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Fabrik Aktion (Factory Action)

By Fritz Gluckstein

On the morning of February 27, 1943, a Saturday, we wearily stood at our workbenches turning out parts for some air-force equipment, my high school classmate and close friend, Gert, working not far from me. Suddenly the door opened and an SS officer stepped into the room. “Pay attention,” he called out. “Drop whatever you are doing and leave by the main entrance.” We were stunned. “What’s going on?” we asked each other. We quickly grabbed our coats and rushed outside, where we assembled under the hostile gaze of some rifle-toting SS men.

The officer reappeared and said to one SS man, “Tell the driver to drive up.” Gert and I clearly remember this moment because he used the pretentious officialese term Kraftfahrer, literally meaning “power driver.” The canvas-covered military truck arrived, and we helped each other to scramble aboard. Two SS men took their places at the truck’s rear. The tailgate closed, and off we went. We remained quiet except for some women voicing their fear for their children. Since it was a Saturday, when work hours usually were shortened, many children were not in daycare but at home alone or in the care of friends or neighbors.

After a 20-minute ride into the center of Berlin, we arrived at the Clou, a huge nightclub, and were herded inside, joining others who had been brought there from their factory workplaces. The club, aside from some tables and chairs for registration purposes, had been cleared of all furnishings. It was remarkably quiet, no loud lamenting or complaining, just subdued, anguished conversation. After a while, registration began and at about eight o’clock in the evening—I do not recall whether by then we had had anything to eat—it was Gert’s and my turn. Plainclothes police officers, who were quite friendly, asked about our parents and personal history. A short time later, we were told that we could leave. “Good luck, and I don’t want to see you here again,” one officer said. Gert and I did not hesitate. Glad to be out in the pitch-dark street, we decided to walk home. Actually, by being outside past eight o’clock, we were breaking the nightly curfew for Jews. Later we learned that had we been transported to another collection center rather than the nightclub, we would not have been released but would have been sent to the Rosenstrasse, a collection point for those who were arisch versippt—those who had Aryan relatives.

Arriving at home, I hoped to find my father, but he had been taken from a factory in East Berlin to a military barracks, a place far worse than the Clou. My mother was away on a visit to an aunt in Silesia, but another aunt had come to take care of my father and me. Next day, Sunday, I sent a telegram to my mother saying, “I believe it would be advantageous if you came home as soon as possible.” On Monday, I was deliberating whether to go back to the factory, but before I could make up my mind, events overtook me. It was the beginning of the month; the ration cards had to be picked up, and I was the only one in the family who could do it. So I set out for the ration and distribution office but never got inside. Right in front of the building stood a moving van, and everyone wearing the yellow star, including me, was directed to get into it. Nearly filled, the van departed to the Levetzow Street Synagogue, where I had a bar mitzvah three years earlier. The synagogue had been converted into a collection center. All seats on the main floor had been removed; only those in the gallery remained. My stay at the synagogue was very short. Soon after arriving I was put into another moving van along with others who had non-Jewish relatives. We were driven to the Rosenstrasse collection center, located in an administration building that belonged to the Jewish Community.

In the Rosenstrasse, I was quartered with about 15 men in an office on an upper floor. The office had been cleared of furniture and was just large enough to permit all of us to lie down during the night. We spent the days speculating what would happen to us, and above all standing in line to use the toilet. The building, of course, did not have enough facilities to accommodate hundreds of people. About the food, I only remember that it was brought to the room at unusual hours and that we had a breakfast of turnips at five o’clock in the morning. On the seventh day, we were told that we would be released and were instructed to go to the main floor where, to my surprise, I found my father. Together we lined up for release processing. After an hour or so, a typist from the Jewish Community took our personal data and prepared the release papers, including the release certificate. As a final step, the papers had to be presented to SS Sergeant Schneider. Schneider looked at my father’s papers and while signing the release certificate sneered, “A judge you have been! Then you surely have ruined the lives of many people.” My father just answered, “I hope not,” and we walked out. As part of the release process, my father and I were instructed not to return to our factory jobs but to report the next day to the labor exchange. There we were assigned to work for a demolition company engaged in cleaning up after air raids.

While we were held at the Rosenstrasse, several hundred non-Jewish women demonstrated outside for the release of their husbands and children, defying the Gestapo and the SS. It was the only public challenge of authority that took place during the Third Reich. On the basis of his diary entries, it has been established that Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment, effected our release on the grounds that the matter of what to do with those in mixed marriages or of mixed blood could be dealt with better at a future date. He very likely did not want any public unrest just a month after the Stalingrad debacle. At the site of the Rosenstrasse building there now stands a moving memorial to the women who so bravely stood up for their loved ones.

©2003, Fritz Gluckstein. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.