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Ernst Bundheim
© Nathan Ben-Brith

Ernst Bundheim * 1895

Brahmsallee 26 (Eimsbüttel, Harvestehude)

1943 aus Drancy nach Majdanek

further stumbling stones in Brahmsallee 26:
Henriette Bundheim

Henriette Bundheim, born 8/22/1890 in Altona, taken to Berlin on 2/12/1943 and deported from there to Auschwitz on 2/19/1943
Ernst Bundheim, born 2/16/1895 in Altona, fled to Brussels in March 1939, interned in 1940 first at St. Cyprien, later at Camp Gurs, murdered in Majdanek on 3/10/1943

Brahmsallee 26

Two Stumbling Stones before the house in Brahmsallee 26 commemorate the siblings Henriette and Ernst Bundheim murdered in different places in the spring of 1943. They belonged to a widely ramified family about which we are well informed, because the children of Ernst Bundheim survived the Holocaust and keep the memory of their father alive. Leonhard Nathan Bundheim, the eldest, who later called himself Nathan Ben Brith, came to Hamburg in 2004 for the inauguration of the Stumbling Stone for his father. His autobiography gives us an intense impression of the life of educated Orthodox Jewish families in Germany of the 1920s, of their liberal cosmopolitan attitudes and their patriotic German sentiments. Joseph Ben Brith (formerly Bundheim), gives a vivid account of his easygoing childhood in the neighborhood between Krugkoppelbrücke and Isebekkanal with its parks, where the children met their friends and relatives of the same age to romp and play and where their father Ernst Bundheim enjoyed taking part in sports and games.

The genealogy created by Joseph Ben Brith traces the various fates of the related families under the rule of National Socialism – flight, banishment, extermination and dispersal of the survivors of the Holocaust in all parts of the world. Here, we cannot spread out the whole panorama; instead limiting ourselves to the memories of the man and the woman commemorated by the stumbling Stones before the house at Brahmsallee 26.

Nathan Bundheim, Henriette and Ernst’s father, was born in Altona in 1855. On April 11, 1888, he married Caroline Gelle Wertheim from Witzenhausen, ten years his junior, whose father was a banker like Nathan. At the turn of the century, the couple moved to Hamburg, where they first lived at Schlüterstrasse 75, later at Hansastrasse 43. Five children were born in six years; Henriette, the first daughter, on August 22, 1890. She was handicapped. Following the discretion typical for the time, this subject was obviously avoided, and so we know nothing about the type of her handicap. When she reached puberty, she was placed in a suitable home, an institution of the Jewish welfare organization in Grüne Strasse in Altona (now Kirchenstrasse). Where did Henriette live, who was responsible for her family that disintegrated under the Nazi pressure? On August 25, 1936, a culture tax card for Henriette Bundheim was created at the Israelitic Religious Association. However, no dues were ever levied. On the line for "profession”, "patient” was entered. She was penniless and lived at the almshouse in Altona until June 1940. On September 15, 1942, Henriette was admitted to a "Jews’ house” in Beneckestrasse; on February 12, 1943, she was struck from the community register due to "emigration” , i.e. she was on the second transport that left Hamburg for Auschwitz via Berlin. As the home in Altona and the building no longer exist, the stumbling stone for Henriette Bundheim was laid next to that for her brother Ernst. Ernst Bundheim’s biography can be almost completely reconstructed. He was the second son of his parents; his elder brother Max, born 4/23/1889, lived across the street with his family. Max Bundheim, his second wife and their daughter were deported to Minsk and murdered there in 1941. Three stumbling stones before the house in Brahmsallee 19 commemorate them.

Two married sisters of Ernst Bundheim survived the Holocaust: Frida, married Wolkowsky, born 11/22/1892, and Gertrud, married Sommer, born 8/15/1896.

Like his brother, Ernst Bundheim attended the Talmud Tora School for nine years. In 1910, he began a three-year commercial apprenticeship with the Jakob Hirsch metal company and was taken over as a clerk after completing his training. His narrative talent and his passion for spinning yarns made him popular with his colleagues. In World War I, Ernst Bundheim served with the Infantry Regiment 60 in Weissenburg. He was wounded at the Russian front, and after his discharge from the military hospital, he was detailed to the regiment’s administration at the garrison in Weissenburg. His mother, who lived alone after the death of her husband in 1915, wanted to take care of her son and temporarily moved near him. For Ernst Bundheim, the Iron Cross awarded him for bravery in the face of the enemy was a visible sign of his country’s appreciation of his love for the fatherland, an attitude he shared with a great many Jewish soldiers.

The postwar years were an era of optimistic beginning for the young people, of professional orientation and for starting a family. In 1914, Ernst’s sister had married Martin Wolkowsky from Upper Silesia and moved to Gleiwitz with him. Max Bundheim married Erna Levi in 1929, Gertrud Bundheim became the wife of Max Sommer in 1922, and the wedding of Ernst Bundheim and Johanna Glückstadt was celebrated on February 11, 1922. The Bundheim and Glückstadt families were connected as friends and neighbors; their children were about the same age, went to the same schools and played together.

After six brothers, Johanna was the only girl in the Glückstadt family: she went to the highschool for girls in Biberstrasse. When she graduated after nine years, she stayed at home to help her mother, who was weakened after a severe illness. Born in 1898, she was the closest in age to Ernst Bundheim, so that the marriage of the two came more or less naturally, desired and encouraged by both’s parents. The couple first lived with Ernst’s mother, the widowed Caroline Bundheim, née Wertheim, at Hansastrasse 43. Their first two sons were born there, Leonhard Nathan on 12/11/1923, and Manfred Moritz Joseph Mosche on 2/11/1925. At the time, their father Ernst Bundheim was general manager of the Ludwig Bing scrap metal company in Schlüterstrasse 2; In 1928, he left the company because he objected to them doing business with the regime of Chiang Kai-shek in China to the benefit of German military rearmament, and set up his own import business for African palm fiber (crin d’Afrique) that was used as a filling for mattresses. His new offices were in Hohe Bleichen 20, near Hamburg’s town hall.

Ernst and Johanna Bundheim and their two boys moved to Haynstrasse 10 in Eppendorf, where two more children were born: Paul in 1926 and Thirza in 1928. When the two elder boys started at the Talmud Tora Schule, the family moved near the school to the apartment building in Beneckestrasse 2, which belonged to the Jewish Community. When the Community needed the building for its own institutions in 1935, the Bundheims had to move once more, this time to Brahmsallee 26 in Harvestehude, where their fifth child, Rosel, was born in 1937. Nathan and Joseph Ben Brith, who recounted all this, cherished the fondest memories of their sheltered childhood.

From 1933, however, the children, too, sensed the change of the city’s social climate: suddenly, they were being avoided as "Jews” by some school- and playmates and were no longer allowed to associate with "Aryan” children. Their parents’ steadfast attitude and their privately practiced religiosity, however, were sensed as protective and strengthening.

Ernst Bundheim had to experience how his commercial leeway was slowly restricted. In the course of 1938, things became threatening. A foreign exchange audit on August 8 the company’s sales and profits, the import of palm fiber with the partners of "Omnium Maroccain” in Casablanca and the export of sanitary ceramics to Denmark and Sweden required travel permits and buying premiums. Violations of currency regulations were not detected, but the tax authorities now possessed a detailed financial profile of the Bundheim company and family that could be referred to at any time.

Ernst Bundheim had been able to conceal his worst fears from his children. Thus, the shock for them was all the more gruesome when, on November 10, the Nazis crashed their home and arrested their father. As a German front soldier, Ernst Bundheim had felt secure, and now he was abducted to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. For no other reason than being Jewish, thousands of Jewish men, honorable merchants and dignitaries were bullied around and square-bashed by young guards, ridiculed and humiliated. Physically and morally broken, the prisoners were only released after a shorter or longer period when they had promised to leave Germany as quickly as possible.

Johanna Bundheim reacted immediately to the arrest of her husband and arranged for four of her elder children to be taken to relatives in Belgium by the red cross. Johanna’s brothers Richard and Leo Glückstadt had already decided to restart their business in Belgium and soon had their families follow them. Richard Glückstadt, his wife Fanny and their three sons lived in a nice villa in Brussels, where they received their three Bundheim nephews at the end of 1938; Thirza went to Antwerp to join her uncle Leo Glückstadt and his wife, who had two daughters. By family decision, 15-year-old Nathan was sent to the Yeshiva Kahutout boarding school in Heide near Antwerp, 117 Heidestatiestraat, a Talmud academy.

Meanwhile in Hamburg, Bundheim’s assets continued to dwindle while he was in jail. The finance authorities extended their tentacles in all directions. Martin Wolkowsky, married to Bundheim’s sister Frida, was the owner of the electrochemical factory Paul Groddek & Co; he emigrated to Palestine shortly after the Nazis came to power. Frida took over as head of the company until 1937, when she followed her husband to Tel Aviv and left it to Ernst Bundheim to sell the business. On December 6, 1938, the attorney Dr. Kaufmann, who was to manage the sale, told the auditor "that Ernst Bundheim had been arrested by the police in connection with the known events and not been released.”

Also while Bundheim was in jail, the Chief Finance Administrator ordered an inspection of the safe deposit boxes of "the Jewish owners Ernst and Max Bundheim” because of suspected flight of capital. Up to then, no "security orders” had been issued against them so as not to disturb their export business. Presumably, the agency planned to have the companies "aryanized.” But now, under the impression of the increased pressure on the Jewish company owners to emigrate, they changed their strategy and ordered the quick liquidation of Jewish enterprises.

At the concentration camp, Ernst Bundheim declared that he and his younger children wanted to emigrate to the USA and that his 15-year-old son Nathan would go to Holland. On December 7, 1938, the Gestapo was pleased to record that Ernst Bundheim was taking measures to move his residence abroad – that was the condition for his release. Further investigations followed in January: What foreign assets were there? Were there plans for emigration? All expenses had to be accounted for: separation of expenses, loss on goods, living expenses for Bundheim’s mother, taxes and welfare payments, loss of down payments for not delivered equipment, "atonement levy” and Reich flight tax, a total of 29,904 RM. A "security order” was issued on January 18, 1939, and the company was deleted from the commercial registry two days later; its assets were transferred to the "Deutsche Devisenbank” after another two days. Ernst Bundheim was only allowed to dispose of his company’s bank and post office bank accounts and his life insurance policies with special permission; the policies were placed in a blocked depot at the Sparkasse von Hamburg 1864, the city savings bank, with the standard "reason” given: "Herr Bundheim is a Jew and has declared his intention to emigrate after the liquidation of his company. Considering our recent experience with emigrating Jews, it is necessary to only allow them to dispose of their assets with special permission.”

Ernst and Johanna Bundheim left their home town in March 1939; he took a train to Brussels, she and the baby, with a valid passport, followed in a small private plane, without their papers being checked. As a precaution, she had hidden money and valuables in a bundle of diapers.

A note of the Chief finance Administration of June 22, 1939 reads: "Herr Ernst Bundheim and Frau Johanna Bundheim, née Glückstadt, last domiciled in Hamburg, Brahmsallee 26, have relocated their residence out of the country. Pursuant to Art. 5, paragraphs 2 and 3 of the currency law of December 12, 1938, they are now considered as foreigners according to the currency laws.”

In Belgium, the Bundheims received great support from Richard and Leo Glückstadt. The family got an apartment in Brussels, 34 Avenue Eugène Demolder. Ernst Bundheim pursued studies of agriculture and considered opening a poultry farm because he wanted to emigrate to Palestine. But all plans came to an abrupt end when the German Wehrmacht invaded Belgium on May 10,. 1940. The Belgian government immediately ordered the expulsion of all "undesirable aliens” – undesirable because they belonged to the nation of the German aggressors, ignoring the fact that the Jews had fled from the Nazis and lost their German citizenship. The fear of the ominous "fifth column”, of spies that were supposed to pave the way for the invaders, was so great that people who spoke German, including the Jews, were suspect to the Belgian government.

Ernst Bundheim happened to be in Antwerp on that day. Like most German men, he followed the publicly issued order to report at a gathering point. His son Nathan, who was spending his school vacations with the family in Brussels, did likewise, trusting that he, persecuted by the Nazi regime, would be specially protected. However, all those assembled in both cities were arrested without exception and had to spend the night in a caserne or a barn. Father and sons Bundheim knew nothing of each other. On Pentecost Sunday, May 12, they were transported to France on separate trains. Only in Tournai did the stop for the first time. The trains were guarded by Belgian and French policeman. The French government had decided to quarter the men expelled from Belgian in the camps that been erected towards the end of the Spanish civil war for the many Spanish refugees and scattered members of the International Brigades. On the way, the German "Boches” on the trains were attacked and cursed by the French people.

La Fauga-Mazère in the Haute Garonne region was the first stop for Ernst Bundheim. His son Nathan Bundheim and the other deportees on the second train had to stay at the camp at de Vigeant from May 15 to 28. All the camps in southern France were very makeshift and primitive. The group with Ernst Bundheim reached the large camp at St. Cyprien near Perpignan on the Mediterranean coast, where all Germans deported from Belgium were taken, on May 29. The joy and relief of Ernst and Nathan Bundheim were great when they were reunited there. Leo Glückstadt and his nephew Manfred had been deported to St. Cyprien. As Belgian citizens, they were soon released and were able to emigrate to the USA.

St. Cyprien was considered to be one of the worst camps in southern France. The wooden barracks gave almost no protection against wind and rain, they had neither furniture nor even floors. The inhabitants had to sleep on sacks of rotted straw on the sand, and they all suffered from the millions of sand fleas. After the armistice of June 25, 1940, the prisoners in the camps hoped to be released. The Jewish men deported from Belgium longed to return to their families that had remained there.

Article 19 of the armistice agreement provided that all German citizens located on French territory and named by the Reich were to be extradited. A German-French commission was appointed to implement the "repatriation” article. The Jews in the camp panicked, because being returned to Nazi Germany would mean disaster to them. Actually, this was never even considered.

After a flood in October 1940, the St. Cyprien camp was declared "uninhabitable” and closed down. The detainees were taken to the Gurs camp at the foot of the Pyrenees near Pau. This camp was no improvement worth mentioning compared to St. Cyprien. A water shortage and overcrowded quarters caused the outbreak of epidemic diseases. But, at least, the camp provided protection from immediate persecution.

In the meantime, Johanna Bundheim and her four children lived in Brussels in anguish and constant fear of the German occupants. In May 1941, Johanna and her children together with another Jewish family decided to flee from Belgium. Their group, alas, was apprehended in St. Marcel on the border to unoccupied France on May 6 and interned at the Gurs camp.

All members of the Bundheim family, with the exception of Nathan, now lived here, albeit on separate Ilots "little islands” as the different groups of barracks, each surrounded with barbed wire, were called, men and women separated in different sectors of the camp divided by a wide paved road. Ernst Bundheim and his sons lived in Ilot D baraque 2, Johanna with the two daughters in Ilot K, baraque 17.

The joy of the family "reunion” was soon ruined by the outbreak of diseases. Johanna fell severely ill in July 1941; in September, she was transferred from the men’s camp hospital to a hospital in Pau, where her husband was allowed to visit by permission of the camp commandant before a planned operation. She had barely recovered to some degree when the children, one after the other, caught typhoid fever. This went on until March 1942. In this time, the Jewish inmates of the Gurs camp lived meagerly, but not under immediate threat. Hardly any news of the deportations that initiated the "final solution of the Jewish issue” reached the south of France. The Nazis deliberately kept the French authorities, the population and thus also the camp inmates in ignorance.

A positive development for the interned Jews was the fact that the aid organization OSE (Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants), "Children’s Relief Organization” under the aegis of UGIF (Union générale des israélites de France), "General Union of the Israelites in France” succeeded in getting Jewish children under 16 years of age out of the camps and placing them in their own organizations’ children’s homes. Ernst Bundheim grasped the opportunity and managed to get his son Nathan free. Born in December 1923, Nathan passed as a sixteen-year old for the whole year. The French prefect in Pau officially discharged Nathan bound for "Limoges”, 450 kilometers away. Most likely it was his prudent father Ernst who had named Limoges as destination; he had had received notice from his sister Gertrud Sommer, who had immediately fled from their home in Bad Kreuznach across the border to Alsace and from there on to Limoges in the unoccupied part of France. Gertrud and her husband got paid jobs with the Swiss OSE taking care of the children of Jewish refugees. Along with the Sommers, a good part of the Jewish Community of Strasburg had landed in Limoges. They founded a community center with a reception home for children and a boarding school. Nathan Bundheim was received in Limoges with open arms. He was given French lessons and trained as a radio technician. And on the side, he was able to continue his Talmud studies.

In June 1942, Ernst and Johanna Bundheim gave their official parental consent for their children Paul, Thirza and Rosel to be taken to the Camp de Palavas-des-Flots in the Département of Hérault and from there to be entrusted to organizations of the OSE. The Sommers took in the two girls with them in Limoges. But even there, the long tentacles of the Nazi extermination machine reached the Jews who had fled Germany. According to an agreement made at a meeting of Adolf Eichmann and the Judenreferenten (commissioners in charge of Jews) from Holland, Belgium and France on June 11, 1942, 100,000 Jews were to be "supplied” from France. On August 28, the French police arrested all Jewish inhabitants also in the unoccupied part of the country. Adults and children were admitted to different "orientation camps.” The Jews from Limoges, among them the Sommers and their fosterlings, were taken to the Nexon Camp. Once again, they succeeded in escaping and reached Switzerland, where the children found shelter in homes. Only Leonhard Nathan Bundheim suddenly found himself on a deportation train to Drancy near Paris, from where the young men who were fit to work were sent eastward to do forced labor, Nathan Bundheim on transport no. 27. He was unable to send his parents a message about his whereabouts.

His parents were also greatly worried about their son Manfred. After his severe illness, he had been sent on a recuperation leave to a rural community in Taluyères on the Rhone. At the end of the leave, Manfred did not report back to the camp as ordered, but went underground. The police searched for him in vain. Actually, he had managed to get a false ID card and lived for two years in central France as "Marcel Benz”, a Christian from Alsace with an Algerian mother, working on farms and as a lumberjack. He connected with Jewish boy scouts and resistance organizations, the E.I.F. (Eclaireurs Isralites de France) and the A.J.F. (Armée Juive de France). With a group of friends, he decided to flee, and succeeded in crossing the Pyrenees into Spain under hazardous conditions and suffering great hardships before the managed to get a boat to Palestine.

Ernst and Johanna Bundheim had remained alone in Gurs, where they lived in constant fear of deportation. Their employment by the UGIF provided a sort of protection, where Ernst worked as a gardener from November 1941 and Johanna as a cook. But the fact that they were both transferred to the camp in Rivesaltes meant nothing good. In contrast to the French "shame” camps, this had been intended to serve as an ideal, humanely conceived abode for internees – but that plan totally failed. Only a year later, Rivesaltes became the camp for the selection of the Jews for deportation. Johanna Bundheim was "deferred”, as was her husband. When the Rivesaltes camp was closed in November 1942, the Bundheims were taken back to Gurs. Those who had not succeeded in escaping by then lived in constant fear of being deported "to the east.” Ernst Bundheim got no opportunity to evade the grasp of the murderers. Neither he nor all the others still remaining at Gurs could imagine that the Nazis had planned the total annihilation of the Jewish people.

When he was assigned to a "labor transport” to Poland by orders of the French policed on March 2, 1943, Ernst Bundheim still believed the propaganda lie when transport no. 51 with 926 Jewish men from Gurs and another 35 men, 39 women and 21 children was assembled at the transit camp in Drancy near Paris. On March 6, he threw a postcard to his wife out of the train bound for Majdanek, informing her that he was well and hoped to meet auf their son Nathan Leonhard in a labor camp in Poland. The card actually did reach Johanna in Gurs. She stayed in France until the end of the war, hoping that her husband would return there. Only slowly did the survivors realize the truth about the Nazi campaign to kill all Jews that finally transformed the hope that loved ones would return into an illusion. The rescued members of the Bundheim family learned only very late that Ernst had arrived in Majdanek on March 10, 1943 and was murdered by gas immediately.

In Hamburg in 1941, Ernst Bundheim’s mother Caroline Gelle, née Wertheim, had to witness the "evacuation” of her son Max, his wife and his daughter. The following year, she herself was deported to Theresienstadt, where she died "of enteritis” on October 21, 1942.

Nathan Leonhard, the second eldest son of Ernst und Johanna Bundheim, miraculously survived extreme forced labor and famine during three years in various camps, including Blechhammer, a satellite camp of Auschwitz. In November 1947, Johanna Bundheim was reunited with her five children in Haifa, so begin a new life in Israel – without their husband and father Ernst Bundheim.

Translated by Peter Hubschmid
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

Stand: September 2019
© Inge Grolle

Quellen: 1; 2; 4; 7; 8; 9; StaH 351-11 Amt für Wiedergutmachung _1116, _281065; 314-15 Oberfinanzdirektion R1339/362 Sicherungsverfahren gegen Max Bundheim; R 1938/3510; F234; Todesanzeige Ghetto Theresienstadt, III.7096; Pyrenées Atlantiques, Service Départementales des Archives, Cotes 72W57,58; 72W124+147; 72W76+80, mitgeteilt durch Monique Vanderplaetsen und Marie Landelle; Bajohr, "Arisierung", S. 225–233; J. Ben Brith, Odyssee; N. Ben Brith, Gedächtnis; ders., Erinnerungen; Vieth, Hier lebten sie, S. 25–32; Bervoets, La Liste de Saint-Cyprien, S.172–340.
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