AT Next to the headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB), in a nook most visitors don’t see, is an inconspicuous concrete ramp that leads down to a basement. You have to stop, look up and take the time to soak up this view. In the foreground, the ramp leading to a cellar. At the back, the huge forty-one-storey tower of the monetary institution which dominates the east of Frankfurt.
The place is heavy with symbols. Between 1941 and 1945, the basement was regularly rented by the Gestapo to round up Jews there, before deporting them to death camps. In four years, a dozen convoys have been organized, transporting 10,500 people. Only 176 survived.
Among the survivors was Edith Erbrich. On February 14, 1945, when she was 7 years old, she, her father and her sister were rounded up with hundreds of other German Jews in this discreet basement. His mother, who was not Jewish, had not been allowed to join the rest of the family. The place had not been chosen at random by the Gestapo. A wholesale market was on site which meant excellent transport infrastructure. The train departed from there, following the Main River. That of Mme Erbrich traveled to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, located in what is now the Czech Republic.
Because this deportation was late, only three months before the end of the Second World War, the little girl survived, released with her father and sister on May 8, 1945. Now in her eighties, she was back in this cellar on January 27 , dated 78e anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and International Day dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust.
Everything has been deliberately left as it is: the raw concrete slab, the bare walls, the low ceiling. How to imagine that a thousand people were crowded together at each deportation in such a small place? There were no toilets, water or food. However, it was often necessary to wait more than twenty-four hours before the fateful departure. Orders had been given to bring only what was strictly necessary, so that the deportees piled up layers of clothing, even in the height of summer, to carry change clothes. A sordid detail, they had to pay for this one-way trip themselves, 50 reichsmarks per person.
Of course, the location of the ECB on this place of memory is just a coincidence. The tower was only opened in 2014 and the previous headquarters of the institution was located in the heart of Frankfurt’s business district. But the juxtaposition of the two is no less poignant. The Central Bank is one of the most concrete outcomes of the European project. Who would have thought eight decades ago that twenty European countries would share the same currency? That a centralized institution would have the power to set monetary policy for the entire area? That its twenty-six governors, coming from all countries, would be divided only by the direction of interest rates? “It adds emotion and relevance to the ECB’s mission”underlined, on January 27, Christine Lagarde, its president.
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