In November 1944 20 Jewish children, ten boys and ten girls, had been brought from Auschwitz to the concentration camp of Neuengamme, just outside Hamburg. The youngsters, aged between 5 and 12 years old, came from all over Europe and were to be human guinea-pigs in a series of medical experiments conducted by the SS doctor Kurt Heissmeyer.
Dr. Heissmeyer removed the children’s lymph glands for analysis, and he injected living tuberculosis bacteria in their veins and directly into their lungs to determine if they had any natural immunities to tuberculosis.They were carefully observed, examined and photographed as the disease progressed. The condition of all the children deteriorated very rapidly and they became extremely ill.
On April 20th, 1945, the day on which Adolf Hitler was celebrating his fifty-sixth birthday and just a few days before the war ended, Heissmeyer and SS-Obersturmführer Arnold Strippel decided to kill the children in an effort to hide evidence of the experiments from the approaching Allied forces.
To conceal all traces the SS transported the children to the former Bullenhuser Damm School, which had been used as a satellite camp since October 1944. They were immediately taken to the basement and ordered to undress.
An SS officer later reported: “They sat down on the benches all around and were cheerful and happy that they had been for once allowed out of Neuengamme. The children were completely unsuspecting.”
The children were told that they had to be vaccinated against typhoid fever before their return journey. Then they were injected with morphine. They were hanged from hooks on the wall, but the SS men found it difficult to kill the mutilated children. The first child to be strung up was so light – due to disease and malnutrition – that the rope wouldn’t strangle him. SS untersturmführer Frahm had to use all of his own weight to tighten the noose. Then he hanged the others, two at a time, from different hooks. ‘Just like pictures on the wall’, he would recall later. He added that none of the children had cried.
At five o’ clock in the morning on April 21th, 1945, the Nazis had finished with their work and drank hard-earned coffee …
One of the children was Jacqueline Morgenstern, born to Suzanne and Karl Morgenstern in 1932 in Paris, France. Here Jacqueline led a happy life, she attended school and her father and uncle owned a beauty shop in central Paris.
The family’s feelings of security collapsed, however, when in 1940, Germany invaded France and the brutality of the Nazis accelerated with murder, violence and terror. In 1944 Jacqueline and her parents were sent to Auschwitz. Jacqueline and her mother went to the women’s work camp, where food rations were meager. Suzanne gave Jacqueline most of her food, so she became malnourished and ill. When the Nazis found her no longer useful for forced labor, they sent her to the gas chambers.
After her mother’s death, Jacqueline was sent to a special children’s barrack where the children were being held for later bogus medical experiments. The majority of the children spoke only Polish but one of the boys, Georges Andre Kohn, spoke French, too, and they became close friends.
After the war, the SS doctor Kurt Heissmeyer returned to his home in Magdeburg, postwar East Germany, to resume medical practice, highly regarded as a lung and tuberculosis specialist. The much-admired physician was eventually tried and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1966. Arnold Strippel, the SS-Obersturmführer commanding these killings as well as many others, lived for years well in West Germany in a villa situated on the outskirts of Frankfurt despite all efforts made by relatives of the children to take him to trial.
Opened in 1980, this memorial is located in the cellar of the former school. The room where the children were murdered has been kept in its original state. In an adjoining room there is an exhibition on the fate of the victims. The documentation also provides insight into the various individual and inofficial attempts made during the 1970s and 1980s to shed light on the crime, and describes the deliberate delay of criminal proceedings against Arnold Strippel, the SS officer in charge of the murder unit.
The association ‘Kinder vom Bullenhuser Damm e.V.’ has planted a rose garden behind the school. Anyone who wishes may plant a rose there as a tribute to the dead. The rose garden is open at all times.
Not one of the children of Bullenhuser Damm was older than twelve. Stripped of their childhoods, they lived and died during the dark years of the Holocaust and were victims of the Nazi regime. Had they survived another two weeks, they would have been liberated by the Allied forces ..