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Dr. Max Meyer * 1890

Osdorfer Weg 68 (Altona, Bahrenfeld)

Haft 1935 - 1941
tot 18.6.1958 an den Haftfolgen (1935-1941)

Dr. Max Meyer, born on 13 Nov. 1890, detained from 1935 until 1941 in the Hamburg-Fuhlsbüttel and Bremen-Oslebshausen penitentiaries, died of the effects of imprisonment on 18 June 1958

Max Meyer was born in Magdeburg as the only child of Moritz Meyer, called Max, and Rosa Meyer, née Rosenbaum. He grew up in upper-class circumstances in Berlin. His father, who came from the family of a Jewish sawmill operator in Paderborn, was Senior Reich Railway Building Commissioner (Reichsbahnoberbaurat) in Berlin. His mother came from a well-to-do Jewish family in Britain. The family converted to the Protestant faith.

Max Meyer studied medicine in Königsberg (today Kaliningrad in Russia), Göttingen, and Hamburg. In World War I, he was deployed as a doctor in the Balkans and decorated with the Iron Cross First Class. In the last year of the war, he married Alma Schadow, a woman of non-Jewish descent. The couple lived in Altona. One year later, daughter Hannelore was born. The parents had also moved to Altona, with his father employed in a senior position at the Altona railway station. Max Meyer worked as a resident at the Altona Hospital. In 1922, he opened a medical practice at Osdorfer Weg 68, becoming the first community physician for the newly developed working-class residential area on Steenkamp in Gross Flottbek. In addition, he looked after the medical needs in the so-called Fischkistendorf, a village in neighboring Lurup, where very poor families lived in home-built cottages. Having already joined the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) at the age of 18, he was a well-known Social Democrat who was committed to social issues. As an obstetrician, he helped deliver many children in the home births common at the time. He also supported particularly poor women in childbed with food. His wife trained as a singer and gave concerts. She also sang at the "Lindenkrug,” a restaurant in the Steenkamp residential area, with her husband accompanying her on the piano.

Soon after the Nazis’ assumption of power, on 22 Apr. 1933, all registered doctors in private practice of Jewish descent had their licenses as statutory health insurance physicians revoked. Meyer was exempted for the time being due to a special regulation for frontline veterans of World War I. Precisely because of his patriotic services in the war, like many other German Jews he could not imagine that he would be harmed. However, in May 1935, he too lost his license to work as a statutory health insurance physician, forcing him to give up his practice and home. The family moved into his father’s apartment at Horst-Wessel-Allee 29, today’s Ebertallee 29. The mother passed away in 1935. For a while, Meyer was able to take care of some patients in a small private practice on Emmichstrasse, today’s Riemenschneiderweg.

On 13 Dec. 1935, he was arrested in his practice. He was charged with carrying out an abortion. The Hamburg Physicians’ Chamber, "forcibly coordinated” (gleichgeschaltet) along Nazi lines, tried in numerous cases to accuse Jewish doctors of performing abortions for gain, of rape ("Notzucht”), or of "racial defilement” ("Rassenschande”). In the spring of 1938, the public prosecutor’s office brought charges against him in seven cases. Sixty female patients were questioned but none of them incriminated Max Meyer. Nevertheless, he was sentenced to a five-year prison term. Apparently, his pretrial detention was not fully calculated against his sentence. According to testimony given by his wife in the restitution proceedings after the war, every file contained a memorandum saying, "The defendant is a Jew.” He spent six years overall in the Hamburg-Fuhlsbüttel and Bremen-Oslebshausen penitentiaries. In the Bremen-Oslebshausen penitentiary, he was forced to perform heavy labor on dikes, in severe cold, only inadequately dressed and soaked to the skin. Even in the wintertime, the interior was unheated. Nutrition was so poor that he lost 90 pounds in weight.

On the day he was actually scheduled to be released in Aug. 1941, his wife learned that Max Meyer, like all Jewish prisoners, had to reckon with being taken from the penitentiary directly to a concentration camp in the east – the date fixed for that was to be 8 Oct. 1941. First, Meyer was committed to the Hütten prison in Hamburg-Neustadt. Mrs. Meyer managed to be allowed to take him, on police orders, by plane to Munich for departure to Barcelona. Dutch billiard friends from Groningen, who knew the passionate billiard player Meyer from international tournaments, raised the travel expenses in foreign currency. However, at Munich Airport, Max Meyer was arrested and taken to the Gestapo prison – since the previous day, Jews were no longer allowed to travel by plane. With his non-Jewish wife made personally liable, he was permitted to travel onward to Berlin. On the morning of his departure, he was told at the police headquarters in Berlin that his family would be sent to a concentration camp should he ever set foot on German soil again. At the last minute, he succeeded to leave for Spain by railroad. His daughter recalled, "On 8 October, my father set out from Berlin Alexanderplatz train station. We had accompanied him and wanted to wait until he had gone into the station. My father walked past us one more time, whispering, ‘Go away now, it is teeming with Gestapo here.’” This train was apparently the last one allowed to pass at the border.

In Spain, Max Meyer lived with a Jewish pediatrician with whom he was friends. He then emigrated to Lisbon. From there he managed to depart to Cuba in the hopes of being able to emigrate further to the USA.

"Lisboa 14 Mar. 1942.
Alma and Hanne!
As far as one can foresee, this constitutes my farewell letter from Europe. God willing, we will put to sea the day after tomorrow, on 16 March, aboard the "Guinee,” a Portuguese 5,000-tonner, sailing via Cadiz, Casablanca, and the Bermudas to Cuba. (…) And now farewell is to come …. Even though you might not hear from me for weeks or months, that must not throw you off balance. As it happens, circumstances are more powerful than we are.”

The family managed to stay in contact by letter. As an "enemy alien,” Max Meyer was excluded from the job market in Cuba and lived there penniless; in addition, he suffered as a result of the subtropical climate.

He was not able to return to Hamburg until 3 May 1948. Bombed out, his wife and daughter had survived the war in circumstances of great hardship in a small attic apartment on Hohenzollernring. In Oct. 1948, the family moved to Osdorfer Weg 68 again. Max Meyer obtained back his medical license and many of his old patients called on him again. However, one year later, he fell ill, staying sick until his death. Experts’ reports from Altona Hospital and Eppendorf University Hospital certified that he had only a reduced earning capacity due to his ailments resulting from Nazi persecution. On 18 June 1958, he died of the effects of very heavy labor in the penitentiary and because of the climate during his emigration in Cuba, which had been detrimental to his health.

Translator: Erwin Fink

Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

Stand: October 2017
© Birgit Gewehr

Quellen: StaH 351-11 Amt für Wiedergutmachung, 12615 (Alma Meyer) und 12616 (Hannelore Hoffmeister); AB Altona 1929, 1937; Fladhammer, Dr. Max Meyer; v. Villiez, Mit aller Kraft, S. 357; Melanchthongemeinde, Ausstellung; Gespräch mit Hannelore Hoffmeister (†), September 2007.

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