Mazel tov to JHE friend Christian Herrmann, who has been honored by Germany for his photographic work, blog, and other activities documenting Jewish heritage sites in Eastern Europe! In awards announced January 1, Christian, who maintains the blog Vanished World, received the Federal Cross of Merit am Bande.
For years, Christian, who is based in Köln (Cologne), has made frequent trips to Eastern Europe — mainly to Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova — to photograph abandoned Jewish heritage sites. He travels widely, and in all seasons, and posts his pictures with some commentary on his blog; he has also taken part in Jewish cemetery clean-up actions. His photos have appeared in book form and have been shown in several exhibitions. Each year he prepares a calendar illustrated by his pictures, which is available for free download. We have frequently featured his work on JHE.
Nearly 70 years after the Holocaust Eastern Europe is still covered by neglected Jewish cemeteries, ruins of synagogues and other remains of Jewish institutions – stranded ships at the shores of time. The traces of Jewish life are still there, but they vanish day by day. It’s only a matter of time until they are gone forever. There are no municipalities, no foundations and no miracles to save them. Public interest is often low and sometimes overshadowed by guilt. The future of this unique cultural heritage is in our hands – and partly some of this private initiatives are very efficient. This blog tries to recall those places into public consciousness and wants to encourage people for the rescue of a heritage we all share.
The Presidency of Germany regards the Order of Merit as “the highest recognition that the Federal Republic of Germany expresses for services to the common good.” It is awarded “to domestic and foreign citizens for political, economic-social and intellectual achievements as well as for all special services to the Federal Republic of Germany, such as in the social and charitable area,” the state’s web site says.
Anyone can propose someone they think should receive the award, and then a commission reviews the suggestions and makes the final decision.
“The nice thing with the Cross of Merit is that it’s a recognition for citizens by citizens,” Christian told us when we asked him how it felt to be honored.
What I like to add is this: nothing we do, we do alone. The medal is also a recognition for my fellow travelers, people who invited me to exhibit my photos, people who made my books possible, the many who helped to made work-camps at the Jewish cemetery of Chernivtsi (Czernowitz) possible, those who shared memories and hints, and finally those who were listening with patience to my stories. The medal is also for them.
“The medal may help to direct public attention to Eastern Europe’s Jewish heritage,” he added.
The traces of Jewish life are still there – as well as the traces of the extermination of millions of men, women and children. It’s the never paid bill of history and it remains an obligation.