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Elsa Coutinho (née Neuberg) * 1886

Eichenstraße 54 (Eimsbüttel, Eimsbüttel)

JG. 1886

further stumbling stones in Eichenstraße 54:
Käthe Greiffenhagen, Hans Greiffenhagen

Elsa Coutinho, née Neuberg, born on 9 Dec. 1886 in Sarstedt near Hannover, deported to the Jungfernhof subcamp of the Riga Ghetto on 6 Dec. 1941

Eichenstrasse 54 (Eimsbüttel)

Elsa Neuberg came from the Neuberg family of Jewish merchants, very well known in the Hannover-Hildesheim area. Her father was Gustav Neuberg, born on 28 May 1855 in Sarstedt, died on 9 Aug. 1917 in Hannover. Her mother, Rosa née Elsbach, was born on 3 Apr. 1866 in Paderborn.

Elsa’s father was the owner of Joseph Neuberg & Söhne, Manufakturenhandel, a manufactures trade, in Hannover. Elsa attended first the eight-grade elementary school (Volksschule) of her hometown and later the girls’ secondary school in Hannover.

On 17 Mar. 1908, she married Carl Coutinho (born on 7 Apr. 1880), who lived in Hamburg and who together with his brother Solms had taken over his father’s business, "Coutinho & Meyer, Lithographische Anstalt und Steindruckerei,” a lithographic and stone printing (Steindruck) operation. Carl came from a Sephardic-Jewish family. At first, the couple was doing quite well economically. On 6 Jan. 1909, their son Arno was born as the only child. In his childhood, he spent a lot of time at his grandfather’s house in Hannover.

Elsa’s husband Carl returned ill from the First World War. Although he tried to continue operating the company, he suffered great business losses, which forced him to take on a partner with whom cooperation soon proved impossible. Moreover, the attempt in Feb. 1925 to develop, by means of a loan, a new line of business, the mass production of cigar box prints, failed, and the Coutinhos lost their entire fortune.

The family was dependent on the support of the welfare office and was therefore regularly visited by its staff. One report by the social welfare worker read as follows: "Mr. C. has been in bed again for about 12 weeks. An X-ray was taken recently because there is suspicion of TB. In addition, there is the greatest need there, since the spouses with their son have only the 18 M [marks] that are paid by the welfare office. I would like to ask the office to pay weekly assistance of 25 M as of 21 Sept. 1925. As it is, the welfare office does not pay for rent or light. The clients eke out this sum by renting out rooms. In view of the dismal situation, I ask that my application be dealt with as soon as possible.” Entries of this kind are a recurrent theme in the file until the end of the 1930s.

Carl Coutinho died on 14 Oct. 1925 at the age of 45 years of tuberculosis. The funeral costs were covered by the welfare authorities, as were the school fees for Arno, which he co-financed from time to time by tutoring. Elsa tried to run the company after the death of her husband, but had to file for bankruptcy in 1927.

Initially, she managed to keep the six-room apartment at Eichenstrasse 52 by renting out several rooms. She also cleaned and tidied these rooms. To save money, she moved with Arno to Emilienstrasse 1 from 1929 to 1935. The new home was smaller, but having subtenants was necessary as well. At times, Elsa’s widowed mother from Hannover lived there.

Both Elsa’s and Arno’s state of health was poor. Elsa suffered from languor and dizziness, later also from rheumatoid arthritis and a stiffening of the left arm. Lung and back problems were diagnosed in Arno. Because of his lungs, special rations of milk were repeatedly approved for him. Particularly because of Elsa’s rheumatic disease, the family moved to Eichenstrasse 54 in 1936. This house had a central heating system, which was rare at the time, whereas the heating situation on Emilienstrasse had proved to be very unfavorable.

Elsa’s mother also lived in the new apartment with her daughter and was financially supported by her son Wilhelm, Elsa’s brother, as long as it was possible for him, because he also fought for his economic survival. Elsa’s son Arno left Germany in Dec. 1936.

Arno, a very gifted student, had graduated from Heinrich Herz Oberrealschule [a secondary school without Latin] in 1927 and then studied, which was made possible by scholarships. From 1927 to 1932, he enrolled in psychology, philosophy, history, social sciences, and newspaper studies in Hamburg and Giessen. His career goal was becoming a journalist. For his dissertation on Struktur und Schicht. Ein Beitrag zur Kritik des Darwinismus in der modernen Psychologie ("Structure and layer. A contribution to the critique of Darwinism in modern psychology”), he was awarded a PhD. He also acquired knowledge in accounting and tried to earn money with it. When he found no more employment, he devoted himself to scholarly work and began to publish various articles in professional journals. He also worked for the Rosenzweig Foundation as a lecturer and in Jewish vocational counseling. Since he saw no future in Nazi Germany as a Jewish academic, on 12 Dec. 1936 at the age of 27, he emigrated to New York, where he was first able to live with his uncle Wilhelm Neuberg.

It is documented in restitution files that Arno was able to support his mother Elsa from the USA out of funds inherited from his grandfather. She received payments amounting to 35 RM (reichsmark) as a maintenance pension from Arno’s assets.

In 1940, the 1st Division of the Hanseatic special court (Hanseatisches Sondergericht) initiated proceedings against Elsa Coutinho after she had expressed herself in an "anti-state” way in a bread store and had been denounced. The indictment stated, "[That woman] Coutinho is accused of having made, at the end of Sept. 1939, inflammatory and hateful statements in a non-public setting about state leaders and the measures they took in connection with the events of the war, comments that were likely to undermine the people’s confidence in the political leadership and that she had to assume would reach the public sphere.”

The trial ended with a verdict on 25 May 1940: The widow Elsa Coutinho was sentenced to a four-week prison sentence for violating Sec. 2 Par. II of the "Treachery Act” (Heimtückegesetz) dated 20 Dec. 1934. In the trial file, it was recorded that she had spoken negatively to a witness in a bread store about the events in Poland, the prospects of an early peace, and the senselessness of the war. She had doubted what was in the newspapers, that this was not true, that the Jews were not to blame for the war, being mostly capable people who would work their way up from below. The Germans would be treated in America in the same way as the Jews had been treated here. When leaving the country, [she had reportedly said] they would not even be left with a watch. Based on a petition for clemency submitted by the Jewish lawyer Manfred Zadik on 21 May 1940, execution of the sentence was initially suspended until 31 July 1943 on probation. In Sept. 1945, punishment was officially remitted by the authorities, at a time when Elsa had long since fallen victim to the Holocaust.

Until May 1941, Elsa Coutinho continued to live at Eichenstrasse 54, where the Stolperstein commemorates her. Obviously, after that, she had to move in quick succession: She lived for two weeks with a Dr. Brandenstein at Oderfelderstrasse 15, then from 15 May 1941 onward with her relative Laura Coutinho at Lenhartzstrasse 13. There she received the deportation order for the transport on 6 Dec. 1941. Destined for Riga, the transport ended for the Hamburg deportees in the local Jungfernhof subcamp, however.

There, all traces of her disappear. It is not known exactly where and when she died, in Jungfernhof or in a labor detachment, whether she died of hunger or illness, or whether she was murdered in the mass shootings of "Operation Dünamünde” ("Aktion Dünamünde”).

Elsa Coutinho’s mother Rosa Neuberg was granted a short respite: She had returned to Hannover. There she had to live in the former Ahlem (hachshara) location, the grounds of which had since been used as a collection site for Jews. At this place, she received the deportation order for 23 July 1942 to Theresienstadt, where her brother-in-law Robert Neuberg was also deported. She died there on 3 Nov. 1942 of enteritis (intestinal catarrh), as the Jewish doctors determined.

How did Arno Coutinho fare in the USA?
Documents from the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars show that he made great efforts to work in the academic field. In 1936, his professor Dr. Justus Hashagen of the University of Hamburg had issued him with a letter of recommendation in which it was stated, "Anyone who gives material support to such a promising mind as Coutinho will earn lasting merits for the promotion of international scientific search for truth if he enables C. to become an academic teacher. I think he is perfectly suited in this respect.”

In 1938, Arno suffered a nervous breakdown and had to spend months in a sanatorium. Until 1940, further documents filed with the Emergency Committee testify to his efforts to obtain academic employment. After that, his traces in the USA disappear. In Oct. 1987, Arno Coutinho died in Suffolk, New York. His assets of 7,272 RM as well as securities had already been confiscated in 1944 to the benefit of the German Reich.

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

Stand: June 2020
© Ursula Mühler

Quellen: Auskünfte zu Familie Neuberg von Bettina Bartosch, Historikerin beim Landkreis Hildesheim vom 16.4.2018; Quellendokumentation der Familie Neuberg, Hildesheim 1997; div. Hamburger Adressbücher; StaH 522-1, 992b, Kultussteuerkarten der jüdischen Gemeinde in Hamburg; StaH Fürsorgeakte 351-14_1071; StaH Strafprozessakte 213-11_60096; StaH Nachlass Arno Coutinho 232-5_274; StaH Wiedergutmachung Vermögen Arno Coutinho 213-13-11797 und 363-2-Ea13, Manuskripte des Emergency Committee in Aid of Foreign Scholars von Januar 1938 bis Mai 1940, Bundesarchiv Gedenkbuch;

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