Thursday, July 9, 2015

Remembering, Discovering, and Connecting at Int'l Jewish Genealogy Conference


By Deborah Berman

Susan Edel with Deborah Berman of Yad Vashem at the IAJGS conference
This year's annual 35th International Conference on Jewish Genealogy – held in Jerusalem every decade - turned out to provide a remarkable moment for IAJGS participant Susan Edel, a dedicated genealogist from Petah Tikva, Israel. During a lecture she attended given by Dr. Haim Gertner, Director of the Yad Vashem Archives, she was surprised to see an image of the sheet music of her great-great grandfather, the famed Jewish composer I.M Japhet, projected on the screen before the crowded lecture hall. "I burst out mid-lecture. It was very exciting, I always get very emotional when anyone talks about my great-great grandfather. He was very close to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, and he served as the choir master in his synagogue in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Seeing his music in this context, knowing that this book had survived Kristallnacht and the Shoah and that it had been restored to its rightful owners and now is preserved at Yad Vashem for generations to come, moved me deeply," explained Susan.

Page from the Music Book Belonging to Cantor Arthur Koh

As part of Dr. Gertner's presentation about a Yad Vashem initiative called "Gathering the Fragments": A National Campaign to Rescue Personal Items from the Holocaust Period, he related the story of the music book which was recently donated to Yad Vashem via the campaign. The book originally belonged to the Cantor Arthur (Avraham) Kohn from the Mannheim Synagogue in Germany.  Cantor Kohn was born in 1908 in Würzburg, Germany and he and his wife Martha (née Fieberman) had three children: Josef, Shlomo and Hannah.  The children were born in the 1930s in Mannheim during the period when Arthur was cantor of the Klaus synagogue in the city. During that time, he complied a music book, recording different liturgical compositions in order to remember the tunes of the prayers. 

The synagogue was burnt down during Kristallnacht in November 1938, when the Nazis unleashed a series of riots against the Jews. In the space of a few hours, thousands of synagogues and Jewish businesses and homes were damaged or destroyed.  Following Kristallnacht, the Kohn family fled Germany and immigrated first to Argentina and then later, in 1950, to Israel. After Kristallnacht, Josef and Salomon Stein, members of the Klaus synagogue in Mannheim, entered the ruins of the synagogue and discovered Arthur Kohn's complete music book among the ruins. They took the book as a keepsake and immigrated to Israel. Salomon lived in Kibbutz Shluchot and kept the book in his home for many years. In 1988 Salomon discovered that members of the Kohn family were also living in Israel and gave them the music book that their father had written. 


Included in Kohn's book was original sheet music of "lecha dodi" written by Susan's grandfather. Susan, a seasoned genealogist, has served for several years as a dedicated volunteer on Yad Vashem's Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project and also volunteers in the tracing department of the Magen David Adom, handling many Holocaust related queries.

More information about the "Gathering the Fragments" campaign as well as a fraction of the fascinating stories behind the items behind them is available on Yad Vashem's website.

Yad Vashem is proud to be a gold sponsor and partner in programming at the 35th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, underway at the Ramada Hotel in Jerusalem, 6-10 July 2015. Some 800 researchers and Jewish genealogy enthusiasts from around the world have benefited from this partnership which has included a special guided research opportunity at Yad Vashem making use of our databases and unmatched resources for Holocaust research as well as expert staff lecturing on a variety of Shoah related topics and onsite researchers available at the resource room throughout the conference.


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