the Markowicz Familty Tree Project



Destroyed East-German Communities – And What Would My Late Grandfather Have Said About It? 

By Reuven Merhav (Markowicz)  


 Jeckes, Modesty and Thriftiness

 Our dear fathers had a few typical characteristics to them, some blessed, others less: some say they were characterized by thriftiness, others say it was not only thriftiness, but stinginess. As any generalization, this one too, is lacking, and we all know people of Central-European descent who are very generous, as well as others who are quite the opposite. However, we will not be mistaken if we say that the Jeckes, even if they were blessed with wealth, never showed it. The late Arthur Biram, founder of the 'Reali High-School of Haifa, knew what he was doing when he determined that the school emblem, worn by students on their uniform, would say "Hatznea Lechet" (carry yourself modestly). The school uniform itself also expressed communal solidarity, so as not to emphasize the status of those students from families that were better-off. In addition to this, Biram also introduced other German educational traditions, which he enforced strictly.



Jeckes and Lending a Helping Hand

 Ever since they came to the land of Israel, our fathers supported practical acts of mutual assistance for new Olim and laid the foundations for important organizations, which exist to this day. Suffice it to mention the mutual aid given by means of local Kupot Milveh (mutual credit), the Mutual Assistance Enterprise that still exists today, and the Parent Homes - a ground-breaking innovative organization in the realm of welfare for the elderly. These actions, although innovative and new, were carried out without any pomp and circumstance, without public relations or smugness. Rather, they were regarded as the obvious thing to do in light of the tradition of "Hatznea Lechet". To these were added other various actions taken in recent years to preserve the tradition and educate the Israeli society, and to aid the absorption process of hundreds of new Olim from Central Europe, while allowing our members voice their opinions in the Pages of "MB - Yakinton" – our monthly publication - and other places. We can say with great satisfaction that we are the only organization in Israel that has been able to preserve its uniqueness for 75 years, and at the same time we have managed to innovate and respond to new challenges, without becoming corrupt, always keeping a clean house. All these initiatives focus first and foremost on our community and on what it would like to impart to the Israeli society. However, in the field of welfare we have hardly ever gone beyond our community.



"Jecke" Funding to Survivors of Nazi Persecution

 However, revolutionary changes have taken place in this regard in recent years. For 15 years, the Jewish people have been receiving an enormous "Jecke" contribution - from unclaimed Jewish property originating in East-German Jewish communities that were destroyed in the Holocaust; these funds, of a "Jecke" origin, have been slated to support hundreds of thousands of needy survivors of Nazi persecution in Israel and in the Former Soviet Union.


Before the agreement for the unification of Germany was signed in 1992, The Claims Conference, an international Jewish body established in 1952 and recognized as the successor organization to unclaimed property belonging to German Jewish communities and Nazi victims, negotiated with the German government and achieved an agreement according to which the same recognition it got in 1952 will now apply to property in the former East Germany. After the Second World War, USSR Jews – Nazi victims - returned en masse Weststward from the mass evacuation to the east. Today, there are over 125,000 Holocaust survivors and victims of Nazi persecution living in the FSU. They have been receiving ongoing support from Jewish organizations for over 12 years; this minimal support includes food, medicine and home care, which may also mean at times the possibility to bathe and the opportunity for minimal social interaction. Without this help, these elderly people, most of whom are living on a very small pension equivalent to a few hundred shekels – or less than $100, may not have been able to survive. In many towns, such as in the Ukraine for example, time seems to have stalled; Poverty is everywhere, Chagall's goat is still on the roof, the roads are impassable and from under the dust cloud one imagines a thick-bearded Jew holding the reins of his bony horse, with surrounding houses all sunk into the ground, with wells and dilapidated bathroom shacks on their lawns. The Jewish aid system operates in tens of centers called "Hessed", financed both by the Claims Conference and by the American Joint. (JDC)



And What about Our Brethren in Israel?

 During these past 12 years, the Claims Conference has also transferred approximately 400 million US dollars to Israel; 200 million were for direct aid to 12,000 Nazi victims, most of whom are immigrants from the FSU, and 150 million for construction and renovation of geriatric and rehabilitative wards in hospitals and old age homes, all of which was carried out according to the criteria of providing for the needs of victims of Nazi persecution. Approximately 50 million dollars were allocated to commemoration, education, research and documentation, and were transferred to organizations such as Yad Vashem. In addition, a fund was established in order to guarantee continued support of the needy in the future. And all of the above funds were allocated in addition to regular payments transferred directly to Nazi victims in accordance with the existing agreements with the German Government, such as the agreement on payments for slave labor and hardship - concentration camp and ghettos, etc. As part of these programs, the Claims Conference transferred in 2006 alone approximately 170 million dollars directly to those entitled to such payments in Israel.



And What about Us?

 Only a very small fraction of these funds was allocated for our organization - for the Mutual Assistance Enterprise and the parent homes. These funds too, were allocated according to the Claims Conference existing criteria and standards, without any priority. The Jeckes of our generation exhibited great generosity by not insisting that a large amount of the money, inherited from our communities in Germany, be allocated to them – as did others in similar, respective, instances.


The current public discourse in Israel has recently focused on Holocaust survivors/victims of Nazi persecution living in Israel - approximately 40%, 250,000 of 600,000 throughout the world, live in Israel. This is a difficult issue and as long as these victims are alive, Jewish communities and organizations from all over the world, including – of course - the government of Israel, must help them live in dignity.  In this public discussion, the unclaimed East-German inheritance is a single source of light. We can and should be proud that the proceeds from these unclaimed properties in East Germany is now in the hands of the Jewish people, and is being used for such important purposes.



Our Families Came From There

 A significant number of people in our organization came from the German territories, which have become a part of the German-Communist 'Democratic Republic' in 1949. Tens of communities there were wiped out with no one to inherit them and many thousands were killed without being survived by even a relative or an acquaintance. We know and remember that the East German territories and those annexed to Poland and the Soviet Union after the World Wars - Posen, Silesia, East Prussia and others, were the a major source that enabled German Jewry to develop in the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. During this time, thousands of Jewish families moved from Eastern Europe to these places to find refuge from the Tsars in Russia and from the long military service imposed on them in Russia as of 1827. Prussia, where Jews received gradual emancipation in 1835, was perceived as a safe haven, and the Jews who arrived there were easily integrated into existing Jewish communities.


Within a generation or two, the immigrants from the East were absorbed into the German culture, were those who contributed to the amazing economic growth in Germany in the 19th century and were continued by their descendants, who became leaders of cultural and academic prosperity in all areas. Shoken, Federman, Krakauer and Zondek are but a few names of the many prominent representatives of that generation, who had also played later an important role in the building of the State of Israel. But there were also thousands others, less known, which went through a similar personal and geographic path. I want to tell you about one of them.



My Great-Grandfather Was Also There

 In 1847, Yehuda Shmuel Hacohen Neuhaus' family encountered an extremely difficult dilemma. They lived in a small town near Tarnopol in the Ukraine, not far from the border with the Austrian Empire. Their son, Shalom Naftali, who had just celebrated his 17th birthday, was about to be drafted for a 25-year service in the Russian army, which meant being separated from his family for years and risking his life in Central Asia or Siberia, or being converted by force. The only plausible alternative was to send him away to safe refuge, thus separating him from his family, yet giving him the chance to lead a reasonable life and preserve his Jewish identity. The family didn't have any money to bribe the authorities to prevent his drafting and the decision was to be made hastily. The decision was to escape to Prussia. Mama Neuhaus, whose first name no one remembers, was extremely resourceful. She somehow managed to get an ID with the name "Markowicz" on it, and the boy bed his family farewell and left on an unknown journey.

Mina and Samuel Shalom Naphtali Markowicz, Dobrzyca, Poland, 19th century.

Mina Fraenkel Markowicz and Samuel Shalom Naftali Markowicz (Hacohen - Neuhaus)


He traveled north, crossed the Vistula, reached a small town near Posen, West Prussia, and married a Kosher Jewish girl, the local baker's daughter, Mina Fraenkel. He then opened a business for iron merchandise and work tools.


Family tradition has it that he also studied Torah and was known as "our teacher" – 'Morenu' - in the community. The couple had eight children, five daughters and three sons. All three, Wilhelm, Julius and Ludwig, were drafted to the Prussian army, grew stiff mustaches, and became Jewish Prussian-German patriots. Having completed their service, they opened their own businesses in close-by towns and gradually moved to Posen and Breslau, to proceed with their business and provide their sons with good schooling and matriculation. 



 These sons, one of whom was my late father, served in the army of Wilhelm the Second on the Russian front during the First World War, caught onto the Zionist idea and became Zionist activists after their discharge and during their university studies back in Germany. All of them, including our late parents, Dr. Walter Markowicz and Dorothea Adler-Elias, immigrated to Israel late in 1935, in the Fifth Aliyah.


Children of Julius and Regina Markowicz: (L-R) Siddy, Dorothea, and walter Markowicz (c. 1915)

Children of Julius Jusef and Regina Markowicz - Hacohen:

(L-R) Siddy, Theodora, Walter

Photo c. 1915

My late grandfather, Julius Joseph Hacohen Markowicz, was not as lucky as his other two brothers, Wilhelm and Ludwig, who managed to escape in time from the Nazi hell and lived a quiet life close to their children in Israel, where they passed away. Our late father and our aunt Sidonia never forgave themselves for not having rescued him in time, and whenever they spoke of him, sadness covered their faces. In April 1942 he was sent from Breslau to Theresienstadt, and in November of that year he perished there. Maybe he was lucky to have died there and not have been sent to Auschwitz, along with other family members - his daughter Thea, his son in law Albert, two of his grandchildren and a few of his sisters and their families. I found his name in the Theresienstadt records and in August 1991 I held a symbolic funeral for him, from the block to the mass grave


 What Would My Grandfather Have Said?

 I did not get to know my grandfather – I was always told he was a generous and good person. I am sure that were I to ask him if we could use the proceeds from unclaimed Jewish property in order to enable their brethren, victims of the Nazis, a better living, and to allocate part of those funds for commemoration of and education on the Holocaust and its terrible lessons, he would have given his blessing and generous consent.




The article appeared in the June 2007 'MB – Yakinton' edition, marking the 75 Jubilee of the association.


Pictures: The Markowicz Family Records 2007, and the help of Judith Gil, Shmuel Merhav, Haim Porath and Aviva Hadas.

Internet version editor - Yair Gil




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