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Hersch Hermann Rotmensz * 1888

Bernstorffstraße 159 (Altona, Altona-Altstadt)

JG. 1888

further stumbling stones in Bernstorffstraße 159:
Fella Fajgla Rotmensz, Rosa Rotmensz, Gitla Gisa Rotmensz

Fella Fajgla Rotmensz, née Zgnilek, born on 29 Apr. 1889, expelled to Zbaszyn on 28 Oct. 1938, murdered in Auschwitz
Gitla Gisa Rotmensz, born on 22 Apr. 1920, expelled to Zbaszyn on 28 Oct. 1938, detained in the Zbaszyn internment camp until the summer of 1939, murdered in Auschwitz
Hersch Hermann Rotmensz, born on 3 Mar. 1888, expelled to Zbaszyn on 28 Oct. 1938, murdered in Auschwitz
Rosa Rotmensz, born on 10 July 1922; expelled to Zbaszyn on 28 Oct. 1938, murdered in Auschwitz

Bernstorffstrasse 159 (Adolphstrasse)

The Polish-Jewish Rotmensz family was expelled to Poland in 1938. Two sons succeeded in returning to Germany and in emigrating to the USA. The parents, two daughters, and another son were deported to the Auschwitz extermination camp.

The Rotmensz family lived in Altona at Adolphstrasse 159 (today Bernstorffstrasse). Hersch Hermann Rotmensz was a native of Wolbrom (German: Wolfram) in the Polish Voivodship of Kielce, then under Russian rule, where he was born on 3 Mar. 1888. His wife, Fella Fajgla, called Jetta, née Zgnilek, was born on 29 Apr. 1889 in nearby Sosnowiec (German: Sosnowitz).

In about 1900, the Altona Jewish Community increased due to the influx of Eastern European families. According to the national census in 1925, more than half of the Jews in Altona were immigrants from Eastern Europe without German citizenship, who had fled anti-Semitism in East Central Europe, with approx. 30 percent coming from Poland. Many Jewish immigrants from the East resided in the quarter around Saint John’s Church (Johanniskirche) in Altona Nord, a solid middle-class residential neighborhood, where tradespeople and merchants from the middle classes, physicians, and lawyers lived. There were two small orthodox temples at Wohlersallee 62 (today Wohlers Allee) and at Adolphstrasse 69 (today Bernstorffstrasse).

Hermann and Fella Rotmensz immigrated to Altona from Poland before 1912. Their first son Julius was born there on 8 Apr. 1912. At first, the family lived at Kleine Bergstrasse 26, before moving to Adolphstrasse 159. The married couple had five more children: Bernard on 17 Jan. 1913, Adolf on 19 Jan. 1915, Moritz on 26 Apr. 1918, Gisa (Gitla) on 22 Apr. 1920, and Rosa on 10 July 1922.

Hermann Rotmensz was a tailor; at Adolphstrasse 159, he ran a tailor’s shop with a fabric warehouse. His wife took care of the family as a homemaker.

Son Julius, having attended the Israelite Community School in Altona from 1918 until 1927 and then having completed an apprenticeship as a tailor with master tailor Levy in Hamburg, at Heinrich-Barth-Strasse 3, initially worked as a journeyman and later as a co-owner of his father’s tailor’s shop.

After the Nazis assumed power, Hermann Rotmensz, too, was affected by the measures to displace Jewish tradespeople. 1 Apr. 1933 saw the organization of a boycott of Jewish stores. However, in Altona, the call for "Don’t buy from Jews!” was not heeded to the party leadership’s satisfaction; apparently, even party members remained customers of their usual Jewish shops. In a circular by Altona’s NSDAP district leader, Piwitt, dated 2 Sept. 1935 on the "Jewish question,” the "party comrades and their wives” were called upon to abstain from doing their shopping at Jewish shops and department stores or from calling on Jewish doctors and lawyers, and instead follow the "orders of our Fuehrer.

"It is no good making a wild fuss concerning Jewish questions on a daily basis while still carrying my money to the Jew or having it carried there. […] In the future, I will proceed accordingly without any consideration against any party comrade and against any member of the formations.”

The local party branches received a list with Jewish businesses, on which also appeared the shop of Hermann Rotmensz at Adolphstrasse 159 in the category of "women’s and men’s tailors.”

In Oct. 1938, the Foreign Ministry commissioned the police with expelling Jews of Polish origin from the territory of the German Reich. On 28 October, Julius Rotmensz along with his wife Sara, née Spiegel, and daughter Marion, who was born in 1937, was expelled from nearby General-Litzmann-Strasse 19 (today Stresemannstrasse), where the couple had lived since their marriage in 1935, to Poland.

Max Plaut, then head of the Hamburg Jewish Religious Organization (Jüdischer Religionsverband), testified on 20 Aug. 1964 as a witness in the proceedings brought by relatives of the Rotmensz before the Restitution Office (Amt für Wiedergutmachung): "The operation taking place at the time on 28 Oct. 1938 affected only Jews of Polish nationality who had a valid Polish passport. The stateless Jews were put on the same level as the German Jews from the start and they were thus considerably disadvantaged. Jews of Polish nationality, by contrast, were in a much better position, since they were even allowed to continue running their businesses until 1938.

The operation on 28 Oct. 1938 was connected to the fact that the Polish state refused to renew the passports of Poles of Jewish origin living in Germany beyond 1 November and had asked them to return to Poland.”

Recha Ellern, the head of the Jewish welfare office at the time, was informed early on the day of the expulsion of Polish Jews ("Polenaktion”) by the head of the aliens branch of the police (Fremdenpolizei), Inspector Pelzer, received a list, and went with an aid committee to see families scheduled for expulsion. On 22 Feb. 1965, she gave the following account: "In the case of a number of families, the apartments were already locked, but we did still encounter some of them. The departure must have taken place so hurriedly that later, when the apartments were unlocked, we still found pots with food on the stove. They were allowed to take along jewelry, silverware, money, and clothes. The keys to the apartment were in some instances handed over to police, in others to the Community. Most of the Polish families lived in Altona, and they were locked in a public building preparatory to being transported off. The aid committee provided food during the day, travel provisions, woolen blankets, warm clothing. […] The transport left in the evening, Mr. Möller [the chairman at the time] and I were at the train station to the very last minute. These were terrible hours and the people’s desperation was beyond description. The railway station staff behaved properly, while police, depending on the individual officer’s attitude, escalated the situation. […] I knew the Rotmensz family well, as far as I remember, the children were not of age yet when the family was taken away.”

Friedrich Schulze, a neighbor from Adolphstrasse, submitted a report on 26 Feb. 1964: "The Rotmensz family lived in the apartment below us in 1937 when we moved in. Mr. Rotmensz ran a tailor’s shop in his apartment. I had a suit done there and for fitting, I was in the front room, which, as I recall, in my impression was relatively well appointed for the times. The tailor’s workshop featured several sewing machines […] I still remember that when I came home one late afternoon, my wife told me that something had happened to the Rotmenschs [sic]. They had been taken away. This caused considerable agitation in the house because we knew them as decent and good tenants, and the sons too were very friendly and hard-working people. I cannot say whether the apartment was sealed. I only learned from my wife later that a woman from the [Nazi] Women’s League had been put up in the apartment.”

Paula Schulze, a neighbor, testified: "In my impression, Mr. Rothmensch [sic] operated a thriving tailor’s shop. The persons frequenting his place seemed respectable. […] One of the sons later married and lived in the apartment next to us with his wife, child, and mother-in-law. […] The male members of the Rothmensch were taken away very early on in the fall of 1938. We heard the noise generated in the process. Later, the two grandmothers with the child were also taken away, and eventually, the young woman living next to us went away. I remember that very distinctly because she cried quite audibly. I know exactly that after this operation, a strip was glued across the Rotmenschs’ front door. In my opinion, the apartment was sealed. It also must have been cleared.”

By means of the "Polenaktion,” most of the "Eastern European Jews” ("Ostjuden”) were driven out from the area around Wohlers Allee. On a train of the Deutsche Reichsbahn (German Reich Railroad Company), some 1,000 Polish Jews, departing from Hamburg’s Altona railway station, arrived at the Polish border. In the "no-man’s-land” between the frontiers, about 10,000 Jews expelled from Germany assembled because initially the Polish authorities denied them entry. Later, they were quartered in temporary accommodations in the Polish border town of Zbaszyn.

After the Polish border guards had made efforts to register the expellees and check their passports, respectively, many of them were able to travel on to the interior within the first two days. Max Plaut estimated that approx. ten percent of the expelled Jews would have managed to return to Germany. Those, however, not taken in by relatives in Poland or denied entry, were eventually interned in a transit camp in Zbaszyn. In this internment camp, the Rotmensz family lived as well until the gradual dissolution of the camp in the summer of 1939.

Julius Rotmensz managed in Aug. 1939 to return to Hamburg with his family in order to initiate their emigration to the USA. The family was quartered in the Gestapo-controlled "Jews’ house” ("Judenhaus”) at Rutschbahn 15.

At the beginning of the war in Sept. 1939, Julius Rotmensz was arrested. From 8 Sept. 1939 until 15 Mar. 1940, he was detained in the Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp, where he was beaten and otherwise mistreated. A guard, an SS man, beat him up until he passed out; since he had sustained a blow to his left eye, his eyesight was seriously impaired afterward.

His wife Sara and daughter Marion lived in a furnished room at Grindelallee 24 with Goldschmidt in the very end. After Julius Rotmensz’ release in the spring of 1940, the family went to Genoa by train and from there to the USA aboard the "SS New York.”

Adolf and Moritz Rotmensz, too, were able to return from Poland to Hamburg. They also lived at Grindelallee 24 and prepared toward their departure for the USA. In mid-Aug. 1939, Adolf Rotmensz received from the foreign currency office the "tax clearance certificate” ("Unbedenklichkeitsbescheinigung”) essential for departure. Moritz Rotmensz, who was unmarried, indicated to the foreign currency office on 2 Aug. 1939 that the deadline for his residence permit would soon expire and that he intended to set out on his emigration immediately. The listed items of his moving goods included a small pocket first-aid kit, which was a gift from the hospital in Zbaszyn, and three suits, whose inclusion he had to justify to the authorities: "My father is a tailor.” However, obviously the brothers’ departure was delayed. According to the entry in the Jewish religious tax (Kultussteuer) file cards, both of them were still in Hamburg in 1941 and received welfare assistance benefits. Starting on 24 Feb. 1940, they were both detained in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Moritz (Moris or Morys) was noted in the sick bay there on 17 Oct. 1941. Apparently, the brothers survived and emigrated to the USA after the war. From there, they traveled to Germany on the occasion of the restitution proceedings.

The traces of the Jews remaining in Poland following their forced expulsion usually disappear in one of the ghettos and camps established by the Germans, where they were deported along with their families or relatives who had taken them in. Until today, it is impossible to make any precise statements about the numerous victims of the "expulsion of Polish Jews” ("Polenaktion”).

In the very end, Bernhard Rotmensz was imprisoned in the Austrian Mauthausen concentration camp until his liberation on 5 May 1945. Probably, having been deported to Auschwitz, after the evacuation of the extermination camp in Jan. 1945, he was driven to Mauthausen on the death march. He survived. In 1995, he submitted Pages of Testimony to the Yad Vashem memorial site in Israel for his parents Hermann and Fella Rotmensz as well as his sisters Rosa and Gisa. He testified that they had been murdered in Auschwitz in 1943.

Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

Stand: April 2018
© Birgit Gewehr

Quellen: 1; 2 (FVg 5407, Rotmensz, Adolf, FVg 5409, Rotmensz, Moritz); 4; 5; 8; AB Altona; StaH 351-11 Amt für Wiedergutmachung, 37612 (Rothmann, Julius); Michelsen, Gedenkraum Wohlersallee; Auskunft von Dr. Diana Schulle, 25.10.2014; Auskunft des Archivs der Gedenkstätte und Museum Sachsenhausen zu Moris und Adolf Rotmensz, 15.12.2014.
Zur Nummerierung häufig genutzter Quellen siehe Link "Recherche und Quellen".

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