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Ahlem is the central memorial in the region of Hanover. As an authentic location of commemoration it stands for many aspects of remembrance:
- The Israeli horticultural school Ahlem was founded in 1893. It represented a part of German-Jewish culture and history from times before the Holocaust that had supraregional importance for all Jews in Germany and beyond.
- In the time of National Socialism, Ahlem functioned as a collecting point of the Jews from the districts of Hanover and Hildesheim who were to be transported to the Ghettos and extermination camps of the East. It was the central location for the deportation of Jews from southern Lower Saxony.
- In the last stage of the Nazi regime the Gestapo established their own prison in the main building of the former horticultural school. The so called police backup prison resembled a little concentration camp rather than a conventional prison. First the prison took hold of forced labour workers only, but later on the Gestapo used it for all sort of prisoners, who were often cruelly abused.
- There were also Sintis among the prisoners of the police backup prison, who had been forced to work more and more since the end of the 30’s.
- However the first larger group of prisoners in the police backup prison were political prisoners, who were arrested within the so-called ‘Mission Thunderstorm’ (Aktion Gewitter) following the assassination on 20 July, 1944.
- Furthermore, Ahlem is an authentic location to come to terms with the National Socialist history, for there was an outpost of the Gestapo in the headmaster’s house from October 1943.
The Israeli horticultural school Ahlem was founded by the Jewish banker and hobby gardener Moritz Simon in 1893. Simon, who also was vice consul of the USA, and therefore often was called consul Simon, did not only donate the estate and buildings in Ahlem but also coined the concept as well as the goals of the school. His main goal was a shift of jobs of the Jewish population by means of the returning to Natural Resources and craft. Thereby he intended to stop poor young Jews from hawking and begging and lead them to productive jobs, whereby he hoped to contribute to the combat against Anti-Semitism. His basic idea was that this would endure only if Jewish children were accustomed to physical labour very early in life. Hence there was a Jewish primary school in Ahlem, in which classes in manual production and school gardening classes but also physical education played an important role.
The school was supposed to prepare students for the three year apprentice training, which was completed with the trade test. Apprenticeships were mostly offered for gardening but also sporadically for handcrafts trades, like shoemaker, tailor as well as locksmith.
Girls were also educated in Ahlem from 1903 to 1921 and from 1933 onwards. Initially they were taught in home economics and after WW I also in gardening for a short period of time.
After the National Socialists’ ‘takeover,’ the school immediately engaged in preparing young Jews to immigrate, particularly to Palestine, even though the school had always been strictly Antizionist. This not only led to an upturn but also saved the school from the threat of the ‘Aryanization’. Therefore the school was not closed before all the other Jewish schools in the Reich in summer 1942.
After WW II the tradition of Jewish horticulture revived for a short period of time, when a group of young DPs (Displaced Persons) from Bergen-Belsen founded the Kibbutz ‘for liberation’. Nevertheless this episode ended already in May 1948, when the last group members immigrated to Palestine.
The grounds of the horticultural school were appointed as an assembly point for the deportation of the Jews from the area of the Gestapo co-ordinating office Hanover. For seven out of eight transports, more than 2000 Jews from the entire southern Lower Saxony were concentrated between December 1941 and January 1944. They were deported via Fischerhof station 22 after a duration of often several days.
From February 1942 onwards, the horticultural school was added to the list of ‘Jewish houses’ in Hannover, in which the remaining Jewish families were herded together. Most of the Jews who were forced to live in the horticultural school were deported already in July 1942, while other Jews, who were forced labour workers, lived in Ahlem until the end of the war or rather their deportation to Theresienstadt in February, 1945.
The principal’s house was used as a branch by the Gestapo since October 1943 (p. 17 13) and mainly contained the offices which were in charge of the forced labourers’ supervision. They lead a brutal regime under the leadership of Detective Inspector Heinrich Joost. Abuse and torture occurred very regularly. Presumably the prisoners were housed in the empty main building of the horticultural school soon; it became the official police substitution camp in July 1944 and from then on housed all prisoners of the Gestapo.
The first larger group of prisoners were the political prisoners who were arrested after the assassination of 20 July, 1944 in the so called ‘Mission Thunderstorm’ (Aktion Gewitter).
Later on over 90% of the prisoners were foreign forced labour workers who had to live in concentration camp like circumstances.
A place of execution was built in the former Sukka of the horticultural school towards the end of the war. At least 59 prisoners of the Gestapo were hanged here in March 1945. A further 56 prisoners from the police’s substitution prison were shot collectively with 98 prisoners from the evacuated forced labour camp Lahde by the Gestapo at the Seelhorster cemetery on 6 April. They were chosen by Gestapo chief Rentsch because they should by no means be liberated. Only one victim could escape in the end. The memorial Ahlem is in a period of change and a new concept is being developed at the moment. That is the reason why in the following the current status will be mentioned only briefly.
The memorial includes an exhibition and commemoration room in the former air raid shelter and interrogation room of the Gestapo outpost. There is a seminar room (Martin-Gerson-Saal) on the ground floor of the director’s house as well. Outside the director’s house, there is a bronze commemoration plaque and an appliance to lay down wreaths on the outer wall of the school. The wall had to be displaced due to the construction of a tram line.
The vast area of the horticultural school is hardly developed and there is only the horticulturally designed square with the memorial. Simple stone plaques point to the places of execution in several languages. There is a memorial in spatial connection, consisting of 12 stelas to remember 12 Israeli tribes and 12 synagogue communities in Greater Hanover. The Deutsch-Israelische-Gesellschaft (DIG) (German-Israeli Association) took the initiative to raise the memorial: To finance the project, there was a sales deal of building blocks, as well as a commission of concepts from the DIG from 1 December, 1992. The selected concept from Hartwig von der Heydes was opened to the public on 27 August, 1993 and there was a ceremony to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the horticultural-school’s foundation in Ahlem.
The art objects of Israeli Artist Dalit Tajar “Prisoner” have been made available on permanent loan by DIG in Hanover.
Also in this horticultural area, another stone plaque on the ground remembers the victims of National Socialism, particularly the fate of Sintis and Romans. The plaque has been donated by the federal union of Sintis.
“In these rooms where tyranny was practiced, where probably my father was interrogated, disturbing as well as raised feelings are overcoming me. I still hear when I was ostracized as a Jewish child, in the background the steps of their boots and their roared commands. I am glad that our conversation takes place here. Don’t you think that it is unbelievable that I am able to speak freely in these rooms today, where all the cruel things those people did happened in former times?”
Literature: 40, 48, 68
See also the new standard work: Hans-Dieter-Schmid (Ed.): Ahlem. Eine jüdische Gartenbauschule und ihr Einfluss auf Gartenbau und Landschaftsarchitektur in Deutschland und Israel. (Ahlem. A Jewish Horticultural School and its influence on horticulture and landscaping in Germany and Israel.). Bremen: Edition Temmen, 2008
Contemporary witnesses report their experiences during NS-dictatorship in the series of the memorial Ahlem:
Volume 1 …und eigentlich wissen wir selbst nicht, warum wir leben…; The diary of Lore Oppenheimer (...actually, we don’t know ourselves, why we live...)
Volume 2 Matthias Horndasch, Du kannst verdrängen, aber nicht vergessen; The memories of the contemporary witness and Holocaust survivor Gerd Landsberg. (You may repress but you cannot forget.)
Volume 3 Matthias Horndasch/Nachum Rotenberg, Ich habe jede Nacht die Bilder vor Augen; The time capsule of Nachum Rotenberg (Every night I see the pictures before my eyes)
Volume 4 Mein Herz friert, wenn ich Deutsch höre…; From the records of Henny Markiewicz-Simon, née Rosenbaum. (My heart freezes, when I hear German…)
Volume 5 Matthias Horndasch, Spuren meines Vaters, The time capsule of Ruth Gröne, née Kleeberg (Traces of my father)
To be found on the map under:
8. Gedenkstätte Ahlem
Directions: Tram 10 towards Ahlem, stop “Erhardstraße”, direct way from stop to memorial Ahlem, Heisterbergalle 8, 30453 Hannover
Region Hannover, Team Kultur
Hildesheimer Straße 20, 30169 Hannover
Tel. +49 (511) 61 62 22 56 or +49 (511) 61 62 20 73
Fax +49 (511) 61 62 32 29
German-Israeli Society, Arbeitsgemeinschaft Hannover
PO box 1267
Tel. +49 (511) 234 35 72