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“Details like that are Important for my Work“

Robert Kain came to the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen late in February 2013 to do research for his dissertation “Otto Weidt. Developing from an anarchist into a ‘Righteous among the Nations’. 1883-1947”. Otto Weidt had tried to protect his Jewish staff from deportation during the era of National Socialism by using his influence as owner of a manufactory. “I compare the data of his protégés with the information in the ITS database, add new details and try to resolve contradictions”, explains the historian.

Weidt owned a sheltered workshop in Berlin in which he employed blind workers. Producing goods which were sold to the German Army and to town councils, his business was considered important to war (“kriegswichtiger Betrieb”). He had Jewish forced labourers sent to him by the labour office – making every endeavour to spare them persecution and deportation to the extermination camps. “As a young man, Weidt was a committed member of the anarchist labourers’ movement,” says Kain. “Some of his former comrades were Jews. And he was living in the ‘Bavarian quarter’ mostly populated by Jews he made friends with many Jewish neighbours.”

His pro-Jewish activities went beyond finding people jobs. “His secretary Alice Licht was arrested in October 1943. Her name had been put on the list of the 44th East Transport to Auschwitz“, relates the 37-year-old. It was Weidt’s indefatigable and determined zeal in her favour that held up her scheduled deportation for at least a month. “This fact is clearly evident from the transport list of the Auschwitz-bound prisoners kept in the ITS archives from which the name of Alice Licht was erased.”

Nevertheless Licht was deported to the Theresienstadt Ghetto a few weeks later and sent on to Auschwitz and Gross Rosen. Shortly before liberation, she escaped to Berlin where Weidt hid her until the actual war end. “I am following the whole life stories of Weidt’s employees”, Kain explains his method of working with the ITS documentation. “Thanks to the ITS documentation I now know when exactly Alice Licht left for the US.” It was the 6 September 1946 when she finally departed from Bremen on board the ship “SS Marine Marlin” heading towards New York. “Details like that are important for my work”, comments Kain.

A group photograph from 1941 shows Weidt’s staff in their workshop. Many names of the persons to be seen in the picture have remained unknown. “I continue pondering over questions that have not yet been solved”, says the Berlin resident. “Weidt’s motivation for helping persecuted Jews for instance is one of the questions open to this day.” To honour Weidt, a commemoration plaque was put up at the former factory site house number 39 at Rosenthaler Strasse in 1993. The former workshop rooms have been changed into a museum that is taken charge of by the German Resistance Memorial Center. The Israeli Remembrance Authority Yad Vashem awarded Otto Weidt the title of “A Righteous among the Nations” in 1971.