NewsNazi crimes in the Stadthaus in Hamburg: Demonstrators have...

Nazi crimes in the Stadthaus in Hamburg: Demonstrators have been calling for a memorial for years

Created: 09/02/2022 08:49 am

Eine Frau hält ein Plakat hoch, daneben das Stadthaus. Jeden Freitag demonstriert eine Gruppe Rentner vor dem Stadthaus.
Every Friday a group of pensioners demonstrate in front of the town hall. © Daniel Bockwoldt/ dpa/ Felicitas Breschendorf/ Collage/ BuzzFeed News

During the Nazi era, resistance fighters were tortured in the Stadthaus Hamburg. For four years, an association of persecuted people has been demonstrating for a memorial site. Why the Chairman is holding out to this day.

Anyone who walks up the steps of the Hamburg S-Bahn station “Stadthausbrücke” can already hear his voice. Georg Chodinski is standing on the street corner, like every Friday at 5 p.m. A small group of senior citizens gathers around him for a vigil. They distribute flyers, wave flags and posters. They have been together every week for four years. Chodinski speaks quietly but emphatically into his microphone. It tells the story of the mighty building in front of which arises: the town hall.

Arrests and murders of Jews in the Stadthaus

March, 1933: Reichstag elections in Berlin, the National Socialists win the majority. The town house became Gestapo headquarters for ten years. From there they deport Hamburg Jews, Sinti and Roma and others to the Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp. Gestapo employees interrogate, torture and murder KPD and SPD members of the resistance.

“Everything chic, chic, chic,” says Chodinski about the shops in the town hall

A few meters away from the vigil stands a man in a bow tie at the glass shop door. With a measuring tape he measures a customer who wants to buy a suit. The men’s outfitter is just one example. In the inner courtyard there are now numerous fashion and designer shops, called “Stadthöfe”. Right in the middle is Chodinsky. “Everything chic, chic, chic,” he sighs and shakes his head. Meanwhile, one of his comrades-in-arms has the microphone. Through the thick walls of the townhouse, one can barely hear him reading a witness account.

Bild von dem Torbogen im Stadthaus. Durch ihn wurden Widerständler laut Chodinski in den Hof gekarrt. Daneben sind Luxus-Geschäfte.
“Residents were carted into the courtyard through this archway,” says Chodinski. Next to it are luxury shops. © Felicitas Breschendorf

Chodinski points to a wide archway. “The resisters were carted into the courtyard through it,” he says. Bright white mannequins stand to the left and right of it. A couple of teenage girls are taking photos of each other where the Gestapo cars must have been parked. The noble beige benches and the ivy-covered walls invite you to do so. Chodinsky’s fingers move up a floor where there are condominiums. “In these rooms they were interrogated and killed.”

Only a few information boards remind of the Nazi crimes

May, 2018: The Hamburg Senator for Culture and the then owner of the Stadthöfe agree on a project in the Stadthaus. The Nazi crimes are to be commemorated in a 70 square meter café and bookshop – not 750 square meters, as stipulated in a 2009 contract. There are only a few information boards and black-and-white photographs of victims that are eventually exhibited. “It’s debatable whether that’s appropriate. We don’t believe in it,” says Chodinski. He is chairman of the VVB-BdA (“Association of Victims of the Nazi Regime – Association of Anti-Fascists”). Together with other anti-fascist groups, the association organizes the vigil. They demand that the town hall become a real documentation, learning and memorial site. “A dignified place,” says Chodinski.

The memorial in front of the town hall is not enough for the demonstrators

Last year, the artist duo Missing Icons installed a work of art in front of the town hall. Red stains run through the sidewalk – like blood. The wounded path bears the name “Stigma” and is intended to commemorate the Nazi crimes. Now the demonstrators stand there every Friday. The work of art as a memorial is not enough for them. “Anyone who walks over it doesn’t understand what it’s supposed to mean,” says Chodinski. A large number of historical materials would be on display in a memorial like the one he would like in the town hall. Younger visitors in particular could find out what happened in the house.

What drives Chodinsky?

About thirty demonstrators between the ages of 50 and 70 are active in the vigil, although not all come regularly. Chodinski is only absent when he is going on vacation with his wife. A personal destiny does not connect him to the Stadthaus. “My father was a war volunteer,” he says. As an insurance salesman, Chodinski used to be active in the union. “I’ve always loved teaching people,” he says. Since taking early retirement at the age of 56, he has been active in the persecuted association. He gives a voice to resistance fighters like Heinrich Hübener, who was arrested in the town hall. At 17, he was the youngest person sentenced to death by the People’s Court. “If there is no memorial, then not only the stories but also the people are forgotten,” says Chodinski.

“Passers-by don’t know what happened here,” says Chodinski

Before her death last year, the well-known concentration camp survivor Esther Bejarano gave speeches at the vigil. Now there are no more survivors in the association who can report on their experiences. Pedestrians strolling past the townhouse see gleaming shops. Even the scattered memorabilia can only be seen by those who press their noses against the windows. The café has been closed since March and the owner is bankrupt.

A 25-year-old recently joined the persecuted association. After every vigil he plays a self-written revolt song. Chodinski is happy about that. He himself wants to keep going for as long as he can. “The nice thing is that passers-by stop and ask,” he says. “You don’t know what happened here.” Once a woman was very upset. She had just moved into the town hall and only became aware of the story through the vigil. Later she brought tea and rolls for the demonstrators. She was Jewish.

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