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Ester Schlesinger * 1928
Rutschbahn 25 (Eimsbüttel, Rotherbaum)
further stumbling stones in Rutschbahn 25:
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Ester Schlesinger, born 16 Mar. 1928 in Hamburg, deported 8 Nov. 1941 to Minsk
Ester Schlesinger, born on 16 March 1928 in Hamburg, was the fourth and youngest child of Marcus and Henriette (née Elbe) Schlesinger. Both of her parents were born in the 1880s in Hamburg. Marcus Schlesinger (*1880) was the eldest son of the nine children born to Dr. David Schlesinger and his wife Rosa, née Jaffe. David Schlesinger, Ester’s grandfather, was a respected member of the Hamburg Jewish Community and a teacher at the Talmud Tora School at Grindelhof 30. A former pupil later recalled: "His teaching methods were original in every respect, and regardless of the strictness he imposed, his classes were lively and even adventurous. He was one of the few teachers who taught us to think.”
Ester’s mother, Henriette Schlesinger (*1888), was the eldest daughter of the four children born to Salomon Abraham and Mathilde (Glauberg) Elbe. After Mathilde Elbe, Ester’s grandmother, succumbed to health problems at an early age, Henriette lived with her father until his death in 1919.
Ester’s father, Marcus Schlesinger, attended the Talmud Tora School in Hamburg, and afterwards did a commercial apprenticeship at the paper and office supplies wholesalers Steindorff & Co. located at Admiralitätstraße 14 in Hamburg’s city center. After successfully completing his apprenticeship, he worked at the company for several years, then took it over in 1906. At the outbreak of the First World War, he, like 100,000 other German Jews, joined the military and went to war.
When he returned to Hamburg, Marcus Schlesinger married Henriette Elbe, a German Jew, on 6 September 1921. They had four children. The third child, Olga (*1926) is the only sibling still alive (2014). She described her eldest sister Mathilde (*1922), called Tilli by the family, as obedient, dutiful and energetic. She recalled David (*1924) as clever and talented, and said that he received much attention from their father, and that he had many friends. Ester (*1928) was the youngest. Olga remembered her as a friendly, loving, and lively child, and as quite the tom-boy, since she loved to climb the highest trees and never backed down from anything.
All four children attended Jewish schools in Hamburg. Marcus Schlesinger’s income allowed the family a well-to-do standard of living. Ester and her family lived in a six-room apartment on the second floor at Heinrich-Barth-Straße 34. The rent was 1140 Reichsmarks (appx. 4560 Euros) per year. The apartment had a parlor, a living room, a dining room, and one bedroom each for the parents, the daughters, and the son. Marcus Schlesinger also had an extensive private library, which he had inherited from his father, David Schlesinger. It included a complete Babylonian Talmud and many prayer books. The family employed a housekeeper and a nanny.
Everything changed when the Nazis came to power. The Schlesinger family felt the effects of the Nazis’ racist and anti-Semitic policies – they became destitute, some family members fled the country, those who remained were murdered. Marcus Schlesinger’s paper and office supplies business lost customers with the calls for boycotts, and the family’s financial situation worsened badly. Olga Schlesinger saw the effects of the worry about their situation in her father’s face: "Every morning we saw how our father fasted, and that he was so pale. He left the house much later than usual, and came home at noon with a devastated look, and he prayed and didn’t speak. […] I think that he was in debt, or couldn’t pay the rent.” Today Olga thinks that he may have gone to the synagogue to read from the Holy Writings rather than to his business.
Finally, in 1936, Marcus Schlesinger was forced to give up his offices and move his business to his home, but sales continued to drop. Henriette Schlesinger tried to sell her jewelry to bring in some more money for the family. Olga Schlesinger describes the atmosphere in the home as morose: "It was depressing at home. We children sought refuge in books and dreamed of other lives.” Marcus and Henriette Schlesinger were fully aware of the danger presented by the Nazi regime, and began making preparations to emigrate. It proved difficult to get the necessary visas, so they decided to at least make sure their children could leave the country. They contacted the Youth Aliyah, a Jewish organization that arranged the resettlement of children and youth to kibbutzim in Palestine. The organization eventually rescued 12,000 children and young people from Nazi Germany.
After the 1938 November Pogroms, Marcus Schlesinger had to give up his business entirely, and Ester and her family moved to an apartment at Rutschbahn 25a (House II). Olga’s recollections indicate that the non-Jewish landlord pressured the family to leave the apartment on Heinrich-Barth-Straße: "The owner didn’t want any Jews.” It was probably a combination of anti-Semitic discrimination and financial troubles that prompted the move. The property at Rutschbahn 25a had been owned by the M.S.D. Kalker Trust since 1904. The trust was named for Minkel Salomon David Kalker, who had founded it in 1878. When they moved, the family sold furniture and other household items to raise money for living expenses. The apartment on Rutschbahn had three rooms and no bathroom. Because of their financial difficulties, the family rented out one of the rooms. A non-Jewish German took the room, but he showed little respect for the family, and disappeared without paying the rent. When Henriette Schlesinger went to clean the room, Olga found her in tears as she attempted to rid the bed of the bedbugs the boarder had left behind.
In February 1939, the first member of the Schlesinger family, Mathilde, was able to emigrate to Palestine with the help of the Youth Aliyah. She had attended a month-long preparation course before she was allowed to board a ship for Palestine. Olga Schlesinger followed her sister in November 1939, also by means of the Youth Aliyah. David was to emigrate next. According to Olga, he had been offered a permit to enter England, but he turned it down because he wanted to travel directly to Palestine. He began his preparation with the Youth Aliyah, and a departure date was set. Shortly before he was to depart, however, the Youth Aliyah requested that he postpone his departure so that Polish Jews could leave the country more quickly, as it had become more dangerous for them to remain in Germany since the outbreak of the war. They were being sent by the thousands to concentration camps. The Youth Aliyah promised to put him on the next ship to Palestine, so David gave up his spot for a Polish Jew who lived in Hamburg.
But there was no next ship. On 6 November 1941, Marcus, Henriette, David, and Ester Schlesinger received their "evacuation orders,” as the deportation notices were euphemistically called. The family was ordered to appear at the Provincial Lodge for Lower Saxony on Moorweidenstraße on 7 November. Included with the orders were forms for a declaration of finances and an inventory of their personal belongings.
Ester and her family, along with other Hamburg Jews, had to spend a night in the Lodge. The Jewish Community had provided beds and straw, and served hot bean soup, tea, and bread, in order to make their last night in Hamburg slightly more bearable. On the next morning the Hamburg Gestapo drove the Schlesingers and the others in closed police vans to a freight yard. On 8 November 1941, Ester Schlesinger, her parents, and her brother David were deported to Minsk.
The Schlesingers paid 135 Reichsmarks (appx. 540 Euro) in rent for their three-room apartment in the last quarter of 1941, even though they were forced to leave the apartment in early November. The family’s household goods were confiscated by the Chief Tax Authority and later auctioned off.
The journey to Minsk lasted three days and three nights. The food that the Jewish Community had provided was quickly gone, the water was running out, and the heating didn’t work. The train with the Hamburg Jews arrived at the Minsk freight yard on 11 November 1941. Ester and her family, along with the other passengers, had to spend a further night in the over-crowded freight cars before the SS and police herded them out at five o’clock in the morning.
On the way into the ghetto, they saw Minsk as a city marked by war and in ruins. Since the Hamburg Jews were the first arrivals from Germany, they were the ones to see the aftermath of the mass murder that had taken place there. Heinz Rosenberg, a Hamburg Jew who was on the same transport as Ester and her family, and who survived, later recalled: "We were ordered to clean out the red building. When we entered it, we got our second horrifying impression of Minsk. Hundreds of corpses covered the floor. […] There was blood everywhere, and food was still on the stoves and tables.” From 6 to 11 November 1941, the SS and police had "liquidated” more than 6,000 White Russian Jews in the Minsk Ghetto, in order to make room for the "Reich Jews” who would soon arrive.
In late 1941, the "Special Ghettos” I and II, both fenced with barbed wire, were created for the German Jews from the Reich. Ester and her family were assigned to the Special Ghetto I, in which German Jews from Hamburg, Düsseldorf, and Frankfurt were imprisoned. What happened to Ester, her parents, and her brother remains unknown. They are officially listed as "missing in Minsk,” which could mean that they died of undernourishment, of the cold of the 1941-42 winter, or of the catastrophic hygienic conditions and the sicknesses and epidemics they caused. They may also have been victims of the selections that took place beginning in the spring of 1943 and sent to Maly Trostinez to be shot or murdered in gas vans. The only fact that is clear is that Ester, Marcus, Henriette, and David Schlesinger were victims of the Nazis’ policy of murder.
Of the family of six, only Mathilde and Olga Schlesinger survived, since they were able to flee the country before the deportations began. Both sisters remained in contact with their family in Hamburg until suddenly they stopped receiving replies to their letters, and their own letters were returned by the Red Cross. Mathilde and Olga only learned of their family’s murder after the war. Both sisters married in Israel, had children, and changed their names. Mathilde died in 1999, surrounded by her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Olga still lives in Israel (2014).
Perhaps Ester lived to celebrate her 14th birthday, perhaps not. Although the exact date and circumstances of her death are unknown, one thing is more than certain: she was one of the 1.5 million Jewish children murdered by the Nazis in the Shoah.
Translator: Amy Lee
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: April 2018
© Viktoria Wilke
Quellen: StaHH, 314-15 Oberfinanzpräsident, FVg 7698; StaHH, 522-1 Jüdische Gemeinden, 992b, Kultussteuerkartei der Deutsch-Israelitischen Gemeinde Hamburg, Kultussteuerkarte Dr. David Schlesinger; Sal. Abr. Elbe, Marcus Schlesinger; StaHH, 332-5 Standesämter, 47034, Heirats-General-Register; StaHH, 351-11, Amt für Wiedergutmachung, 5130, 10769, 45271; StaHH, 522-1 Jüdische Gemeinde, Nr. 992e2 Band 2, Transport nach Minsk am 8. November 1941, Liste 1; StaHH, 522-1 Jüdische Gemeinden 992q61, Rutschbahn 25a, Wohngrundstück 1939–1945; E-Mail von Olga Schlesinger an Viktoria Wilke, 26.1.2014, 09.2.2014, 27.2.2014; Gedenkbuch der Opfer der Verfolgung der Juden unter nationalsozialistischer Gewaltherrschaft 1933–1945, bearbeitet vom Bundesarchiv, Koblenz, und dem Internationalen Suchdienst, Arolsen; Band 2; Klötzel, Cheskel Zwi: Eine jüdische Jugend in Hamburg vor dem Ersten Weltkrieg, Hamburg o.J., S. 30; Münch, Ingo von (Hrsg.): Gesetze des NS-Staates. Dokumente eines Unrechtssystems, Hamburg 2004; Rosenberg, Heinz: Jahre des Schreckens ... und ich blieb übrig, daß ich Dir‘s ansage, Göttingen 1992; Segall, Jacob: Die deutschen Juden als Soldaten im Kriege 1914–1918. Eine statistische Studie, Berlin 1921; Walk, Joseph (Hrsg.): Das Sonderrecht für die Juden im NS-Staat. Eine Sammlung der gesetzlichen Maßnahmen und Richtlinien – Inhalt und Bedeutung, Hamburg 2013; Apel, Linde (Hrsg.): In den Tod geschickt. Die Deportationen von Juden, Roma und Sinti aus Hamburg 1940–1945, Hamburg 2009; Benz, Wolfgang: Lexikon des Holocaust, München 2002; Curio, Claudia: Verfolgung, Flucht, Rettung. Die Kindertransporte 1938/39 nach Großbritannien, Berlin 2006 (Reihe Dokumente, Texte, Materialien, Bd. 59); Fine, David J.: Jewish Integration in the German Army in the First World War, Berlin 2012 (New Perspectives on Modern Jewish History, Vol. 2); Gutman, Israel (Hrsg.): Enzyklopädie des Holocaust. Die Verfolgung und Ermordung der europäischen Juden, Band I, München 1998, S. 23–31; Pohl, Dieter: Verfolgung und Massenmord in der NS-Zeit 1933–1945, Darmstadt 2011; Randt, Ursula: Jüdische Schulen am Grindel, in: Wamser, Ursula/Weinke, Wilfried (Hrsg.): Ehemals in Hamburg zu Hause: Jüdisches Leben am Grindel, Hamburg 1991, S. 36–55; Rentrop-Koch, Petra: Tatorte der "Endlösung". Das Ghetto Minsk und die Vernichtungsstätte von Maly Trostinez, Berlin 2011 (Dokumente, Texte, Materialen, Band 80); Siefken, Britta D.: Jüdische und paritätische Stiftungen im nationalsozialistischen Hamburg. Enteignung und Restitution, Diss. Norderstedt 2009.