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Hella Beer * 1923
Eißendorfer Straße 26 (Harburg, Harburg)
FLUCHT 1940 BELGIEN
Hella Beer, born on 16 Sept. 1923 in Harburg, deported from the Mechelen concentration camp (Belgium) to Auschwitz on 19 Apr. 1943, murdered
Eissendorfer Strasse 26, Harburg-Altstadt
Hella Beer was born as the second child of her Jewish parents Robert (born on 24 Dec. 1894) and Salka Beer, née Stapelfeld (born on 10 Nov. 1897), who had both come from Eastern Europe to Harburg in search of a better future. Her brother Julius was born a year before her.
Her parents, together with her uncle David Linden (22 Oct. 1886–12 Apr. 1940) and his wife Klara Linden, née Stapelfeld (31 Mar. 1891–22 Aug. 1941), ran the Stapelfeld yard goods and furniture store at Lindenstrasse 50 (today Julius-Ludowieg-Strasse), which her grandfather Josef Stapelfeld had opened in Harburg before the First World War.
Hella and Julius Beer spent a carefree childhood in their hometown, as Julius Beer recalled in 1990, at the age of 68, when visiting this place, and without having to think about it for too long, he said after all the suffering that had befallen him and his family during the Nazi era, "You can get a man out of Harburg, but you cannot get Harburg out of a man.”
A great day in the life of the Beer family was certainly 4 Dec. 1928, when Robert Beer was officially granted German citizenship by the Lüneburg Chief District Administrator (Regierungspräsident) during a ceremony. Robert and Salka Beer had finally "arrived” with their children in their new homeland. They were Germans like their neighbors and their friends with whom they lived and played together. They still had relatives who had stayed in Eastern Europe, but Eastern Europe had become foreign to them. Their new home was the Prussian industrial town of Harburg/Elbe.
At the age of 10, Hella Beer moved from elementary school to the nearby Harburg girls’ middle school [Mittelschule – a practice-oriented secondary school up to grade 10] on Eissendorfer Strasse, today the location of the Goethe Schule Harburg. Her brother Julius meanwhile attended the Stresemann-Realgymnasium on Postweg in Heimfeld.
The 30 Jan. 1933, when Reich President Paul von Hindenburg appointed the chairman ("Führer”) of the Nazi party (NSDAP), Adolf Hitler, Reich Chancellor, became a turning point in the life of the Beer family. After expelling the mayor of Harburg, Walter Dudek (SPD), the Nazis in town left no doubt that the local Jews had nothing good to expect from them. Starting on that date, they used every opportunity to agitate against Jews even more loudly and openly than in the years before.
On 1 Apr. 1933, the "yard goods and furniture store Josef Stapelfeld” ("Manufakturwaren- und Möbelgeschäft Josef Stapelfeld”) was also affected by the nationwide boycott called for by the NSDAP. Like all other people in Germany, the residents of Harburg were to be deterred from setting foot on Jewish shops, law firms, and doctors’ practices. As the Harburger Anzeigen und Nachrichten reported, "the measures taken by the National Socialists ...[started] with the chime of 10 o’clock. A motorized column with signs pointing to the boycott drove through the city with swastika flags. At the same time, large sections of the SS and the SA began moving from [Schwarze-] Bergstrasse. Soon all the entrances of Jewish stores were manned by the posts that drew attention to the fact that the owner of the business … [was] Jewish.”
Soon thereafter Robert Beer received the summons to return his awards from the First World War. Deeply wounded in his honor, he came back a few days later from the Harburg City Hall after having had to follow this degrading order.
However, the deprivation of rights suffered by the Jews did not end there for the Beer family either. The two children could not believe their eyes when their father returned, with tears in his eyes, something they had never experienced before, on 9 May 1935 from another visit to Harburg City Hall, where the German citizenship he had acquired seven years earlier had been revoked without prior notice. All members of the family were henceforth considered stateless.
For Hella and Julius Beer, the events that took place before their eyes in the evening hours of 10 Nov. 1938 were even more incomprehensible. That evening, the Harburg NSDAP made up for what had happened elsewhere the day before. The riots began with members of Harburg SA and the Hitler Youth setting fire to the mortuary at the Jewish Cemetery on Schwarzenberg, accompanied by a loud drum roll and undisturbed by the fire brigade and police.
The "raiding squad” ("Rollkommando”) then moved to the synagogue of the Harburg Jewish Community on Eissendorfer Strasse and forcibly gained access. Inside the Jewish temple, the perpetrators took several prayer books, prayer scarves, and other cult objects, which they dragged out into the open and distributed to others or simply threw onto the street. One SA man disguised himself as a rabbi and entertained the "audience.” Two Jewish women discovered in the basement apartment had to leave their hiding place under loud and unmistakable threats.
What havoc the Nazis wreaked in his parents’ store was described later by Julius Beer, who had followed the events from the window on the second floor of a neighboring house, completely frightened, with the following words: "On 9  Nov. 1938, the mob went wild in my mother’s store. Most of the goods [were] shattered and cut up ... and [subsequently] dragged onto the street and either stolen or trampled by the crowd. ... The four large shop windows [were] completely smashed. As well, the counters and cash registers [were] severely damaged during the pogrom night.” The damage was so great that his parents could not think of reopening the business. A short time later, they had to hand it over to a trustee, who transferred it into "Aryan” ownership based on the "Ordinance on the Elimination of the Jews from German Economic Life” ("Verordnung zur Ausschaltung der Juden aus dem deutschen Wirtschaftsleben”). By order of the Hamburg Chief Finance Administrator (Oberfinanzpräsident), the proceeds were transferred to a blocked account, from which the family was allowed to withdraw only an approved amount at regular intervals for their subsistence.
As the situation became more and more threatening, the parents and their children were merely concerned with leaving Germany as quickly as possible in order to save their bare lives. Under these circumstances, emigration to the USA, as originally planned, was no longer an option. After the beginning of the Second World War, the family fled head over heels in the dead of night across the open border to neighboring neutral Belgium.
Neither Robert and Salka Beer nor their children Julius and Hella received a work permit. Under these circumstances, they became more impoverished day by day, even though they found help here and there. After the occupation of the country by the German Wehrmacht in May 1940, the refugees became hunted persons again. At this time, the orders of the German military administration were in force, and they again experienced how the rights and living conditions of the Jews were gradually restricted by anti-Jewish measures. In Oct. 1940, all Jewish inhabitants of the country had to register; one year later, they were allowed to live in prescribed places only. In May 1942, the obligation to label all Jewish men, women, and children was also introduced in Belgium, and soon afterward, all those who were unemployed were sent to camps and forced to work for the "Todt Organization.”
On 3 Feb. 1943, Hella Beer and her parents were registered as new inmates in the central Belgian concentration camp for Jews in the small town of Mechelen (Malines) between Antwerp and Brussels. At this place, they lived, like all other prisoners, in an old barracks, which the German military administration had meanwhile converted into a mass quarter for Jews.
However, for the doomed this involuntary place of residence was only a transit station on the journey to death. When Hella Beer arrived there with her parents, 19 deportation transports with 18,492 Belgian Jews who had fled to Belgium had already left the camp. As children and old people had by no means been spared, the internees soon had doubts about the official version that the people would be taken to labor camps in the East.
On the evening of 17 Apr. 1943, the more than 1,500 internees of the Mechelen transit camp, who had been newly registered in the last few months, learned that the 20th transport to a "labor camp in Poland” was planned for Monday, 19 Apr. 1943. On the morning of that day, a freight train rolled into the collection camp. It was so long that the deportees saw neither the beginning nor the end of the train. Straw was piled up inside the cars. Placed in one corner of the cars was a bucket that 50 to 60 occupants had to share to relieve themselves. Fresh air only reached the inside of the cars through a small barred hatch. After the last passenger had boarded, the heavy sliding door was squeakily closed and then locked from the outside. It took all day until all the cars were occupied. One survivor remembers the hours before the departure: "The fear of the people was felt almost physically on this 19th of April. We did not know what to expect. Would it change for the better? Maybe we were actually heading for work. Or would things get any worse?”
At 10 p.m., train no. 801 with 30 cars left the Mechelen camp as planned. An hour later, between Hacht and Boortmeerbeek, it was stopped by Joura Livchitz, a Jewish student, with a large red flashlight that the engineer thought was a stop signal. After the well guarded train had come to a halt, two more students – Jean Franklemon and Robert Maistriau – stormed onto the railway embankment in order to open as many car doors as possible under the cover of darkness and during the first moments of confusion on the part of the guards and enable the prisoners to escape.
The guards, who had apparently initially expected these three attackers to be followed by others and had therefore waited a few minutes for appropriate countermeasures, forced the students to stop their action only with some delay. The three friends then withdrew into the bushes on the railway embankment and, like the escaped prisoners, only stirred when the train started moving again.
Before asking the escapees to disperse into different directions, alone or in pairs, they presented each of them with a 50-franc bill, along with best wishes for the subsequent, by no means simple, search for a suitable hiding place.
Hella Beer and her parents were not among those freed by the three Belgian students. Even when the train was stopped several more times afterward and some passengers managed to escape again, they were denied this good luck. When the transport finally arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau after three days and several more unplanned stops, 879 people were immediately sent to the gas chambers.
Half a year earlier, Julius Beer had already been shipped on the 17th transport, comprised of 1,937 persons overall, from Mechelen to Auschwitz, where he was admitted to the camp as prisoner no. 72 316. As a forced laborer, he had to contribute, as long as he could, to maintaining the efficiency of the German war economy. After the Second World War, he was among the 85 survivors of this 17th transport.
At the end of his odyssey through several Nazi concentration camps following the evacuation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp complex in Jan. 1945, he waited in vain for a long time to reunite with his sister and parents.
On 4 Feb. 1952, Hella, Robert, and Salka Beer were declared dead by the Hamburg-Harburg District Court (Amtsgericht) as of 31 Dec. 1945.
When Julius Beer returned to his native town in Sept. 1990 at the invitation of the Hamburg Senate and the Harburg District Assembly, he called on all Harburg residents not to forget these three murdered people and all other Harburg victims of the Holocaust.
Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: June 2020
© Klaus Möller
Quellen: Staatsarchiv Hamburg, 552-1, Jüdische Gemeinden, 992b Kultussteuerkartei der Deutsch-Israelitischen Gemeinde Hamburg; Staatsarchiv Hamburg 314-15, Akten des Oberfinanzpräsidenten F 105, R 1939/2869, V 206; Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Amt für Wiedergutmachung 351-11 Abl. 2008/1, 101196, 241294, 160622, 160923; Staatsarchiv Hamburg, 430-5 Dienststelle Harburg, 1810-08, 430-74 Polizeipräsidium Harburg-Wilhelmsburg II, 60, 40; Staatsarchiv Hamburg 430-5 Dienststelle Harburg, Ausschaltung jüdischer Geschäfte und Konsumvereine, 1810-08, Bl. 89ff; Staatsarchiv Hamburg, 332-5 Standesämter; Hamburger jüdische Opfer des Nationalsozialismus. Gedenkbuch, Jürgen Sielemann, Paul Flamme (Hrsg.), Hamburg 1995; Yad Vashem. The Central Database of Shoa Victims´ Names: www.yadvashem.org; Gedenkbuch. Opfer der Verfolgung der Juden unter der nationalsozialistischen Gewaltherrschaft in Deutschland 1933–1945, Bundesarchiv (Hrsg.), Koblenz 2006; Harburger Adressbücher; Matthias Heyl, Harburger Opfer des Nationalsozialismus, Bezirksamt Harburg (Hrsg.), Hamburg-Harburg 2003; Matthias Heyl, Vielleicht steht die Synagoge noch. Ein virtuelles Museum zur Geschichte der Harburger Juden, CD-ROM, Hamburg 1999; Shalom Harburg! Nicht nur ein Besuch. Jüdische ehemalige Harburgerinnen und Harburger in ihrer alten Heimatstadt, Jürgen Ellermeyer, Matthias Heyl, Günter Heymann (Hrsg.), Hamburg-Harburg 1992; Danuta Czech, Kalendarium der Ereignisse im Konzentrationslager Auschwitz 1939–1945, Reinbek 1989; Eberhard Kändler, Gil Hüttenmeister, Der jüdische Friedhof Harburg, Hamburg 2004; Marion Schreiber, Stille Rebellen. Der Überfall auf den 20. Deportationszug nach Auschwitz, Berlin 2002; Serge Klarsfeld, Maxime Steinberg, Le Mémorial de la deportation des Juifs de Belgique, New York 1982.