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Sophie Cohn * 1873

Lübecker Straße Ecke Steinhauer Damm (Hamburg-Nord, Hohenfelde)

JG. 1873

further stumbling stones in Lübecker Straße Ecke Steinhauer Damm:
Heinz Alexander, Bernhard Lewinsohn

Sophie Cohn, born on 23 Dec. 1873 in Werl/Soest District, deported on 19 July 1942 to the Theresienstadt Ghetto, deported on 15 May 1944 to the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp, murdered there

Intersection of Lübecker Strasse/Steinhauerdamm (Steinhauerdamm 3)

"Dear Dr. Plaut,
Please forgive me for taking the liberty to write to you. I have no other relatives or friends to correspond with, so I would be happy to hear from you. I worked for four years under Mrs. Gurwitsch in the soup kitchen, and I am a member of the Jewish Community. I ask to hear from you at your earliest convenience.
Sincerely yours, Sophie Cohn”

Two days before the beginning of the Hanukkah Festival in 1943 and five days before her seventieth birthday, 69-year-old Sophie Cohn sent this postcard from the Theresienstadt Ghetto to Max Plaut, the head of the Northwest German district office of the Reich Association of Jews in Germany (Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland). The loneliness and forlornness that speaks from the short letter, and the longing for contact with the world outside the ghetto, give an idea of how desolate the conditions there must have been for her. So desolate that she asked someone who did not even know her and whom she had only met in his capacity as head of the Jewish Religious Organization (Jüdischer Religionsverband), which merged into the Reich Association in Nov. 1942.

Sophie Cohn originally came from Werl in Westphalia. Her parents were David Cohn and Nettchen, née Cossmann. In 1936, the Hamburg Jewish Community records Sophie’s joining. She was not married and from 1936 onward, she had no income on which Jewish religious tax (Kultussteuer) could be assessed. In 1938, she lived with a family by the name of Hoppen at Steinhauerdamm 3. E. Hoppen operated a restaurant in the house, and probably Sophie Cohn helped out there in return for room and board. Starting in 1939, she stayed with her sister, who also provided for her livelihood. From 1938 onward, she also worked in the soup kitchen (Volksküche) of the German-Israelitic Community at Schäferkampsallee 27 under the direction of Charlotte Gurwitsch, née Baruch, whom Sophie Cohn mentioned in her card to Max Plaut. The house next to the building accommodating the soup kitchen, number 29, had been acquired by the German-Israelitic Community as early as 1898 to establish an infirmary. In 1928, the Community bought the adjoining property featuring the previously rented semi-detached houses nos. 25 and 27. It used the buildings for varying charitable purposes, such as a Jewish youth home, a daycare center or, starting 1933, the very soup kitchen mentioned. Occupational bans due to the "Aryan paragraph” ("Arierparagraph”), calls for the boycott of Jewish businesses, law firms, and doctors’ practices, the dismissal of Jewish employees by "Aryan” companies, the blocking of assets, and the subsequent expropriation as well as "Aryanization” of Jewish companies led to an increasing impoverishment of the Jewish population, which the German-Israelitic Community tried to cushion with social welfare measures. In 1941, for example, the soup kitchen on Schäferkampsallee served around 73,000 portions of lunch, i.e., around 207 meals a day. It had to close in 1942.

In the same year, Sophie Cohn received a deportation order. On 19 July 1942, she was taken to the Theresienstadt Ghetto together with around 1,000 other Hamburg Jews, most of whom were elderly. There, the SS assigned her to a quarter at Westgasse 12/4. The situation of German Jews is described by the Austrian historian H. G. Adler, a survivor of Theresienstadt, in his standard work Theresienstadt 1941-1945: The Face of a Coerced Community (German original: Theresienstadt. Antlitz einer Zwangsgemeinschaft): "The large number of elderly people inundated the town but could not get their bearings. They forgot almost everything in distressing confusion, or suppressed the unbearable present through amnesia, and could not recall which quarters were theirs, and often even their own names.” (p. 92)

When Sophie Cohn was taken to Theresienstadt, the general postal ban had already been lifted. Nevertheless, there were rules that the writers had to follow. The text – including the salutation and signature – could not contain more than 30 words, and within a period published in the "daily orders” of the camp, each person was allowed to send only one postcard. Sometimes it was also forbidden to mention more than one person’s name; one was permitted to say that one could receive parcels, but not allowed to express any wishes about the contents. After some time, the censor would show up, collect all the cards, read them and take those with him that complied with the regulations. However, these were not yet delivered directly to the addressees, but first made their way via collected shipments to Berlin, where they were again checked, and only then via the Reich Association to the recipients. The second card of Sophie Cohn from Theresienstadt, which has been preserved, shows how much time could already lie between the card and permission by the censor. It was written on 1 Apr. 1944 and approved on 16 May 1944, almost six weeks later – the day after she was deported to Auschwitz. With the card, Sophie Cohn thanked a "Dear Mr. Katz” for a parcel and asked him to send greetings to Mrs. Rosa Kwiatkowski on Michaelisstrasse. "Mr. Katz” was a man by the name of Fritz Katz, who lived in the "Jews’ house” ("Judenhaus”) at Bornstrasse 22 at that time.

Despite the epidemics, despite the cold and hunger, Sophie Cohn managed to survive in Theresienstadt for almost two years. Then, however, she was deported to Auschwitz on 15 May 1944. This was one of the transports to the extermination camp intended to make room as part of the "beautification campaign” ("Verschönerungsaktion”). After that, not only the streets and houses of the ghetto were to be overhauled, but also the accommodations. The sole purpose of these measures was to deceive a commission of the International Red Cross, scheduled to arrive on 23 June 1944, about the true conditions in the ghetto. Sophie Cohn was one of the 7,500 people deported to Auschwitz in the course of this "beautification campaign.” She was murdered there.

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

Stand: December 2019
© Frauke Steinhäuser

Quellen: 1; 4; 5; 7; 8; StaH 522-1 Jüdische Gemeinden Abl. 1993/01, Ordner 15; StaH 522-1 Jüd. Gemeinden 992 d Steuerakten Bd. 5; StaH 522-1 Jüd. Gemeinden Nr. 992 e 2 Bd. 25, Transport nach Theresienstadt am 19. Juli 1942; Adler, Theresienstadt, S. 161f., S. 165ff. u. Stadtplan; Hamburger Adressbücher; Institut Theresienstädter Initiative/Nationalarchiv Prag, Datenbank der digitalisierten Dokumente, Sophie Cohn, online unter: (letzter Zugriff 10.1.2015); Jörg Berkemann, Beate Meyer, Jüdisches Leben zur Zeit der nationalsozialistischen Verfolgung (1933–1945), in: Institut für die Geschichte der deutschen Juden (Hrsg.), Das Jüdische Hamburg. Ein historisches Nachschlagewerk, online unter: (letzter Zugriff 10.1.2015).
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