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Bernhard Dessau * 1883

Ottersbekallee 23 (Eimsbüttel, Eimsbüttel)

JG. 1883
VERHAFTET 25.7.1941
ERMORDET 8.2.1942

Bernhard Dessau, born on 24 Apr. 1883 in Hamburg, detained from 25 July 1941 in the Fuhlsbüttel police prison, from 13 Nov. 1941 in the Neuengamme concentration camp, died there on 8 Feb. 1942

Ottersbeckallee 23, Eimsbüttel

Bernhard Dessau was the son of Jacob Dessau (born on 1 Jan. 1850 in Hamburg, died on 31 May 1928) and Sophie Henriette Josephine née Krey (born on 15 Oct. 1849 in Altona, died on 13 Apr. 1923), who had married in Hamburg in 1875. Jacob Dessau, the father, initially worked as a salesclerk, later as a merchant. Unlike his wife, he came from a Jewish family, as the registrar noted on the birth certificates of his two children. Daughter Martha, born on 2 Aug. 1876 at Antonistrasse 3 in the St. Pauli quarter, already died at the age of 2, after the parents had moved to 2nd Elbstrasse 30 (today Neanderstrasse) in Hamburg-Neustadt. When Bernhard was born on 24 Apr. 1883, they lived at Neuer Steinweg 19, where Jacob Dessau operated a clothing store.

From 1890 to 1899, Bernhard Dessau attended the Stiftungsschule von 1815, a foundation school, at Zeughausmarkt (today Anna-Siemsen-Schule) up to completing grade 11 (Obersekunda). After leaving school, he joined the Hamburg District Court (Amtsgericht) as a legal trainee. After the successful examination, he was appointed Kanzlist (employee of a law firm) in 1905 and court clerk in 1910.

Bernhard Dessau resided with his parents at Bartelsstrasse 54 when he married Gertrude Maria Hermine Wendt (born on 16 Nov. 1887) on 25 Oct. 1910. Both professed the Lutheran religion, as noted on the marriage certificate. Their daughter Lieselotte Gertrud Josephine Marga was born on 13 Nov. 1915. However, the marriage did not last and they were divorced on 8 Sept. 1922. Bernhard Dessau entered into a second marriage on 20 June 1923, with Clara Margarethe Haak (born on 4 Jan. 1889, died on 9 Apr. 1964), who came from a Lutheran dockworker family.

In the following year, Bernhard Dessau voluntarily resigned from the civil service as senior judicial officer based on the Civil Servant Reduction Act. He turned his attention to the business of his father, who had previously passed away. The business was registered in 1924, and since then, he worked as a sworn and publicly appointed auctioneer and appraiser. The Dessau couple lived, among other places, at Gehölz 11, Hoheluftchaussee 93, and since 1937 at Ottersbeckallee 23 in Eimsbüttel.

Between 1933 and 1941, about 10,000 to 12,000 Hamburg Jews managed to leave the city legally and emigrate. To do so, they required a permit from the foreign currency office, to which they had to submit a list of their moving goods. Until the beginning of the Second World War, it was still possible to transport moving goods in so-called "Lifts” (wooden containers) on their way to the country of emigration. After the war began, these containers were no longer shipped. As a result, they piled up in the port of Hamburg, stored by freight forwarding companies.

By order of the Reich Security Main Office in Berlin, these stored "Jewish moving goods” were confiscated in the Hamburg duty-free port. Because of his Jewish father, Bernhard Dessau was considered a "Jewish crossbreed of the first degree” ("Mischling ersten Grades”). He was thus subject to certain professional restrictions; for example, he was no longer allowed to hold auctions. Nevertheless, with the approval of the State Police (Gestapo) headquarters, in 1941 he was assigned to stand in for a colleague who was ill. He was to prepare the auction of the moving goods in question in a hall in Harburg.

On 25 July 1941, Bernhard Dessau was arrested on charges of stealing. The accusation: Supposedly, he had tolerated and not prevented his employee from stealing a radio tube from a music cabinet coming up for auction, so that the cabinet had been sold under value. Clara Dessau believed with certainty that her husband’s arrest by the Gestapo was based on a denunciation.

Bernhard Dessau was initially transferred to the Fuhlsbüttel police prison on 29 July 1941. Then the charges were brought before the District Court. There he emphatically denied the criminal offense with which he was charged, but surprisingly admitted in the main trial that he had acted incorrectly. This was probably a confession forced by violent measures during his Gestapo detention, because he had been in the Stadthaus [headquarters of the Hamburg Gestapo] since 14 Aug. 1941. In the first three weeks of his imprisonment, his state of health had already deteriorated alarmingly. On 20 Aug. 1941, the Hamburg District Court sentenced Bernhard Dessau to a fine of 500 RM and a further 100 RM, or ten days in prison, for aiding and abetting the theft in concomitance with the offense of embezzlement. The fine of 500 RM was considered to have already been paid due to his 50 days in pretrial detention. Legally speaking, Bernhard Dessau should have been released on the day the sentence was pronounced after payment of the additional 100 RM. Instead, he was handed back to the Gestapo and returned to the Fuhlsbüttel police prison. From there, he was transferred to the Neuengamme concentration camp on 13 Nov. 1941, as a "protective custody prisoner” ("Schutzhaftgefangener”) with prisoner number 06540.

Bernhard Dessau’s defense counsel, Walter Klaas, appealed against the verdict, but he was no longer able to consult with his client. Because of the imposed postal block (ban on writing) in the Neuengamme concentration camp, Clara Dessau no longer received any news from her husband either. She was informed by the camp administration that he was healthy. She never saw her husband again.

In Jan. 1942, epidemic typhus broke out in the Neuengamme concentration camp. The SS put the camp under quarantine, but did not provide medical assistance. About 736 prisoners perished. Among them was Bernhard Dessau. As noted on his death certificate, he died on 8 Feb. 1942, of cardiac and circulatory failure due to epidemic typhus.

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

Stand: December 2020
© Susanne Rosendahl

Quellen: StaH 332-5_10715 u 128/1942; StaH 332-5_1885 u 3581/1876; StaH 332-5_67 u 988/1879; StaH 332-5_2053 u 1965/1883; StaH 332-5_870 u 200/1923; StaH 332-5_9833 u 1221/1928; 351-11_6705 (Dessau Bernhard); 213-11 Staatsanwaltschaft Landgericht - Strafsachen 50532 (Dessau, Bernhard); 351-11_10989 (Dessau, Clara); 351-11_40905 (Dessau Lieselotte); (Zugriff 12.6.2020).

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