Re: Visits to concentration camps #holocaust

Renate Rosenau

There are many individual ways of facing concentration camps and the fates of the millions of victims. This is mine.

I am living in Alzey/Rheinhessen -  a town with a long Jewish History and the district mental hospital -  and I am engaged with (regional) research of the Jewish History and of Nazi “Euthanasia”.


I was 4,  living in the mostly catholic Rhineland, when my family was liberated from die Nazi terror. As a “privilegierte Mischehe” (privileged mixed marriage) of my parents and the help of resistant locals we had survived in Germany  and I remember our family evenings after 1945 well, when the family gathered round a table and the letters coming in were read loud once or twice and discussed. I remember the terms …”Edith (Julius/Rolf usw) ist umgekommen” (perished)  or: Fredy (Herbert, Werner usw.) hat überlebt” (survived).  These terms got into my child vocabulary as a standard for the fate of relatives and friends.


I visited Auschwitz on a study tour with my teacher colleagues in 1974. At that time my family thought that our relatives had perished there. In Auschwitz first I thought I was strong enough to face the place and find traces of my aunts, uncles, cousins, but after I had seen heaps of hair, glasses, shoes – some might have been from my relatives -  I got something like a breakdown. My teacher colleagues were very understanding and helpful. Only two years later, when the first “Gedenkbuch”(Memorial book of the Persecution of Jews under the NS Tyranny in Germany 1933-45) was published by the Bundesarchiv, we learnt where my relatives had perished, many not in Auschwitz, and a process of research started in the family. After this experience and history studies  I was strong enough to face such places, I have visited many in- and outside Germany since, and later, after 1994, to research Nazi “euthanasia” of thousands  of mentally ill patients as well as local Jewish history. For both victim groups I am in small working groups and on the board of a working group for Nazi history on state level in Rhine-Palatinate.


My personal way to mentally work on this part of criminal German history is to find out the biographies and publish the fate of the mentally ill victims as well as the Jewish victims of my family and of the Alzey region, recall their names and fates, several hundred by now. With the data bases I built up of for both groups (with over 7.000 names) I am able to answer descendants’ questions, now mostly of the second following generation, contribute to conferences or publications and work with students. I feel I do this in first place for my family – especially my father, the last director of the Israelitische Heil- und Pflegeanstalt in Bendorf-Sayn 1940-1942, where I was born,  and for the families of the victims.  With the Jewish surviving relatives I got contacts in many countries, and  meanwhile friends.

But to face and understand the criminal German history is a never ending challenge, looking back in history as well as to actual developments.

Renate Rosenau

Alzey/Rheinhessen, Germany

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