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   Current Exhibitions >> the LandJuden of Euskirchen

The Sibilla Schneider Photographic Collection


Arnold Gayer and his wife, Billa, née Schneider, date unknown.

The pictures in this exhibition and others came to me via Sibilla (Billa) Gayer, née Schneider, born in Euskirchen, Germany.

Sibilla was a descendant of the Juelich family that lived in and around the small town of Euskirchen, which is located about sixty kilometres from the town of Juelich. From their surname one can assume that the family had lived in this area for a considerable time. They belonged to the social group of landjuden, or “country Jews”, who flourished throughout Europe from the Alsace to Slovakia until their lifestyle disappeared in the Shoah.

Usually country Jews lived closely with the non-Jewish population while adhering to Jewish laws and customs. Once several families had settled in a place, they would found a mikvah and synagogue that also served families in surrounding villages with only one or two families. It was not uncommon for gentiles to work for Jews and learn about Jewish customs and the laws of kashrut. Children would often earn a little pocket money as “shabes goyim”. Both communities knew about each other’s festivals and took an interest in the celebrations of each other’s life events. Jews were members of local organizations and clubs.

Country Jews earned their living offering services needed by the farming community. They were cattle, grain and wine dealers, traders, and peddlers who visited remote farms with everyday goods, linen for dowries, and tools. Some were artisans, others shop keepers, tailors, innkeepers, butchers (also to the gentiles), painters. In the small town of Euskirchen, the Schneider family owned a fish shop.

The events of the Shoah took an enormous toll on Sibilla Schneider’s family. She lost her parents and her brother Albert. Wilhelm Aufrichtig, a distant relative by marriage with a mental health impairment who had come to shelter with the Schneiders, was also deported to his death from the Schneiders’ last abode in Euskirchen.  Sibilla’s brother Karl Schneider and his family were deported to the ghetto of Riga. Karl lost his wife Frieda, née Heumann, as well as his two sons Erwin (b. 1931) and Harry (b. 1937). Karl survived and immigrated to Sweden after the war. There he met Gerda Kallmann, a refugee from Berlin who had survived by working as a domestic servant in Sweden. They married and had a daughter, Doris. In the late forties the family moved to U.S.A. where Karl died in 1960 at the age of fifty-nine. His widow found, among his papers, a unique testimony, Jüdisch-religiöses Leben im Getto von Riga, which she deposited at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, together with his English translation, Religious life in the Ghetto of Riga.

Karl Schneider’s daughter today lives in the U.S.A.. She married, had children, and now has grandchildren.

Sibilla Schneider had a cousin with whom she was particularly close: Sibilla Mainzer, née Heumann. She, her husband and both sons, Kurt (b. 1929) and Gert (b. 1931), were also deported to Riga where they all were killed. Sibilla Mainzer’s brother Siegfried Heumann and family and the parents David and Klara Heumann managed to get to South Africa, and the sister Martha Heumann and her husband Julius Mueller went to the U.S.A.. Klara Heumann, née Juelich, died in South Africa. David Heumann was on the way to his daughter Martha in America when he lost his life in a plane crash over Scotland in 1948.

The work on the photographs was emotionally taxing. I have done it because I was very close to Sibilla Schneider, and she told me a lot about her family and her life before the Shoah. Sibilla was a person with a good sense of humour and exhibited great skill in all domestic sciences and was exceptionally inventive in knitting and handicrafts. Her knitted dolls and animals still give pleasure to the children of the surviving families. However, there were moments when I witnessed how deeply the loss of so many members of her family, and with it the loss of belonging affected her. Truly, she never got over this trauma. Sibilla was married to Arnold Gayer, a Swiss national. With her immediate family, she survived the war in Switzerland.

The links between the third cousins ruptured after the death of the generation of family members who had managed to flee Germany. This was in part due to the German/English language barrier.

The work on the photographs motivated me to try to locate the descendants of the Juelich family. Luck helped: they live in five different countries and are now again in touch. An unexpected result and reward.

--Anonymous Contributor. Edited by Steven Lasky.

photo, above: Arnold (Noeldi) Gayer and his wife, Billa, née Schneider, date unknown.

next, the Euskirchener Fischhalle of Ignatz and Karoline Schneider >>


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