Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky
The new Jewish Agency offices in Hamburg, Germany, are in a rather surprising location. The building chosen by the Agency was once rented by the company that marketed Zyklon B, the gas used to murder millions during the Holocaust.
A few months ago, Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky and Aliyah Dept. Head Eli Cohen decided to seek new offices in Hamburg from where to manage the campaign to encourage aliyah among Jews in the area, provide information about Israel, and nurture ties between Israel and the Diaspora communities. At first, nobody could have imagined which location would be chosen, but in retrospect, the choice seems fitting.
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On Sunday, many attended a festive opening ceremony. No official representative of Israel was present, but 12 Hamburg residents who had already decided to make aliyah came to support the organization, along with many prominent members of the local Jewish community.
Under the large red-brick building they discovered an old plaque in Yiddish which read, "The evil in the world which is not destroyed will rise again."
Victory over despair
Eli Cohen, who was born in Morocco and came to Israel at the age of three with his family, represented the Jewish Agency. He said on Wednesday how moving it had been to discover the plaque, remember the events of history, and see how a building which represents evil has become a place encouraging aliyah.
"Opening an office in the place where the powers of darkness once were is victory over despair," he said. "I stood there in the building and said to myself - 'Never again!' From this building, used by those who sold Zyklon B to murder Jews, we'll continue to work till the very last Jew who wants to come to Israel in order to build his home together with us, has come. It was moving to think that young Jews will come to hear and learn about Israel without fear, standing tall."
There are many offices in the building, but very few are rented by Jews. Now the Agency is renting the entire first floor. It is hard to imagine that the offices of the company Tesch und Stabenow, whose subsidiary produced the gas, were in the exact same place.
The gas was transported in crystal form in sealed canisters. Upon contact with air, the crystals evaporated into a lethal gas which rapidly asphyxiated human beings. The Nazis would put the gas into sealed rooms containing their victims, who died a terrible death.
From these offices, the company marketed the gas to SS officers and to anyone who wanted to use it against Jews. The company rented the entire building from its owner, a private individual. At the end of WWII, the owner and company director were tried and executed. On Sunday, an Israeli flag fluttered from the building, and the Agency celebrated the opening of its offices together with Even Ezer, another organization encouraging aliyah in Hamburg, where some 3,000-4,000 Jews currently live.
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