Resistance against National Socialism in Berlin-Schöneberg 1933 – 1945. Students discover the story(ies) in the vicinity of their school

A joint project of the Friedenauer Gemeinschaftsschule and German Resistance Memorial Center.

What happened in Schöneberg during the National Socialist era? How did the people who once lived here behave? Were there people in the vicinity of the Friedenauer Gemeinschaftsschule who fought against the dictatorship and Nazi crimes? Who were they? How did they resist? How is it remembered today?

 Students at the Friedenauer Gemeinschaftsschule will be on a hunt for clues around their school over a period of several weeks. At historical sites they will deal with aspects of the National Socialist dictatorship.

The students will encounter the stories of people who came from different social milieus in Schöneberg and experienced the time of National Socialism in various ways. Among them are people who were subjected to persecution because they were political opponents of the National Socialists or, as Jews, did not fit into the racist world view of the regime. Some Schönebergers tried to resist the inhuman policies of the National Socialists.

Only a handful of people resisted, and they are at the heart of this project. Through exploring their biographies, the students will get to know different people who were active in the resistance in Schöneberg. They will discover the various forms of resistance and possible scope of action that existed for resisting the National Socialist dictatorship.

The historical exploration of the present and familiar urban space also makes it possible to talk about connections between the past and the present. Questions about the memory and significance of Nazi history for us today will be discussed and explored.

During the project, the students will develop a tour of the schools’ surroundings to places of resistance against National Socialism. In the end, they will organize this tour for classmates, parents or teachers. In addition, they will create a map for the tour, which can also be used later at the school.

The project will be led by Dr. Christian Discher and Marén Letze as well as the staff of the German Resistance Memorial Center. It runs from the beginning of October to the beginning of December 2018 and takes place in school, in the vicinity of the school and at external learning locations, such as the German Resistance Memorial Center.

Discussion with contemporary witnesses Petra and Franz Michalski

Bild von Petra und Franz Michalski

Through the initiative of the AG Begabungsförderung, Mrs. Michalski and Mr. Michalski were invited as contemporary witnesses to the elementary level of the Friedenauer Gemeinschaftsschule on November 5, 2018. The 80 seats in the auditorium quickly filled up with pupils from the elementary and secondary school levels who had come accompanied by their teachers, parents and teachers.

It became quiet and the seven-year-old Joona B. opened the event with the words: “We welcome Petra and Franz Michalski. They are the grandparents of the boy who was insulted and attacked for months because of his Jewish faith at the secondary level of our school.”He then reported on how the pupils had dealt with the subject of anti-Semitism and the role of the “silent heroes” up to now.

The next ninety minutes were about the silent heroes and their actions. Mrs. Michalski stood up and began to talk about her husband’s memories from the National Socialist era. Franz Michalski, who was the son of a Jewish mother and a Catholic father, documented them in his work: “When the Gestapo rang the front doorbell: A family in a mixed marriage and those who helped them [1].”

Through the powerful depictions and the pictures hanging on boards in the auditorium, on which the family members, relevant places and individual heroes of their survival story were depicted, Petra and Franz Michalski made it clear to the students to what extent anti-Jewish policies and the associated restrictions imposed on Jews in the population continued to intensify and to what extent the deeply shocking experiences from that period continue to have an impact on those affected to this very day.

The eyewitness accounts of the Michalski family not only served to remind us of the crimes that led to the Holocaust and the murder of six million Jews under National Socialism, they also served to remind us of the increasing violence and discrimination against Jews in Europe, which are linked to the rise of anti-Semitic attitudes.

At the end of the event Franz Michalski read the names of his silent heroes: Alfons Thienelt, the policeman; Erna Scharf; Gerda Mez; Marquis de Respaldizza; the hoteliers, Horst Schneider and Mr. Hetschel. Franz Michalski and his closest family members owe their lives to these people. In Yad Vashem they were honored as “righteous among the nations”: Gerda Mez, Erna Raack and their parents Ida and Ernst Scharf. Unfortunately, the other helpers could no longer be located at the time of the tribute.

“We, Petra and Franz Michalski, would like to stress that even in the worst times it was possible to help people in need if you had courage, wisdom and charity. We hope that today’s youth will recognize and observe the signs of the times and will promptly protest against any form of injustice.”

We feel greatly honored and grateful that Mrs. Michalski and Mr. Michalski will speak again on January 21, 2019 as contemporary witnesses for the students of the Friedenau Gemeinschaftsschule.

Dr. Christian Discher

[1]Edited by Barbara Schieb: METROPOL Publications of the Silent Heroes Memorial, Volume 3.