of Germany.”


1 Comment

  1. gerhard brändle

    guten tag,
    ich schreibe aus pforzheim, der stadt, aus der fred ashner 1938 in die niederlande floh.
    ich suche die e-mail-adresse von fred ashner.
    können sie mir helfen ?
    in der hoffnung auf antwort
    gerhard brändle

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