Search for Names, Places and Biographies

Already layed Stumbling Stones

back to select list


Erzähler: Thomas Karallus
Sprecherin: Katja Pilawski

Thekla Bernau (née Benjamin) * 1900

Groothoffgasse 8 (Hamburg-Nord, Winterhude)

1941 Riga

further stumbling stones in Groothoffgasse 8:
Selma Benjamin

Selma Benjamin, née Pasch, born on 10 May 1868, deported on 6 Dec. 1941 to Riga
Thekla Bernau, née Benjamin, born on 29 May 1900, deported on 6 Dec. 1941 to Riga

Groothoffgasse 8

Selma Benjamin was born on 10 May 1868 the daughter of Heymann and Rosalie Pasch in Reisen. She married Martin Benjamin. On 29 May 1900, their daughter Thekla was born in Dannenberg.

In 1938, Thekla Bernau was forced – like other "full Jews,” even if they were in fact of the Protestant faith – to become a member of the Reich Association of Jews in Germany (Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland), one of whose branches was now the Jewish Community in Hamburg. Her Jewish religious tax (Kultussteuer) card file indicated her marital status as "single.” It is not known whether Thekla Bernau was married before or took on the last name Bernau for other reasons. In the 1935/36 Hamburg Teachers’ Directory, Thekla Bernau is listed as a teacher at the school in Bismarckstraße. The entry also mentions her private address as Groothoffgasse 8, where Thekla Bernau lived with her mother Selma Benjamin on the fourth floor. Her father Benjamin had already died by that time. In 1939, Selma Benjamin and her daughter Thekla left [had to leave] the apartment in Groothoffgasse, moving to accommodations at Lehmweg 57. One may presume that this move was not based on their free choice but that the two had to give up their apartment – like many other Jewish people – to a non-Jewish occupant.

After Jewish teachers were banned from teaching at public schools, Thekla Bernau managed to find a job at ‘Cläre Lehmann Schule,’ a private school in Heilwigstraße, until that school, too, was closed in 1940.

On 6 Dec. 1941, Thekla Bernau and her mother Selma Benjamin were deported to Riga and later – probably in Mar. 1942 – murdered. One last letter by Thekla Bernau is extant that she wrote at the collection point for deportees in Hartungstraße – where the Hamburg Kammerspiele are located today. The caretaker mentioned in the last paragraph, to whom she gave the letter, kept his word and saved this last sign of life from Thekla Bernau for posterity.

Thekla Bernau’s last letter (source:

"Now we know: We will be off on 5 or 6 Dec. No one asks where to. Everyone knows it, and no one admits to it. We are now eleven persons in the two rooms in Hartungstraße. The Borowers are the oldest ones and both ill. Will they survive the journey? Wolf B[orower] says to his Fanni that it will be the promised land. And when she whimpers and tries to straighten her swollen knee, he caresses her and says she should be pleased about the ice flowers on the windows. Such beautiful ice flowers this year! As never before. And outside, he says, everything is so cheerful, no trace of the war. Had she seen the spruces and firs that would be fetched into the houses soon. The Christians decorate their firs; but it is Hanukkah now and we do not even have a Hanukkah menorah, only the ice flowers. Ice flowers sometimes replace the Hanukkah menorahs.

The copying pencil is so hard that I have to moisten it using my lips. When I think everything over, my lips dry up and I cannot write any longer. For whom am I writing? Perhaps so that Margarethe and Selma may read it one day after all. I wonder whether it is as cold in Friendsfield? Where is Friendsfield located? It is located far away from Dannenberg where I was born, and far away from Hartungstraße in Hamburg. So far away that I am unable to send any thoughts from here to there. Laura Mosbach is from Bünde in Westphalia and knows how to roll cigars from old leaves and newspapers. However, neither the Wenkels nor the Grothkopps want to smoke them. She is sad. Who wants to smoke these days anyway!

In the morning, SS men show up three times in succession, demanding our papers. We say that we have had to hand them over already and that we are registered. Might there be some fuel for heating and a doctor for Fanni Borower? They sneer and say that we do not need a stove anymore and that there aren’t any doctors left even for decent people. For decent people, he says. And Fanni Borower says she is doing better already. No trouble. No one wants to make any "trouble,” because otherwise one is sorted out and forced to come along immediately. Who knows where.

At two o’clock in the afternoon, everyone gets a slice of bread, jam, and some drippings. No one asks whether this really goes well together. We eat all of that up. Like rats that eat everything up as well without asking whether it goes well together. With it, we get hot malted coffee substitute. Then a woman appears. Fat and coarse. Body search! She grabs everyone beneath the shirt and in the pants. We have to hold up our arms and spread our legs. She feels her way through everything and takes away old Mrs. Borower’s tincture for her knee. That, she says, was alcohol. And any type of alcohol was forbidden for Jews. On penalty of death. Fanni whimpers, Wolf covers her mouth. The woman says that she is knitting a sweater for her son for Christmas but that you could not get such fine wool as in Mrs. Wenkel’s scarf anywhere. The Jews always had everything. The best! However, soon she would own such wool as well. Perhaps as early as tomorrow. Mrs. Wenkel ties the scarf tighter around her neck. She does not want her scarf to be unraveled for the fat woman’s Christmas sweater. The woman says things would get underway early tomorrow. We would be awoken, subsequently having to turn in our watches as well and our wedding rings. And no one should dare to hide anything. I will also have to hand over my writing; perhaps it will never reach Margarethe and Selma in Friendsfield. Never! All we do and think here is "never”!

In the afternoon, old Mr. Borower suffers a heart attack. We massage him and have to let in some fresh air, even though everyone is freezing. He is blue in the face, and we give him the rest from the pot to drink. "It will be the promised land!” he says repeatedly. "You will see it.” He says it over and over and has no belief in the promised land anymore. After we close the window, the ice flowers have disappeared. Fewer people are on the street. Two black cars park in front of the house. Guards. We are all accommodated in four houses. Children are crying above us. One can hear noise from the house opposite and see candles being lit. At nightfall, a man comes walking down the street, dressing up as Sankt Nikolaus in front of the door. First, he puts on a red cape, then a mask and a high pointed hat. In his hand, he holds a sack and a birch rod. Is Saint Nicholas’ Day today or tomorrow? One forgets that which is. It would be better of one were able to forget even more. The man enters the room, the noise increases. Lights, noise, joy, gifts … In the evening, I have a crying fit.

Mrs. Wenkel says it will be the same as with the previous transports. The cattle cars stood at the Sternschanze neighborhood. Open. Women and men separate. At Altona, cars from Kiel and Hannover are added. Wolf does not want to be separated from Fanni. He laments not having done it like his friend Bukofzer. Bukofzer and his wife hung themselves. Why do you hang yourself? I have to muster all my strength and think only of the fact that Margarethe and Selma are safe in Friendsfield.

Now it is shortly before midnight, or later already? Over there they are celebrating. Lights, warmth. The caretaker comes by and says it would be better to give him all valuables we still have for safekeeping. I have nothing. Only these sheets and the copying pen. He gets me an old envelope. This is where I will stuff everything and give it to him. He is supposed to mail it to Margarethe and Selma. He promises to do so. I will not write anything anymore. Adieu, my loved ones. Do not think badly of me.”

On 6 Dec., 753 Jewish residents of Hamburg were deported to Riga. The Hamburg Memorial Book lists 726 murdered persons from this transport alone, among them Selma Benjamin and Thekla Bernau as well as all of the persons Thekla Bernau mentions in her letter as fellow occupants at Hartungstraße.

[Note: There is no conclusive evidence regarding the reference to Margarethe and Selma in the letter; possibly, they are the daughters of Thekla Bernau, though they are not listed on the Jewish religious tax (Kultussteuer) card]

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

© Recherchiert und zusammengestellt von Johann-Hinrich Möller, Oktober 2007

Staatsarchiv Hamburg, 522-1 Jüdische Gemeinden, 992 b, Kultussteuerkartei No. 22123 und 30319
Hamburgisches Lehrerverzeichnis 1935/36 und

print preview  / top of page