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Max Abraham * 1883
Brahmsallee 25 (Eimsbüttel, Harvestehude)
FLUCHT 1939 BELGIEN
Max Abraham, born on 10 May 1883 in Altona, in 1939 escape to Belgium, interned in Gurs, murdered in Auschwitz on 14 Aug. 1942
Käthy Abraham, née Levin, born on 9 July 1885 in Hamburg, deported on 25. Oct. 1941 to Lodz, murdered in Chelmno in May 1942
Max Abraham was born in Altona in 1883 as the son of the butcher Alexander Abraham and his wife Sophie, née Plaut. On 2 Dec. 1909, he married Käthy Levin from Hamburg, the daughter of Max Levin and Emma, née Ascher. On 4 Sept. 1910, the first and only son was born, who received the name of his grandfather, Alexander Abraham. Max Abraham learned the trade of a large-scale shipping agent. He joined the Jewish Community in Apr. 1924. However, it was only with the professional involvement of his son Alexander that the course of his life took on contours clearly recognizable to us.
The son, Alexander Abraham, attended Realschule [a practice-oriented secondary school up to grade 10] until completing his one-year graduating class ("Einjähriges”), which was regarded as an advanced qualifying diploma. He completed his training at the well-known N.J. Emden/Söhne Company on Rödingsmarkt. In 1930, he became a commercial employee at the Hamburg branch of the Frankfurt-based "Deutsche Grosstransport-Gesellschaft,” a large-scale transport company. His father was the general manager of this branch. In 1933/1934, Max Abraham founded his own forwarding company under the name of "Hanseatisches Transport-Kontor Steindorff & Co” with headquarters in the Chilehaus (Chile House). The relationship with the Steindorff family seems to have been of a business nature at first, but it was then strengthened by a personal connection: On 8 Nov. 1935, Alexander Abraham married Lottie Steindorff, born on 21 Feb. 1913 in Hamburg. He left his parents’ home at Rutschbahn 31 and moved into his own apartment with his wife at Ausschläger Weg 4. Lottie brought 1,500 RM (reichsmark) into the business and became a partner alongside Max and Alexander Abraham, though she never actively worked in the company. Father and son shared responsibility and rights, with Max Abraham holding 80 percent and Alexander Abraham 20 percent. Lottie Abraham was credited with the interest on her contribution. The Jewish descent of the owners caused bureaucratic difficulties even when the company was founded and registered as a general partnership, but business developed positively nevertheless. Shipping traffic mainly took place with Denmark and England. In the early years, there were no reports of repression by the German customs and foreign currency office against the company.
In 1937, Alexander and his wife moved to Britain, allegedly to do an internship there. However, the fact that he had furniture delivered next year aroused suspicions at the customs and foreign currency office that he would not return to Hamburg in 1939 as planned. In Aug. 1938, Max Abraham applied for the issue of a tax clearance certificate (Unbedenklichkeitsbescheinigung) for a three-day business trip to Copenhagen. This increased the authority’s suspicion that money was being transferred abroad. The trip was approved, a Reich flight tax (Reichsfluchtsteuer) was not levied because the applicant made assurances that he did not intend to leave the country. However, detailed investigations did disclose the business and private assets of son and father Abraham. The company’s Hamburg location had assets of 11,366.09 RM and outstanding accounts receivable. On 25 Aug. 1938, the tax investigation department issued a "provisional security order pursuant to Sec. 37a” ("vorläufige Sicherungsanordnung”) against Alexander Abraham and his wife, residing in Hull, England. The "reason” given was as follows: "Alexander Abraham and his wife are Jews. Their return to Germany seems questionable.” According to this, it was therefore necessary to allow disposals of the personal share of the company’s assets, assessed at 3,000 RM, only with permission. This order also affected the "Hanseatisches Transportkontor Steinhoff & Co,” whose financial scope was drastically restricted as a result. On 1 Sept. 1938, the company sent a petition to the foreign currency office to "kindly repeal this order... because this constitutes a far-reaching measure, given the limited resources available to us, which could possibly have the effect that... we can no longer maintain prompt and orderly operations.” Max Abraham was still trying to save the company. On 14 Sept. 1938, he received the tax clearance certificate for a business trip to England. In this context, he then declared his intention to emigrate to England. Possibly, due to this stay, he evaded the fate of many Jewish men during the night of the 1938 November Pogrom of being arrested. In England, however, he apparently had no basis for making a living. He returned to Hamburg to settle his affairs.
On 29 Sept. 1938, his son Alexander Abraham and his wife were deprived of their right to represent the company, their names were deleted from the company register, and all their foreign accounts receivable were taken over by Deutsche Bank. A definitive "security order” stipulated that the company, now represented by Max Abraham alone, could only dispose of its assets with Deutsche Bank in the amount of up to 2,500 RM with approval based on foreign currency law. According to a new "security order,” Max Abraham was allowed to withdraw the remaining liabilities of the company, tax debts, the contributions for the Jewish Community, and also 500 RM per month for living expenses from his account. The company was instructed to "irrevocably assign its foreign receivables to a German foreign exchange bank for collection” if they exceeded the equivalent of RM 150. Under these circumstances, the company could no longer maintain operations. On 17 Feb. 1939, Max Abraham had it deleted from the company register – one among countless examples of how, through a series of increasing financial measures, smaller companies were literally choked.
In July 1939, Edgar "Israel” Fels, the authorized "legal adviser” ("Konsulent”) [a newly introduced Nazi term for Jewish lawyers banned from full legal practice] of Mrs. Käthy Abraham, informed the authorities that Max Abraham had travelled to an unknown destination since 29 May and that he had not returned. Upon request, the senior public prosecutor replied that emigration proceedings concerning Abraham were not known. "He may have crossed the border without a having pursued a formal emigration procedure.” When Max Abraham eventually announced his residential address in Antwerp, he was considered a foreigner under foreign currency law. Käthy Abraham received the power of attorney for the previous account blocked at Deutsche Bank of the liquidated company, the "Hanseatisches Transport-Kontor Steindorff & Co,” which was transferred to an "emigrants’ blocked account” (Auswanderer-Sperrkonto) of the former owner, Max "Israel” Abraham. The security order was changed to the effect that from 1 July 1939 onward, only 350 RM and from 20 Oct. 1939 onward, only 250 RM could be withdrawn from the account. The rent for the three-room apartment at Rutschbahn 31 was 220 RM per month. Consequently, Käthy Abraham was forced to give it up; the household effects were "sold dirt cheap,” that is, offered for free sale. Käthy Abraham moved as a subtenant into a room with the Perlmann family at Brahmsallee 25. It is likely that she intended to travel after her husband as soon as he had found an opportunity to earn money in Belgium and she had settled things in Hamburg. Unfortunately, the letters exchanged between the two have not been preserved. Still in the summer of 1940, Käthy Abraham learned of her husband’s internment in France and received letters from him from the Gurs camp, from where he applied to the Chief Finance Administrator (Oberfinanzpräsident) in Hamburg in December 1940 to release a monthly amount from his blocked account.
For her part, Käthy Abraham was an esteemed boarder with the orthodox religious Perlmann family. On 6 Feb. 1940, Mrs. Perlmann wrote to her son, "Our house is still occupied, Miss Hertz has not lived with us since October, but Mrs. Abraham has, who is a dear, helpful occupant.” On 10 Sept. 1940, daughter-in-law Edith Perlmann from the USA reported, "Through a boarder, Mrs. Abraham, my dear mother has a big support that helps her from morning to evening, enabling Mom to go for a walk in the afternoon.” The household members felt connected by the fate borne collectively.
Käthy Abraham was "evacuated” with the first mass transport departing Hamburg. As one of 1,034 fellow sufferers, she was asked to arrive at the Masonic Lodge on Moorweide with luggage weighing up to 50 kilograms (some 110 lb). The people gathered there were taken to Sternschanze train station on 25 Oct. 1941 and then transported to the special train waiting at Hannoversche Bahnhof station on Lohseplatz. The next day, the train arrived in Lodz, renamed by the National Socialists "Litzmannstadt” in the "Reichsgau Wartheland” (Warthegau). Previously, all local Jews living in the city had been forced to move to a ghetto that was already overcrowded with 158,000 inhabitants. At this point, an additional 20,000 Jews from the "Old Reich” [Altreich, i.e., Germany within the 1937 borders] and 5,000 "gypsies” were to live there. Accordingly, the conditions were inhuman. Many of the older deportees were unable to cope with the lack of hygiene, food, and heating; they died in the ghetto hospital during the first months. Käthy Abraham survived the first winter in Litzmannstadt. From the spring onward, groups of German Jews were continually assigned for further deportation under the false pretense that they were heading for better accommodation. Many thought it could only get better. Others followed their instincts and asked not to be further deported. In fact, the short railway line covering 60 kilometers (approx. 37 miles) led to the Kulmhof (Chelmno) terminal station in the Warthegau, where gas trucks were used to exterminate people under the special detachment (Sonderkommando) of Herbert Lange. In the first half of May 1942, about 10,000 of the German Jews who had arrived in Litzmannstadt with the transports in the late fall were murdered, among them also Käthy Abraham from Hamburg.
At the same time, Käthy’s husband Max Abraham was still living in the Gurs internment camp in southern France, but there were rumors that the German Jews were to be deported from there to Poland. Max Abraham reported his address in Gurs to Hamburg and Käthy Abraham received some letters from her husband, so that she could follow his path in her mind’s eye. Both hoped that they would see each other again.
Max Abraham had previously lived in Antwerp, at Larmonnière 28, until the German Wehrmacht invaded Belgium in May 1940. A camp odyssey followed. The Belgian government immediately called on all German refugees to report. Without further notice, they were taken by rail to France. During the Spanish Civil War, many temporary camps had been set up there to accommodate the refugees, which were now used again. Max Abraham and the other fellow sufferers making up the transport received their first residence in the St. Livrade-Villemur camp. According to many reports, the prisoners were ruthlessly robbed on the way by their escorts. At the end of May, the transports arrived at the Saint Cyprien camp on the Mediterranean coast. The camp, built in a hurry for the mass of refugees from the Spanish Civil War, was now empty and ready to receive the German Jewish men expelled from Belgium. The primitive barracks without wooden floors offered no protection against the rain and the storms that were often violent in the area. When the entire camp was flooded in October, the inmates were evacuated and quartered in Camp de Gurs, further to the west near Pau, where conditions were hardly better. Those already interned there, not only Jews but also politically suspect persons and "gypsies,” came from all parts of Europe, mainly from Austria and Germany. Among them were many women and whole families. A road led through the camp complex, to the right and left of it were individual blocks of barracks, called "Ilots” ("islets”), separated from the others by barbed wire, and each block had its own postal address; the barracks contained neither sanitary facilities nor partitions and instead of windows, only light hatches. The straw sacks on the plank floor were teeming with vermin. One barrack accommodated 50 to 60 people. In the course of time, many inmates succeeded in escaping or being liberated from the oppressive camp life. No such opportunity arose for Max Abraham. After one and a half years, he was still in Gurs when a rumor circulated in the camp that the Jews interned in the unoccupied zone of France would be deported to Poland. What nobody knew exactly, of course, was that the government in Vichy had promised the Nazis to "deliver” 100,000 Jews to be transported off. This concerned captured and free Jews of all ages and backgrounds; they had been stripped of their nationality. Between 5 and 15 Aug. 1942, trains left the Gurs camp "with an unknown destination.” Max Abraham was assigned to Transport No. 19, which first went to the Les Millet transit camp, from where it landed in the dreaded Drancy collection camp near Paris. On 14 August, the completely exhausted people, including children under the age of 16, reached their final destination, Auschwitz, where they were all murdered, including Max Abraham. A quarter of a year before, his wife had been killed in the same way by gas in Kulmhof (Chelmno) in the "Warthegau.”
Alexander Abraham, who by then called himself Alexander Graham, served for five and a half years in the British army fighting Nazi Germany. He probably did not find out about his parents’ death until after the war ended. Since no dates of death were available, both were – as was usual – declared dead as of 8 May 1945, and the claims for restitution were calculated according to this. Alexander Abraham and his wife remained childless, and they did not seem to have sought any contact with Germany.
Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: September 2019
© Inge Grolle
Quellen: 1; 2; 4; 5; 6; StaH 351-11, Amt für Wiedergutmachung- 35476; 314-15 Oberfinanzpräsident Hamburg R1938/1559; Handelsregisterakte HRA 38910; Archives Departementales des Pyrénées Atlantiques, Auskunft vom 9.10.2013 durch Monique Van der Plaetsen und Marie Landelle; Lorenz, Verfolgung, Briefe, S. 152, 169, 171; Wetzel, in: Benz (Hg.), Dimensionen, S. 109–122; Eggers, Unerwünschte Ausländer, S.168–170; Schramm/Vormeier, Menschen, S. 140f.
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Für die Mitteilung der Daten über die Nachkommen von Alexander Abraham danken wir seinem Sohn Anthony H.D. Graham; E-Mails vom 26.8. und 1.9.2019.