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Dr. Bernhard Aronsohn * 1874
Lenhartzstraße 7 (Hamburg-Nord, Eppendorf)
Dr. Bernhard Aronsohn, born 1 August 1874 in Kolmar in the Prussian province of Posen (modern-day Chodziez, Poland), deported 11 July 1942 to Auschwitz
Ida Aronsohn, née Ostberg, born 8 May 1888 in Bochohlt, Westphalia, deported 11 July 1942 to Auschwitz
Bernahrd and Ida Aronsohn were both from Jewish families. His parents were Sally Aronsohn, a manufacturer, and Rosalie, née Meyersohn. The family was originally from Kolmar in the former Prussian province of Posen (today Chodziez, in the Poznàn province, Poland), but had settled in Dresden, where Bernhard grew up.
Ida’s parents were Hermann Ostberg and Julie, née Lebenstein. They lived in Bocholt in the Borken district, a small town near Münster that had belonged to the Kingdom of Prussia since 1815.
There is very little detailed information about Bernhard Aronsohn’s childhood and youth. Any documents fell victim to the destruction left behind in the Dresden archives by the Nazis and the war.
The first traces of his history are from 1884. The school records from the School of the Holy Cross (Gymansium zum Heiligen Kreuz) in Dresden show that he was enrolled in the Quinta (sixth year) on 21 April 1884. He was 9 years old. The school, which was founded in 1300, had an excellent reputation in all of Germany. Despite its parochial name, it was a public institution, and had stood in the tradition of German Humanism since the 16th century. Bernhard Aronsohn graduated in 1895 with a final mark of IIIa – not what one would call brilliant, as marks were given on a scale of I to III, but it was well-known that it was a very difficult school. The school yearbook listed "medicine” as Bernhard’s desired course of study.
In 1901, at the age of 27, he completed his medical studies with the dissertation "On Chorea gravidarum” (Chorea gravidarum is an abnormal involuntary movement disorder which can occur during pregnancy).
Somewhat more is known about Ida Ostberg’s origin and youth. Bocholt, long a sleepy village between Münster and the Dutch border, had experienced explosive growth since the mid-19th century, and especially since 1871. With a flourishing textile industry and its connection to the railway system in 1878, the population grew from 6000 in 1871 to 13,000 in 1890. By the outbreak of the First World War there were 114 businesses involved in the textile industry, both in manufacture and in trade. One of the mills belonged to the Ostberg family. Ida Ostberg was born during this prosperous era in 1888. Three brothers and two sisters followed.
Ida attended the public elementary school in Bocholt, then graduated from a secondary school for girls and attended a commercial trade school in Düsseldorf. She had an excellent commercial education and worked in her father’s company until 1911, when her mother died and she took over the running of the household at age 23. The youngest of her brothers, Walter, was ten years old, the elder brother, Siegfried (Fred) was fifteen. Their father died in 1923.
In 1928 Ida married Leopold Behr, from Bremen, and left her hometown. The couple divorced a few years later. Ida retook her maiden name and moved from Bremen to Hamburg in 1934.
There she opened a small home for elderly ladies at Rothenbaumchaussee 233. She was successful and expanded her business after a few months. On 9 July 1935 she registered a boarding house for "residents of Hamburg for extended duration” with the Hamburg Central Trade Register. The boarding house was large and excellently maintained: it included all three floors of the house, each with four rooms. The kitchen and rooms for the staff were in the basement. The rooms for boarders were described as spacious and elegantly furnished, and included tableware, bed linens, and decorative objects. Ida Ostberg insisted on quality and had invested large sums in her business. When she opened the boarding house she had five employees.
Equipped with a good education in business management and her experience at running a household, Ida Ostberg was financially independent by the age of 36 or 37. The timing could not have been worse. Only two months later, on 15 September, the Nuremburg Laws were proclaimed.
Immediately after receiving his degree in 1901, Bernhard Aronsohn left Leipzig for Lübtheen, a rural village near Ludwigslust in the former Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. He opened a general practitioner’s office, much to the delight of the regional Chief Medical Officer Seeler, who had been the only doctor in the area for 15 years. Lübtheen had recently grown from a population of about 2500 to more than 4000, due to the recent rise in potash and halite mining, so a second doctor was more than welcome. The friendship and professional cooperation between the two men was a blessing for Lübtheen. They supported the workers at both mines in their demand for better medical care, which resulted in the construction of a community hospital in 1903. A few years later, at Aronsohn’s suggestion, a district nurse was hired, which further improved the healthcare in the community.
In addition to treating illnesses as a general practitioner, he also addressed preventive healthcare – something fully new for Lübtheen. He held public lectures on dangerous diseases and measures to protect against them. He lent a hand wherever it was needed, helping midwives with difficult births, for example. He treated patients free of charge if they were unable to pay. In 1912 he donated a specially-designed school flag to the local school, which the pupils proudly displayed at ceremonies and on school outings. The flag no longer exists, as it was burned by the Nazis, who called it a "disgraceful Jew-rag.” When Germany declared war on Russia on 1 August 1914 and announced general mobilization, Bernhard Aronsohn was conscripted to military duty.
As a doctor, he witnessed four years of slaughter and mutilation. He was assigned to field hospitals for several years, with interim assignments as a medical officer at the POW camp in Parchim (Mecklenburg). Here he was also confronted with difficult situations. The POW camp at Parchim was the largest in northern Germany, with sometimes more than 15,000 prisoners – mostly Russians and Serbs, but also French, English, and Belgian soldiers. Deadly diseases were rampant in the camp. Their incidence increased as the war went on, and eventually infected the medical staff as well as the prisoners. More than 1,400 prisoners died.
As a consequence of his experiences, when Aronsohn returned from the war in 1918 he immediately joined the newly formed German Democratic Party (Deutsche Demokratische Partei, DDP), which advocated social-liberal and nationalistic issues, but especially anti-revanchism. Aronsohn had lost none of his popularity or respect during his absence: in 1919 he ran for the city council on the DDP ticket and won a seat.
He did not run in the following election in 1921. The disappointment felt by so many after Germany’s defeat in WWI and the economic hardship of the 1920s provided fertile ground for radical rightwing inflammatory tirades all over the country, including Lübtheen. To make matters worse, water had leaked into the two most profitable potash shafts and destroyed them, costing many residents their jobs. Anti-Semitic rumblings began to get louder around 1920, and Aronsohn, the well-loved doctor who had done so much for the community, was not spared the insults – though in hindsight they seemed only idle banter in light of what was to come.
Immediately after Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933, local Nazis began to systematically defame and harass Aronsohn. At first it was only words, but when no contradiction came from local residents, the Nazi thugs moved in: members of the SA took up position in front of his practice at Klingbergstraße 20 and harassed his patients, calling them "Jew lackeys” and denying them entry. The police did not intervene. Contemporary witnesses say that some of the thugs were young men who knew Aronsohn well. In the past, when their families didn’t have enough money to pay, he had treated them free of charge.
On 25 July 1938, the legislation banning Jewish doctors from practicing, effective 30 September 1938, was passed. Bernhard Aronson was 51 years old. He ignored the edict. For eight weeks he continued to make house calls to those patients who had remained loyal to him. But then the pressure and the attacks became too much, and he abandoned all medical activity. Relatives in the US urged him to leave the country and offered to help him, but he didn’t believe the situation would worsen. In a letter to them on 19 October 1938 he wrote: "I do not intend to leave here.”
But it did get worse – within only a few weeks: a "Sicherungsanordnung” was issued on 31 October, restricting his access to his bank accounts and assets; Kristallnacht on 9-10 November, and in its wake several days of "protective custody”; the demand for payment of 11,600 RM for the Jewish Property Levy (Judenvermögensabgabe). Bernhard Aronsohn finally gave up. In December he sold his house with all of its furnishings at a dumping price, and left the town where he had worked with so much dedication for 37 years.
He moved first to Rostock, and then on 24 August 1939 to Hamburg, where he rented a room on the third floor at Lenhartzstraße 7. He lived there so reclusively that most of the other tenants didn’t even know he was there.
Ida Ostberg had such high hopes for her boarding house. The Nuremburg Laws, however, prohibited her from renting rooms to anyone but Jews. As their professional and financial situations were becoming increasingly difficult, Ida’s plans to run a sophisticated boarding house became more and more difficult to realize.
On 3 December 1939 the Nazi regime intensified the oppression and exploitation of Jews by prohibiting them from owning their own businesses. Ida sought desperately to sell her boarding house, but was unsuccessful. She gave away her belongings or simply left them standing when she left the house on 1 July 1939.
Ida Ostberg was thus ruined after four years of financial independence. Over the next 18 months she rented rooms at various addresses, until she found employment with Bernhard Aronsohn in January 1941. He hired her as a housekeeper in his apartment at Lenhartzstraße 7, with free room and board and a small salary of 35 RM per month. This type of "employment” was often more an expression of mutual support in a time of need than a true "job.”
The Hamburg Jewish Community church tax records show that Bernhard Aronsohn and Ida Ostberg married on 28 November 1941. He was 67 years old, she was 53. They lived together on Lenhartzstraße for three more months.
On 11 March 1942, on orders from the Gestapo, they moved to the former Oppenheimer Stift, a home for poor Jewish families, at Kielortallee 22. The home had been converted to a "Jews’ House” and was now an overcrowded collection point for people who had been selected for deportation. The Hamburg Gestapo headquarters was preparing for its fifth deportation, scheduled for 11 July. It would be the first transport from Hamburg to Auschwitz.
300 people from Hamburg were scheduled for this transport, with 36 names on a reserve list. A smaller collection point than the usual former Masonic Lodge at Moorweide was sufficient, and the Jewish Community Center at Hartungstraße 9-11 (today the location of the Hamburger Kammerspiele, a theater) was chosen. 22 of the deportees did not show up on the day of the transport – they had taken their lives in the days and nights before. Their places were filled by those whose names were on the reserve list.
The Aronsohns names were near the top of the alphabetical deportation roll. It lists:
No. 5: Aronsohn, Bernhard Israel. No. 6: Aronsohn, Ida Sara,née Ostberg.
They followed the "evacuation order” of 7 July and appeared for registration at the Community Center on 10 July.
The Gestapo’s organization of the transport was perfect. The Aronsohns, with 298 others, including a conspicuously high number of children, were taken to the Hanoverian Train Station (Hannoversche Bahnhof) in the port district and deported to Auschwitz. They are listed as missing. 8 May 1945 is considered the official date of death.
The local chapter of the Cultural Association of the GDR mounted a memorial plaque on Bernhard Aronsohn’s house in Lübtheen in 1959. A Stolperstein was placed in the sidewalk in front of his house in 2006, sponsored by the city of Lübtheen, which also named a street after him.
Translator: Amy Lee
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
© Johannes Grossmann
Quellen: 1; 2; 4; 5; 8; AfW 080588 Aronsohn, Bernhard; Programme des Gymnasiums zum Heiligen Kreuz Dresden, 1884 und 1895;www. Scientific commons/in cache (Stand 1.12.2009); Pschyrembel, Klinisches Wörterbuch, 2007; Willgroth, Ärzte, 1929, S. 125; Norddeutscher Leuchtturm: Beliebter Arzt/Erinnerungen an Dr. Bernhard Aronsohn, Verlag Norddeutsche Zeitung 1984, 1629, S. 3, Schwerin, Landesbibliothek Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Signatur Z B 227; Schüler erkunden die Geschichte – wer war Dr. Bernhard Aronsohn, in: Wir sind Lübtheen, hrsg. vom Sportverein Concordia Lübtheen, o.J.; Wilhelm Mosel, Buildings Integral to the Former Jewish Life and/or Persecution of Jews in Hamburg-Rotherbaum II/Harvestehude, www.1.uni-hamburg.de (eingesehen am 15.12.2009); Wilhelm Mosel, Buildings Integral/Synagogues, ebd. (eingesehen am 15.12.2009); persönliche Auskünfte Frau Marlies Bünsch, Heimatmuseum Lübtheen, 5.12.2009) ; telefonische Auskünfte Karola Kimmen, Bau- und Stadtentwicklung Parchim (10.1.2010).
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