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Jona (John) Fels * 1869
Brahmsallee 13 (Eimsbüttel, Harvestehude)
John Fels, b. 10.7.1869 in Hamburg, deported on 7.15.1942 to Theresienstadt, dying there on 10.7.1942
John Fels was born in 1869 in Hamburg-Neustadt at Amelungstrasse 5, a short side street off Hohen Bleichen. Five years later his sister Johanna Fels was born at Dammthorstrasse 30 (Neustadt). Their parents, Dr. phil. Albert Fels, a modern language philologist (b. 11.28.1836 in Gandersheim) and Emma, née Meyer (b. 1845 in Magdeburg) married in December 1868 in Magdeburg. They enabled their son to attend a college preparatory school [Gymnasium]. For three years starting in 1876, he attended the pre-school of the famed Johanneum and in 1879 entered its Sexta (5th class). Finally, in the school year 1884–1885 he was recorded in the pupils’ list of the fifth form/language department [Obersekunda].
His father, Albert Fels, came from humble circumstances but was nevertheless able to go to the Jacobsen School in Seesen and the college preparatory school in Holzminden. After studies at the University of Göttingen and his doctorate, he traveled for approximately five years to foreign capitals (Paris, Bucharest, London), learning each of the languages, reaching Hamburg in the spring of 1867. He worked there as a teacher until 1870 when, as co-founder and director, he taught modern languages to officer trainees in the "Preparatory School for One-Year Volunteers,” or the "Military-Preparation-Institute.” In 1871, the school was located at ABC-Strasse 48 (Neustadt) but had to move in the following year, when the city bought the building for the Teachers’ Seminar and the Seminar Boys’ School. In 1872, he got a teaching position in French and English at the Johanneum and belonged to its faculty from 1873 to 1895, ultimately as senior teacher with the title of professor. From June 1873, he possessed Hamburg citizenship, for which he had to prove an annual income of 2500 Marks. Albert Fels did not conceal his Jewish religion. In addition to his activity on the Commission for the Hamburg City Library, he was also active in the "Association for the Support of Jewish Students with Insufficient Means.” In addition, he was a co-founder of the Modern Language Philology Association and collaborated in the Central Journal of Modern Philology.
The Fels family moved several times within Neustadt. They lived at Holstenstrasse 3 (1868), Amelungstrasse 5 (Neustadt) in 1869–1870), Hohe Bleichen 34, House 3 (Neustadt) in 1872–1873), Dammthorstrasse 30 (Neustadt) in 1874–1875, Neustrasse 92 (Neustadt) in 1876–1877, Norderstrass 29 (1878–1880), Baumeistertrasse 7 (1882–1884), Neustrasse 48 (1885–1892), and Bogenstrasse 24 (Harvestehude) in 1893–1902.
After finishing school, John Fels chose commerce as his profession and worked for a long period of time at the North German Jute Spinning and Weaving company in Hamburg (Grosse Bleichen 22), also, occasionally, as secretary to Director Meyer. In 1902, John Fels’ father died, age 65, at the home of his daughter, Johanna Rudolphson, née Fels, in Naugard, Pomerania, where he was also buried. John Fels married in October 1905 the Hanover native Gretchen Hildesheimer (b. 11.8.1879, see her biographical entry). The couple had a daughter, born in Hanover in 1906, Edith Fels. For the first time in 1908, John Fels appeared under his own address in the Hamburg directory as head of the household at Rapstrasse 15 (Rotherbaum). In 1912, he moved with his wife and daughter to Werderstrasse 10 (Harvestehude). Also renting in the apartment building there next to the Fels family on the ground floor, were Jacob and Iwan Lübke of the leather wares firm, J. J. Lübke & Co.. On the second floor lived, among others, Manfred Heymann, co-owner of the firm Schröder & Münden (see biographical entry for Daniel Münden), and on the third floor lived Samuel Kant (d. 1917) of the A. M. Kant Manufacturing and Clothing Shop (dissolved according to the Commercial Register in 1939) and Max Kant (d. 1919) of the Import-Export firm Marx & Kant (dissolved 1922). As can be seen from the list of renters, the residential area was considered upscale.
Since 1913, John Fels belonged to the German Israelite Congregation as an independent member, as well as, the Neue Dammtorsynagoge Religion Association, founded in 1894, which followed a moderate Conservative rite. After the First World War, in which John Fels served as a soldier, he worked in the firm founded by Ernst Gerson in 1910, E. Gerson L.L.C., as a metal broker. He was not registered in the Hamburg directory for the years 1918 and 1919, probably because he was recuperating from war wounds in the Bad Weisser Hirsch sanatorium near Dresden.
From 1920 to 1935, "Johs. Fels” was listed in the Hamburg directory as a renter of an apartment at Brahmsallee 13 (owned by Rudolf Karstadt, Inc.); his occupation was recorded as "Managing Director of Gerson, L.L.C.. In 1920, the office of E. Gerson, L.L.C. was moved from Königstrasse 14-16 into an adjacent unit of Fels’ apartment building; since 1919, John Fels functioned as sole proprietor. In December 1934, the firm E. Gerson, L.L.C. was liquidated and its assets were transferred to John Fels as sole proprietor, who then continued the business under his own name. John Fels worked exclusively on a commission basis as a metal and chemical broker; buying and selling was carried out in his name, but the billing of clients was through the Hamburg Metals and Chemical Bourse.
In September 1935, John and Gretchen Fels moved from Brahmsallee 13 to Schlankreye 36 (Harvestehude); the office space was also shifted there. From 1936 to1938, the firm’s name appeared in bold type in the Hamburg directories as "John Fels, formerly, E. Gerson, L.L.C., HR, Metal-Broker, Schlankeye 36, business manager John Fels,” informing clients of the continuation of the firm by its former business manager. In 1939, this entry was only in the normal small lettering, noting lastly the business and residential address Schlankreye 36. From 14 June 1938, the National Socialist state classified a business as "Jewish,” if its owner was considered a Jew my Nazi criteria. The goal was the complete expulsion of all Jews from German economic life. Similarly to the well-known Hamburg metal broker Ivan Philip (see his biographical sketch), John Fels’ registration to the Hamburg Metals Bourse was removed and the right to visit was prohibited. This amounted to an occupational ban; he could no longer do business and, accordingly, his income disappeared. Savings and the sale of household items went into the struggle to pay the rent and meet living costs.
Among his business partners and private friends was Arthur Aron Lanzkron (b. 10.16.1896 in Hamburg, the son of Dr. med. Gabriel Lanzkron), co-owner of the chemical products firm, Lanzkron & Mathiason (founded 1920), as well as a member of the Jewish Congregation and of the Orthodox Synagogue Association, who emigrated to Palestine in February 1938. Also the brothers, John Benzian (b. 4.12.1890 in Hamburg) and Felix Benzian (b. 1.7.1878 in Hamburg) were among his associates; they were co-owners of the metals firm founded in 1880 by their father, Louis Benzian. Both emigrated to Sweden. Felix Benzian was a supporter of the "Law-abiding Members of the German Israelite Congregation” in the representatives’ election of 1925, among whose candidates was also Gabriel Lanzkron. John Fels was also in close contact with the Hamburg Jewish businessman Heinrich Vallentin (1839–1912), who officiated as witness for the wedding of John Fels’ daughter in 1896.
Through their daughter and her husband and cousin, the veterinarian Dr. Ernst Rudolphson (1898–1996), who had emigrated to Palestine in 1935, John and Gretchen Fels attempted, in 1938, to get a visa for the British Palestine Mandate. However, Great Britain had stopped immigration when massive Jewish immigration led to unrest in the Arab population. Indeed, the couple received a clearance certificate on 12 October 1939 for travel to Hadera (Palestine), but in the meantime the outbreak of war had rendered relocation impossible. Why John and Gretchen Fels did not earlier receive one of the sought-after "Parental Certificates,” which were not subject to the quota, remains unknown.
When the compulsory names "Israel” and "Sara” were introduced for Jews, this did not apply to persons who bore one of the designated "Jewish names.” John Fels was able to have his name changed to the Jewish version "Jona” and thus avoid the conspicuous added name "Israel.” As of 1 January 1939, his wife had to use the given names "Gretchen Sara,” even when signing her name and as her entry in the telephone book. Violations were judicially prosecuted. In April 1939, Jews were deprived of legal protections for rentals; they could no longer freely choose their living accommodations. The address book of 1940 now read, "Fels, Jona, Dillstr. 1." The involuntary home address of John and Gretchen Fels was situated in the Rotherbaum city district at Dillstrasse 1, 3rd floor, right, and afterward (from 9 May 1940 until at least July 1941) at Dillstrasse 16, ground floor, with the widow Else Horwitz, née Ledermann. This last-named address had been declared a "Jew house,” from which the inhabitants were deported. Else Horwitz, née Ledermann (b. 2.24.1892 in Glogau, Lower Silesia), was deported to the Minsk ghetto on 8 November 1941. The Fels pair lived finally at Intersection 8 (until July 1942) in a room at the Louis Levy Foundation.
Five days before the fixed date of their deportation, John Fels wrote one more letter via the Red Cross to his daughter and son-in-law in Palestine. The censors cut an objectionable sentence out of the very brief message, the last words of which read: "Will probably soon be going away for a quite long time. We are prepared. Live well!"
John Fels and his wife Gretchen Fels, née Hildesheimer, were deported on 15 July 1942 to Theresienstadt in Bohemia. Those who did not dies from conditions in the "Old People’s Ghetto” were deported again to an extermination camp. After four months, John Fels died in the ghetto on his 73rd birthday in Building L 505, that is, Building 05 on L T Street (today, Parkstrasse in Fucikova); the official cause of death was given as gastroenteritis. The death report was filled out by an imprisoned Jewish medic and confirmed by the camp doctor and member of the Theresienstadt Council of Elders, Erich Munk.
John Fels’ sister Johanna Rudolphson, née Fels (b. 9.9.1874 in Hamburg) was married since 1896 to the veterinarian Gustav Rudolphson (b. 12.29.1863 in Prenzlau, Brandenburg), who resided in Naugard, Pomerania and died in April 1916 serving as a chief medical officer in France. He was buried in the Frohnauer Cemetery (Hainbuchenstrasse). The couple had three children: Wilhelm, Ernst (b. 8.20.1898 in Naugard), and Margarethe (b. 1902). After her husband’s death, Johanna Rudolphson continued living in Berlin-Frohnau at Franziskanerweg 45 (later renamed Ludolfingerweg 35) in the "Rudolphson House,” where her son Ernst continued his father’s veterinary practice. He remained at home until marrying his cousin in 1926. Johanna Rudolphson’s children emigrated, Ernst in 1935, Wilhelm in 1937, and Margarethe (also known as Matoschka) in 1939. Johanna, at the urging of her children, also wanted to leave Germany. In order to be able to pay the "atonement reparation” (see glossary) required after the November Pogrom of 1938, she had to sell her house. With that she lacked the capital for a ship’s passage to her children in Palestine or England. In 1940, Johanna Rudolphson’s name no longer appeared in the Berlin address book; she subleased accommodations with the Brünns, a Jewish family at Bamberger Strasse 22 in Berlin-Wilmersdorf. From there she was deported to Theresienstadt on 14 January 1943, and then deported again on 16 May 1944 to the extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. For Johanna Rudolphson and her daughter Margarethe, who committed suicide in England in 1943, commemorative stones have been laid in August 2014 in Berlin-Frohnau (District Reinickendorf) at Ludolfinger Weg 35.
Translator: Richard Levy
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: September 2019
© Björn Eggert
Quellen: StaH 332-3 (Zivilstandsaufsicht 1866–1875, Vorläufer der Standesämter), A Nr. 76 (5902/1869, Geburt John Fels); StaH 332-3 (Zivilstandsaufsicht), A Nr. 185 (6529/1874, Geburt Johanna Fels); StaH 332-5 (Standesämter), 8579 u. 633/1896 (Heirat 1896, Johanna Fels und Dr. med Gustav Rudolphson); StaH 332-5 (Standesämter), 2406 u. 3596/1896 (Geburtsregister 1896, Arthur Aron Lanzkron); StaH 332-5 (Standesämter), 8807 u. 351/1926 (Heiratsregister 1926, Edith Fels u. Dr. Ernst Rudolphson); StaH 332-7 (Staatsangehörigkeitsaufsicht), A III 21 Bd. 1 (Aufnahme-Register 1865–1879, A-L), Albert Fels; StaH 332-7 (Staatsangehörigkeitsaufsicht), B III 3586 (Akte Dr. Albert Fels, 1873); StaH 351-11 (Amt für Wiedergutmachung), 31482 (Edith Rudolphson; darin der letzte Brief vom 10.7.1942); StaH 522-1 (Jüdische Gemeinden), 992b (Kultussteuerkartei der Deutsch-Israelitischen Gemeinde Hamburg), Felix Benzian, John Henry Benzian, John Fels, Walter Horwitz, Arthur Aron Lanzkron, Max Kant, Witwe Samuel Kant; Edith Rudolphson geb. Fels; StaH 731-8 (Zeitungsausschnittsammlung), A 756 (Fels, Albert); StaH 741-4 (Alte Einwohnermeldekartei 1892–1925, mikroverfilmt), Albert Fels, Heinrich Vallentin; Hauptbibliothek Johanneum/Bibliotheca Johannei, Schülerkartei John Fels; Handelskammer Hamburg, Firmenarchiv (E. Gerson GmbH, HR-Nr. C 900; A.M. Kant, HR-Nr. A 465; Marx & Kant, HR-Nr. 3917); Hamburger Börsenfirmen, Hamburg 1910, S. 409 (J.J. Lübke & Co.), S. 425 (Marx & Kant), S. 597 (Schröder & Münden); Hamburger Börsenfirmen, Hamburg 1926, S. 75 (Louis Benzian KG), S 320 (E. Gerson GmbH), S. 608 (Lanzkron & Mathiason); Stadtarchiv Hannover, I 408-1779/1905 (Heiratsregister 1905, John Fels u. Gretchen Hildesheimer); Bundesarchiv Koblenz, Gedenkbuch, Opfer der Verfolgung der Juden unter der nationalsozialistischen Gewaltherrschaft in Deutschland 1933–1945, Internet; Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Hamburger jüdische Opfer, S. 99, S. 183/184, S. 359; Yad Vashem, Page of Testimony (Gedenkblatt unter John Fels 1956 von der Tochter Edith Rudolphson eingereicht); Yad Vashem, Page of Testimony (Gedenkblatt unter Johannes Fels); Yad Vashem (Gedenkblatt unter Johanna Rudolphson 1999 von der Enkelin eingereicht); Archiv Getto Theresienstadt, Sterbebescheinigung für Jona Fels; W. Melhop, Historische Topographie der Freien und Hansestadt Hamburg von 1880 bis 1895, Hamburg 1895, S. 172 (Dammthorstraße), S. 183 (ABC-Straße); Lorenz, Juden, S. 197 (Felix Benzian, Dr. Gabriel Lanzkron); Bruhns, Geflohen aus Deutschland, S. 189; Villiez, Mit aller Kraft, S. 327 (Dr. Gabriel Lanzkron); Adressbuch Hamburg 1868, 1870–1872, 1875–1878.