Speakers discuss Berlin memorial plaque at Center for German and European Studies event
The two speakers lived at the house where the plaque was put up, but decades apart from one another.
The Center for German and European Studies hosted “Neighbors through Time: Lippehner 35 — the Forgotten History of a Berlin House” on Oct. 15 in the Napoli Room in the Gosman Sports and Convocation Center. Prof. Sabine von Mering (GRALL, WGS, ENVS) hosted the event after reading about a memorial service in Berlin in the Wayland Town Crier, a local newspaper about seven miles west of Waltham.
Two men with nothing in common but an address held a talk on how they commemorated the Holocaust. One of them, Peter Gossels, an 89-year-old who fled from Nazi Germany at the age of eight, spoke through a video call from his room in Newton-Wellesley Hospital. In 1939, he and his brother fled to France. A few years later, they moved to Massachusetts. The other speaker was Simon Lütgemeyer. At 20 years old, Lütgemeyer moved into an apartment building at 35 Käthe-Niederkirchner Street in Berlin, Germany.
Before Gossels and his brother were sent to France by their mother to escape Nazi occupation in 1939, they lived in that same building on what was then 35 Lippehner Street, he recalled at the beginning of the event. He would never see his mother again.
Sixty years after the young Gossels brothers left their home, Lütgemeyer moved into the rundown building on Lippehner Street, which was built in 1903. According to Lütgemeyer, the building had “cracks like wrinkles in the face with stories to be told.” Lütgemeyer began researching the building’s past and discovered that the building had been home to over 80 Jews over the years. According to Lütgemeyer, eight of those residents, including the two Gossels brothers, fled the country in 1939; five committed suicide to escape persecution and at least 65 of them were murdered by the Nazis. Lütgemeyer reached out to Peter Gossels after coming across his name during research.
Gossels is now a resident of Wayland, Massachusetts — most of the event’s audience were friends and members of his synagogue. After spending two years in France, he moved to the United States in 1941. He eventually reclaimed the building, remodeled it and sold it. That was the end of his story with the building until April 2018, when he received a letter from Lütgemeyer explaining the house’s history and what Lütgemeyer had found out about the Gossels. Peter then returned to Berlin to visit Lütgemeyer this past summer.
During the visit, Lütgemeyer revealed a memorial plaque next to the door of the apartment building. The names of the former residents were etched onto the bell board imitation. Lütgemeyer believed that the bell board plaque would better memorialize the large number of Jewish residents who lived at 35 Lippehner Street. When Peter Gossels was asked about this choice, he said he was grateful for the choice of memorial. Nobody can walk over the plaque as they could with popular stumbling block memorials, and the plaque forces those passing by to confront the past. Lütgemeyer mentioned that more than once he has seen someone looking for the name of a current resident on the memorial before reading the inscription and realizing the history of the building.
Finding the names on the plaque required intensive research, which involved consulting address books from the era and several archives. Lütgemeyer’s presentation included files originally from places such as the Asset Recovery Office and the Compensation Authority. Beyond trips to archives, Lütgemeyer’s daily life has changed. Each time he walks down his block, the buildings all serve as reminders to him of Germany’s dark past.
Werner Gossels, Peter’s brother, who was in the audience, spoke to the personal importance of the plaque at the event. For a long period of time, Peter could not believe that their mother was actually dead. Their family was murdered at a concentration camp, and there was no other place for the Gossels brothers to mourn their loss. The plaque finally gave the Gossels brothers closure and a resting place for their loved ones.
The popular way to memorialize those murdered by the Nazis is through Stolpersteine, or stumbling blocks — cubes placed outside of the former residences of victims with their names engraved. This form of memorial, first created by Gunter Demnig, has faced both support and opposition from the Jewish community.