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Laura Mathilde Fontheim (née Drucker) * 1875

Alsterkamp 25 (Eimsbüttel, Harvestehude)

JG. 1875

further stumbling stones in Alsterkamp 25:
Ivan Fontheim

Ivan Fontheim, born on 1 Nov. 1861 in Hamburg, driven to his death on 16 July 1942 in Hamburg
Laura Mathilde Fontheim, née Drucker, born on 10 Mar. 1875 in Koblenz, driven to her death on 16 July 1942 in Hamburg

Ivan Fontheim was born on 1 Nov. 1861 in Hamburg and committed suicide on 16 July 1942 by taking an overdose of Barbital (Veronal), also in Hamburg. Together with him died his wife, Laura, née Drucker, to whom he had been married since Jan. 1897.
What do we know about the times and his journey through life between these dates? The parents of Ivan Fontheim, Mendel Moses Fontheim and Henriette, née Jonas, came from northern Germany, more specifically, from Diepholz and Elmshorn. They had married in Hamburg in July 1844; since Apr. 1849, M. M. Fontheim had the certificate of Hamburg civic rights (Bürgerbrief). As early as Mar. 1847, he had a trading business entered in the company register. According to the 1850 directory, he owned a printing, linen, and yard goods company. Ivan had at least one older sister, named Betty, born in Dec. 1850. The only thing we know about her is that she married the merchant Otto Hirsch in 1881. At this time, the family lived at Schäferkampsallee 29; the birth registration also indicates Grosser Burstah 25 as an office address.

Ivan Fontheim himself appeared for the first time with respect to business activities in 1882: he operated a grocery wholesale at the business address of Alterwall 55, the same location indicated for his father’s yard goods trade. Apparently, Mendel Moses Fontheim passed away that same year, while his company had already disappeared from the directory in 1883. From then on, Ivan’s mother resided as a widow at Schäferkampsallee 61.

Ivan Fontheim’s business relocated to the major thoroughfare Reichenstrasse 11; soon a pit at the stock market was added; and the wholesale grocery trade was supplemented with a rice mill. The entry of the Ivan Fontheim Company in the company register dates from June 1883. The enterprise continuously expanded, with a focus on the rice cake and oil cake mill. Very early on, Ivan Fontheim was closely associated with Henry Franz Michaelis and Robert Andreas Böning, who accompanied the rise of the company starting in 1893, at times having general power of attorney, and subsequently acting as fellow partners. Later, the office premises were located on Mattentwiete and from 1906 until 1918 on Alsterdamm, Neuer Wall, Rathausmarkt, and, from 1924 onward at Schopenstehl 1–3; the rice mill was on Idastrasse in Hammerbrook. In 1906, the company leased from the Hamburg Senate a large area on Billhorner Röhrendamm/Stillhornerdamm on top of this, which was developed via canals and a railroad connection. In the 1920s, the rice cake mill located there was expanded into a large oil cake mill. In the first three decades of the twentieth century, the Ivan Fontheim Ölkuchenmühle was among the three major feed mills in Hamburg. Ivan Fontheim had a firm spot at the grain exchange; his membership in the Association of Grain Merchants at the Hamburg Stock Exchange is also documented until 1933.

The economic rise also affected the housing situation: Whereas initially the family lived in the St. Georg quarter (Borgfelde 1) in a larger apartment house, the year 1901 saw the move into a more elegant apartment building in Harvestehude at Werderstrasse 65, and in 1907, Ivan Fontheim purchased a villa at Alsterkamp 25. At this location, the family employed several live-in domestic servants. In the subsequent restitution proceedings, business associates stated that Ivan Fontheim’s fortune probably amounted to several million reichsmark.

After the marriage in Koblenz in 1897, a daughter was born to the Fontheim couple in Oct. 1897, Elsie. She remained the only child and grew up in luxurious surroundings with the perspective of never having to work due to her parents’ great affluence, as a result of which – in her own words – she did not need any vocational training.

In Aug. 1920, she was married to the British citizen Bernard Bergl, moving with him to London. There, the couple had two daughters, Helen Margaret in Mar. 1923 and Dorothy Adeline in Dec. 1924. Because of the marriage, Elsie had obtained British citizenship, and the daughters were born as British citizens. The marital bliss did not last long, however: In 1926, Elsie Bergl, née Fontheim, returned with daughter Dorothy to her parents in Hamburg. She filed for divorce and was divorced in 1929. The older daughter stayed in Britain, and apparently, Bernard Bergl was a British military attaché, at times stationed with the embassy in Berlin, where his daughter Dorothy was able to visit him when she was still a child.

Henceforth, the Fontheim couple lived together with the daughter and granddaughter. Although a nanny was always employed to raise the granddaughter, Dorothy Marsh recalls many joint outings with her granddad, e.g., to Travemünde, or regular walks on the Ohlsdorf cemetery. Once, Ivan Fontheim even went with Dorothy for a stroll on the Reeperbahn, for safety’s sake in modest attire and accompanied by the long-standing chauffeur. Apparently, the Fontheims were very dedicated grandparents, who wished to get involved themselves in raising the child. Proudly, the grandfather showed the child his seat at the stock exchange, and she also remembers an office shared with Mr. Warburg, where the secretary’s typewriter was the main attraction in her eyes.

Until well into the 1930s, Alsterkamp 25 was a venue for bustling social life with great evening parties. In the music room, Laura Fontheim played the grand piano. Ivan Fontheim was proud of his wine cellar. He collected ancient snuffboxes and gold watches. At the same time, he was fond of his garden and in particular of the dahlias, which he preferred to tend himself – even though the family employed a gardener. Vacations in Switzerland lasting for months may have been due to gout afflicting Ivan Fontheim – though perhaps they were an indication that the family knew how to enjoy life.

No link existed to the Jewish Community, and Jewish traditions did not play any role for Ivan Fontheim either. According to his granddaughter Dorothy’s recollection, "religion was not his cup of tea.” However, despite the fact that Ivan Fontheim had left the Jewish Community on 15 June 1888, he did at least support with donations the establishment of the Wilhelminenhöhe children’s recreation home in Blankenese operated by the German-Israelitic Community. In addition, since the end of the nineteenth century, an annuity of 15 gold marks had been going to the St. Anschar Chapel, a reform-oriented church parish near Valentinskamp.

At any rate, Christmas and Easter were celebrated, with pork and oysters on the menu. A markedly cosmopolitan attitude seems to have characterized Ivan Fontheim’s social contacts. Frequently, numerous staff members of consulates from all over the world were guests in the house, and Dorothy’s education was leaning toward things British as well. For her part, she had no awareness at all of being Jewish, though she did always feel British. In later years, the child was no longer allowed to leave the house by herself, and she always wore a small Union Jack pin on her coat – as protection and a warning at the same time, so to speak.

Immediately upon the transfer of power to the National Socialists, on 31 Mar. 1933, Ivan Fontheim resigned from the Ivan Fontheim Ölkuchenmühle Company, which the two fellow partners, Henry Michaelis and Robert Böning, continued to manage under the new name of Hamburger Ölkuchenmühle. To be sure, the corresponding business ad had indicated that due to his advanced age, the company founder wished to withdraw from business. At this time, Fontheim was 72 years old. However, in the restitution proceedings, his former partners stated unanimously and very clearly that in 1933 Ivan Fontheim had been sprightly and energetic, leaving the company "as a non-Aryan.” They added that he had been fully aware of the tendency of Nazism, as a result of which he felt compelled to resign from the company, which was renamed in avoidance of the Jewish name, after all. Even before then, there had been "visits” by the Gestapo at Fontheim’s private residence.

After 1933, the family’s social life gradually faded away. The Fontheims knew many families who, being Jews or foreigners, left the country, and it seems the threat posed by the Nazi dictatorship was often a topic of conversation over the dinner table. However, Ivan Fontheim repeatedly expressed his conviction that he had nothing to fear due to his position and his services …

In fact though, the Fontheim couple, too, immediately became subject to the plundering strategy of the Nazi state in the form of the "atonement payment” ("Sühneabgabe”). In Apr. 1939, on the orders of the foreign currency office, they submitted a declaration of assets, according to which they still owned assets consisting of bonds, jewelry, works of art valued at about 500,000 RM. By means of a "security order” , they had been deprived of free disposal of their bank accounts as early as Mar. 1939. Initially, Ivan Fontheim was still able to dispose of 2,000 RM a month without any special authorization, but by the fall of 1939, this amount had already been reduced to 850 RM. Any extra expenses had to be applied for separately – regardless of whether it concerned a new wig for Mrs. Fontheim in Aug. 1941 or for windowpanes destroyed in a British air raid. Possibly, the new rulers also put up other Jews with the Fontheims by way of compulsory quartering; at any rate, the files contain invoices for rebuilding expenses for confiscated living space in Jan 1941 just as for the costs of coke, used "for the apartment of Regional Court Director [Landgerichtsdirektor] Leo … Schönfeld” in Jan. 1942.

Despite his own dreadful situation, Ivan Fontheim apparently still strove to help others. For instance, in May 1941, he applied for approval of 68.45 RM in notary public fees toward a notarized character reference for the penniless Assistant Medical Director (Oberarzt) Dr. Bonheim, who, as indicated in the application, was on his way to the USA and required the document there. The expenses were approved.

In Jan. 1939, the daughter and granddaughter of the Fontheims travelled to Sydney, Australia. As British citizens, they did not require any permit to do so, but they were compelled to list meticulously all of the items to be taken along. They took along only clothing. Repeatedly, Ivan Fontheim tried to transfer money to Australia to his daughter, for whose bank accounts he had power of attorney, but this failed. The transaction did not proceed any further than to a "foreigner’s blocked account” ("Ausländersperrkonto”) with the Deutsche Bank. In Australia, Elsie Bergl attempted to keep afloat by giving language lessons. Contact to the parents was still maintained by letters sent via Switzerland. In addition, little Dorothy’s last nanny, "Fräulein” (Miss) Annie Scharfenberg, remained loyal to the Fontheims to the very end, visiting them on a regular basis.

On the morning of 16 July 1942, the two spouses were found dead in their beds, having committed suicide by taking Barbital (Veronal). Next to their bed was a piece of paper saying that both wished to be cremated. They were discovered by a former maid who visited them occasionally. According to police records, a (former) employee living in the basement apartment made the following statement: "They had been saying all along that, should they be scheduled for evacuation, they would rather take their own lives since both of them were ill. At this point, the couple was supposed to move into a smaller apartment and the household furnishings and furniture was scheduled to be auctioned off on the next day, 17 July 1942. However, suddenly, the move was prohibited and the couple then assumed that they were to be evacuated, probably resorting to suicide for this reason.”

Indeed, both had been put on the deportation list belatedly for the transport from Hamburg to Theresienstadt on 19 July 1942. However, the deportation order did not reach them anymore. It had found its way to the executor Jean Bantz on 17 July 1942. This had the consequence that, even in the interpretation of the criminal Nazi regime, according to which the serving of a deportation order meant automatic confiscation of all property to the benefit of the German Reich, technically this did not apply to the assets of the Fontheims.
Instead, upon the death of the parents, the sole heir, the British daughter Elsie, had become the owner. In fact, a courageous lawyer, who by then was only allowed to call himself "legal adviser” ("Konsulent") [a newly introduced Nazi term for Jewish lawyers banned from full legal practice], first applied to the Chief Finance Administrator in Hamburg and then, in Dec. 1942, with a petition to the Reich Minister of the Interior, demanding that the confiscation of the assets, including the real estate, be rescinded; the assets would then be registered as "enemy alien property.”

In the meantime, the National Socialist District Women's League (NSDAP-Gaufrauenschaft) had already appropriated the villa of the Fontheims. In Aug. 1943, however, the "Office for Activities Important to the War Effort” ("Amt für kriegswichtigen Einsatz”) claimed the house for bombed-out "followers,” and at the end of the war, at least 36 persons lived there. The brave lawyer had been "expelled” on 8 June 1943, and with that, the Gestapo deemed the property problem settled.

Fontheim’s daughter Elsie stayed in Australia, dying of a heart attack in Surfers Paradise in 1977, at the age of 81.
The older granddaughter, Margaret, who had remained in Britain, lived in Spain after the war, though subsequently, she moved to Australia, where she was killed in a car accident in 1999.
Granddaughter Dorothy worked for the US Army in Germany for two years, before moving to Canada and later to the USA. Today, she lives in Arizona.

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

Stand: April 2018
© Carola v. Paczensky

Quellen: StaH 522-1_696 f Jüdische Gemeinden Geburtsregister 1861–1865; StaH 331-5_3 Akte 1942/1256 Unnatürliche Sterbefälle; StaH 231-3_A6 Bd 8 Nr. 2284 Handelsregister; StaH 332-5_2627 Heiratsregister Nr.566 1881 III; StaH 111-1_37972 Grundstückspacht; StaH 351-11_20146 Wiedergutmachungsakte Elsie Berkeley; StaH 314-15_23 Vermögensverwertung; StaH314-15_V1/16 Grundstücksbeschlagnahme; StaH 314-15_FVg 3258 Dorothy Bergl; 314-15_F 131 Elsie Bergl; 314-15_R 1939/2142 Vermögensbeschlagnahme; StaH 522-1 JüdGemeinde 770b; StaH 522-1 Jüd. Gemeinde 992e 2 Bd 5; Digitalisierte Telefon- und Adressbücher Hamburgs,; Jahresberichte des Vereins der Getreidehändler der Hamburger Börse 1925-1933; Schreiben der Enkeltochter Dorothy Marsh, geb. Bergl, vom 26.3., 26.4. und 6.5.2014 an die Verfasserin; Dorothy Marsh Collection, Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress Washington DC, USA.

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