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Gerda Boas * 1910
Eppendorfer Landstraße 28 (Hamburg-Nord, Eppendorf)
ERMORDET 1944 IN
Gerda Boas, born on 9 Oct. 1910 in Zempelburg, deported on 25 Oct. 1941 to Lodz, deported further on 28 June 1944 to Chelmno
Paula Boas, born on 18 July 1897 in Zempelburg, deported on 25 Oct. 1941 to Lodz, deported further on 28 June 1944 to Chelmno
Eppendorfer Landstraße 28
Many documents have survived of the Boas sisters, documents that help read their fate. Their story is representative of the numerous Jewish people who moved from smaller towns to Hamburg in order to press on with their emigration from this base. They sold their properties, prepared in language course and re-training measures for a new homeland, and took in subtenants to save costs. In the course of research on Paula and Gerda Boas, it was possible early on to establish contact with a relative, which means some details are available pertaining to their family history.
The Jewish religious tax (Kultussteuer) files of the Boas sisters reveal that they had moved to Hamburg from Bad Harzburg only in Feb. 1938. A request directed to the Bad Harzburg municipal authorities asking for information on the Boas family was answered with a reference to an article from the Goslarsche Zeitung dated 24 Nov. 2008. The piece reported on the unveiling of a commemorative plaque attached to the family’s former residential and business building, an event attended by several descendants from Israel.
One of them was David Boas, a nephew of Paula and Gerda Boas. When contacted by letter, he showed great interest in clarifying his aunts’ fate. During a visit to Germany, a meeting was arranged, and he related what he knew about the family. What emerged was that out of grief and pain, the surviving brothers of Paula and Gerda, i.e. David’s father Leonhard and Alfred, had talked about the victims only rarely, passing on very few memories. For instance, David Boas had never heard about the fact that his aunts had moved to Hamburg and that they had been deported from there.
Alfred and Leonhard Boas blamed themselves all of their lives and felt guilty because not only Paula and Gerda but also their mother, their third sister Margarete and her husband Schmuel Gotheiner, as well as the Gotheiners’ children Ruth and Zvi had perished in National Socialist extermination camps.
The parents of the Boas siblings, Hermann and Johanna (Hinde), née Cohn, managed a store in the West Prussian town of Zempelburg (today’s Sepolno Krajenskie). The city was a center of cloth manufacturing and shoemaking, belonging to Prussia from 1815 to 1920. After the Treaty of Versailles, it became part of Poland. In 1920, Zempelburg had a population of about 3,500. From 1939 to 1945, it belonged to the German Reich. Since the Boas were "proud and patriotic Germans,” according to David Boas, they did not want to live under Polish rule, so they moved to Bündheim near Bad Harzburg. At the time, 33 Jewish persons lived in Bad Harzburg. In those days, the Boases could not have known that they were making their way to one of the Nazis’ subsequent strongholds. "The Boases” included, apart from Hermann and Johanna, their six children, Alfred, Leonhard, David, Paula, Margarete, Gerda, and perhaps already the son-in-law, Schmuel Gotheiner. On a photo, probably showing the store in Zempelburg, the inscription above the entrance reads in Polish "Proprietor Gothajner," likely the Polish spelling of "Gotheiner.” Therefore, at least business relations existed between the two families at that time already.
The archive of the Goslarsche Zeitung contains an advertisement announcing the opening of the "Kaufhaus Boas” (Boas department store) at Prinz Albrechtstraße 3 in Bündheim near Bad Harzburg on 27 Sept. 1920: "Cotton goods, fabrics for dresses and suits, fabric widths for blouses and superior-quality ready-to-wear ladies’ clothes, workers’ garments, dry goods, linens, and woolens. ... Business principle: Good merchandise at the lowest possible prices with good service.”
The department store was listed in the phone directory from 1920 to 1936. An ad on the tenth store anniversary emphasized: "Two minutes down the road from the train station.”
The father of the family, Hermann Boas, died in 1927. The mother, Johanna Boas, managed the store, with son Alfred as a co-owner. Gerda worked as a shop assistant, Paula took care of the shared household and helped in the store if required. In addition, there were a number of employees as another photograph shows.
The family was well respected in Bad Harzburg; many a time, clothes were given free to poor people unable to pay. The department store prospered, which permitted the opening of a store outlet on Herzog-Wilhelmstraße in Bad Harzburg in 1931, managed by Leonhard.
However, this branch was already sold again the following year "due to anti-Semitic incidents.” As the city chronicle indicates, on 16 and 27 Sept. 1931, 1,500 Nazis marched through the streets of Bündheim and Bad Harzburg on the occasion of the NSDAP’s "Harzburg Gautag.” Soon afterwards, on 11 Oct., the "national opposition” converged in Bad Harzburg for a mass rally at the initiative of Alfred Hugenberg, the chairman of the German National People’s Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei – DNVP). This alliance comprised of the NSDAP, DNVP, the Stahlhelm, the League of Frontline Soldiers (Bund der Frontsoldaten), and others made its appearance only once at this specific gathering to demonstrate a united front in the battle against the Weimar Republic. It went down in history as the "Harzburg Front.” The venue had been chosen because the NSDAP formed part of the government in the State of Brunswick and there was little risk of Communist protests in the little town. After initial tensions had already surfaced at Bad Harzburg, the participating groups fought each other again a short time afterward, competing with different candidates in the elections for Reich President in Mar. 1932. The nature of the "anti-Semitic incidents” that resulted in the closing of the store could not be ascertained.
David Boas, at any rate, is convinced that his father Leonhard and his Uncle Alfred decided to emigrate, among other things, because they had ample opportunity to observe the various Nazi rallies from their residential and business building near the train station. After the Nazi "seizure of power,” the station square was renamed "Adolf-Hitler-Platz” and 1 Apr. 1933 saw the boycott of Jewish stores. The Boas family was affected as well. Leonhard and Alfred drew their own conclusions and acted accordingly.
Leonhard Boas spent some time in Berlin – just exactly when is not known – and then went on hachshara to Czechoslovakia in order to take agricultural training. In 1936, both brothers emigrated to Palestine.
A passage on page 291 of the Harzburger Chronik indicates that "in 1934, the Haustochter [Note: in this context, a daughter of legal age working as a domestic help/nanny in her parental home] Gerda Boas moved to Poland together with two children, a son and a daughter.” The children mentioned are likely Margarete’s children Ruth and Zvi. Probably, the parents of Ruth and Zvi, Gerda’s sister Margarete Gotheiner and her husband Schmuel Gotheiner, had relocated to Poland earlier and Gerda brought the children later. How long Gerda stayed there before returning to Bad Harzburg is unknown. The mother of the Boas sisters, Johanna, also left Bad Harzburg at some point, moving to join Margarete and her family.
In 1937, the third son of the family, David, died of cancer at a clinic in Berlin. Paula Boas arranged his funeral on the Weissensee Jewish Cemetery.
The files of a "Konsulent” ["Jewish legal adviser,” a Jewish lawyer whose admission to the bar had been revoked under Nazi legislation] contain a preserved correspondence with Paula Boas concerning the residential and business building at Prinz Albrechtstraße 3. Paula’s addresses are of interest: On 2 June 1938, she sent a letter from Isestraße 54 in Hamburg. She lived at the Rosenkranzes, a family that had moved there from Goslar. Perhaps at that time, Paula was in Hamburg for a visit searching for an apartment? The next letter – dated 9 June 1938 – came from the "Villa Tannenhof,” Bad Harzburg, and yet another one subsequently from Seesen on 10 June 1938. Her place of residence on 16 June 1938 was "Haus Dietrichsberg” in Altenau/Upper Harz, and finally, on 4 July 1938, she wrote from Eppendorfer Landstraße 28. One may presume, therefore, that she commuted between Hamburg and the Harz region for a while before both sisters eventually settled in Hamburg-Eppendorf.
From that base, Paula and Gerda pushed ahead with their emigration. The residential and business building on Prinz Albrechtstraße was sold in May 1939 – for 38,000 RM (reichsmark). Correspondence with the relevant authorities regarding this transaction dragged on for months. A compilation by the Office of the Chief Finance Administrator (Oberfinanzpräsidium) reveals that 15,000 RM of the sales proceeds were allotted to a mortgage of Gerda’s, and 10,000 RM to the reserved retirement property of Johanna Boas, who had transferred her share, however, to her son Alfred. He was already living in Palestine at this time. All of these subtotals were put under "security order” ("Sicherungsanordnung”). In addition, there was a mortgage claim of Paula amounting to 6,000 Polish zlotys against the property of Mrs. Margarete Gothajner in Sepolno [the former Zempelburg] – a clue to the fact that this sister lived in Poland or at least owned property there.
Like all Jews, Paula and Gerda Boas henceforth had to provide evidence of their income and expenditures as well as apply to the Office of the Chief Finance Administrator (Oberfinanzpräsidium) for the sum required to secure their livelihood. The extant document shows the following expenses for Paula Boas:
Rent, heating, gas, water, electricity RM 65
Necessaries, including clothing RM 110
Miscellaneous RM 75
as well as for professional purposes (therapist massage) RM 60
In order to acquire professional skills useful abroad, Paula Boas had attended a course in therapist massage given by Dr. Meier-Ahrens in Oderfelder Straße.
Gerda had no cash funds of her own, since she had not received back her mortgage yet. She lived off her sister, so that the legal representative eventually applied for 500 RM in living expenses per month for both sisters.
Various doctor’s and dentist’s bills have also been preserved from this time. Both sisters took English lessons; "because of emigration matters” they requested 15 RM from the Office of the Chief Finance Administrator (Oberfinanzpräsidium) for purposes not described in detail. All of the names appearing on the receipts tell of individual fates that still await investigation. The same holds true for the old couple that Paula and Gerda had taken in as subtenants – Isidor and Rosalie Kurzmann. The latter died in Feb. 1941; the former was deported to Riga, at the age of 71, in Dec. 1941. Little is known so far about the couple’s lives.
Gerda’s preparations for emigration were practically complete by Aug. 1939. Now she applied for the unblocking of 626.25 RM for her passage to Britain and from there to New York. In a letter to the foreign currency office, she stated that she intended to "emigrate to the United States of North America after initially staying for some time in England. Entry permit by the British government is on hand.”
For her emigration, Gerda had filled in the required "list of moving goods.” It reveals quite a bit about her: She must have been an athletic woman – apart from skis, a ski suit, and table tennis [paddles?], the inventory also lists a gym suit and a swimsuit. In addition, a work coat and work boots appeared on the list as well. Her occupation was entered as massage therapist. When and where she took training is not known. Paula subsequently seemed to have followed her example.
Even dusters and oven cloths had to be itemized in the list of moving goods. Next to all of the different pieces of table and bed linens belonging to her dowry and purchased before 1933 [surtax was due on any items purchased after 1933], she added in handwriting, "I was engaged at the time.” To whom she had given her heart and why the marriage had not materialized are questions that will forever elude clarification. And what about the 25 prayer books that were meant to travel along in the "lift van,” the moving container? Added to this were another three prayer books in the carry-on luggage and five in the check-in luggage. Was Gerda very religious, or were these old family heirlooms intended for transport to safety abroad?
Presumably, Gerda Boas did not wish to leave her sister, whose emigration papers were not complete yet, behind by herself. She did not exit the country but waited for Paula instead. A short time afterwards, at the beginning of the Second World War, both women were trapped in Hamburg. Incidentally, Gerda’s moving goods, put into storage, could not be found any more after the war. Probably they were destroyed, like those of many persons willing to emigrate, during a bombing raid.
In the chronology of the available documents, what followed was a letter by Paula to the foreign currency office on 14 May 1940. She inquired as to "which Reich Bank institution and which foreign currency office are now responsible for Litzmannstadt (Lodsch) as a place of residence.” It seems that she wanted to send someone (in occupied Poland) money – a further clue that relatives were living there.
In Feb. 1941, Gerda opened a business offering massage treatments for Jewish patients. She had to deposit every reichsmark earned from this work to her "security account” – 2.53 RM in the first month!
Eight months later, the sisters were deported to the "Litzmannstadt” (Lodz) Ghetto. According to the "delivery note” dated 29 Nov. 1941, an auctioneer received the contents of her two-bedroom apartment for auctioning on 2 Dec.
From "Litzmannstadt,” too, there continued to be signs of life from the sisters. Paula Boas’ work identification card dating from 1943 has been preserved. According to that, she was employed first as an embroiderer in Plant 82 – Handstrickerei (handknitting) and subsequently, from 7 June 1944 onward, in Plant 61 – Papiererzeugung (paper production). The sisters were quartered at Sulzfelder Straße 3, apartment 24.
On 28 June 1944, transport no. 78 comprised of 803 people left the ghetto for the Kulmhof/Chelmno extermination camp. Gerda and Paula had the transport numbers 83 and 84.
That they were able to survive for as long as they did in the first place was connected to the request they submitted like many others prior to the first scheduled "resettlement operation” in May 1942. They asked for revocation of their "exit order,” since the departure – as we know now and as the ghetto population probably suspected – would have meant their immediate murder. What emerges from the sisters’ letter to the "expulsion commission” is an astonishing story. Paula and Gerda wrote, "We […] now live together with our mother, sister and her two children; we have been separated for many years from our relatives, who have been living here in the ghetto for more than two years already, and to us it was a stroke of fate that we were reunited with our relatives; our sister’s husband has been missing since the beginning of the war, and we are providing for ourselves and for our relatives by performing nursing, therapist massage [!], and podiatry. […] [We] ask most urgently to leave us together with our old mother, our sister with her two children. We are very willing to put our entire work capacity at the service of the ghetto cause, and we once again plead for approval of our request. Yours most obediently, Paula Boas, Gerda Boas.”
Their petition was successful, for this time they were spared and able to stay in the ghetto. The ghetto’s register of residents indicates: the mother Johanna Boas, born on 24 Feb. 1868, had moved, like Margarete Gotheiner, from Bierstraße 13, Lodz, to Paula and Gerda in Sulzfelder Straße. She died there on 6 Aug. 1942. From this context, it becomes clear that both had been living together with the children in Lodz for some time already. David Boas, who was mentioned earlier, knew neither his grandmother’s birth date nor date of death. Now birth dates have also become available for his Aunt Margarete – born on 19 Oct. 1903 and her daughter Ruth – born on 18 May 1933. Further data do not exist. It is not known whether the two were murdered together with Paula and Gerda Boas on the way to or in "Kulmhof”/Chelmno or whether they died or were "resettled” earlier.
In photos, Margarete’s son Zvi looks as if he was two to three years older than his sister. No data is available on him. If he was younger than 12 years in Sept. 1942 – and this applies to his sister as well –, he was probably transported off in the course of the September deportations when the SS displaced all children.
Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
© Sabine Brunotte
Quellen: 1; 2; 4; StaHH 314-15 OFP R 1939/2697 und 2698 sowie Fvg 7264; wikipedia.org/wiki zu Zempelburg – Sepolno Krajénskie, 4.7.2009; Meier, Harald, Kurt Neumann, Bad Harzburg: Chronik einer Stadt, Hildesheim 2000; Goslarsche Zeitung vom 24.11.2008; wikipedia.org/wiki/Harzburger_Front, Zugriff 4.7.2010; mündliche Auskunft David Boas vom 1.3.2009; Auskünfte Fritz Neubauer, Universität Bielefeld, E-Mails vom 4.5. 2010, USHMM, RG 15083 301/155 391-392, sowie vom 5.7. und 6.7.2010, schriftliche Auskunft Jüdischer Friedhof Weissensee, Berlin, E-Mail vom 12.3.2012.
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