Memorial dedicates itself to “relatively unknown chapter”

Memorial dedicates itself to 'relatively unknown chapter'

More than 17.000 Jews of Polish origin were deported to the German-Polish border by the National Socialists, including more than 400 Dusseldorfers. Their story is now told in an exhibition.

On a dark gray plaque, 441 names are written in white letters. The names of men, women and children who were killed in the night of 27. on the 28. October 1938, were dragged from their beds, taken to Dusseldorf police headquarters and deported the next day to Bentschen on the German-Polish border.

Special exhibition "In No Man’s Land

Among them were the Jews of Polish origin, Frieda and Simon Feiler, from Dusseldorf. They were deported to the German-Polish border area, the so-called no man’s land, because of diplomatic disagreements between the Polish state and the Nazi regime in Germany, as neither country wanted to be responsible for them. More than 17.000 people dubbed Ostjuden by the National Socialists were deported in the so-called Polenaktion, including thousands of Jews from the Rhineland, the Ruhr region and Westphalia.

The history of Dusseldorf’s eastern Jews is now the subject of the special exhibition "Im Niemandsland" ("In No Man’s Land") at the Mahn- und Gedenkstatte Dusseldorf (Dusseldorf Memorial). With pictures, letters, maps and graphics, it documents the deportation and the further life of the deported people, but also sheds light on the diplomatic background of the events. "We have the task of presenting and preparing this relatively unknown chapter in German history," curator Bastian Fleermann said Monday in Dusseldorf. Fleermann is aware of the profound significance of the events: "Without the Polish Action, the November Pogrom would not have taken place in this way."

"What became of the deportees?"

The event was known to them, but not the exact number of Dusseldorfers who were affected, adds his colleague Hildegard Jakobs. During their research, they found out that one-fifth of the Jewish community in Dusseldorf at the time was of Polish descent. Many of the deportees had never been to Poland themselves, or had Polish roots only through marriage. So also Frieda Feiler, who had married a man of Polish origin. "These people have been taken out of bed and in some cases didn’t even know why," Jakobs said.

In the exhibition room, a red line is drawn along the walls throughout the room, documenting the passage of time of the events. On it there are a total of 9 information boards, which deal with different aspects of the event. Among other things, the arrest, the deportation itself and the time at the German-Polish border are examined in more detail. Also looks at the political background of the Polish action and the institutions that prompted and organized the mass deportations. The last information panel asks the simple question, "What became of the deportees??"

Little exchange within families

The answer is as cruel as it is sobering. At least 222 of Dusseldorf’s eastern Jews were killed, only 119 survived the Holocaust, and for the remaining hundred, nothing is known about their whereabouts. The couple Feiler could save themselves, they fled to Warsaw and emigrated from there to Palestine. "At any rate, we are lucky," wrote Frieda Feiler on 12. November 1938 to her son Rolf, who managed to escape from Dusseldorf to Palestine just a few hours before the deportation of his parents.

Years later, a member of the Feiler family has now returned to Dusseldorf: Rolf Feiler’s daughter, Yael Feiler, traveled to the opening of the special exhibition on Monday evening to speak about the significance of the Polish Action for her family’s memory. She only began researching her family’s history in 2010. There had been little exchange on the subject with her father and grandmother themselves, Feiler said.

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