THE GREY FOLDER PROJECT
STEFFEN PROSS lives and works in Ludwigsburg, Germany, where he is a newspaper reporter and editor. He is also a scholar and historian whose research about the Jewish past of the nearby village of Freudental (where my grandmother’s family had lived for generations), resulted in three books: a chronicle of Kristallnacht, called “Freudental ‘38,” a two volume, 550-page house-by-house “Address Book” filled with personal, painstaking details about the Jewish families who lived there, and "Adolf," the story of Adolf Herrmann.
Pross’s resolve to write about the Jewish life of this village began in October of 2007 when, walking in the Jewish cemetery of Freudental, he was shocked to find it had been vandalized. Neo-Nazis had overturned gravestones and painted swastikas on dozens more.
“It was horrible, really horrible,” Pross said. From that experience, he decided to dedicate himself to studying what happened to the last 50 Jews who lived in Freudental in 1933, and to the relatives and descendants who had left and moved to larger cities before the Nazi era. Pross’s research took him to archives all over Germany and to databases of Auschwitz, Yad Vashem, Memorial de la Shoah and Joods Monument.
The inhabitants of Freudental perished in Auschwitz, Theresienstadt, Treblinka, Sobibor, Dachau and Buchenwald or left in time, to start new lives around the world, from Haifa to Detroit, Buenos Aires to San Francisco, Paris to Guatemala City. Through his genealogical map of the village, Pross presents Freudental as a microcosm of what happened to Jews in countryside villages across Germany.
“It was important for me to tell it, to discuss the most important chapter in the story of this country,” Pross says. “It’s a question of the moral quality of our democracy that we talk about our history, not only in phrases and in a ritual way, but very concretely—that we face what happened and see clearly what was going on.
“EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED with the persecution of the Jews in Germany happened in Freudental,” Pross adds. “If you know the history of the people who lived there and if you look at what happened to them, you can tell everything about the atrocities committed against the Jews in Germany up to the moment they were deported.”
Steffen Pross was born in 1957 and grew up in a village in the Black Forest. He studied literature and history in Heidelberg and Berlin, and has worked as a radio journalist and news reporter in Stuttgart and in Ludwigsburg where he now lives with his wife and son. He has worked extensively as a volunteer researcher, teacher and lecturer with the Educational Cultural Center (PKC) at the former Freudental Synagogue. He has also written about the emigré history of German-speaking refugees in London in his book “We’ll Meet Again In London.”