12. January 2022

Remembering those we miss New memorial plaque commemorates Jewish elementary school

New memorial plaque commemorates Jewish elementary school

The site of the present-day Department of Law used to be home to a Jewish school from 1934 onward. Its children and teachers were ostracized, deported and murdered during the Third Reich. Only one pupil lived to see 1945. A plaque now commemorates the achievements of the school and its principal Hans-Herbert Hammerstein.

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Up until 1933, Jewish and non-Jewish children sat side by side at their school desks. Then the anti-Semitic National Socialists came to power: from January 31, 1933 onward, Jewish children faced increasing discrimination—and those in Bonn were no exception. They would soon be banned from attending high school. In April 1934, therefore, Jüdische Kultur- und Schulverein für Bonn und Umgebung e.V.—a Jewish cultural and schooling association for Bonn and the surrounding area—became the private trustee of the newly founded Jewish school. Public trusteeship was not an option under Nazi rule. Dr. Otto Toeplitz, a mathematician and professor at the University of Bonn, was appointed to chair the board of trustees. It was also through his efforts that the school obtained use of the site of the Ludwig-Philippson-Loge at Koblenzer Straße 32 in Bonn. Toeplitz succeeded in attracting the educational reformer Hans-Herbert Hammerstein as the school’s principal.

Esther Gardei, who is coordinating the University of Bonn’s reconciliation project, is herself researching the history of the Jewish school and its principal Hans-Herbert Hammerstein: “With Hammerstein as founder and principal, the assimilated pupils were reintroduced to their Jewish origins. They learned that they could be proud to be both German and Jewish. The Jewish school was a place of education and protection from persecution, entirely in keeping with Hammerstein’s motto of “happy children learn more.“

In October 1935, there were still 85 Jewish children attending the school. Following a wave of exclusion, expatriation, deportation and murder, the final teacher—choirmaster Sigfried Winterberg—and the remaining pupils were hauled off to concentration and extermination camps in 1942. Only one pupil of the last batch, Anneliese Winterberg, survived to 1945.

The commemorative plaque that has now been installed was paid for jointly by students, staff and professors from the Faculty of Law and Economics. “It reminds us that our freedom and the joy we get out of studying and teaching are not to be taken for granted,” underlines Dean Prof. Dr. Jürgen von Hagen. “Rather, they are a gift that we need to tend and defend with great care.”

Dr. Margret Traub, the head of Bonn’s Jewish community, was among those at the unveiling. “I’m happy that the Jewish children from our community who were persecuted and killed are being remembered here in the Department of Law, serving as a reminder of those who are no longer with us and as a warning about where anti-Semitism leads to,” she says.

Many children from the Beethoven-Gymnasium high school would run over to the Jewish school from the opposite side of the street to find potential playmates and friends—until their teachers stopped them from doing so. “I was deeply moved by this story,” says Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Michael Hoch, Rector of the University of Bonn. “It teaches us that we need more contact with one another, more dialogue and cooperation, more solidarity and, where necessary, more protection, including—and especially—in academia and research.”

Pupils of the Jewish School, Koblenzer Straße 32
Pupils of the Jewish School, Koblenzer Straße 32 © (c) Gedenkstätte und NS-Dokumentationszentrum der Bundesstadt Bonn
Teacher Hans-Herbert Hammerstein, 1935
Teacher Hans-Herbert Hammerstein, 1935 © (c) Inge Simonson
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