Bullenhuser Damm School is located at 92–94 Bullenhuser Damm, a street in the Rothenburgsort section of Hamburg, Germany. During heavy air raids many portions of Hamburg were destroyed including the Rothenburgsort section which received heavy damage. The school was only slightly damaged. By 1943, the surrounding area was largely obliterated so the building was no longer needed as a school. In October 1944, a subcamp of the Neuengamme concentration camp was established in the school to house prisoners used in clearing the rubble after air raids. The Bullenhauser Damm School was evacuated on April 11, 1945. Two SS men were left to guard the school SS Unterscharführer Johann Frahm and SS Oberscharführer Ewald Jauch and the janitor Wilhelm Wede.
On the night of April 20, 1945, 20 Jewish children who had been used in medical experiments at Neuengamme, their four adult Jewish caretakers and six Red Army prisoners of war (POWs) were killed in the basement of the school. Later that evening, 24 Soviet POWs who had also been used in the experiments were brought to the school to be murdered. The names, ages and countries of origin were recorded by Hans Meyer, one of the thousands of Scandinavian prisoners released to the custody of Sweden in the closing months of the war. Neuengamme was used as a transit camp for these prisoners.
The SS physician Kurt Heissmeyer was desirous of eventually obtaining a professorship. In order to do so he needed to present original research. Although previously disproven, his hypothesis was that the injection of live tuberculosis bacilli into subjects would act as a vaccine. Another component of his experimentation was based on pseudoscientific Nazi racial theory that race played a factor in developing tuberculosis.
He attempted to prove his hypothesis by injecting live tuberculosis bacilli into the lungs and bloodstream of "Untermenschen" (subhumans), Jews and Slavs being considered by the Nazis to be racially inferior to Germans.
He was able to have the facilities made available and to test his subjects as a result of his personal connections: his uncle, SS general August Heissmeyer, and his close acquaintance, SS general Oswald Pohl.
The medical experiments on tuberculosis infection were initially carried out on prisoners from the Soviet Union and other countries at the Neuengamme concentration camp. The experiments were then extended to Jews. For this he chose to use Jewish children. Twenty Jewish children (10 boys and 10 girls) from Auschwitz concentration camp were chosen by Josef Mengele and sent to Neuengamme. Mengele allegedly asked the children, "Who wants to go and see their mother?"
The children were accompanied to Neuengamme by four women prisoners. Two were Polish nurses and one was a Hungarian pharmacist, and they were killed upon arrival at Neuengamme. The fourth woman, Polish-born Jew Paula Trocki, was a doctor. She survived the war and later gave testimony in Jerusalem about what she had witnessed:
The children were injected with live tuberculosis bacilli, and they all proceeded to become ill. Heissmeyer then had their axillary lymph nodes surgically removed from their armpits and sent to Hans Klein at the Hohenlychen Hospital for study. All the children were photographed holding up one arm to show the surgical incision.
The collapsing western front and imminent approach of British troops prompted the perpetrators to murder the subjects of the experiment in order to cover up their crimes. The orders for the murders were issued from Berlin.
The children, their four adult caretakers and six Soviet prisoners were brought by truck to the Bullenhuser Damm School in the Hamburg suburb of Rothenburgsort. The school had been taken over by the SS to house prisoners from Neuengamme used to clear rubble from the surrounding area after Allied bombing raids. The SS evacuated the building around April 11, 1945 leaving a skeleton crew of two SS guards Ewald Jauch and Johann Frahm and a janitor. They were accompanied by three SS guards (Wilhelm Dreimann, Adolf Speck and Heinrich Wiehagen), as well as the driver, Hans Friedrich Petersen, and SS physician, Alfred Trzebinski. The children as well as others were told they were being taken to Theresienstadt. Upon arriving at the school they were led into the basement. According to one of the SS men present, the children "sat down on the benches all around and were cheerful and happy that they had been for once allowed out of Neuengamme. The children were completely unsuspecting."
They were then made to undress and were then injected with morphine by Trzebinski. They were then led into an adjacent room and hanged from hooks set into the wall. The execution was overseen by SS Obersturmführer Arnold Strippel. The first child to be hanged was so light that the noose wouldn't tighten. Frahm grabbed him in a bearhug and used his own weight in order to pull down and tighten the noose. The adults were hanged from overhead pipes; they were made to stand on a box, which was pulled away from under them. That same night, about 30 additional Soviet prisoners were also brought by lorry to the school to be executed; six escaped, three were shot trying to do so, and the rest were hanged in the basement.
The children were in the care of four male prisoners, two French professors and two Dutch prisoners, all of whom had been imprisoned because of their anti-German activities.
The two French professors were:
The two Dutch prisoners were:
Some of those involved in the killings were tried by the British in the Curio Haus in Hamburg in 1946. Trzebinski, Neuengamme commandant Max Pauly, Dreimann, Speck, Jauch and Frahm were convicted and given the death sentence. They were hanged on October 8, 1946.
Two of those directly responsible for the children's suffering and murder, Kurt Heissmeyer and Arnold Strippel, escaped and remained at large. Strippel had served at other concentration camps before Neuengamme, including Buchenwald. He was recognized on the street in Frankfurt in 1948 by a former Buchenwald prisoner. He was tried for the murders of 21 Jewish inmates committed on November 9, 1939 as retribution for the failed assassination of Adolf Hitler at the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich by Georg Elser. Strippel was tried, convicted and sentenced to 21 life terms by a Frankfurt court in 1949.
In 1964, an investigation into his involvement with the Bullinghauser Damm School murders was begun by the Hamburg prosecutors office. The statute of limitations had run out for manslaughter so he had to be charged with murder. Among the criteria for murder it had to be proven that the accused acted cruelly, insidiously or with motive. In 1967 the prosecutor, Helmut Münzberg, dropped the charges for lack of evidence, stating that Strippel had not acted cruelly as "the children had not been harmed beyond the extinction of their lives".
He was released from prison in 1969. After his release, he applied for a retrial, and in 1970 his original conviction was overturned and he was retried. At this retrial, he was convicted as being just an accessory to the Buchenwald murders and sentenced to six years' imprisonment. Because he had already served 20 years in prison, 14 years longer than this sentence, he was compensated with 121,477.92 Deutschmarks.
In 1979, partly as a result of articles written by Günther Schwarberg, Strippels' case was reopened. He was not reincarcerated, and in 1987 the case was abandoned by the Hamburg prosecutor's office, owing to Strippel's frailty. Strippel died on 1 May 1994.
Kurt Heissmeyer returned to his home in Magdeburg in postwar East Germany and started a successful medical practice as a lung and tuberculosis specialist. He was eventually found out in 1959. In 1966, he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. At his trial he stated, "I did not think that inmates of a camp had full value as human beings." When asked why he didn't use guinea pigs he responded, "For me there was no basic difference between human beings and guinea pigs." He then corrected himself: "Jews and guinea pigs". Heissmeyer died on 29 August 1967.
The building at Bullenhuser Damm was used by the British as a transit camp for German POWs until 1947. It was then used by the Hydograpichal Institute's meteorological service until 1949, when it again became a school, for 800 boys. In 1959, the organization representing Neuengamme survivors proposed to the Hamburg school board that a memorial plaque should be placed in the school. However, it was not until 1963 that the text for the plaque was approved. The text aroused controversy because it omitted mention of the Soviet victims and did not state that the children were Jewish or give any information about their personal identity. In 1980, information signs were placed in the basement of the school, and the Senate of Hamburg (government) declared the school to be a memorial site, renaming it Janusz Korczak School: Korczak was a Polish—Jewish paediatrician and author who died at Treblinka extermination camp with about 190 orphans. A rose garden was established in 1985. Later, in the Schnelsen Quarter of the city several streets were named after the children who died at the school and a memorial tablet was installed. Much of the work of identifying the victims and of bringing the story to the public's attention was due to the efforts of Günther Schwarberg.
In 2005, Wolfgang Peiner, Minister of Finance of Hamburg, published plans to sell the building. However, after several protests a spokesman denied these plans.
In 2011 a new exhibition (telling the story in german and english) was opened at the Memorial.
One of the most tragic atrocities committed by the Nazis during World War II, occurred in an abandoned school on Bullenhuser Road in Hamburg, Germany. Today, there is a memorial garden with rose bushes and a Weeping Willow tree on the grounds where 20 Jewish children were hanged in the cellar of the school, as British forces closed in on the Germans in 1945. The children had been injected with tuberculosis bacteria for medical experiments, and since there was no poison or incinerators available, they were hanged one by one. The 1989 film The Rose Garden, is a fictionalized account of the events of the Bullenhuser Road story.