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Death in Labour Camp “Schlosshof”

His research on labour camp “Schlosshof” brought Bielefed historian Martin Decker to the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen. Originally forged plans to tear down the “Schlosshof” were prevented from materialization by an action alliance. The town authorities intend to explore the occurrences at the camp now and find a deserving way of remembering instead. Decker, a longstanding amateur investigator into the subject of Nazi persecution, makes regular use of the ITS archives meanwhile. “Here you have the most complete collection of individual fates. That makes the archives so valuable”, says the home region researcher.

Decker’s research has shown that also aged Jews perished in a sub commando of labour camp Schlosshof. They were deported from Unna to the so-called “Alters- und Siechenheim Wickenkamp” (home for aged and ill persons) to Bielefeld and died here from systematic malnutrition. “That is to say that the “Schlosshof” was not a pure labour camp only”, emphasizes Decker. He is trying to reconstruct the single fates now.

Since his committed struggle for the erection of a monument at Bielefeld central station, the historian has felt the strong hold the subject of the Persecution of Jews has on him. “In the meantime it has turned into a sort of inner obligation”, so Decker. Set up in 1998 and titled “Jeder/Jede Ermordete hat einen Namen” (every murdered person has a name), the monument commemorates all Jews deported from Gestapo area Bielefeld at the time and comprises 1840 names. It proved difficult to reconstruct the transports as the Bielefeld Gestapo records were destroyed before the war end and the ITS archives had been closed to research until late in 2007. Decker made personal interviews with about 100 survivors. “In my talks with them I have not only come to know them as contemporary witnesses, but as human beings”. He sees it as vital to include the survivors and their families in the remembrance work and tell the stories of their lives.

Public interest in the subject increased in his home town since the monument had been set up, says the 44-year-old. Decker is considered an important contact if it comes to reappraise the Nazi past in the region. He pursues research in many archives, composes essays, gives lectures and talks at commemoration celebrations and supplies the material for memory events. To be able to do his volunteer work, Decker does without his holidays and phases down overtime. “I could sit and study in Arolsen for months”, the Bielefeld resident says. “In my view, the documents have not yet been worked on systematically. Much more could be found out still here.”