Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
February 27, 1943 in Berlin marked the beginning of what came to be known as Fabrikaktion (Großaktion Juden was the name implemented by the Nazi administration and its minions).
This mass raid and round-up of all remaining living Jews in Berlin – almost all of whom were slave labourers in Germany´s armament industry – was a direct result of the order issued by Hitler in September 1942: all Jewish slaves workers should be replaced by force workers of other ethnic background.
All those aware of the order knew that the Berlin Jews were thus sentenced to death. Special railway transports, Osttransporte, were to transfer them to Eastern Europe: to the ghetto in Riga and the death camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Hitler demanded the deed be done by the end of March.
At the beginning of 1943 Berlin records included entries for some 15,000 Jewish slave workers – those records were kept by the Zentraledienststelle für Juden beim Arbeitsamt, Central Job Office for Jews, in Fontanepromenade 15 in Berlin-Kreuzberg. Thanks to their mercilessly impeccable book-keeping, the Nazis were able to trace down almost every single Jew still alive in Berlin: be it the workers themselves or their families.
During the raid on February 27, 1943 they managed to arrest around 8,000 people who were immediately transported to one of the six “collection points”: in Konzerthaus Clou, Zimmerstraße (former Markthalle III, it survived the WWII), at the Hermann-Göring-Kaserne in Reinickendorf (now Bundeswehr´s Julius-Leber-Kaserne), at the stables of army barracks in Rathenower Straße in Moabit, at the synagogue in Levetzowstraße in Moabit and at the Jewish Old Pensioners House in Große Hamburger Straße in Mitte. The sixth location was the building of the Jewish Community in Rosenstraße, Berlin-Mitte.
That last place went down in history as “Rosenstraße Protests” when non-Jewish spouses of the arrested Jews, until February 1943 tolerated as “Mischehen” (mixed couples), successfully protested the arrests and had some of their husbands released again (25 were released from the arrest and 35 were actually brought back from Auschwitz, while over 1,800 men, women and children were transported to the Nazi death camps from this Sammelstelle only…)
Over two-thirds of those arrested during the Berlin Fabrikaktion of 1943 and sent to the Nazi death-camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau in occupied Poland were killed immediately upon arrival. Most of them were women and children: from 8-week-olds babies to their grandmothers.
As much as it is important to give each of them a name, it is not possible to do so here in this post. But, following the wisdom of the Talmud, if saving one life means saving an entire world, then calling out one name will call out all of them. So let me speak out the name of a two-year-old Berl Eisenstaedt, son of Käthe and Kurt Eisenstädt, of Hoffmannstraße 9 (now Erkelenzdamm) in Berlin-Kreuzberg.
Berl and his parents were arrested during the Fabrikaktion in February 1943, only two weeks after Berl´s 2nd birthday on February 6th. Both he and his mother were sent to Auschwitz – along with other 1,754 men, women and children on the list for that day – on one of the first of the six Osttransporte between March 1st and March 12th that year (it was the 32nd Oststransport organised by the Nazis since the beginning of the war…)
Little Berl and his mother, Käthe Eisenstaedt, died in a gas chamber immediately after their arrival in Auschwitz on March 2nd, 1943. The Nazis referred to the procedure as “Sonderbehandlung”, or special treatment.
In 2012, after stumbling upon his name in the old Jewish records of Berlin-Kreuzberg, my family and I decided that it was time his name were remembered again and arranged for a Stolperstein to be placed in front of his house. A Stoperstein, literally a “stumbling stone”, is a small metal block sunk in the pavement next to a house where a Jewish victim of the Nazi regime lived before and/or during the war and naming the person as well as the dates of their birth and death (if available).
Coincidentally, in March 2013 and shortly before the Stolperstein was to be installed in today´s Erkelenzdamm 9, we learnt that somebody else arranged for his parents to be commemorated in the same way.
In this way, in what was a complete accident, the boy was re-united with his parents.
So whenever you see any of these small metal blocks in the pavement, treat them with respect, do not step on them. Rather, stop and pay your respect. Those are, after all, the only graves, the only mention of their name that most of those people will ever have.