Closed for decades, the world’s largest Holocaust archive now reveals its secrets
By Andrew Curry
Posted 5/13/07

Julius Mayer, a small-town butcher, escaped from Germany to South Africa in 1936, fleeing the growing Nazi menace to one of the only countries offering visas to Jews at the time. For years afterward, Mayer urged his five brothers and sisters to follow him. And for years, they declined.

What was there to worry about? they wrote. Their family had lived in the tiny village of Ediger for four centuries, after all; they were prominent citizens and friendly with their neighbors. Whatever horrible things were happening to Jews in Germany’s big cities, they said, would surely never reach their little hamlet on the banks of the Mosel River. “Still is all right here,” his sister Sara wrote in 1937. “Most heartfelt love from home.”

Then, in 1940, the postcards from Ediger suddenly stopped coming. Julius Mayer would never hear from his family again.

Tragically, the Mayer siblings had never understood what Julius understood all too well, says his son Lothar: “[that] Hitler was taking over and Germany wasn’t a safe place to live as a Jew.” It was a failure that would haunt him throughout his life. “He struggled with the fact that his siblings wouldn’t leave,” Lothar Mayer says. “He felt he could have saved their lives if he could have persuaded them.” As it was, he never even learned what became of them. As late as 1991, he sought information from the International Red Cross, but he died before getting an answer.