10/11/2018 Report

Story Behind Personal Effects Revealed

Daniel Fröhlich donated personal belongings of Ferdinand von Reichel, a former prisoner, to the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial. During a visit to the memorial, the history teacher from Ilmenau spotted his great-granduncle’s wedding ring and WW1 Iron Cross in the Memorial’s main exhibition.

There are stories behind the items shown in the Memorial’s main exhibition, stories which we are not always familiar with. So-called personal effects are objects which were taken away from people upon their arrival at the concentration camp: pocket watches, photos, glasses. The name of the owner is often the only thing we know. Today the effects are preserved at the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen. Some of them have been lent to the Memorial and are shown in the main Exhibition.

During a visit to the Memorial, Daniel Fröhlich happened to discover Ferdinand von Reichel’s personal effects after he had found his great-granduncle’s name in the House of Remembrance three years ago. He has done research in archives and gone through family albums in search of the family history ever since. An inquiry with the ITS yielded first information on his great-granduncle. The archives and documentation center in Bar Arolsen have more than 30 million documents about imprisonment and forced labor which are accessible to the survivors and their families as well as approximately 3000 personal effects. Two years ago, the Stolen Memory campaign was launched whose goal has been giving the items back to the families. The wedding ring and the iron cross should have therefore been returned to the family as well.

The research revealed the story behind the objects:

Friedrich Wilhelm Ferdinand von Reichel was born in 1892 in Maldeuten, East Prussia and raised there. He was a soldier in the First World War and decorated with the Iron Cross. Later he worked as a trader in Berlin and Hanover before caming to Hamburg where he lived in the Winterhude district with his wife Charlotte. Despite the fact that she was baptized in the Evangelical Lutheran tradition, the daughter of Jewish parents was considered Jewish under the Nazi regime. She was imprisoned in the Fuhlsbüttel prison in 1943 for anti-regime statements and transferred to the Ravensbrück concentration camp. It is not known what happened to her afterwards. Ferdinand von Reichel was arrested a year after his wife, in November 1944. He was denounced to the Gestapo for allegedly having railed against the regime and said the war had already been lost. He was taken to the Neuengamme concentration camp where he died on December 26, 1944 due to an infected wound on his arm.  

In the presence of the staff of the Memorial, the ITS and the local press, Daniel Fröhlich donated his great-granduncle’s personal effects to the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial. “These items must certainly stay at the Memorial”, the teacher insisted. Personal belongings that people had on them when they were arrested – just like Ferdinand von Reichel had his wedding ring and the military decoration – can help bring visitors closer to the people behind prisoner numbers.