Fotoeins Fotografie

questions of place & home

Posts from the ‘Jewish-German History’ category

Past and present histories of Jewish communities and culture in Germany

Rothenburg ob der Tauber: Jewish history since 1180 AD/CE

After their stop in town, most visitors depart Rothenburg ob der Tauber with memories of a romantic medieval town that seems almost frozen in time.

But a careful measured walk also produces a deeper examination of the town’s history with clear signs to an historical and centuries-old presence of Jews. A Jewish settlement goes back to at least 1180 AD/CE in written records with the appearance of the name of Samuel Biscopf, a Jew from Rothenburg ob der Tauber (“erste Erwähnung eines Rotenburger Juden”: [ℵ1], p. 136; [ℵ2], pp. 133-135).

The centuries are marked with a growing thriving Jewish community, persecution, violent death, explusion, and a return to life.

( Click here for images and more )

Berlin Grunewald: no train will ever leave track 17

Present in the vicinity of a train station are very distinct and familiar sounds: the racket of heavy locomotives chugging down the rail and the screech of high-friction braking. A breeze sweeps through two columns of trees, creating a low keening sound which escapes into the open space beyond. To stop and listen, the sounds could easily be human: faint shouts and cries. Are they tricks of the mind, or are the dead speaking? The spectre of cruelty, despair, and suffering clings to the abandoned track; seven decades in the past don’t seem very far.

On a cool grey late-autumn afternoon, I’m on an S-Bahn train heading towards Potsdam. Beyond the limits of the “Stadtbahn” and one stop beyond the “Ring” at Westkreuz, the train pulls into the former goods and freight station at Grunewald. Dropping into the underground passage, signage points to the memorial at track 17. I leave the station by the southeast exit, and turn left to ascend the ramp along the side street.

In the Berlin borough of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Grunewald station lies on the S7 S-Bahn line serving central Berlin city, the city of Potsdam to the southwest, and Ahrensfelde to the northeast in the Berlin borough of Marzahn-Hellersdorf. Grunewald station began operation in 1879 under its original name Hundekehle named after a nature reserve nearby. The station changed its name to “Grunewald” in 1884 when the old Grunewald station began its new life as “Halensee” station. Grunewald station and its tracks were incorporated into Berlin’s S-Bahn train network in 1928.

Many companies including the Deutsche Reichsbahn (German Imperial Rail) were actively complicit in the machinery of mass murder during Nazi rule. After reunification of East and West Germany in 1990, the two separate railways also merged to form Deutsche Bahn in 1994, and calls arose for the new company to acknowledge its dark past. To mark the Reichbahn’s collaboration in deporting people to camps and their deaths, present-day Deutsche Bahn AG established a memorial at track 17. Inaugurated in 1998 the memorial was designed and built by architects Hirsch, Lorch, and Wandel who were very mindful of the 1991 Karol Broniatowski memorial near the station’s entrance.

Along track 17, metal plates have been inserted, one for every transport train which took Berlin’s Jews to their deaths. Each plate includes the transport date, the number of people deported, and the transport’s destination. The first train of record departed Grunewald on 1941 October 18 when 1251 Jews were deported to Łódź. Another plate marks the last train of record (so far) leaving Grunewald on 1945 March 27 when 18 Jews were deported to Theresienstadt; blank plates leave room for additional commemorations with new uncovered information. More than 50-thousand Jews from Berlin were deported from this station alone. The first set of trains went to concentration-camps in eastern Europe, but by the end of 1942, trains were directed to Auschwitz and Theriesenstadt.

The vegetation that’s been left to grow around the track over the years is a visible symbol and an unspoken promise to all: that no train will leave track 17 ever again.

( Click here for images and more )

Morning light on Krämerbrücke, Erfurt, Germany, fotoeins.com

Erfurt: 12 stations on a walk through the Old Town

Erfurter Stadtführung

Located along the Gera river near the centre of Germany, Erfurt is an historical hub of east-west trade, a stop on the historical road “Via Regia” dating back to the Middle Ages, and is considered a spiritual home for Martin Luther. He left behind plenty of traces throughout the city which is now the capital city for the German state of Thuringia (Landeshauptstadt Thüringens).

Each of the following locations in addition to the Erfurt’s Hauptbahnhof (Central Station) is indicated with an icon in the map below. All 12 stops can be reached with tram routes 3, 4, or 6 (common segment as solid back line), with stops at Anger, Fischmarkt/Rathaus (Fish Market/City Hall), and Domplatz Süd (Cathedral Square South). Click on the arrow-window symbol at the upper-left corner of the map below for additional clarification.

( Click here for images and more )

Alter Synagogenplatz, Altstadt, Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, fotoeins.com

My Heidelberg: Synagogue Square and Pogromnacht

It happens every time without fail.

My spirit breaks a little more every time I see a memorial, another example of the depths to which our species have plumbed.

Does feeling this way make me weak? Or am I resembling a human being after all?

I often hear a common chorus:

history is hard, history is boring, why should I care?

I can’t decide what’s worse: the rise of the far-right or blatant willful ignorance.


A Mob of Broken Glass

From the evening of 9 November to the following morning of 10 November 1938, Kristallnacht (“the night of broken glass”) was a “pogrom”, a coordinated series of violent attacks by Nazis against the Jewish people and their property in Germany, Austria, and Czechoslavakia’s Sudetenland. Pogromnacht (or Reichspogromnacht) is a truer description; the “prettier sounding” Kristallnacht hides the brutality of “the night of (broken) crystal” referring to broken shattered glass from windows to synagogues, homes, and stores owned by Jews. Aside from a few who intervened, most stood aside and watched people and property burn.

The numbers were appalling: at least 90 dead, hundreds injured, 30000 arrested and detained in concentration camps, up to 2000 synagogues burned, over 7000 Jewish businesses damaged or destroyed. With one more insult, the Jewish community was forced to pay for damage to their own property. The outbreak of coordinated actions against Jewish people marked the beginning of state-sanctioned violence. With the Pogromnacht, the state no longer hid their hate and escalated their savagery as a turning point directly leading to the Holocaust.

( Click here for more )

Old Jewish Cemetery, Grosse Hamburger Strasse, Berlin, Germany, fotoeins.com

Berlin’s Oldest Jewish Cemetery (Spandauer Vorstadt)

“Der Jüdische Friedhof in der Grossen Hamburger Strasse”

In the past, I’ve often felt guilty for taking photographs at a cemetery, as if the act of opening and closing the camera’s shutter somehow “exposes and steals” the essence of people who are laid to rest. Only in the last few years have I overcome these feelings, as I now see cemeteries as beautiful places to visit and to witness frozen snapshots to individual lives over time. On this late-autumn afternoon, I stood in the middle of the garden, transported to a different place and a different time, surrounded by tranquility and living memories.

Große Hamburger Straße (or Greater Hamburg Street) was the key central road in what was once the Spandauer Vorstadt, which was the suburb or town at the foot of the former Berlin city gates. The road allowed for trade and movement from Berlin in the direction towards the nearby town of Spandau.

According to berlin.de, the area developed around the Hackesche Market and Courtyards:

Historically, development of the Höfe went hand in hand with the growth of Berlin as a thriving urban centre. The expansion started around 1700 from an outer suburb known as Spandauer Vorstadt, located outside the Spandau City gate which already had its own church, the Sophienkirche as early as 1712. Friedrich Wilhelm I built a new city wall here and the former suburb became a new urban district belonging to Berlin. Today’s Hackescher Markt takes its name from the market built here by a Spandau city officer, Count von Hacke.

The influx of Jewish migrants and the exiled French Huguenots gave the district the cosmopolitan diversity which it never lost. The first synagogue was built in this area and the first Jewish cemetery established on the Grosse Hamburger Strasse. Another name for the area, the Scheunenviertel (barn district) is associated today with up and coming art galleries and the more bohemian side of Berlin. The largest synagogue in Germany was built in nearby Oranienburger Strasse in 1866.

In use from 1672 to 1827, this is Berlin’s oldest cemetery for the Jewish community. Buried here is Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786), philosopher, a founding father of the Jewish Enlightenment, and grandfather to the great composer Felix Mendelssohn. During the last stages of fighting in the Second World War, 2425 dead were buried here in 16 mass graves. With no clear boundaries separating those buried in the past from those buried during the war, the new memorial garden was constructed and restored in 2007-08 with all of the buried left undisturbed as they were.

The present location was also the site of the first nursing home in 1844 for the Jewish community in Berlin. The Gestapo transformed the home in 1942 to a collection and staging point for prisoners, and ordered the destruction of the entire site in 1943. 55000 Berlin Jews from infants to the elderly were deported and murdered in the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Theresienstadt.

( Click here for images and more )

%d bloggers like this: