Never again

Erfurt III, Buchenwald

One would like to exclaim “never again” when following the traces in this third chapter in connection with ERFURT. In a narrower and broader sense, it is thematically linked with the needles of thought during our previous city tour, i.e. with (erased) Jewish life. Another confrontation with one of the darkest epochs in our history, some might think. What is the distance from the ease of mostly holiday discovery tours in town and country? The decision to skip this chapter rests with the readership.

Anyone who hears the term “Topf & Sons” for the first time probably thinks of a kitchen equipment shop. The former factory is not located directly in the old town of ERFURT, but around 2km walk or bus ride from the Anger. However, “Topf & Sons” have also dealt with equipment. They are regarded as the “furnace builders of Auschwitz” or the “technicians of the final solution”. They not only installed crematoria in Auschwitz and other extermination camps, but also helped to build gas chambers, gas-tight doors and ventilation systems. In 2011, the former administration building on the factory site was finally redesigned into a place of remembrance. Over four floors you can remember in various (permanent) exhibitions, e.g. in the form of historical photographs of the kilns and their construction drawings. The company’s business relationships with the SS are shown on a further floor. It can get scary in the rooms with the hundreds of ash urns. Many a special exhibition extends the spectrum impressively, such as the one on the subject of “The girls from room 18 L 410, Theresienstadt”. The (guided) tour of the outdoor area is an excellent way to reflect on the personal responsibility of the individual with regard to his or her work. Such a place of remembrance becomes hauntingly realistic only a few kilometers later on the way to WEIMAR. With the BUCHENWALD memorial on the Ettersberg, we enter what used to be a true concentration camp. People from all over Europe were abducted here. A total of almost 290,000 prisoners were subjected to forced labor, torture and death (56,000) at this location and in the 139 subcamps. Reminder and memorial at the same time – never again! The well-known KZ entrance building with the iron gate and the inscription “Each his own” increases the oppressive feeling when entering the spacious area. At first glance, the entire area appears deserted, apart from any flow of visitors. Only now and then, almost on the horizon, you might see the red of an anorak moving, a small group of human beings strolling along, maybe a door opens. Or supposedly the eye perceives smoke rising from a high chimney. We have certainly all read enough stories about this dead zone. Now we are in the middle of it, past and yet so alive. A multi-storey block of flats in particular catches the eye, the former warehouse administration, almost at the other end of the almost infinite, flattened top of the mountain. A smaller house with a huge chimney breaks through the undisturbed view of the storage facility in a particularly striking way. Let’s go into this former center of the machinery of annihilation. First we come across the urns already mentioned in the memorial site “Topf & Sons” in an adjoining room. They are also stacked in their hundreds in the bare room, as if waiting to be filled with the ashes of cremated victims. Next door in the middle of the main room are three incinerators. One might think that they are still ready to dispose of the murdered people. What was “prepared” in terms of photos in ERFURT gains a quasi-reality at this location. You don’t just walk through here looking, here you pause in the thought “Never again!”. At least that’s how the author felt. In contrast, the memorial outside the barbed wire-fenced camp has an almost liberating effect. Even if this national memorial (still erected in GDR times) encloses three mass graves, the didactic concept is identified as the “path from death to life” – from the crematorium down to the mass graves up to the bell tower as a symbol of freedom and light. In this real and inner path, the objective that it should actually only be about “communist freedom fighters” fades. The deeper mental path into symbolic and real freedom then takes place by incessantly shaking the cobblestone street (5km) to the exit. What remains is the meaningful motto “Never again!”Text: Wolf Leichsenring Fotos: Heike Lerch-Jankovicz

Wolf Leichsenring – Travel Journalist