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© Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Hamburg, Dehmel-Archiv
Ida Dehmel (née Coblenz) * 1870
Richard-Dehmel-Straße 1 (Altona, Blankenese)
Freitod am 29.9.1942 in Hamburg
Ida Dehmel, née Coblenz, born on 14 Jan. 1870 in Bingen/Rhine, suicide on 29 Sept. 1942
"I wish to create a new heaven and a new earth.” These were the words Ida Dehmel took down in her autobiographical notes in 1901, shortly after she had moved, together with Richard Dehmel, from Berlin to Parkstrasse 40 (today Am Kiekeberg 22) in Blankenese.
Growing up in the upper-class family of the wealthy Jewish owner of a wine-growing estate and Kommerzienrat [roughly, Councilor of Commerce], Simon Zacharias Coblenz, in Bingen/Rhine, Ida struggled, after the early loss of her mother, against the tough education of her father that insisted on the fulfillment of duties. Family life took place without observance of Jewish holidays and religious rules. In the Brussels girls’ boarding school, she experienced disdain due to her Jewish descent for the first time in about 1885/86. During the marriage to the Berlin merchant Leopold Auerbach, dictated by her father, Ida Dehmel entertained lavishly in a house located in Berlin’s Tiergarten quarter, inviting above all poets and artists to her literary salons. Richard Dehmel, associated with Bohemian circles in Berlin, who as a writer had been influenced by Nietzsche and wrote broody-impetuous, sensuous epic poems, also came to Ida Auerbach’s soirées. After the birth of her son Heinz Lux, the idolized female patron increasingly devoted herself to this particular guest.
Ida Auerbach and Richard Dehmel dissociated from their families and got married in 1901. Upon moving from Berlin to Hamburg, the couple began a fulfilled time of living and working together. They frequently traveled to lectures and readings, cultivating a lively interchange with contemporary artists: the painter Max Liebermann, the artist and architect Henry van de Velde, the publisher and editor of Pan magazine, Harry Graf Kessler, the poets Detlef von Liliencron, Alfred Mombert, and Paul Scheerbart. In 1911, Richard and Ida Dehmel had the well-known Hamburg architect Walther Baedeker build the Dehmel House at Westerstrasse 5 (later, Richard-Dehmel-Strasse 1). Once again, Ida Dehmel knew well how to turn the house into a popular venue of sociable cultural life in the Hanseatic city, with many artistic and charitable events. Ida Dehmel supported young artists and made her great wish come true: "To become an independent part of something much bigger.”
In close contact with her sister Alice Bensheimer in Mannheim, six years her senior, Ida increasingly became active in the question of women’s rights. In 1906, she initiated the Hamburg Women’s Club on Neuer Jungfernstieg, became the chairwoman of the North German Association for Women’s Suffrage (Norddeutscher Verband für Frauenstimmrecht) in 1911, and founded the League of Lower German Female Artists (Bund Niederdeutscher Künstlerinnen) in 1913. In about 1910, Ida Dehmel revisited a particular childhood liking of hers for beadwork and became an artisan herself; she joined the German Association of Craftsmen (Deutscher Werkbund) and made bags, belts, and lampshades.
When the First World War broke out, the 50-year-old Richard Dehmel volunteered, and Ida’s son Heinz Lux Auerbach was drafted as well. During the war years, Ida Dehmel stepped up her social commitment in the women’s movement and in aiding artists. She became deputy chairwoman of the Deutsche Frauendank, a women’s wartime trust, corresponding secretary of the German Reich Association for Women’s Suffrage (Deutscher Reichsverband für Frauenstimmrecht), was an active member of the National Liberal Party (after the war, German People’s Party) and chairwoman of the Women’s League for Promoting German Fine Arts (Frauenbund zur Förderung Deutscher Bildender Kunst). However, Ida Dehmel’s life changed abruptly due to the death of her son, who was killed in action in France in 1917, and the death of her husband, who died in Feb. 1920 of the delayed after-effects of a war injury.
In order to cope with her grief, Ida Dehmel worked intensively on continuing the Dehmel Archive, establishing the Dehmel Foundation and the Dehmel Society in 1921. This occurred not only with the aim of preserving and editing the unpublished works but above all with a view to financing the Dehmel House. She published a two-volume edition of selected letters by Richard Dehmel and took care of printing and newly editing the works. In 1926, she sold the entire literary estate to the Hamburg State and University Library and succeeded in having the Dehmel Archive remain in the house and thus available to her for the time being. Only at the start of the war in 1939, was it transferred to the library premises for security reasons.
Tirelessly, she also proceeded with efforts to institutionalize the promotion of female artists. On a supraregional level, she founded the Community of German and Austrian Women Artists of all Artistic Genres (Gemeinschaft deutscher und österreichischer Künstlerinnen aller Kunstgattungen – GEDOK), which exists to this day, and became the association’s chairwoman. The GEDOK was comprised of the League of Lower German Female Artists she had founded in 1913. The year 1925 saw the merger to become the "Federation of Hamburg Women Artists and Art Friends” ("Bund hamburgischer Künstlerinnen und Kunstfreundinnen”), which after the "Anschluss” of Austria to the German Reich also included Austrian artists among its ranks. "Frau Isi” – as she was called by all her friends – advocated in these associations not only that the female artists receive a platform but also that supporters and promoters – such as herself – find an opportunity to become involved. In these organizations, Ida Dehmel maintained intensive contact with Alma del Banco and Julie Wolfthorn – both artists painted portraits of her. Ida organized lecture evenings at her house and repeatedly involved in this work her favorite niece, Marianne Gärtner, who lived with her husband, Dr. Robert Gärtner, in Blankenese as well.
Three months after political power had been handed over to the Nazis in 1933, Ida Dehmel very rapidly experienced restrictions to her work, which nine years later drove her to commit suicide: On 20 Apr. 1933, SA men stormed the assembly room in the Hamburger Hof, where the monthly board meeting of GEDOK took place, and demanded that she resign from her office. Three weeks later, Ida Dehmel withdrew from the executive of the Reich GEDOK. Subsequently, she was not allowed to publish either texts of her own or writings from her husband’s literary estate. Her greatest concern continued to be the preservation of the Dehmel House. For this reason, she also refused any thought of emigrating. It was only after the death of her sister Alice Bensheimer in 1935 that she undertook two major sea voyages in the following years, viewing them as the last chance to escape from the ever-tightening net of regulations and prohibitions in Germany. Every time, however, she returned to the actual center of her life, the Dehmel House. Since everything Jewish was associated only with fear and terror by then, Ida Dehmel joined the Protestant Reformed Church on 6 Dec. 1937. When in 1938 all Jewish Germans were forced to go by an Old Testament name, Ida Dehmel henceforth called herself "Jedidja” in official correspondence.
Thanks to the intercession by Mary Baroness Toll with Prince Friedrich Christian zu Schaumburg-Lippe, the former adjutant of Goebbels, she was allowed to continue living in the Dehmel House and was exempted from the obligation to wear the "Jews’ star” ("Judenstern”). The month of October 1941 saw the first deportations of Hamburg Jews. When Lina Wolff, the domestic help of the Jewish housemates in the Dehmel House, was also deported to Lodz on 25 Oct. 1941, Ida Dehmel experienced this at close quarters and wrote to a friend, "An Aryan acquaintance of my tenant came to visit. […] She said to me, ‘Good thing it is not your turn yet, which means after all that you can make better travel preparations.’ And no bolt of lightning strikes and paralyzes her tongue … .” Surrounded by instances persecution, without any perspective, the old eye complaint and gout caused her will to live to dry up within her. On 29 Sept. 1942, Ida Dehmel ended her own life by taking an overdose of sleeping pills.
Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
© Petra Bopp
Quellen: Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Hamburg, Dehmel-Archiv, Daija, Brief Ida Dehmel an Marie Stern, 25.10.1941; Joost Elvers, Adrian Gletschmann, Alexander Hinz (Gorch-Fock-Schule, ehem.Richard-Dehmel-Schule), Zur Erinnerung an Ida Dehmel, in: Stolpersteine in Blankenese, hg. v. Verein zur Erforschung der Juden in Blankenese, Hamburg 2005; Matthias Wegner, Aber die Liebe. Der Lebenstraum der Ida Dehmel, München 2002.