Mark S. Weiner

A Short, Simple Post

In Germany on February 7, 2013 at 10:51 pm

Those who have been reading this blog or following my Facebook page know that I’ve recently had the chance to get to know some of the faculty and students at the law school of the University of Würzburg, in Germany. The law school is housed in this beautiful old building:

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For many years, a Jewish wine merchant and philanthropist named Max Stern (1883-1956) used the cellar of the building to store his wine, keeping it safe there in the great, intricately carved wooden barrels characteristic of the region. Some of the barrels were carved with images of his family.

In 1938, the Sterns fled their homeland, escaping death, and found refuge in America.

The law school is now creating a memorial to the family, making the history of this one spot, this specific piece of ground, visible and alive. The memorial will include a video of an interview with one of Max Stern’s daughters in which she talks about her father and about the arc or her own life. Today I traveled to New Jersey at the invitation of the law school’s former Dean, Eric Hilgendorf, to film the conversation.

To protect her privacy, I won’t name the woman, and I won’t talk about what she said, but I wanted to share one impression.

When we arrived, we were served lunch. The sparkling table was bedecked with home-made cooking (much of it German): delicious potato salad, tangy from just the right amount of vinegar; beet-pink herring salad, flavorful yet mild; perfectly broiled, thick slices of salmon; pastrami, mustard, and rye; apple cake with caramelized nuts; blueberry tort; lemon bars; coffee. She had been cooking for hours.

The memory of her exile was all about us. The silverware with which we ate was stamped with the name of the city from which she had fled as a fourteen-year-old girl. And yet there was a representative of the country that had driven her family violently away, the Dean of a law school whose building bore the memory of her own exile in its bones, and she had prepared for him this beautiful meal of welcome.

This is a short, simple post, to share and remember that extraordinary act.

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I’ve been working on an article about The Rule of the Clan for The Chronicle of Higher Education. I’ll return with longer posts soon.

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