The Gremberger Wäldchen, the Gremberg Grove, is one of the older forests of Cologne – one of the oldest trees in the city, a copper beech from the 18th century, grows here. In summer this is a quiet and peaceful place, a small cafe in the forester’s lodge from 1912 catering to the walkers, runners, and dog owners that frequent it daily.
But from 1942 to 1945, this was the location of a Nazi slave labor camp for people from the Soviet Union, the Ukraine, Poland, and France. On 08/04/1945, men of the Volkssturm, the militia, surrounded the camp and fired rifles through the windows of the barracks. After that, they burned the barracks, to ‘remove the center of an epidemic’, as the commanding officer stated.
Today, there is a small memorial in the forest, with a statue on top of a memorial stone with an inscription, indicating the 74 prisoners buried here – both victims of the destruction of the camps and prisoners who died before 1945. Behind the stone is an open area of flower beds, now all green, framed by a path of rough stone slabs. The memorial bears a Bertolt Brecht quote:
‘And all compassion, woman, I call lies / which does not transform into red rage / that does not rest until finally/ the old thorn is pulled from humanity’s flesh.’
The occurrences in the Gremberg Camp might seem like a footnote in history. But then the memorial is there, and I like that it can be visited, the crime made visible to this day.