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At the Gestapo museum, US visitors are drawing their own parallels

3 53 0
18.07.2019

The words would melt a heart of stone – save for those of the Gestapo torturers upstairs. The prisoners wrote their stories, their poems, their last pre-execution laments on the walls of their cells – which you can still read in the basement of the old Nazi secret police headquarters in Cologne. I spent hours there this week, reading the names and messages.

Cut into one cell wall are written these lines, in Russian, by a young woman condemned to death, apparently a slave labourer in Cologne who had joined a resistance movement in 1944:

“Here was held in custody Vallja Baran, who was betrayed by her own Russian compatriots. My husband and I were both put away in one cell … we will be facing the gallows, my only regret is to be separated [now] from the beloved husband and the whole wide world. Oh, girls, why is our youth such a botch-up? I am now 18 years old, pregnant and would love to see my first-born child. Well, this will not be possible, I have to die.”

From 15p €0.18 $0.18 USD 0.27 a day, more exclusives, analysis and extras.

The cells still bear their original numbers. They are complete with the massive, heavy grey-painted doors through which the Gestapo could peer at their victims, sometimes 30 to a room intended for only two or three prisoners, so many that even the local Gestapo complained to Berlin about the overcrowding.

Walking from cell to cell, I noticed a visitors’ book lying on a table between them. And in it, this week, an American couple had written these words. “Never again means never again. From Palestine to the USA-Mexico border.”

I instinctively recoiled from this trite, crude, simplistic remark. How can the human rights crimes and colonial land theft committed by the Israeli government in the occupied West Bank and the overcrowding and child-separation in the refugee camps on the US border – for I presume the recorded Gestapo complaint prompted this reference in the visitors’ book – be compared to the iniquities of Nazi Germany? There must surely be a sense of perspective, at least some reluctance before committing oneself to such comparisons, most of all here, in this place of horror.

At times, more women prisoners were held here than men. Jews were kept in these cells, German Jews, and members of the German Eidelweiss Pirates, a slightly Bohemian, songs-and-guitar anti-Nazi Jugend movement which despised the Nazis. They died here, too. They were also publicly hanged in Cologne in 1944, six of them teenagers, on Himmler’s orders.

There is a sequence of photographs, of youths ascending a scaffold, some already hanging, their necks snapped by the rope, others staring petrified at the corpses of their friends as they were carefully made to stand before their own individual noose. The gallows in the courtyard of the Gestapo headquarters at 23-25 Appellhofplatz could take seven condemned men and women at one execution session.

Was this therefore the place to compare the evil of Nazi Germany with Israeli cruelty and the racist ideology of Trump and his crackpot administration? I could sympathise with the American couple who wrote those words; they were searching for a way to express their fear of the present and their hatred........

© Independent