I came to know Neuendorf as a part of the family history research. Neuendorf was the last Zionist Hachshara camp where Rulf, the brother of my grandmother stayed, before he was deported to Auschwitz. The importance of this camp is huge. Very little is known about the role of the Hachshara camps in the Zionist movement in Germany, and now we have a chance to save it, with the help of dear friends, Stella and Benno:
© Written by Stella Hindemith & Benno Plassmann
Set in the East-German countryside half-way between Berlin and the Polish border is Neuendorf. From the late 1920s Neuendorf was an important center of Jewish self-organisation, mutual support, and resistance at first in times of economic hardship, and then of persecution by the German authorities.
Before the onset of Nazi dictatorship in 1933 there were about 30 Jewish youth education centers throughout Germany. There is hardly any research into their history, however, it is clear that not all of them served as places to prepare young people for emigration or Aliyah. They also served as places where young unemployed Jews had a chance to learn useful skills in economically difficult times, be it after World War I or during the Great Depression. They were run not only by either religious or overtly Zionist organisations, but also by the Jewish boy scout movement or philanthropic foundations such as the Jewish gardening school in Ahlem near Hanover founded by Moritz Simon in 1893. After 1933 these education centers were transferred to the responsibility of the so-called Palestine office in the Reichsvereinigung der Juden (the federation of all Jewish organisations in the Reich enforced by the Nazi Government). From then on, in the spirit of the Zionist Hachsharah movement, all these Jewish youth education centers worked to teach young people skills important for emigration; many of them were able to reach Palestine, England, Sweden, or South America. In 1936 there were 139 Hachsharah centers in Germany with more than 5.000 people working and learning there. By 1938 these numbers had fallen to 32 centers with about 1.300 people. In 1941 also the last available forms of training for Jews were forbidden by the Nazi authorities, and the centers had to close down.
Neuendorf is a typical example for these developments and central for the history of Zionist youth movements in Germany. After its philanthropic Jewish owner Hermann Müller had passed management of the Estate to the Berlin-based Jewish workers support association in the early 1930s, mainly unemployed young men could live, work and learn there. In 1937 Neuendorf also officially became a Hachshara center. Neuendorf continued as a place of Jewish self-organisation even after 1941, however, the situation transformed into that of a forced labor camp. Neuendorf remained under the directorship of Martin Gerson, and it turned into the central location where young people from other Hachshara centers were sent to when theirs were closed. By then entire families lived in Neuendorf whose children were looked after, others, by the famous educationalist and Montessori-pioneer Clara Grunwald. In 1943 the last inhabitants/inmates were deported from Neuendorf to Auschwitz.
Despite the important role the Zionist youth movements (and people from Neuendorf, in particular) played in the organisation of resistance to and survival of Nazi-persecution, as well as in the period directly after the Shoah, and then during the establishment of the State of Israel, there is very little research and hardly any literature about the Hachshara in Germany, nor is there any memorial place in Germany. Indeed, outside Jewish museums in Germany there is nothing much that can be found about the history of Zionism in Germany. Neuendorf is important because of its historically central role for the Zionist youth movements in Germany, and on top of that today it is the only Hachshara place in Germany the buildings of which remain in their entirety.
The situation today: Neuendorf Estate for sale
Today Neuendorf is owned by BIMA (federal agency for real estate) as trustees of the German Federal Government. According to the competent German authorities there are no compensation claims pending. However, it has not been possible to verify independently whether possible claims by the descendants of Hermann Mueller, (Jewish) owner of Neuendorf in the 1920s and 1930s, were indeed settled, or not. Fundraising is ongoing to pay for the necessary historic research in archives in Germany, Israel and the USA.
BIMA has put up Neuendorf for sale on 17 May 2017. BIMA is an independent agency of the Federal Government with the primary task of creating value for money for the federal ministry of finance. However, BIMA’s structure does allow for political influence to affect decisions of sale.
Binding offers have to be made by 31 August 2017, starting with a minimum of 290.000 EUR. The estate has a size of 365.000 m². The sale comprises 8 buildings with living quarters (split into 26 apartments, 9 of which are currently empty) and 9 other buildings (outhouses, garages, agricultural working spaces, etc.). The rentals currently generate a yearly income of 35.000 EUR; however, the yearly minimum running costs stand at about 45.000 EUR. In addition, it is clear that the estate requires serious infrastructural investment in the near future including roofing, heating systems and electrical systems (latest renovations seem to date back to the 1960s, East German standards). From a historical and heritage-protection perspective this lack of investment over the past six decades constitutes a grave danger to the historic fabric of the estate. In case of particularly difficult business situations German heritage protection law can allow for the demolition even of listed buildings. Thus, even though a protection order has been placed on the estate because of its historic importance it depends on future owners if the buildings’ fabric itself will survive, or not.
A future for Neuendorf?
In this situation it is clear that action is required to ensure a future for Neuendorf as a place of practical commemoration, translating the inspirations and actions of the 1930s to meet the challenges of today’s world. If you have advice and see possibilities of helping to fund raise for this goal (including potentially a purchase, or the renovation of parts of the location, as well as the development of activities in or around Neuendorf / the history of Hachshara in Germany) please be in touch.
Stella Hindemith, Benno Plassmann