Search for Names, Places and Biographies

Already layed Stumbling Stones

back to select list

Walter Gutmann mit seiner Tochter Hilde 1936
Walter Gutmann mit seiner Tochter Hilde 1936
© Leo Baeck Institut

Walter Gutmann * 1893

Hellkamp 39 (Eimsbüttel, Eimsbüttel)

ermordet 21.01.1943

Walter Gutmann, born 22 Jan. 1893 in Hamburg, arrested several times after 1938, murdered 21 Jan. 1943 in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp

Hellkamp 39
Horner Weg 25

On January 24, 1939, a Tuesday, an article appeared in NEW ZEALAND HERALD with the headlines

It was the translation of an excerpt from a duplicated pamphlet that Walter Gutmann, a Hamburg merchant and Jew, had distributed in Hamburg and throughout Germany. His uncle, Henri Gutmann from Kaiaua, a coastal settlement on the Firth of Thames in New Zealand's North Island, handed the text over to the newspaper. He said that the author's mother, brother and sister were now in Auckland and the rest of the family members were in the USA. The author had waited until all relatives abroad were safe and then issued his appeal to the German people. His family knew nothing of his fate and feared that he was dead.

Who was Walter Gutmann? His Jewish family, former orthodox "Schutzjuden" from Füth, who had risen economically and socially in the 19th century, had lived in Germany for generations. They traded in clothes and textiles throughout Europe. Walter Gutmann's great-grandfather Feitel, born in Fürth in 1784, had moved to Hamburg, where he was registered from 8 September 1805. Walter Gutmann's parents, master tailor Hermann Gutmann and Ida, née Gutmann, were cousins.

When Walter was born in 1893 as the fourth child of his parents, the family lived in the district of Rotherbaum at Rutschbahn 3. After attending secondary school, Walter completed a three-year commercial apprenticeship in a seed shop. When the First World War began, he was working in Bologna, but returned to Germany, as he felt it was his duty at the age of 21 to fight for his fatherland at the front. His brothers Otto and Robert also volunteered. In 1916, he was taken prisoner of war by the French at the Battle of Verdun and only returned to Hamburg in 1920. In 1934 he was decorated with the Frontfighters Cross of Honour, a donation from President Hindenburg.

He worked here in his learned profession, but at the end of June 1921 he signed off to Weißenfeld an der Saale; from there he moved to Frankfurt/Main and then to Erfurt, where he accepted a position as an authorised signatory in a semen wholesale business.

In October 1923 Walter Gutmann married the teacher Else, born Deutschländer, seven years older than him and widow of his uncle Jules/Julius Richard, a silk merchant in Lyon, who had died in the First World War. From her first marriage Else had a daughter Sabine (born 1913), and in her second marriage to Walter Gutmann, daughter Hilde was born in 1925.

In 1926 the couple returned to Hamburg and moved into an apartment in Hamm, Horner Weg 25 a. In the following years, Walter Gutmann tried to earn a living for his family, both as a self-employed person and as an employee in the learned trade, but he was hardly successful. The economic situation and psychological and nervous consequences of the war were probably also the reasons for the failure of the marriage. Walter Gutmann was divorced in July 1933; he was considered solely guilty.

Else and their daughter Hilde Gutmann emigrated to the USA on 30 November 1938 and settled in St. Louis/Missouri. Walter Gutmann's elderly mother Ida and his single siblings Gertrud and Robert had already left Germany in 1936 to find refuge in New Zealand. (His father Hermann had already died of a stroke in Hamburg on 12.3.1923.)

Walter Gutmann was imprisoned for the first time in February 1938 for a few days in the Fuhlsbüttel police prison. The accusations such as "racial defilement" were unfounded and after eleven days of interrogation he was released again, as no criminal offences could be proven against him.

Despite his personal problems and the growing threat to the Jewish population, he did not go into exile because he still insisted that as a German he had the right to live here in the country. His financial situation, however, became increasingly precarious. In the fall of 1938, he moved to Hellkamp 39. According to his address book, he lived at 56 Greifswalder Strasse. The November pogrom of 1938 provided him with the final confirmation that he could no longer gain a foothold in Germany economically.

Early on Walter Gutmann dealt with Hitler's writing "Mein Kampf" and the ideology behind it. In contrast to many other Germans, he read this writing very carefully. He recognized the mass psychological effectiveness of projections and saw how skilfully Hitler understood how to make these mechanisms his own. He wanted to draw attention to this with leaflets and call for resistance.

Walter Gutmann still owned an office equipment with typewriters, duplicating apparatus and wax sheets with which he secretly produced the pamphlets himself. He sent them by mail at home and abroad. The recipients were relatives, customers and creditors on the one hand, and on the other hand he selected them arbitrarily from address books, giving preference to party members. He invented six senders and had special stamps made for them. On 11 December 1938 he sent the writings himself to Hamburg, Hanover and Bremen. By no means all letters reached their recipients. The post office in Darmstadt alone intercepted 600 items due to the monitoring of foreign mail. It is all the more surprising that the relatives in Auckland received their mail. He passionately appealed to the solidarity and co-responsibility of the rest of the population:

"There are peaceful means within and outside of the party to show the Führer the people’s will. Whispers of support won’t help. Why are there stool-pigeons and tattle-tales, who spread false rumors, even when they know better? When will judges and state’s attorneys refuse to judge cases according to unjust laws? When will the scholars stop subordinating the results of their research to the will of the politicians? Those of you who are opposed to the pogroms, show your support by giving up, just for a few weeks, those things that are forbidden to us. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t bathe, but if all of those who oppose the anti-Jewish policies avoid those places where Jews are forbidden – Unter den Linden in Berlin, the Dom in Hamburg – if all drivers leave their cars at home for just one week, if you boycott those restaurants which have prohibited Jews and those businesses that have been stolen from Jews, don’t you think that those damaged by your actions, those who, just like you do today, cry "we can’t do anything about it,” will quickly find ways and means to rectify the situation?”

On December 12, 1938, Walter Gutman attempted to commit suicide. We do not know how the Gestapo learned of this, but at any rate they prevented his suicide, arrested him, and thus began an unimaginable ordeal for him. From the military hospital of the remand prison he came to the police prison in Fuhlsbüttel. In May 1939 he was sentenced by the Hanseatic Special Court to four and a half years in prison for incitement of the people (law of treachery/Heimtückgesetz from 20.12.1934) - cynically with the remark that in such cases five years were actually planned, but that he would receive a reduced sentence of six months because of his deployment as a front-line fighter in World War I. (This sentence was only reversed on 17 February 2020).

After his transfer to the Wolfenbüttel prison he tried to obtain an emigration permit to Chile. In 1940 he fell seriously ill, and in Hamburg he had one leg amputated below the knee. Despite the heavy burden he seems to have been quite calm inside, as can be seen from a letter to his mother, which was withheld by the prison authorities because of French quotations: "You don't have to worry about me, dear Mama, and don't imagine that I am head-hanging. As far as freedom is concerned, I console myself with Lessing from Wolfenbüttel: Not everyone who mocks their chains is free! In general, the cell walls will not have heard as many classical verses as I have now. "You have given us an education that is a good protection against loneliness..."

In January 1942 he was transferred back to the prison in Wolfenbüttel. On the basis of a decree of October 1942, all prisons in Germany were to be made "free of Jews" according to the language of the time and all Jewish prisoners were to be deported to Auschwitz. Walter Gutmann was transferred together with three other men. On his prison record it is noted "Departure in December 1942 as a result of transfer to the Auschwitz concentration camp".

There he was registered in the main camp (Stammlager). Nothing is known about his last days of life. Under the number 2903/1943, the Book of the Dead noted on January 28, 1943, that he died of "cardiac asthma" on January 21.

The SS physician Bruno Kitt's statement of the cause of death is probably just as fictitious as that of the place of death, "Kasernenstraße". (Bruno Kitt was executed in Hameln on October 8, 1946).

Translated with (free version)

Translator: Amy Lee/Changes: Beate Meyer
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

Stand: October 2020
© Recherche und Text: Susanne Lohmeyer, Hildegard Thevs

Quellen: 1; 8; StaHH 231-7, A 1 Band 113, Nr. 25865; StaHH 242-1II Gefängnisverwaltung II Ablieferung 16 Untersuchungshaftkartei Männer; StaHH 314-15 OFP, FVg 3553; StaHH 332-5, 2656-973/1883; StaHH 332-5 Geburtenregister, 9084 + 124/1893; StaHH 332-5, 8780-568/1923; StaHH A I e 40 Bürgerregister, Band 9.;StaHH 332-8 Meldewesen, A 30 Alt-Hamburg 1892-1925; StaHH 522-1, 388 c Mitgliederzählung 1928; StaHH 522-1, 992 d Band 11 Steuerakte; Gedenkstätte Auschwitz, Sterbeurkunde, E-Mail 12.9.2019; Herlemann, Beatrix: "Euch rufe ich auf, deutsche Männer und Frauen!”: der einsame Protest des Walter Gutmann. In: Herzig, Arno (Hrsg.): Die Juden in Hamburg 1590 bis 1990: wissenschaftliche Beiträge der Universität Hamburg zur Ausstellung "Vierhundert Jahre Juden in Hamburg",. Hamburg 1991, (Die Geschichte der Juden in Hamburg 1590 – 1990; Bd. 2), S. 537-544; Klee, Ernst, Auschwitz, Personenlexikon, Frankfurt am Main 2013; Unveröffentlicher Text für den Gedenkgottesdienst am 9.11.2008 in der Apostelkirche in Eimsbüttel, verfasst von Hanna Esslinger und Monica von Koschitzky;, dankenswerterweise übermittelt durch Álvaro Díaz Gutmann, London, 4.10.2019;. "J’accuse = Ich klage an". Eine Widerstandsaktion nach dem 9. November 1938, in: Eine verschwundene Welt. Jüdisches Leben am Grindel, Hg. Ursula Wamser und Wilfried Weinke, Springe 2006, S. 254 ff., 311 ff.; Konrad Kwiet/Helmut Eschwege, Selbstbehauptung und Widerstand. Deutsche Juden im Kampf um Existenz und Menschenwürde 1933-1945, Hamburg 1984, 2. Aufl. 1986, S. 243 f.; BuArchiv R 187/210; Wamser/Weinke, S. 312.; Gutmann Family Collection, Leo Baeck Institute New York,; Bescheinigung der Aufhebung des Urteils AZ 11 Js. Sond. 109/39 vom 17.2.2020, Auskunft Gedenkstätte Wolfenbüttel, erhalten 15.10.20120.
Zur Nummerierung häufig genutzter Quellen siehe Link "Recherche und Quellen".

print preview  / top of page