Max – Windmüller – Society
Founded in 2012, the roots of the Max Windmüller Society reach back to the 1990s. In 1988 a group of citizens in Emden organised a visit of former members of the Israeli community from Emden, who had emigrated before 1939 or had survived the holocaust. Their partner in Israel was a committee of former Emder Jews (van der Walde, Nussbaum, etc.). Founding members of the group in Emden consisted of Marie Werth, Prof. Siegfried Sommer, together with Marianne Claudi and the director of the Volkshochschule (Adult Education School) at the time, Reinhard Claudi. They then contacted the former Jewish citizens of Emden and organized their visit.
Since 1988 this group also organized an annual commemorative event of the “Reichspogromnacht” on November 9th . The group founded a formal community in 1995 and it was registered under the name “Study Group: Jews in Emden”. The following tasks were formulated:
- To keep in contact with survivors of the holocaust and other Jews from Emden who had emigrated until 1940.
- To organize commemorative events.
- To collaborate with schools in Emden informing and educating students in order to raise the awareness of the historical events that ultimately led to the holocaust.
- Education towards tolerance and against anti-Semitism.
- Taking up measures to conserve the Jewish cemetery in Emden as the last relic of a community that had lived and existed in Emden for more than 300 years.
It was a very important stepping stone of the Study Group when Dr. Jürgen Hinnendahl joined the group. As director of the City-Administration in Emden in the mid-1990s he was instrumental in naming a street after Max Windmüller, who most citizens of Emden didn’t know. In this particular case it seems appropriate to look at that particular street. Until 1933 it was known as “Judenstrasse” and as part of the campaign of the Nazis to extinguish everything that was connected to Jewish history and culture. The name of the street was changed to “Webegildestraße” which remained so until 1998 when it was renamed as “Max-Windmüller-Straße”. This has brought the name of a famous resistance-fighter to the public awareness.
Another project of the community “Study Group: Jews in Emden” was the restoration of the Jewish cemetery in the Bollwerkstraße in Emden. Until the end of 1990s Mr. Norbert Tillmann, chief of the city department of planning buildings, created the monument, commemorating the victims from Emden in the holocaust.
Another important project of the community was the creation of documentation material based on filmed interviews of holocaust-survivors and emigrated Jewish citizens of Emden. Over the course of more than ten years 15 films were produced.
In addition several books concerning the history of Jews in Emden were published until 2011.
The most notable are:
M. and R. Claudi (1995): Those we have lost.
G. Janssen (2006): An example of love to humanity, the story of the Israeli community in Emden till the Holocaust.
M. and R. Claudi (2008): A City is remembering, 80 years after the “Pogromnacht”.
M. Claudi (2008): Under every tombstone a story, the Jewish cemetery in Emden.
Rolf Uphoff was elected chairman of the “Study Group: Jews in Emden” in 2007. He had entered the study group in 2003 as he was impressed by their activities. Another aspect could be seen in the support of Gesine Janssen’s work to publish a fundamental book concerning the Jewish history of Emden. As Director of the City Archives of Emden he organized historical documents and supported the research carried out by Mrs. Janssen. Due to the popularity this book is no longer available however the MWG is planning a new publication of the history of Emden’s Jewish community in the near future.
In 2012 it was decided to change the “Study Group: Jews in Emden” into “Max-Windmüller-Society” and the members of the society agreed upon a new constitution. The society realized that the ideas of Max Windmüller, with his nonviolent resistance against the totalitarian and criminal Nazi-Regime should be essential in guiding the work of the society into the future.
The practical themes have not changed from those of the previous study group and yet the activities developed into prioritizing on working with and in schools in recent years. One example is the Lodz-Project since 2012: this project focusses on researching the fate of the Jewish citizens of Emden, Aurich and Norden that were deported to the ghetto of Litzmannstadt (Lodz) in October 1941. Students of the BBS II (vocational school or trade school) worked alongside students of the szkola europeiska in Lodz and since 2013 the III. Lyceum. This international collaboration is in the spirit of Max Windmüller.
Biography of Max Windmüller
Max Windmüller was born on 7th February in 1920 as one of five children to Moritz Windmüller (who was a butcher and cattle dealer) and his wife Jette, nee Seligmann. It was decided to name the boy “Max” in honour of Moritz’s brother, who had died at the front during the First World War, which had ended just one year and three Months before the little Max did his first cries in an uncertain world. Nevertheless, Max had a good childhood and was involved in many activities as member of a gang of boys. It seems that he was confronted with Zionism and socialism as a young student. Facing the great depression since 1929 and the growth of the Nazi party many young Jews decided to emigrate. Dr Blum, the Rabbi of the Israeli in Emden community encouraged this option.
Soon after the Bar Mitzvah Max was abruptly confronted with Nazi violence in spring 1933. His father lost the permission to work as butcher. He closed his butcher-shop and the family moved to Groningen, in the Netherlands. The family lived in poor conditions. Every member had to earn money to secure subsistence but Max didn’t lose his optimism. He had a lot of interests and conserved a great portion of his character as a young scamp, as he was already in Emden. With his temperament Max gained the affection of his comrades, especially that of the girls. He learned a lot of tricks, which were useful when he became a member of the resistance. While his older brother Isaak founded a group preparing young Jews for emigration, Max too prepared for this eventuality, escaping from the danger, caused by Nazi imperialism and ideology. Between 1937 and 1939 Max trained for a life as a farmer in Palestine. 1939 he had a chance to leave the Netherlands, but friends persuaded him to stay on behalf of the organization “Gruppe Westerweel” to hide Jewish refugees, who came to the Netherlands. After the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in May 1940 the group around Max Windmüller and Joop Westerveel organized safe places for Jews and families for Jewish children who were separated from their parents. The family of Max was arrested in the camp of Westerbork. His mother Jette and his brother Salomon were deported to Auschwitz – Birkenau 1942, November. Both were murdered in the extinction camp.
Despite the increasing hardship and horror Max continued to help many Jews and it is estimated that around 400 of them including his own brother Emil were saved from certain death. As part of these incredibly risky operations Max did travel to France on several occasions as he was collaborating with the French Resistance in order to find a way to Spain via the Pyrenees for the Jewish refugees. Eventually he had to flee from Westerbork but on the 18th July 1944 his luck ran out. On the last day of the German occupation of Paris Max Windmüller was arrested by the Gestapo after double agents betrayed the Jewish Resistance. Subsequently he was interned in the KZ Buchenwald and at the end of April 1945 he had to take part in the evacuation march of the camp to KZ Dachau which became a death march. Near Cham, Oberpfalz, Max Windmüller collapsed due to exhaustion and high fever and was shot dead by a guard from the SS on the 21st April. And in another ironic twist in the last chapter in the life of Max Windmüller was, that the surviving column was freed by US forces the very next day.
Dr. Rolf Uphoff