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Robert Beer * 1894
Julius-Ludowieg-Straße 48 Ecke Kroosweg (Harburg, Harburg)
Hella Beer, born on 16 Sept. 1923 in Harburg, deported on 19 Apr. 1943 from the transit camp in Mechelen (Belgium) to Auschwitz
Robert Beer, born on 24 Dec. 1894 in Grodek (today Horodok, Ukraine), deported on 19 Apr. 1943 from the transit camp in Mechelen (Belgium) to Auschwitz
Salka Beer, née Stapelfeld, born on 10 Nov. 1897 in Kolomea (today Kolomyia, Ukraine), deported on 19 Apr. 1943 from the transit camp in Mechelen (Belgium) to Auschwitz
Quarter of Harburg-Altstadt, Julius-Ludowieg-Straße 48
"That was the first time I saw my father cry,” in 1989 Julius Beer recalled that moment in 1935 when his Jewish father stepped out of the Harburg City Hall after having been forced to return his military decorations from World War I. As a child, Julius’ father had come to Vienna from Galicia with his parents at the beginning of the twentieth century. From 1914 to 1918, he had fought in the ranks of the Innsbruck Imperial Infantry (Kaiserschützen) for the Austrian flag. Seriously injured, he ended up in Italian captivity in the summer of 1918.
After his discharge, he left his Austrian homeland. The next station in his life’s journey was Harburg, where he soon met his future wife, Salka Stapelfeld. She was co-owner of the "yard goods and furniture store Josef Stapelfeld” ("Manufakturwaren- und Möbelgeschäft Josef Stapelfeld”) at Lindenstraße 50 (today: Julius-Ludowieg-Straße), which she had inherited together with her three siblings (see Rachel [Rosa] Abosch and Cywia Linden) after their father’s early death in 1915. When her sister Rosa and her brother Siegmund Stapelfeld left the company as co-owners, Robert Beer and his brother-in-law David Linden succeeded them. In 1928, the immigrant Robert Beer was granted German citizenship.
On 16 June 1922, Robert and Salka Beer delighted in the birth of their son Julius. One year later, his sister Hella followed. The family lived at Lindenstraße 48, i.e. right next to the yard goods and furniture business.
The two siblings spent a happy childhood in Harburg. Julius Beer attended the Stresemann-Realgymnasium (today: Friedrich-Ebert-Gymnasium) located on Alte Postweg and his sister Hella the girls’ middle school [Mittelschule – a practice-oriented secondary school up to grade 10] on Eissendorfer Straße. These pleasant recollections could not be extinguished even by the sorrowful events that would subsequently shake the family. When in the fall of 1991 Julius Beer returned one last time as a visitor to the city he had left 52 years before, deeply hurt and extremely embittered, he confessed: "You can get a man out of Harburg, but you can’t get Harburg out of a man.”
The 30 Jan. 1933 became a turning point in the life of the Beer family. Two months later, the "Geschwister Stapelfeld” department store was already targeted as well in the boycott across the Reich on 1 Apr. 1933 that the NSDAP had instigated. If Robert Beer had already felt the return of his war decorations to be a deep humiliation, this applied even more so when he was stripped of his German citizenship on 9 May 1935. After that, all members of the family were considered stateless.
After already suffering from anti-Semitic hostilities at school, Julius Beer was shocked to find out that he would not be admitted to study engineering in Hamburg because of his Jewish descent. After completing school, his sister Hella began an apprenticeship as a tailor and fashion designer.
At first, Salka and Robert Beer did not yet record any major decline in business revenues, but at the end of 1935, they had to realize that the tide had turned. Many former customers had reoriented themselves. For Salka and Robert Beer, the blackest day in their business lives was unquestionably 10 Nov. 1938, when the Harburg NSDAP made up for what had already transpired in many other places the day before. Julius Beer remembers the events of that evening with deep pain: "On 9  Nov. 1938, the mob ran riot in my mother’s store. … The bulk of goods [was] smashed and cut up … and [afterward] dragged in the street and either stolen or trampled on by the crowd. … The four big shop windows [were] completely shattered. The counters and cash registers [were] also heavily damaged during the pogrom night.” The "Decree on the Elimination of the Jews from German Economic Life” ("Verordnung zur Ausschaltung der Juden aus dem deutschen Wirtschaftsleben”) sealed the definite end of the Stapelfeld department store in Harburg. A trustee took on the task of transferring the business into "Aryan” ownership.
As the situation became increasingly hopeless, Robert and Salka Beer realized that they had to part immediately with all they owned and held dear and leave Germany as fast as possible in order to reach safety. They set all wheels in motion to emigrate to the USA. They had already commissioned a moving company with shipping their moving goods when the Second World War broke out and confronted them with new problems.
Robert Beer and his son feared the worst and fled illegally across the border to neutral Belgium. Salka Beer and their daughter attempted in the following months to follow them via legal channels. They applied for an emigration permit whose processing dragged on for a long time, however. On 7 May 1940, the relevant Gestapo office reported that the two female Harburg residents had relocated their domicile to Antwerp.
Following the occupation of Belgium by the German Wehrmacht, the escaped emigrants once again became the hunted. Neither Robert and Salka Beer nor their children Julius and Hella were granted a work permit. Under these circumstances, they rapidly became impoverished, even though they received help here and there. Once again, they experienced how, step by step, the rights and living conditions of Jews were restricted by the German military administration by means of anti-Jewish decrees. In Oct. 1940, all Jewish inhabitants of the country had to register; one year later, they were allowed to live in designated places only. In May 1942, Belgium also saw the introduction of mandatory identification for all Jewish men, women, and children, and soon afterward, all unemployed persons were committed to camps and enlisted to perform forced labor for the Organization Todt.
On 3 Feb. 1943, Robert, Salka, and Hella Beer set foot on the large Belgian assembly camp in Mechelen (Malines) between Antwerp and Brussels. From there, they were deported to Auschwitz along with 1,628 fellow sufferers on 19 Apr. 1943. They were not among the 233 deportees who managed to escape from the train during the three-day journey to the extermination camp (see Anna Apteker). Upon arrival of the "death train,” 879 persons were sent into the gas chambers immediately.
Julius Beer had already been transported to Auschwitz on 31 Oct. 1942 with 1,936 other persons and committed to the camp along with 776 fellow sufferers to perform forced labor as prisoner no. 72,316. After the Second World War, he belonged to the 85 survivors of this transport. Following his liberation, he waited in vain for his parents and his sister. On 4 Feb. 1952, the Hamburg-Harburg District Court (Amtsgericht) declared them officially dead as of 31 Dec. 1945.
Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
© Klaus Möller
Quellen: 1; 2 (OFP 314-15, F 105, R 1939/2869, V 206); 4; 5; 8; Heyl (Hrsg.), Harburger Opfer; StaH, 351-11, AfW, Abl. 2008/1, 101196, 241294, 160622, 160923; StaH, 430-5 Dienststelle Harburg, 1810-08, 430-74 Polizeipräsidium Harburg-Wilhelmsburg II, 60, 40; StaH, 430-5 Dienststelle Harburg, Ausschaltung jüdischer Geschäfte und Konsumvereine, 1810-08, Bl. 89ff; Heyl, Synagoge, S. 61; Ellermeyer u. a., Schalom, S. 51ff.; Kändler/Hüttenmeister, Friedhof, S. 184; Schreiber, Rebellen, S. 64ff.; Klarsfeld/Steinberg, Mémorial.
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