Berlin and the Holocaust

27th January 2005, Comments 0 comments

The world is marking a series of sombre memorials for the end of the Second World War and the liberation of Hitler's death camps. In the second of a series of articles on the fall of the Third Reich, Clive Freeman talks Jewish survivors of the Nazi terror.

Berlin's Weissensee cemetery where Jews could meet freely

During the height of the Nazi era, the Weissensee cemetery, located in a north-eastern suburb of Berlin, was the one place in the German capital where Jews could meet and walk about freely without being cursed and vilified.

The cemetery was the only sanctuary remaining, when Hitler's terror was stepped up and Jewish movement was restricted about the city.

Despite the mass extermination campaigns throughout Europe, the Nazis never did succeed in entirely eliminating Berlin's Jewish population.

Some 3,000 survived in the city until 1945, many hiding out with relatives or courageous German friends opposed to Hitler.

Neither did the National Socialists manage to completely crush the Jewish faith in Berlin. One rabbi was allowed to remain in the city to take care of burials at the huge Weissensee cemetery, and he held regular secret religious services right up to the end of the war.

*quote1*Weissensee is Europe's biggest Jewish cemetery, with more than 150,000 graves sprawling across 42 hectares of land. Many of Berlin's Jews who died in the worst of the Nazi years are buried here.

Long a popular place of pilgrimage for Jews, visitor numbers have swollen recently as elderly Holocaust survivors have been arriving in Berlin en route to commemorative services  marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in neighbouring Poland.

"It has a lot of emotional significance for us Jews," said a visitor from New York, who grew up in Berlin before fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939.

Adam Koenig, 82, a survivor of Auschwitz, who lives in Berlin, agrees. "It was the one place where Jews could walk about safely after Hitler's 1930s race laws were implemented," he says.

Koenig was 16 when he was shipped to Auschwitz in the early part of the war. His parents, and four of his brothers and sisters perished in the death camps.

About 3,000 Jewish Berliners survived the Nazi terror

Shortly before Russian forces arrived to liberate Auschwitz he and thousands of exhausted prisoners were forced by German soldiers to take part in gruesome "western death marches".

Those too weak to march any longer were shot by guards. Later, when freed from the Bergen Belsen camp, Koenig said he'd seen "too many horrors" to be capable of celebration.

Koenig and his wife Maria - herself a camp survivor - are today retired teachers. For more than 20 years he says he could not bring himself to talk about his wartime experiences. "I then realised that those things that happened should never be forgotten," he says.

He and his wife have since given hundreds of lectures to German youngsters about the lessons to be learned from the Holocaust.

It is 60 years since Soviet soldiers entered the Auschwitz entrance gate and found 7,000 starving, sick and pitiful survivors.

*quote2*Young and gaunt then, ageing and a little unsteady on their feet now, quite a few have arrived in Europe to remember and to grieve, placing lit candles on the railway tracks at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp.

Of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, 1.1 million were murdered along with Poles, Gypsies, homosexuals and others at Auschwitz - by far the most notorious of the Nazi gas camps.

It symbolised the world's largest and most gruesome industrial artefact. "It became a Nazi experiment in how to kill the most people in the smallest area, in the least time, for the cheapest price," said an ageing survivor in Berlin Tuesday.

It was in Berlin in January 1942 that the chilling blueprints for the Holocaust were drawn up by Nazi henchmen at the so-called Wannsee Conference building, today a Jewish Museum and library.
January 2005


[Copyright Expatica 2005]

Subject: German news, Jews in Nazi Germany, Holocaust

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