The Final Solution to the Berlin Jewish Question | Historical portal Histmag.org - history for everyone!
This text is an excerpt from Thomas Geve's book The Boy Who Drawn Auschwitz.
The last dawn of February 1943 marked the beginning of the final settlement of the Questionberlian Jewish community. Since Jews from all other towns and villages were concentrated in the capital or deported, the Berlin community was the last. The large influx of "volunteer" workers from the East meant that work in important branches of the armaments industry was no longer sufficient for release from arrest.
All the remaining Jews were already listed in official documents as relocated to Lublin, Riga or Terezin.
New Synagogue in Berlin, 1948 (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-S78682 / CC-BY-SA 3.0)
Now, the final stage of solving the Jewish question was to surround the cordon street, and the soldiers went from door to door and ticked the last names on a Gestapo list. Only a handful of people stayed in the Jewish hospital, supply point, and cemetery to complete outstanding matters. Special SS units and trucks came to Berlin to take part in the last big round-up. The infamous Austrian command of the SS supervised the planning and supervision, its officers had previously practiced a similar operation to the Jews of Vienna.
A sudden knock brought us to attention. There was no doubt about his sinister intentions. We waited for the thud to stop, pleading silently for it to happen, but he continued, and now he was accompanied by nasty insults. There would be no point in escaping through the back staircase. While I was hitting the lids on the baskets, pretending we'd come downstairs to throw the garbage, my mother finally opened the door.
A man's fist popped in and landed on my jaw. The next minutes were agony. I couldn't see his face, but I heard him grunt and snarl, beating me. I was often beaten by an SS officer for keeping windows open. But it was my first close contact with an SS man, which ended with my ears and face being mutilated like never before.
After handing over the keys and sealing the room, mom and I stumbled towards the waiting truck, each of us carrying a small, bulky suitcase.
–Heraus, schnell, schnell! (Get out, quick, quick!) - echoed cruelly behind us.
It was a long, stressful, and tiring journey to find new victims. Older legged people, incapable of carrying suitcases, were dragged to the torch and brutally shoved onto the crate. The street people were spitting on them. The others stared at us with a mixture of amazement, shame, and anger.
I peered at the places I passed through the gap in the truck's tarpaulin. There were traces of bombings from the previous night and roadblocks separating the destroyed Prager Platz. The demolished quarters of buildings were still smoldering, and the bombing had finally reached a stage where it had to be taken seriously. This, however, did not delay our arrest at all. Nazi Beast was still strong and efficient. Only her eastern fangs were bleeding.
At dusk, the truck joined the line outside the makeshift internment camp.
Our camp was one of the six in Groβe Hamburgerstraβe. Ironically, I was taken back to my old school grounds, which, like the old people's home and the old cemetery, had been destroyed to make room for our arrival. Once inside, we became prisoners in cages. We were sorted according to numerous lists - we had no idea according to which key they were composed. They were all prepared for final deportation to the East. There were about five hundred to a thousand people in the camp, the remnants of the Berlin Jewish community.
Detail from one of the Jewish tombstones at the Jewish cemetery Berlin-Weissensee (author: SpreeTom)
CC BY-SA 3.0
Warsaw policemen were indifferent to us. There was nothing left for us to do but wander the cemetery, puzzling over how to escape. I could climb the wall, but my mother can't. I couldn't imagine parting with her. Besides, the consequences for her, let alone for myself, would be unimaginably serious if I were caught. In addition, as a declared "enemy of the state" and "the worst kind of man" - a Jew - how would I deal with outwardly?
The only tomb in the cemetery, surrounded by a wire mesh, attracted many eloquent looks. It was the eternal resting place of Moses Mendelssohn, a famous Jewish philosopher. Many people drew inspiration from the remnants of bygone glory; maybe the teachings of this wonderful man will survive?
A committee inside the camp was set up to listen to the requests of relatives trying to connect with each other. Few of them reached the police commander, and most of them were rejected anyway, but the prisoners gave the right that it was their last resort.
Half-Jews and citizens of neutral states had the best chance of being released. Any other attempt to defraud the sadistic police and the Gestapo was dangerous and pointless. The crowded prison cell was terrifying enough anyway.
There was a risk of raw materials for attempts to falsify the evidence. I looked at my cards: there was no "Aryan" blood in my family, there was no chance for an intervention by a foreign government, and I had no money for bribes. I desperately clung to the last chance. I could bury the dead. First of all, I had to convince my mother, she agreed, so I approached the only Jew left on the appeal committee, Rabbi Martin Riesenburger, who occasionally attended the burials.
"Yes," he called wearily. - They make a face. You're one of those flower guys. Don't lie to yourself that you are indispensable, you can't even dig a hole. Gathering all my determination and courage, I promised to do whatever they told me to do. I never found out what made him change his mind. Maybe my healthy appearance and tanned skin - I was not like the Jewish boys buried in the books, whom the rabbi used to see during his daily visits to the synagogue. The rabbi changed the one-acton.
- I'll see how many more cemetery workers are left. Maybe they will need to be replaced. What about your family?
"I only have a mom," I replied.
He looked at me closely. His gaze met mine.
The seconds grew longer.
–All right, if there are only two of you, I'll try.
Crematoria, diseases, punishments and cells in KL Auschwitz in a drawing by Thomas Geve (photo from the book "The Boy Who Drawn Auschwitz", published by WAB, rights reserved)
The next hours were psychological torture. The light of hope fought against a much more obvious gloom of common fate. Despair won with hope. Finally, the commandant called me for questioning.
I slammed my heels in an imitation of a German military salute and stood erect, suggesting that I was older than I looked. The adjutant justified my usefulness to the Third Reich, which was then vouched by a plump rabbi in glasses.
-Cemetery worker necessary to carry out burials.
-Yes Yes. One of the German officers present smiled. - That brat will have his hands full.
A careless movement of the commander's hand was a sign for me to turn and walk away quickly.
This text is an excerpt from Thomas Geve's book The Boy Who Drawn Auschwitz.
Mom and I grabbed our suitcases, grabbed the slowdown, and rushed to the main gate before the Gestapo could change their minds. Before we were allowed to leave the camp, the guard compared our faces with the photo on the ID documents. He stuttered apologetically:
“Some kind of mistake. We had no idea you were brother and sister.
The gray street was so close, freedom was tempting. We couldn't wait any longer.
"It doesn't matter," I said. - We can do it without corrections.
The steel gate slid open and we quickened our pace towards the corner of a neighboring street. We avoided a certain deportation, so our freedom returned was an incredible feeling. Which didn't mean we were safe at all. On the contrary. We had our release receipts, but that in itself didn't prevent us from being arrested again, I now had to get real release papers.
In the only existing office of the Jewish community in Oranienburgerstraβe, I spoke up for my rights. Initially, they did not want to recognize my competences as an indispensable employee, because my name was not on their list. After a stormy discussion among the staff, I finally agreed to register me as an ordinary laborer employed in the Weiβensee cemetery.
This status entailed all the privileges originally reserved for informers who assisted the Gestapo in arrests. In exchange for a solemn promise to regularly appear at work, regardless of private matters, I received a special badge along with numerous stamped and signed certificates. I now wore a red band with the words Ordner and a number next to the yellow Star of David worn on my chest, but all that mattered to me was that I had outsmarted the Gestapo.
Ignoring all the rules, we made our way through darkened Berlin to our distant apartment on Speyererstraβe. We got there early in the morning and woke the caretaker. His face was amazed and disappointed, and he was convinced that he was seeing the last Jews.
-What? Are you free? And at this time? Are they all coming back?
After checking our documents carefully, he reluctantly handed us the keys. It was clear that he would have preferred rich, tipped Jews over poor mum and me.
After breaking the seals of the Gestapo doors, we could finally go to a well-deserved and peaceful rest. Our new motto was to remain unobtrusive.
The next morning, awakened at five in the morning by the sound of the alarm clock, I left all my badges and took the tram to the distant cemetery. When I started working at the Weiβensee cemetery, there were four hundred of us teenagers. Now there are only six employees who have avoided deportation. It was my duty to devote myself to working with all my strength.
Later, a few half-Jews joined us, including a handful of young people. Although I was not the smallest, I was definitely the youngest. The work was hard, but we could not disappoint others with our absence.
Witold Szabłowski - "Russia from the inside out" - review and evaluation
Digging graves, usually up to three graves a day, up to sixty meters deep, has become our daily routine. It happened that the mounds of soil heaped up, falling to the waist of one of us. Then we took out the victim, completely sprinkled with dirty, black earth. It was the funniest part of the day.
I had huge wooden clogs, a pickaxe and a shovel, a minimum yield and a weekly wage. And in the case of this work, overtime was also most often paid.
We buried up to ten suicides a day. We thanked you for the law that forbade persons under twenty-first years of age from dealing with the dead. This limited our occasional aid to pushing the caravan and acting as mourners. There was almost no one left to mourn the dead, most likely all followed in the footsteps of their recently buried relatives.
When time allowed, we bury the Torah scrolls. In order to save the scrolls from being burned, they were sent from all synagogues in Germany to the main warehouse in the Weiβensee cemetery. Regardless of their sanctity, there was no one to deal with these richly decorated scrolls. Hundreds were laid in a mass grave to ensure their dignified burial. It was the end of an era.
Other uninvited guests arrived at the cemetery in the form of bombs dropped by night riders who, instead of industrial facilities near Weiβensee, bombarded what seemed to me the most pointless target - the city of the dead.
Segregation before the impending deportation has begun in earnest. Old people and decorated for war merits were to be sent to Terezin, the rest to the East. Where? We did not know. After talking about how to behave during the trip, we were assigned identification numbers and a packed lunch. The next morning we got into the trucks that took us to Berlin's StettinerBahnhof freight station.
Behind the locomotive there was a passenger car for guards, and behind it a dozen or so closed freight cars. The opposite embankment was surrounded by sentries with weapons ready. We were threatened by a machine gunner from the roof of the last car. Together with my mother, with whom we tried with all our might to stay together, we were pushed into a coach, accompanied by about twenty other fellow passengers.
The straw-lined wagon had four small obstructed vents, no windows, and one bucket for waste that would be enough for all of us on our way east. We tried our best to find some space between ourselves and all luggage. I was able to see an inscription that remained in our pre-war French wagon. It proclaimed: "40 soldiers or 8 horses." At least we had the appearance of a free space.
Then the train started. Challenging their native Berlin, many of the worried souls in the car sang a farewell song. On both sides of the track, tall factory chimneys, pointing to the eastern suburbs, were drawn against the darkening sky. The vibrant city seemed to be enveloped in a blanket of silence, its dim being unable to sense its last departing children. Perhaps the others, many who would never see him again, saw a sad parting nod. It remained strange and cold to me. Perhaps ashamed of themselves.
When we were leaving Germany, the steady rhythm of the wheels covering successive sections of rails gave us uncomfortable thoughts. We left the world lost for us - a world that lost itself.