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Germans honored for preserving Jewish history

/ Source: The Associated Press

A woman who restored a dilapidated synagogue, a man who set up a Jewish museum and another who started a Jewish genealogical database were among six Germans honored Wednesday for their efforts to preserve Jewish history.

The annual Obermayer German Jewish History Awards — funded by Arthur Obermayer, a philanthropist from Boston and now in their eighth year — recognize efforts by ordinary Germans to keep alive their nation's rich Jewish cultural past.

The recipients are primarily volunteers whose work is driven by a mixture of curiosity and passion, like 43-year-old Johanna Rau. A Protestant pastor who had lived in Israel, she bought and renovated a crumbling synagogue in the central German village of Heubach. The restored building is now used as a community center to teach about Jewish customs and history.

"It is the only village synagogue in the region — which makes it unique — and it allows us to clearly show basic elements of Judaism and Jewish life," Rau told reporters.

In addition, the restored house of worship serves as a memorial to the dozens of local Jews who perished in the Holocaust — and as a show of resistance to far-right radicals, Rau said.

Fritz Reuter, 78, established what is thought to be post-World War II's first Jewish museum, Rashi House, in the southwestern city of Worms. He also founded a society that goes into schools to teach young Germans about the important role Jews played in prewar society.

"That is our way of fighting against the far-right, using words and the spirit," Reuter said.

Germany has seen a recent spike in far-right attacks, particularly in its former eastern states, where the extremist National Democratic Party, or NPD, also holds seats in two state legislatures.

Other award recipients were: Gerhard Buck, 71, who has started a Jewish genealogical database and restored a Jewish cemetery in the central village of Idstein-Walsdorf; Charlotte Mayenberger, 51, who documented and researched the former Jewish community in Bad Buchau; and Helmut Urbschat, 75, and Manfred Kluge, 68, who have researched and recorded the history of Jews in the western German community of Vlotho.

The recipients all receive an honorarium of an undisclosed sum intended to help them continue their work.