While at Neungamme Concentration Camp we heard an amazing story of the power of an object to tie individuals together and transcend cultures. One object held a narrative of the bravery in a time of incredible horror.
Our guide shared the story of Fritz Bringmann, a prisoner in Neuengamme arrested for high treason. He was caught writing anti-Nazi graffiti on buildings and walls.
Bringmann was treated better than most at Neuengamme, being a “political.” He was assigned to the medical center where he was charged with sorting the sick. At one point Bringmann was asked to kill Soviet prisoners no longer able to work. Fritz refused and was, instead, forced to watch as these individuals were killed with gasoline injections to the heart. Fritz was sent to the detention center at the camp and spent days in solitary confinement until being released back into the general population of prisoners. But, word got out about Bringmann’s resistance and before Soviet prisoners were sent on to another camp they gifted Fritz this wooden carving as a token of their appreciation.
When Fritz was marched off to a new camp he gifted the carving to a child that shared food with him on the roadside. The carving was the only thing of value Bringmann had to show his appreciation.
Bringmann survived the war and spent his life telling his story, fighting for a peaceful world, and working for justice. He wrote Memories of an Antifascist. Years later he returned to present in the town where he had encountered the child on the side of the road. After Bringmann was done with his presentation a gentleman approached him and said, “You probably don’t remember me. But, I’m the child that shared an apple with you on the side of the road.” He returned the wooden carving to Bringmann and it is now on display at Neuengamme.
When I hear stories like this I wonder if the impact would be as great minus the object. In this instance the wooden carving of a heart was the entry point into a story of camp resistance, the individuals who lived and died in the camp, unwavering humanity, and the connectedness of people and places across time and place.
We will all remember this story thanks to this object. It has spurred some of us to do more research into Neuengamme and Fritz Bringmann. I am blown away with the way this object came full circle and allows Bringmann to tell his story years after his death.