Germans Honored By Obermayer Foundation For Keeping Alive the Memory of Former Jewish Communities and Residents

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German Jewish History Award recipients include man who once wanted to join Hitler Youth

Lothar Czossek, a 2013 Obermayer German Jewish History Award winner

"Without him, no one in Rehmsdorf would ever know about the Nazis' atrocities against the Jewish people."

Five non-Jewish Germans who preserved the memory of German Jewish communities destroyed by the Nazis will receive the Obermayer German Jewish History Awards. The awards will be presented on January 28th at the Berlin Parliament House, as part of its commemoration of international Holocaust Memorial Day.

What makes these awards unique is that the awardees were nominated by Jews, including Holocaust survivors. Most nominators live outside of Germany, but their families once lived in the awardees’ towns. The award winners are:

  • Klaus Beer: He wanted to join the Hitler Youth as a child, but in 1945, at the age of 12, he learned that he had a Jewish grandmother. Mr. Beer searched for his Jewish roots in Lower Saxony after retiring from a distinguished legal and judicial career, which included involvement in Holocaust reparations and trials for Nazi war crimes. Eventually, he learned that nineteen of his relatives had been killed by the Nazis.

Mr. Beer established contacts with long-lost Jewish family members, wrote essays about his family and helped to create a memorial to Jews in his ancestral town, Osterholz-Scharmbeck.

  • Lothar Czossek: This former school teacher almost singlehandedly preserved the history of the “Wille” slave labor camp in Rehmsdorf, a satellite of the Buchenwald concentration camp. As a teenager, he had witnessed emaciated laborers being marched to work there. After painstaking research, he was largely responsible for establishing a museum and a memorial to the camp’s 5,800 victims, and has published widely on the topic.

“Without him, no one in Rehmsdorf would ever know about the Nazis' atrocities against the Jewish people,” according to one nominator, the niece of a prisoner at Wille.

  • Hanno Mueller: To ensure that his neighbors knew the rich history of the Jews of Upper Hesse, he immersed himself in archives for three decades, searching out birth, marriage, and death records, tax ledgers, land registers, cattle trade protocols, and lists of citizens from the 19th century. His efforts, supplemented by interviews with Holocaust survivors and their descendants, resulted in numerous articles and six books comprising over 2400 pages about the local Jewish community.
  • Rolf Kilian Kiessling: As a child in the early 1950s, he used to hear stories about warm relations with Jews who once lived in his Bavarian hometown of Forchheim. But he gradually became aware of the Nazis’ legacy, including the dynamiting of the local synagogue and deportation of elderly Jews. Mr. Kiessling has spent a lifetime researching and documenting Forchheim's Jewish community, which dates back to at least 1650. He has taught adult education courses, created exhibits, led walking tours and written many articles on the topic.
  • Hans-Juergen Beck: In the early 1980s, Mr. Beck began piecing together the little-known story of the once-flourishing Jewish community of Bad-Kissingen in Bavaria, documenting their considerable contributions to the town. His research provided the basis for an exhibition on the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht, which became a permanent exhibit on the site where the local synagogue once stood. He has also organized family reunions for Jews visiting their ancestors’ hometown.

The Obermayer Awards, now in their 13th year, were established by Arthur Obermayer, an American entrepreneur who will speak at the awards ceremony along with Ralf Wieland, President of the House of Representatives of Berlin. The ceremony will be available live via a streaming video webcast at on January 28 at noon, EST.

The awards are co-sponsored by the German Jewish Community History Council, the Office of the President of the Berlin Parliament, and the German Jewish Special Interest Group of JewishGen. Information about the nominating process can be found at

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Dan Fleshler
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