Purim at Goebbels’ Castle
On March 8, 1945, a group of American soldiers observed Purim in Rheydt, Germany, vanquishing a modern-day Haman.
On March 8, 1945, a group of American soldiers observed Purim in Rheydt, Germany. The actual holiday had taken place the prior week; wartime required flexibility. And this was a Purim none of them would forget.
It was celebrated at Joseph Goebbels' vacation home, Schloss Rheydt, a Renaissance-era palace.
Schloss Rheydt was originally built in 1060 for a noble family. During World War II, the town of Rheydt spent an enormous sum renovating the castle. Swastikas and the letter “G” (for Goebbels) decorated many rooms of the house. A huge painting of Hitler hung over a fireplace. The citizens of Rheydt considered it crucial the castle ooze with luxury and Nazi symbols before they gifted it to the town’s favorite son, Joseph Goebbels.
Goebbels was born in Rheydt in 1897. He joined the Nazi Party in 1924 and became Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda in 1933. He understood that rigidly controlled, false information combined with repetitive lies could shape a country's mindset. Goebbels said, “Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play.” He was one of the most influential men in the Nazi era.
Goebbels was also one of the greatest hypocrites of the Nazi era.
He was an enthusiastic proponent of “Lebensunwertes Leben” or “Life Unworthy of Life” which pushed for killing babies born with disabilities. Yet Goebbels himself was born with a club foot and walked with a limp. He was rejected for military service in World War One because of this infirmity. Had Goebbels been born during the Nazi era, he would have been euthanized.
Goebbels’ propaganda machine promoted the ideal Aryan image – blond hair, blue eyes, fair skin and a tall, athletic build – an image Goebbels himself could never live up to. In addition to his limp, Goebbels had dark hair and eyes and swarthy, pockmarked skin. He was also very short. By his own definition, he was an inferior creature.
His propaganda depicted Jews in the most horrifying ways, pushing the ancient libel that Jews killed Christian children. But it was Goebbels who was the actual murderer of Christian children. Goebbels had one son and five daughters (each of their names began with an “H” in honor of Hitler) and on May 1st, 1945, he and wife murdered them with cyanide before they committed suicide.
Did Goebbels know American soldiers used his holiday villa for Jewish celebrations that March of 1945? What would he have thought of an ark and Torah resting on a swastika-draped table in his dining room, celebrating the triumph of good over evil, vanquishing a modern-day Haman?
Jewish Services at Schloss Reydt from Yank: The Army Weekly.
In Yank: The Army Weekly magazine, Cpl. Howard Katzander wrote that Chaplain Manuel Poliakoff assisted by Pfc. Arnold Reich and Cpl. Martin Willen “raised their voices in an ancient Hebrew hymn of jubilation sung at Purim to celebrate the deliverance of the Jews from an earlier Hitler–Haman of Persia.”
Purim was not the only holiday observed at Schloss Rheydt. Three weeks later, hundreds of American soldiers celebrated Passover in that same dining room. If Goebbels was aware of these celebrations, he must have recognized the irony of Jews praying in his holiday villa.
The war was ending. Evil and hatred were not eradicated, but they were beaten. And at Schloss Rhedyt, a celebration cast a ray of hope in a damaged world.