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Otto Weidt and his Workshop for the Blind: Saving Berlin Jews During the Holocaust

The story starts with a man coping with his growing blindness and ends as a story about a man who became one of the Righteous Among Nations at Yad Vashem. It’s 1936 in Berlin, Germany. Otto Weidt, almost completely blind, becomes a brush-maker and opens his workshop to others who have lost their sight. It's called the Workshop for the Blind.

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But the date is important because it was the time of the Nazi's growing power in Germany. Weidt was horrified by the actions of the Nazi party, and began to hire them in his workshop. By 1939 most of his employees are Jewish. Eventually he did more than employ them, Weidt sheltered them in his tiny windowless back room hidden behind a cupboard.

Today that workshop is an almost unknown museum. But visitors can tour the site of this workshop, see the displays, and read the often sad stories. Chaim, Machla, Max, and Ruth Horn lived there in 1943. Despite Weidt's efforts the Horns were discovered in Gestapo raid, deported to Auschwitz and murdered.

But there was also his attempt to save Alice Licht who was actually deported to Auschwitz. While on the train she managed to toss out a postcard addressed to Otto. It is found and sent to Weidt. He packed up and headed to Auschwitz to help Alice escape. Although he was unable to free her, Alice did escape and Weidt sheltered her until the end of the war.

Even when his efforts were ultimately doomed, he never ceased helping. Hiding Jews, sending food, saving them whenever he could from death in forced labor camps. He even bribed the Gestapo to release them, pointing out that his products are classified as necessary to the war effort.

After the war he provided financial support for a Jewish home for children and elderly in Berlin. He died in 1947 at age of 64.

In 1971 Yad Vashem recognized Otto Weidt posthumously as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. Yad Vashem pays tribute to the men and women who stood up, risking their lives, at a time of persecution and tragedy. In a world that created genocide it is necessary to also remember and celebrate those who stood up and fought.

The Museum Otto Weidt's Workshop for the Blind (Otto Weidt's Blindenwerkstatt) opened on December 5, 2006 It is located at: Rosenthaler Strasse 39 in Berlin. There is no charge for admission and the exhibits are in English and German. In addition, booklets describing some of the stories are available at no charge from the German Resistance Memorial Center.

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Neala McCarten

Photo courtesy of the Museum Otto Weidt Workshop for the Blind

Published: January 27, 2016

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