Friday, July 05, 2002

Exhibit tracks man's mission

Village revives Jewish history

By Valerie Christopher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Josef Motschmann's passion for Judaism helped resurrect his hometown village in Germany and has inspired a visual effect,

        “This exhibit is being created to show that one person can inspire others,” said Racelle Weiman, director of the Center for Holocaust & Humanity Education at the Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion.

        Mrs. Weiman was referring to “Shouldering the Responsibility: The Story of Josef Motschmann,” an educational project created by the center for use by Tristate schools and congregations beginning in September.

        Mr. Motschmann, 50, is a high school theology teacher. For the past 25 years he has devoted his spare time to restoring neglected sites of a Jewish population that existed in his hometown — Altenkunstadt, in northern Bavaria — prior to World War II.

        His example has spurred others in the village of 1,000 residents to support Mr. Motschmann's effort to restore the village's only Jewish cemetery, refurbish its only synagogue and add luster to monuments and street signs that had been long forgotten.

        In 1942, the village's 13 Jewish residents — ages 13 to 65 — were rounded up by Nazi soldiers and sent to concentration camps, never to be seen again. Mr. Motschmann learned later that the mayor and police chief played prominent roles in the deportation of the Jews.

        Mr. Motschmann, a Catholic who was born 10 years after the 13 were deported, said he has long felt a sense of responsibility to make amends. “I believe it's important that many countries and Germany have united to show that Hitler did not have the last plan,” Mr. Motschmann said.

        In May, he visited Cincinnati for two weeks at the invitation of Jerry Rauh, a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, who met Mr. Motschmann in 2000 while viewing the restoration work.

        Dr. Rauh is a descendant of Frederick Rah, who emigrated from the region in 1853.

        The Rauhs and other Cincinnati families whose ancestors emigrated from the region in the mid-1800s were deeply moved when they heard of what the unassuming Mr. Motschmann had done.

        “Josef Motschmann took the past, which we thought was completely destroyed, and did his best to bring what he could back to life,” Dr. Rauh said.

        Added Ms. Weiman: “Josef initially received a lot of flak from Germans who didn't understand why he didn't leave what happened in the past in the past.”

        For his efforts, Mr. Motschmann earlier this year received the Obermayer German Jewish History Award in Berlin. Nevertheless, he feels much work remains.

        “It's very important to engage in this relation and hope that we don't make the same mistake of our ancestors,” he said.

About the exhibit

               “Shouldering the Responsibility: The Story of Josef Motschmann” is an educational project created by the Center for Holocaust & Humanity Education at the Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion for use by congregations and schools beginning in September.

        The portable exhibit, suitable for all ages, incorporates videos and a cartoon character to tell the story of Mr. Motschmann, a Catholic German who for 25 years has been restoring Jewish sites in his hometown, Altenkunstadt, a village in northern Bavaria.

        The exhibit is free, though contributions are welcome. For information, call (513) 221-1875, ext. 355, or e-mail


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