[Archived from May 22, 2009]
[by Phyllis Shaikun]
Those of you who were fortunate enough to know the late Ilse Meyer might remember her gratitude to Ernst Klein and his wife, Brigitte, who researched the history of her hometown of Volkmarsen, Germany, and were finally able to tell her about the fate of her parents and sister, whom she last saw before the beginning of World War II. For their remarkable work on behalf of Holocaust survivors from Volkmarsen, the couple recently received 2009 Obermayer German Jewish History Awards.
The Kleins, who run a construction firm in Volkmarsen, north of Frankfurt, began their research in 1985, on the occasion of the town’s 850th anniversary. Ernst had helped explore the town’s Jewish history and was angry that just two pages of the new 500-page history were dedicated to recounting that past. He and his wife recruited a group of six citizens interested in researching the town’s Jewish legacy and in “rediscovering” where survivors went after the war and telling their stories.
The group effort resulted in the founding of “Flashback Against Oblivion,” a charitable society that rebuilt the town’s Jewish cemetery and established an education center devoted to Jewish history. Especially noteworthy are the weekend encounters the group organizes for former Jewish citizens from the region who now live in the United States, Israel and Australia. The group pays all expenses for the visits and has had more than 70 survivors come to Volkmarsen between 1996 and 2001. Meyer attended the 1996 reunion and told Klein of her frustration at not being able to obtain definitive information about the fate of her parents and sister.
Together with Polish historian Robert Kuwelek, the Kleins examined records consolidated at the former Majdanek camp that contained information about the other concentration camps located near Lublin including Belzek, Sobibor and Treblinka. In 2003, they found that the Lichtensteins and the other 500 people on the transport had arrived at Sobibor on June 3, 1942 – the date of the telegram – and were sent immediately to the gas chambers. The Nazis subsequently erased all signs of the Sobibor camp.
The Kleins came to Louisville in 2005 to share the news with Meyer, who called their work “remarkable.” She was grateful for the closure they provided for her and her family and expressed relief that she could finally light a candle and say a last prayer for her parents and sister.
Klein and his group have created a memorial at the former Sobibor Camp with stones and trees lining the route victims walked from the railway station to the gas chambers. Each stone bears a plaque with the names of the victims and their date of death. He made sure one was put in place for Meinhard, Kathe and Inge Lichtenstein.