German Christian provides new Holocaust information for Israel's 60th

Woman releases CDs with survivors' testimonies and information about the Bisingen Concentration Camp.

Bisingen Camp (photo credit: Will King, Images of Israel, LLC)
Bisingen Camp
(photo credit: Will King, Images of Israel, LLC)
Uta Hentsch, head of the Association of Concentration Camp Bisingen, was recently in Israel to celebrate the country's 60th anniversary and to deliver several CDs to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem. Hentsch, along with Iris Mayer, maintains a small museum in southwestern Germany dedicated to preserving the memory and story of a mostly forgotten about Nazi-era concentration camp. Open for more than 12 years now, the Courage to Remember, Courage for Responsibility Museum in Bisingen tells the story of the camp, as well as its victims, survivors, and war criminals. Towards the end of World War II the Germans were running low on vital supplies, especially fuel. In late 1944 and early 1945 some 15,000 prisoners were brought to Bisingen and several other small camps in the Swabian Alb to collect oil shale from natural deposits in the area. The shale would then be crushed into oil, but the process was long and required vast amounts of shale to produce even the smallest amounts of useable oil. At Bisingen were just over 4,000 prisoners, one-third of them Jewish. Some 1,158 prisoners were worked to death, while only months before the war's end the survivors were taken on a brutal death march more than 350 kilometers to the infamous Dachau Camp just north of Munich. After the French liberated the camp on April 7th, 1945, the former SS guards were forced to exhume the bodies of 1,158 prisoners from several mass graves. Only nineteen victims' names are known from Bisingen, including that of Jankel Gelibter, who was only identified late last year through a list obtained from records maintained by the Russian Red Cross. Jankel's brother Haim and niece Idit Gil traveled from Israel to Bisingen around Yom Kippur last year to see the place where their family member had perished. Idit had seen Hentsch's name in a previous Jerusalem Post article (For Zion's Sake, May 30, 2007) and contacted her to arrange a meeting. Haim and Idit were warmly welcomed by Hentsch, Bisingen's Mayor Joachim Krueger, and even school children from Germany and Poland. At the site of the camp Haim and Idit held a small memorial ceremony where they said kadish, lit candles, recited Psalms, and placed a small stone in memory of Jankel. During the ceremony Idit said, "I will not forget and will not forgive, but we should maintain an on-going dialogue to prevent such crimes in the future." However, she did feel afterwards that she had made some new German friends through the whole experience. In addition to a small permanent exhibition of various artifacts, photos and documents at the museum, Hentsch has worked with area schools to help educate students about the history of their land. Each year eighth-grade students are required to perform five days of social engagement projects, and since 2007 area schools have been sending their students to Hentsch and her museum. Hentsch said, "They [the students] must see for themselves not only the victims, but the photos of the men who did this. It's important," she continued, "for people to come and see what was going on in this region and to take responsibility for what was going on in that time." A group of six eighth-graders created a project outlining the history of the Bisingen Camp. Their project, which included daily reports and interviews with survivors, was placed on display at the museum and reported on in the local paper. In Israel Hentsch delivered four CDs to Yad Vashem containing information about the Bisingen Camp. One CD had the project completed by the local school children, while another had information on the museum itself both before and after its renovation in 2006. The two remaining CDs each contained a movie produced by Hentsch with testimonies from two of Bisingen's Jewish survivors: Isak Wasserstein of Munich and Shalom Stamberg, now residing in Haifa. Valerie Ben Or, the registrar of the Yad Vashem archives division, received the CDs from Hentsch. She said, "The testimony is very important. Really important." Neither knew just how important that testimony was until Ben Or searched the Yad Vashem database for any information on the Bisingen Camp and found nothing. Hentsch later said that the whole experience has been "wonderful. For me it's such an important thing." Hentsch has also visited Israel more than 20 times and volunteered several times with Tzedaka, an organization that brings German Christians to help care for Holocaust survivors in Israel. She said that she's worked with over 600 survivors and that it's "her love to Israel" that keeps bringing her back. In her speech at the Bisingen Camp, Idit Gil put into perspective the whole reason and importance of preserving every possible scrap of information from the Holocaust. "We hope that the memory of the victims who perished here at KZ Bisingen will be not just a cornerstone," she said, "but a catalyst for a meaningful ongoing dialogue and reconciliation between all human beings, and especially between Israelis and Germans."