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Margarethe Berger (née Steindorff) * 1894
Graumannsweg 15 (Hamburg-Nord, Hohenfelde)
Margarethe Berger, née Steindorff, born on 9 Oct. 1894 in Hamburg, deported on 11 July 1942 to the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp, murdered there
"Wunessro” was the name of the cream Margarethe Berger produced in her beauty salon for her wealthy female clients. In a privileged location in Hamburg, at Jungfernstieg 3, she had rented an entire floor in 1941 and furnished it luxuriously: The premises featured a work area with two treatment rooms and a waiting room as well as a living area with a room for the maid, her own bedroom and a kitchen. The individual rooms were up to 40 square meters (approx. 430 sq ft) in size.
Beautician was already Margarethe Berger’s third profession. After finishing school in 1910 at the age of 16, she began working as a language teacher to earn her own money. She posted small advertisements in which she offered French and German lessons – much to the displeasure of her father, who found her much too young for this job. Since he could not dissuade her, however, he allowed her to engage in it only on condition that the lessons took place in her parents’ home. Margarethe’s family lived at Beneckestrasse 20: Her parents were Adolf Max Steindorff, born in 1851 in Dessau, and Minna, née Herzfeld, born in 1859 in Rethem/Aller; she also had a sister, Elise, called Liesl, born in 1888 in Dresden. Adolf Steindorff, like his wife, came from a Jewish family, but had been baptized and belonged to the Protestant Church. Shortly after Liesl’s birth, the family moved from Saxony to Hamburg and initially found accommodation with Minna’s parents in Altona.
Margarethe’s determination at an early age not only made her financially more independent; it also made her acquainted with a man named Robert Andrew Watson. He had responded to her ad and wanted to learn German. Meanwhile her parents had moved to Eppendorfer Landstrasse 161. Shortly afterward, on 25 Oct. 1912, Margarethe’s father died at the age of 61. Until his death, he had worked as a traveling salesman for a company that produced canned meat and supplied hotels and restaurants. He left his wife behind well provided for. However, there was another problem: Margarethe was pregnant – 18 years old and unmarried. Whether the father of the unborn child was indeed Robert Watson and whether he died unexpectedly of pneumonia, as Margarethe’s daughter later wrote in her memoirs, cannot be proven.
Four months later, on 21 Feb. 1913, Margarethe gave birth to the little Lottie-Gretel in her apartment on Eppendorfer Landstrasse. After the birth, she stayed with her mother for some time. In 1915, she found her own apartment for herself and her daughter not far away, at Edgar-Ross-Strasse 1. Two years later, they moved again: to one of the more upscale areas of Hamburg, Gryphiusstrasse 7 in the southern part of Winterhude, only a few minutes away from the Outer Alster. Allegedly, as Lottie wrote in her autobiography later, Margarethe had inherited a large sum from Andrew Watson, which enabled her to do so. At that time, Margarethe had herself entered in the Hamburg directory as "Gretl Watson.” The apartment had five rooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, a guest bathroom, and two balconies. The large square hallway featured prints of famous paintings by Degas, Monet, and other French Impressionists; a smaller room was dominated by a large mahogany cabinet containing silverware and a collection of mocha cups. The other rooms were furnished rather eccentrically by Margarethe Steindorff, or Gretl Watson. In her "Chinese salon,” for example, there was a pagoda cabinet and a large round table, both made of black ebony and the latter decorated with inlays and pink marble edging. An s-shaped tête-à-tête bench was added, under which there was always a pair of Chinese slippers made of turquoise and golden silk.
By then, Margarethe Steindorff was 21 years old and did not want to be a mother and homemaker only. She trained in classical singing to become a singer – her second profession. She often invited guests to her Hamburg apartment, whom she generously dined and entertained with arias, during which she accompanied herself on the piano.
At the age of six, little Lottie was enrolled in a private girls’ school, run by a German and a French female teacher – Margarethe attached great importance to her daughter growing up multilingual. They stayed on Gryphiusstrasse for ten years. Since Margarethe always spent her money hand over fist, she finally had to sublet a room in order to be able to continue to afford the rent. In 1927, she moved with her daughter from Gryphiusstrasse to Lange Reihe 83 and the directory of that year contained the entry "Steindorff-Watson, Frau M.” In the same year, she married Erwin Waldemar Curt Schultz, a Hamburg merchant of almost the same age. The witness to the marriage was her sister Liesl, who had been divorced from the Hamburg native Adolf Lüllemann since 1926 and raised her son Gerhard Adolf Eduard, born in 1919. Curt Schultz moved in with Margarethe and Lottie in St. Georg. Margarethe continued her singing career, also working as a singing teacher, as the 1928 directory entries "Schultz, Frau G., Gesangslehr.” and "Schultz, Frau Gr., Gesangskünstl.” indicated. However, the marriage lasted only for two years.
In May 1928, Margarethe’s mother Minna died at the age of 68. On 29 Mar. 1930, Margarethe was married a second time, to Karl Paul Berger, a sales representative from Schleswig who was six years her junior. Both initially lived together with Lottie in Hamm, at Mettlerkampsweg 5.
Margarethe was only 36 years old when she started practicing her third profession: In Dec. 1930, she registered a business under the Mettlerkampsweg address as the owner of a "commercial shop for the sale of cosmetic products.” Four years later, in 1934, she expanded her company into an institute for beauty care. Always elegantly dressed and with her black hair and bright blue eyes of attractive appearance, she was herself the best advertisement for her company. She developed the "Wunessro” facial cream mentioned earlier and also gave her institute this exotic-sounding name.
In 1936 and 1937, she ran her business in her apartment in Mundsburger Damm, where she lived by then. In 1938, she moved to Graumannsweg 15. That year, her husband Karl Berger died. Margarethe was widowed at 44. The transfer of power to the National Socialists in 1933 had in no way affected her business activities until then. Married to a non-Jewish man since 1930, she had lived under the protection of a "privileged mixed marriage” ("privilegierte Mischehe”) until his death. Moreover, even after Karl Berger’s death, she continued to work undisturbed at first. The increasing deprivation of rights and persecution of Jews under the Nazi regime did affect her private life, but it did not frighten her, her daughter Lottie said later. Her business flourished, she sold beauty articles and made up brides for their wedding day – she was doing fine.
It was a different story with Lottie. After attending Realschule [a practice-oriented secondary school up to grade 10] at Holzdamm 5 in 1929, she completed a commercial apprenticeship in the Alsberg Brothers’ yard goods store on Grosse Burstah. She then worked there as a department head and buyer for women’s clothing articles. In 1934, however, the company was "Aryanized” and all Jewish employees had to leave. As Lottie was "half Jewish,” she was allowed to stay for the time being, but in 1936, she was fired as well. Afterward, she worked for a short time as a sales assistant in the children’s clothing store of Adolf Bud and his wife on Eimsbütteler Chaussee. In Nov. 1936, she married Alexander Abraham, who was about two years older. She had met him in 1930 at a commercial training course run by the Federation of Trade Unions of Salaried Employees (Gewerkschaftsbund der Angestellten), and both had been engaged since 1932.
Alexander Abraham came from a Jewish family. In order to marry him and spare him criminal proceedings for "racial defilement” ("Rassenschande”), Lottie had to go through a lengthy procedure as a "half-Jew” with various medical examinations and admit to Judaism. Already in July 1934, together with her fiancé and his father Max, she had founded a company, the Hanseatischer Transport Kontor Steindorff & Co oHG. based in the Chilehaus. Lottie was only involved in the company through an investment, while Alexander and Max Abraham took care of the management. Initially, there were problems with the approval of the company name. In Oct. 1934, however, the three shareholders credibly explained to the Hamburg Regional Court (Landgericht) that the use of Lottie’s "Aryan-sounding” surname was not intended to conceal the Jewish character of the company, since Lottie herself was also Jewish.
The carefree attitude with which Margarethe Berger saw her own situation in the Nazi state did not apply to her daughter’s situation. She advised her daughter and son-in-law to leave Germany, probably because of Lottie’s marriage to Alexander Abraham and the resulting commitment to Judaism. Both heeded the advice. In May 1937, they travelled to Britain – officially, to visit friends and business partners. However, the customs investigation department suspected that they wanted to emigrate and ensured that the foreign currency office of the Chief Finance Administrator (Oberfinanzpräsident) issued a provisional "security order” ("Sicherungsanordnung”) against the Hanseatische Transport Kontor in order to prevent capital flight. After that, Max Abraham, who had stayed in Hamburg, was only allowed to dispose of 3,000 of the 6,500 RM (reichsmark) in the company account. At the end of Sept. 1938, the definitive "security order” followed, requiring Max Abraham to obtain approval under foreign currency law for each transaction. He had to assign all foreign accounts receivables of the company to a German foreign exchange bank for collection; in addition, the foreign currency office withdrew from Lottie and Alexander Abraham any management and representation authority. After the "Ordinance on the Elimination of the Jews from German Economic Life” ("Verordnung zur Ausschaltung der Juden aus dem deutschen Wirtschaftsleben”) had been promulgated at the end of Nov. 1938, Max Abraham was forced to liquidate the company.
Lottie and Alexander Abraham lived in safety in Britain and Margarethe Berger was able to continue running her beauty salon in Hamburg despite the intensified measures of the Nazi state to eliminate Jews from economic life and to plunder them financially. In the new rooms on Jungfernstieg, she even employed staff and worked with a surgeon from Harburg who performed plastic surgery.
But then a move by her sister Liesl, as bold as it was gullible, also brought her into the Gestapo’s sights. Since July 1938, Jews had to apply for an identity card marked with a "J” and since the end of August of the same year, they had to assume the additional compulsory name of Sara or Israel. Liesl Lüllemann did not feel obliged to do either, since she did not view herself as Jewish. At the end of 1941, the Hamburg District Court (Amtsgericht) therefore brought charges against her. Liesl Lüllemann immediately defended herself against her "racial classification as a Jewess” by lodging a disciplinary complaint against the director of the "Reich Genealogical Office” ("Reichssippenamt”). The Reichssippenamt then prepared a certificate of descent that showed that all four grandparents of Liesl were Jewish according to the racial laws of the Nazi state and that Liesl, like her sister Margarethe, were Jewish. At the same time, the Reich Minister of the Interior announced that he had examined the disciplinary complaint and would reject it as unfounded. Thus, in Mar. 1942 Liesl Lüllemann had to announce the "acceptance of an additional Jewish first name” and also apply for a "Jewish identity card.”
Following the trial of her sister Liesl, Margarethe Berger also received a summons from the Gestapo at the end of 1941. The Reichssippenamt, the Gestapo stated, had determined that she was Jewish. Her business was immediately closed and she had to leave the rooms on Jungfernstieg. On behalf of the Gestapo, the Jewish Religious Organization (Jüdischer Religionsverband) assigned her a room in the "Jews’ house” ("Judenhaus”) at Kleiner Schäferkamp 32. Nothing is known about the whereabouts of her practice furniture, and she was able to take only part of her furniture with her. Her assets were also confiscated, including a deposit of 5,000 RM, which she had already received from a prospective buyer for her practice. Retroactively, the sale was not approved and the interested party received the down payment back. This left Margarethe with a maximum of 80 RM in cash. In addition, she too had to apply for an "identity card” as a Jewish woman in Nov. 1941.
Apparently, all of this hit her so hard that she became seriously ill. Starting in mid-Dec. 1941, she was in hospital for weeks and was not allowed to be burdened with anything according to the doctors’ orders. Even after her release in spring 1942, she still had to take it easy and could not work. So her sister Liesl took care of her.
Only a short time later, Margarethe Berger received the "deportation order” delivered to Kleiner Schäferkamp. On 11 July 1942, she was deported from Hamburg to Auschwitz and murdered there. The auction of her furniture by auctioneer Richard Jäkel based on Eppendorfer Weg generated 791.95 RM for the Hamburg Chief Finance Administrator.
Only eight days after Margarethe Berger, her sister Liesl Lüllemann was deported to Theresienstadt. In the very end, she had last lived at Rehmstrasse 8 in Winterhude. Four weeks later, a Gestapo man showed up there, intending to hand over in person the order to pay two times 12 RM.
Liesl Lüllemann survived the Shoah. Extremely weakened physically, she was able to leave Theresienstadt only in Aug. 1945, suffering from a severe heart condition and almost blind. She died in Apr. 1967 in Hamburg, aged 79. Her son Gerhard also survived the Shoah.
Margarethe’s daughter, Lottie-Gretl Abraham, changed her name to Lottie Margaret Graham in Britain. She died in Nov. 2010 at the age of 97. In 2000, she was invited by the Senate to visit Hamburg. Her mother-in-law, Kathy Abraham, née Levin, was murdered in Chelmno in 1942; her father-in-law, Max Abraham, in Auschwitz that same year. For both of them, Stolpersteine are located at Brahmsallee 25.
Lottie’s children – Margarethe’s grandchildren – Helen Vivien and John Harvey Graham were both born in Britain, where they still live today. In the summer of 2013, they went to Hamburg as part of the Senate’s visit program for the former residents of Hamburg persecuted during Nazism.
Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: December 2019
© Frauke Steinhäuser
Quellen: 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 8; 9; StaH 213-11 Staatsanwaltschaft Landgericht, 7036/42 Amtsgericht, Strafsache gegen Elise Lüllemann; StaH 213-13 Landgericht Wiedergutmachung Z 28029; StaH 314-15 FVg 7893; StaH 332-5 Standesämter: 6656 u. 129/1927; 6298 u. 321/1897; 13426 u. 138/1930; 9833 u. 1134/1928; 2347 u. 3743/1894; 9716 u. 3140/1912; StaH 332-8 Meldewesen, A 40; StaH 351-11 AfW 16603; StaH 351-11 AfW 10210; 351-11 AfW 38826; StaH 351-11 35476 AfW; StaH 351-11 AfW 52210; StaH 351-11 AfW 43011; StaH 522-1 Jüd. Gemeinden 992 d Steuerakten Bd. 3; StaH 522-1 Jüd. Gemeinden 992e 2 Bd 4 Transport nach Auschwitz am 19. Juli 1942; Standesamt Zentralstelle, 591/1913 (564/96); Hamburger Adressbücher u. amtliche Fernsprechbücher für den Bezirk der Oberpostdirektion Hamburg, agora.sub.uni-hamburg.de/subhh-adress/digbib/start; Datenbank des Instituts Theresienstädter Initiative/Nationalarchiv Prag, www.holocaust.cz/de/victims; Marga Watson (i.e. Lottie Margaret Graham geb. Steindorff), My Fathers Daughter, From 1 to 90; Kent 2004; E-Mail-Wechsel und persönliche Gespräche mit Helen Lentge und John Graham, Januar–August 2013.
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