The Memories of the Holocaust in the Streets of Berlin

photo: Norman Poznan

How can you live in a building having such a history? One of my friends whatsapped me, after I told him about my neighbor, Flora Friedel Brandt. I get that a lot from people, how can I live in a city like Berlin, as a Jew, as an Israeli. How can I live in a city that didn’t want us before, that sent Flora away from here.

Flora Friedel Brandt was born as Flora Friedel Silber, on October 11, 1866. Flora was a Jew, a Berliner. Fire, she was living in Schöneberg in West Berlin. Then she moved to Wedding, “Little Turkey” of today. Finally, she had moved to Pappelallee 3 in Prenzlauer Berg at the east side of Berlin. Where she lived until Tuesday, June 16, 1942, when Nazi soldiers entered her building to take her. The soldiers evacuated Flora from her home, and sent her 260 kilometers south, to Theresienstadt Ghetto, in modern Czechoslovakia.

Theresienstadt Ghetto was flora’s new home for three months, until September 19, 1942. On that day, along with many other Jews, she was crammed into a beef freight train. The train was heading to a destination unknown to any of its passengers.

I find it hard to believe that Flora trusted the soldiers who told her she was heading to a new work camp, as she was boarding this crammed freight train, on a Saturday, going about 700 kilometers east, to the Treblinka Death Camp.

I also don’t know whether Flora died on the train, from the heat and crowdedness, like many other Jews, or was she able to survive the horrific ride, one month before turning 76, only to be murdered a few days later, naked, in the gas chambers.

The train on which Flora boarded was one of ten trains, which led 18 thousand Jews from Theresienstadt Ghetto to the Treblinka Death Camp. The Nazis murdered A total of 875 thousand people, from which 865 thousand were Jews, in a little more than a year, between July 1942 and October 1943.

You can easily get lost in this enormous pile of numbers. Within this ocean of death, it is super easy to have no recollection of names, of faces, of feelings.

The Stolpersteine project, initiated by Gunter Demnig in 1992, wishes to do the exact opposite. It wishes to give these immense numbers their lives again. Turning numbers into people, people into names and the names into personal stories of people, who once lived here are long gone. It makes us remember each and every one of the victims, individually, to commemorate all the victims the Nazi regime went out of its way to wipe their memories from the face of the earth, starting with their property, ending with their remains. Jews, Gipsies, Gays, Blacks, Jehovah’s Witnesses, German opposition, deserters, and disabled individuals. All were Berliners.

The project makes us meet each individual in the last location he was, from which they were taken to the concentration camps and to the death camps.  At the entrance of their place of residence or work, the stumble stones are laid at the entrance to each building. These state the person’s name maiden name and their name after marriage; their birth year; the date in which they were taken from that very location, and the name of the concentration camp they were sent to. At the bottom of the stone, you may also find the date and the name of the death camp they were sent to, where they were murdered by the Nazis.

These stones can be found in entrances to buildings in 22 European states. In Berlin alone, there are about 70 thousand stones, to commemorate 70 thousand individuals, Berliners.

One of these Berliners was Flora Friedel Brandt, who was living in Pappelallee 3, where I live today. For quite some time, I come across her each day, at least twice more than I come across any of my living neighbors. I know more about her than I know of them, even if it is from the little information the stone tells me.

“How can you live in a building having such a history?” One of the friends whatsapped me after I told him about my neighbor, Flora. Some of you also will ask me, after this column I post, how can I live in Berlin, a city with such history.

So, after all that, how can I live here? To be honest, I can. To be even more honest, I am proud to live in a building where human-like creatures took Flora away from. Taking her away because someone convinced them that she is no longer worthy to be living among them.

Hitler couldn’t stand Berlin, because in his times, much like today, it was a diverse city. A city for everyone mixed together. Working together, having fun together, living together.  Hitler and the ones that came after him don’t like us mixed together. It is far more difficult to “manage” our thoughts and to manipulate us when we stick together. We are much better servants when we are scared when we believe them when they tell us, we are better off and safer, apart.

From my home in Berlin, maybe more than anywhere else in the world, I am proud to be an Israeli, a Jew, a gay man, or any other title someone areas to give me, to think he can figure out who I am. Every day, I open the imaginary curtain of symbols separating me from others: Germans, Arabs, and other forms of the same thing, I feel I won over all things the Nazis believed in. Every day, as I work hard to figure out who is the person standing next to me, and end up hugging him, I know this is exactly the thing that the people who took away Flora, my neighbor from Pappelallee 3 didn’t want to happen anymore, here or anywhere in the world.

In Israel, we like to say “Never again” with reference to the Holocaust. My “never again” is not about making sure it will not happen to me ever again. It is about making sure flags, symbols and beliefs will never again come between me and the person next to me.

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Text: Chezy Menna

Chezy Menna is a storytelling mentor for personal business that wishes to become brands. He writes the successful column “Alone in Berlin” for the largest news portal in Israel, Ynet. This column is the English version of the column that was published in Israel for Holocaust Memorial Day. Follow Chezy Menna on Instagram.

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