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Heinz Becher * 1919
Beim Andreasbrunnen 9 (Hamburg-Nord, Eppendorf)
Heinz Becher, born on 30 Dec. 1919 in Hamburg, deported on 1 Mar. 1943 from Paderborn to Auschwitz, killed there on 1 June 1943
Beim Andreasbrunnen 9
Heinz Becher was the youngest son of Gertrud (see corresponding entry) and Martin Becher. We know nothing about his childhood and schooldays. The occupation listed on his Jewish religious tax (Kultussteuer) card file kept by the Jewish Community since 1936 is "commercial apprentice” ("kaufmännischer Lehrling”) with the A. Krause und Co. exporting company. In 1938/1939, Heinz decided to prepare for emigration to Palestine and moved to the Urfeld hachshara Center near Bonn. At this location, the Zionist Organization of Germany (Zionistische Vereinigung für Deutschland) had rented a spacious country house. Since the site did not include any arable land, during the day the pioneers would work on the neighboring family farms "that operated a vegetable cultivation highly advanced for the times, based on rational and progressive principles,” as Norbert Zerlett put it in his article on the Urfeld "preparatory” school.
Concerning life at the Center, exemplary for institutions of this kind, he continues, "The evening was used for group lessons in history, agricultural knowledge, philosophy, and language courses in Hebrew. Camp life was deliberately tough and straining; meager food rations consisting of rye bread, sugar beet syrup, and coffee without milk and sugar, only few woolen blankets on hard beds. The idea was to acquaint the young people already at Urfeld with the difficult conditions that probably … would await them in Palestine. … At the time, the German economy gradually edged toward full employment, which meant that … the young people were sought-after as a supply of good labor. [They] were not allowed to accept food at the farm operations training them, though nevertheless eating their fill on occasion behind the camp leader’s back in order to stand the hard work.” In the following years, a total of 130 young people underwent training at Urfeld, always 20 to 25 at a time for one to two years. As soon as the entry visas for the country of destination were available, the training was ceased and the emigration initiated.
Zerlett goes on, "9 Nov. 1938 marked the end of relative tolerance by the Nazi rulers. Four SS men forcibly entered, windowpanes and dishes were smashed, doors, furniture, and home furnishings destroyed. The four were confronted by the Doering couple [then owners of the country house], courageously, shouting vehemently, and raising the objection that the country house was their property and did not belong to Jews. … Meanwhile, all Jewish residents of the home kept in hiding … Several young men in the basement … listened in on every word of the conversation. After this incident, everyone believed that for the Urfeld training site, the terror had been fended off for good and that everything was resolved. However, a few hours later in the dark of night, two trucks arrived loaded with people from villages in the surrounding area … They probably acted on their own initiative, and very likely had no connection to the previous SS detachment. [The men] forcibly entered the home, again starting the work of destruction. The residents took flight and once more found shelter in the basement of the gardener’s cottage of the Doering family [as well as with another neighbor]. Yet again, the Doering couple confronted the intruders and protected their property.” In the weeks following, many trainees left Urfeld. The assaults described here resembled what happened at other hachshara training sites. Whether Heinz experienced them at Urfeld or whether he lived at the center only after these incidents is not known.
Probably his planned emigration to the British Mandate of Palestine failed due to the start of the war, as he received his tax clearance certificate in Aug. 1939. In the document, he is designated as a salaried employee, which means he had completed his training by then. In his declaration of assets, he put "none” under each of the fields indicating "cash,” "credit balance,” "securities,” "real estate,” etc.; under "precious metals,” he listed two sets of silverware as well as "small items with an individual weight of up to 40 g, overall weight under 200 g (silver).”
In Sept. 1939, Heinz’ mother, Gertrud Becher, listed expenses for a household of two in a letter to the foreign currency office at the Office of the Chief Finance Administrator (Oberfinanzpräsidium), so probably he lived with her at that time. In Oct. 1939, he then moved to the hachshara center in Paderborn. On 15 Oct. 1939, he registered with the municipal authorities.
The Jewish retraining and deployment camp on Grüner Weg in Paderborn was established in the summer of 1939 because after the Pogrom of November 1938, the number of new applications for emigration rose and additional places were needed. At this location, too, the aim was to retrain participants and accustom them to physical labor. However, they did not work in agriculture but laid out a park, among other things, constructed an open-air theater and a game enclosure, or were busy clearing snow and picking ice in the winter. Israel Loewenstein, a former resident of this camp, who was deported to Auschwitz together with Heinz Becher, described in an interview the young people’s attitude there. For his part, he came from a poor family but there were also adolescents with rich parents: "We were … all equal, no matter where we came from. Our madrichim, the educators, said to us, ‘In Palestine, the Arab fellah, the farmer, is closer to us than the Jewish capitalist.’ No one asked who our parents were but only what can you do, what kind of person are you?” Heinz also served as a "madrich,” a teacher, in his spare time.
In her book entitled Ein Auge gen Zion … ("An eye toward Zion …"), Margit Naarmann provides a graphic portrayal of life in the camp: "Going on hachshara … meant at the same time a spiritual orientation of one’s life. Life [there] was formative for most of them. They had learned to stick together, to give fresh courage to each other. … The group spirit was so strong that most adolescents opted for the group when the problem arose whether to set out on the deportation with the parents.”
In July 1941, the training kibbutz was converted, like all other hachshara centers that still existed, into a "labor camp” controlled by the Gestapo, though without police guards. Except for going to the doctor’s or to work, the young people were no longer allowed to come and go as they pleased. About 70 boys and 30 girls lived in the four shacks. In the mornings, the young men had to line up for roll call to go to work at the municipal fleet of vehicles, where they were divided up for street cleaning and other duties. In particular, garbage collection with horse-drawn carts was very dirty and strenuous work. Private companies, too, requested camp occupants for, among other things, unloading coal from freight cars, for excavating a fire-fighting water storage pool, and for working at a jam factory and other companies. "The living conditions were tough, we worked hard and were hungry because as Jews we were not entitled to many food products.
Despite the heavy labor, intensive cultural work was performed at the camp. … I believe that in the entire greater Germany of the Nazi period, there was no place that could compare to [us] in its wealth and liveliness from a political and cultural perspective. We learned to be proud Jews, free in spirit within an ocean of hatred. We learned Hebrew, Judaica, philosophy, literature, and the history of Socialist movements,” recalls former camp occupant Horst Efraim Goldschmidt from Berlin.
Unanimously, the survivors report that there were people in Paderborn who slipped something to eat to them. Instances of harassment, they said, never occurred either in the "city of churches and monasteries.” By comparison to what was in store for them later, the situation was quite bearable.
At the end of Feb. 1943, the dissolution began. All Jews in the administrative district were subjected to an occupational ban; a police sentry now guarded the camp. Peter Wolff, a survivor, remembers: "We [were] all ordered to report … to the train station with light luggage on 1 Mar. 1943. It was clear to us that we were scheduled for deportation to the east for work detail. Since we … were accustomed to hard physical labor, there was thus no reason for worry or panic on that score. … I was actually concerned not to miss the train.”
From Paderborn, the journey went by train to Bielefeld, from where the group was transported onward in cattle cars. Ernest Michel, another former fellow sufferer of Heinz Becher, remembers the trip: "The local police locked 50 of us into two cattle cars, men and women mixed. The cars were completely bare. There was no straw. Simply nothing. … After a long wait … the train started moving, slowly its journey began, loaded with its intimidated human freight. After a mere two days, all provisions were used up. … The stench of urine and excrement became unbearable. … You stood, you sat. There was not enough space to lie down. … More terrible than the hunger was the thirst. Not a single drop of water was available.”
The end of the road was Auschwitz. Nearly the entire group – including Heinz – was transferred to Buna-Monowitz, where a new labor camp was under construction. His prisoner number was 104,899. The records from Auschwitz indicate that he was transported to Block 19 in Auschwitz 1 on 31 May 1943. He died on 1 June 1943. From the Paderborn group, eleven boys and three girls survived the hell that was the next two years. They report unanimously that the strong bond between them, which lasts to this very day, was decisive for their survival.
Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
© Sabine Brunotte
Quellen: 1; StaH 314-15 OFP, R 1939/746; StaH 314-15 OFP, 1938/748; Verzeichnis Hamburger Börsenfirmen (abgeschl. Mitte Feb. 1933); Auskunft Israel Loewenstein, E-Mails vom 13.7.2009 und 18.7.2009; telefonische Auskunft Peter Offenborn vom 20.7.2010; Zerlett, "Vorbereitungs"-Schule, in: Linn, Juden 1983; Interview mit Israel Loewenstein in "zeichen" Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste e.V., Nr. 4 2009; Naarmann, Ein Auge, 2000.
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