The beginning of the end of German Jewry


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30 November 1933

Construction workers in the Waidmannslust retraining camp

In the fall of 1933 the photo reporter Herbert Sonnenfeld visited the newly founded Waidmannslust retraining camp in the north of Berlin and photographed two young men plastering a wall. In his photo one is carefully mixing the plaster while the other is spreading it on a wall with a large board. It is quite possible that both these young men had previously worked in commercial professions and spent their working day, not outdoors, but in an office or a shop. Now they belonged to a group of around 100 young Jews who were being retrained at the camp.

The retraining facility was funded by the Jewish Community of Berlin. In six-month courses, teenagers and young men from commercial and intellectual professions were taught metalworking, road building, masonry, concrete construction and horticulture. With the German labor market becoming increasingly inaccessible to Jews, the camp aimed to accustom the trainees to physical labor and provide them with new career prospects.

Many Zionist youth organizations had begun offering retraining programs directly after the First World War. After the Nazis came to power, occupational bans and a lack of training opportunities for Jews led to the establishment of a range of new vocational training centers. Since in many countries workers, skilled tradesmen and farmers had better chances than did intellectuals and business people, the training centers aimed above all to prepare the young people for emigration. The majority of the so-called hakhsharah camps continued to have a Zionist focus and trained young Zionist pioneers specifically for life in Palestine ("hakhsharah" means "preparation" or "making fit" in Hebrew).

The photo by Herbert Sonnenfeld was published in the 30 November issue of the CV-Zeitung together with a report by the photographer. In it Sonnenfeld euphorically describes the young men who lived in spartan conditions in the camps but who nonetheless performed their tasks with great enthusiasm in this "community of 'new' German Jews." In a period marked by daily discrimination and abuse, those running the Waidmannslust camp attached great important not only to training the young people but also to creating a sense of community and strengthening their Jewish identity. Their goal was to unite Jewish youth and raise awareness of the need to fight for a better Jewish future.

Franziska Bogdanov

Categorie(s): associations | Berlin | emigration | occupational ban | Zionism
Construction workers in the Waidmannslust retraining camp, photograph by Herbert Sonnenfeld, Berlin, 1933
Purchased with funds from the Stiftung Deutsche Klassenlotterie Berlin