Today is Remembrance Day in my native Netherlands. Tomorrow will be Liberation Day (and my mum's birthday!), but today is a day of grief and compassion. And this year, my family will remember a very special little girl. Her name was Christa Bamberg. She was not a soldier, nor Jewish, nor Roma, nor an enemy of the state. She was a little German girl killed by the Nazis. You might find her story confusing and disturbing; it isn't often told. And I am very grateful to textile artist Caren Garfen for including Christa's story in her powerful Star Witness project.
I've been following Caren Garfen on Instagram for a while and have always been greatly moved by her art. Some of you might know her project with all the little beds. It is called 'Room for improvement` and draws attention to the fact that there are not enough beds in the UK to help all young people who suffer from eating disorders. Although this is a growing horrible condition in the Western world with all its pressures. Several months ago, Caren started to post updates on her latest installation on Instagram. Hand-sewn yellow cloth badges in the form of the infamous Judenstern. Each star features a story. From the past, but maybe even more chilling: from the present. Anti-semitism isn't dead.
In her post on the 25th of February, Caren shared stars on the stories of the 1,5 million Jewish children that were murdered by the Nazis. For me, it called to mind Christa's story and I asked Caren if she would be willing to include it in her Star Witness project. Even though Christa was not Jewish. I and my family are very grateful that Caren said yes.
Christa Bamberg was born on the 8th of January 1938 in Erfurt, Germany. She contracted meningitis at the age of three and as a result, became mentally disabled. The Nazis had very strong opinions on who was 'fit' for life. Mentally disabled people were not. At some point after June 1941, Chista was taken by force from her family and sent to Uchtspringe mental asylum. From 1940 onwards, this asylum was used for research on the genetics of mental disability. It had a special ward for children. Tötungsärtzte (=killing doctors) Hermann Wesse, his wife Hildegard Wesse and Gerhard Wenzel actively killed many children or ordered the nurses to do so. Either by mixing their food with phenobarbital, a common drug used in the treatment of epilepsy in children, but fatal when given an overdose. Or children were given an overdose of morphine by lethal injection. Hermann Wesse spent 20 years in jail and repented, his wife Hildegard only about two years. She continued to work as a doctor and did not think she had done anything wrong by killing mentally disabled children and women. Gerhard Wenzel was not in jail, did never repent and continued to work as a doctor. Christa was killed on the 18th of January 1945, ten days after her seventh birthday. Was it Hermann? Hildegard? Gerhard? or an unnamed nurse?
How is Christa related to me? Christa is my father's niece and my grand-father was her uncle. That might sound far, far away and long ago. However, I know Christa's brother quite well as Klaus-Dieter and his wife Doris have regular contact with my parents. After all, Klaus-Dieter is my father's cousin. Klaus-Dieter was born on the 2nd of December 1944 and never knew his sister. We have not told him about Christa being included in Caren's Star Witness project as we fear that he will be unable to cope.
Originally, I was going to include a few other family stories with Christa's story. Before Corona, I and my parents would have spent last week on holiday in Rappelsdorf, the village in Thuringia where my grandfather was born. Enroute to Rappelsdorf, I and my husband were going to visit the war grave of my grandfather's youngest brother Erwin. He was a radio operator with the Wehrmacht. As a result of being shot, he died on the 30th of July 1945 aged only 21. And he was Christa's uncle too.
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