Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Gedenkbuch Berlin

In 1995, fifty years after the demise of Hitler’s Third Reich, a long-standing research enterprise finally bore fruit. As early as the 1960s, the idea of a memorial book for the Jews of Berlin had been mooted. Finally, following the collapse of the GDR in 1989, and the granting of access to the archival materials formerly in communist possession, the volume was published. The Gedenkbuch Berlins draws on the available documentary sources to list as many as possible of those Jews deported from the German capital between 1941 and 1945, who subsequently died at the hands of the Nazis. Each entry begins with the victim’s name in bold, followed by a date and place of birth, a date and destination of ‘evacuation’ and finally a date of death. The very first entry is that of Jutta Aal, who was born in November 1860 in Bavaria and was deported to Theresienstadt in the autumn of 1942. Already 81 years-old at the time of her deportation, Jutta survived the ghetto for barely two weeks.

From that entry, the victims proceed – around 40 per page – for nearly 1,400 pages. Entire extended families are listed; children alongside parents and grandparents, the great and the good alongside the unremarkable and unexceptional. Many are listed simply as ‘declared dead’; others bear the euphemism “verschollen”, literally meaning ‘vanished’. A few are listed as “schicksal unbekannt”, ‘fate unknown’. There are 6 pages of ‘Abraham’s, 11 pages of ‘Hirsch’s, 12 pages of ‘Levy’s and 13 pages of ‘Wolff’s. The total number of victims listed is 55,696. The final entry is that of Leo Zyzman from Berlin, who was only just 16 when he was sent to Auschwitz in the autumn of 1942. It is a deeply moving and fitting memorial to a community annihilated.