In search of the lost - and last - Rebbitzen of Landau

A German couple are seeking to maintain contact with their town’s surviving Jews

By Aimee Birnbaum, September 3, 2009

Besides being the largest wine growing region in Germany, Landau is a town crazy about art. The Palatinate landscape with its Tuscan atmosphere has always inspired artists, and Landau homes are bursting with art of every description.

But during the Third Reich, Landau was the scene of ghastly crimes, so it was with mixed feelings that I accepted an offer to organize an exhibition of British artists to be hosted by Landau families. Would my hosts be anti-semites? How should I tell them I am Jewish?

The reminder “Don’t mention the War” proved unnecessary; the Germans themselves kept mentioning it. I discovered that my hosts, Bertold and Erika Moser, had been very close friends with the last Rabbi of Landau, Kurt L Metzger, and his wife Lore. The Mosers have been an important Christian family in Landau society for five generations. After the war they were instrumental in restoring Anne Frank’s grandfather’s house and installing a museum commemorating the history of the now extinguished, once thriving, Landauer Jewish community, which dated from the 13th century.

It was painful to see that all that was left of a once fully integrated community was a memorial exhibition. Erika Moser told me that in 1940 the Nazis used the house as a deportation point to transport the Landauer Jews to a French internment camp, finally shipping them to Auschwitz and Theresienstadt.

I learned that during Kristallnact, in 1938, the great synagogue was burnt and Rabbi Metzger was stuffed into a train to Buchenwald. After six weeks he paid for his release and fled to New York.

In November 9, 1938, Lore, the Rabbi’s future wife, was a teenager living in an Art Deco mansion with her family, on the most elegant avenue in Landau. The story of her family’s trauma is depicted in the museum.

The exhibition finishes with the story of how Bertold Moser and his father organized a week of reconciliation. Erika told me that it was difficult to find all the exiled Landauer Jews as they were scattered all over the world.

In the museum you can see an extraordinary photograph of 70 (out of 800) elderly Jewish Landauers smiling together during their reunion. One decided she would come back to live in Landau and was embraced by the community. She has often been invited to speak to schoolchildren about the Holocaust.

I returned to London with an assignment: to find the last Rebbitzen of Landau, who is living somewhere in America. After the war, the Rabbi and his wife had frequently visited their friends in Landau. Rabbi Metzger is now buried there. Lore survived him. But the Mosers had lost contact with her and are anxious to re-establish contact.

Maybe someone reading this article can help in finding her?

The Kunstverein Villa Streccius in Landau runs the Visions of Water-Colours Today exhibition with the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours until the 27 September

Frank Loebshe House, Department Store Gasse 9, 76829 Landau, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. Tel: 06341-86472

Last updated: 2:14pm, September 3 2009