The Children of Bullenhuser Damm

April 21, 2020

The children of Bullenhuser Damm: 75 years ago today, with allied troops only 3 miles away, SS doctors ordered them hanged in the basement of a school in order to cover up the experiments they had been conducting on the children.



I attach an article of mine published today.

The Children of Bullenhuser Damm
By Tom Gross
Jewish Chronicle (London)
April 21, 2020

Israel’s annual memorial day for the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, Yom HaShoah, which takes place today, is rightly marked around the world. Prince Charles, for example, paid tribute to Holocaust survivors in an online Yom HaShoah service yesterday evening.

Naturally such ceremonies tend to focus on the major death camps. But there are other almost completely forgotten “smaller” episodes of the Holocaust which are so appalling that it is important for us not to forget them.

One is a crime that took place exactly 75 years ago, when on the night of 20-21 April, 1945, SS troops murdered 20 Jewish children and at least 28 adults in the basement of a school at Bullenhuser Damm 92-94 in Hamburg.

Before their murder, the children, from Italy, Slovakia, France, Poland and the Netherlands, had been subjected to barbaric medical experiments as prisoners in Neuengamme Concentration Camp on the outskirts of Hamburg.

In November 1944, ten girls and ten boys, aged between five and 12 years old, were brought from Auschwitz to Neuengamme at the request of Dr Kurt Heissmeyer so he and his team of doctors could experiment on them. He hoped to gain a professorship from his research, he said. The children’s skin was cut open and tuberculosis bacilli rubbed into the wounds. Heissmeyer then had their lymph glands removed by operation, to discover whether antibodies had developed against the tuberculosis. All this took place in the last weeks of the war, when Heissmeyer knew the war was lost.

With the British army now less than three miles away, in order to cover up their crimes, the SS doctors and SS-Obersturmführer Arnold Strippel decided the children had to die. The children were taken to the basement of the building and hanged, together with adult prisoners who had witnessed the experiments.

After the war, Heissmeyer simply returned to his home in Magdeburg, in East Germany, and started a successful medical practice as a lung and tuberculosis specialist. He was eventually found out in 1959 after he boasted about his wartime experiments. In 1966, seven years later (and a few months before he died) he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.

At his trial he stated, “I did not think that inmates of a camp had full value as human beings.” When asked why he didn’t use guinea pigs he responded, “For me there was no basic difference between human beings and guinea pigs.” He then corrected himself: “Jews and guinea pigs”.

Most relatives of the murdered children never found out about their fates though some did, decades later, thanks to the persistent efforts of German journalist Günther Schwarberg.

The first media reporting of what happened at Bullenhuser Damm was in 1979, when Schwarberg was told about it from neighbors who lived in the street, and wrote a series of articles for “Stern” magazine.

After that he stopped most of his other journalism and, helped by his wife, made it his life’s work to find the surviving relatives of the children to tell them what had happened (a much harder task in the pre-Internet era). He found some of their relatives, in some cases siblings, living in Tel Aviv, New York, and Naples, Italy. Thanks to his perseverance, the names of the children, and the German perpetrators of these crimes, have not been forgotten. He and his wife Barbara Hüsing were the first Germans to be awarded the Anne Frank medal in 1987.

Schwarberg wrote shortly before he died in 2008: “After the war, the school began teaching children again. Nothing was said about the murders in the cellar. The infanticide appeared forgotten. Once a year a small group of resistance fighters met to remember the children in the cellar of the school. Every year they were fewer.”

A small ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary, planned for today, had to be cancelled due to coronavirus.

(Arnold Strippel, the SS-Obersturmführer who oversaw the Bullenhuser Damm killings, and had previously been the Deputy commandant of the Majdanek death and slave labour camp for three years, lived comfortably for decades in West Germany in a villa on the outskirts of Frankfurt despite all efforts made by relatives of his victims to bring him to trial. He died in 1994.)

Five years ago, on the 70th anniversary, Five schools -- in Eindhoven (Holland), Messina (Italy), Radom (Poland), Paris, and Hamburg -- sent children to research and learn about the children of Bullenhuser Damm. But perhaps in future schools in Britain and elsewhere will learn about these children.


The murdered children of Bullenhuser Damm

Alexander Hornemann, 8, the Netherlands
Eduard Hornemann, 12, the Netherlands
Marek Steinbaum, 10, Poland
Marek James, 6, Poland
Walter Junglieb, 12, Slovakia
Roman Witonski, 7, Poland
Roman Zeller, 12, Poland
Sergio de Simone, 7, Italy
Georges Andre Kohn, 12, France
Eduard Reichenbaum, 10, Poland
Jacqueline Morgenstern, 12, France
Surcis Goldinger, 11, Poland
Lelka Birnbaum, 12, Poland
Eleonora Witonska, 5, Poland
Ruchla Zylberberg, 10, Poland
H.Wasserman, 8, Poland
Lea Klygerman, 8, Poland
Rywka Herszberg, 7, Poland
Blumel Mekler, 11, Poland
Mania Altman, 5, Poland


Among other past dispatches and articles of mine on the Holocaust:

* Who remembers Jan Zwartendijk?

* How one film revolutionized Holocaust commemoration: Schindler’s List, two decades on

* “A shy little bird hidden in my rib cage”

* Reporting Auschwitz, Then & Now: The lamentable record of The New York Times

* Goodbye, Golden Rose

* The “Iranian Schindler” (& new report shows FDR deliberately let Jews die)

* The Lady In Number 6

* Honouring the dead, one stone at a time


* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.