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Max Warisch * 1895

Brahmsallee 16 (Eimsbüttel, Harvestehude)

1942 Auschwitz ermordet 28.08.1942
1939 Flucht nach Belgien

further stumbling stones in Brahmsallee 16:
Charlotte Bravo, Ruth Isaak, Hanna Isaak, Michael Isaak, Pauline Isaak, Daniel Isaak, Betty Jacobson, Recha Nathan, Helene Rabi

Max Warisch, born on 25 June 1895 in Hamburg, fled in Jan. 1939 to Belgium, was deported in May 1940 to France, murdered on 28 Aug. 1942 in Auschwitz

Brahmsallee 16

Various branches of the Warisch family had lived in Hamburg’s Grindel quarter for generations in the streets called Klosterallee, Dillstrasse, Hochallee, and Brahmsallee.

For Max Warisch, to whom a Stolperstein is dedicated in front of the house at Brahmsallee 16, family connections were an integral part of his life and decisive for his educational and professional career. His father, Samuel Warisch, born in 1853, was an auctioneer. He died in 1938 as a widower, as his wife Helene, née Wiener, had passed away eleven years earlier, in 1927. Max was the youngest of their three sons.

Hermann, the oldest, born in 1888, married Käthe Kessler, six years his junior and also Jewish, who came from a well-to-do Berlin family. The Kleve & Warisch general partnership for import and export of raw animal hair, founded by Hermann Warisch Jr. and his partner, was very successful. Since 1933, however, "Aryan” competitors displaced Jewish entrepreneurs; restrictions on the foreign currency market and harassment by the customs investigation department made the business, which had to rely on import permits, so difficult that in 1935, Hermann Warisch decided to emigrate to Belgium with his wife and three children and try to continue his business from Antwerp. He lived there at the address Korte Lozana 11.

Jakob, the second son of Samuel and Helene Warisch, born in 1890, followed the professional example of his uncle Adolph Warisch, who ran a small private bank. After attending Realschule [a practice-oriented secondary school up to grade 10], Jakob completed an apprenticeship at the prestigious Warburg Bank, which had a positive effect on his career prospects. At first, he worked for the Adolph Warisch Company and gained experience at a bank in southern Germany. In 1923, he had his own small banking business entered in the Hamburg company register. It was a venture he undertook confident of the support by his rich father-in-law Jacques Kessler from Berlin, who became his authorized signatory. Jakob’s wife Dora was the sister of Käthe, the wife of his brother Hermann. A cousin of almost the same age, James Warisch, born in 1891, was the third to forge ties between the Warisch and Kessler families. Despite his family backing, Jakob Warisch had a hard time surviving the years of financial and economic crisis. However, it was only after the Pogrom of November 1938 that he hurriedly fled, without any identification papers or work permit, to Antwerp to join his brother Hermann.

Max Warisch grew up under similar living conditions as his older brothers. After finishing school, he completed a commercial apprenticeship in a wholesale business for upholstery materials. He took part in the First World War as a common soldier. He then worked as an assistant in various positions until he had himself entered in the company register as the owner of his own business in 1920. Although his Jewish religious tax (Kultussteuer) file card indicates a good income, he soon fell behind with his contributions to the Chamber of Commerce. He justified his failure to meet these obligations by saying that his business was not profitable, that he had to manage without employees, and that he lived almost exclusively from commercial agencies. In 1929 and 1931, he escaped liquidation only because his business was considered "unseizable.” The "extremely poor course of business” to which he referred affected him deeply. He could not hope for the kind of financial support from Kessler family that his two older brothers received. Apparently, his precarious economic circumstances did not allow him to marry. The plight of the self-employed small businessman during the late 1920s at the beginning of Nazi rule initially covered up the much greater danger that threatened all Jews. The fiancée of Max, Hildegard Cohen, was directly affected. In 1934, being Jewish, the teacher at the girls’ secondary school on Osterstrasse was removed from her position. The newly enacted "Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” ("Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums”) served as grounds for the dismissal. Hildegard was then forced to laboriously earn a living for herself and her mother by doing casual work. The Nazi persecution became life-threatening for Max Warisch when he was arrested in 1938 together with many other Jewish men. He had to spend the night of 10 to 11 November as a "protective custody prisoner” ("Schutzhäftling”) in the notorious Fuhlsbüttel police prison and was then sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he received prisoner number 11,238. The descriptions of those affected reveal how humiliated and shattered some Jewish men came back from there after weeks of imprisonment. Max Warisch was released to Hamburg on 15 December, where he immediately prepared for his flight. He left no significant material assets and had no guarantee of finding work abroad. His departure with destination "Bolivia” was noted on his Jewish religious tax (Kultussteuer) file card, and on his brother Jakob’s card the country of emigration entered was "Manchuria.” Both brothers ultimately went to the USA. First they were taken in by their brother Hermann at Lozanastraat 11 in Antwerp.

At the time Max Warisch fled, Belgium was almost the only European country to accept emigrants from Germany and Austria. However, the influx of refugees became so substantial that Belgium also stopped admitting them. Only those who arrived before Apr. 1939 were granted a temporary residence permit on condition that they sought admission to another country. The population became suspicious of strangers. Spies among them were feared and found to disturb the labor market and social peace. The Belgian government reacted nervously and ordered a census of foreigners between 15 Sept. and 15 Oct. 1939. The aim was to distinguish "undesirable” illegal aliens from emigrants who had been living in Belgium for some time by means of a different set of identity documents. Contacts were established with French authorities pertaining to a possible transfer of foreigners.

On 8 May 1940, the German Wehrmacht overran the neutral countries of Denmark and Norway and marched into the Netherlands and Belgium, both also neutral, on 10 May. Already in the early morning hours of the same day, Belgian radio called on all male foreigners to report to certain points. Most of them were "racially” persecuted Jews from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland, as well as political opponents of the Nazi regime, who obeyed the order without knowing what was in store for them. Thousands of Belgian police officers and gendarmes took measures toward arresting the assembled persons and subsequently deporting them to France. Railways were requisitioned to transport the refugees, and entire railway lines were taken out of service and set aside to this end. Details on the composition of the transports differ. Apparently, from Brussels and Antwerp, they numbered 3,000 internees each, with the total indicated to be 10,000. The departure was so sudden that the men did not manage to provision themselves with food and suitable clothing. In the narrowness of the railroad cars, it was unbearably hot and there was nothing to drink. At the first collection point of the journey, the stop at the border in Tournai, probably most of them realized only then that they were going to France. The specific destination was uncertain. France felt morally obliged to accept refugees from Spain, ruled by Franco, as well as from Hitler’s Germany. For Republican refugees from the Spanish Civil War, large reception camps on the edge of the Pyrenees and by the sea were hurriedly set up in the spring of 1939. Their equipment was extremely primitive, but in the new situation, they could accommodate the masses who had fled Nazi persecution. The population, however, saw the internees primarily as German enemies and accompanied the transport trains with imprecations.

Max Warisch’s ordeal can be traced quite closely with the help of documents. The transport to which he belonged did not reach the final destination of St. Cyprien on the edge of the Pyrenees in direct travel. On 15 May 1940, the men were quartered in a camp south of the Loire, St. Livrade in the Departement Lot-et-Garonne. Today, there are no longer any reminders of the camp that was dissolved during the war. The refugees who were deported from Belgium stayed there for ten days and were then taken to the nearby Villemur camp. According to reports, in these transit camps, police and military personnel, including officers, were eager to take possession of the deportees’ last belongings. On 6 June, Max Warisch and his group arrived in St. Cyprien. The large collection camp, built on a promontory between the sea and brackish water, "nothing but barbed wire and emptiness,” consisted of the remains of the camp from the time of the Spanish Civil War. In May 1940, it was almost empty until the men deported from Belgium again filled, even overcrowded it. The arrivals were assigned to barracks that were almost dilapidated, had no wooden floor, and were only equipped with the most primitive furnishings.

The history of this place has only recently been studied historically. As a result, we know that there were five Hamburg-born men named Warisch there: apart from the three brothers, also James, born in 1891, and, from the younger generation, Alfred, born in 1922. We do not know whether they all met there and perhaps lived in the same barrack.

Hermannn Warisch later described the "infamous St.-Cyprien camp,” which had been under "notorious Gestapo supervision.” It was well known for the constant lack of drinking water and "because of the incredibly pitiful sanitary conditions and the poor food of the detainees.” "We had absolutely nothing to eat, fed mostly on turnips and spoiled bread. As a result, many of us fell ill with dysentery, which unfortunately caused a large part of the internees to perish.” This was no exaggeration. The detainees – numbering 5,065 as reported by the commandant’s office in Perpignan – addressed a petition to the Red Cross dated 24 July 1940 in which they decried these conditions. "The water for drinking and preparing the food is unfiltered, the toilets are outside, the number of flies is unbearable, the straw sacks are swarming with mice, rats, lice, fleas, and other vermin, the barracks are damaged and have too many cracks, and medications, disinfectants, as well as hygiene articles are lacking almost entirely.”

The German victory over France caused different reactions among the internees. Those who fled from the persecution of the Nazis could only be appalled by the turn of events, while there were enough Germans in the camps who hoped for liberation by the victorious Nazis. In the armistice agreement of June 1940, the French government agreed to hand over all German prisoners of war and civilian prisoners in French custody immediately to German troops (repatriation). This meant that all "racially” and politically persecuted persons were to be extradited to the German Reich government as well. At that time, however, the German government had no interest in "Jews and emigrants” being extradited. Thus, they remained in the camps, while thousands of German citizens – more than 1,000 people just from St. Cyprien – were released. In order to gain better control over the rather chaotic releases, a German commission under Legation Councilor Ernst Kundt was commissioned in July 1940 by the German Foreign Ministry to inspect all camps in the south of France and to gauge which prisoners were to return to Germany. St. Cyprien was assessed as particularly bad. The parallel French inspection mission also came to the conclusion that the barracks in St. Cyprien were "in a state of complete uninhabitability.” In the course of a camp reform, the "racially” persecuted non-political Jews were also given the choice of returning at this point. Alfred Kantorowicz wrote in Exil in Frankreich ("Exile in France”): "As late as 1940, Jews from the unoccupied part of France returned voluntarily to the German territories because they failed to imagine that there could be anything more terrible for non-political Jewish refugees than the St. Cyprien camp.” After all, it is understandable that German Jews tried to reach their families left behind in Belgium. In Oct. 1940, St. Cyprien was dissolved and the inmates moved to the Gurs camp on the western edge of the Pyrenees near Pau, a relocation that brought no improvement.

Hermann Warisch and his son Alfred did not have to live through that. They had a legal opportunity to leave the camp. The prerequisite was that they had some money and already held a valid visa. They were able to leave St. Cyprien on 20 Sept. 1940 with a contact address in Marseille and a "hostel card” (certificat d'hébergement pour Marseille). One cannot assume that Hermann Warisch was supported during his release by an aid organization, because the very active Comité d’Assistance aux Réfugiés (CAR), like other refugee relief agencies, was only founded later. During the great wave of repatriations, other types of legal releases from internment camps were also possible for a short time. However, Hermann and Alfred Warisch remained under police supervision in Montpellier until they had obtained the necessary documents in June 1941 and until the wife and two daughters, left behind in Antwerp, had joined them. In the transit country of Spain, the family waited another six weeks until they finally got passage on a ship to New York. There Hermann Warisch re-established the business with his former partner for the third time.

The second Warisch son, Jacob, escaped from the Gurs camp on 31 Dec. 1940. At first, he lived in various places in the south of France under police supervision. In Oct. 1942, he fled to Switzerland, where he was interned in a refugee camp. He remained in Switzerland under obligation to register and without a work permit, until he departed Bilbao for Philadelphia with his wife and daughter Ilse in 1946.

Of the three brothers, only Max remained in the Gurs camp. The camp was under the control of the French Vichy government, which collaborated with Germany. It was very crowded, because shortly before the 3,870 internees from St. Cyprien, 6,500 Jews from Baden and the Palatinate had arrived there. The conditions in Gurs were unbearable, as there, too, a constant lack of water, food, and clothing prevailed. Due to lack of hygiene, typhoid-like epidemics broke out. Max Warisch was in hospital in Pau for some time due to jaundice. He had no family that could have served as an important motive for his release. Earlier on, he used to receive a letter from his fiancée Hildegard Cohen from time to time. However, no mail was delivered to the hospital, and since Jan. 1941, Max Warisch was almost completely cut off from the connection to Hamburg. Only his cousin, who was also still interned in Gurs, relayed to him occasional bits of news from home. They found their way to him via the USA. By that time, Max Warisch’s fiancée Hildegard Cohen also used this means of contact. She described her experiences and the situation of the Jews in Hamburg to her close friend and colleague Trude Simonsohn, who had emigrated to New York with her mother. And she asked to forward the letter to the Gurs camp to Max’ address: "Max Warisch, Ilot (Block) D baraque Va,” so that he could find out how she was doing. "It’s terrible that you don’t know anything about him,” she wrote to her girlfriend. At the end of each report about the situation in Hamburg, Hildegard added a few lines addressed directly to Max, so that he could share her concerns in spirit. Conversely, Hildegard learned from the letter Max had addressed to "Miss Trude Simonsohn” in Apr. 1941 that he was to receive parcels from her. He was very pleased and confessed that he could use everything: sugar, condensed milk, and canned food of all kinds: "Under the circumstances, I am still in a satisfactory state, although I have already got to know the fourth camp since 11 May 1940. I hope that my situation will improve a little bit in a while, because I might be transferred to another camp. Also, my new affidavit will arrive sometime these days, which will also give me a chance to go to a camp near Marseilles.” He waited in vain.

Four extant letters from Hildegard Cohen to her friend Trude Simonsohn from Oct. and Nov. 1941, handed down by Ursula Randt, give us an insight into the fateful relationship between the two lovers. Their situation was similarly oppressive and yet so different that they could only vaguely form a picture of each other’s situation and mood. Max learned that Hildegard had taken over the responsible task of running the Jewish orphanage and was pleased about it. She referred to her "Dear Mäxchen” at the end of the letter dated 2 Nov. 1941: "The wonderful time we spent here together only seems like a dream to me. And yet we were already worried then, but they seem like nothing now.” Was Hildegard able to understand what it meant that Max was interned in different camps? Conversely, could he gauge the nervous tension in which Hildegard waited in vain every day for the exit papers to America of which she had been assured? Did he understand as well as the girlfriend in America what Hildegard’s formulation on 22 Oct. 1941 meant that "so many of my acquaintances received very sad mail,” and how deeply depressed she was when her brother Woldemar "had to go on a journey” in Nov. 1941, prepared that she and her mother would soon follow him in their own deportation? Hildegard exhorted herself to exercise discipline: "Keeping the head up, that goes especially for me, having a home to run and a role model to be for the children. But how hard is this for me sometimes.” Duty kept her upright. How could she have imagined in the rush of an excessive workload that Max suffered from unemployment and the tedious monotony of cheerless time. Like her, he also waited in vain for the saving "papers.” On 12 November, Hildegard wrote deeply depressed at the end of her letter: "I haven’t heard from you, my dear Max, for a long time now, hopefully you are doing at least reasonably well. Who would have thought we’d one day be separated in such a way; will we ever meet again? I doubt it. And in spite of it all, I have a pile of work; however, now it’s not like work makes you forget your worries anymore, but they rather overpower you so much that they paralyze you at work.” In fact, they never saw each other again.

In the summer of 1942, Max Warisch was finally sent to another camp. But it was not located in the direction he had hoped. On Hitler’s orders, the Vichy government was to transfer 100,000 Jews to Germany. This order also affected Max Warisch. The transport started out from the Les Milles transit camp, housed in an old brick factory near Aix-en-Provence, and on 13 Aug. 1942, it reached the notorious Drancy transit camp 20 kilometers (approx. 12.5 miles) northeast of Paris. From there, a total of 65,000 Jews were transported by rail to the German extermination camps in the East. Max Warisch was "transferred” from Drancy to Auschwitz on 19 Aug. 1942, where he was murdered nine days later. According to the death certificate at the special registry office in Arolsen, Max Warisch died on 28 Aug. 1942 at 11.30 p.m. in Auschwitz, on Kasernenstrasse, of a "heart valve defect.”

Hildegard Cohen and 14 of the children she looked after were deported from Hamburg "with an unknown destination” at about the same time, on 11 July 1942. The transport ended in Auschwitz. A surviving contemporary witness reported: "I last spoke to her myself and her children at Ludwigslust train station. She took the journey together with the children and was very calm, especially since none of us would have suspected this kind of fate either.”

Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

Stand: September 2019
© Inge Grolle

Quellen: 1; StaH 351-11 Amt für Wiedergutmachung 17719 und 17720; StaH 741-4 Fotoarchiv 2/49/15: Auskunft von holocaust Residenzliste 11188258_0_1; 64759801_0_1: 65861872_0_1; 658671_0_1; 658670_0_1; 658669_0_1; 658668_0_1; 49550772_0_1; 1188150_0_1; KL GCC/86 Ordner 98, S. 89 Sachsenhausen; Archives des Pyrénées Atlantiques, Kopie der Fiche personelle von Hermann Warisch; Randt, Jüdische Waisenhäuser, in: Wamser/Weinke (Hrsg.), Jüdisches Leben, S. 60–82; Eggers, Unerwünschte Ausländer; Bervoets, La liste de Saint-Cyprien; Klarsfeld, Les Transferts; Sielemann, Zielort, in: Zeitschrift für Hamburgische Geschichte Bd. 95, S. 91–111; Sonderstandesamt Bad Arolsen, Schreiben vom 26.4.2016.
Zur Nummerierung häufig genutzter Quellen siehe Link "Recherche und Quellen".

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