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Dr. Paul Blumenthal * 1880
Eppendorfer Landstraße 30 (Hamburg-Nord, Eppendorf)
Dr. Paul Blumenthal, born on 13 Feb. 1880 in Hannover, deported on 8 Nov. 1941 to Minsk
Eppendorfer Landstraße 30 and Sievekingplatz 1
The juvenile court judge Paul Blumenthal must have been a very special personality. Two obituaries and a report by a contemporary witness highlight his particular commitment "in his activities on behalf of adolescents” and his popularity among friends and colleagues as well as juvenile delinquents alike. Going through life "as a realistic idealist, averse to big words and grand gestures,” he was "a wise friend and helper, a great and kind human being,” as a contribution by the "Social Work Guild” ("Gilde Soziale Arbeit”) put it.
The obituaries were written in 1947 and 1959, a time when "the inability to mourn” and the suppression of feelings of guilt dominated the memory of twelve years of Nazi rule. Paul Blumenthal was born the son of the merchant Moritz Blumenthal in Hannover. His father managed a renowned textiles business; his mother Eugenie, whose maiden name was Dinkelspiel, came from Mannheim. In 1881, his sister Erna (subsequent married name Polak) was born (see corresponding entry) and in 1882 his second sister, Vera. In 1884, she was followed by his brother Walter, who studied medicine. He probably worked as a ship’s doctor before becoming Chief Physician at a hospital in Koblenz. He had met his wife Annemarie, née Schwanebeck, at a military hospital, where she was employed as a nurse. The couple had two children, a son born in 1920, and a daughter born in 1923, who later became a physician as well. According to the information they provided, Walter Blumenthal died of sepsis in 1931, having been infected during an operation. It seems that his family was "by and large left alone” (quote by the grandson) in the Nazi period.
The Blumenthals led assimilated lives, and Paul was a baptized Protestant. In his family, humanity and justice had been conveyed to him as firmly rooted values. Paul was destined to take over his father’s business, but he abandoned a commercial apprenticeship begun in Iserlohn after only a few weeks, returning to school and obtaining his high school diploma (Abitur) at the Gymnasium in Burgsteinfurt. In 1898, he began studying law in Heidelberg, subsequently adding semesters in Berlin and Göttingen. His father died when he was 20 years old. After his sister Vera had died in Berlin following the birth of a daughter, Paul’s mother moved there in 1907 to support Hans Plöger, her son-in-law. Eugenie Blumenthal raised her granddaughter, whose name was also Vera, and ran the household. In the early 1930s, Vera Plöger married the Swedish merchant Conny Elmstedt. Eugenie Blumenthal accompanied her to Stockholm and lived there in her granddaughter’s family until her death in July 1942.
Revisiting Paul Blumenthal’s university studies, one notices that he had a variety of interests, also taking lectures in History and Political Science and attending a seminar on insurance matters. In addition, he maintained contacts to the "National Social Association” founded by the theologian and politician Friedrich Naumann. "Naumann exerted considerable influence on the young generation at the turn of the century, particularly on their social ideas,” says one encyclopedia entry. This environment already revealed Paul Blumenthal’s capacity for "networking,” as one would put it today. "He won friends in a way few people do. Once a friendship was established, he retained and maintained it over decades and across any kind of geographical distance. He was constantly looking for new people, bringing them together with his old friends, thus gaining connections and influence, [later] linking everything with his professional work throughout,” one obituary read.
In Oct. 1901, Paul Blumenthal obtained a doctorate in law at the University of Göttingen. The title of his dissertation was Der Scheinkaufmann ("The Ostensible Merchant”). Apparently, the topic had not really interested him and it seems that the work served only to acquire the academic degree. The young jurist began his practical legal training at the District Court (Amtsgericht) in Elze, then changing to Winsen/Luhe. From 1906 onward, he was a junior judge. During this time, he came in contact with the "People’s Home” ("Volksheim”) in the Hamburg working-class area of Hammerbrook, founded by Pastor Walter Classen. This was an establishment for youths "with an open-door policy.” Paul offered to contribute, renting a room in the neighborhood that he used to stay from Saturday until Monday. On Sundays, he acted as a referee for gymnastics games, and "as a hiking guide he was unsurpassed.” Undoubtedly, Paul Blumenthal gathered valuable experience there in dealing with juveniles from a working-class background.
In the winter of 1907/1908, he took a sabbatical and went on a journey through the East and Middle West of the USA at his own expense in order to learn about the local institutions pertaining to penal and guardianship law for youths. Apparently, there were increasing calls in Germany for a reform of the existing system, with the United States considered as a model. Paul Blumenthal attended trials there, studied specialized literature, and had numerous talks with teachers, directors of homes, and others dealing with "wayward youth.” He processed his insights in a 108-page work entitled Was können wir von Amerika bei der Behandlung unserer verwahrlosten und verbrecherischen Jugend lernen? ("What may we learn from America when dealing with our wayward and criminal youth?”), published in Berlin in 1909. This project in itself was testimony to the great personal commitment to his work, which ran through his life as a common thread. To him it was particularly important to establish a relationship of trust with the adolescents and to reach out to them. For instance, there was no firm end to his office hours, enabling him to talk with parents and young people in the evening as well. The idea was not to force them to leave their work during the day for an appointment with him, which might have caused them problems.
As of June 1910, Paul Blumenthal was transferred to Bottrop as a district court judge. Until 1914, he was also involved there as a very active chairman of the VFB 1900 sports club.
In World War I, Paul Blumenthal served as a supply sergeant (Kammerunteroffizier) in the Imperial Navy. A few soldiers with leanings toward the youth movement had established for themselves a meeting place in Ostend/Belgium, and he became the "center of the gatherings.” "At first glance, he looked particularly unflattering in his threadbare … naval infantry uniform (Seebatallionsuniform) … just as he attached little value to his appearance in terms of clothes in civilian life either. However, anyone catching a beam from these kind gray eyes sitting in his bearded face, anyone experiencing his joy in participating, and anyone lucky enough to converse with him would not forget him anymore,” it said in a speech about him at the 1959 Conference of German Juvenile Courts (Deutscher Jugendgerichtstag).
After the end of the war, Paul Blumenthal returned to Bottrop.
In the early 1920s, he was called to the Prussian Ministry of Justice in Berlin. As an expert on guardianship matters and child welfare, he collaborated with another colleague to prepare the Reich Child Welfare Act (Reichsgesetz für Jugendwohlfahrt) and the Prussian Implementation Law (Preussisches Ausführungsgesetz). An adviser of the General Conference on Correctional Education (Allgemeine Fürsorgeerziehungstage), the German Association for Juvenile Courts and Juvenile Court Assistance (Deutsche Vereinigung für Jugendgerichte und Jugendgerichtshilfen), as well as other expert bodies, he subsequently influenced the further development of these legal fields.
Upon completion of the assignments in Berlin, Paul Blumenthal asked for his reinstatement to practice. In Nov. 1925, he moved from Bottrop to Hamburg. He worked as an associate judge at the district court in Prussian Altona and was in charge of the guardianship and juvenile courts there. According to a contemporary witness, this combination of his tasks was an "exceptionally fortunate solution.” She reported, "[o]nce a week in the evenings, for example, he took a walk on the Reeperbahn and the side streets of St. Pauli … collecting there, as it were, the boys and to a smaller extent also girls that had gone astray. It was well known in Altona that police had to intervene only very seldom. … One weekend a month, Herr Dr. Blumenthal went to Neumünster [where a facility of child welfare services was located], having staff show him a list of youths scheduled for dismissal over the next weeks and months. He would then ask: ‘Do you have work?’ and take care that they found a place somehow.”
Paul Blumenthal was unmarried and lived with his sister at Haynstraße 26. He was completely absorbed in his work. As mentioned, he was active beyond that as an adviser in various bodies and held lectures on child welfare at the community college (Volkshochschule). Both among his audiences there and among the legal trainees he was educating, he won young people to provide support for adolescents in difficult situations and to stand by their side. Repeatedly, health problems forced him to take time out. Several times, he had to undergo treatment at a health resort due to exhaustion and circulatory problems, for instance, in Mar. 1933. He spent several weeks on the heath "until his hosts were urgently asked to stop accommodating the Jew.” Paul Blumenthal reassumed his work but he was transferred to a different department and was guardianship and juvenile court judge no longer. As a world war veteran, he was exempt from dismissal for the time being. At the end of 1935, he was eventually forced to retire. The retiree got a dog and took it for a walk in the Borsteler Moor (marsh) every day. It appears that this man, who had played such an active public role earlier, knew how to make the best of his new situation. He undertook two major sea voyages through the Mediterranean Sea and around Africa. "Active contacts with his friends filled days and nights,” read one obituary. "They in particular were sure of his understanding and warmhearted sympathy. His wise advice was a help and consolation to many.” It is remarkable that he, someone marginalized and deprived of his rights, was able to provide support to those belonging to the majority. Why was emigration out of the question for him, even though Quakers offered to assist? Because of "the attachment to our country, to friends, and awareness of the deep caesura any emigration entails.” Besides, his sister and his brother-in-law, deaf and unable to speak, depended on his financial support. The three had moved to Eppendorfer Landstraße 30 in 1939.
Paul Blumenthal told the contemporary witness cited above "how, when eventually the difficulties emerged during the war, food was rationed and fellow Jewish citizens only received small rations etc. Occasionally, a package with fish would land on the balcony of his apartment, placed there for him by some among his former wards, who knew full well that Dr. Blumenthal was Jewish and thus not allowed to partake in the allotment of fish.”
Prior to his impending deportation, he gave away many of his belongings to friends. His valuable library covering the subject of juvenile law went to a department at the University of Hamburg.
On the transport to Minsk, on which he set out with his sister and brother-in-law, the 60-year-old contracted pneumonia and died soon upon arrival. This is what one of his former legal trainees reports, who asked to see the ghetto in 1941, discovering by chance a tumbler with "Paul Blumenthal” inscribed as a name in one of the barracks. He thus learned of his death, "but also of the way in which Blumenthal had been a strong human support for his fellow sufferers through his unperturbed, kind personality, causing all of them to mourn him with deep sadness.”
Status as of Nov. 2014
Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
© Sabine Brunotte
Quellen: 1; 4; StaHH 314-15 OFP, R 1940/89; StaHH 351-11 AfW, 2626;
Jugendrichter Dr. Paul Blumenthal, Auszug aus der Jubiläumsschrift des 11. Deutschen Jugendgerichtstages der Deutschen Vereinigung für Jugendgerichte und Jugendgerichtshilfen e. V. im Oktober 1959; dtv Lexikon, 1997;
Gilde Soziale Arbeit 1947, Unseren toten Freunden Worte des Dankes; Schicksal Jüdischer Juristen in Hamburg im Dritten Reich, Niederschrift einer Podiumsdiskussion mit Wissenschaftlern und Zeitzeugen sowie eines Vortrages von Gert Nicolaysen über die Rechtsfakultät der Universität Hamburg 1933, Hamburg 1985, S. 8–10; Bergemann/ Ladwig-Winters, Richter und Staatsanwälte jüdischer Herkunft in Preußen im Nationalsozialismus, 2004, S. 144 f.; Mosel, Wegweiser, Heft 2, Hamburg 1995, S.12; Auskunft Riksarkivet Schweden, E-Mail vom 2.6.2010; mündliche Auskunft Stadtarchiv Hannover, Telefonat vom 24.8.2010; Auskunft Stadtarchiv Bottrop, E-Mail vom 2.11.2010; schriftliche Auskunft P. Blumenthal, E-Mail vom 30.9.2014.
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