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Bernhard Blumenfeld, Vater von Martha
Bernhard Blumenfeld, Vater von Martha
© Gemeinde Eschede

Martha Blumenfeld * 1878

Elbchaussee 443 (Altona, Othmarschen)

JG. 1878
"VERLEGT" 23.9.1940
ERMORDET 23.9.1940

Martha Blumenfeld, b. 4.20.1878 in Hamburg, murdered on 23 September 1940 in in the Brandenburg on the Havel River killing facility

A commemorative stone in Hamburg-Nienstedten, at Elbchaussee 443

Martha Blumenfeld was the eldest of four children of the successful Hamburg businessman Bernhard Blumenfeld and his wife Helena, née Karpeles. Initially the parents practiced the Jewish faith; in 1902, Bernhard converted to Protestantism.

Bernhard Blumenfeld was born on 14 May 1846, as Baruch Blumenfeld, in Burgsteinfurt, an urban district of the city of Steinfurt in Münsterland. He was the descendant of a Jewish family, resident there since 1685, whose members numbered among the most respected citizens of the town. For example, Feibes Blumenfeld, Bernhard’s father and Martha’s grandfather, was the court banker to the Prince of Bentheim. In 1862, Baruch Blumenfeld came at age 16 to Hamburg. He changed his name to Bernhard and entered into a five-year apprenticeship with the merchant Ernst Hertz at Neue Gröningerstrasse 15. Immediately afterwards, he worked as a "commercial clerk” (merchant’s assistant). In 1871, at 25 years of age, he established his own commercial venture.

By the time Bernhard Blumenfeld received citizenship in Hamburg on 16 August 1880, he had several years of success behind him. According to the Hamburg directory he worked as a "commission agent in coal, iron, metals, mining supplies, building materials, etc., and specialized in Westphalian anthracite coal and coke.” He had his own seat on the Hamburg Bourse. Since 1893 he expanded his business line to trade in Chilean saltpeter, which was used in fertilizer and as a cement additive by the construction industry. With this, he earned a fortune. After protracted and difficult negotiations with the Hamburg Senate to obtain a docking location in the port, he established in 1898 the "North German Coal and Coke Works, Inc.,” a site for the production coke and briquettes for blast furnaces erected on the India Quay [Indiakai] at Kleiner Grasbrook. Within a few decades, the undertaking developed into a financially strong group enterprise with about 150 members, operating in the fields of mineral oil and coal wholesaling, ship brokerage, and import/export shipping.

In the private realm of the family, things went quite well for Bernhard Blumenfeld. On 11 April 1877, he married Helena Karpeles, nine years younger than himself. She was the daughter of the Hamburg businessman Nicolaus Joseph Karpeles and his wife Tekla Gitla Kaftal, from Warsaw.

The young couple lived at first in Bernhard’s bachelor apartment in the Pöseldorf quarter, at Schulstrasse 10. It was here that on 20 April 1878, Martha, the first of four children, was born.

Martha Blumenfeld’s brother Ernst was born on 15 September 1880 at Moorweidenstrasse 11, in the Rotherbaum district of the city. As is confirmed on his birth registration, he received the additional forename of Bernhard by decision of the Senate on 27 January 1922, and was henceforth called Ernst Bernhard Blumenfeld. His brother Otto was born on 16 August 1883 at Klosterallee 6 in the Harvestehude quarter of the city, just as was his sister Clara, born on 15 June 1889. A little later the family moved to Harvestehuder Weg 45a (entrance at Alsterkamp 23), an address that already then indicated affluence and elegance. As today, Rotherbaum and Harvestehude were then dominated by broad boulevards and quiet streets with spacious townhouses. Bernhard Blumenfeld was among the district’s one fifth of the owners of Jewish descent, composed mainly of successful businessmen.

Around the mid-1880s, unusual behavior patterns were noticed in Martha Blumenfeld. As a child, she was markedly inhibited, had adopted an inflexible attitude, and was often unable to speak--this according to the district physician von Plön, decades later. After she had lived in the home of a famous doctor for a year and a half, she returned to her own home and was entrusted to the care of a nurse. Phases of apathy were said to have alternated with states of excitation.

Bernhard Blumenfeld’s business success continued. At the beginning of the 20th century, he acquired on the former estate of Gustav Godeffroy the prestigious dwelling "Beausite,” on a no longer existing side street of the opulent Elbchaussee. In these luxurious surroundings, Martha lived with her parents and her brother Otto, not, however, with her brother Ernst Bernhard. He lived at Alsterufer Strasse 1, on the Outer Alster. In 1911, Ernst Bernhard had married the Protestant estate owner’s daughter and school teacher, Ebba Möller, who was from Denmark. From this marriage came Sonja, born in 1912, and Erik, born in 1915.

The Blumenfeld family cultivated a haute bourgeois life style on the Elbchaussee. Gathering together there were Albert Ballin of the HAPAG shipping line, the writer Gerhart Hauptmann, and the painters Max Levogt, Lovis Corinth, and Max Liebermann. Full integration into the Hamburg establishment, for example a prestigious office in the Chamber of Commerce or in the Hamburg Senate, was blocked by Bernhard Blumenfeld’s Jewish heritage. His conversion to Protestantism at age 58 changed nothing. His older son, Ernst Bernhard, also converted to the Christian faith.

In 1911, when Bernhard Blumenfeld was 65 years old, both of his sons entered the Blumenfeld enterprises as partners.

When the patriarch died on 4 April 1919, the memorial ceremony took place "in the beautiful home in the Nienstedten quarter,” as reported by the newspaper, the Hamburger Correspondent, on 16 April 1919.

A representation: Martha Blumenfeld’s father, the great merchant and shipping magnate, Bernhard Blumenfeld (1846-1919) in Schelploh Whether Martha Blumenfeld participated in the luxurious life has not been recorded. The condition of her health was initially positively influenced by her wealthy environment on the Outer Alster and then to an even greater degree on the Elbchaussee. She was also able to enjoy the country life in Schelploh, not far from Eschede in the Südheide nature park. In 1905, her father purchased a 600 acre piece of land and built a villa there in the "Harvestehude style,” which he sold again in 1912.

In 1927, Martha’s brother Ernst Bernhard died. Now Martha’s second brother, Otto, had to run the Blumenfeld enterprises alone. Next to his business duties, he dedicated himself to his passion for collecting art. Until 1933, he belonged to the Board of the Friends of the Hamburg Art Gallery and Art Association. Since 1922, together with the banker Dr. Richard Samson (1885-1945), he ran the O. Blumenfeld & R. Samson racing stable in Gross Borstel. Together, as collectors, they fostered the purchase and commissioning of art and cultural works in Hamburg.

Richard Samson’s sister, Ilse Herta Zachmann, like Martha Blumenfeld, suffered from mental illness and had a similar fate. However, there is no evidence that the two knew each other.

In July 1928, Martha was accepted in the private Hamburg psychiatric clinic of Dr. Arnold Lienau, which was known under the name of "Eichenhain.”

Just a few months later, in early December 1928, Martha Blumenfeld went to another private establishment near Preetz. The institution bore the name "Sanitarium Schellhorn Berg near Preetz,” known also as "Sanitarium Schellhorner Berg for Ladies with Nervous Disorders and in Need of Convalescence.”

Dr. Otto Jaspersen, born in Kiel in 1863, opened the establishment in 1897. The facility composed of villa styled buildings lay in a park-like landscape, surrounded by fruit trees, vegetable plots, and an extensive dairy farm. A contemporary description of the institution characterized it thusly: "a substantially self-sufficient island of harmony, calm and contentment, of symmetry, peace, and self-reliance, a feeling of well-being, a paradise for the ‘mentally ill’.” Simultaneously the Schellhorner Berg incorporated a bit of contemporary social psychiatry: "Detachment from society, avoidance of confrontation with reality, healthful isolation, the exchange of the original personally developed madness for the illusion of an unreal healing world.”

The psychotherapy practiced here aimed, according to its own conception, not at an alteration of the personality, but rather at respecting and attending to the characteristics of the patients.

The few remaining records suggest that Martha Blumenfeld lived for nearly 12 years at the Schellhorner Berg clinic. Concerning the state of her health, no documentation is available.

In the spring and summer of 1940, the "Euthanasia" Center in Berlin, at Tiergartenstrasse 4, began a special action aimed at Jews in public and private mental institutions. To this end, the Jews living in institutions were initially collected. On 21 May 1940, in answer to a query from Berlin, the District President of Schleswig sent a list of institutions to the Reich Minister of the Interior; in the fourth position on that list was the Schellhorner Berg asylum. Only one Jewish patient was there. Presumably, it was Martha Blumenfeld.

In the next phase of the plan, Jewish inhabitants of the larger state mental hospitals were collected. The Langenhorn Sanitarium and Nursing Home in Hamburg was designated as the collection point for north Germany. All establishments in Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, and Mecklenburg were directed to send all the Jews living in their institutions to Langenhorn by 18 September 1940.

Martha Blumenfeld was sent to Langenhorn on 16 September 1940. On 23 September she and 135 other patients from north German institutions were loaded onto a train at the Ochsenzoll freight depot and transported to Brandenburg on the Havel River. On the very same day, the patients were driven into gas chambers that had been erected in the former prison and then killed by carbon monoxide. Only Ilse Herta Zachmann initially escaped this fate (see her biographical entry).

We do not know how or when Martha Blumenfeld’s family learned of her death. In all the documented notices it was maintained that the victims had died in Chelm (Polish) or Cholm (German), east of Lublin. A death notice did reach the Hamburg birth registry office. On Martha Blumenfeld’s birth record it is noted: "deceased no. 275/41 St.A. Cholm II Generalgouvernement on 2.11.1941.”

However, those murdered in Brandenburg were never in Chelm/Cholm. The Polish mental hospital, that was there formerly, no longer existed after SS units on 12 January 1940 had murdered almost all its patients. Moreover, there was no German registry office in Chelm/Cholm. The invention of these offices was later used to concoct dates of death, which disguised the murder action and also justified the claims for the costs of extended care.

Martha’s brother Otto left Germany in August 1938. Among the goods he wanted to take with him, there were four paintings that appeared to have considerable value, in the view of the expert from the Hamburg Art Gallery. The art expert Hildebrand Gurlitt, of Jewish descent, who maintained the "Dr. H. Gurlitt Art Gallery” in Hamburg, judged two landscapes by Pissarro, a painting by Delacroix titled "The Death of Sardanapal,” and a painting by Courbet, in which a deer could be seen, as not belonging to the cultural goods of "national value.” The Delacroix painting, today hanging in the Louvre, he declared to be a forgery. In this way Otto Blumenfeld retained possession of his art works.

Martha’s sister Clara fled to England in 1939. Ebba Blumenfeld and her son Erik also survived the Nazi dictatorship. Erik withstood incarceration in Auschwitz and Buchenwald thanks to the clever indirect and direct interventions of his non-Jewish mother with Heinrich Himmler. After 1945, Erik Blumenfeld worked actively in the building of democratic structures in Hamburg. Later he represented the Hansa City as its deputy to the Bundestag and the European Parliament. A square is named after him in Hamburg-Blankensee.

A commemortive stone in Hamburg-Nienstedten, at Elbchaussee, keeps the memory of Martha Blumenfeld alive.

Translator: Richard Levy
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

© Ingo Wille

Quellen: 1; 4; 5; AB; StaH A 834 Nervenheilanstalt "Eichenhain" 0077 Kapsel 01; 133-1 III Staatsarchiv III, 3171-2/4 U.A. 4, Liste psychisch kranker jüdischer Patientinnen und Patienten der psychiatrischen Anstalt Langenhorn, die aufgrund nationalsozialistischer "Euthanasie"-Maßnahmen ermordet wurden, zusammengestellt von Peter von Rönn, Hamburg (Projektgruppe zur Erforschung des Schicksals psychisch Kranker in Langenhorn); 314-15 Oberfinanzpräsident F 171 b Blumenfeld, R 1939_2708 Blumenfeld; 332-5 Standesämter 8484 Heiratsregister Nr. 162/1877 Bernhard Blumenfeld/Helena Karpeles, 8929 Geburtsregister Nr. 186/1878 Martha Blumenfeld, 8950 Geburtsregister Nr. 3213/1880 Ernst Bernhard Blumenfeld, 8979 Geburtsregister Nr. 3108/1883 Otto Blumenfeld, 9045 Geburtsregister Nr. 629/1889 Clara Blumenfeld; 332-7_Staatsangehörigkeitsaufsicht A l f 158 (Blumenfeld) Staatsbürgerschaft, B III 1880 Nr. 15827 (Blumenfeld) Staatsbürgerschaft, 352-8/7 Staatskrankenanstalt Langenhorn Abl. 1/1995 Aufnahme-/Abgangsbuch Langenhorn 26.8.1939 bis 27.1.1941; JSHD Forschungsgruppe "Juden in Schleswig-Holstein" an der Universität Flensburg, Datenpool (Erich Koch); Stadtarchiv Preetz, Nr. 1164, Heilanstalt Schellhorner Berg; Patientenakten Schellhorner Berg; Hamburger Correspondent vom 16.4.1919; Die Welt vom 7.1.1971. Bajohr, Frank, Erik Blumenfeld, Hamburg 2010. Bajohr, Frank, Hanseat und Grenzgänger, Erik Blumenfeld – eine politische Biographie; Göttingen 2010, S. 18–36. Hamann/von Plessen, Heilanstalt Schellhorner Berg, Schleswig-Holsteinisches Ärzteblatt (AEBL SH), (1987) 11, 12, S. 559–777. Pauselius, Preetz unter dem Hakenkreuz, Großbarkau 2001, S. 256. Baumbach, Sybille/ Lohmeyer, Susanne/Louven, Astrid/Meyer, Beate/Salomon, Silke/Wienrich, Dagmar, "Wo Wurzeln waren …”. Juden in Hamburg-Eimsbüttel 1933 bis 1945, Hamburg 1993. Institut für die Geschichte der deutschen Juden (Hrsg.), Das Jüdische Hamburg. Ein historisches Nachschlagewerk, Göttingen 2006. (Zugriff 17.1.2016).
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