The “Hachshara” (training, or preparation) camps were kind of a kibbutz, farms based on a shared economy.
As the Zionist movement strengthened on the one hand, and as anti-Semitism increased on the other, the Zionist training camps throughout Europe that were operated since the 19th century gained momentum.
Their goal was to have a professional, social, practical and cultural training for the Jewish youth, in the fields of agriculture, handicrafts, electricity etc. to be ready for the desert and swamp conditions of Eretz Israel (the land of Israel), teach Jewish history and kibbutz economics, and of course Hebrew language studies – all to be ready for their new life in Palestina.
The pioneers of Ahrensdorf
In the 1930s, 32 training camps operated, 13 of them in the Berlin area. The umbrella organization that organized the bodies that administered the camps was the Hehalutz organization. In 1936, the German Jewish Youth Association of the Reich (Maccabi Hatzair) rented a building that served as a hunting house in the village of Trebin, south of Berlin. This training camp was attended by young people from all over Europe, a two-year course. They celebrated Jewish holidays and made kiddush on Shabbat. They called themselves “the pioneers of Ahrensdorf” and called the camp “the bridge to life,” which may indicate their keen sense of what is to come.
In the first class in 1936, the group included about 60 men and 20 women, all boys and girls from the city who did not know what fieldwork was. At its peak, some 200 students attended the camp in several groups. In the 12 square meter room, there are sometimes about 40 boys. After two years of training, the young people immigrated to Palestina, some legally and others not. The camp, which was an “island of freedom in Nazi Germany,” could not remain detached from the outside world for so long. In 1941, as the war intensified, the nearby village stopped being nice to the young people of the estate, the food became expensive and the conditions became increasingly difficult.
In early 1938, Rolf joined the training camp. As a motivated Zionist, he stops training as a barrel maker and after being fired from his job as a teacher following the rise of the Nazis he moves to the training camp.
Most of the letters that we have been sent from the Ahrensdorf camp. Rolf writes to his sister Helga, who lives in Tel Aviv, and tells her about life in the camp. For her it is an old story, she was already in the training camp in Hamburg and immigrated to Israel, but for him, this is the first time he saw hope. The hope of immigrating to Eretz Israel and not being persecuted in his homeland.
Rolf letters are optimistic and do not mention the difficulties.
Rolf could not go to Eretz Israel, his sister Helga said that in all his many talents, the management decided that he should stay in Ahrensdorf as part of the training team.
In 1941, the training camp at Ahrensdorf was closed, and Rolf and the remaining 48 members in the camp were sent to the Neuendorf Hachshara camp. Some were sent back to Ahrensdorf to clean and repaint the camp house since it was leased and according to the contract, they had to restore it to its original state.
More about the camp and the visit to Ahrensdorf a the following post.
Trebin, the town next to it, is a small, quiet town whose inhabitants, as noted, were in good relations with the camp’s inhabitants. In a very strange coincidence, it turns out that next to the Zionist training camp was a training camp of another kind, a training camp of the Hitler-juneng, at an active Luftwaffe airport. It is not known whether there was any interaction between the camps.
At the entrance to the training camp at Ahrensdorf there is a large house and a water well in front of it. In this house, the girls lived and the classes were held. Later, another building was used to raise animals and behind them the showers. In the main building were the study rooms, the library, the company room, and the dining room. The building is impressive, but today it is dismantled and its windows are broken. On the right side of the path into the camp were the boys’ quarters, just behind them the famous tomato hill of Rolfs stories, where the couples used to hide and do their, romantic stuff. At the foot of the hill they grew various crops, and up the hill, next to the tomato bushes, the couples used to seclude themselves. The barn at the foot of the hill was used to raise chickens and other animals. To the left of the main house is a small lake, which served as water for watering the animals and probably for swimming and recreation for the camp youth
All the survivors in the camp remember them as the well-known couple. This relationship was written by Urs Pease:
We do not know much about Lucy’s fate. It is known that she left for Eretz Israel, but did not survive the journey.
Maccabi Hatzair and the Zionist movement published a special newspaper. During the course of Rolf’s stay at the training camp, a pair of Jewish photographers, the Zonnfelds, came to photograph the young people in a staged and impressive manner. The photograph was published in the newspaper, and later a postcard was also made of it: “Postcard for Mother”.
End of Ahrensdorf
On July 1, 1941, the camp in Ahrensdorf was closed by the Nazis, and its members were sent to the transit camp in Naundorf (the last camp before there were sent to Auschwitz).
Rolf, who was a member of the older group, moved temporarily with his friends to the Algot camp to make room for the young group before 1940. At this time we do not know what he did in this camp until he reached the Neuendorf Hachshara/labor camp.