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Gertrud Dessau * 1873
Rutschbahn 26 (Eimsbüttel, Rotherbaum)
Gertrud Dessau, born on 8 Dec. 1873 in Hamburg, murdered on 23 Sept. 1940 in the Brandenburg/Havel euthanasia killing center
Stolperstein in Hamburg-Rotherbaum, Rutschbahn 26
Gertrud Dessau was the third of seven children of the merchant David Dessau and his wife Rosalie, née Wagner. The parents belonged to the Jewish faith and both held Hamburg citizenship. They married in Hamburg on 26 Jan. 1869 and initially resided in David Dessau’s bachelor apartment in the St. Pauli quarter, at Karolinenstrasse/Margarethenstrasse 29. The oldest son Joseph was born in this apartment on 26 Mar. 1870. Still small at the time, the family moved to Glashüttenstrasse 6, also in St. Pauli, probably in 1872. The other six children were born there: Henriette Dessau, born on 27 Oct. 1872; Gertrud Dessau, born on 8 Dec. 1873; Dora Dessau, born on 7 June 1875; Martha Dessau, born on 2 Aug. 1876; Edwin Dessau, born on 2 Nov. 1876; and Käthchen Dessau, born on 9 Dec. 1877.
Gertrud Dessau’s father David had a good income. He worked as head of department at "Hamburger Engros-Lager Gebr. Heilbuth,” which operated a department store at Dammtorstrasse 7/9, with branches also located at Steinstrasse 121/127 and at Steindamm 28.
Gertrud was single and without income when, at the age of 33, she gave birth to her son Curt in the municipal maternity hospital (at Eppendorf General Hospital) on 25 Feb. 1907. Her social welfare file reveals that her father had "repudiated” her because she was supposed to have given birth to a child even earlier, before the birth of her son Kurt.
The paternity for Kurt, attributed by Gertrud Dessau to a married man, was denied by him and therefore the maintenance payment was refused. Gertrud Dessau put the infant into care in order to be able to provide for her and her child’s livelihood. She herself lived in a girls’ home. In May 1907, she worked as a maid in Hamburg-Winterhude, a few weeks later in Hamburg-St. Georg. Gertrud Dessau often changed jobs and earned so little that she was dependent on welfare benefits. Her wages were not enough for her son or for herself. Under these conditions, she would hardly have been able to develop a close emotional bond with her son. He was in hospital in Oct. 1907 and died shortly thereafter at the age of only nine months on 9 Dec. 1907. The cause of death is not mentioned in the death certificate.
After the death of her son, Gertrud Dessau was registered with the authorities until May 1909 as residing in Dockenhuden, at that time a town west of Blankenese. We do not know whether she had a job there. Afterward, she lived with her parents at Rutschbahn 26 for almost two years, despite the earlier quarrel with her father, until she was admitted to the former Alsterdorf Asylum (Alsterdorfer Anstalten) on 1 Apr. 1911. After Gertrud’s father had died following a protracted and serious illness on 12 Apr. 1919, her now destitute mother moved in with her son-in-law Wilhelm Ladewig and her daughter Dora in Berlin.
Gertrud Dessau’s parents had contributed toward Gertrud’s living expenses until her father’s death. Her widowed single mother was unable to continue providing any funds. She herself was dependent on the support of relatives and was unable to pay the maintenance contributions demanded by the Allgemeine Armenanstalt, the poorhouse authority, in Hamburg.
In Dec. 1920, the senior physician at the Alsterdorf Asylum diagnosed Gertrud Dessau as requiring permanent institutional care due to "severe mental disability” and a serious eye condition.
When the Hamburg Welfare Authority stated in Aug. 1921 that Gertrud Dessau had "become subject to the "public poor relief,” the financing of the care costs in the Alsterdorf Asylum, which had been repeatedly in jeopardy until then, was finally settled. After Gertrud Dessau’s mother died in Dec. 1925, Gertrud was granted a modest orphan’s pension, which helped to secure further accommodation in the Alsterdorf Asylum.
After 1933, the Alsterdorf Asylum developed into a Nazi model operation where eugenics ideas were supported and, associated with them, forced sterilization as "prevention of unworthy life” ("Verhütung unwerten Lebens”). It was only a matter of time before the persecution of the Jews in the German Reich also led to corresponding measures at the Alsterdorf Asylum. A ruling by the Reich Audit Office (Reichsfinanzhof) of 18 Mar. 1937 served as a pretext for preparing the discharge of all Jews from the Alsterdorf Asylum. Pastor Friedrich Karl Lensch, the director of the Alsterdorf Asylum, deduced from the verdict the danger of the loss of non-profit status under tax law if Jews continued to stay in the institution. A letter dated 3 Sept. 1937 to the Hamburg Welfare Authority contained 18 names of "Jewish charges who are accommodated here at the expense of the welfare authority,” including that of Gertrud Dessau. On 31 Oct. 1938, together with 14 other Jewish residents from Alsterdorf, she was first transferred to the Oberaltenallee care home (Versorgungsheim Oberaltenallee) and from there to the Farmsen care home. In Apr. 1940, the Alsterdorf Asylum eventually managed to rid itself of the last Jewish institutional inmate.
Like all Jewish women without "typically Jewish” first names, Gertrud Dessau had to use the additional first name of "Sara” starting on 1 Jan. 1939. Her Jewish descent was thus recognizable for everyone and at any time. Gertrud Dessau’s welfare file was clearly marked with a "J” and a scribbled sign for the Star of David.
In the spring/summer of 1940, the "euthanasia” headquarters in Berlin, located at Tiergartenstrasse 4, planned a special operation aimed against Jews in public and private sanatoriums and nursing homes. It had the Jewish persons living in the institutions registered and moved together in what were officially so-called collection institutions. The Hamburg-Langenhorn "sanatorium and nursing home” ("Heil- und Pflegeanstalt” Hamburg-Langenhorn) was designated the North German collection institution. All institutions in Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, and Mecklenburg were ordered to move the Jews living in their facilities there by 18 Sept. 1940.
Gertrud Dessau arrived in Langenhorn on 18 Sept. 1940. Together with 135 other patients, she was transported to Brandenburg/Havel on 23 September. The transport reached the city in the Mark (March) on the same day. In the part of the former penitentiary converted into a gas-killing facility, the patients were immediately driven into the gas chamber and killed using carbon monoxide. Only Hertha Zachmann escaped this fate at first (see corresponding entry).
We do not know whether, and if so, when Gertrud Dessau’s relatives became aware of her death. In all documented notices concerning the deaths of persons murdered in Brandenburg, it was claimed that the person concerned had died in Chelm or Cholm. In addition, all dates of death provided were postdated. Those murdered in Brandenburg, however, were never in Chelm (Polish) or Cholm (German), a town east of Lublin. The former Polish sanatorium there no longer existed after SS units had murdered almost all patients on 12 Jan. 1940. Also, there was no German records office in Chelm. Its fabrication and the use of postdated dates of death served to disguise the killing operation and at the same time enabled the authorities to claim higher care expenses for periods extended accordingly.
Gertrud’s brother Joseph Dessau had moved his residence as a merchant to Berlin. He was married to Martha Dub and died on 19 Dec. 1918.
Gertrud Dessau’s sister Käthchen, who had married Heinrich Emil Pierschel in 1902, lived with him in Thale in what is today Saxony-Anhalt. She died there on 12 Mar. 1942.
Martha Dessau had married Carlo Pasquale Somigli in 1897. Edwin Dessau was married in 1910. In July 1905, Dora Dessau married Ludwig Samter, a commercial department head in Berlin. He died in Berlin in 1915. In 1919, Dora Samter entered a second marriage in Berlin, to the sign manufacturer Friedrich Wilhelm Ladewig, born in 1870 in Meseritz and of Jewish descent as well. Henriette Dessau married the teacher and doctor of philosophy Heinrich Samter in Berlin in 1897. We have no details on the subsequent fates of these four siblings of Gertrud Dessau.
Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
© Ingo Wille
Quellen: 1; 4; 5; 8; 9; StaH 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); 332-03 Zivilstandsaufsicht A 231 Geburtsregister Nr. 416/1870 Joseph Dessau, A 242 Geburtsregister 1758/1872 Henriette Dessau, A 249 Geburtsregister Nr. 2071/1873 Gertrud Dessau, A 258 Geburtsregister Nr. 989/1875 Dora Dessau, B 23 Heiratsregister Nr. 3099/1868 David Rosalie Dessau; 332-5 Standesämter 595 Sterberegister Nr. 849/1907 Curt Dessau, 1885 Geburtsregister Nr. 3581/1876 Martha Dessau, 1888 Geburtsregister Nr. 5137/1876 Edwin Dessau, 1914 Geburtsregister Nr. 5780/1877 Käthchen Dessau, 8639 Heiratsregister Nr. 201/1905 Dora Dessau/Ludwig Samter; 351-14 Oberfinanzpräsident Nr. 1110 Gertrud Dessau; 352-8/7 Staatskrankenanstalt Langenhorn Abl. 1/1995 Aufnahme-/Abgangsbuch Langenhorn 26.8.1939 bis 27.1.1941; Landesarchiv Berlin Sterberegister Nr. 1450/1915 Ludwig Samter, Heiratsregister Nr. 106/1897 Henriette Dessau/Heinrich Samter, Sterberegister Nr. 1498/1918 Joseph Dessau, Heiratsregister Nr. 976/1919 Dora Samter/Wilhelm Ladewig; Evangelische Stiftung Alsterdorf, Archiv, Erbgesundheitskarteikarte Gertrud Dessau und Aufnahmebuch; Standesamt Thale, Sterberegister Nr. 33/1942 Käthchen Pierschel geb. Dessau. Markgraf, Geschichte Farmsen, Dok. 21. Wunder, Michael, Das Schicksal der jüdischen Bewohner der Alsterdorfer Anstalten, in: Wunder, Michael/Genkel, Ingrid/Jenner, Harald, Auf dieser schiefen Ebene gibt es kein Halten mehr. Die Alsterdorfer Anstalten im Nationalsozialismus, Hamburg 1987, S. 155ff.
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