John Glass bowed his head as the cantor’s melody echoed through the cemetery in prayer for the children buried beneath the grassy-green surface.
Church bells sounded in the distance, a reminder of the unlikely setting for a Jewish mourning ritual, along with the monks in black hooded robes among the minyan. The leader of the prayer recited el mal’eh rachamim, a Hebrew blessing usually reserved for graveside burials or memorial services, including Holocaust remembrances. But in this instance, those honored that day – 16 children in all – perished in the weeks, months and years after Allied forces liberated Nazi Germany. Some of them, including Glass’ brother, died so young they never received names.
Their remains lay in unmarked graves in a small Jewish cemetery tucked in the corner of St. Ottilien Archabbey, a Benedictine monastery in Germany’s Bavarian countryside. In the immediate post-war years, up through the spring of 1948, the sprawling monastic complex served as a waypoint for Holocaust survivors—mostly Jews—as they planned their next moves. Glass, who now lives in Australia, was born here, in a baby boom meant to restore the beating heart of the Jewish people after they’d narrowly escaped death.