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Already layed Stumbling Stones
Guy Mercier * 1921
Jessenstraße 1 (Technisches Rathaus) (Altona, Altona-Altstadt)
25. JULI 1943
BOMBEN AUF HAMBURG
DIESE ZWANGSARBEITER AUS
ER LEBTE IN
NIEUL SUR L’AUTIZE
further stumbling stones in Jessenstraße 1 (Technisches Rathaus):
Daniel Boutin, Camille Charpentier, Rene Deau, Marcel Jaulin, Alexandre Lambert, Andre Leger, Hilaire Mars, Rene Paris, Pierre Rambaud, Jean Rossignol, Roger Roulland, Pierre Trillaud
A la mémoire de
De Nieul sur l’Autize, Vendée, France
Déporté au Service du Travail Obligatoire
Le 28 juin 1943
Internat FF Norderstrasse 23
Altona – Hambourg
Meurt dans la nuit du 24-25 Juillet 1943
lors du premier bombardement de Hambourg par l’aviation Anglaise.
Son corps n’a jamais été retrouvé.
Mort pour la France
"Do not worry, there are many [air-raid] warnings but no plane ever flies over Hamburg.”
French forced laborers in the Norderstrasse camp
Stolpersteine in front of the Altona Technical City Hall [Technisches Rathaus Altona] at Jessenstrasse 1–3 in Altona-Altstadt
During the period of the French Vichy Regime, largely collaborating with the German Reich, that established itself after the French defeat against Germany in the Second World War, the German government demanded laborers from France. However, even though France was plagued by war-related unemployment, only few people volunteered for work duty in Germany. Working conditions in Germany had become known, and people had heard of poor nutrition and bad treatment. Even the "concession” of the German Wehrmacht to send French prisoners of war home in return did not serve as a motivation because it was known that prisoners of war were sent home anyway due to illness and age.
Only 17,000 French men and women followed the call for work made by the General Plenipotentiary for the War Effort, Fritz Sauckel.
The establishment of the Service du travail obligatoire, the compulsory work service, in Feb. 1943 in conjunction with a law passed by the Vichy government in 1942 that compelled men between 18 and 50 years as well as women between 21 and 35 years to work abroad, yielded a greater number of laborers for Germany. Overall, the Vichy government levied 600,000–650,000 laborers for Germany, of whom approx. 50,000 perished in Germany. In return, only approx. 100,000 French prisoners of war were sent home, far fewer than the agreed ratio of three forced laborers for one prisoner of war.
Many French decided to go underground and join the French Resistance or hide.
Late in the evening on 1 July 1943, 13 young French people from the Departement Vendée arrived in the forced labor camp on Norderstrasse (today Virchowstrasse) in Altona. They had followed the call-ups – often after lengthy reflection and discussions – according to the rules.
The complex of buildings at Norderstrasse 23 was a facility with infantry barracks on Norderstrasse, a dragoon barracks on Feldstrasse (today Eschelsweg), as well as smaller buildings on the inside. Built for the Danish army at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the facility was used as a retirement and infirmary as well as a "lunatic asylum.” From mid-1941 onward, the asylum was vacated to make room for people bombed out of their homes and eventually, for the quartering of forced laborers. The first group arrived in Apr. 1942. They were 450 young men from Ukraine. Until the very end, Ukrainians comprised the largest quota in this camp.
On the morning of 4 July 1943, the personal data of the French were recorded in the "house registration” card file (Hausmeldekartei) of Norderstrasse 23.
They quickly came together as a group; after all, the Catholic population of the Vendée traditionally had a close sense of togetherness. The new arrivals were assigned to perform unskilled labor in the port and some of them were placed with inland waterway carriers.
Even though there were frequent air-raid warnings in the nights ahead, the young men clung to the fact that Hamburg had been spared from severe air raids until then, hoping that things would remain that way.
However, in the night of 24 to 25 July, shortly after midnight, "Operation Gomorrah” started, a series of large-scale Allied attacks on Hamburg that continued in the following days and nights. The bombings resulted in approx. 34,000 deaths and the destruction of large parts of the eastern section of Hamburg. During this first night, the center of Altona was hit particularly hard, including the forced labor camp on Norderstrasse.
The camp did not feature any bunker, only basements that had been reinforced for air-raid defense. They did not stand up to the force of the raids and those having sought shelter in them were buried. The survivors worked their way out of the rubble with their hands. To this day, the exact number of casualties in this camp is not known. It is certain that 12 young French adults from the Vendée perished that night. One, Jean Rossignol, survived but died later of typhoid fever. They were born in the years 1921 and 1922, so they were in their early twenties when they lost their lives. Six of them were married and some of them had little children. All of them had started their working lives, as farmers, bricklayers, elementary school teachers, or fishermen.
In Altona, Stolpersteine were laid for the French forced laborers in Jan. 2013. This was the result of the initiative by a former French forced laborer, Louis Deslandes, who along with another forced laborer had only barely survived "Operation Gomorrha” in the forced labor camp on Norderstrasse in 1943. Injured, the two men had been picked up by the Hamburg merchant Hans L. Reineke, who together with his wife provided them with food, medicine, and shelter. Eventually, he wrote them a certificate of employment that certified that they were not deserters, thus helping them, via a stopover at the Bayer Company/Leverkusen, where they worked as well, to reach France, where they lived underground to see the end of the war and the liberation.
At an advanced age, in the fall of 2011, Louis Deslandes had contacted Hamburg’s First Mayor Olaf Scholz with a letter, asking him to commemorate in some way 13 of his French compatriots that had perished in the air raid. Olaf Scholz passed the letter on to the Altona District Assembly (Bezirksversammlung). This political body established a task force involving the political parliamentary parties in the Altona District Assembly, the Ottensen District Archive, the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial and Friends of the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial, Allee High School, and the Reineke family. This task force organized two memorial events. At the event in Jan. 2013, also attended by relatives of the forced laborers, a commemorative plaque and 13 Stolpersteine for the perished French forced laborers were dedicated on Jessenstrasse in front of the Altona Technical City Hall.
Jessenstrasse is not the site of the forced labor camp, which was located behind the Technical City Hall in the square area delimited by Virchowstrasse, Mörkenstrasse, Grotjahnstrasse, and Eschelsweg. The location on Jessenstrasse was chosen because today the actual site is a barely frequented industrial area.
These are the 13 French people commemorated:
Daniel Boutin, born on 13 Mar. 1922, from Fontenay le Comte, a blacksmith by trade, married with one daughter.
Camille Charpentier, born on 17 Nov. 1922, from Longéves, a farmer and unmarried.
René Deau, born on 20 Dec. 1921, from Beaulieu sous la Roche, an elementary school teacher who had got engaged on 24 June 1943, just before the start of his forced labor duty. In a letter to his family, he described the conditions in which the young men lived:
"Hamburg in July 1943. Dear Mom, dear Dad, dear brother, dear Godmother, dear Uncle,
I write to all of you at once, which is better and not so expensive. Things are going quite well here. Life meanders along boringly but it is definitely more taxing not to do anything at all than to work. There are nice moments but also severe beatings to endure. Just yesterday, we made grim faces because the food was greasy and inedible. Today, on the other hand, we were spoiled with an entire bowl of fried rice. That was astonishing, and with it came jam, white bread … You can believe me, that does really make a difference.
… We are not always welcome in the city, and sometimes people throw rocks and dirt at us and we cannot defend ourselves. However, on other occasions, the population is almost sympathetic to us.
… we had resolved to visit Europe’s finest zoo but the rain did not permit it, so we played cards instead. Where are the pleasant evenings in Beaulieu? I often have to think about it and then sadness takes hold of me. Why are we here, I ask myself, and if I had known what awaited us
… Today we did some work, we were supposed to restore the paint on a derrick. To say we had much to do would be a lie, but with a little work times passes more quickly.
… Do not worry, there are many [air-raid] warnings, for instance, four of them yesterday, but no plane ever flies over Hamburg. I have the impression that the British do not have enough planes to reach this city. Do not be scared for me, the worst that can happen to me is having to stay here for a long time, but God will protect me, for I resign myself entirely to His providence.”
Marcel Jaulin, born on 25 Nov. 1921, from Beaulieu sous la Roche, an elementary school teacher, married, his wife was pregnant with a son.
Alexandre Lambert, born on 15 Apr. 1921, from L´Aiguillon sur Mer, a fisherman and married.
André Léger, born on 19 Nov. 1922, from Fontenay le Comte, a lumberjack and farmer, married, his wife was pregnant with a daughter.
Hilaire Mars, born on 20 Nov. 1922, from Bourneau, a baker and unmarried.
Guy Mercier, born on 14 Apr. 1921, from Nieul sur L´Autize, an elementary school teacher and unmarried.
René Paris, born on 17 May 1921, from L´Aiguillon sur Mer, a fisherman and unmarried.
Pierre Rambaud, born on 20 Sept. 1922, from Fontaines, a bricklayer by trade and unmarried.
Jean Rossignol, born on 26 Feb. 1921 in L´Aiguillon sur Mer, a fisherman and unmarried. He died of typhoid fever in 1944 and was buried in the Ohlsdorf cemetery. After the war, his body was reburied in his hometown.
Roger Roulland, born on 14 Jan. 1921, also from L´Aiguillon sur Mer, a fisherman and unmarried.
Pierre Trillaud, born on 19 Dec. 1922, from Mervent, a forester, married and father of two children. His wife was pregnant with their third child, a son.
Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: April 2018
© Stephanie Faust, Gaby von Malottki
Quellen: StaH 332-8 Meldewesen (Straßenkartei der Hauskartei); Stadtteilarchiv Ottensen, Aufruf des Service Travail Obligatoire, übersetzt von Stephanie Faust; Deslandes, Nuit d‘enfer, S. 142ff. und 169; Informationen von Sielke Reineke; Bestand Stadtteilarchiv Ottensen, Chronik der Polizeiwache 71; Brief von Louis Deslandes vom 24.3.2011 und Brief von René Deau an die Familie (in Auszügen), Familienbesitz.