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Munich: Naming a square after Holocaust survivors – Munich

Munich: Naming a square after Holocaust survivors – Munich

When the weather is nice, there's a lot going on in the small square facing diagonally to the southern end of Neuhausen's Grünewald Park. No wonder the place is charming: lined with trees and equipped with benches, a bookcase and a terraced tram house that doubles as a kiosk, it invites you to chat with friends and neighbours. The only thing is that dating is hard sometimes. Because the square between Ruffini-Waisenhaus-Nymphenburger Strasse has no name.

The Neuhausen-Nymphenburg district committee now wants to change that. At the initiative of Lily Schlumberger Dogu (left), local politicians put forward a proposal to name the square after Walter Joelsen – a Holocaust survivor who was awarded the Federal Order of Merit in 2009 for his participation as a contemporary witness in the concentration of Dachau. Camp memorial. Joelson died last year at the age of 96. “He would certainly have been very happy to have this place named after him,” says his daughter, Gisela Joelsen. “For us four kids, it would be a great honor.” Especially since Walter Joelsen, according to the 59-year-old, was “a Neuhausner in every sense of the word.”

Walter Joelsen was born in the Red Cross Hospital in 1926, grew up in Borsti the son of baptized Protestant parents, and initially attended Alphonschule. For a long time, the boy did not know that his father was of Jewish origin and changed his name from Joel's son to Joelsen. He was twelve years old when he found out. “The leader of a local group of the Borsti tribe visited his friends’ parents and ordered them to prevent their children from playing with the Jew,” says Gisela Joelsen. Young Walter loses all his friends that day.

This was just the first painful experience of exclusion. In 1943 – when the young man was only 17 years old – he was excluded from Wittelsbach High School because of the Jewish roots of his family. The Evangelical Community of Christ welcomes him to Dom Pedro Platz and hires him as a youth assistant. The church becomes his home. But just one year later, Walter Joelsen was conscripted into forced labor and had to expand an underground weapons factory in a mine in Bad Salzungen in Thuringia. The Munich resident was deported twice more, to Abterode, a subcamp of the Buchenwald concentration camp, and to Dankmarshausen, a few kilometers to the west. He survived torture, but suffered so much from the consequences of imprisonment that he was plagued by suicidal thoughts long after the camp was liberated by the Americans on Easter 1945.

After all, it is the positive memories of the Church of Christ that help him live. Walter Joelsen studies theology, becomes a Protestant minister, catechist, and editor at the Protestant television company Ekon, whose headquarters are on Lachnerstraße – not far from the field that might bear his name in the future.

Holocaust survivor Walter Joelsen was a Protestant minister, religious teacher, and editor at Ekon Television.

(Photo: Christian Taub)

But he cannot talk about his experiences for long, as the past haunts him. “We children also know a little,” says Gisela Joelsen. This did not change until the Holocaust series appeared on television at the end of the 1970s. Since then, Walter Joelsen has gone to schools and to the Dachau concentration camp, speaking about his experiences in the classroom and at the Memorial Church of Reconciliation.

“He was very open and respectful towards young people,” recalls Schlumberger Dojo. The politician herself accompanied visitors through the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial for 20 years and was able to experience Walter Joelsen as a contemporary witness on several occasions. “He made a huge impression on me,” she says. “He was a true Christian, a great humanitarian, and a very kind and profound person.” It was also a warning “that made clear again and again that democracy cannot be taken for granted,” adds Walter Joelsen, Christ Church pastor, Dean Christophe Janelle. And interests. “Someone who made young people understand that every person is different and special – and every person has his or her own dignity.”

Thus, Jahner and the Church of Christ Church Council support Neuhausen's initiative – as does the pastor of the Church of Reconciliation at the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial, and the church's counselor Björn Mensing. The decision is now up to the city council.