The Villa Merländer Association

Because history needs a voice

Since 10 March 1992, the Villa Merländer Association has been supporting the NS Documentation Centre of the City of Krefeld. The basic aim of the association is the promotion of activities to remind people of the NS times in Krefeld and the Lower Rhine region. The association achieves this not only by supporting the NS-Documentation Centre Krefeld, but also by preserving the monument at Friedrich-Ebert-Straße 42, including the murals of the artist Heinrich Campendonk, which belong to the house and were considered "degenerate" during the NS era. The Villa Merländer Association also participates in the promotion of scientific research and reappraisal of the Nazi era in the Lower Rhine region as well as in the promotion of critical education and training on the history of the Nazi era.

The Villa Merländer Association can now look back on a history of almost 30 years. More than 300 members commit themselves with their membership against forgetting in the silk city.

The history of the Association of Friends of the NS-Documentation Centre of the City of Krefeld

The beginning of the association

After long debates about the where and how of a memorial site to commemorate the victims of the Nazi dictatorship and the resistance against it, the NS-Documentation Centre of the City of Krefeld, at that time still NS-Documentation and Meeting Centre, was opened on 24 November 1991 at Friedrich-Ebert-Straße 42.

Decisive for the choice of location was the double history of the house: on the one hand it contained the only murals of the artist Heinrich Campendonk, who was ostracized by the Nazis, and on the other hand it was once the home of the Jew Richard Merländer, who was murdered by the Nazis. Although there was fundamental agreement between all parties on the necessity of establishing a municipal memorial, the institution was not uncontroversial in this form. For this reason, even before the official opening, there were considerations in the political arena to form a support group which was to support the work in the Villa Merländer with advice and action.

The Friends of the NS Documentation Centre of the City of Krefeld

Origins and self-image

After long debates about the where and how of a place of remembrance for the victims of the Nazi dictatorship but also for the resistance against it, the NS Documentation Centre of the City of Krefeld, then called NS Documentation and Meeting Centre, was opened at Friedrich-Ebert-Straße 42 on 24 November 1991.

The decisive factor for the choice of location was the double history of the house: on the one hand, it contained the only surviving murals by the artist Heinrich Campendonk, who was ostracised by the Nazis; on the other hand, it was once the home of the Jew Richard Merländer, who was murdered by the Nazis. Although there was a fundamental agreement between all parties on the necessity of establishing a municipal memorial, there were nevertheless tough political controversies about the institution in its decided form. The integration of the documentation centre into the rooms of the city archive was also hotly debated as an alternative at the time. After the final decision was made, the documentation centre was initially understaffed and underfunded, which led leading personalities in Krefeld to consider founding an association to support the documentation and educational work in the Villa Merländer in word and deed.

On 14 March 1992, the association was founded. In addition to the central task of supporting the work of the documentation centre, it was always a major concern of the association to represent civic engagement across party lines in its committees and structures. In particular, the board should include representatives from politics, trade unions and administration. The founding members elected the then mayor Rita Thies (Bündnis90/ Die Grünen) as the first chairperson and councillor Gerda Schnell (SPD) as deputy chairperson. The head of the city archive, Paul Günter Schulte, and the physician Dr. Stefan tho Pesch were also elected to the board. Rudolf Pilger was also one of the founding and board members, and today he is one of the association's honorary members, along with Wilma and Herbert Campendonk, Aurel Billstein, Dr. Eugen Gerritz and Götz Waninger. In order to further support the idea of a civic anchoring of the association, a board of trustees was subsequently founded, in which leading representatives of Krefeld's urban society expressed their commitment.

The first chairperson of the association, Rita Thies, was succeeded in 1999 by the councillor and cultural policy spokesperson of the SPD parliamentary group, Dr. Eugen Gerritz, under whose aegis, among other things, the "Merländer-Brief" was created, an information letter with which the activities of the association were communicated to the citizens and which is still an important medium of the association's work today. When Dr. Gerritz stepped down as chairman in 2005, the association already had 180 members. This positive development continued under his successors. From 2005 to 2014, the long-time mayor Mechthild Staudenmeier led the association, followed by councillor Barbara Behr until 2020, who in turn set important accents in the association's work. 

Activities and initiatives

The main purpose of the association's work was and is to support research into the manifestations and cross-period effects of National Socialism in Krefeld and the region. Numerous activities arose from this approach from the very beginning. Immediately after its foundation, it became necessary to support the restoration of the Campendonk frescoes in the Villa Merländer both ideally and organisationally. The association's sustained commitment to the implementation of the restoration measures and also the willingness to contribute to the costs through donations then made the implementation of the project possible.

From the beginning, one focus of the association's work was the voluntary support of the then director of the documentation centre, Dr. Ingrid Schupetta, at evening and Sunday events. Lectures by contemporary witnesses, readings, e.g. in 2003 to commemorate the book burnings in 1933, exhibitions, cabaret events such as in 1995 at the Kaiserplatz Comprehensive School, were co-organised and financed. The publication of important publications, such as the texts by Aurel Billstein, was also possible with the financial support of the association. Jews from Krefeld who had emigrated were accompanied and supported by board members and volunteers of the association during visits to their home town.

Over the years, the association has repeatedly provided funds that could not be raised from the municipal budget, especially for additional supporting staff, technical equipment, individual projects and the colourful mix of the event programme. The guiding principle of all events was always to deal with the persecution and oppression of dissidents and to take a clear stand against violence, against dictatorship and against racism. The current series of events, "Mondagsimpulse", which came into being with the transfer of management to historian Sandra Franz in July 2018, picks up on this guiding principle in a special way.

Another area of the Villa Merländer Association's work that deserves special mention is its cooperation with several Krefeld schools. In the spirit of the above-mentioned guiding principle, the association supports the educational work of these schools and enables learning groups to take part in guided tours and information and discussion events.

Schools take turns in organising commemorative events, for example on 27 January each year on the occasion of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. Since 2004, schools have cooperated in laying "Stolpersteine" (stumbling stones), which commemorate the fate of Krefeld's Jews throughout the city. Over the years, this cooperation has developed into firm sponsorships of several schools for the stones that have meanwhile been laid throughout the city. The established implementation of this project has been made possible in particular by the commitment of the current chairperson Sibylle Kühne-Franken.    

Today

Today, the Villa Merländer Association has 304 members. The close ties between the association's members and Krefeld's politics, culture and citizenship have allowed for lively and active support of the NS documentation and research work from the beginning until today. The turning away of parts of politics and the public from basic democratic principles that has been observed for some years now makes the joint work of the documentation centre and the association all the more necessary and topical.

Support for scientific research, joint educational work with Krefeld schools, lively, contemporary events and transparent public relations work therefore continue to characterise the association's work and invite socio-political commitment.      

At a glance

On the subpages you will find further information

We look forward to getting to know you!

Do you have an enquiry to the association, would you like to find out about our offers or are you interested in becoming a member of the Villa Merländer Association? We are looking forward to your non-binding contact

Villa Merländer e.V.

Friedrich-Ebert-Strasse 42
47799 Krefeld