Search for Names, Places and Biographies

Already layed Stumbling Stones

back to select list

Moritz Joseph Meiseles * 1897

Juliusstraße 12 (Altona, Sternschanze)

JG. 1897

Moritz Joseph Meiseles, born 10/12/1897, deported to Poland on 10/28/1938, flight to Belgium in February, 1939, deported from there to Auschwitz on 07/31/1943, murdered

Juliusstrasse 12

In spite of all the obstacles created by the German finance and customs authorities and their investigations, the Jewish Meiseles family succeeded in fleeing to Belgium. After Germany occupied the country, the couple was deported to Auschwitz. Moritz Meiseles was murdered there; his wife Estera, who had previously succeeded in bringing her children to safety in Belgium, survived the extermination camp.

After the war, she gave testimony of the time of persecution and the struggle to survive. Moritz Joseph Meiseles was born on October 12th, 1897 as the son of Salomon Meiseles and his wife Priwa, née Jekel, in the town of Sosnowiec (Sosnowitz), now Poland. His wife Estera Itta, née Karafiol-Dörfler, came from Lancut (Landshut) in Polish Galicia, where she was born on June 20th, 1895. . Both of them had been Austrian citizens at birth; after world War I, they became Polish citizens, as that part of Galicia had been ceded to Poland. In 1910, after the early death of her father, Estera came to Altona with her mother Ch. Dörfler and her sisters Anna and Eva; they settled at Friedenstrasse 51 (now Lippmannstrasse). Ms. Dörfler started a retail textile store, specializing in linen goods. Estera, a trained seamstress, handled sales and purchases for her mother and also sewed linen items herself. Her mother bought the property Juliusstrasse 12–14 at the corner of Friedenstrasse, a building with two entrances.

Moritz Meiseles had enjoyed a higher education and spoke several languages, e.g. French and English. He absolved a commercial school and was a reliable, expert accountant. Before World War I, he had worked for the representation of the Osram light bulb company and for a wholesaler of leather goods, before coming head of the slipper factory of his father, who lived in Wattenscheid and Gelsenkirchen. In addition, he held a share in the Wattenscheid shoe and textile store of his brother Oscar Jescheskiel Meiseles, who was two years younger. During World War I, he had done military service. After having married Estera Karafiol-Dörfler in 1927, Moritz Meiseles brought in capital of his own and took over his mother-in-law's company. In the same year, he founded a second company with headquarters at Juliusstrasse 12–14, the "Textilia Webwarengrosshandlung", a wholesale outlet. Estera Meiseles kept handling the buying, looked after sales assisted by four employees and supervised the manufacture of bed linen.

Having lived with Estera’s mother at her rented apartment in Friedenstrasse 62 at first, the Meiseles moved to the ground floor of the house at Juliusstrasse 12–14 in 1930. They had three sons: Arie Jakob, born January 12th, 1930, Oskar Falk, born March 1st, 19312, and Kuno, born February 18th, 1934. The family employed a housemaid and a nanny. Moritz Meiseles had joined the Jewish Community of Altona in 1928 and paid taxes.

The sales of the flourishing family textile business dropped dramatically after the Nazis came to power and organized the boycott of Jewish shops in 1933. "They posted a storm trooper in front of our door”, Estera Meiseles recalled, "and our suppliers were forced to stop their deliveries, regardless of our existing large-volume contracts.”

In 1937, the family moved to a five-room apartment at Adolphstrasse 155 (now Bernstorffstrasse). In 1938, the Meiseles were forced to slowly begin liquidating their two companies on account of the Nazi measures to eliminate Jews from the economy. They planned to emigrate and start afresh abroad. In October of 1938, the German Foreign Ministry ordered the police to evict Jewish citizens of Poland from the whole territory the Reich to Poland. On October 28th, more than 1.000 Polish citizens from Hamburg were forced to board a train at the Altona station which took them to the Polish town of Zbaszyn (Bentschen) at the German border. Estera Meiseles: "We had to leave everything behind. We simply locked up and left, having resigned, assuming that all our assets were going to be confiscated anyway. The following day, however, we were able to travel back from Bentschen on account of a new agreement between Germany and Poland. From that moment on, we started preparing our emigration to the USA.”

Moritz Meiseles asked a cousin in the USA for an affidavit – his brother Max lived in Brooklyn. The Meiseles applied for a tax clearance certificate from the financial authorities, an essential document confirming that they paid all applicable taxes and levies. But before this document reached them, there were problems with the customs office. Moritz Meiseles had dutifully declared the contents of a crate of household items, his books and linen at the Altona railroad station to send them to Antwerp, where his sister-on-law Anna Ostersetzer lived with her husband. At the Altona main customs office, a letter to Eva and Bernard Zamojre, Estera Meiseles’ sister and brother-in-law in Yiddish in Hebrew lettering had been intercepted, indicating that the Meiseles planned to emigrate to Belgium; the customs authority suspected they wanted to leave the country illegally. The Chief Finance Administration was informed in order to take the measures to systematically deprive wealthy Jewish emigrants of their complete assets.

The customs inspection department already had an investigation running against Eva Zamojre because she had sent a parcel from the Hamburg main station to a deported Polish relative. The parcel was searched, and a 100 Reichsmark (RM) bill was found, hidden in a typewriter. On January 13th, 1939, the Gestapo searched the Zamojres’ flat at Rappstrasse 15. As Moritz Meiseles happened to be visiting when the Gestapo arrived, his name was taken down. Estera and Moritz Meiseles acted immediately: they left their sons Arie and Oscar Falk with the Jewish Hillelsohn family (cf. page 73 ff.) at Wohlersallee 58; their youngest son Kuno was quartered at the child day-care center of the Jewish Community at Jungfrauenthal 37. The following day, January 14th, 1939, Moritz and Estera Meiseles fled to Düsseldorf in the Rhineland. The authorities had to assert: "Both couples have fled on 01/14/1939”. On January 16th, 1939, the Chief Finance Administrator issued a security order against the Meiseles, blocking their accounts. One week later, in January 23rd, 1939, the Hamburg Customs Inspection issued arrest warrants for the Meiseles and the Zamojres on account of violations of the currency laws. Questioning a neighbor at Adolphstrasse 155 revealed that three heavy crates had already been picked up and sent to Belgium as relocation goods at the end of December, 1938. The authorities suspected illegal emigration and accused the Meiseles and Zamojres of joint flight planning”, implying that the Meiseles had conducted an undeclared sale and not shipped their personal belongings, but undeclared commercial goods. As the shop at Juliusstrasse was empty, the authorities accused the Meiseles of having conducted an undeclared sale. Their home was forcibly vacated. An attorney advised them to fight for their rights. Moritz Meiseles waited in the Rhineland when his wife returned to Altona at the beginning of February, 1939, to discover that their complete household and personal effects had been removed by the bailiff. On February 2nd, Estera complained to the currency office that she, on her return from the Rhineland, had found her apartment locked and sealed. She did not reveal her husband’s whereabouts. The Gestapo immediately arrested her and committed her to the Hamburg remand prison, issuing a report to the office of the Chief Finance Administrator that, "according to a telephone report from the customs investigation department, Moritz Meiseles had fled from the customs investigators. Frau Meiseles has been arrested.” The Hamburg-Altona Finance Office presented a list of assets of the Meiseles, according to which the couple owned a one third share of the rental properties Juliusstrasse 12–14 and Friedenstrasse 51, the goods from the wholesale linen store, a gold watch and jewelry as well as cash assets.

When Moritz Meiseles got no phone call from his wife, he crossed the border to Belgium illegally to join his sister-in-law Anna Ostersetzer in Antwerp, who lived at Minervastraat 1a. To free his wife, Moritz Meiseles contacted a Hamburg attorney. The negotiated condition for her release was the payment of a ransom of 1,000 Dutch guilders to the Hamburg Customs Inspection. Moritz Meiseles succeeded in raising the money from relatives in Belgium and Luxemburg. Estera Meiseles was released on May 5th, 1939 on the condition that she leave Germany by July 15th. She first found shelter at Kielortallee 13, with Goldberg. During her imprisonment, the family’s assets had been confiscated, the textile store expropriated, the stock squandered. Estera Meiseles succeeded in freeing her household effects from the bailiff’s office and have them returned to the family apartment against payment of the transportation cost. Her tax consultant Kurt Löhmann applied to the chief finance Administrator’s Office to have 500 RM released from the blocked account "Ch. Dörfler Erben" at the Westholsteinische Bank Altona. On July 15th, the Alien Police extradition order against Estera Meiseles elapsed. Ten days later, on July 25th, 1939, she reported to the police, presenting her Polish passport to be stamped for emigration the following day. The day before, she had received 700 RM in tax refund from the liquidated business from the Altona Finance Office. Upon receiving her asset administrator’s report of the transaction, the currency office issued an alarm, saying that Estera Meiseles had not been authorized to receive the money, which should have instead gone to the trustee charged with liquidating the business. A search warrant was issued. In agreement with the Customs Inspectors, the Currency Office issued a radio warrant for the arrest of Estera Meiseles to all border agencies via the standby service of the Hamburg Criminal Police. The apartments Kielortallee, Juliusstrasse and Adolphstrasse were watched; the Hillesohns in Wohlersallee were also checked. Eventually, the police found her at the office of her property administrator Löhmann at Grosse Bergstrasse 226 and confiscated the 700 RM plus two insured parcels with her jewelry she had liberated from the Customs Inspector’s Office following their previous confiscation.

Estera Meiseles was taken to the Customs Investigation Office for questioning on July 26th, 1939. She declared she had waited for the authorization to pack up and leave Germany with her children whom she had left in custody of the Jewish Community for almost half a year during her imprisonment. "I had applied to the aid association for a servant’s permit to England and when I realized it wasn’t coming in time, I decided to go to Poland.” But Poland refused her entry; the border was closed by the military. The next day she had wanted to travel to the Rhineland and there try to cross the border to Belgium or Holland illegally, she already had tickets to Düsseldorf. She wanted to get advice and some money from the Jewish aid association, bring her youngest son to Luxemburg and then try to cross the border to Belgium or Luxemburg with her two older children. The Customs Inspection Office confiscated the remaining 700 RM and the two parcels of jewelry. Estera Meiseles was summoned to the Gestapo at the Stadthaus, where she was told "to get out of the country immediately, the sooner the better. She was given one day: "She was instructed to leave the Reich territory by July 27th, 12:00 p.m. with her three children.” A note stated: "After the trial, Frau Meiseles herself besides the tickets had only her wedding ring and approx. 30 RM. Most likely it was July 27th when Estera Meiseles illegally crossed into Poland near Lodz. When German troops invaded the country in September of 1939, she fled to Germany carrying a passport in the name of a non Jewish Polish woman. Moritz Meiseles dispatched a trafficker who for a stiff price illegally brought her and her three sons – nine-year-old Arie, eight-year-old Oscar Falk and five-year-old Kuno across the border into Belgium. At last, the family was reunited in Antwerp, where they found shelter at L. v. Ruusbroekstraat 20. In the meantime, the household effects already bound for shipment in Hamburg were again confiscated, in spite of the fact that transport to the free port and freight had already been paid. The carrier demanded an extra 151 RM. Tax consultant Löhmann applied to the Chief Finance Administrator’s Office to have 200 RM released from the blocked account "Dörfler und Erben”. – "The urgency of the matter becomes evident by the fact that the Meiseles are sitting in an empty apartment without even beds for themselves and their three children, without even being able to change clothes, as they at the moment have nothing but what they are wearing.”

Moritz Meiseles’ aged parents lived in Gelsenkirchen. He asked Löhmann to have some money from the blocked account released to the benefit of his 74-year-old mother Priwa Meiseles, who "had been ill for many years and is completely penniless and in great need, as her only aid, my 72-year-old father, has been interned as a Polish citizen since the outbreak of the war.” But, from September 21st, 1939, the assets were subject to the currency law’s blocking regulations for emigrants and were confiscated to the benefit of the German Reich. From the fall of 1939, both of Moritz Meiseles’ parents were detained at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where they perished on January 19th, 1940.

In May, 1940, the German Luftwaffe bombed Antwerp and the Wehrmacht invaded Belgium. The Meiseles family fled to the French border, but was unable to enter France and thus returned to Antwerp. Estera Meiseles gave an account of the following hard times in Brussels, when the family was totally dependent on support from the Belgian refugees’ committee: "When the Germans occupied Belgium, my husband was summoned by the Gestapo on October 9th, 1940. As an acquaintance of ours had received a summons, which he followed, and then never returned, […] we fled and hid in Brussels. For fear of being recognized, we did not go out into the streets. Our host had a grocery store, so he could supply us with fruit, vegetables, bread and milk and everything we needed. To survive, we sold everything we had: my husband’s jewelry, the radio, the camera, china, glassware, clothes, etc. Later, the resistance movement and the Jewish Council supported us. The boys sometimes went out into the park. My husband, who spoke English and French, taught them and played chess with them. Later, the resistance placed with boys with Christian families, where they were given Christian names and had to attend church.”

Their host, Achille Canzali, testified to the compensation office that he had hidden Frau Meiseles and her three children at Rue des Glands 20 from October 10th, 1940 to the day of her deportation, and that they had always been afraid of being identified as Jews. Estera Meiseles did not dare to leave the house. "I was sitting in Canzali’s apartment with my husband and our three children in constant fear. We shared two small rooms, one of which had been equipped as an emergency kitchen. Finally, I was arrested; my husband had already been picked up half a year earlier, probably having been reported by neighbors.” Later, she added that it had been a Belgian named Huybrechts who reported her.

In July, 1942, , the SS began assembling Belgian and immigrated Jews in a special transit camp set up at the Dossin military barracks in the town of Mechelen (Malins). After approx. 17,000 Jews had been deported from the Mechelen camp to Auschwitz between August and October, 1942, most of the Jews remaining in Belgium went underground to escape the raids and the constant checks on the streets. A further 8,000 people of Jewish origin were sent to their death from Mechelen up to the liberation of Belgium in September of 1944.

Moritz Meiseles was arrested on July 6th, 1943 and imprisoned at Mechelen the following day. On July 29th, Estera Meiseles received a last message from him. Two days later, on July 31st, 1943, he was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau on transport no. 21 together with 1,562 other people. The train arrived at Auschwitz on August 2nd. Moritz Meiseles was murdered there. His brother Oskar-Jecheskiel Meiseles, who had also escaped to Belgium on July 25th, 1939, had been deported from Mechelen to Auschwitz on August 15th, 1942, and did not return.

Estera Meiseles lived in hiding in Brussels for another half a year before she, too, was arrested and taken to Mechelen, where her arrival is documented on January 22nd, 1944. In terse words, she later gave an account of the daily abuse she suffered at Mechelen: "Beatings, hard labor, hunger, threats.” On April 4th, 1944, she was taken to Auschwitz on transport no. 24. Later, she described the odyssey between the dissolution of the Auschwitz camp and her liberation by the Red Army on May 8th, 1945. "On January 18th, 1945, the evacuation of Auschwitz began, and we were driven on the death march on foot. Prisoners who were unable to walk any further were shot. I landed in Ravensbrück. From there, I was driven on to Retzow near Rechlin in Mecklenburg, and finally on to Malchow in Mecklenburg. It is still a mystery to me how I survived all that. I guess God wanted to at least keep the mother alive for the children.”

Her sons also survived, but Kuno suffered from a neurological disorder that was diagnosed as schizophrenia caused by his traumatic experiences; Kuno died in 1955 at the age of 20. Estera and her sons first stayed in Brussels, until Oscar Falk and Arie Meiseles emigrated to Israel in the 1960s; Estera Meiseles joined her sister in Antwerp, where she died in 1965.

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

Stand: April 2018
© Birgit Gewehr

Quellen: 4; 5; 8; 2 (R 1939/349 Eheleute Zamorje, Eheleute Meiseles und F1681 Meiseles, Estera Itta) AB Altona; StaH 351-11 Amt für Wiedergutmachung, 19861 (Meiseles, Moritz) und 17841 (Meiseles, Estera); StaH 351-14 Arbeits- und Sozialfürsorge – Sonderakten, 1575 (Meiseles, Moritz); Jüdisches Deportations- und Widerstandsmuseum Mechelen, Dossin-Kaserne, Belgien, Auskunft zu Meiseles, 22. und 27.5.2013; Auskünfte zu Priwa Meiseles von Jürgen Hoffmann, Bochum, Juli 2016.
Zur Nummerierung häufig genutzter Quellen siehe Link "Recherche und Quellen".

print preview  / top of page