The white table was waiting while the crowd made its way to the Schlossplatz for the group photo. The weather, monitored over the last week with nervous attention, proved to be on our side. A glorious day welcomed the “lunch with locals,” the climax of our four days reunion of descendants. It was the third of its kind, after 1998 and 2008. And we were wondering what we could offer that would last, worthy of remembrance after two already so memorable events. In the end we had enjoyed four days that produced memories all along, every minute…
From the tours to the old Rhine, on the traces of refugees that passed the threshold between death and life 71 years ago – to the joyful variations of Salomon Sulzer’s music performed by his great-great-great-great-grandson Danny Blaker from Melbourne. And from the sometimes witty, sometimes poignant (and mostly both) speeches on occasion of the evening events to the excursions on the lake, or to St. Gallen and the countryside this was not only a journey into the past of family memories but an exploration of the diverse dimensions of the present, some pleasant and some scary as they may be.
And though all this was articulated without taboos (including encounters with Palestinian refugees and their hardships when it comes to visiting their hometowns – or the haunting experiences with new elected presidents) the mood of these days was relaxed and full of energy and joy. 180 descendants, literally from all corners of the world, enjoyed being together, transcending borders between religions, nations, languages, forming a truly cosmopolitan community that you will not easily find in any other place. Many were meeting their relatives for the first time, exchanging experiences, family legends, names and other genealogical bits and pieces.
Did I ever encounter a group of people with such a sense of irony and so much to tell and to discuss with each other? Does that necessarily mean that there was a gap between insiders and outsiders? Astoundingly the answer was: no! Helpers and friends from our association, staff members of the museum, and locals from the town joined the descendants, so nobody stood apart. For the first time, a large number of descendants who still live in Vorarlberg took part, members of the Hirschfeld family. Having Jewish ancestors was not always something to speak about, or even to boast with, after all that happened to Jewish families in the 20th century. Now for the first time this no longer seemed to be a barrier to talking about family memoirs in the open and with relatives, coming from the U.S. and Guatemala, Great Britain and elsewhere.
The Reunion 2017 was remarkable for all those who came for it from more or less distant places – but it also opened a new chapter in the presence of memory in Hohenems itself.
(The following photos were made – with few exceptions – by Dietmar Walser)