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The Children from “Bullenhuser Damm”

Mandated by Concentration Camp Memorial Centre Neuengamme and the association titled “Kinder vom Bullenhuser Damm e.V.”, historian Christine Eckel sifted through the archival material kept by the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen last week. She is investigating the fates of 20 children who, with their nurses, were murdered by the SS during the night of 21st April 1945. “In order to have a full view of the crime, we exhaust all information sources. As regards ITS, its children’s files and case correspondence are of special relevance to us”, said 30-years-old Eckel.  

In November 1944, these Jewish children were transported from Concentration Camp Auschwitz to Neuengamme where they were subjected to pseudo-medical experiments. SS physician Kurt Heissmeyer abused them for human experiments to the end of developing vaccination sera against tuberculosis. “They were ten boys and ten girls aged between five and twelve years coming from Poland, the Netherlands, France, Yugoslavia and Italy”, narrates Eckel. When British troops reached Hamburg, orders were given by Berlin to eliminate the children and wipe out all traces. “The cellar of the empty school at Bullenhuser Damm in Hamburg came to be scene of the crime. The children and their nurses were taken there on the evening of 20th April 1945, sedated by a morphine injection and then hanged”, relates the historian.  

SS physician Heissmeyer continued to practise undisturbed up to 1966 when he was put on trial in the GDR and sentenced to lifelong imprisonment. It is thanks to “Stern” journalist Günther Schwarberg that the children’s names are prevented from being forgotten“, said Eckel. An article published in 1979 marked the beginning of the search for relatives of the children in many countries.

The Hamburg resident entered the children’s and their relatives’ names into the ITS database system to check whether additional information is available. “It is important not only to see which data are preserved on the victims, but to also look at what the parents have gone through“, she explained. Are there any DP records or any references to emigration action, have tracing inquiries been placed for the children, or does ITS even hold children’s files on them? Have their parents lodged any requests for compensation and, if so, which information is evident from them? This is the type of questions the historian attempted to answer while pursuing research at Arolsen.

Her work is for the benefit of the new concept of the current exhibition. “We are putting the puzzle pieces together in the hope that we may depict in full the lives of both the children and their families”, so Eckel. “Seen from this perspective, visiting ITS was most important.”