Video (Mini-DV), app. 16 minutes, 2007–2008, shot in Lackenbach. Language: German (English subtitles).
I grew up in the small village of Lackenbach in the Austrian region Burgenland, close to the Hungarian border. Until 1938, this was one of the orthodox Jewish communities of the Burgenland (until 1921 part of Western Hungary), referred to as "Hasheva kehillot" ("The Seven Communities"). Around the mid-1800s, the majority of the population was Jewish, most of them leading a religious life. Everyday life was centered around the observance of the Shabbat and the holidays. There was a big shul, a chassene, a mikwe, a Jewish school, a kosher butcher, and most of the local shops and businesses were run by Jews. At the time shortly before the "Anschluss", even the policeman of the village was Jewish.
As I child, I didn't know anything about the Jewish past of my hometown because nobody ever talked about it. I only knew that there was a "Jewish cemetery" somewhere but it was considered somehow "spooky", and it didn't make any sense to me. Only when I was 25 and lived already in Vienna, I visited the cemetery. But it took another 15 years until I started research about the Jewish past of Lackenbach. I visited Israel and found survivors from Lackenbach. I wanted to know how the Jews were perceived by their Christian neighbors and how they remembered the destruction of the Lackenbach Kehilla. My interviewees were young people at that time, they are farmers and their parents delivered to Jewish families. Their childhood friends were the kids of their Jewish neighbors. One of my interviewee was the maid of a Jewish family who owned a bakery and grocery.
The video starts with historical photographs of the 1920s and 1930s: the shul, the departure of the rabbi to Erez Israel, and street scenes. They show a part of the local history that is gone forever. The only physical reminder of the Jewish history of Lackenbach is the cemetery were some of the famous Lackenbach rabbis, like Rabi Shalom Charif, are buried.
The title song is sung by a group of local women of the close by village of Deutschkreutz, which the Jews referred to as "Celem". Like Lackenbach, it was one of the Seven Communities with a large Jewish population. The song's text goes back to a German fairy-tale like folk song from the 19th century, "Die schöne Jüdin" ("The Beautiful Jewess"). There are various versions of the text. In the one recording used here, the text refers to the daughter of a beautiful Jewess who throws herself in a lake because of a broken heart. This folk song shows how Jewish life has left marks in popular Christian culture. On the other hand, the song leaves a bitter taste when looking back – after the Shoah. There is something (unconcsiously?) merciless about the way these women sing about the poor woman who kills herself. When I went back to Lackenbach and talked to the local people, I felt there was little regret about what happened to their Jewish neighbors. Silence leads to total forgetting and thus obliteration. By talking to these people I wanted to help preserving the memory of the Kehilla Lackenbach.
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