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Already layed Stumbling Stones

Ruth Isaac
© Yad Vashem

Ruth Isaak * 1926

Brahmsallee 16 (Eimsbüttel, Harvestehude)

1941 Minsk

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

Michael Isaak, b. 7.3.1888 in Hamburg, deported to Minsk on 11.18.1941
Pauline Isaak, née Sealtiel, b. 6.17.1900 in Berlin, deported to Minsk on 11.18.1941
Daniel Isaak, b. 4.26.1923 in Hamburg, flight to Holland 1939, murdered in Sobibor 1943
Ruth Isaak, b. 11.12.1926 in Hamburg, deported to Minsk on 11.18.1941

Brahmsallee 16

In the summer of 1993, the then 65-year old Menachem Usai who lived in Israel visited the city of his birth, Hamburg. Here, he said, his family had lived for centuries, until the National Socialist terror forced its dissolution. He, the then ten-year old Max, and his sister Jenny were sent by their parents to England in 1939. The other family members, parents and two other children, fell victim to the extermination madness of the National Socialists. Four commemorative stones in front of the house at Brahmsallee 16 remember them.

Max Isaak, who changed his name to Menachem Usai, told what befell him in the period of his childhood in an interview given in Hamburg. The city had now become quite foreign to him, but he could remember the way to the Talmud Torah School he had attended for four years. He knew that for fifty years his grandfather had instructed beginning students in the reading and writing of German and Hebrew texts. The memory of his grandfather, David Isaak, was the point of departure for his grandson’s recollections of his family history. David Isaak was born in 1840 in the Hessian village of Hesselbach, which had a small Jewish community. After three years of study at a teacher seminar in Hanover, he became a teacher at the Talmud Torah School in Hamburg in 1864. At his jubilee in 1911, he was specially honored. In the ceremonial address, the students were urged to pursue principles that defined the lives of David Isaak and his Rüdesheim-born wife Rosalie: "Sense of home, the cultivation of German literature and character … Become very good Jews, very good Germans, very good citizens of Hamburg.” His venerable grandfather died in 1914, his wife in 1936. Thus, she experienced how the "very good German Jews” were brutally made into enemies.

David and Rosalie Isaak left behind three children who lived in Hamburg and associated with one another: Isidor, Adele, who married Cohn, and Michael. The youngest son, Michael (b. 1888), with whom we are concerned here, became a businessman. On 1 June 1922, he married Pauline Juliane Sealtiel. A photograph of Pauline shows a strikingly beautiful young woman in a self-possessed pose. She was the eldest of four children born to Benjamin and Helene Sealtiel.

This family was so well known in Hamburg that a letter with only their name and no address on it was still correctly delivered. The Sealtiel family belonged to the Hamburg Portuguese Jewish Congregation. It differed from the Israelite Jewish Congregation of "German Jews” or Ashkenazim, which constituted the majority of practicing Jews in Hamburg. The ancestors of the "Portuguese” or "Sephardic” Jews had been driven out of the Iberian Peninsula and settled in Hamburg in the sixteenth century, where they founded their own congregation. Into modern times, they preserved the language of their divine worship and the culture of their origins; in the exercise of their spiritual offices, they wore the old-Spanish vestments, buckled shoes, and pointed hats. Pauline was raised in a pious Sephardic family.

The young couple, Michael and Pauline Isaak, lived together with Michael’s grandmother, Rosalie Isaak, at Parkallee 20. They had four children: Daniel (b. 4.16.1923), Jenny (b. 9.30.1924), Ruth (b. 11.12.1926), and Max (b. 11.14.1928). Nothing suggests that this was anything but a happy family. The boys went to the Talmud Torah School, the girls to the Israelite Girls’ School on Carolinenstrasse. The grown-ups and the children associated with other Jewish families in the quarter; they scarcely had anything to do with the "Goyim” (non-Jews). However, Christian nursemaids and domestics probably lived with the family. Pauline taught her children the ceremonial rituals of the Sephardim. She experienced with them the consecration of the "Esnoga,” or synagogue, of the Portuguese Jewish Congregation, the "Bet Israel,” on 14 March 1935 in a converted villa at Innocentiastrasse 37. The children of the Isaak family regarded their belonging to the Sephardim as something special. They were impressed by the blaze of color in the glass windows, by the solemn singing, by the Oriental-seeming atmosphere, and the reverence for all the ritual practices. This was different than the comparatively mundane worship service in the synagogue on Bornplatz, which the family often otherwise attended, because the father, Michael, was Ashkenazic. However, this fact did not signify a preference for one tendency or the other, and also was of no consequence in the children’s education. They could take part in the worship at either synagogue. Max, a.k.a. Menachem, described his family as "very observant, Orthodox.” As to the parents of Pauline, the situation was the opposite. Pauline’s father Benjamin Sealtiel was Sephardic, her mother Helene, Ashkenazic. Her father used to say: "My wife is an angel with all the good qualities. She has only one failing. She is Aschkenazic. But she cannot help it." Mother Helene took great pains to learn all the beautiful Sephardic customs.

The family did not know material worries. Only after the National Socialists came to power was the father’s income drastically curtailed. Perhaps, that had something to do with the changes at Brahmsallee 16 in 1936. Pauline Isaak appeared in the Hamburg directory as owner of a "perfumery.” It was likely that her cosmetics business had essentially to do with contributing to support of the family. Hanna Isaak, the daughter of Michael’s brother Isidor and his wife Lea, also moved in at Brahmsallee 16. She remained behind in Hamburg after her two brothers and her parents emigrated.

After years of patient waiting and hope, the horizon darkened in 1938. Michael Isaak paid the necessary sum in order to get a "Certificate of Clearance” for emigration. The Isaak parents were concerned above all to bring their children to safety. "The children must get out,” they said. At that time, many children had "to get out,” said Menachem Usai in an interview. "Our parents dispersed us all." He recalled how much his mother cried at his departure, but not about whether and how she explained to a ten-year old why she had to send him alone out into the world. It was probably the simplest for the fifteen-year old Jenny to find a place as a domestic in London. She arrived in January 1939. In May, there followed little Max in a children’s transport. The children’s group was accompanied by an older girl, Eva Carlebach, daughter of the chief rabbi. In London, relatives cared for Jenny and Max. Their mother, Pauline, thanked their aunt and uncle effusively for the great efforts to find suitable housing for Max. "Little Jenny recognizes your love and kindness quite clearly, even though, out of shyness, she cannot express it, unlike the golden Max. Our Little Max is no letter-writer; when he is about writing he is concerned with other matters. But you already know him well; he is a dear rascal. The little one is papa’s pride and joy. And what my own little mama thought of him!” Thanks to the intervention of his relatives, Max was able to attend a Jewish school, the so-called Yeshiva.

The caring thoughts of the parents for the well-being of the children went further. In 1939, twelve-year old Ruth was taken along probably by friends or relatives to Belgium where she could, at first, be out of danger. Daniel emigrated alone in February 1939 to Holland. "From my Dani, praise the Lord, we have good reports,” wrote his mother Pauline to the aunt and uncle in London.

Michael and Pauline Isaak did not succeed in saving themselves in a foreign land. All sorts of reasons may have worked to this effect. Did they lack the money for all the fees and payments? Was there no longer any country ready to accept them, or were there no places left on ships? Since the outbreak of the war, everything became much more difficult. Only a few Jews succeeded in fleeing. On 10 May, the German armed forces pushed into neutral Belgium. The Belgian government expelled all male refugees, forcing hem over the border into France. Unaccompanied children were sent back to Germany, as was the case with Ruth Isaak. She once again lived with her parents and went, as before, to the Carolinenstrasse school, which was still called the "Jewish School in Hamburg,” where the few remaining boys and girls were instructed in one amalgamated class.

On the list of students deported to Minsk on 18 November 1941, was the name of Ruth Isaak, right above those of the four Jakobsohn sisters who lived on "Ostmarkstrasse” (formerly Hallerstrasse): Bertha, Ernestine, Eva, and Mathilde. Michael and Pauline Isaak were on this second mass transport to Minsk, as well as their niece, Hanna Isaak. The train left from the Lloyd Railroad Station in Bremen with 570 men and women form the Bremen State Police District. At the Hannover Railroad Station in Hamburg 480 Jews from the city were added. The trip went via Bad Oldesloe, Lübeck, Güstrow, Neubrandenburg, Stettin, Stargard, Bromberg, Thorn, Warsaw, Bialystok, and arrived in Minsk on 22 November. The ghetto had been laid waste by a previous murder action of the Polish Jewish inhabitants. They had been shot in order to make room for the "Jews of the German Reich.” The responsibility for the distribution of lodging and food had to be taken over by a Jewish Council, which carried out the German orders. Were the Council members too lenient, they would be severely punished or shot. A portion of the men who had come to Minsk were put to forced labor on the railroads, assigned to repair shops or army supply depots. Whether Michael Isaak, who was over 50 years old, was among them, we do not know. When and by what means he, his wife Pauline, and daughter Ruth were killed remains unclear to the present day. "Have no news of Pauline,” her brother Joseph "Israel” Sealtiel telegraphed, even as he himself fled on 17 July 1942 to relatives in London. No further news came.

Daniel Isaak was 16 years old when he emigrated legally to Holland. Verifiably, he lived in Enschede, near the German border, between 19 July 1939 and 30 December 1942, in a boarding house together with many Jewish people at Strootsweg 460. He found these lodgings after a half year’s search. Refugees were forbidden to work. How did David live? He might have tried to get visas for himself and his family at the US Consulate in Rotterdam; he might have turned to the Jewish Refugee Committee, the Central Office of German Émigrés, or the Dutch Jewish Council. Perhaps, he, like other young Germans, found work in the Council administration. In any case, he apparently lived undisturbed for three and a half years in Enschede, until 1942, when the persecution of Jews in Holland intensified. The anti-Jewish laws became more rigid; the wearing of the Jewish star was decreed; sudden raids rounded up hundreds of Jews and brought them in trucks to the Westerbork camp. From there, every Tuesday, trains loaded with Jewish prisoners left for one of the extermination sites in the East. Among the inmates of Westerbork, some of whom had been interned there since fleeing Germany, the unbelievable became a certainty: for there were no further signs of life from the deported. In Amsterdam, but also in the provinces, the anxiety grew that one would be seized. A delay afforded only a "suspension” upon proof that an individual performed an important function, be it inside the gigantic bureaucratic apparatus or in an important war industry. An attempt was made on behalf of David Isaak to send him to Bergen-Belsen as an exchange prisoner equipped with a Palestine-Certificate. A number of Jews interned there were held in readiness as a kind of valuable "bargaining chip” in an eventual exchange for Germans interned in foreign countries. The confirmation for Daniel Isaak actually succeeded--but a month too late. On 6 July 1943, he was delivered to the "police transit camp for Jews at Westerbork,” and deported on the next Tuesday transport of 13 July; upon his arrival in Sobibor, he was immediately murdered.

The family was cruelly decimated. Of Pauline’s siblings, only her brother David survived, of whom Menachem Usai said: "This uncle was good.” After Palestine, David Sealtiel led an adventurous life; he served five years in the French Foreign Legion. Than he fought with the "Haganah” underground in Palestine. On a mission to Germany, he fell into the hands of the Gestapo, was arrested and tortured, then released upon condition that he leave the country. He awaited his expulsion to South America with his sister and brother-in-law Isaak in Hamburg. After the founding of the State of Israel, he made a meteoric career in the army. As a general and later as a diplomatic envoy to the Netherlands, he was a famous personality. He died in Jerusalem in 1969. His brother Joseph was the last president of the Portuguese Congregation in Hamburg. He was deported to Theresienstadt and in March 1945 murdered in Dachau. His wife Else and 6-month old child were also sent to Theresienstadt; her life ended in the gas chamber of Auschwitz. Pauline’s younger sister was seized in her flight to the border and only avoided her murder through suicide.

Translator: Richard Levy
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

Stand: September 2019
© Inge Grolle

Quellen: 1; 4; 5; 8; StaH 351-11 Amt für Wiedergutmachung 23563; Studemund-Halévy (Hg.), Sefarden, S. 901–935; E-Mail Auskunft v. 22.5. und 4.6. 2013 durch Bert van Veenendal, Staatsarchiv Enschede; E-Mail Auskunft von José Martin, v. 26.11.2012; E-Mail Auskunft v. Denise Rein, The Central Archives for the History of Jewish People, v. 19.5.2013; Kopie von Briefen aus der Sammlung Familie Sealtiel P 178.3, Private Korrespondenz 1931–1942; FZH/WdE Interview mit Menachem Usai aus dem Jahr 1993; Hesdörffer, Bekannte traf man viele …; Randt, Talmud Tora Schule, S. 61, 76, 82, 85; Lorenz, Verfolgung, Brief v. 25.7.1939, S. 163
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