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Margaret und Felix Hess
© Privatbesitz

Felix William Hess * 1894

Isestraße 139 (Hamburg-Nord, Harvestehude)

gedemütigt / entrechtet
Flucht in den Tod

Felix Hess, born in 17 Aug. 1894 in Hamburg, suicide on 12 Nov. 1938 in Hamburg

Julius Hess (1853–1935) and Gertrud Levy (1871–1944) got married in Hamburg in May 1889. As of 1 Feb. 1889, Julius Hess was awarded the certificate of Hamburg civic rights (Bürgerbrief), thus also acquiring eligibility to vote. Prerequisite for this was an annual income of 1,200 marks during five consecutive years, which he was able to prove.

The Hess couple moved to Alsterkamp 13 in Hamburg-Harvestehude, where their four children were born as well: Lothar (in 1890), Richard (in 1891), Felix (in 1894), and Ilka (in 1896). Until 1908, Julius Hess was a real estate agent for houses and partner in the "Anton Emden & Julius Hess” Company, which had its office premises at Grosse Bleichen 46 (Gertrud Levy’s mother was, in her second marriage, married to the real estate agent for houses Anton Emden [1849–1926]). Starting in 1908, Julius Hess worked as a real estate agent for houses in his own company. The marriage did not last, and the couple got divorced around 1918. Probably from July 1915 onward, Julius Hess lived separately from the family, at first in Berlin for three months, then some time in Hamburg in the Dammtorhof Hotel, and from Oct. 1916 until May 1920 at Isestrasse 121 (second floor). In 1920, he moved to the exclusive suburb of Dockenhuden in the Blankenese district together with his 24-year-old daughter Ilka Hess. In 1923, son Richard also registered with the authorities as residing there. From 1926 onward, the phone directory indicated Julius Hess as living at Rosenhagenstrasse 4 in Gross Flottbek.

The oldest son, Lothar, was killed in action in the First World War. Son Felix William had a serious accident during his school days in Hamburg. A streetcar hit him, injuring his right leg to such an extent that it had to be amputated. The artificial leg made of wood was fastened with a leather strap over the left shoulder. One may assume that after finishing school, Felix Hess completed a commercial apprenticeship. In Mar. 1923, he got married in Hamburg to the non-Jewish Margaret Heene of the same age. This marriage produced three children: Gisela (1924–1933), Claus (born in 1927), and Renate (born in 1935).

In 1925, Felix Hess started his own business as a merchant with a small shipping company near the harbor. After the world economic crisis from 1929 to 1931, he established himself, as his father had done, with his own company as a real estate agent for houses. The business, "Felix Hess & Co.,” rented office space at Neuer Wall 10. The residential addresses at Richterstrasse 22 (1925–1927), Andreasstrasse 27 in Winterhude (1928–1933), and Isestrasse 139 in Harvestehude (1935–1938) are testimony to prosperity generated by successful business activities.

Even in 2009, the son remembered the spacious apartment on Isestrasse: "It was on the raised ground floor; two larger rooms were located toward Isestrasse: the living room with a desk on which my father tended his stamp collection, and, connected by a sliding door, the dining room. Toward the garden, there were the two bedrooms of the parents. Between these four rooms extended a long hallway. Lined up to the left and right of the hallway were the bathroom, children’s room, playroom, kitchen, and the room for the maid.

The apartment also included a large, narrow garden extending all the way to Isebek Canal. We had a rowboat tied up there.” The family spent their vacations on the North Sea islands of Sylt and Norderney. In addition, the couple frequently went to the spas in the Western Bohemian towns of Karlsbad (today Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic) and Franzensbad (today Frantiskovy Lazne in the Czech Republic).

Because of his amputated leg, Felix Hess had his car, a Chevrolet probably purchased in the early 1930s, refitted to hand throttle operation. The family also took the car to go on vacations to the Island of Sylt, connected to the mainland by a causeway.

In Felix Hess’ case, the relationship to the religion of his forebears was already rather distanced, more an inherited than a living practice. The only payments to the German-Israelitic Community documented are for the years 1922 and 1923. After the marriage with Catholic Margaret, the dissociation from Judaism took on a more concrete shape: The children were baptized as Catholics, and in 1929, Felix Hess officially left the Jewish Community. On 21 July 1936, with Felix Hess already having converted to Catholicism by then, the Catholic St. Elisabeth Church at Hochallee 61 (Harvestehude) was the venue of a church wedding of the couple, confirmed by a marriage certificate. In times of National Socialist rule, this may also have been an attempt at protecting oneself from anti-Semitic hostilities. That same year, on 24 May, the son had received his Holy Communion there.

Nevertheless, the situation for the Hess family escalated noticeably. The Nazis made it clear that they continued to classify Felix Hess as a Jew, which meant he suffered from anti-Jewish reprisals. Gradually, the Hess family also started thinking about emigration. Two cousins of Felix Hess, the Berlin banker Julius Epstein and the merchant Julius Grün, had already emigrated to the USA in 1933, and they advised them to depart. With the Pogrom of Nov. 1938, the situation came to a dramatic head. Margaret Hess, née Heene, traveled to see her sister Anni in Berlin, who appears to have sympathized with the NSDAP and was married to the German Air Force colonel and department head in the Reich Aviation Ministry (Reichsluftfahrtministerium in Berlin), Fritz Mensch (1886–1966). One of her daughters, too, was married to an officer in the German Wehrmacht. Even though family contacts were no longer in the best of shapes, Margaret Hess wanted to try to accelerate her family’s emigration to the USA by using Mensch’s connections to government authorities.

Felix Hess stayed behind in the apartment on Isestrasse. In 2009, his son described the events leading to his father’s death as follows: "My mother was in Berlin in order to find ways to speed up our emigration. My father sat at his desk and called relatives and friends, and of course, he was informed about the Pogrom Night of 8 to 9 November. He probably knew which of his Jewish friends had already been hauled off. He instructed our Swedish nanny that if the gentlemen (from the Gestapo) came who were going to ask for him, she should say he was not at home.

He took his two children in his arms, kissed them, then went to the back into his bedroom and locked himself in. The Gestapo came and said that they would return. In the bedroom, he took Barbital (Veronal). The Gestapo returned. The door to the bedroom was forced open, and my father, unconscious, was transported to Eppendorf Hospital. He died there at 6:30 in the morning on 12 Nov. 1938, without having regained consciousness.” Felix Hess was buried in the Ohlsdorf Main Cemetery in Hamburg.

His brother Richard Hess, three years older, married to a Catholic woman and having converted to Catholicism as well, died in the Hamburg pretrial detention center on 31 May 1939.

His sister, Ilka Feis, née Hess, was deported to the Lodz Ghetto on 25 October 1941, and all traces of her disappear there. Stolpersteine commemorating her are located at Fernsicht 5 (where she lived from 1927 to 1939) and at Heimhuder Strasse 17, a "Jews house” ("Judenhaus”), where she was quartered in 1940.

The 70-year-old mother, Gertrud Hess, née Levy, was deported to the Theresienstadt Ghetto on 15 July 1942 and murdered in the Auschwitz extermination camp on 15 May 1944. A Stolperstein at Bogenstrasse 27 (Eimsbüttel) commemorates her.

After the deaths of their fathers, the sons of Richard and Felix Hess were put into a Swiss boarding school, the Rosenberg Institute. Their mother had organized this placement. As of Feb. 1943, it was no longer possible to obtain foreign currency for "half-Jews” ("Halbjuden”). Therefore, the boys were fetched back to Garmisch and Innsbruck, respectively.

In 1946, son Claus Hess emigrated to the USA, returning as a US citizen in the US Army to Germany in 1954. He stayed there. His mother, Margarete Hess, who had also lived in the USA for a few years, moved back to Germany.

Translator: Erwin Fink

Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

Stand: October 2016
© Björn Eggert/Susanne Lohmeyer

Quellen: 1; 4; StaH, 332-8 (Alte Einwohnermeldekartei); Julius Hess; Hamburger Börsenfirmen, Hamburg 1935, S. 366 (Felix Hess & Co.); Auskünfte von Herrn C. H. (Bayern), September u. Oktober 2009; Auskünfte von Herrn H. M. (Schweiz) zu General Mensch, Oktober 2009.
Zur Nummerierung häufig genutzter Quellen siehe Recherche und Quellen.

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