Comprehending the Incomprehensible: Holocaust Memorial Day

Young athletes from the Werder Jewish Rowing Club, near Potsdam, pictured in the 1930s. The Star of David that the oarsmen proudly display on their tops nowadays perhaps reminds us of the yellow star that the Nazis forced Jews to wear.
Young athletes from the Werder Jewish Rowing Club, near Potsdam, pictured in the 1930s. The Star of David that the oarsmen proudly display on their tops nowadays perhaps reminds us of the yellow star that the Nazis forced Jews to wear.

27 January 2017

Tim Koch writes:

Since 2001, every 27 January is marked as Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) in the United Kingdom. It is a national commemoration day dedicated to remembering those who suffered under the Nazis in The Holocaust and it also remembers the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. Since 2005, the United Nations has declared 27 January International Holocaust Remembrance Day. To mark the day in 2015, I published a piece on HTBS titled “A Poignant Piece of Rowing History: Jewish Rowing Clubs in Nazi-Germany”. In the introduction I wrote:

What I have produced is probably full of inaccuracies and misunderstandings and certainly is nowhere near ‘the whole story’. However, rather than remaining in obscurity, I think it is important that some version of the story of the ‘Jüdischer Ruder-Clubs’ should be made more widely known. That they existed at all before 1933 is interesting; that they continued to exist (and for a time grow) in the first five years of Nazi rule, 1933–1938, is difficult to comprehend. Worldwide, a huge effort has and is been made to ensure that all aspects of Jewish life that were wiped out by the Holocaust are not forgotten and this is my small and no doubt rather inadequate contribution to this.

The comments section of the original post has contributions from the daughter and grandson of Fred Eisenberg, third from the right in this picture of men from the Oberspree Jewish rowing club of Berlin. More details of Fred’s rowing are here. http://www.jmberlin.de/en/challenge-trophy-best-rower-year Picture: Jewish Museum Berlin.
The comments section of the original post has contributions from the daughter and grandson of Fred Eisenberg, third from the right in this picture of men from the Oberspree Jewish Rowing Club of Berlin. More details of Fred’s rowing are here. Picture: Jewish Museum Berlin.

The piece produced a large and positive response. In the comment section I later wrote:

Thank you all for you kind comments. The post has attracted an above average number of views and generated a lot of Twitter traffic. Initially, I was worried that producing something that links something as important as The Holocaust with something as minor as rowing history could be considered crass. I continued for two reasons. If any part of what the Nazis tried to erase forever is actually forgotten, it is a victory for them. Also, as something as terrible as genocide is impossible for most of us to comprehend, our only chance of some understanding is to relate it to things within our own experience. For example, we cannot conceive of the deaths of six million people but we can empathise with the loss of one person, Anne Frank.

Pic 3. A crew from a Hamburg rowing club that was part of the radical working class ‘Hapoel’ Jewish sports association. Picture: Photo Archive, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.
A crew from a Hamburg rowing club that was part of the radical working class ‘Hapoel’ Jewish sports association. Picture: Photo Archive, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.

Click on the link to read my original 2015 piece on Jewish Rowing Clubs in Nazi-Germany here.

In an increasingly intolerant world, perhaps we should use Holocaust Memorial Day to remind ourselves of the most obscene example of what can happen when it becomes acceptable to dismiss people who are apparently different from ourselves?

3 comments

  1. Thank you for this somber reminder, Tim. In these troubling days in America, it serves as more than a tribute to the tragic loss eight decades ago of a vibrant part of the rowing community. Much more important, it serves as yet another wake-up call. Resistance to the forces of discrimination and hatred that have been empowered by recent events must be powerful, pervasive and dispositive. It was apparently easy to say back then, “Oh, we didn’t know”. Now we can recognize the signs, and we do know what such palpable disregard for humanity – in all its glorious diversity – can lead to.

  2. Speaking of Anne Frank, it is worth noting that both her sister Margot Frank (in their Dutch exile) and her grandfather Michael Frank (back in Frankfurt, Germany) were rowers. Apparently Anne herself was not (yet) meant to be fit enough for the sport. But her elder sister even won a medal on 8 September 1940 in Zaandam: http://www.annefrank.org/en/Museum/Exhibitions/Temporary-Exhibitions/Margot-zusje-van-Anne/Margot-Frank-items/Margot-what-does-he-enjoy-doing/.

    Her grandfather Michael Frank, a successful broker, was a member of Frankfurter Ruderverein von 1865 (FRV), one of the oldest rowing clubs in Germany: http://150jahre.frv1865.de/anne-franks-grossvater-mitglied-um-1900-vater-im-streit-mit-vorsitzendem-von-1952/ (in German only)
    To my knowledge there were never any Jewish rowing clubs in Frankfurt/Main, but FRV had jewish members right from the start. It may well be that her father Otto learned to row at FRV, too, as his grammar school Lessing-Gymnasium had a group of students rowing at the club when granddad Michael was a member.

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