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Gittel Adolf, geb. Offner
© Yad Vashem

Gittel Adolf (née Offner) * 1892

Grindelallee 153 (Eimsbüttel, Rotherbaum)

1941 Lodz

further stumbling stones in Grindelallee 153:
Barthold Goldschmidt, Alfred Hammer, Reisel Hammer, Joseph (Josef) Hammer, Martha Münden, Dr. Max Münden

Gittel Adolf, born 11 Apr. 1892 in Przemysl, Galicia, deported 25 Oct. 1941 to Lodz, murdered there

Grindelallee 153

"This is the last day!" These words, shouted by two men dressed in the Nazi party uniform in Nov. 1938, shortly after the Reich-wide pogrom against the Jews in the German Reich, not only put an end to an impressive professional career, they also heralded the last chapter in the life of Gittel Adolf.

Gittel was born on 11 Apr. 1892 in Przemysl, Galicia and had at least one sister and one brother. Her maiden name was either Offner or Messner – surviving documents list both names. Her sister Sara Zimmermann, who was six years her senior, had lived in Hamburg since at least 1914. Gittel’s future husband Oskar (Osias) Adolf was also originally from Galicia. He was born on 17 Oct. 1894 in the present-day Ukrainian city of Rawa Ruska. He and Gittel married on 7 June 1920 in Lviv. The exact date of their arrival in Hamburg is unknown, but Hamburg registry documents from 1900 onwards list several merchants with the last name Adolf who came from Przemysl and Rawa Ruska.

Oskar Adolf opened a grocery store at Humboldtstraße 54 in Hamburg-Uhlenhorst in 1924. In 1926 he moved to the store to Jenischstraße 5 in Hammerbrook. This street no longer exists. In addition to selling eggs, butter and meat to neighborhood residents, he also did business with restaurants and hotels, thus ensuring that the family had a secure income and a relatively high standard of living. Oskar Adolf had one employee in his shop and owned a team of horses, which he used for deliveries. Both Gittel and later their two children, Kurt (*9 Nov. 1922) and Ethel (*3 Sep. 1924) helped with the business. In 1926 Oskar showed the first signs of mental illness. A head injury sustained in battle in the First World War broke open again, and he suffered from temporary memory loss and speech disorders. From 1928 onwards was no longer able to run his business. Despite regular treatment at the Israelitic Hospital in St. Pauli, there was no improvement. At the end of October 1930 he was finally referred to the psychiatric ward of the Friedrichsberg State Hospital with a diagnosis of "progressive paralysis." In June 1935, already marked by physical and mental decay, he was moved to the Strecknitz Estate near Lübeck, where he passed away on 16 Apr. 1938. He was buried in Hamburg at the Jewish cemetery in Langenfelde.

When her husband became ill, Gittel took over the management of the business. She had to sell the team of horses, but worked hard to maintain the family’s standard of living. She received support from her family circle – two distant relatives, Samuel Glücksmann and his son Arnold, had a lubricants shop, also on Hammerbrookstraße, and they helped her out with advice and assistance. Gittel proved to be an extremely skillful and successful businesswoman, so that she was able to expand the company in 1930. The shop on Jenischstraße remained open to local customers, but the newly opened store at Eiffestraße 18 was used for resale and wholesale. Gittel's sister Sara took over the management of the new branch.

Since running both business and raising the children Kurt and Ethel took a lot of time, Gittel employed a maid, Gisela, who lived with the family in the apartment above the store on Jenischstraße. Kurt and Ethel began at an early age to help their mother both in the household and in the business. In a 1997 interview, Ethel described her childhood until the Nazi seizure of power as happy. She told of recreational activities such as sailing on the Alster, going to the cinema or going camping during the holidays. The Adolfs lived in an area with relatively few Jewish families, but Gittel attached great importance to the Jewish education of their children. Kurt was enrolled in 1928 in the Talmud Tora School, and Ethel went to the Israelitic Girls School. The family attended synagogue regularly, kept the Sabbath, and celebrated Jewish festivals and holidays such as Passover with Gittel’s extended family. They preferred to buy groceries from Jewish traders in the Grindelviertel, if the items were not available in their own shop.

After power was handed to the Nazis, Gittel Adolf's business gradually deteriorated. Calls for boycotts and the ubiquitous anti-Jewish propaganda were effective, and many customers and clients avoided her businesses. Steadily declining sales and her sister Sara’s decision to emigrate with her family to Palestine eventually forced Gittel to give up the branch on Eiffestraße in 1936. Hoping for more customers, she relocated the shop and the family residence from Jenischstraße to Hammerbrookstraße 61. But in November 1938 the shop was shut down. During the November Pogrom, the shop windows were smeared with the word "Jew," and a few days later, men in uniforms made it clear to Gittel Adolf that it would be better for her to give up her business. She immediately closed the shop and sold the remaining inventory and fixtures.

Despite the declining revenues after 1933, Gittel had managed to save a considerable amount of money over the years, which she kept in cash in her home and was thus, at least provisionally, not accessible to the Nazi regime. With this money she was able to rent an 8-room apartment with shared kitchen and bathroom on the second floor of Grindelallee 153. She and the children lived in two of the rooms, and she subleased the other six. The kitchen and bathroom was shared among the tenants. Her sister Sara also lived in the apartment until she finally left Germany in July 1939. Gittel stayed away from any business activity, as her subletting and the savings provided enough for a good living. She occasionally used old business contacts to improve the food supply and procure additional food. Despite the increasingly difficult situation, the persecution, and the flight of numerous relatives, Gittel initially saw no reason to emigrate. According to her daughter, she felt that her status as the widow of a WWI veteran who had succumbed to injuries suffered in the war for the German Reich protected her. It was only after the Wehrmacht invaded Poland in September 1939 that she changed her mind and submitted numerous visa applications for herself and her children, all of which were rejected.

At the beginning of 1940, Kurt's class at the Talmud Tora School was eliminated, as he was the only remaining student in his grade. In March of the same year the employment office drafted him for compulsory labor. He worked first in a jute factory where ropes were manufactured, and then on various construction sites in the Hamburg city area. During this time, Gittel managed to get two US visas for Kurt and Ethel through the US Embassy and with the help of her brother, Pinkas Messner, who lived in New York. The farewell took place on 19 Aug. 1941, and Gittel insisted that she firmly believed in a reunion. With the help of the Joint Distribution Committee, a US-American Jewish relief agency that had been offering aid to fellow Jews since 1914, especially in Europe, Kurt and Ethel traveled by train via Berlin and the French-Spanish border town of Hendaye to Barcelona. The visas had already expired when they arrived in Spain, however, so they were stuck there until April 1943.

On 25 Oct. 1941, Gittel Adolf was deported on the first transport to the east from Hamburg to the Lodz Ghetto – or Litzmannstadt, as the Germans had renamed it. There she lived in Apartment 22 on Hohensteinerstraße 21, together with the couple Josef and Reisel Hammer, who had been her tenants in the Grindelallee apartment and were on the same transport as Gittel. According to her daughter Ethel, before her mother was deported, she and the children were able to exchange a few letters, in which Gittel repeatedly emphasized her hope for a speedy reunion and even asked her children what she could bring them. After the end of the Second World War Gittel Adolf’s date of death was retroactively declared as 8 May 1945.

In 1943 her children Kurt and Ethel made the journey from Spain to Portugal and subsequently to the US. There they first lived with their uncle. Both became US citizens and Kurt served in the US Marine Corps from December 1943 to June 1946. He then worked in a jewelry store in Virginia, and later became managing director. His sister Ethel married and still lives in Virginia.

Translator: Amy Lee
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

© Thomas Rost

Quellen: 1; 2; 6; 8; 9; Hamburger Adressbücher 1924-1941; StaH 351-11 Amt für Wiedergutmachung 13893 und 45396; StaH 352-8/7 Staatskrankenanstalt Langenhorn 21332 Adolf, Oskar; StaH 522-1 Jüdische Gemeinden 992e2 Band 3 Liste 1; StaH 741-4; Sternberg, Ethel, Interview 33601, Visual History Archive, USC Shoah Foundation Institute, online abgerufen am Center for Digital Systems der Freien Universität Berlin am 25.4.2014.
Zur Nummerierung häufig genutzter Quellen siehe Link "Recherche und Quellen".

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