Jun 2013 Journal

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Stolpersteine in south-west Germany: Commemorating the first deportations

The Stolpersteine or Stumbling Stones project has been going on throughout Germany for the last 18 years. Small concrete blocks, 10 x 10 cm square with a brass plaque on the top, have been set in pavements around Germany and in some neighbouring countries in front of the homes of people who were deported by the Nazis.
The plaques give the names and dates of these individuals and an indication of their fate. Many towns and cities have taken up the idea enthusiastically, as local activists commemorate citizens who fell victim to Nazi ideology - Jews and those non-Jews who did not fit into the Nazi framework.
For the south-west corner of Germany, the salient date is 22 October 1940 - 15 months before the Wannsee conference. This was the day on which nearly all the Jews from Baden, the Rhine-Palatinate and the Saarland, totalling some 6,000 people, were deported to a camp at Gurs near Pau at the foot of the Pyrenees in south-western France.
The camp had been built in 1939 to hold Republican refugees from the Spanish Civil War. After Germany's invasion of France in June 1940, it was run by the Vichy French. Conditions were primitive. Although there were stoves in the windowless wooden huts, no wood was provided for heating. Constant rain turned the heavy ground into a quagmire for anyone searching for firewood or going to the makeshift latrines. There were no beds: initially, men slept on the bare ground while women were given straw to lie on. Nutrition was utterly inadequate.
However, there was no deliberate policy of sadism. People could be liberated from Gurs if they had relatives to pay their transfer to another country (mostly America). It was possible to write, though paper was difficult to get hold of. Much information comes from their letters, as well as volunteer workers' diaries and later memoirs. It was also fairly easy to escape, though difficult to survive outside without ration cards.
Of the 6,000 deportees from Germany, 1,050 died in the first four months, 60 per cent of them aged over 60. The German authorities had not informed the French about these arrivals so the latter had had to find some ad hoc way of dealing with them. Not all remained in Gurs. Many were transferred to other camps, such as Rivesaltes near Perpignan, Récébédou and Noé near Toulouse, or Masseube in the département of Gers. There was a camp for families with children (but with men and women separated) and camps for the sick and the elderly.
Humanitarian organisations like the Quakers, Swiss Children’s Aid and the Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE, founded as a health organisation by Jewish doctors in Tsarist Russia in 1912 and metamorphosing into an underground children's rescue service in wartime France) placed some of the children in homes, from where they were helped to escape to Switzerland. Adults were less fortunate. Once the ‘final solution to the Jewish question’ was reached, the Jews in the camps of southern France were an easy target for the Nazis. They leant on the French to organise the transport. In August 1942 trains left these camps for the transit camp of Drancy, outside Paris. Here the convois which left Paris with one destination – Auschwitz - were put together.
These people are now being recognised in their former homes. As a regional centre, Heidelberg has already conducted three stone-laying ceremonies for some of the 300 people deported from there. The most recent was in November 2012 and the next was due to take place this March.

Wiesloch, 13 kilometres south of Heidelberg, has also joined the programme, thanks to the interest and persistence of a long-standing British resident, Patricia Baber, who moved there in 1965 as translator for a subsidiary company of ICI, set up in Germany to sell to the EEC. (Britain did not join the European Economic Community, today's European Union, until 1973.) There she met her English husband, industrial chemist Geoffrey Hillier. The couple, who are not Jewish, settled outside the small town (population today 27,000, up from 10,000 in the 1930s-40s) and brought up their family there.

Mrs Hillier was intrigued by the Stolpersteine but says she really got going when she attended a small ceremony in Wiesloch in 2010 on the 70th anniversary of the deportation to Gurs: ‘I found another person who was interested, and she and I put an ad in the local newspaper asking who would like to join a Stolperstein-Initiative in Wiesloch, and somewhere between 15 and 20 people came to the first meeting. We started out by interviewing people in Wiesloch who still remember the Jewish people living in the town. From there we went on to making contact with two people in America who survived the Nazi era, and from there to corresponding with archivists in France to verify as much as we could of the information we had been given. To learn how to organise such an initiative and the laying of stones, I regularly went to the Stolperstein-Initiative in Heidelberg. The stone-laying we had in Wiesloch on 15 November 2012 was the 807th. Baiertal, a village which was once independent but is now administratively a part of Wiesloch, is planning to lay stones [this was scheduled for March]. We shall have another stone-laying in Wiesloch centre sometime in the future, but not earlier than in a year's time.’
The research for each name is meticulously recorded in brochures, which Mrs Hillier has translated into English.

The Wiesloch ceremony, attended by local dignitaries, including the Bürgermeister and local councillors, was well covered in the local press, which praised the efforts of Mrs Hillier and her team. Before the actual placing of the stones, a short service was held in the evangelical church, where a speech from the rabbi of the Heidelberg synagogue was read out, as neither he nor the rabbi from the University for Jewish Studies in Heidelberg was able to attend due to previous commitments. The initiator of the entire project, Cologne artist Gunter Demnig, looked in before going on to the Heidelberg ceremony, held on the same day.
As part of the protocols governing the project, Demnig has laid down that relatives of the victims should, where possible, be asked for their consent to have the Stolpersteine placed in front of former family homes. (Not everyone wants to be thought of as a victim, especially if they in fact survived.) The Heidelberg team has come up against a problem which, Mrs Hillier hopes, can be solved through AJR members. This is a plea for information on Ludwig Durlacher, who came to England on a Kindertransport.
The Durlacher family lived in Heidelberg. The father, Hermann Durlacher, was a teacher with a reputation for great kindness, who taught the city's Jewish children after they were excluded from state schools in November 1938. He and his wife, Marta, had two sons: Walter, born in 1924, and Ludwig, born in 1927. The two children arrived in England on a late Kindertransport in 1939, but Hermann and Marta were deported to Gurs and later murdered in Auschwitz.

Walter, the older brother, was sent from England to Canada, where he was interned. He eventually returned to Germany. Diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia, he lived in a nursing home in Mannheim and had a legal guardian. When he died in 2006, his legal guardian and a lawyer tried in vain to find his younger brother.

Despite extensive enquiries, the Heidelberg Stolperstein-Initiative members have had no better luck in trying to track down Ludwig - who would possibly have changed his name. All that is known about him is that he married and had children. He may have lived near Manchester and perhaps had a business there.
Any information should be sent to: Mrs Patricia Hillier, Am Hang 33, 69231 Rauenberg 3, Germany, telephone 0049-(0)7253-23385, email patricia.hillier@gmx.de

Ruth Rothenberg

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