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Kurt Metzger: Nuremberg's Last Rabbi

Life and works of Kurt Metzger were of the polarity that coins the biographies of many emigrants: Jewish American of German origin, victim of the Nazis and advocate of a reconciliation without forgetting. He was one of the great sons of Nuremberg whose achievements remained unnoticed outside the Jewish community here. Dr. Metzger's curriculum vitae was written by his wife, Mrs. Lore R. Metzger.

 

Rabbi Metzger in 1939

Rabbi Metzger in 1939

While in Glens Falls:

1962-1972

 

1973-83

 

Rabbi Metzger in the prayer room of the Frank-Loeb house in Landau 1988

Rabbi Metzger in the prayer room of the Frank-Loeb house in Landau 1988

After the dedication of the monument at the sight where the synagogue had once stood, Rabbi and Mrs. Metzger were asked to speak in Landau several times. Then they were invited to come for a full week of encounter. While Mrs. Metzger spoke in various schools and demonstrated the Jewish holidays in a church hall, the Rabbi spoke at City Hall and all the churches. The week ended with an ecumenical service in the Protestant Church followed the next day by conducting a full Passover Seder in a parish hall of St. Mary.

A year later the Metzgers were asked whether they would be interested helping to restore the ancestral home of Anne Frank whose great grandfather had purchased this once magnificent house, and where her father and grandfather were born. The Rabbi agreed under three conditions:

  1. That this house would become a house of encounter where people of all religions could meet, learn from and with each other, pray together and have fun together.

  2. That the house would contain a synagogue which the Rabbi and his wife were ready to bear the costs for, and supply the content, the Torah scroll and all the silver objects used on each holiday, prayer books, paintings, made by Mrs. Metzger's mother and photographs of the synagogue once taken by Mrs. Metzger's father.

  3. That the city of Landau would invite all former Jewish inhabitants of Landau no matter where in the world they lived, to come there for the dedication of this house as guests of the city.

Years went during which a lot of time, love, and money was spent until the house was rebuilt and ready for dedication in May, 1988. 117 former Landauers arrived from 17 different countries. The emotions ran high. Every day was pre-organized with programs. The Rabbi also conducted a memorial service in the chapel of the cemetery, and on Friday night was regular Sabbath service in a huge Protestant church, where every seat was taken. There was hardly a dry eye as the former Landauers heard their rabbi sing the songs they had heard as children in their synagogue. During the last ten years, this house has truly become a house of encounter, much more so than the rabbi had ever visualized. For their devotion to this building and for the good will they have created in Landau, Rabbi and Mrs. Metzger were presented with the Medal of Honor and declared Honor Citizens of Landau.

In Monroe in 1988 when the Rabbi retired from Temple Beth El, he was elected Rabbi Emeritus, but he kept his three chaplaincies until illness forced him to leave ten months before his death on March 13th, 1992. It was always his wife's wish to be buried in the family plot with her grandparents. That is where the rabbi was laid to rest on March 16, 1992. His son, Ralph and his widow accompanied the body on Lufthansa to Frankfurt and from there to the cemetery in Landau.

"Kurt Metzger was one of Hitler's last gifts to the American rabbinate. Born in Nuremberg on December 10, 1909, he studied at the Universities of Breslau, Wuerzburg and Erlangen, but was denied the opportunity to complete his Ph.D. by Nazi legislation, although he was subsequently granted the degree in the United States. He was ordained at Breslau's Jewish Theological Seminary in 1939, after serving for three years as District Rabbi of Landau in the Palatinate, and as Nuremberg District's last rabbi.

He escaped to the United States where he found brief employment as rabbi in Connellsville, PA, and Amsterdam, NY, before moving to a twenty-year service in Glens Falls, NY, followed by eight years in Bradford, PA, and two years in Pearl River, NY. At age 64, when most colleagues are considering retirement, he received a call in 1973 to Monroe, NY, where he functioned as both rabbi and cantor until his actual retirement in 1985, when the congregation elected him Rabbi Emeritus ... Kurt was a remarkably caring being. He made each individual with whom he dealt feel that that person had his undivided concern. He could be passionate about beliefs, but met most people with a smile. There was a boyish qualitiy about him that was reflected in his enthusiasm for his model electric trains. He was an avid collector of rare German books.

In his latter years honors accrued to him: in 1977 he was named Honorary Rabbi of his native Nuremberg. Two years later, he and his wife were special guests of the Lord Mayor of West Berlin. In 1981 he was cited as 'Chaplain of the Year' ..."

From Rabbi Metzger's obituary by Malcolm H. Stern (1992)

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