Saturday, February 24, 2018

On the Stones of the Synagogue

There is one iconic photo of Freiburg’s burned-down synagogue taken on November 10, 1938, that not only is part of my web page Freiburgs Geschichte in Zitaten (Freiburg’s history represented in quotations) but also serves as historic evidence on the newly installed municipal information panels at the Platz der Alten Synagoge.

Middenhoff's famous photo (©Staatsarchiv Freiburg)
Although it was strictly forbidden to take pictures of the smoldering ruins of the Jewish house of prayer, the student of law Wolf Middendorff took a risk and shot the only known photo, becoming a sort of hero after the war. He not only was honored for his audacity but became a professor of law serving at the renown Max Planck Institute of International Law located one block away from my apartment.

Tall Middendorff in HJ uniform
(©Staatsarchiv Freiburg)
This morning an article in the Badische Zeitung changed Middendorff’s image dramatically. Markus Wolter, historian and librarian, has unveiled the Nazi past of this “hero” who in fact was not just a Mitläufer (nominal follower) of the regime but an active member of the Nationalsozialistischer Schülerbund (Nazi Schoolchildren's League). Later he rose through the ranks of the Hitler Youth (HJ) to become Unterbannführer (Local leader of HJ) in Freiburg. Having reached the age of 19 in 1935, Middendorff became member 3,594,133 of the NSDAP (Nazi Party). During the war, he served in the Luftwaffe (air force). In the winter semester 1945/46, he was one of the first law students in Freiburg. By keeping his Nazi past secret, he obtained the famous Persil-Schein* (denazification certificate) by fraud, opening him a public service career at court. In this capacity, he later boasted to have “whitewashed” many old Nazis.
*Brand name of a famous washing powder: “Persil, nothing washes whiter”.

What makes the Middendorff Affair unbearable are his anti-Semitic notes found after his death when, e. g., he welcomes the fact that in the winter semester of 1938/39 Freiburg’s university was judenfrei (free of Jews). To cap it all off he wrote a "poem" modifying the text of an old ballad: Wetzt die langen Messer am Synagogenstein, daß sie besser flutschen in den Judenbauch hinein (Sharpen your long knives on the stones of the synagogue, so they may more smoothly glide into the belly of Jews). Nauseating!

Knowing Middenhoff’s story, his famous photo reproduced on municipal information panels derides the Jewish victims. Unfortunately, this is just another chapter in the unfinished saga of the Platz der Alten Synagoge. Markus Wolter rightly demands that the photo must be commented extensively in the final version of those information panels.

1 comment:

  1. thanks for your kind response to my article, and for your informative blog-update. M. Wolter