Die Deportation nach Gurs

Filmaufnahmen aus Bruchsal vom 22. Oktober 1940

Deportation reports


Among the deportees was the Bruchsal teacher and poet Ludwig Marx. he wrote this poem about his time im Gurs:


We crouch on the ground in weather and wind

and we don't have what the poor man has left:

No roof and no bed, no drawer, no locker,

all we've got is tents and barbed wire.

We sleep and watch like animals dull,

we eat and drink and hardly get enough to eat,

we still have souls, but soon they are dull,

because life stops behind barbed wire.

From the diary of Hans Bernd Oppenheimer from Heidelberg:

"In the morning 7.00 am Gestapo with us with deportation from Germany. 1/2 11 o'clock pick-up by police lorry to the station to provided special train. In the evening 6.15 departure from Heidelberg. Journey: Heidelberg, Bruchsal, Karlsruhe, Freiburg, Mulhouse (France), Belfort, Dijon, Lyon (unoccupied area), Avignon, Sete (Mediterranean), Carcassonne, Toulouse (food supply by French army after payment), Pau, Oloron. Reloading in trucks to Camp de Gurs. Duration of the trip 4 days and 3 nights."

One of the deportees who had to board the special train in Heidelberg describes the beginning of the journey into the unknown:

"The rumor goes: to France, to Belfort. Oh God, only not to Poland! The gentlemen are thinking about the railway lines. We drive. In Bruchsal is the first station. New people board the train. Comrades of fate. One hears the action is only in Baden and the Palatinate (one does not know it yet exactly). Then we continue. It becomes night. The train stops very often. In Karlsruhe and Freiburg Jews come again and again. The train gets terribly full. People sit and stand in the corridors with their luggage. The windows must be closed and the curtains must be closed. The air is unbearable. One in uniform and two paramedics walk through the train and shout: 'Is someone bad, does someone have a heart condition? It was the first and last time. We drive through the night, to unknown places. Still the big question: East or West? If Breisach comes now, we'll be saved, so to speak. Have we already been there? Finally, at dawn, we cross the Rhine bridge. France!"

From: Geschichte der Juden im Landkreis Karlsruhe, Publisher: Landratsamt Karlsruhe,

Richarz, Page 309 f.

Karolina Mayer writes to her children in America from the Gurs camp on 30 October 1940:

"My dear ones, all of you!
As you my dear ones might already know, we are here since Friday after 3 days drive and live Ilot I barrack 23 father B 14 and are healthy and lively and have above all good air. Ask for permanent food. Everything went very quickly. Hope you all are healthy and don't worry. Many cordial greetings. Mother. Greetings from father and Sichers, Zivis and many acquaintances. Write to me how Kurt is doing. My address is: Camp de Gurs Ilȏt I Baraque 23 Basses Pyrenées (Bp) Greetings [from] Adelheid, Recha Hess, Emmy, Fritz Sicher".

This letter ends with greetings from "Sichers". This refers to relatives of Hugo Mayer who were also in the Gurs camp, namely Recha Sicher and her husband Fritz Sicher, who lived in Bruchsal. Recha is a born Hess, but the maiden name of Recha's mother is Mayer. Emmy Sicher is the daughter of Recha and Fritz Sicher and was deported from Karlsruhe. Adelheid Hess is a sister of Recha Sicher, née Hess and lived like her sister in Bruchsal.

Shortly after his arrival in Gurs, Kurt Billigheimer from Karlsruhe wrote to his relatives back home.

Kurt Billigheimer was born in Karlsruhe in 1897 and murdered in Auschwitz in 1944, as was his wife Irma (Hochherr), born in Berwangen in 1901, who was also murdered in Auschwitz in 1942. His two daughters Ingrid and Hannelore were only 14 and 13 years old when they were murdered in Auschwitz. Kurt Billigheimer's mother Melanie died in Perpignan in 1942, his father-in-law Moses Moritz in Rivesaltes in 1941. Only his mother-in-law Marie survived and died in November 1964 in New York.

© Leo-Baeck-Institute, New York

November 17, 1940

My loves ones,

By now you will have heard from radio and through the newspapers about the barbaric ways in which we were expulsed from our home in Baden and were forced to leave most everything that we own behind. On the morning of October 22 three men from the Gestapo unexpectedly showed up and told us to get ready leave our home within the next twenty minutes. We were told to bring along food for three days and to pack up what we could carry ourselves. You can imagine how we felt and in all that commotion Irma and I packed for ourselves and for the children as well. We didn’t pack that much given the little time we were given to do so and how little we can carry ourselves. In addition, we were allowed to take along 100 Marks, hence it is no exaggeration to say that we were completely destitute when we were expulsed from our home.

We arrived at Camp Gurs on October 25th and have been interned here since that time. The French must have been completely surprised by this action as well since they were unprepared to receive thousands. While they are trying to help us, we still lack most everything to cover our basic needs, especially given that there are some really old people (up to 95 years of age) among us as well as babies. Men and women are housed in separate barracks, separated by barbed wire. We can only very rarely, about every few weeks, talk for a few moments with our relatives. It is impossible to describe all the misery, suffering and all the distress that has happened to us because of this gruesome action (Aktion) in Germany.

You cannot begin to fully imagine the crime that was committed against us and how it has affected us. We, that is to say myself, Irma, the children, my mother, my parents-in-law are thankfully still healthy, we all hope to stay that way, and to get out of here, hopefully to the United States. If you could help us in anyway, we would be sincerely grateful, especially because we are lacking many things here, which can only be bought with a lot of money. Please let us know whether you can help us with our emigration plans for the United States. I have an affidavit for Irma and the children but I am not sure whether these will still be strong enough today. For my mother I don’t have any affidavit yet at all. How are you doing? What do you hear from your loved ones in Frankfurt? How is aunt Martha? I am sending you all my warm regards,


© Translation: Leo-Baeck-Institute, New York


The Mannheim physician Dr. med. Eugen (Isaak) Neter reports on the terrible winter of 1940/41:

"The extremely hard work of the doctors and the efforts of the self-sacrificing nurse was almost in vain; there was too little medicine, food and care products. In the cold makeshift barracks with 30 to 40 diarrhoea patients a single bed bowl. The soiling was terrible because of the lack of laundry, unspeakable because of the physical and mental torture it caused. What Jewish nurses and helpers did at that time can only be fully appreciated by those who witnessed the unfavorable conditions under which they had to begin their hard service at that time.

In those three months about 600 men and women died. Many died in the first few months without any demonstrable illness; the heart, the whole body could not bear the change and failed. The same was true of the will to live, which was broken by the horrors of the new, unbearable environment. Especially there the will to live was weakened or completely destroyed, where a human stood alone and where he lacked the buoyancy which the hope of seeing his children or wife again later can give to the exhausted. - Even though the majority of the dead already belonged to an age in which the death of a human is a natural process, the general impression was that death came here earlier than would have been expected under other living conditions."

From: Geschichte der Juden im Landkreis Karlsruhe, Publisher: Landratsamt Karlsruhe

Sauer 1968, Page 275

Else Liefmann was a pediatrician and pedagogue. She was deported from Freiburg to Gurs and wrote in a letter about the suffering of the people:         

"We have 10-15 dead every day, mostly old people, but also younger people and children from time to time. That is particularly sad. But the dirt here is indescribable, that although the nurses in my infirmary work excellently, they can hardly be tackled. In addition, we lack almost all aids and the effect is minimal. The representative of the Red Cross will hopefully report [...]"

From: Die Deportation der badischen, pfälzer und saarländischen Juden in das Lager Gurs/Pyrenäen, ed.: LpB, 2005

An interned physician, Dr. Ludwig Mann from Mannheim, describes the situation in the Gurs camp as follows:         

"The barracks were cold, damp, draughty and dirty, the straw sacks lay on the sloping wooden floors, poorly filled with musty straw. There were bugs and lice, rats and fleas; but no crockery and no drinking vessel. All the luggage, the 20 kg allowed per person, had been thrown onto the camp street by the luggage camions and lay in a deserted mess in dirt and rain. Only small things each had with him, perhaps a cup, a knife, with which several had to make do. We were completely dazed by the shock of the sudden deportation from our homeland, which, despite the mercilessness of Hitlerism, was the homeland in which we had grown up and spent many generations before us. Many still did not understand what had happened to them. They sat on their straw sacks and could not get out. It rained and rained. The ground was muddy, one slipped and sank. The ditches were blocked and the water ran over [...]" .

From: Die Deportation der badischen, pfälzer und saarländischen Juden in das Lager Gurs/Pyrenäen, ed.: LpB, 2005

Letter from Franziska Bär from Gurs on 5 December 1940 to her daughter Rose.

"Dear, good Röslein!

Child, can you believe that it is difficult for your mother to write to you, although it is my greatest need? Our whole life is so changed that we can hardly find our way around anymore. Only one of everything has remained, the love for you and for our father and it is our whole stop. You certainly know now about our sad fate and I don't want to make your heart heavy and tell you more about it. The main thing is that we are still healthy and have the will to remain so. The hardest thing is that father and I are separated and we can see each other very little, but we see each other even more than many others, because father is 'chef de baraque' and once a week has 1 hour exit. You can also see that father is working hard for others here and that is why he is on top of things.

Uncle Hugo is with him in the camp and he is better than expected. Aunt Frida and aunt Rosl are in the next Ilot [block], but we often talk on the wire. Aunt Frida wasn't well at first, but she has recovered well, despite the most primitive diet and a lot of freezing during the cold nights. Good people, especially the Richards, provided us with the most necessary warmth, because you can imagine that we had 1 hour to pack before we had to abandon everything. It was unspeakably hard and I was completely stunned. Before we had to leave the apartment, a letter came and while leaving I took your last picture of you from the wall, otherwise we have no picture and no memory sign of our loved ones with us."

From: Commemorative publication for the third stumbling block laying in Bruchsal on 26 April 2017

Hannelore Haguenauer, born in Karlsruhe in 1923, deported to Gurs with her parents and her brother, describes her daily routine to a friend on February 21, 1941:

"Dear Robert .... Then I get ready + go armed with milk can + shopping bag by bicycle. You must know that I am employed in the canteen that a friend from Karlsruhe runs. I shop for the canteen and have the advantage of a relatively decent lunch, but for a lot of money. But above all I'm glad that I'm busy and "can get out" [...] So towards evening I come back and spend the rest of the evening mostly in the canteen, where it's quite cosy. The mental mood and especially the mental condition is very bad".

From: Die Deportation der badischen, pfälzer und saarländischen Juden in das Lager Gurs/Pyrenäen, Ed.: LpB, 2005

Postcard of Betty Nathan from Gurs to family Moritz Nathan, 515 Raritan Ave, Highland Park NJ, USA, May 21, 1941:

"My dear all!

So that the break doesn't get too big, I'll write you a short card today. I will only write again in detail when we have received a letter from you. We congratulate you, dear Wilhelm
[Nathan, the nephew], on your birthday, which you may spend for the first time in your own home. We wish you all the best, above all, that you remain healthy, that we can see each other quite soon.

Please make sure that we get the papers from you soon, so that we can finally get out of here. Aunt Lina and Robert were embarked in Marseilles on the 15th; they sail via Martinique. Yesterday two packages came from her, addressed to Elsa
[Kander, her sister] and me. Elsa insists that she [gets] half of it, even if there are only two of them now, on the grounds that Kurt [Kander, nephew] has to get into trouble: if we hopefully come to you quite soon, I can tell you a lot. I can't write everything the way things are here; because of the food, I could almost do without my portion just for Kurt so he can get full. Hopefully we'll get some good reports from you soon. All of us all receive heartiest greetings and kisses, your Betty."

From: Commemorative publication for the fourth stumbling block laying in Bruchsal on 5 July 2018.

Letter from Fritz Bär from Gurs to his daughter Resi on October 26, 1941, after he learned of the death of his brother Max in the USA.       

"Human thinks and God directs. Where will he direct my steps? To the USA, elsewhere or back again? I was used to mastering my destiny myself to a certain degree and here I have been the plaything of evil powers for a year now and hopefully better powers later. I myself am tied to hands and feet, even the spirit is lame and I can't and can't think. All our thinking and feeling ends in the thought of soon and good peace for mankind and therefore also for us. Will this wish come true in the next six to eight months?"

From: Commemorative publication for the third stumbling block laying in Bruchsal on 26 April 2017.

A letter written in May 1942 by Benjamin Bravmann from an internment camp in Marseilles to his daughter Lore, married Kupfer, in Palestine, about the fate of the Bruchsal Jews in imprisonment in southern France:

"My dear children!

Since I haven't heard from you for months, which is probably due to the present circumstances. Your last letter of 18.12.1941 came into my possession on 17.1.42 via Switzerland. So I would like to inquire about your well-being. I hope that all of you are healthy and I am in the fortunate position to announce the same good of me, thank God, I am in quite good health. From Baltimore I heard that now Leo Sommer, Abraham's brother-in-law, had stood in for me as second guarantor after my nephew Ernst had been rejected in Brooklyn as insufficient. I certainly believe that this has no influence at all, because since 12.12.41 not a single former German Jew has received an entry visa at the Consulate. There go former Poles and Romanians receive their visas in large numbers. [...]

There are still Mrs. David Kaufmann and Mrs. Aron Kahn widow in the Hotel Bomphard. Aron Kahn died in Gurs, Emil Dreyfuss widow and Berthold Lang and Frau managed to emigrate to the USA in December. Furthermore in the Hotel Bomphard there is a Mrs. Selma Kaufmann nee Eichtersheimer born in Bretten, has a son Kurt Kaufmann in Tel Aviv and is worried because she has no news of him. He sends his best regards. Mrs. David Kaufmann also asks her brother Hugo Hausmann to write to her relatives in the USA, she and her husband, who is in Les Milles, send their best regards.

Hugo Rödelsheimer is also in Les Milles and is waiting for his visa. His brother Max, the photographer, remarried in Gurs. Bernhard Kaufmann from Mannheim is in Les Milles, his wife Selma in Gurs. Also in Les Milles are Arthur Stroh, Sally and Julius Rotheimer. Jenny Stroh is in Gurs, also Mrs. Recha Sicher with daughter and sister Maira. Ernst Nathan with wife and daughter Marie Gretel died. Ludwig Geismar and widowed Lina Wertheimer, the mother of Emanuel, died in Gurs. Wilhelm Prager with his wife are still in Gurs, as are Schneider Maier with his wife, the two girls Regina and Rosa Bär (Holzmosche), Fritz Bär with his wife, Lazarus Barth with his wife, Heinrich Barth with his wife and daughter, Leo and Max Barth, Julius Bravmann and his wife Naelka, Eppingen, and Mrs. Barth's widow Flehingen. The mother of Mrs. Nathan Löb died. [...]

I was Pesach a lot in the synagogue and wish that we could be united again next Pesach".

From: Geschichte der Juden im Landkreis Karlsruhe, Publisher: Landratsamt Karlsruhe