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Benjamin Perlmann * 1876
Brahmsallee 12 (Eimsbüttel, Harvestehude)
Benjamin Jakob Perlmann, born 16 Oct. 1876 in Perleburg, deported 11 July 1942 to Auschwitz, murdered there
Elsa Perlmann, née van Son, born 2 Mar. 1880 in Hamburg, deported 11 July 1942 to Auschwitz, murdered there
In the years 1933 to 1940, Benjamin and Elsa Perlmann wrote letters to their children who had emigrated. Over a hundred of these letters have survived. Rabbi Zev Walter Gotthold handed over these letters to the Hamburg historian Ina Lorenz in Jerusalem, who published a large selection of them in a commentated edition. In the first part of this work, Verfolgung und Gottvertrauen [Persecution and Trust in God], Lorenz describes the life of the Jewish Orthodox family under Nazi rule. Here we can offer only an outline of this compelling study.
The Perlmann family was originally from the city of Szczuczyn in what was then Russian-Poland on the Prussian border. The jeweler Jechiel Michael Perlmann (1846–1915) lived with his wife Ida, née Jacobsen, from Cuxhaven, in Perleburg in Brandenburg, where the family probably took the name Perlmann. Their first son, Benjamin Jakob, also called Benno, was born here on 16 Oct. 1876. A few years later the family moved to Hamburg, where their second child, Isaac, was born in 1881. In 1885, Michael Perlmann became a citizen of Hamburg. He died in 1915.
Benjamin took over his father’s watch and gold shop at Colonnaden 96, and ran it together with his mother. They retained the shop’s name, Michael Perlmann. Benjamin had previously performed bank and exchange transactions for emigrants, and his primary business remained banking. His tax records with the Jewish Community reveal that the profits from the business could not have been large.
Benjamin's brother Isaac first lived with his mother at the address Colonnaden 96. He was an authorized representative of the family company. After his marriage to Emma Depke he moved to Mühlenkamp and then to Mundsburg, far from the traditional Jewish neighborhoods. He worked as an agent and representative, remained a member of the Jewish Community, but was not actively involved and seems to have turned away from the Orthodox lifestyle.
There was a rumor in the family that his wife was not Jewish, but there is no evidence that this was the case. The Nazi authorities did not ask about the degree of commitment to Judaism; proof of belonging to the "Jewish race" sufficed as reason for deportation. Isaac Perlmann, his wife Emma and their two children Harriet and Helmut, born in 1915 and 1919, were deported to Minsk on 11 Nov. 1941. The third son of Michael and Ida Perlmann, Hirsch Moses, called Harry, born 10 Feb. 1883, had fallen in 1915 during the First World War. He was not married.
Benjamin Perlmann had been deeply influenced by his orthodox teachers in the Talmud Torah School. Throughout his life, he was unwavering in his Jewish faith. In 1905, he married the 25-year-old Elsa van Son from a highly respected Jewish family from the Netherlands. Elsa's parents, Philipp (1850–1938) and Rosa van Son (1853–1929), were of the same orthodox orientation as Benjamin Perlmann. The families remained close. Likewise, the family of Elsa Perlmann's brother Hugo van Son and his wife Regina, as well as those of Elsa's sister Emma and her husband Alexander Levy were Orthodox Jews. All the men in these three families were members of the Orthodox Synagogue Association and played a significant role in the German-Israelitic Community. When Rosa van Son died in 1929, Benjamin and Elsa Perlmann took in the 76-year-old Philipp van Son. During this most difficult time, all of the members of these families banded together.
Benjamin and Elsa Perlmann had three children: Helmuth, born 15 Mar. 1907, Hilde (Hildegard), born 7 Sep. 1908, and Michael, born 21 Mar. 1917. The young family initially lived in the predominately Jewish Grindel Quarter at Bogenstraße 15, then at Grindelallee 44. In 1936, they moved to Brahmsallee 12 in the posh Harvestehude neighborhood. Until 1915, Benjamin Perlmann’s profession was listed as merchant and owner of an exchange office. When he took over the Michael Perlmann company, he ran it as a self-employed businessman. He continued to pursue his banking activities, but was pressured out of them in 1933. Thereafter he worked as a sales representative selling books, then for various Jewish textile companies. When these were "Aryanized," he was no longer given contracts. The religious taxes to the Jewish Community show how small the income of Benjamin Perlmann had become.
In the last few years prior to his deportation, he took over certain tasks in the Jewish Community in consultation with Chief Rabbi Carlebach, such as making inquiries, collecting information and, above all, visiting patients at the Jewish Hospital. It inspired him to be socially effective and to bring comfort to the ill. "I have so much sunshine in my heart and I want to give everyone something of my inner strength," he wrote to his son on 12 June 1939.
He also put his rhetorical talent to use in the service of his religious convictions. At every opportunity he made moving speeches testifying to his piety. It was important to him to be respected and honored in the Community. In the family circle his speeches also lent each birthday party a special touch.
Small indications from his wife Elsa testify that she sometimes suffered under her husband's lofty nature. She was more down-to-earth, and she made some money by leasing rooms to various Jewish retirees. Obtaining and preparing food for the tenants in the tense food situation required a sixth sense. Kosher meat was no longer available in Germany; it could only be imported, at a high price, from Denmark. Elsa Perlmann did not complain, but rather always tried to find the good side. When Jews had to give up all silver, she still insisted that the table set for Rosh Hashanah was festive even without the silver ritual objects.
Only small sighs in her letters indicated the hardships of everyday life, such as that her husband was no longer allowed to sit on his beloved bench in Innocentiapark. In the past, Elsa Perlmann had always had household help. Now, tenants occasionally lent a hand. The pensioner Lilli Freimann, a teacher at the German-Israelitic Community, became a very close friend, almost a member of the family. Elsa's sister Emma, who, together with her daughter Eva, had been living with the Perlmanns since the death of her husband Alexander Levy 1938, actively joined in the housekeeping duties.
In spite of different temperaments, the Perlmanns were united in their faith in God. Their most valuable asset was their children, who kept the example of their parents in mind when they left Hamburg. They never forgot their parents’ open, welcoming home, their living faith, their love of art and culture. The Perlmanns often hosted and attended social gatherings, and attended events in the Jewish Cultural House. Elsa played bridge with the ladies in her circle; Benjamin held eloquent speeches. This lifestyle was an old Jewish ideal that the young people took with them into exile, and that gave them the strength to start their own lives anew. The children never experienced the final, bitterly difficult days of the deportations from Hamburg.
The Perlmanns’ daughter Hilde was a modern young woman, a sports enthusiast, and was involved in the youth movement. She participated in the founding of a Hamburg group of Mizrachi, a religious, orthodox Zionist movement founded at the beginning of the 20th century that had established national centers in Munich, Vienna and Zurich. Hilde Perlmann joined with friends to advocate for the economic independence of women and women's suffrage in the German-Israelitic community. She sought to have women admitted to the synagogue association, which they were in 1928.
Hilde had learned the profession of dental technician. She wanted to start a new life of her own in Palestine, together with her boyfriend Max Bertenthal. Hilde emigrated with the help of the Jewish Agency in 1931, and it seems she encountered no obstacles, nor did Max Bertenthal somewhat later. The couple married in Palestine. Hilde did not immediately find a job in her profession but was able to work for a health insurance company. Later she was hired by a German dentist. She gave up work when her daughter Naemi was born in 1935.
At that time the family lived in a kibbutz named after the Russian socialist Syrkin. The father, who remained in Hamburg, understood Palestine as the Holy Land. He was not a proponent of the Zionist settler policy and had no interest in the local problems there. Still, he did write loving letters to his children. Mother Elsa was given a trip to Palestine by her son Helmuth for her birthday and was able to visit her daughter and son-in-law there in 1933.
Michael Perlmann, the youngest of the siblings by ten years, was especially close to his father. Benjamin Perlmann was concerned with Michael’s leanings towards Zionism and his rejection of apolitical Orthodox Judaism. As a minor, Michael could not yet fulfill his desire to emigrate to Palestine, but he designed his education for the land where he saw his future. With the consent of his father, he attended the yeshiva in Mannheim to study Jewish teachings and studied agriculture at the Steckelsdorf farm near Rathenau and the Bomsdorf estate in the Bitterfeld district. As a 21-year-old, in charge of the education of younger boys, he witnessed the arbitrary shooting of two of the boys by SA men in November 1938. Today, a memorial stone commemorates this murder, which was never brought to justice.
Michael Perlmann was arrested and held for a short time in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. After these deeply disturbing events, he insisted on emigrating as soon as possible. On 16 Jan. 1939 he submitted his formal request. He received the items he needed, in the value of 69 Reichsmarks (RM), from the Jewish Community: 1 pair of shoes, 3 polo shirts, 1 tracksuit, 1 pair of work trousers, 3 sets of underwear. The Foreign Exchange Office of the Chief Tax Authority waived the emigration tax of 75 RM, which neither he nor his parents could afford.
As a religious Zionist, he was, like his sister Hilde, accepted into a Misrachi kibbutz. He soon got a job with the help of Baruch Zwi Ophir from Hamburg. Later, Michael Perlmann worked in an agricultural school in Jaffa. In 1943, he married Elisheva Singer, who had emigrated from Berlin by means of Aliyah Bet, a clandestine immigration organization considered illegal by the British. Michael remained in constant correspondence with his parents. The father felt best understood by his youngest, theologically-trained son, though he still inquired little about the country's agricultural structure and daily life.
Michael's brother Helmuth Perlmann, ten years his senior, gave his profession as independent representative and reporter in his application for emigration. He reported his annual income in 1938 as 2100 RM, and his bank balance as 150 RM. He was registered as a taxpayer, but paid a correspondingly low religious tax. Helmut was also arrested in November 1938 and taken first to Fuhlsbüttel and then to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he met his brother Michael. The shock effect of the pogrom was the same for both. Helmuth also began planning his emigration.
In early 1939 he married Edith Marcus Sande (born 15 June 1911), an office clerk. The two had been friends for eight years. After they married, they first lived with Helmuth's parents on Brahmsallee, then rented rooms at Hansastrasse 63 from the Liechtenstein family. They decided to emigrate separately because they considered the conditions to be more favorable. Helmut did not receive an answer to his request for emigration to Alexandria in Syria. Only after the outbreak of the Second World War, in the fall of 1939, did he renew the application, this time to the US. An unknown man who shared his name submitted an affidavit, and he was able to leave at the last minute. On 30 Jan. 1940 he arrived in New York via Sweden. At the beginning of March he was able to send his US employment certificate to Germany, thereby enabling his wife Edith to leave the country. She left Hamburg on 2 May 1940.
Benjamin and Elsa Perlmann remained alone in Germany. Elsa now saw very clearly that there was no future for Jews in this country. She had urged her sons to hurry with their emigration, fearing that it might soon be too late. Now she hoped the children would do everything in their power to save their parents. Benjamin, however, continued to refuse any thoughts of escape, even though he increasingly had to say his farewells to friends and acquaintances. On 8 Nov. 1941 his brother Isaac Perlmann and his entire family were ordered to "relocate" to Minsk. Elsa's sister Emma was brought to Tel Aviv by her children, and many others escaped at the last moment. But Benjamin insisted he would be the last to leave Germany. How he reacted when his revered Chief Rabbi Carlebach was deported to Riga with his family in December 1941, we do not know, because the correspondence with the children letters broke off in 1940. In 1941, only a few short telegrams were sent via the Red Cross. The children's efforts to rescue their parents were futile.
Elsa Perlmann still did not want to give up hope, but it had become all too clear what would happen: The deportation orders arrived, and the few remaining survivors gathered to prepare the required inventories of their property and pack their suitcases. On 11 July 1942, Benjamin and Elsa Perlmann, along with 924 other Jewish people, were deported directly to Auschwitz and murdered in the gas chambers shortly after their arrival. All of their remaining family members and friends in Hamburg disappeared in the extermination camps of the Third Reich.
Translator: Amy Lee
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: September 2019
© Inge Grolle
Quellen: StaH 351-11 Amt für Wiedergutmachung 4505 (Elsa Perlmann), 3069 (Benjamin Perlmann); 314-15 OFD Oberfinanzpräsident FVg 7701 (Helmut Perlmann), FVg 3607 (Michael Perlmann); Lorenz, Verfolgung; Sielemann, Aber seid alle beruhigt.