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Marie Therese Moser (née Strohmberg) * 1884
Woldsenweg 5 (Hamburg-Nord, Eppendorf)
Bernard Moser, born on 20 July 1882 in Vechta, deported on 25 Oct. 1941 to Lodz, died there on 8 July 1942
Marie Therese Moser, née Strohmberg, born on 31 Dec. 1884 in Darmstadt, deported on 25 Oct. 1941 to Lodz, deported further on 10 Oct. 1942 to Chelmno
Bernard Moses was born on 20 July 1882 in Vechta near Oldenburg. The reason for his untypical first name of Bernard instead of Bernhard: The midwife was bad at spelling! He found out about that only 37 years later when his birth certificate was needed for his wedding. All his life, Bernard worked as a textiles merchant (textiles, undergarments, gloves, etc.) as had his father before him.
Marie Therese Moses, née Strohmberg, was born on 31 Dec. 1884 in Darmstadt (Hessen). Until the outbreak of World War I, her father was a successful producer of straw hats. Marie, a very well educated young woman, worked as an escort and secretary for well-to-do families. At the time she met Bernard, she was engaged in service for the family of Max Robinsohn, co-owner of one of Hamburg’s largest department stores.
Marie was 35 and Bernard 37 years old when they were married in 1919. They did not practice their faith and considered themselves instead as patriotic Germans. Bernard had even fought in the war as a grenadier, first in 1914 on the Russian front in East Prussia (Battle of Tannenberg), and after 1917 on the western front. He was awarded the Iron Cross Second Class. His brother Gustav was killed in action against the British in 1915.
Wolfgang Moses (nickname Wölfchen) was born on 25 Nov. 1920. According to family accounts, as an only child he was apparently extremely spoilt and brought up badly. Marie, an excellent seamstress and knitter, put "Wölfchen” in the cutest outfits. In 1930, Wolfgang started attending the oldest and most renowned local high school, the Academic School of the Johanneum (Gelehrtenschule des Johanneums), founded in 1529 by Johannes Bugenhagen, a follower of Martin Luther.
At that time, they still spent happy days: vacation at Timmendorf Beach (Timmendorfer Strand) in Schleswig-Holstein with sand castles, beach chairs, and a comfortable hotel; or vacation in Oberstdorf in the Allgäu region, including collecting wild strawberries, climbing in ravines, and Bernard’s pig-headed solo ascent to the Nebelhorn, with a very worried Marie having to wait for him below. Later, they could hardly enjoy their holidays in Germany anymore, as Jews were no longer admitted to most public pools and seaside resorts. As a result, they traveled to other countries such as Denmark, Sweden, and Italy. Wolfgang remembered later that these were the only times when his parents seem to have been happy and relaxed.
Wolfgang was 13 years old when the Nazis came to power. The changes in the country crept up gradually, at first hardly being noticed. Initially, the restrictions were aimed primarily at political activists, intellectuals, and big Jewish companies; therefore, as a middle-class textiles merchant, Bernard felt relatively safe. In 1934, the family followed the example of the other relatives in changing their last name from MOSES to MOSER, which was not recognizable immediately as being Jewish. As for the rest, they tried to remain inconspicuous as "normal Jews.”
However, the introduction of the race laws and other regulations made life noticeably more difficult. Swastika flags hung from the hallways of the Academic School of the Johanneum and many a teacher even wore the uniform of the SA or SS. Jewish men and boys were no longer allowed to even date "Aryan” women and girls. Going to the movies had also become impossible for Wolfgang. Together with five other Jewish boys, he was not permitted to attend the 1938 high school graduation ceremony (Abiturfeier) anymore. Only because Bernard had served on the front in World War I was his son allowed to attend university at all. However, in the fall of 1938, after studying chemistry for only one semester, he was already expelled from university.
All of these restrictions and punitive measures led to isolation of the Jewish population. Marie and Bernard, who had never had anything to do with the Jewish religion, began attending the reformed synagogue. Wolfgang was sent to Jewish dancing classes as well as mountain hiking clubs and holiday camps.
The family’s business and assets were confiscated piece by piece. Bernard slowly but surely lost his non-Jewish customers and Marie her non-Jewish friends. The family had to take in subtenants at Woldsenweg 5. The situation forced upon them by financial straits subsequently turned out to be good luck. One of the subtenants was an Englishwoman by the name of Elizabeth Lavina Botfield. Quite the lady, she wore tweed and pullovers to go with her flaming red hair, and she was always perfectly made up. When the political circumstances in Germany escalated, Bernard used the very last remaining funds to finance Elizabeth’s return to her native country. As a service in return, she was to find a guardian and a university place for Wolfgang there. By the time, Great Britain only admitted refugees that could produce a guarantee for their livelihood.
Miraculously, Elizabeth Botfield succeeded in finding Dudley Joel as a guardian. Dudley was a Conservative Member of Parliament, a millionaire, and an owner of racehorses. He and his wife were childless and they supported Wolfgang as well as three other Jewish boys with university places in Britain, thus enabling them to flee Germany. With two chests packed by his mother with loving care, Wolfgang reached London by ship in Jan. 1939. Only 18 years old, he would never see his parents again.
Elizabeth Botfield also attempted to find positions for Bernard and Marie as domestic helps in Great Britain and working with several refugee organizations she strove to get them out of the country; unfortunately, in vain. Because of the numerous bureaucratic obstacles, time ran out on them. Moreover, after the outbreak of war in Sept. 1939, it was no longer possible to leave the country. They were trapped. Wolfgang and his parents were able to correspond only via the Red Cross. The letters were limited to 25 words each. These were perfectly "normal” letters to the son who studied abroad, letters in which they corresponded about how he was doing, what he was up to, and whether he was studying hard. Not a word about the increasingly more dangerous situation. They hoped that it would not become even worse.
The time of the deportations began. The common procedure entailed ordering Jews by registered letter to report to the assembly point in order to deport them from there on the next day. However, the janitor, Mr. Kalmaier, reported after the war that Wolfgang’s parents were arrested by the SS at Woldsenweg and taken away; probably, Bernard and Marie had not followed the "evacuation order.” The night before, Bernard had given Mr. Kalmaier the family bible for safekeeping. He also related that Bernard had thrown his and his brother’s Iron Crosses at the SS men. He reportedly yelled, "… so this is what one gets for fighting for the fatherland!” The next day, Mr. Kalmaier saved photo albums from the apartment on Woldsenweg, noticing in the process that the confiscated belongings of Marie and Bernard were stacked on the table for the planned auctioning. The bible and albums have been in family ownership to this day.
According to the documents of the hospital in Lodz related to his death, Bernard died of malnutrition in the ghetto on 8 July 1942. His "deregistration” ("Abmeldung”) was recorded as early as 10 June 1942. Marie was deported further on 15 Sept. 1942, in all probability to the Kulmhof (Chelmno) extermination camp. Her "deregistration” was recorded on 10 Oct. 1942.
In Kulmhof, "gas vans” were used to murder people. About 50 to 70 persons each were locked into the loading space of a truck, and then the exhaust fumes from the tailpipe were channeled into the compartment, killing all occupants of carbon monoxide poisoning within about ten minutes. Between 7 Dec. 1941 and Mar. 1943, approx. 145,000 persons were murdered in this way in Kulmhof. Nearly all of them were Jews from the ghetto in Lodz. So far, it has been impossible to find any documents establishing Marie’s death but everything points to her having been murdered there.
For decades, Wolfgang remained silent about his life before and during the war. He struggled with a guilty conscience because he had been unable to do more to rescue his parents. He spoke perfect English without accent. He changed his citizenship and later even became a Christian. After the end of the war, he visited Germany frequently but he did not wish to live there; his memories were simply too painful.
Wolfgang, later called Wolf, had four children of his own and four grandchildren. He died in Great Britain on 14 June 1996 at the age of 75.
Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: October 2017
© Paula Frances Moser
Quellen: 1; 2; 4; 5; 8; StaH 314-15 OFP, Fvg 7652; StaH 522-1 Jüd. Gemeinden, 992e2 Band 1; AB 1933; Verzeichnis Hamburger Börsenfirmen; Archiwum Panstwowe Lodz.
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