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Sophie und ihre Schwester Gretchen Wohlwill
Die Schwestern Sophie (l.) und Gretchen Wohlwill
© Maike Bruhns

Sophie Wohlwill * 1872

Schäferkampsallee 25/27 (Eimsbüttel, Eimsbüttel)

1943 Theresienstadt
ermordet am 11.4.1944

further stumbling stones in Schäferkampsallee 25/27:
Berl Beit, Semi Werner Dawidowicz, Sophie Rosenstein

Sophie Wohlwill, born on 20 Aug. 1872 in Hamburg, deported to Theresienstadt on 10 Mar. 1943, died there on 11 Apr. 1944

Schäferkampsallee 25/27
The Wohlwill family was an important Jewish liberal family in Hamburg, which included women and men who distinguished themselves in the educational, scientific, artistic, and social fields. Sophie Wohlwill’s grandfather, Immanuel Wohlwill (1799–1847), was married to Friederike, née Warburg (1806–1889). Hence the relationship with the Warburg family. Both families were characterized by a great sense of family.

Until 1 Nov. 1938, Anna-Wohlwill-Strasse, today called Felix-Dahn-Strasse, existed near Sophie’s last place of residence, in the Eimsbüttel district. In the Nazi era, the memory of people of Jewish descent was also to be erased by renaming streets. Anna Wohlwill (1841–1919) was an aunt of Sophie. From 1866 onward, she had headed the school of the Paulsenstift, earning great merits as a pedagogue.

Sophie Wohlwill’s parents were the chemist Dr. phil. Wolf Emil Wohlwill and his wife Sophie Louise, née Nathan. Sophie had four siblings: Marie (1871–1928), who was ailing, Heinrich (1874–1943), later director of Norddeutsche Affinerie [a copper producer], Gretchen (1878–1962), and Friedrich (1881–1958), a professor of pathology at the UKE (Eppendorf University Hospital). Her brother Heinrich died like her in Theresienstadt, while Gretchen and Friedrich had gone into exile in Portugal. Gretchen Wohlwill returned to Hamburg in 1952.

Sophie’s paternal grandfather was still a devout Jew, but Emil Wohlwill left the German-Israelitic Community as a young man, and the children were "undenominational,” as stated in Sophie’s birth certificate and also in her Jewish religious tax (Kultussteuer) file card dating from 1940. This index card exists because she, like all "racial Jews” in the Nazi state, was forced to join the Reich Association of Jews in Germany (Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland).

We know little about Sophie’s school days. Presumably, like her younger sister Gretchen, she attended Miss Bertha Schäben’s secondary school for girls at Ferdinandstrasse 17, because Gretchen wrote in her memoirs that she, "probably animated by Sophie’s example, adored Miss Schäben fervently.”

The sisters Gretchen and Sophie decided to pursue an artistic and educational career that their family made possible – their father deemed the children to be financially provided for and independent forever – and remained unmarried. Until Gretchen’s emigration in 1940, they lived together, first with their parents, after the parents’ deaths only the two of them.

Until the early 1880s, the Wohlwill family had lived in the building at Rothenbaumchaussee 74b near the junction to Grindelhof, roughly where Hermann-Behn-Weg is located today. One ought to remember, however, that the districts of Rotherbaum and Harvestehude looked different at that time. The large five-storey apartment buildings were built later. Today, Grindelhof runs parallel to Rothenbaumchaussee on the last stretch and ends at Hallerstrasse. Emil Wohlwill’s family lived on the ground floor of the house, Emil’s brother Adolf with his wife and children on the second floor. The next residence of the family was a villa at Hansastrasse 16. In 1912, when the father, Emil Wohlwill, died, the family lived at Johnsallee 14. The mother then bought a house at Magdalenenstrasse 12, where the sisters continued to reside until 1927 even after the death of the mother in 1919, in the very end under increasingly difficult conditions. They had to sublet. After selling the house, the sisters moved to Mittelweg 10. In 1928, they both left the "ice-cold ground floor rooms” and moved into the "comfortable heated apartment” on the third floor of Flemingstrasse 3, as Gretchen Wohlwill wrote in her memoirs.

Sophie was a pianist and music teacher and taught private students. Her mother had already been very musical and had played the piano. The family often met to play music together at home. Gretchen Wohlwill worked as an art teacher at the Emilie-Wüstenfeld School in Eimsbüttel since about 1910, where today there is again a mural of her in the stairwell, which had been painted over during the Nazi era. As a visual artist, she gained national importance. She only taught three days a week, leaving time to her for artistic work. In 1933, Gretchen was dismissed from school because of her Jewish background and she moved to Finkenwerder, where she built a little house near Eduard Bargheer’s studio. In Finkenwerder, she probably spent the summer months until 1939. In the wintertime, she continued to reside with Sophie in Flemingstrasse until her emigration. The sisters lived in highly precarious financial circumstances, and shortly after Gretchen’s emigration, the apartment was taken from Sophie. At the end of 1941, she moved out of Flemingstrasse. After vacating the place, she had to dismantle a studio window in the bedroom and have the room renovated. Gretchen had had a studio window built in to have better light for painting. For a short time, Sophie found shelter in the Martin-Brunn-Stift at Frickestrasse 24, before she was forced to move into the "Jews’ house” ("Judenhaus”) at Schäferkampsallee 25/27 in Sept. 1942. The address of Schäferkampsallee 27 also appeared on the deportation list.

As a source for the description of Sophie’s personality, we have only the memoirs of her sister Gretchen, who comments full of love and expresses no criticism. She writes that later – after his liberation – Rabbi Leo Baeck spoke of Sophie Wohlwill in London "as if of a ‘saint’ (...); where she had been, there had been no discord; she had been the support of the despondent and desperate and a valuable help to him in pastoral care.” She adds, "Sophie’s heroism even before her deportation is described to me from many sides.” Wilhelm Mosel wrote in his Wegweiser zu ehemaligen jüdischen Stätten in Hamburg ("A Guide to former Jewish sites in Hamburg”): "Her last Hamburg residence was a cubbyhole on Schäferkampsallee. There, too, she is said to have entertained her roommates through her piano playing. Her grand piano had obviously been left to her. Apparently, she always said that when the worst comes, she’d still try to make herself useful.”

Another quote from Gretchen Wohlwill: "She believed in the good in people, and this explains the infinitely beneficial influence she exerted on the people around her. In this sense, a friend of mine wrote to me, ‘In dealing with her, you became a better person.’”

Sophie and Gretchen not only shared the apartments, they also travelled together during the summer holidays, e.g., to Switzerland, Tyrol, or the North Sea coast. Sophie loved mountaineering. The sisters’ circles of friends also overlapped. For instance, Sophie established music evenings around 1930, at which she explained orchestral works. For example, a colleague of Gretchen and her sister also participated in these events. Sophie was greatly appreciated by Magda Pauli, the wife of Gustav Pauli, the director of the Hamburg Art Gallery (Hamburger Kunsthalle) who was dismissed for political reasons in 1933. Gretchen had close ties with Paulis. However, Sophie seems to have been rather a reserved person who made high demands on others. Gretchen wrote, "She would never have opened her heart to an unworthy person.”

Why did Sophie Wohlwill not emigrate when her sister tried to persuade her? Gretchen suspected Sophie did not want to leave her oldest friend, Johanna Bernhard, behind. Yet in her opinion, Sophie’s fear of dependence and abandonment of a self-determined life played an even greater role. At any rate, Gretchen was still trying from Lisbon to find an emigration opportunity for Sophie and their brother Heinrich, but the plan failed. It must have been very painful for Sophie when the sister left Hamburg. When Gretchen departed from Altona station in Mar. 1940, Sophie accompanied her to Berlin.

Sophie Wohlwill was a board member of the John R. Warburg-Stiftung, a charitable residential foundation at Bundesstrasse 43 founded in 1888, and the widow of the founder, Bernhardine Warburg, administered the foundation until her death in 1925. The Executive Board then included Associate Judge at the Higher Regional Court (Oberlandesgerichtsrat) Dr. Paul Wohlwill, Dr. Rudolph Wohlwill, and – presumably from 1929 to 1939 – Sophie Wohlwill. Paul and Rudolph were cousins of Sophie.

Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

Stand: May 2019
© Susanne Lohmeyer

Quellen: 1; 2 (R1941/228); 4; 5; 7; StaH 332-5, 8928 + 590/1878; BArch, R 1509, Ergänzungskarten für Angaben über Abstammung (Volkszählung v. 17.5.1939), Wohnortliste Hamburg; HAB II 1912,1919; Angela Schwarz, Die Vaterstädtische Stiftung; Britta D. Siefken, Jüdische und paritätische Stiftungen, S. 58ff.; Wegweiser zu ehemaligen jüdischen Stätten, Heft 2, S. 29 und Stammtafel Anhang S. 113; Gretchen Wohlwill, Lebenserinnerungen; Maike Bruhns, Kunst in der Krise, Bd. 2, S. 422ff.; Maike Bruhns (Hrsg.), Gretchen Wohlwill.
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