â Address: Rosenthaler StraÃe 39, 10178, Berlin Mitte / Musuem dedicated to a German factory oweer who saved many Berlin Jews from the death camps. â
The 'Museum Blindenwerkstatt Otto Weidt' tells the story of the man who saved many Jews from certain death by employing them in his brush and broom factory in the Hackescher Markt district of Berlin during World War 2. The museum is kept by the German Resistance Memorial Centre Foundation and there is no charge for admission though I would urge visitors to make a donation. The museum is actually housed in the building in which Weidt kept his factory and also hid a Jewish family. A visit need not take a great deal of time but is highly recommended.
Otto Weidt was born in 1882. He considered himself a pacifist and due to a visual impairment he was not called up to serve in World War 1 until almost the end of the war. After the war his sight deteriorated and he had to give up his work as an upholsterer. By the early 1940s he had opened a brush factory in an impoverished area of Berlin; he won many privileges because his factory's output was seen as important war work. It was partly this positive relationship with the authorities that enabled him to bribe officials, time after time having the Gestapo turning a blind eye to the fact that Weidt was employing Jews. Between 1941 and 1943 Weidt's factory employed about 30 deaf or visually impaired Jewish people as well as 8 other 'illegal Jews'.
Weidt also secretly engaged the services of other collaborators to obtain forged documents and he also sold some of the brushes made in the factory on the black market in order to obtain the extra food he needed for the Horn family who were hiding in the secret room at the far end of the factory. Alas, somebody betrayed the Horn family and they were found and deported to Auschwitz in 1943. Otto managed to bribe officials to secure the release of several Jews from a holding camp where they were awaiting deportation , and he rented a secret flat to Alice Licht, an illegal Jew and her parents though they too were betrayed around the same time as Chaim Horn and his family and sent to Theresienstadt. RemarkablyWeidt later travelled to Auschwitz from where he was able to secure the release of Alice Licht and she survived the war.
The workshop is situated in the Hackesche HÃ¶fe (a series of historic courtyards now filled with shops and restaurants), though not one of the ornate ones. It was quite dark when we visited but it should be easier to find in daylight. A sign on the wall beside the door announces the visitor centre but the entrance is covered in graffiti and I didn't stop to read it. The museum is small and simply presented using photographs of Weidt's employees, documents such as falsified papers and employment records and a small number of boards that explain the story of Otto Weidt. Captions are in English and German. A guided tour is not necessary but can be arranged in a number of languages by booking in advance, and it would enhance the experience.
One of the most striking exhibits is a blown up photograph of Weidt surrounded by his workers. It's such a lovely photograph showing happy smiling colleagues that you can almost forget who these people were and how much danger they were in. However, further one, an outline drawing numbers each person and describes their fate. Some survived thanks to their employer, but others did not. An interactive section allows you to use a touch screen to read biographies of each employee; This brought me to tears on several occasions, particularly the fate of one woman who did not survive the war even though her family had obtained visas to go to Palestine - she was refused on the grounds of her visual impairment. I can't describe how angry that made me feel.
After the workshops you reach the tiny room in which the Horn family - Chaim, his wife and two sons - hid. It is tiny and windowless. That they managed to stay cooped up in such an oppressive, airless place says a lot for their will to live.
This is a really excellent museum and it has been presented in such a way as to educate without being sensational. There's just the right amount of information so you don't feel bombarded and the use of photographs of Weidt's employees make you feel very close to the people who worked here. I appreciated the strategy of only looking at Otto Weidt and his employees rather than looking at lots of aspects of the war or the Nazi regime in general; I thought this was very respectful.
I'd never heard of Otto Weidt until I read about this museum but I'm so pleased I know about this remarkable man now.
Rosentaler Strasse 39
Nearest u-bahn is Hackescher Markt
Survivor of the Holocaust and employee of Otto Weidt, Inge Deutschkron wrote a book about her experience called 'Outcast' which is not widely available now but second hand copies can be found.