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Alfred Gordon, ca. 1930
© Sammlung Matthias Heyl

Alfred Gordon * 1886

Hastedtstraße 42 (Harburg, Harburg)

JG. 1886


Alfred Gordon, born on 24 May 1886 in Augsburg, deported on 25 Oct. 1941 to Lodz, date of death unknown

District of Harburg-Altstadt, Hastedtstrasse 42

Alfred Gordon grew up in a Jewish family in Swabia. After his studies at a teacher training college, he initially worked as a pedagogue at an eight-grade elementary school (Volksschule) in Cologne. Later, he headed the Jewish Schelm rural boarding school near Elberfeld-Barmen, a foundation of the Silberberg family. In this home for mentally handicapped boys, he met his future wife Jenny (born on 9 Dec. 1886), the daughter of the home’s founder.

During the First World War, Alfred Gordon served as a German soldier on the eastern front. With a war injury, from which he suffered even years later, he eventually returned from Russia. After the war, he first worked as a cantor in the Jewish Community in Halle/Saale. With "gratitude and joy,” Jenny and Alfred Gordon announced the birth of their son Carl Alexander on 15 May 1919.

In 1929, Alfred Gordon succeeded Moritz Bachheimer as a cantor, teacher, and prayer leader of the Harburg synagogue community. In this place, the dedicated humanist and express pacifist soon enjoyed widespread recognition after his bitter experience on the front. Former students agree in describing him as an extremely kind and prudent man, always making efforts to bring his words and actions in line. His authority did not rest on his official position but on sympathy, interest, persuasiveness, and competence.

The increased anti-Semitism noticeable in Hamburg, too, in the years of the world economic crisis filled him with great anxiety. What worried him even more was that this disposition surfaced specifically among many young people as well, as his warning words to the last democratically elected first mayor of the city, Walter Dudek, show: "Everyone knows that the students of our secondary schools are exposed to political incendiarism to an extraordinary degree. If one considers that this type of agitation works almost exclusively with emotions and thus has great success with youths, who have an emotional disposition, one must not be surprised if anti-Semitic currents take hold within the student body.”

In the summer of 1930, he saw himself confirmed in this analysis by a sad experience of his son Carl Alexander during a school trip. As the class stopped for a rest during the hike, the 12-year-old boy was attacked by several classmates and tied to a tree amidst loud shouts of "Crucify him! Crucify him!” When the Harburger Volksblatt took up this incident in a February 1931 issue, even the Harburg city council headed by First Mayor Walter Dudek felt compelled to intervene in this internal school affair, something boy’s parents actually did not have in mind. Originally, they had hoped to reach an agreement with the school in direct talks. When this attempt did not yield a positive result, they decided to withdraw their son from the public Stresemann-Realgymnasium (today: Friedrich-Ebert-Gymnasium) in Harburg and to enroll him in the Talmud Tora School in Hamburg.

After the Nazis’ "seizure of power” ("Machtergreifung”), Alfred Gordon realized very quickly how much of a challenge he would face from then on as a spiritual adviser. On the 1933 Passover, a few days after the boycott of Jewish businesses, doctor’s practices, and law firms across the Reich, he wrote to his religious community a letter that withheld or whitewashed nothing: "We are seized by great fear; the material basis of our lives seems in danger, and the spiritual distress is almost greater.” At the same time, however, he gave his readers courage and hope: "There will be a time again when our cooperation will not be spurned, when our honor and our good will be recognized! At that time, we will look back on these days of terrible spiritual distress. They will appear to us transfigured, and we will know that these days have made us better, that they were days of reflection and contemplation.” At that time, he hoped, would the "floods of hatred part,” and would the path "to the Promised Land of different and better times” be clear.

However, distress persisted and even grew. Many Jewish men and women from Harburg decided to emigrate; others moved to the big city of Hamburg. Due to the resulting loss of Jewish religious tax (Kultussteuer) revenues and the costs mounting simultaneously, the Community Council had increasing difficulties running a balanced budget. One cannot ascertain definitively when the last service was held at the synagogue in Harburg. In Mar. 1937, negotiations commenced concerning the merger of the Hamburg German-Israelitic Community with the three Prussian Communities in Harburg, Wandsbek, and Altona, which at the beginning of 1938 resulted in the establishment of a Greater Hamburg Community.

It seems that Alfred Gordon initially stayed in Harburg. For him, a sphere of activity was planned that included the southern environs, since he also enjoyed a good reputation as a "teacher and spiritual adviser of small communities.”

Although friends repeatedly urged Alfred Gordon to emigrate, he did not heed their advice. In 1936, he returned after a few days from a trip to Palestine, where he had accompanied a youth group. He viewed it as his duty to serve those who had been entrusted to him. "My place,” he said, "is in the Community. I can only go when the last member of the Community has left Germany.” He only arranged for his son to depart for South America in Feb. 1939.

In Apr. 1939, Alfred Gordon moved with his wife to Breite Strasse 46 in Hamburg-Altona. Jenny Gordon died, greatly depressed, on 18 Aug. 1941.

Two months later, the last Harburg cantor was among the 1,034 Jews from Hamburg deported to Lodz on 25 Oct. 1941. For most of these persons, the ghetto was merely a transit point on the way to death in the gas chambers of the Chelmno and Auschwitz extermination camps.

The Harburg resident Fritz Sarne, one of the few survivors of the first Hamburg deportation transport, temporarily worked as a gravedigger on the Jewish Cemetery in Lodz. He later reported, "I buried a number of Harburg residents there whose names I can no longer recall. I do remember, however, one morning in Feb. 1942, [as] I worked … on the cemetery wall … [seeing] a truck on which I recognized a few residents of Harburg, including Cantor Gordon. – To this day, I still see him [before my mind’s eye], with his small goatee, his glasses, along with baggage … ride by … on the truck. It was not until about two hours later that the trucks returned, empty. Later, I found out that a gassing center existed in nearby Chelmno where our people were murdered.”

On 22 Sept. 1987, the Harburg District Assembly resolved to name a street in Harburg’s Langenbeker Feld – a housing development – after Alfred Gordon, the last cantor of the Harburg Synagogue Community.

Translator: Erwin Fink

Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

© Klaus Möller

Quellen: 1; 4; 5; 8; StaH, 351-11, AfW, Abl. 2008/1, 150519; StaH, 430-5 Magistrat Harburg-Wilhelmsburg, 1724-06 Antisemitismus unter den Schülern des Realgymnasiums; Heyl (Hrsg.), Harburger Opfer; Heyl, Synagoge; Heyl, "nicht mehr erinnerlich"; Hartwig, Großvaters Harburg.
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