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ILSE VOGEL
Uechtelhausen, Bavaria
Nominated by Claudine Hermann, Massy, France; Eliane Roos Schuhl, Paris, France;
Joe Dispecker, Los Angeles, CA; Joel Dorkham Dispecker, Kibbutz Palmach Tsuba, Israel;
Don Diespecker, Bellingen, Australia; Jill Alexander Fraser, Vancouver, BC, Canada;
Louise Goodchaux, Canyon Country, CA; and Ernest Kolman, Middlesex, England

There was a joyous celebration in Diespeck in 2003 when Ilse Vogel brought together branches
that once belonged to the same tree. People whose ancestors had made their home in the Franconian village as well as those who live there today enjoyed Klezmer music, kosher food, lectures, and guided tours of Diespeck’s Jewish past. Residents learned for the first time about the synagogue in their village and met people from distant countries who hadn’t even been aware their ancestors were Jewish. “I want to water the roots that have been cut,” says Vogel, the 65-year-old teacher who helped organize the festivities.

For more than 10 years, Vogel has unearthed information about the village’s history. She has photographed the gravestones in the Jewish cemetery and even learned enough Hebrew to translate inscriptions. She lectures, leads tours, and prepares exhibits. On a veterans ommemoration day, she organized a ceremony honoring local Jewish soldiers who were killed during World War I. “Due to her work, people here have once again become aware of the Jewish part of Diespeck’s history, which many didn’t know about at all,” says Mayor Helmut Roch.

Vogel, who lives near Schweinfurt in Bavaria, has roots in Diespeck, but she never planned to chronicle the village’s Jewish history. As a child, she spent several years there with her mother and sister after fleeing the Allied bombing in Nuremberg during World War II. At university in the early ’60s, she wrote an assigned paper on its history. Although she uncovered a lot of material about Jews, she didn’t persist. “I felt like I was carrying the guilt of all Germans on my shoulders; that feeling prevented me from dealing with the issue further,” Vogel explains. “I needed to be pushed, shoved, and prodded to pursue the subject again.”

Her religion played an important role in this push. She has been an active member of the Protestant church for a quarter of a century, acting as a women’s representative within the church, leading a discussion group, and preaching during services. In the late ’70s, as she focused more intensely on her religion, she began to ask herself, “‘What are the roots of Christianity?’ And that question led me to Judaism,” Vogel remembers. In 1989, when an archival research group contacted her for information about Diespeck’s Jewish cemetery, her previous interest was renewed, and she began her decade-long investigations.

Today, Vogel is an expert. In her book, Kosher oder Terefa (Kosher or Treif), she describes how Jewish and Christian Germans lived peacefully in Diespeck for more than two centuries, forming a cohesive culture. During her research, she noted an architectural style typical of Jewish homes. “They have five windows pointing to the street and two windows in the roof,” she explains. “The five windows are for the five books of Moses, and the two windows represent the two tablets of the Ten Commandments.” She is also completing a biography of David Diespeck, a well-known 18th century rabbi.

She has researched many family histories. Claudine Hermann, of Massy, France, met Vogel in
1990 while searching for her German-Jewish roots. “Due to her, a small world is living again,” Hermann says. “The names of the dead are rescued from oblivion.” Eliane Roos Schuhl, of Paris, says, “Vogel’s message to the average German citizen is clear: Jews used to live here, participating in and enriching the life of the whole village. Let us not forget.”

Although one of Vogel’s projects—turning the buildings of the former “Jew’s Court” into a center
for history and culture—hasn’t yet found sufficient support, Vogel is accustomed to obstacles: “I’ve
learned to wait.” Meanwhile, the restoration of the cemetery takes precedence. Because of her efforts, Diespeck’s residents are aware that its Jewish past should be preserved. The European Union has provided matching funds to restore the cemetery, identify family connections on gravestones, and electronically publish the results. And, inspired by Vogel, the owner of a brewery in nearby Pahres is researching the history of his family’s enterprise and its connections with Jewish traders.

Another celebration will be held this year. This time, at least 30 people named Diespeck will come from other countries to the village that gave them their name. And so the branches that Ilse Vogel has nourished for more than a decade will continue to grow.