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Research for members of the family

Hans-Peter Klein can’t say how many times he’s been to the International Tracing Service (ITS) archive. Since the archive opened in 2007, he takes advantage of every opportunity to research the fates of victims of Nazi persecution. In addition to supporting and initiating commemorative projects such as the laying of Stolperstein memorials, he also gathers information about individual persecution histories for relatives of Holocaust victims who live in the U.S.

One of the people Hans-Peter Klein supports in their research is Dennis Aron, the son of Jewish emigrants, who comes from a town near Chicago. Together, the two of them have already taken several steps to reconstruct the lives and fates of Aron’s ancestors. Aron set out on his search after the death of his mother, who never talked about her painful past, and after his own retirement.

Klein translated letters Aron’s grandmother had sent from Germany to his mother in America. And in 2014, he travelled through Hesse with Aron in search of traces of various branches of the family. “On that trip we laid four Stolperstein memorials for his family in Borken. Those were the first Stolpersteine that had ever been laid there. For the city, it provided an impulse to keep working on the subject,” Klein recalls. During Aron’s last visit in October 2016, the two of them came to the ITS together to inspect the few surviving documents on the fate of Aron’s family on his mother’s side, and to talk about some of the other questions Aron has in the context of his intensive research.

His mother Hilde Speier was the only one of the family to survive. She managed to emigrate to Chicago in 1937, at the age of sixteen. Her parents Franziska and Levi Speier and their second daughter Ursula did not succeed in fleeing Germany. The ITS archive holds the only document pertaining to the family’s fate – a list of the names of the Jews deported from Frankfurt am Main on 22 November 1941. The list specifies Riga as the transport destination, but in fact the Nazis took the deportees to Kaunas in Lithuania.

Their fate is known from the “Jäger Report” of December 1941. Karl Jäger, an SS Standartenführer and the commander of the security police in Kaunas, had listed all executions carried out by Task Force 3 (Einsatzkommando 3) with Lithuanian helpers in Vilnius and elsewhere in Lithuania as of July 4, 1941. It cites the number of persons shot to death at 133,346. Among those persons were Dennis Aron’s grandparents and aunt, who – along with the rest of 5,000 persons who had come on five deportation trains – were executed between November 25 and 29, 1941 in Fort IX in Kaunus directly upon arrival. From the ITS Aron received copies of the list showing the names of his relatives along with information on their last place of residence.

Hans-Peter Klein has been devoting himself to the histories of Jewish families in Northern Hesse for thirty years, and has set up a website on the subject. On January 27, 2014, he was presented with the Obermayer German-Jewish History Award at the Berlin House of Representatives for his volunteer work. “To date I’ve researched approximately thirty families at the ITS,” Klein told us. In addition to this volunteer work, he also comes to the ITS with prospective history teachers in the framework of his professional career. Klein is the head of the history department at the high-school teacher training college in Kassel, and an adjunct professor of history teaching methodology at the Universität Kassel. “I consider it important for teachers to be familiar with this institution and to use the ITS’s offers for project work with their classes.”