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Martin Starke * 1899
Grottenstraße 9 (Altona, Othmarschen)
Martin Starke, born 22 Dec. 1899, 10 Nov. 1938 to 8 Jan. 1939 imprisoned at Sachsenhausen concentration camp, 4 Nov. 1942 to 4 Feb. 1943 imprisoned at Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp, from Feb. 1943 Auschwitz concentration camp, from 6 Feb. 1945 Flossenbürg concentration camp, liberated 1945, died 11 Mar. 1957 in Hamburg
Martin Starke was born the son of the Jewish couple Carl and Cerline Starke, née Blättner, in Harburg. After elementary school, he attended middle school until his 14th birthday, and at the start of WWI he began an apprenticeship as a building and arts glazier. From Jan. 1916 to May 1919 he was a soldier and returned from the war with an Order of Merit. Three years ensued during which he worked as a trackman for the Reichsbahn railway where he trained to be a switchman. In 1922 he began working in the business of his future father-in-law who ran a state lottery collection. The same year Martin Starke married Ruth Bertha Speyer of Hamburg, with whom he had three daughters: Sulamith was born in 1924, Vera in 1928 and Irene Antoinette in 1937. In 1935 his girlfriend Käthe Goldschmidt had his illegitimate son. In the meantime Martin Starke had become an independent sales representative. From the beginning of 1930 he worked as a merchandise distributor at the company Theodor Clasen in Hamburg. After the National Socialists took power, however, his salary was curtailed. He was then dismissed in May 1934 due to his belonging to the social-democratic-oriented organization Reichsbanner and for "race-related” reasons. At the time, the family lived in the "Jewish quarter” in Grindel; Martin Starke’s culture tax card at the Jewish Community showed him at the addresses Grindelhof 43, on Harungstraße, at Schlüterstraße 80 and at Rutschbahn 26.
As a Jew and political opponent of the Third Reich, he remained unemployed until he took a job as a janitor for the administrative building of the Jewish Religious Association of Hamburg at Beneckestraße 2 in Nov. 1935. The Starke Family moved into a basement apartment there mid 1935. Like many Jewish men, he was detained in the wake of the night of the pogrom and was imprisoned at Sachsenhausen concentration camp from 10 Nov. 1938 to 8 Jan. 1939.
The systematic deportation of Hamburg’s Jews to the East began in Oct. 1941. As janitor and staff member of the Jewish Community, Martin Starke was present at the large-scale transports and participated substantially in their organization, equipping deportation trains with mattresses, buckets and pots of water for drinking and washing, hygiene articles and medication, and he ensured the transports were supplied with food packages.
He was denounced on 4 Nov. 1942. According to his son’s account, he violated the rules by leaving the "Jewish quarter” at night. Stealing a motorcycle, he rode to the Harburg hills to shoot game, as he had often done in the past to provide his family and friends with meat. He had also pilfered food from stores and dairy shops now and again for himself and Jewish friends.
Martin Starke was detained at the Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp until 4 Feb. 1943. From there he was transported on 5 Feb. 1943 to Berlin, where he spent 16 days in quarantine, then to Wroclaw, Oppeln and Bromberg, ultimately reaching Auschwitz. There he learned from a fellow prisoner that his family had been removed from the "Jewish house” at Beneckestraße 2 on 12 Feb. and deported to Auschwitz extermination camp. Immediately upon arrival, his wife and six-year-old daughter Irene Antoinette were selected for the gas chamber. His daughters Sulamith and Vera went on foot to Birkenau women’s camp. He made inquiries, but he would never see them again either.
At the Restitution Office after the war, Martin Starke only gave a brief account of abuses in Auschwitz, like "beatings with a stick, hanging from a stake, standing cell, doghouse, blows to the body, slaps in the face on a daily basis and much more”. He described the Auschwitz "hell” in greater detail in 1947 in a report for friends and acquaintances in South America. He survived forced labor in various work squads, "worse than slave labor during the darkest days of slavery,” he helped build the crematoriums and camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau. "There we came close to believing there is no god, it’s impossible to imagine anything worse.”
As a secret witness he experienced a mass shooting in the winter of 1944 when one transport followed after another. Prisoners had to dig long pits outside of the camp. "Then came the horror. From the roof of a crematorium on which I was still working with two companions, I saw something I will never be able to erase from my memory. Men, women and children had to take off all their clothes in the bitter cold and were driven into the pits with leather whips, and then the SS shot them with machine guns. How the people fell, dead or wounded, they were thrown into the pits and covered with hard clumps of dirt. When it was over, the ground on top of the buried rose and sank. Many of them were still alive.”
Martin Starke survived forced labor in Buna, the work camp of IG-Farben Works, survived the Russian bombardments, barely avoided execution after a failed attempt at escape because he saved the life of an SS Untersturmführer during a bombardment. He also survived the punishment battalion in the Polish mine Fürstengrube, the death march to Gleiwitz following the evacuation of the camp on 17 Feb. 1945 and the subsequent two-week-long odyssey in the middle of winter on open coal cars through Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, all the way to Berlin, the transport to Flossenbürg near Bayreuth, the work squad in Plattling in Lower Bavaria and a further death march in the direction of Austria, until he was liberated by the Americans near the Austrian border.
"Free!!! But I didn’t understand it until much later. There were cigarettes – a pleasure we had long gone without. The troops had brought medics with them. The sick, including me, were put into the cars and we were driven to paradise. A large tent had been pitched on a field in the snow. Clean beds with white sheets waited for us there. Gas heaters radiated a cozy heat, we were addressed by our last name, in the formal manner. The dirtiest, lice-infested prison clothes fall off. A naked, helpless human being is placed in a warm bath in a rubber tub by gentle hands and bathed like a baby, delicately dried off, wrapped in a towel and put into a white bed. A doctor comes, a barely noticeable prick, and everything sinks into a fog. How long I slept, that first time in years so relaxed and relieved, I have no idea. The first food I received when I woke up was a slice of roasted white bread. We were allowed to eat slowly. Every bite had to be chewed slowly. Then we were weighed. I weighed 35 kilos (77 lbs) at a height of 1.85 meters (6ft 1in). You had to see it to believe it. During the first days we slept, always only slept. That’s how we, the last of Buna, regained our freedom and gradually our lives.”
After his stay at the field hospital of an American unit, the march back to Hamburg followed. Martin Starke arrived in Hamburg in mid June 1945. From 1947 he lived in Groß Flottbek where he was an employee at various government agencies and finally at the Altona District Office where he worked in the Blankenese Housing Department. In 1948 and 1949 he was a witness in the trial of a Gestapo officer, he testified at the Auschwitz trial in Dortmund. In 1950 he married Käthe Goldschmidt who had survived the Theresienstadt Ghetto and lived with her, their son Pit Goldschmidt, born in 1935, and his sister-in-law Erna Goldschmidt at Grottenstraße 9 in Othmarschen. He suffered from heart problems, one of the consequences of the 44 months of imprisonment in the concentration camps. On 11 Mar. 1957 he died at the age of 58.
The Stolperstein for Martin Starke (his wife Käthe and his sister-in-law Erna Goldschmidt) was laid by the artist Gunter Demnig as an exception due to the severity of their fate.
Translator: Suzanne von Engelhardt
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: April 2018
© Birgit Gewehr
Quellen: 1; 4; StaH 351-11 Amt für Wiedergutmachung, 22550 (Starke, Martin); Bericht über seine Schreckensjahre in den Konzentrationslagern Fuhlsbüttel und Auschwitz/ Privatbesitz Pit Goldschmidt, in: Meyer (Hrsg.), Die Verfolgung, S. 124 ff.; Gespräch mit Pit Goldschmidt, 7.10.2007.
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