Sunday, 27 May 1945

Liberation and emigration: Leonie und Walter Frankenstein

"We didn't want to live with those Germans. I could have killed them all. The Russians said then that they wanted to make a potato field out of all of Germany. We thought: 'Let them do it! We could have kept this really elegant apartment with its beautiful furniture... And with the work, it would have worked out somehow. But we wanted to leave..: The Germans told us: Oh, we didn't know anything. We also know a Jew who was very nice. - It made you sick." (Memories of former forced labourer Leonie Frankenstein, life companion of Walter Frankenstein.)

Walter Frankenstein was born in 1924 as a child of Jewish parents in Flatow in West Prussia (today Złotów). There his parents run a tavern and a grocery store. In 1929 Walter's father dies of pneumonia. His uncle Selmar, who runs a medical practice in Berlin, is now appointed his guardian. From 1936 Walter, as a Jew, is forbidden to attend public school. But his uncle manages to find him a place in Auerbach's orphanage in Berlin's Schönhauser Allee 162. Here Walter meets his future wife, Leonie Rosner. The two fall in love.
In Berlin, Walter is a passionate football fan and regularly attends the games of the Berlin football club Hertha BSC in the "Plumpe", the former stadium at Gesundbrunnen. In 1939, National Socialist legislation also makes visits to the stadium impossible. Walter begins training as a bricklayer at the building school of the Jewish community. But like all "Jews fit for work", Walter and Leonie soon have to do forced labour. Leonie is sent to a balloon factory in Berlin-Tempelhof in 1941. Walter is requested by the SS Reich Security Main Office and is assigned to repair work, first at Emser Strasse 14 in Berlin-Wilmersdorf, then at other SS offices in Berlin. The couple is now exposed to the constant threat of deportation.

In 1942 Walter and Leonie marry despite the adverse circumstances. The following year Leonie gives birth to their son Peter-Uri. Only five weeks after the birth the family decides to go into hiding. They hide in bombed-out houses and finally find refuge with friends: first in Leipzig with Leonie's stepfather Theodor Kranz, then with Christians in Berlin. Afraid of being discovered, Leonie and her son finally manage to find shelter under a non-Jewish identity with a farmer's wife in Brisenhorst (Brzeźno). Walter stays in Berlin and tries to secure an income for the family. He is active on the black market where he also meets other Jews who have gone into hiding (so-called "submarines"). In September 1944 Michael, the couple's second son, is born in the hospital in Landsberg an der Warthe.

In spring 1945 Leonie finally returns with the children to the capital of the Reich. The family experiences the last days of the war under continuous artillery fire in a public bunker at the Kreuzberg underground station Kottbusser Tor. On April 28, 1945, the Frankensteins are finally liberated by Soviet troops. They reveal themselves as Jews, but soon doubts arise among the Soviet officers. Leonie remembers: "They said that so many Germans had already claimed to be Jews. Since 1936 there had been no Jews in Germany at all. And then they found us in the bunker with German women and children." But the couple manages to convince the officers of their account of life in illegality.

The Frankensteins first moved into an apartment at Emser Strasse 6 in Berlin Neukölln. Walter had found the accommodation through contacts with a communist group: "We talked a little about ourselves and said that we needed an apartment. They offered us a four-room apartment in Neukölln. Nazis had lived there before." In the apartment Walter and Leonie find documents of the NSDAP, a party uniform and a pistol. Walter remembers: "I took the pistol in my hand and the uniform under my arm and ran with it to this communist cell. I was so naive: If a Russian had seen me, he would have shot me in the street."

But soon the family is convinced that they don't want to stay in this country. In November 1945, Leonie and her children emigrate to the British Mandate in Palestine. Walter is caught by the British authorities during the attempt and is interned in a camp, first in Cyprus and then in Palestine, because of illegal immigration. The family is not reunited until late summer 1947. With the proclamation of the Israeli state in 1948, Walter is called up for military service. In 1956, the family finally emigrates to Stockholm, where Leonie Frankenstein is passing away on May 19, 2009.

To this day Walter Frankenstein regularly visits Berlin and appears as a time witness to tell of his experiences. For his commitment he receives the Federal Cross of Merit on 30 June 2014. In 2018, Walter will attend a football match of his favourite club Hertha BSC for the first time since the end of the war - in a VIP box in the Olympic Stadium. The club has awarded him honorary membership with the number 1924, his year of birth.

(Source: Klaus Hillebrand, "Not with us. The Life of Leonie and Walter Frankenstein," Frankfurt a.M.: Jüdischer Verlag im Suhrkamp Verlag, 2008)