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Kurt Hamburger * 1924
Snitgerstieg 9 (Hamburg-Mitte, Horn)
ERSCHOSSEN 1944 BEI
Leo Hamburger, born 24 Feb. 1898 in Vienna, expelled 15 July 1936 to Bratislava, murdered in Dec. 1944 near Banska Bystrica, Czechoslovakia (present-day Slovakia)
Gusta Hamburger, née Vogel, born 13 Feb. 1898 in Lviv, expelled 15 July 1936 to Bratislava, murdered in Dec. 1944 near Banska Bystrica, Czechoslovakia (present-day Slovakia)
Kurt Hamburger, born 23 Dec. 1924, expelled 15 July 1936 to Bratislava, murdered in Dec. 1944 near Banska Bystrica, Czechoslovakia (present-day Slovakia)
Berthold Hamburger, born 26 Feb. 1933 in Hamburg, expelled to 15 July 1936, Bratislava, murdered in Dec. 1944 near Banska Bystrica, Czechoslovakia (present-day Slovakia)
Greta Hamburg, born 16 Jan. 1936 in Hamburg, expelled to 15 July 1936, Bratislava, murdered in Dec. 1944 near Banska Bystrica, Czechoslovakia (present-day Slovakia)
Susanne Hamburger, born 27 Jan. 1939 in Bratislava, murdered in Dec. 1944 near Banska Bystrica, Czechoslovakia (present-day Slovakia)
"This is it. Make the best of it.” These are the words of wisdom that Gusta Hamburg instilled in her ten children. She was born Gusta Betty Vogel in Lviv (Galicia, present-day Ukraine), but lived in Vienna from the age of three. It was there that she met Leo Hamburger (*24 Feb. 1898). Leo Hamburger’s family was originally from Bratislava in Slovakia, but had lived for some time in Vienna before Leo was born. His father, Ignaz Hamburger, a merchant, had married Leonie Jelenko, who was born in Vienna to a music-loving family. Besides Leo, the couple had two daughters. Leo began to play the violin at age three. After finishing his schooling he began a commercial apprenticeship, but didn’t finish it. He did not serve in the First World War because of a heart condition. He began working in 1915 as an office clerk, then for many years as a salesman, and later as a sales representative. When the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed after the First World War, the members of the Hamburger family had to choose between Austrian and Czechoslovakian citizenship. Because Leo Hamburger was ill at the time, he missed the deadline to apply for Austrian citizenship, and was thus the only member of the family who had Czechoslovakian citizenship.
Against the wishes of both of their families, Gusta Vogel and Leo Hamburger married on 31 March 1920. Their first child, Hedwig, was born on 31 March 1920. She later said that the family’s ten children were the result of the great love between her parents.
Leo Hamburger planned to emigrate to South America with his family, which had now grown to include a son, Friedrich, born on 7 December 1921. He first went to Dortmund alone to work in the mines. He was there for 18 months until he was expelled when the French occupied the Ruhr in 1923. He moved to Hamburg, where his uncle lived. Siegfried Jelenko, his mother’s brother, was head director at the Hamburgische Stadttheater (present-day Hamburg State Opera). Gusta and the children joined him, and they lived first in Hammerbrook, at Thüringerstraße 56. They moved twice in Hammerbrook before they finally settled in Horn. In October 1923 Leo Hamburger found a job in the offices of the Hamburg German-Israelitic Community, but it ended six month later. When he began working for the Community, hyperinflation was at its peak, and he assessed his fees to the community at 50 Million Reichsmarks (Nov. 1923: 1 US$ = 4,210,500,000,000 RM). The couple’s son Emil was born on 11 October 1923, their first child born in Hamburg.
In the fall of 1924, Leo Hamburger once again became a travelling sales representative. On 23 December 1923, the family grew with the birth of a third son, Kurt, of whom Hedwig later said that although he was born prematurely, he became the biggest and strongest of the brothers. After a short time of unemployment, Leo found work in the following two years as an assistant in state-run agencies like the Cemetery Management Administration, the Planning & Zoning Department, the Statistics Office and the Tax Authority, but as a foreigner he could not be given a permanent position. He obtained a trade permit in October 1926, and was thus able to earn money between jobs as a sales representative or door-to-door salesman. He traded in fruits, eggs, butter, poultry, and smoked fish as well as household items.
In the meantime Hedwig had reached school-age and entered the Jewish Girls’ School on Carolinenstraße. Shortly before, on 26 February 1927, the twins Leonie and Bertha-Alexandra were born. Leonie was named for her maternal grandmother. The next son, Ignaz, who was born on 1 May 1931, was named for Leo Hamburger’s father. The child died at the age of three months. When Friedrich, Emil, and Kurt reached school-age, their parents sent them to the Talmud Tora School.
Leo Hamburger’s jobs with the various city authorities provided him with a regular income, but it was not enough to support the eight-member family. He earned additional income as an advertising illustrator and the conductor of a dance band. The band played at weddings and other occasions, and with the help of Leo’s uncle Siegfried Jelenko, even had some public performances. After working for two years with the Tax Authority, Leo lost his job on 31 January 1929 when the office cut back on personnel. He was unable to find a new position, and probably made his secondary jobs to his primary source of income. He received welfare benefits beginning in 1930, primarily for payment of his rent. The family was given clothing by the Hamburg German-Israelitic Community and the welfare agency.
Because of the size of the family, the Hamburgers were granted an apartment with the Genossenschaft der Kinderreichen, a residential cooperative for families with many children, at Snitgerstieg 9, across from the Rauhes Haus. They then moved to a house in the Steuben Settlement, a new housing development on the outskirts of the city in the Horner Marsh. Although Leo was not a German citizen and received welfare benefits, he had been approved in early 1932 for a house and lot at Horner Rampe 27. As part of his welfare support, he worked in the construction of the development. His 1000m² lot provided space for the house, a garden, and a chicken run. Despite their poverty, guests were always welcome in Gusta and Leo Hamburger’s home. The children brought their friends to visit, and Leo played music with them.
Shortly after the birth of another son, Berthold, on 26 February 1933, the twins Leonie and Bertha began school at the Jewish Girls’ School on Carolinenstraße. Hedwig finished school in 1935 and entered an apprenticeship with the Harry Laski & Son real-estate company. She took evening courses during her apprenticeship. Friedrich Hamburger finished school in 1936 and apprenticed as a metalworker.
Leo Hamburger continued to look for work. In 1934, when he was employed as a representative for the Hempelmann company in Hildesheim, he falsified some orders to correlate with the commissions that he felt he was due. He miscalculated to his detriment. There was no intent to commit fraud, but he was sentenced in August 1935 to one month in prison for falsification of documents. His plea for pardon, in which he cited his financial distress, his domestic situation and his conscription to a work detail at the Horn Racecourse as reasons for his actions, was denied. He began serving his sentence on 12 October 1935.
After her pregnancy with Greta, Gusta Hamburger suffered from sciatica, and she was bed-ridden with pain in her hips and thighs. Hedwig, who was 15 at the time, acted as mother to the family, while still continuing her schooling. In this kind of emergency situation, Leo Hamburger took advantage of his lack of employment to care for the family and household.
Greta was six months old when Leo Hamburger received notification, on 15 July 1936, that he and his family were to be expelled from the country. It cannot be determined if the expulsion was connected to his conviction. It is possible that the Health & Welfare Agency chose this path to rid themselves of a ten-member family continually requiring assistance "at the expense of the public.”
Leaving behind nearly all of their household goods, Leo Hamburger and his family travelled to his sister in Vienna. She herself lived in modest circumstances, and only grudgingly took them in. They were also unwelcome with relatives in Bratislava, but they settled there in an apartment at Michaeltorgasse 8. Leo Hamburger found odd jobs as an advertising illustrator and photographer, specializing in passport photos.
Friedrich continued his apprenticeship as a metalworker. Because she lacked the necessary language skills, Hedwig was not able to finish her professional training, and worked as a nanny, first for 18 months in Hungary, then in Bratislava. Emil and the twins attended the German school. The family’s financial situation remained precarious, even after Friedrich finished his apprenticeship and found a job and Emil began an apprenticeship as a goldsmith. The family were supporters of Zionism, and the boys belonged to the Maccabi Hatzair youth movement.
When the Second Czechoslovakian Republic was established on 6 October 1938, Slovakia became an autonomous region. Attacks on the Jewish population increased. On 14 March 1939, Slovakia was officially recognized as an independent state, but was de facto a client state of Nazi Germany, which began to take control of its domestic and foreign policy. Anti-Semitism became ever more prevalent. The twins were forced to leave the German school. When Emil’s Jewish master was forced to give up his goldsmith’s workshop, Gusta and Leo Hamburger sent their 15-year-old son to Palestine. Maccabi Hatzair organized his emigration via Italy. The family did not have enough money to emigrate together.
Beginning in mid-1940, the German government began to influence Slovakia more directly. In 1941, Slovakia introduced anti-Semitic measures corresponding to those in the Reich. The Center for Jews, Ustredna Zidov (UZ), the Slovakian counterpart to the Reich Association of Jews in Germany, was established in September 1940. It was an agency in the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and functioned as the central representation for Jews, training them for manual labor, facilitating their emigration and overseeing Jewish schools and welfare organizations. The UZ main office was in Bratislava at Edelgasse 6 – Leo Hamburger found a job there. The UZ was to register all Jews living in Slovakia by May 1941. Beginning in November 1941, it was responsible for constructing the labor and internment camps. Leo worked on the construction of the Sered’ labor camp on the grounds of a former garrison east of Bratislava on the Váh. At first, Slovakian Jews, who were by this time almost all poverty-stricken, could volunteer to move to the camp to work there. In early January 1942, Gusta Hamburger and seven of her children moved into two rooms in a former horse stable. Two more children had been born in Bratislava – Julius on 25 January 1937 and Susanne on 27 January 1939. Friedrich had been conscripted to forced labor with the Slovakian army, where he did metalwork for pioneer units.
The camp was initially autonomous, but quickly came under the control of the Hlinka Guard. Before the deportations of Slovakian Jews to the Auschwitz and Majdanek extermination camps in occupied Poland began in the spring of 1942, several thousands of them were concentrated at Sered’. Once they were deported, Sered’ became a forced labor camp. The now-empty buildings were used as factories for high-quality furniture and for the production of textile goods. Hedwig Hamburger worked in one of these garment factories. When the deportations ceased in October 1942, life in the camp became almost like that in a small village. Hedwig Hamburger worked in the kindergarten, and the younger siblings attended school and took part in Zionist activities. The camp offered its 1300 ‘residents’ cultural and athletic activities. In November 1942 Hedwig married Geza Langfelder, a well-known soccer player from Bratislava. The village idyll was deceptive – Sered’ was a forced labor camp, where the inmates hid smuggled weapons to use in the event of further deportations.
From 1942 until May 1943, Friedrich Hamburger was assigned to a work detail in Svaty-Jur, which could hardly be differentiated from a labor camp. After his release from the work detail, he was classified as a "wirtschaftlich wichtiger Jude” (Jew important for the economy), and worked on the construction of a residential college. This job protected him from being sent to a camp or deported. His status also allowed him to visit his parents and siblings in Sered’. They were also protected from deportation as long as they were assigned to a work detail.
The Slovak National Uprising was launched on 29 August 1944. It was an armed insurrection against the Hlinka Guard and the government’s collaboration with Nazi Germany. Prisoners from the Sered’ camp participated, and the camp was opened. As a precaution, Leo Hamburger had put each of the older children in charge of one of the younger ones. Leo and Gusta fled with Kurt, Lia-Leonie, Bertha, Berthold, Greta and Susanne to the area around Banská Bystrica, which was under the control of the insurgents, and went into hiding. Hedwig and her husband took the seven-year-old Julius to Bratislava.
The Germans launched a counter-offensive and largely suppressed the uprising. Lia-Leonie and Bertha were able to flee. They looked "Aryan” and spoke fluent German, so they were taken on as nurses in the German field hospital in Banská Bystrica. There they saw their parents for the last time. Leo and Gusta and the youngest children were caught shortly after the uprising began, and Kurt joined the rebels. Leo and Gusta were assigned to a forced labor detail in the field hospital.
The Germans’ retaliation was especially harsh on the Jews in the conquered territory. Between the end of November 1944 and January 1945 they executed 1500 Jews in the region of Banská Bystrica and buried them in mass graves. In all probability Leo, Gusta, Kurt, Berthold, Greta, and Susanne Hamburger were among the dead. They are presumed to have been shot on 30 November 1944.
After the uprising, Friedrich Hamburger could no longer claim the status of a "wirtschaftich wichtiger Jude.” He procured false identity papers that classified him as an "Aryan” and was able to go into hiding in Bratislava. When his sister Hedwig, her husband, and Julius came to Bratislava, he found a tiny room for them with a Slovakian. During the day they stayed on the outskirts of town to avoid the razzias and possible denunciation, since many people in Bratislava knew Geza Landberger from the time before 1941, and denunciations were a daily occurrence. In the meantime, the Sered’ camp had been reestablished, and was now under the command of the SS and Alois Brunner. One after the other the family members were recognized as Jews – first Julius in November 1944, then Hedwig and her husband in January 1945 – and sent back to Sered’. When Hedwig and Geza arrived, they were unable to find Julius. He had probably been deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in December 1944 – he survived until the camp was liberated in January 1945. Friedrich Hamburger was sent to Sered’ on 20 January 1945. He was there when the camp was liberated by the Red Army on 1 April 1945.
Hedwig survived her deportation to Theresienstadt and returned to Bratislava.
By 1948, anti-Semitism in Slovakia had become so prevalent that most Jews chose to leave the country. Hedwig, Friedrich, and the twins Leonie and Bertha Hamburger emigrated to Israel, where their brother Emil had been living for ten years. Julius followed in 1950. After the liberation of Auschwitz he was sent to Prague via Kosice, and then to London in the care of a Jewish committee. There the prisoner number tattooed on his arm was removed – this moment became the symbol for his new life.
The only record of the deaths of Leo and Gusta Hamburger is an affidavit submitted by their daughter Hedwig to the United Restitution Organization on 10 February 1960 in Haifa. She testified "that, after the war, I looked at the Bratislava Jewish Community’s lists of the names of those persons shot by the Germans in connection with their retreat from the region around Banska-Bystrica/Slovakia in late December 1944 and buried in three mass graves. The names of both my parents were on these lists.”
Translator: Amy Lee
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
© Hildegard Thevs
Quellen: 1; AB 1932 u.a.; StaH, 213-11 Staatsanwaltschaft Landgericht – Strafsachen 4764/35; 351-11 AfW, 111023, 201221, 130298, 240298, 250137, 080520, 260227, 260227; 376-3 Zentralgewerbekartei, Spz VIII Cc3; 552-1 Jüd. Gemeinden, 391; FZH, Werkstatt der Erinnerung, 597; Lipscher, Juden im Slowakischen Staat; Enzyklopädie des Holocaust; Neustadt, Jüdische Zwangsarbeit, http://www.collegium- carolinum.de/vera/boht2006/2006-14-Neustadt.pdf, Zugriff 13.2.2010.
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