The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Deportation of Polish Jews Living in Germany

"Not only in Germany was anti-semitism increasing. On 6 October the Polish Government had gone so far as to revoke all Polish passports if their bearers had lived abroad for more than five years. The order was to come into force on 31 October. It meant that at least 15,000 Polish Jews resident in Germany would cease to be Polish citizens on the last day of October.

"The Germans were in a dilemma. They did not want 15,000 stateless Jews in their midst: people whom, it was clear from the Evian Conference, almost no country would be prepared to admit. They therefore told the Poles that these Jews would be expelled unless Poland formally agreed to allow them to return whenever they chose. On 27 October the Poles refused to accept these conditions. In only four days, the Jews they did not want would cease to be Polish citizens.

"The Poles were prepared to wait until 31 October. The Germans were not. That same evening the order went out from Berlin: all Jews with Polish passports were to be expelled within forty-eight hours. The method chosen: deportation by train.

"The trains were to depart at eleven on the following night. They were to have locked doors and armed guards. Accross the Reich - in Berlin, Essen, Stuttgart, Bochum, Dortmund, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Cologne, Hanover, Hamburg and Vienna - the trains were made ready. As for the Jews, they were first to be arrested, then taken to local police stations, and then moved in trucks and lorries to the railway stations. A witness of their plight was Ottilie Schoenwald, a leading member of the Jewish community of Bochum, herself a German citizen. As she recalled:

"It was a freezing October day. As if adhering to Jewish tradition, the trouble began on the eve, not in the evening, but in the afternoon. The doorbell rang constantly. Our library was soon teeming with a complete cross-section of the Congregation. Amid the confusion of voices and stories I could not tell what had happened.

"'All Jews from the east are to be arrested.'

"In Hanover, among those caught up in the deportaton order, was a Polish-born tailor, Sendal Grynszpan. He had lived in Hanover since 1911, with his wife and children. He later recalled 'It was a Thursday, 27 October 1938. A policeman knocked on our door and told us to report to the police station with our passports. He said, `Don't bother to take anything else, you'll be right back.' When we reached the police station, my wife, my daughter, my son Marcus and myself, we saw a number of people sitting or standing. Some were weeping. The police inspector was shouting at the top of his voice, `Sign here, you are being deported.' I had to sign like everyone else.

"`We were taken to the concert hall beside the Leine, where about 600 people were assembled from various parts of Hanover. We were kept there for about twenty-four hours until Friday night, when police vans took us, about twenty at a time, to the station. The streets of Hanover teemed with people shouting 'Send the Jews to Palestine.''

"That night thousands of Jewish men were arrested, and their wives and children ordered to join them at the station on the following day. Ottilie Schoenwald's account continued:

"Early next morning we carried our provisions to the prison. We simply marched past the speechless guards straight into the courtyard where the poor Jews had been lined up just as we arrived. The guard on duty, whom I knew, advised me to distribute the food at the station. He offered to carry the steaming boiler in his own car.

"A crowd of shouting and weeping women and children was already assembled at the station. In the square outside trucks unloaded their unhappy passengers. Bochum was the assembly point for the surrounding villages. ...

"The stationmaster informed me that the special train would not leave before eleven that evening.

"All over Germany, the stationmasters made ready to organize the deportation trains, helped in their task by the Gestapo, and as the trains pulled out the stationmasters reported their success to the authorities. The stationmaster in Hanover reported that all had proceeded without a hitch. As he told the Gestapo:

"Special train SPECIAL HANOVER 4199 made up at 19.30 - about two hours before departure. Consisting of 14 well-lit carriages each with 55 seats, of which 35 to 40 were occupied.

"The departure of the Jews, carrying large quantities of hand luggage, proceeded on platform 5, which had been closed to the public before the train was assembled. The Jews were allowed to purchase food and tobacco.

"The special train departed on schedule at 21.40 from track 11, platform 5." (Gilbert, 18-20)

Work Cited

Gilbert, Martin. Final Journey: The Fate of the Jews in Nazi Germany. New York: Mayflower Books, 1979

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