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Dr. Gustav Heinrich Leo * 1868
Eppendorfer Landstraße 58 (Hamburg-Nord, Eppendorf)
Mord durch Medikamentenentzug
Dr. Gustav Heinrich Leo, born 3 May 1868 in Hamburg, died 8 Dec. 1944 in the Alsterdorf Hospital
Eppendorfer Landstraße 58
Gustav Leo was the son of the influential lawyer and senate attorney Dr. Karl L. Leo and his wife Franzisca Henriette, née Herrmann. He would later make a name for himself in his hometown of Hamburg. Many of his achievements while he was the city’s City Planning Commissioner can still be seen around the city.
He attended school at the Johanneum until March 1887, and after a one-year internship at the railroad maintenance yard in Altona, began his studies in civil engineering at the technical universities in Karlsruhe and Berlin. After graduating, he worked for three years as the city’s construction director for the renovations of the railway stations in Altona and Hamburg. In 1896 he was certified by the Royal Technical Examination Board in Berlin, and in 1897 he entered public service in Hamburg as a certified government civil engineer.
In 1902 he married Lilli (Caroline) Franzen, the daughter of the director of the Hamburg-South America Steam Ship Company. Lilli Franzen had been born in Brazil, and attended school in Neubrandenburg and Karlsruhe. Their first child died in 1903, shortly after birth. Their son Friedrich was born in 1909.
As department manager under the City Planning Commissioner Fritz Schumacher, Gustav Leo was in charge of planning the re-canalization of the Alster. This project resulted in the building of numerous bridges in the city, for example the Leinpfadbrücke, the city’s first reinforced concrete bridge. He was project leader for the planning and realization of the Stadtpark, and for the development of the public infrastructure of the northern suburbs.
He became a planning commissioner in 1920, and three years later was named Chief Planning Commissioner for Engineering. This office oversaw the construction of roads, bridges, and river works, the sewer system, street cleaning and garbage disposal, traffic management, the engineering-related aspects of city planning, and land-use management. He was instrumental in introducing new methods of road building, improving the infrastructure to suit the increasing automotive traffic, and mechanizing street cleaning. It was under his leadership that Dammtorstraße, Jungfernstieg, and Rathausmarkt were connected to the new underground metro.
He wrote numerous articles about traffic management and road and bridge construction for magazines such as "Deutsche Bauzeitung,” "Bautechnik,” and "Verkehrswesen.” Gustav Leo was also a member of the supervisory board of the Hanseatic Airport Association, the honorary chairman of the Hamburg Society of Architects and Engineers, chairman of the Society for the Improvement of Motorways in Northwest Germany, and a member of the Free Academy of City Planning. He was given an honorary doctorate of engineering by the Danzig Technical University in 1929, on the occasion of the university’s 25th anniversary.
Gustav Leo retired on 12 May 1933 at the age of 65. On the next day the city’s largest newspaper, the "Hamburger Fremdenblatt,” printed an article about his retirement and listed his numerous contributions to Hamburg. The article was positive and objective, although the newspaper had already swung to the side of the National Socialists.
In 1935, Gustav Leo was called to act as an expert witness at a court trial in Lüneburg. The president of the Lüneburg City Council inquired whether he was "a non-Aryan. I request that the matter be investigated discreetly, and that I am informed as quickly as possible.” The reply from Hamburg read: "Since the City Planning Commissioner Dr. Leo retired several years ago, no documents with regard to the Law for the Reconstitution of the Civil Service are available. According to the city’s official records, Dr. Leo is one-quarter non-Aryan, i.e. one of four grandparents was non-Aryan.”
It is unknown whether Leo appeared at the trial. In 1938 he submitted a manuscript for a book about William Lindley to the Hamburg Historical Society. At a board meeting later that year, the manuscript was rejected on the grounds that the author was not "of pure German blood.” After 1945 the Society planned for a short time to publish the book, but the plan was never realized. William Lindley: A Pioneer of Technical Hygiene was finally published in 1969 by the Hamburg Building Industry Task Force. There was, however, no mention of Gustav Leo’s fate.
Leo’s son Friedrich studied law. He had to receive special permission to take the bar examination, since he was a "second-degree Mischling.” Because he knew he would not be able to practice as a lawyer, he quit his clerkship. Through a school friend who had emigrated to Denmark, he got a job with the Warner corset company as a legal advisor for exports and foreign currency and compensation issues. He worked there until he was drafted into the Wehrmacht in 1940.
He was stationed in France, where his parents sent him money via relatives of André Chanroux. Chanroux, the son of friends of the family from Paris, had lived with Lilli and Gustav Leo since 1943. He worked in compulsory service as a technician for the architect Hermann Distel, a friend of the Leo family. Foreign civilians were permitted to send their income to their families via their employees, and Gustav Leo used this opportunity to send money to his son through Distel’s company, so that he would be able to return home at the end of the war. Friedrich was caught with the money, and took the blame himself, so as not to incriminate his parents. He was arrested on 9 July 1944 on charges of misappropriation and sent to the Wehrmacht pre-trial detention center in Altona in August. At the hearing he was informed that his trial would be postponed until an investigation of his parents and himself on charges of seditious activities was completed. These charges were filed based on his correspondence with his parents, which was in the possession of the Gestapo.
Lilli and Gustav Leo were also charged with the crime of listening to foreign radio broadcasts. The family owned a radio that a relative had brought from the US in 1939. In the evenings they regularly listened to British and Russian stations, with "enemy broadcasts” in English, French, and German.
Gustav Leo was arrested on 27 September 1944 in Bad Wiessee, where he was at a health resort for treatment of a heart condition. His wife had already been arrested on 20 September. Both were sent to the Fuhlsbüttel Concentration Camp. Lilli Leo was transferred to the Hamburg pre-trial detention center on 25 November 1944, Gustav followed on 4 December. They were accused of "seditious activities, both written and spoken” and of "listening to enemy radio broadcasts together with a French boarder.” While he was in prison, Gustav Leo had been denied the necessary heart medication. On 8 December 1944, he was taken to the Alsterdorf Hospital, where he died later the same day.
The couple was separated when they were arrested, and were denied contact while they were being held. Lilli Leo was not even allowed to attend her husband’s burial. She was released one day before the British Army marched into Hamburg, and thus a trial never took place.
After nine months in prison, Friedrich Leo was released without a trial and assigned to the Fürstenwalde field training regiment on 2 April 1945. He was taken prisoner by US troops on 2 May, and was released on 13 July.
In 1947, the street Rehagen in Eppendorf was renamed Gustav Leo Straße.
Translator: Amy Lee
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: March 2017
© Maria Koser
Quellen: StaH 131-15 C 277 Senatskanzlei – Personalakten; StaH 351-11 AfW, 5593 Caroline Charlotte Leo, geb. Franzen; StaH 351-11 AfW, 031009 Leo, Friedrich; StaH 242-1 II, Abl. 1998/1, Untersuchungshaftkarten; StaH 741-4 S 11827, "Hamburger Fremdenblatt" Nr. 131 vom 13.5.1933; Grolle/Lorenz in: ZHG, Bd. 93, 2007, S. 54, 55; Diercks, Gedenkbuch, 1987, S. 12, 28, 29; Volz/Tönnies, Reichshandbuch, Bd. 2, 1931, S. 1102; Bardua, Brückenmetropole, 2009; Technische Hochschule Danzig 1904–1929. Bericht der Danziger Neuesten Nachrichten über das Hochschul-Jubiläum Juli 1929, Nachdruck der Gesellschaft der Freunde der Technischen Hochschule Danzig, Hannover 1982, S. 34; Recherche und Auskunft Lars Nebelung, Universitätsarchiv Hannover vom 19.10.2009.