World Holocaust Day: Remembering the atrocities in Barking and Dagenham’s twin German town

Today is World Holocaust Day

Today is World Holocaust Day - Credit: Archant

As people around the world come together in solidarity to mark World Holocaust Day, former Post reporter Tony Richards uncovers the horrible deaths suffered in Barking and Dagenham’s German twin town, Witten

The Smulowicz family on their way to the synagogue before Hitler came to power

The Smulowicz family on their way to the synagogue before Hitler came to power - Credit: Archant

Today is World Holocaust Day—the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

In this borough a service in memory of Holocaust victims will be held at Dagenham Civic Centre, as in previous years.

Meanwhile our borough’s German twin town, Witten, will be holding its annual wreath-laying ceremony at the site of the concentration camp set up there in World War II as an outpost of the notorious Buchenwald.

Elsewhere in the town, in memory of the many Witten residents who perished in the various concentration camps, Stolpersteine (“stumbling stones”) have been laid outside their former homes.

The gates to the Auschwitz I camp

The gates to the Auschwitz I camp - Credit: PA WIRE

In some places whole families are commemorated. In less than two years 65 such stones have been laid, the last 15 being added in November.

Many of the stones tell stories of appalling atrocities suffered by Witten people in the Holocaust.

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Most of the victims were murdered because they were Jewish.

Others were “enemies of the Reich” because they were political opponents of the Nazis, or trade unionists, or homosexuals, or people who had been caught listening to BBC broadcasts or reading leaflets dropped by the RAF, or had been overheard criticising Nazism.

The “stumbling” stones are so laid as not to cause passers-by to stumble, but merely in the hope that they will pause momentarily and read the names of the victims outside the very houses where they formerly lived — or the sites of those houses if they no longer stand. Each of the inscriptions begins with the words “Hier wohnte …” (“Here lived…”).

Here are just a few examples:

? Hermann Strauss was chairman of the Witten Jewish community. He and his wife, Emma, were deported to the notorious Theresienstadt concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic, and later murdered in the even more notorious Treblinka in Poland.

? Moritz Hanf lived with his wife, Rebecca, and five of their seven children. The Nazis tried to thrust their son Ernst into the blazing Jewish synagogue on the pogrom night in 1938. Stones outside their home in Parkweg, Witten, record the murders of five members of the Hanf family.

? Herbert Klein, his wife, Rosa and their two daughters were deported to Zamosc concentration camp in Poland and there murdered. Herr Klein’s mother, Rosa, was murdered in Theresienstadt.

? Adolf and Margarete Weihl were detained in Belsen before being transferred to Auschwitz and there put to death.

? Adolf Reich lampooned Hitler. Not surprisingly, he was arrested. He was taken by the Gestapo to Berlin and there executed in the infamous Plötzensee prison.

? Wilhelm Erdmann was a homosexual. For his sexual orientation he was classified as a “dangerous habitual criminal” and was placed successively in Buchenwald, Mauthausen and Dachau concentration camps. He finally died in Dachau.

? Fritz Husemann was a miners’ trade union leader and SPD (social democrat) member of the Reichstag, the German Parliament. The Nazis hated him in both capacities. He was murdered in Esterwege concentration camp. A plaque to his memory hangs on every lamppost in Husemann Strasse, Witten, which bears his name in his honour.