The Human Spirit: Hanukka postscript

Jerusalem Post 24 December 2009
By Barbara Sofer

The eve of Hanukka 2009. Jerusalem. The brass Hanukka candelabra with the handcrafted inscription was filled with oil, ready for lighting. Dr. Nathan Shmuel Adler held the package with the German postmark and took a deep breath before tearing open the wrapping paper. Two books. These two volumes had belonged to his grandfather's library 68 years ago, before Adler was born.

One book was a commentary on the weekly Torah portion authored by Nathan Adler himself, printed in 1936 in Frankfurt. The second, ironically, was a history book published in old German script in 1863. German history.

The Adlers knew German history all too well. They had lived for centuries in Burgpreppach in Bavaria, and, as deeply committed Jews, had experienced the vicissitudes of life there. Nathan and Miriam Rothschild Adler had set up their home in Ansbach. They saw enough to understand the dire implications of Kristallnacht in 1938, and succeeded in finding a way to send their children, but not themselves, out of Germany. In 1939, Jews in small German towns were evicted and concentrated in larger cities.

In a letter to a relative in Belgium, Nathan Adler describes their forced departure from their family home in Ansbach. Curiously, he mentions the 10 crates of their books they moved into the single room assigned to them in Nuremberg. He needed his books. As a senior instructor of Jewish studies, he continued to teach Judaism until two weeks before Hanukka 1941, when SS officers and Stopo local police ordered Miriam and him into a truck.

Of the 512 Jews from Nuremberg deported on November 29 to the Riga-Jungferhof camp in Latvia, only 17 survived. Miriam and Nathan Adler were not among them. Dr. Nathan Shmuel Adler, a prominent Jerusalem gastroenterologist, bears his grandfather's name. His grandparents' books and all their other possessions disappeared. But now Adler was holding two of the books in his hands.

A YEAR AGO, I received a letter from Jennifer Anderson, a senior researcher for the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, based in London.
Dear Ms. Sofer,

I am writing in regard to your moving article: Passport to freedom (10 April 2003) and specifically in regard to Leo Adler.

The Commission for Looted Art in Europe and its sister organization, the Central Registry of Information on Looted Cultural Property 1933-1945, work with individuals and organizations to identify and recover Nazi-looted cultural property. One of our ongoing pro-bono projects is assisting libraries to restitute books in their holdings which were acquired through confiscations or forced donations.

The Nuremberg Municipal Library has in its collection thousands of confiscated books illegally taken from Jews and other victims of Nazi persecution. The library has been carrying out provenance research and has so far identified 115 Jewish former owners whom it wishes to trace. I believe that Leo Adler, the subject of Passport to freedom, is the son of Nathan Adler who is one of the people whom the library has identified and to whose heirs they wish to return the books.

We would like to assist with this restitution by establishing if the Nathan Adler identified by the library was Leo Adler's father and therefore I should be grateful if you could put me in touch with a member of the Adler family for this purpose. You mention in your article that all of the great-grandchildren live in Israel.

If we are able to establish that Leo Adler's father is the person sought, we would work with the family to effect this restitution.

We are eager to ensure that this restitution takes place and therefore, I hope very much that you are able to assist.

Anderson later explained that a remarkable librarian at the Nuremberg Library had been documenting the provenances of books stolen from victims of Nazi persecution. He opened each book and wherever possible deciphered the names in the inside covers. Nathan Adler had fluid, legible handwriting. Anderson was able to discover a Nathan Adler who had been a teacher in Nuremberg. She then learned he was married to Miriam Rothschild and that they had one son called Leo who was born in 1915 in Nuremberg and who had left Germany.

"I found Leo Adler's book The Biblical View of Man and by reading more about his life, was able to connect him to Nathan and Miriam in Nuremberg. I figured I was on the right track so I continued in this way," said Anderson in London. "After this I got a bit lucky with a Google search and found Barbara Sofer's article. I wrote to Ms. Sofer and asked if she could put me in touch with a member of the family."

I had indeed written the story of the Adler family's unusual Passover Seder custom in my column in The Jerusalem Post.

It began: "Curious brown booklets are arranged next to the Haggadot on the Jerusalem Seder table of my neighbors Bruria and Dr. Shmuel Adler. Each is a personalized facsimile of an old German Reich passport. In keeping with the Passover theme, 'Germany' has been replaced with 'Egypt.' Each passport bears the names of one of the Adlers' grandchildren."

"Transit visas granted for Ansbach, Mir, Kedan, Vilna, Kobe, Shanghai, Aktuibinski, Gorki, Karaganda, Kok Uzed, Odessa, Vienna, Brooklyn, New Jersey and Basel," reads the interior page.

The original passport belonged to the children's great-grandfather, Leo Adler, whose journey and reunion with his beloved wife Bella have become inseparable from this Jewish family's Exodus experience.

The story tells how Adler's father Leo, originally from Burgpreppach, fled to China with the Mir Yeshiva, and was separated from his pregnant wife when the escape route suddenly closed. With the help of a distant relative in Connecticut, Leo Adler was reunited with his wife and child, seven years after they'd parted.

THEIR SON and his wife live in my neighborhood in Jerusalem and I had seen the passports they prepare for their grandchildren every Passover. In the wonders of this age of the Internet, making the contact between the commission and the Adlers was as easy as hitting the "forward" button on my computer.

Adler was able to provide proof of his grandfather's signature and send it for verification. He also posted affidavits of permission from the rest of the Adler family in order to claim the books. The process took one year.

"The books are witnesses," said Adler. "My grandparents weren't fortunate enough to survive. But if my grandfather had known that their grandson would be studying Torah on a Friday night in Jerusalem, in a free Jewish state, with his own grandchildren using his book, he would have been a happier man."

The package arrived just in time for candlelighting. Adler had time to send a photo and the following note to all the descendants of his grandparents.

"Today two books reached Rehov Hamapilim from the Stadtbibliothek of Nuremberg. These two books stood on the bookshelf in the apartment of Nathan and Miriam Adler in Josephsplatz 6 and witnessed their deportation to Riga in November 1941 where they were murdered. These two books have sojourned in the Stadtbibliothek of Nuremberg for the past 67 years. Tonight they will again join a bookshelf in an Adler family in Jerusalem and hear for the first time the singing of 'Maoz Tzur.'"

The brass Hanukka menora at the Adler home was hand-crafted by Yosef Adler, one of Nathan and Miriam's children whom they sent out of Germany to escape Hitler. A teenager, he had taken refuge with relatives in Belgium, only to be arrested there. Together with the cousin for whom he'd made the lamp as a bar mitzva present, he was sent to Auschwitz, where they were both murdered. On the hanukkia, tooled in brass, are the Hebrew words hanukkat hamizbe'ah, the dedication of the holy altar. The candelabrum was hidden in an attic. It survived, too, and made its way to Jerusalem. Every year, the Adlers hold a ceremony to recognize its special place in their family history.

But that's another story. Or not. Maybe it's all part of one story, a saga of a people with the resolve to remember and the determination to survive and build.
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