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Benno Kesstecher * 1917

Grindelhof 30 (TTS) (Eimsbüttel, Rotherbaum)

1944 KZ Neuengamme
1938 Flucht nach Belgien


further stumbling stones in Grindelhof 30 (TTS):
Dr. Walter Bacher, Emil Emanuel Badrian, Asriel Brager, Ilse Brager, Sally Brager, Dr. Joseph Carlebach, Dr. Hermann Freudenberger, Josua Falk Friedlaender, Julius Hamburger, Walter Nathan Herz, Bertha Hirsch, Leopold Hirsch, Dr. Alberto Jonas, Heinz Leidersdorf, Richard Levi, Emil Nachum, Mathias Stein, Artur Toczek

Benno Kesstecher, born on 20 Mar. 1917 in Cologne, flight to Belgium in 1938, died in the spring of 1945 near Hannover-Linden

Grindelhof 30 (TTS – Talmud Tora School)

In front of the gate of the former Jewish Talmud Tora School at Grindelhof 30, 18 Stolpersteine were laid on 10 June 2007. They commemorate the murdered teachers and staff as well as the more than 300 Jewish schoolchildren in Hamburg who became victims to National Socialism. Among them is a Stolperstein in memory of the Jewish teacher Benno Kesstecher.

Benno Kesstecher was born in Cologne but had Polish citizenship. He remained unmarried all his life.

The Kesstecher family lived in Pantaleonstrasse 11 in the southern part of Cologne’s historic downtown. The parents, Samuel Kesstecher (born on 16 Jan. 1888 in Staroniewa) and Berta, also known as "Blume,” née Glatt (born on 31 Oct. 1890 in Rudnik), ran a canvas shop located at their residential address. A relative who filled out a Page of Testimony for him at the Yad Vashem memorial site called Samuel a "merchant and poet.”

In Cologne, Benno attended the reform-oriented Jawne high school (Reformgymnasium Jawne) up to the second last grade (Unterprima). In 1934, he moved to Hamburg to attend the Talmud Tora School, where he graduated from high school in Mar. 1936. Linguistically very talented, he would have liked to study literature. However, due to the Nuremberg race laws, which had been in force since 1935, he was not allowed to do so. Therefore, he went to Würzburg and from 1936 to the spring of 1938, he trained as a teacher at the local Israelite teacher training college (Israelitische Lehrerbildungsanstalt). In addition to his studies, he attended rabbinical seminars and published essays as well as literary contributions in various Jewish newspapers. In Mar. 1938, his collection of poems entitled Die Wunderleiter was published by Joachim Goldstein Publishers. He may have inherited his poetic talent from his father.

On 1 May 1938, Benno Kesstecher took up a position at the Jewish religious community of Edenkoben/Weinstrasse as a teacher and cantor of the Israelite religious communities of the northern Palatinate. However, only a few months later, he moved to Hamburg to work as a teacher at the Talmud Tora School. On 6 Sept. 1938, he took up teaching as a substitute for Ernst Mayer, who had "exited.” He also worked as an interpreter. At that time, he lived at Bornstrasse 6b. His monthly income was 200 RM (reichsmark).

After only a few weeks, he had to give up his job. In Oct. 1938, he left the Talmud Tora School. In his personnel file, the reason given was "emigration.” A female friend of the family, Nomi Kameras, reported in 1961 as part of the restitution proceedings (Wiedergutmachungsverfahren) that Benno had fled to Cologne in Oct. 1938, when the expulsions of Polish Jews from Germany began. However, even there he could not stay long, because the violent riots against Jews increased during the November Pogrom of 1938.

While Benno Kesstecher already fled to Belgium during the night of 9 to 10 Nov. 1938, his parents Samuel and Blume followed in Aug. 1939. Little is known about Benno’s whereabouts in Belgium. On 4 Jan. 1941, he was arrested and first taken to Genk (Limburg Province) to a camp at Steenbeukstrasse 20. This happened in the course of an "Ordinance on Police Measures in Certain Areas of Northern France” dated 12 Nov. 1940. About three years later, on 29 Mar. 1944, Benno Kesstecher was taken to the Belgian SS collection camp (Mechelen, Malines) in the Kazerne Dossin. Six days later, on 4 Apr. 1944, he was deported from there to Auschwitz.

He remained in Auschwitz until 6 May 1944, when he was transferred to the Laurahütte subcamp in Upper Silesia. This camp, used for the production of anti-aircraft guns, was operated by Berghütte Königs-Bismarckhütte AG. Shortly before the liberation by the Allies on 24 Jan. 1945, the camp was evacuated and Benno Kesstecher was transferred to the Mauthausen concentration camp. His prisoner number there was 122,918. Later he was taken to the Gusen subcamp 4.5 kilometers (almost 3 miles) away, where he remained from 31 Jan. 1945 to 2 Feb. 1945. This was followed by transfer to a subcamp of the Neuengamme concentration camp, Hannover-Mühlenberg (Linden). There he worked as a lathe operator until Mar. 1945.

According to a certificate of inheritance dated 11 Aug. 1961, Benno Kesstecher died in Linden on 8 May 1945.

According to other sources, he died at the beginning of March, but he was declared dead only as of 8 May. He is said to have been shot by the Nazis when the camp was disbanded or to have died earlier as a result of weakness and exhaustion. He was probably buried near the camp, which was located on Hameler Chaussee.

Benno’s parents, Samuel and Blume Kesstecher, were also arrested in Belgium and taken to the SS concentration camp in Mechelen/Malines – Samuel on 7 Oct. 1942, Blume on 16 Oct. 1942. Samuel Kesstecher was deported to Auschwitz on 10 Oct. 1942. This transport reached Auschwitz-Birkenau on 12 October. However, all men capable of working had to leave the train at Kosel station located 80 kilometers (nearly 50 miles) from Auschwitz and they were distributed from there to various forced labor detachments. This probably included Samuel Kesstecher. Blume Kesstecher was assigned to the transport from Mechelen to Auschwitz-Birkenau on 24 Oct. 1942, which reached the concentration camp two days later. The subsequent course of Samuel and Blume Kesstecher’s lives is unknown. Blume was probably murdered in Auschwitz.

Benno Kesstecher had two siblings who both survived the Shoah. His brother Moses, born on 29 Sept. 1914, learned the merchant’s trade and later emigrated to Chicago in the USA. There he became an American citizen, henceforth calling himself Moe Kester. His sister Helmine, called Hella, born on 29 Apr. 1920, emigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine and later became an Israeli citizen. Through marriage, she changed her last name to Leschziner. She was a child care assistant by profession and had a child of her own.

The following poem is from Benno Kesstecher’s volume of poems entitled Die Wunderleiter:

When children go ... (Wenn Kinder gehen …)
When children go and leave all this,
That once was their life, their possession, their being –
And one last time with their glance embrace
The table, the chair, the chest, and the shrine –
And one last time behold in the alleyways
The old houses and the stone watering through –:
Then it seems like none of this ever happened,
A fairy tale picked up at night in dreams.

When children go – on a quiet evening –
A train screeches – and smoke – and a distant sound,
And mothers, burying their heads in grief,
Look how one looks into a distance, emptiness –
And then – having in blessed memory one more time
The child’s smile – when morning breaks,
They face the day they don’t understand,
Who see only the dream and not the life...

When children go and a world goes extinct.
Then life keeps silent for one breath,
And becomes a picture and a flight of birds
Over gardens that, like a poem,
Once bloomed when they were carried in the heart.
Now it is autumn ... And dull is the weight
That big with fate dealt a blow against this life...
The mother asks – but no answer does she have...

Wenn Kinder gehn und alles dies verlassen,
Das einst ihr Leben war, ihr Gut, ihr Sein –
Und noch einmal mit einem Blick umfassen
Den Tisch, den Stuhl, die Truhe und den Schrein –
Und einmal noch erblicken in den Gassen
Die alten Häuser und den Brunnenstein –:
Dann scheint es, als sei all dies nie gewesen,
Ein Märchen, nachts im Traume aufgelesen.

Wenn Kinder gehen – an einem leisen Abend –
Ein Zug schrillt auf – und Rauch – und ferner Laut,
Und Mütter, ihren Kopf im Gram vergrabend,
Schaun, wie man in ein Fernes, Leeres schaut –
Und dann – in seliger Erinnerung noch einmal habend
Das Kindeslächeln – wenn der Morgen graut,
Stehn sie dem Tag gegenüber, den sie nicht verstehn,
Die nur den Traum und nicht das Leben sehn …

Wenn Kinder gehn, und eine Welt erlischt.
Dann schweigt das Leben einen Atemzug,
Und wird zum Bilde und zum Vogelflug
Hin über Gärten, die, wie ein Gedicht.
Einst blühten, als man sie im Herzen trug.
Nun ist es Herbst … Und dumpf ist das Gewicht,
Das schicksalsschwer auf dieses Leben schlug …
Die Mutter fragt – doch Antwort weiß sie nicht …))

Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

© Christina Janssen, Sarah Puhlmann, Esther Harning, Ulrike Sparr, Frauke Steinhäuser

Quellen: 1; 2; 4; 8; StaH 351-11 Amt für Wiedergutmachung 41936; StaH 361-3 Schulwesen – Personalakte A 1392; E-Mail Auskunft von Dorien Styven, Kazerne Dossin – Mahnmal, Museum und Dokumentationszentrum, vom 20.9.2016; Randt: Talmud-Tora-Schule; Wamser/Weinke (Hrsg.): Eine verschwundene Welt, S. 319f. Darin findet sich auch ein Nachdruck der Gedichte "Der Auswanderer" und "Wenn Kinder gehen …" aus Benno Kesstecher, Die Wunderleiter. Gedichte, Berlin 1938; "Einsetzung eines neuen Lehrers für die Gemeinde Edenkoben und für die Nordpfalz", in: Jüdisches Gemeindeblatt für das Gebiet der Rheinpfalz, 1.5.1938, online: (letzter Aufruf: 12.9.2016); (letzter Aufruf: 6.10.2016).
Zur Nummerierung häufig genutzter Quellen siehe Link "Recherche und Quellen".

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