Today, Holocaust survivor Dr. Hans Gaertner visited the Center for Historical Studies at the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial for an eye-witness talk.
The event was prefaced by a shortened version of the documentary "Resilience. Scenes From the Life of Hans Gaertner". After that, the audience, including two school classes from Hamburg, had the opportunity to ask questions. Georg Erdelbrock, freelancer at the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial, moderated.
Hans Gaertner was born in January 1926 into a Jewish-Czechoslovakian family in Hamburg, where his father Erich founded a forwarding agency. In 1938 the family emigrated to Czechoslovakia without the father, to escape the National Socialist regime. However, in March 1939 the German Reich occupied the country, and the Gestapo started the persecution of communists and Jewish emigrants. They set up a curfew for Jews after 8 p.m. and did not allow them the use of public transport anymore. Being a Jewish child, Hans Gärtner wasn't allowed to attend a school either. In 1941 the National Socialists deported Hans' father to the Minsk ghetto and killed him. His mother and his brother were able to escape to Switzerland.
Hans was deported to the Theresienstadt Ghetto in 1942 when he was 16 years old. There he was trained as a metal worker. From Theresienstadt he was deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp in December 1943. His time in Auschwitz was characterized by extremely hard and degrading forced labour. Together with other prisoners, he had to load large rocks and boulders and empty out the toilets.
From Auschwitz he was committed to Schwarzheide, a satellite camp auf Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Brandenburg. Here the prisoners were forced to rebuild a factory, which processed brown coal to fuel. It was destroyed during an Allied airstrike.
On 19 April 1945 Hans Gaertner was forced to participate in a death march that was supposed to remove the prisoners from the concentration camps that were close to the frontline. They were separated into a Jewish and a non-Jewish group. Together with the other Jewish prisoners Hans Gaertner was brought to a train that drove in the direction of Theresienstadt. On May 7 the train reached Leitmeritz from where the prisoners had to walk he remaining way to the already liberated but overcrowded Theresienstadt. One day later, the German Reich signed the unconditional surrender and Hans Gärtner became a free citizen.
After the war Hans Gaertner returned to Prague. Over the years, he also lived temporarily in Switzerland and Germany, before moving to Prague again, where he still lives. After his school graduation he began to study law which he completed as Doctor of Law in 1950.
Hans Gaertner worked as a journalist and translator of Czech literature into German and is engaged in the society for the survivors of the Schwarzheide satellite camp as a chairman.
According to the federal law regarding the compensation of the victims of National Socialist persecution Hans Gaertner received a pecuniary compensation for his time as a prisoner of the concentration camps, but not for the company of his father, which got dispossessed by the National Socialist regime.
Text by Nicolas Weidenbörner