Nancy Lefenfeld

A Jewish Cemetery in Büdingen, Germany

(After Yehuda Amichai’s “A Jewish Cemetery in Germany”)


On a little hill amid houses on the busy Vogelsbergstrasse,
lies a small cemetery,
a Jewish cemetery,
behind a locked metal gate.
One hundred souls, more or less, rest here.
The headstones are tall and reddish-brown.
They lean slightly to the left or right,
forward or back,
like old men davening.

All day long, people go up and down the Vogelsbergstrasse
by car, by bicycle, and on foot.
They cannot help but observe these incongruent slabs,
a mute reminder of something,
although they know not what.


My great-great-grandfather Jonas Fuld
was a child in Büdingen.
He learned to make shoes.
When he was nineteen years old,
he sought permission from the town council
to buy a Schutzbrief,
a protectorship,
so he could permanently settle in the town.
The council denied his request because, they said,
Büdingen already had enough shoemakers
and enough Jews.


Jonas lived here for another ten years.
And I imagine he thought or dreamed or hoped
he might someday take his place among true Büdingers.

He married a woman named Bettie,
and on the last day of May 1846,
she bore twins.
They named the boy Isaac
and the girl Hanni.
Hanni lived for one week.
Isaac for two.
They buried their children and their old hopes and dreams
and set out for America.


Today, the last day of June 2015,
the sky over Büdingen is as blue as the ocean.
In the early morning,
the Old Town, inside the fortress walls,
is peaceful and quiet.
I sit on the edge of a stone fountain in the central square
and listen to the music of the Trinkwasser
as it gushes from four spigots.

Around the corner,
nestled between the Mülhtorstrasse
and the Seemenbach River,
the old synagogue stands
in anonymity.
It has been decades since anyone has stood within its walls
to pray.

I am told that the Jewish school
sits behind the old synagogue,
directly on the riverbank.
I am told I should beware,
because the man who lives there
does not tolerate trespassers.
But I go anyway.
I do not see a school or a riverbank,
only a thick jumble of tree trunks and branches
reaching to the heavens.
I peer into the darkness.
Slowly, my pupils widen and,
through the branches,
I see an old wooden door.
Like a house abandoned deep in the woods,
the school has been completely swallowed up
by wild growth.


The rear of the cemetery,
highest in elevation,
is shaded by tall trees.
In that cool shade, lichen spread themselves
over the headstones
like silver blue stars at home in their firmament.

I seek out the smallest markers
and struggle to read the inscriptions,
etched partly in Hebrew, partly in German.
Time has worn away the words that
mothers and fathers,
husbands and wives, brothers and sisters
left for eternity.

Here are two small markers set
side by side,
close to one another,
and apart from the others.
Could they have been for two newborns lost?
I place a small stone atop each one.

Whoever lies here,
I take you into my heart
as if you were my own.


Nancy Lefenfeld has, over the past two decades, conducted research on the subject of humanitarian resistance in France during the Shoah and has spoken and written extensively on the subject. A French translation of her work on the smuggling of Jewish children from France into Switzerland was published under the title Le Sort des Autres: Le sauvetage des enfants juifs à la frontière franco-suisse (L’Harmattan, 2016). She authored a chapter in Jewish Resistance Against the Nazis, edited by Patrick Henry (The Catholic University of America Press, 2014), and her articles have appeared in The Hidden Child and Prism: An Interdisciplinary Journal for Holocaust Educators.