National Socialism in Freiburg (Satis Shroff)

(Subtitle: Deported Souls on the Blue Bridge)

In 1933 the national Socialists overtook power in the town council of Freiburg. At the beginning the people of Freiburg were cheering in the streets, according to an exhibition with the title ‘National Socialism in Freiburg.’

Jewish Refugees arrive in Gurs Camp (Southern France)

Adolf Hitler Strasse: The picture shows the Freiburger citizens admiring the Nazi as they pass along the Kaiser Joseph Strasse ( which was then named Adolf Hitler Strasse).You can see the olde Cafe & Konditorei Steinmetz where I used to buy my chocolates.

Today, we have a Green Oberbürgermeister named Dieter Salomon and the town is an open, democratic town with university students from all over the world. It is a fact that the wounds of history haven’t healed yet but this exhibition is an attempt to give the visitors a chance to face the past. The children and grandchildren ask their parents and grandparents often:

‘Grandpa, Papa what did you do during the World War II?

Diplomatic silence: In many families the grandchildren and children were confronted with a diplomatic silence.’Love is stronger than Time’ is the title of a book by Leslie Maitland, which also had a first title ‘Crossing the Borders of Time,’ published in 2012. This story is about the author’s mother Hanna Günzburger who was born in 1923 and grew up in a wealthy Jewish family with an acumen for business.However, they had to flee from Freiburg in 1938 after they were forced by the Nazis to sell their family business. They fled to France and finally reached the USA. Leslie Maitland’s mother died in 2014.

The NY Times wrote: ‘Leslie Maitland has the rare ability to bring history, adventure and love alive.’Claus Schneggenburger, formerly from SWR-Studio, has translated the novel and the German title is ‘Liebe ist starker als die Zeit.‘The zeitgeist has shown that there are thousands of people who make their way to Europe, to Germany seeking shelter and political asylum from war-torn countries. Germany’s ‘welcome culture’ towards the Syrian refugees, initiated by Chancellor Merkel and embraced and implemented by private citizens in a heart rendering way throughout Germany in the past is laudable, despite the fact that the populists and rightists are on the rise not only in Germany, but throughout the rest of the European Union.

Deported Souls on the Blue Bridge: Every year since 2013 the people of Freiburg think and pray for the departed souls in front of the ‘overcoat’ on the blue Wiwili Bridge above the railway tracks of Freiburg. A plate reminds us that in October 22, 1940 more than 450 Jewish citizens from Freiburg and the surrounding areas were brought to the good-train station hall, and deported like Schwarzwälder sheep to Gurs camp in neighbouring France. Many of them died in Gurs of hunger and disease, and most of them were murdered in the killing-camp of Auschwitz. To remember this tragic and fatal day in history, a mass is held every year in the Freiburger Synagogue, and the members of the Jewish community go to the ‘overcoat memorial’ to lay a wreath. This year the mayor Ulrich von Kirchbach and Irma Katz of the Jewish community spoke on the blue bridge to remind the people of what took place 76 years ago.Since most of the Holocaust victims are already dead and the survivors are dying out it is our duty to remember the acts of barbarism, cruelty, hatred, racism and genocide that was carried out towards the Jews, disabled people and Sintis and Romas.

Alte Synagogue: Freiburg also remembers the controversial Old Synagogue where a fountain is to be constructed between the City Theatre and the Kollegium Gebaude I. Like the Green mayor Salomon said, it is the duty of our generation to create places where the horror of the Nazi days are remembered. That’s the moral imperative that Freiburg has been carrying out since decades. We have a responsibility because of our sad history from which we cannot escape.

The Olde Synagogue was built in 1869 with plans made by Georg Jakob Schneider in a Moorish-Byzanthine style and at the entrance were the words: My house is a home of prayers for all people. On the night of November 9, 1038 the National Socialists, comprising SA and SS, set fire to over 1400 synagogues, prayer-houses and other rooms where Jews used to gather. The fire brigade had the task of protecting German buildings and explicit orders not to extinguish the fires.

How could the national socialist dictator succeed ? What were the consequences for the people of Freiburg and the German nation?

We just have to look at the biographies of the victims, perpetrators, the also-rans, and the people who tried to resist the nazi cult. The current exhibition at the Freiburger Augustiner Museum tells and shows the tragedy and fate of the victims of nazi terror , for example the sisters Ruth and Margot Bähr and their cousin Heinz from Breisach. They were Freiburger citizens and had passed their school exams (Abitur) at the Rotteck Gymnasium. Heinz fled to the USA in 1937. Ruth was deported to Gurs (France) but was able to escape with the help of relatives. Margot went to the Netherlands in 1938 and was murdered by the Nazis along with her husband and daughter in Auschwitz in 1942.

Changing nazi street names: Another big issue in the Freiburger town council is the changing of street names, which are the collective memory of the Freiburger citizens. Freiburg has decided to change the names of twelve streets, because there were thousands of Germans in the grey-zone, borderliners between democracy and racism. Even the Freiburger bishop Congrad Gröber was dubbed the ‘brown’ Conrad for he was a great admirer of National Socialism at the beginning and later became an antagonist of the nazis. The wounds of history haven’t healed yet, and the Germans who go the streets and proclaim ‘Germany for the Germans’ should face the past.

New scapegoats: The current zeitgeist shows that the focus of the populists and rightists has changed from the Jews to the muslim refugees that have been washed to the shores of Germany. We, as Germans from within and without, bear an immense responsibility that such inhuman and cruel deeds are not committed in this country and by this country. The populistic and racist attitudes and disinformation cyber campaigns of some rightist parties show that intolerance, hatred and racism are corroding the societal structure of this country gradually. Voices are getting louder against the parliamentary form of government, which was so painstakingly installed over the decades. Democracy is being trampled upon.

Mechanism of NS-movement: The same mechanism that once created national socialism in Germany is being used today with Syrian muslim and other refugees from Africa as scapegoats.It is hoped that the exhibition will help the people of Freiburg and other Germans to understand the mechanism behind the NS-movement. Let us not be cowed down by totalitarian tendencies that are gradually becoming evident in our times. In the words of the Jewish author Primo Levi: ‘It has happened and as a result it can happen again.’National socialists promised the German folk to end all social fissures and political disagreements. The people believed in the Third Reich and its makers, and the people showed enthusiastic acceptance of the national socialist regime. The exhibition also depicts the fate of those Jews who were segregated and persecuted for political or what’s even worse: for racist-biological reasons. The exhibits show Freiburg’s status as a border town due to its proximity to France and Switzerland, as well as the strong position of the Roman Catholic church during the Third Reich.

Some of the interesting questions posed by the exhibition are: could crimes like these happen again? Who decides on good and evil? Who judges? Who is responsible? Why does war occur and recur?

Let it not happen again: Lest we forget, let us remember what has happened in the past and let it not happen again. Every citizen has the chance to use his or her right of franchise for the sake of tolerance, democracy, mutual respect and peaceful coexistence.
Friede, peace, shanty, shalom.

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