Two stumbling stones in front of the house at Elberfelder Straße 20 in Berlin-Moabit commemorate the Witt family today. Ernst and Hedwig Witt, née Baum, led a comfortable, middle-class life with their children Johanna and Kurt in a four-room apartment. Both came from villages near the town Posen. It is not known when or why they moved to Berlin.
Ernst and Hedwig Witt ran a shoe store at Frankfurter Allee 24-25 in Friedrichshain, Berlin. They employed two sales assistants and a female apprentice. After 1933, the Nazis’ boycott of Jewish businesses forced them to cut down their business, which was repeatedly the target of anti-Semitic attacks. In 1937 anti-Semitic slogans were daubed on the windows and Ernst Witt was beaten up on the street. One year later, during the November progrom, Nazi thugs ransacked the store and smashed its stock to pieces. In the same month, Ernst and Hedwig’s son Kurt was arrested. Ernst Witt no longer dared enter his own store for fear of being arrested. A short time later, the family business was closed down.
It is not known whether Kurt Witt, born in 1916, remained in detention or was released for a time and then re-arrested. But in September 1940, aged 24, he was taken to Dachau via Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald. A metal worker, he had not married by the time of his deportation. Kurt Witt did not survive concentration camp imprisonment but died in November 1942.
The urn containing his ashes was buried the next year in the Jewish cemetery at Weißensee. At this point, it was still possible for relatives and probably the Jewish Community to request the ashes of the deceased for burial, though it must have often remained a purely symbolic act. It is not known who buried Kurt Witt’s urn. His parents Ernst and Hedwig Witt were deported to Minsk in November 1941.
Kurt’s younger sister Johanna Neustadt was the only member of her immediate family to survive. In 1939, aged 21, she emigrated to England, probably in reaction to her brother’s disappearance. In the same year, she married Alfred Neustadt in London. He also came from Berlin, where they had probably first met.
Perhaps Johanna emigrated with her cousin, Herbert Baum, as he, too, lived in London after the war. He had previously lived in the Wilmersdorf district of Berlin with his parents, Gertrude and Jacob Baum, Hedwig’s brother. At some point, Jacob Baum emigrated with his wife to Palestine. After the war, he lived in Haifa and dedicated several pages of testimony in Yad Vashem to family members, including his sister Hedwig and his brother-in-law Ernst Witt. These testimonies also tell of the fate of the Baum family members: Hedwig’s and Jacob’s brother Arthur Baum was deported with his wife Paula Baum, née Rosenthal, to Auschwitz. Their son Horst Baum was sent to Dachau, aged 18, from where he was taken on a so-called invalid transport to the Schloss Hartheim killing centre, and murdered the same day in the gas chamber. Jacob’s three cousins Margarete, Helene and Ella did not survive the Shoah either. The same fate befell the other side of the family: Ernst Witt’s brothers Max, Felix and Hermann were deported to Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Reval.
Today Ernst and Hedwig Witt and their son Kurt are commemorated by three stumbling stones in front of their former home in Berlin.