Sep 2005 Journal

previous article:Recollections of a junior doctor's wife
next article:Social responses to terrorism

The children of Blankenese

In April 1945 the British army liberated the 60,000 remaining inmates of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Among them were around 200 children, many of them orphans. The banker Eric Warburg and his parents had emigrated from the Blankenese district of Hamburg in 1938. Returning to his family home on the Koesterberg in Blankenese in the summer of 1945, he gave permission to the American Joint Distribution Committee to use his home to accommodate displaced persons. A plan soon emerged to host the surviving children from the concentration camps there, to provide them with an education, and to prepare them for departure to Palestine.

The first children from Bergen-Belsen arrived at the Koesterberg in January 1946. Up to 1948 300-400 children from various camps spent a number of months here. Most of them have never forgotten the time they spent here. They founded a club in Israel and to this day describe themselves as the 'children of Blankenese'.

In the last few years the children's home has been remembered in Blankenese too. In May 2001 the German-Israeli Society of Hamburg organised a concert by an Israeli youth orchestra in the Elsa-Braendstroem-Haus in memory of the building's past. Today a convention centre for the German Red Cross, this building was once one of the houses in which the children lived and was known as the 'White House'.

In the spring of 2004 the Society for Research on the History of the Jews in Blankenese organised an exhibition entitled 'Four Lives: the Jewish Fate in Blankenese'. The exhibition followed the lives of four local citizens who had been persecuted for being Jewish and had eventually committed suicide. With this as a background, the exhibition depicted the history of Blankenese during the Nazi period and retraced the lifes of all Jews who had lived there during this time and had been persecuted, exiled or murdered (see www.viermalleben.de).

One item contained in the book which accompanies the exhibition, 'The Book of Memory of the Jews of Blankenese', describes the Warburg Children's Health Home. Both before and during the exhibition we received letters and messages from people who, as children on the Koesterberg, were given preparation for their new lives here.

In 2004, following the example of the city of Hamburg, which had for years regularly invited those of its former citizens who had suffered persecution under National Socialism to return for week-long visits, the German-Israeli Society of Hamburg and the Society for Research on the History of the Jews in Blankenese sent out invitations to the children of Blankenese. A surprising number of the children responded and, from 26 September to 3 October 2005, over 40 of them are due to return as visitors to remember their first step away from the hell of the camps towards a new life. Most of their memories will hopefully be good ones. But there will be others too: at times the children faced hostility from the people of Hamburg.

Most of the guests will come from Israel, with some from the USA and others from elsewhere in Germany. They will stay either in the Elsa-Braendstroem-Haus or in private homes. Max Warburg, the son of the late Eric Warburg, will welcome them and the Mayor of the Hanseatic City-State of Hamburg, Ole von Beust, will invite them to a reception. They will re-acquaint themselves with Blankenese and pay a visit to Bergen-Belsen.

The cost of the invitations is covered by private donations. We hope to be able to send out new invitations in the coming year so that even more of the children of Blankenese will be able to revisit their former home.

Dr Martin Schmidt is President of the Society for Research on the History of the Jews of Blankenese.
Martin Schmidt

previous article:Recollections of a junior doctor's wife
next article:Social responses to terrorism