Survivor who returns each year to the city that sent her to hell


In her hometown near Haifa, Karla Raveh does not stand out from the crowd. But in Lemgo, Germany, she is a celebrity.

Ms Raveh is unusual among Holocaust survivors. Every year she goes back to the German city from which her family were deported by Nazis, for several weeks, and has become a popular speaker and moral authority in the area.

The fame of this great-grandmother is such that, in the very city where she was barred from her studies in 1938 for being Jewish, a school is now named in her honour.

At her family home, which she left for the hell of Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and a work camp, there is a museum — and a flat where she stays.

Ms Raveh has been making long, annual visits to Lemgo since the 1980s, and is always welcomed with a string of speaking engagements, meetings and people embracing her when they see her on the street. In a few weeks she will leave Israel for what she suspects may be her last trip — but one during which the residents will be giving her a large 90th birthday party. Just before she leaves for Germany, she will tell her story for the first time at a public meeting in the Israeli town of Kiryat Tivon, where she has lived for almost 70 years.

Ms Raveh arrived in Israel in the early days of the state, when survivors tended to keep their stories private.

“When we arrived, Israelis didn’t want to hear about these things,” she said. “We decided, both me and my husband, who was in the camps, not to talk about it so our children wouldn’t hear of the things we went through.”

But in the 1980s it became clear to her that Lemgo was desperate to hear her stories. She said: “I received a letter from a teacher in Germany asking what happened to all the Jews from the town and saying, would I tell the story? I didn’t want to answer but my husband said that I should.”

She wrote an account, which was published in Germany in 1986, being careful to omit the names of Nazis in order to shield locals whose families had been perpetrators, and her fame grew from there.

Ms Raveh’s story is being spoken about in Israel now thanks to the efforts of Holocaust researcher Lilach Naishtat Bornstein, who wrote about her in her book, Their Jew: Right and Wrong in Holocaust Testimonies, after travelling with her to Germany. Dr Bornstein said: “In Israel there are thousands of survivors but in Lemgo she’s the only survivor and also the only Jew.

“She’s one of them — she speaks in the local accent, knows the local history, and is very connected to the place and the people. And she talks without blaming and making people feel uncomfortable, giving them the chance to identify with her testimony.”

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