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Dr. Hermann da Fonseca-Wollheim * 1893
Bahrenfelder Marktplatz 19 (Altona, Bahrenfeld)
DR. HERMANN DA
Dr. Hermann da Fonseca-Wollheim, born on 22 Aug. 1893, from 27 Aug. 1943 in the Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp, from 17 Mar. 1944 in the Buchenwald concentration camp, died there on 13 May 1944
"Since he did not make any secret whatsoever of his opinion about the Hitler regime, we repeatedly asked him to be a bit more cautious but that did not fit his temperament at all. He told us a lot about the Russian men and women in the hutment at the Volkspark, especially about the women forced to work under inconceivably harsh conditions in the Altona plants. Dr. Wollheim had to provide them with medical care and he probably did so too well … in any case, he was arrested all of a sudden.” This is how Hilde Kuhlmann, a Bahrenfeld resident of many years, remembered her family doctor, Dr. Hermann da Fonseca-Wollheim.
Hermann da Fonseca-Wollheim was born the son of a family residing in Hamburg and later in Altona for four generations. His Jewish great-grandfather, Hirsch Wollheim, had come from Breslau (today Wroclaw in Poland) to Hamburg, where he operated a business for lottery, banking, and commission transactions. His grave is located in the Jewish Cemetery on Königsstrasse. His son Hermann, working as a railroad engineer on the construction of the Berlin-Hamburg line, had himself baptized. Hermann’s son, Max da Fonseca-Wollheim, was a physician in Bahrenfeld and the father of Hermann da Fonseca-Wollheim.
As a young medical student, Hermann da Fonseca-Wollheim volunteered to fight in the First World War in 1914, and he was awarded the Iron Cross Second and First Class. His family was characterized by patriotism and loyalty to the state. After his study of medicine, Hermann da Fonseca-Wollheim worked as a ship’s doctor for many years and subsequently lived in the Persian city of Sultan Abad (today Arak) near Tehran, where he served as a doctor for the German colony and, something very dear to his heart, provided medical care for the poor rural population.
Upon returning to Germany, he took over his father’s medical practice at Bahrenfelder Marktplatz 19 in 1933. His two sons think that after the Nazi assumption of power, the family feared that the Nazi state would revoke the statutory health insurance license of the father, who was a "half-Jew” ("Halbjude”), and that he would have to give up the doctor’s practice. Being a "quarter-Jew” ("Vierteljude”), Hermann seemed to be less at risk. Apparently, it was only then that Max da Fonseca-Wollheim learned of his Jewish descent.
That same year, at the age of 40, Hermann da Fonseca-Wollheim married the young expressionist dancer Käthe Engelke, who had studied dance with Mary Wigman and whose parents operated a restaurant for pilots near Palmaille street in Altona. On 8 May 1934, son Hermann was born, with son Friedrich following on 7 Nov. 1938. The family lived in the villa that Hermann’s father had built at Bahrenfelder Marktplatz (Bahrenfeld market square) in 1892. The medical practice was also located there.
Soon, however, Hermann da Fonseca-Wollheim was suffering from boycott measures. The National Socialist rulers began pushing physicians of Jewish descent out of their professional careers. As early as 1933, his sister Elfriede, an x-ray nurse, had been dismissed from the Altona General Hospital "for racial reasons.”
At the start of the Second World War, Hermann normally would have been drafted as a doctor. In the process, he would have received the rank of an officer. However, [according to Nazi ideology] "Aryan” soldiers could not be expected to take orders from a "quarter-Jew.”
During the war, Hermann da Fonseca-Wollheim was initially enlisted to serve as an air defense physician. But then he was discharged again from the medical advisory position with the Security and Assistance Service (Sicherheits- und Hilfsdienst – SHD). Afterwards, he took over medical care for forced laborers in the Bahrenfeld industrial area. Deported from the occupied "eastern territories,” especially from Ukraine, these were quartered, among other places, in company-owned camps of strategically important armaments and food industries on today’s Schützenstrasse, Stresemannstrasse, and Ruhrstrasse. Hermann da Fonseca-Wollheim was supposed to secure their "fitness to work.” He tried to help where he could, supplemented the camp’s dispensary with stocks from his medical practice, and earned the trust of the Ukrainian women and men. His son Hermann frequently accompanied his father to the camps and recalls that at least two of them were camps for female Ukrainian forced laborers.
His father’s practice was much-frequented. During the war, many doctors were on the frontline and obviously it was not possible to maintain the ban on physicians of Jewish descent to care for statutory health insurance patients throughout. Female and male forced laborers also visited the doctor’s practice to undergo treatment. Son Hermann remembers that the hallway, where patients that had not found space in the reception room waited for their turn, always smelled intensely of garlic, a smell unknown to him until then.
On 27 Aug. 1943, Hermann da Fonseca-Wollheim was arrested by the Gestapo, which supervised the camps.
His niece, Elisabeth Schülke, née Bülck, remembers that after a phone call, she hurried from her office to Bahrenfelder Marktplatz, where she lived with the grandparents on the upper floor of the house. Hermann da Fonseca-Wollheim had already been arrested, sitting in a car parked in front of the house. Several plain-clothes Gestapo officers were searching the house. It was a "full house,” as she put it. Many patients were present and they initially expressed their outrage at Hermann da Fonseca-Wollheim’s arrest, but then gradually left, probably out of fear.
Until 14 Mar. 1944, he continued to be interned in the Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp, from where he was transported to Gestapo headquarters at Dammtorwall several times for interrogations. On one of these occasions, his wife saw him for the last time.
No legal proceedings were initiated against him. However, during interrogations by the Gestapo, his wife learned of the accusations against her husband: He had supposedly had forbidden dealings with the female Ukrainians, acquired Russian language skills, and intended to establish subversive connections to the Soviet Union – the main piece of evidence was a letter in which Ukrainian patients expressed their gratitude toward him as their physician. The Gestapo insinuated that da Fonseca-Wollheim planned to use this letter for himself as a testimonial in case of a Soviet occupation of Germany. The person that had incriminated him was the female head of the Ukrainian women’s camp of the Altona corrugated cardboard plant (Wellpappenfabrik) on Schützenstrasse and, after that camp was bombed out in July 1944, head of the Russian women’s camp on the site of the Hansa Motor Works (Hansa Motorenwerke) on Kruppstrasse, today’s Ruhrstrasse. She monitored the forced laborers’ mail, worked as an interpreter, and did – according to statements by witnesses – work as a police informer for the Gestapo. Hermann da Fonseca-Wollheim’s son recalls that the Ukrainian women always came to his father’s practice accompanied by this woman.
Käthe da Fonseca-Wollheim asked Regional Court Director (Landgerichtsdirektor) Runde from Lübeck, a relative, to intervene. He traveled to Hamburg to speak to Gauleiter Kaufmann, who did not wish to receive anyone on the matter, however. As son Hermann found out later, shortly after the arrest, a meeting of higher police and SS leaders took place at Hamburg’s city hall, during which Kaufmann apparently commented that there was no room in Germany for people like Dr. da Fonseca-Wollheim.
On 17 Mar. 1944, Hermann da Fonseca-Wollheim was transferred to the Buchenwald concentration camp. A prisoner classified as "polit. half-breed of the second degree” ("Polit. Mischl. 2. Grad.”), he was evidently forced to work in the quarry. Only just under two months after his transfer, his wife received news of his death, formulated in a cynical way. On 13 May 1944, Hermann da Fonseca-Wollheim had died of exhaustion due to the inhuman working conditions, poor diet, and inadequate hygienic conditions.
An urn was sent to Mrs. da Fonseca-Wollheim. She managed to bring herself and the children through the wartime and the post-war period, and died in 1967.
"Weimar-Buchenwald, 14 May 1944
Dear Mrs. da Fonseca-Wollheim!
On 13 May 1944, your husband, Hermann da Fonseca-Wollheim, died in the local hospital. I would like to offer my condolences on this loss and assure you that he was in good care here. Despite the use of the best medications and outstanding medical support, it was not possible to get the illness under control. Your husband did not express any last wishes.”
SS-Standartenführer [SS rank equivalent to colonel]”
Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
© Birgit Gewehr
Quellen: StaH 351-11 Amt für Wiedergutmachung, 15397 und 31260 (Käthe da Fonseca-Wollheim); StaH 213-11 Staatsanwaltschaft Landgericht – Strafsachen, 12790 – 57; Wolff, Spaziergänge, S. 101–115 (zugrunde liegen Gespräche mit Friedrich da Fonseca-Wollheim, der Bahrenfelderin Hilde Kuhlmann und Ella Neumann, einer Freundin der Familie); Melanchthongemeinde, Ausstellung; Möller, Ein verdrängtes Kapitel, S. 74–95; Stadtteilarchiv Ottensen, Bestand Zwangsarbeit in Altona; Informationen von Hermann und Friedrich da Fonseca-Wollheim, Mai und September 2007; Gespräch mit Hermann da Fonseca-Wollheim und Elisabeth Schülk, 17.10.2007.