Berlin History

Blind Trust: The Otto Weidt Workshop

You are deaf in an air raid. Imagine the mouths open, but you cannot hear the screams. No sound, just tremors from the walls disintegrating around you. You are blind in a police raid. You feel for the exits, futilely, follow the cries of panic, count the stairs, with the dogs behind you. Now add another hindrance. You are pursued, because the disabled are murdered. And so are the Jews. You are both. And in Nazi Germany, no one will help you.

Almost no one. A man named Otto Weidt has employed you and 38 other disabled Jews, the blind and the deaf, in his atelier in Rosenthaler Straße 39 in Berlin-Mitte, the heart of the old Jewish neighbourhood. The brushes and brooms you make are sold to the Wehrmacht. Because military equipment, however benign, is produced here, the premises are ‘protected’, so it’s easier to keep a low profile. How absurd to think that the things you make, but perhaps cannot see, are used to brush down the floors in an army hallway, the scuff marks of all those black boots, or to polish the surfaces of the planes raining bombs down on London. Perhaps they are used to mop up after the liquidations, the floor of an interrogation chamber.

February 1943, bombing raids, chaos, and the Fabrikaktion, a last round-up of German Jews. Otto Weidt, they say, went to Auschwitz to demand back his workers. Four of you are still alive, spirited away, while the rest are being murdered.
Perhaps one of the deaf saw, as he stood there in the cold, naked, waiting for the shower, a bucket at the doorway, and a brush.

Größere Kartenansicht

Joseph Pearson

Joseph Pearson (1975) is writer and historian based in Berlin. Born in Canada, he was educated at Cambridge University, UK, where he received his doctorate in history in 2001. Since 2008, he has written The Needle, which has become one of Berlin's most popular blogs. His portrait of the German capital, Berlin, for Reaktion Press was published in 2017. His second book, My Grandfather's Knife, was published by HarperCollins and the History Press in 2022. He is also the essayist and blogger of the Schaubühne Theatre, one of Berlin's best known state-funded institutions. His writing has appeared widely in the press, literary and academic journals, and has been translated into Italian, German, French, and Arabic. Having taught at Columbia University in New York City, he lectures in Berlin at New York University Berlin (since 2012) and the Barenboim-Said Academy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I agree to my personal data being stored and used by The Needle Berlin and to receive information from and about The Needle Berlin.