Gersthofen: City holds on to Wernher-von-Braun-Strasse. – Bavaria

After years of debate, the city of Gersthofen is sticking to the controversial Wernher-von-Braun-Straße. The majority of the city council spoke out against renaming on Wednesday evening – although a specialist committee commissioned by the city hall had previously recommended exactly that. In the city near Augsburg, there has long been a dispute over Wernher-von-Braun-Straße, after all the rocket developer is considered by historians to be a close collaborator with the National Socialists, he was a member of the NSDAP and SS-Sturmbannfuhrer. Forced laborers and concentration camp prisoners were systematically exploited to manufacture the aircraft he developed, such as the V2 rocket. Up to 20,000 people are said to have died. After 1945 he made a career for the US space agency Nasa.

The fact that the city council once again voted against renaming, as it did ten years ago, stunned Gersthofen historian and retired teacher Bernhard Lehmann. “This decision is unbearable and unacceptable,” says Lehmann. The chairman of the Gersthofer stumbling block initiative fights vehemently for a more conscious culture of remembrance. In January, he submitted the corresponding application to the city council. “The historical evidence of Braun’s Nazi involvement is overwhelming.”

The city council then entrusted an advisory board with the question. He came to the conclusion: Wernher von Braun must give way. “We explicitly and unanimously highlighted him as the perpetrator who was involved in the crimes,” says Josef Proell, who was a victim representative on the committee. The fact that the city council ignored this recommendation was “shameful. That casts a bad light on Gersthofen”. His uncle Fritz Proell died in 1944 in the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp – where Braun’s rockets were manufactured under inhumane conditions in underground tunnels.

“What would we have done then?”

Why did the majority in the city council ignore the recommendation? It would have been nice to have spoken to Mayor Michael Wörle (independent), who, according to participants, also voted against renaming. However, he could not be reached for comment on Thursday. CSU City Councilor Michael Fendt justifies his no, for example, by saying that he wants a critical examination of Braun as a person. A renaming would not help. Instead, the city council decided to attach information boards to several street signs with historically charged namesakes. Fendt hopes for an “educational effect”. He also asks himself whether, from today’s perspective, one is not too carelessly judging the past. “What would we have done then?”

In other municipalities in Bavaria, people have long since renounced the problematic namesake. In the neighboring town of Friedberg, the Wernher-von-Braun-Gymnasium was renamed in 2014 and has been called the State Gymnasium ever since. In Memmingen Wernher-von-Braun-Strasse was rededicated as Rudolf-Diesel-Strasse.

In Gersthofen, too, people thought they were on the right track. In 2018, a middle school was named after communist resistance fighter Anna Proell, Josef Proell’s mother. It is only a few hundred meters from there to Wernher-von-Braun-Straße.

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