Berlin Graduate Students Research Holocaust Victims for Stolperstein Memorial

Fri, 04/29/2016 - 5:00pm

USC Shoah Foundation Teaching Fellows Alina Bothe and Gertrud Pickhan’s course “The Deportation of Polish Jews from Berlin in 1938” has led to another family learning its fate for the first time and receiving a special memorial called a “Stolperstein.”

Bothe and Pickhan’s course at Freie Universität Berlin focuses on the Polenaktion, the expulsion of 1,500 to 6,000 Jews from Berlin Oct. 27-30, 1938, who were then forced to go to Poland. Students research specific families, using the Visual History Archive and other records, to uncover what happened to them before, during and after the Polenaktion.

Last summer, one student from the course, Veronique Mickisch, was able to meet the family she researched at their home in New York. She also helped organize  “Stolpersteine” (“stumbling blocks”) for the family: engraved cobblestones bearing the names of the deceased family members laid outside their former home in Berlin, where they had been forced out during the Polenaktion.

Earlier this month, two more students were able to get Stolpersteine laid for the family they researched in Bothe and Pickhan’s course. Ada Rigacci and Anna Emelianova, both graduate students at Freie Universität Berlin, were assigned to research the Jedwab family.

While Bothe and Pickhan usually decide which families their students will research, retired minister Gerhard Hochhuth, who coordinates Stolpersteine in his neighborhood, reached out and asked if they could research three members of the Jedwab family who were deported.

Rigacci and Emelianova watched the Visual History Archive testimony of David Jedwab, who was sent to England on the Kindertransport in 1938. Through additional research at Berlin records offices and other sources, they discovered more about David’s parents and extended family. They found that while David and his sister were able to escape to England, most of the rest of the family died in the Lodz ghetto.

Bothe, Rigacci and Emelianova spoke at the ceremonial laying of four Stolpersteine for Simon, Cywia, Jacob and Josef Jedwab in front of the former Jedwab apartment, number 11 Maximilian Street, Berlin, on April 15. About 60 people attended the ceremony, including members of the Jedwab family who had never been to the building before.

“The ceremony was a wonderful occasion for us to meet the members of the family and to realize how important and moving the laying of the stumbling stone was not only for them, but also for us,” Rigacci said. “We were also really impressed by the interest and the sympathy shown by the neighborhood.”

Emelianova said members of her own family were forced to flee Ukraine during the Holocaust and not all of them survived. She understands how meaningful it is for family members to find out what happened to their ancestors and receive a memorial like a Stolperstein.

“On one side it is a celebration of the fact that the Jews in Germany and in other countries do not have to live in fear of a physical persecution anymore,” she said. “On the other side it is a strong reminder about that horrible time, which should prevent this fear from coming again.”