I mentioned a couple of posts ago that Bill and I went to Mainz to meet an old friend of mine from my days as a waitress in Williamsburg, Virginia. On our way to his hotel, I happened to notice the plaques (Stolpersteine) featured in today’s post. I haven’t spent a lot of time in Mainz yet, but I did recently discover similar plaques in my own neighborhood of Breckenheim, a suburb of nearby Wiesbaden. That discovery led me down a rabbit hole of a fascinating tale about a local family who escaped the Holocaust.
The plaques I discovered in Mainz were in memory of the Oppenheimer family. Father, Wilhelm Gabriel Oppenheimer was born in 1888. His wife, Anna Metzger Oppenheimer, was born in 1896. They also had a daughter named Rosemarie Oppenheimer, who was born on December 9, 1924. Together, the family lived at Schillerplatz 5, which today is a tony address in downtown Mainz, very close to the center of the city.
Just as I did for the Kahn family in Breckenridge, whose plaques I found in August, I looked up the Oppenheimer family’s history. The Kahns were lucky enough to escape the Holocaust and relocated to the United States. The Oppenheimers, unfortunately, were unable to avoid deportation. The three family members are commemorated in Stolpersteine.
In 1939, Rosemarie Oppenheimer left Mainz via Frankfurt on a children’s transport bound for the Netherlands. She had joined other young refugee children at a Quaker school in Eerde to learn how to farm. Oppenheimer and the other youngsters were trained by a Jewish teacher. She had hoped to eventually continue learning in the United States, but World War II prevented her escape.
On April 10, 1943, Rosemarie and other children were deported to Vught Concentration Camp. Vught Camp, which was constructed in 1942, was the only official Nazi camp in northwestern Europe. It was originally divided into two sections– a transit camp designed to hold Jewish prisoners before they departed for Westerbork, another camp– and a security camp, where all of the Dutch and Belgian prisoners were held. Rosemarie Oppenheimer was in the security camp.
On July 17, 1942, Rosemarie was transferred from Vught Camp to Westerbork, another transit camp in northeastern Netherlands, where she stayed for a couple of months. Westerbork was constructed by the Dutch government, and was supposed to serve as a camp for Jewish refugees who had entered The Netherlands illegally. It was used as a staging camp for the deportation of Jews, and from there, Rosemarie Oppenheimer was deported on September 21, 1943. Her final destination was Auschwitz in Poland, where she was ultimately murdered on September 24, 1943. She was just 18 years old.
Rosemarie’s parents, Wilhelm and Anna, also died before they could escape the Nazis. In 1939, they fled to Belgium, but they were captured and sent to Mechelen Transit Camp. The city of Mechelen had a railway hub between Antwerp and Brussels; it served as a convenient place for Jews to be rounded up and deported. Most of the people who ended up at Mechelen were later sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Mrs. Oppenheimer was deported in 1942 and died at Auschwitz. Mr. Oppenheimer died on his way to Kosel.
Rosemarie’s older sister, Hilde, was born in 1921. She had gone to the school in Eerde ahead of Rosemarie and was accepted as an apprentice in England in 1939. Hilde was in a group of students who went to England before the war made travel so much more difficult for Jewish people. Unable to get back to the Netherlands, Hilde remained in England and survived.
It would be so easy to miss these “stumbling blocks” that appear in this area. I walked past the ones in my neighborhood for months before I happened to notice them one day while waiting for traffic to clear. I have made it a point to look up the histories of the people behind these inconspicuous memorials scattered around the Frankfurt-Mainz-Wiesbaden areas. They were real people with fascinating and often tragic stories. Given what’s been going on at the southern border within the United States, I think it’s important to read about what happens to people who are declared “illegals” and deported simply for being who they are. I have to admit, reading about the “transit camps” and “detention facilities” for World War II era “illegals” kind of makes my blood run cold. You would think we would have learned something from World War II. Clearly, a lot of people haven’t.