Max Mannheimer (1920-2016)

Porträt Max Mannheimer

On September 23, 2016, Max Mannheimer died at the age of 96. Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site mourns for this man, who like no other put his all into the struggle to keep the memory of the Holocaust from being forgotten, while at the same time acting as a conciliator. It was in 1985 that Max Mannheimer, who was born in Neutitschein (now Nový Jičín) in Moravia, first published an article in the “Dachauer Hefte” on the story of his persecution and subsequent concentration camp imprisonment.

Max Mannheimer was the eldest of five children in a merchant’s family. The family first experienced concentrated anti-Semitic violence when the Sudetenland was annexed to the German Reich in September 1938. Nazi persecution caught up with them six months after moving to the as yet unoccupied part of Czechoslovakia when German troops invaded that region, as well. From then on, Max Mannheimer was forced to work at hard labor building roads. He met his first wife, Eva, and they married in September 1942.

The entire family was deported by way of Theresienstadt to Auschwitz in 1943. Max Mannheimer’s parents, his sister, one of his brothers, and his wife were murdered shortly thereafter. In October 1943, Max and Edgar Mannheimer, the only survivors of the formerly large family, were brought to the ruins of Warsaw, where a concentration camp had been set up to force Jewish prisoners to remove what remained of the demolished Jewish ghetto. The brothers performed forced labor there until August 1944 and were finally sent on to Dachau Concentration Camp, where they were deployed in several subcamps. At the camp in the municipality of Karlsfeld, which was located in the subcamp complex of Allach and was marked by disastrous hygiene, Max Mannheimer was put to hard labor carrying bundles of iron. He was even forced to take the bodies of his fellow prisoner who had died to the crematorium in Dachau on a wagon.

Max Mannheimer nach der Befreiung 1945

In February 1945, the SS moved him to the subcamp, where he was able to rejoin his brother Edgar, which proved to be essential to his survival. Soon Max Mannheimer came down with typhoid fever and languished for weeks with thousands of other Jewish prisoners in the local infirmary until it was evacuated. The final deportation began for him on April 26, 1945, when he was taken through many dangers to Lake Starnberg, where he was freed.

The loss of nearly his entire family left a deep mark on Max Mannheimer. Again and again, he was plagued by traumatic memories. Starting in the 1950s, his artistic work enabled him to escape these torturous thoughts. In remembrance of his father, he signed his paintings “ben jakov”, son of Jacob.

Immediately after the war, Max Mannheimer had at first intended to leave Germany. Years later, he made it his life’s work to combat right-wing radicalism and anti-Semitism. He became a key authority in the national discourse on the war. From the 1980s on, he worked tirelessly to keep the memory of the victims of the Nazi regime alive. “You are not responsible for what happened. But you certainly are responsible for preventing it from happening again.” In his work as an eyewitness of the period, Max Mannheimer did not go into schools to judge or accuse, but rather to enlighten – accusations against later generations were foreign to him. Max Mannheimer was committed to the work of the Dachau Concentration Camp community and remained its chairman from 1988 until his death. At the same time, he was Vice President of the Comité International de Dachau (International Dachau Committee).

Max Mannheimer auf der Gedenkstätte

The Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site is in deep mourning. “We will never forget his efforts for Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, his untiring commitment to setting up the Jugendgästehaus (youth guest house) in Dachau, his work for the ‘Gegen Vergessen für Demokratie’ (“against forgetting, for democracy”) association, and not least his own very personal, endearing and yet tenacious manner, which enabled him to achieve his goals. The memorial site and its staff are mourning the loss of their good friend,” said the Director of Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, Dr. Gabriele Hammermann.

Max Mannheimer was honored with many awards for his activities: he received the “Chevalier de la Légion d´Honneur” from the Republic of France in 1993, the “Waldemar-von-Knoeringen“ Award from the Georg  von Vollmar Academy in 1994, an honorary doctorate from the Ludwig Maximilan University in Munich in 2000, the Wilhelm Hoegner Award from the Bavarian SPD party in 2008, the Karlspreis der Sudetendeutschen Landsmannschaft (European award of the Sudeten German Homeland Association) in 2012, and in the same year the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. In 2010, the study center at the Dachau Jugendgästehaus was named after him.

His death has left us terribly bereaved. Our thoughts also go out to his family, his companions, and his friends. A book of condolences is available for signing at Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site.

Fotos: © Elija Boßler (2), private

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