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Bernhard Lewinsohn * 1902
Lübecker Straße Ecke Steinhauer Damm (Hamburg-Nord, Hohenfelde)
FLUCHT 1936 NIEDERLANDE
Bernhard Erich Lewinsohn, b. 12.27.1902 in Hamburg, fled in October 1935 to the Netherlands, sent to the "transit camp" Westerbork on 1.26.1941, deported on 7.15.1942 to the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp, murdered on 9.4.1942
Intersection of Lübecker Straße and Steinhauerdamm (Lübecker Straße 20)
On 17 May 1941, the then 38-year old Bernhard Lewinsohn and the fifteen-year younger Charlotte Kahn were married in the Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands. By this time they had had a daughter. Little Ruth was born on 6 February 1940 in Amsterdam. Bernhard and Charlotte’s paths crossed in the capital of the Netherlands. Bernhard Lewinsohn had fled Hamburg in 1935 to escape the persecution of the National Socialist regime; Charlotte had fled from Wuppertal-Barmen in February 1937.
Bernhard Lewinsohn was the younger of two sons of Abraham Simon Lewinsohn and his wife Clara, née Mensor. Both came from Jewish families. Abraham Lewinsohn had been born on 21 September 1873 in New York, the son of a German émigré. Soon after his birth, his parents returned to Germany. He learned to be a distiller and married Clara Mensor on 2 December 1898 in Bromberg (today Bydgoszcz, Poland). She came from Kapral near Kruschwitz (today Kruszwica, Poland), where she was born on 23 October 1872.
In the following year, on 18 October 1899, their first son was born in Inowroclaw. His parents gave him the name Friedrich Walter. Inowroclaw, a little village near Bromberg, was called between 1904 and 1920, and again from 1939 to 1945, under the German occupation, by its German name, Hohensalza, and belongs again today, under its original name, to Poland.
In 1901, the family moved to Hamburg. A year later, a second son was born to Abraham and Clara Lewinsohn, Bernhard Erich. From 1906 to 1911, Friedrich attended the St. Georg Modern High School; afterwards, until 1916, he went to the private Wahnschaff Modern High School at Neuen Rabenstrasse 15, which had many Jewish pupils; then, for an additional year, the Holstentor Modern Upper High School, from which the present Albrecht-Thaer Preparatory School originated. The rector was, from 1896 until shortly before the First World War, Albrecht Thaer. He wanted to demonstrate through the school "that there is a fully valid and equal course of education without Latin,” and thereby reformed the contemporary Hamburg school landscape. Thus, instruction in mathematics and natural science assumed an essentially greater role in this school than in the humanistic Gymnasium; this wsa in keeping with the educational reform efforts at the turn of the century. Bernhard Lewinsohn’s education followed a course similar to his brother’s. Their father, Abraham Lewinsohn, worked in Hamburg initially as a mortgage and real estate broker. In 1922, he returned to his original occupation and founded a spirits factory on the side, which from 1924 he operated exclusively.
In 1925, the parents left the Hansa City and settled for about three years in Wentorf near Reinbek. The meanwhile grown up sons remained in Hamburg and lived as sub-lessees in a series of furnished rooms. Friedrich Lewinsohn was, from the beginning of 1925 to the end of 1928, employed by the Hamburg District Court. Then, because of a general downsizing, he was let go. Like him, the affected employees were all single men. Bernhard Lewinsohn had trained as a shop assistant and worked as such.
At the end of 1927 and the beginning of 1928, Clara and Abraham Lewinsohn returned to Hamburg. Abraham Lewinsohn continued his work as a producer and then dealer of spirits. On 4 April 1929, Bernhard married the non-Jewish Käthe Erna Anna Rinck in Hamburg. The two had a son on 14 June 1929, Gerhard Henry Lewinsohn. Yet the marriage was not a happy one. Bernhard and Käthe Lewinsohn divorced on 10 November 1931. The then 2-year old Gerhard remained with his mother.
At that time, Abraham Lewinsohn’s businesses were no longer doing well. By November 1928, he could not pay his dues to the Chamber of Commerce, and it had even come to seizures. Then followed the world economic crisis at the end of 1929. Many innkeepers, restaurant owners, and retail outlets could not pay him for the goods he had delivered, ordered less and then nothing at all, or went bankrupt. From March 1931, Abraham Lewinsohn depended on support from the Hamburg Public Welfare system. At the beginning of 1932, he lost his firm as well as his assets. He and Clara had to rent out a room in their home at Obdachstrasse 32 in Barmbek. At the end of 1933 and beginning of 1934, they moved to Lübecker Strasse 20 in the Hohenfelde district. By then the National Socialists were already in power. At the end of May 1934, 22 years after it was first listed, Abraham Lewinsohn’s firm was deleted from the Commercial Register.
Friedrich and Bernhard, in the meantime, were also out of work. From November 1932 to the end of January 1933, Friedrich had been a temp in the Finance Office of Barmbek. After this there was no longer any work for him. For a long period, Bernhard had lived on welfare and from October 1933 had to do "obligatory labor” for a salary of RM 9 per five-day week. He was not satisfied with this and instead peddled razor blades. By this means, however, he earned only between RM 8 and 10 per week. He could no longer pay the religion tax to the German Israelite Congregation. Both sons were again living with their parents on Lübecker Strasse.
The entire Lewinsohn family suffered severely from the mounting marginalization, harassment, and persecution of the Jewish population by the National Socialists. On the same day, 1 April 1933, of the boycott against Jewish businesses and actions against Jewish lawyers and physicians, Friedrich Lewinsohn obtained a passport in order to leave Germany as quickly as possible. In mid-November of the same year, he was able finally to emigrate to Amsterdam. Bernhard held out a little longer. Separation from his family seemed clearly more difficult for him. Thus, he did not take flight until December 1935, also to Amsterdam, and from there in August of the following year to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Out of homesickness, however, he returned, illegally, to Amsterdam at the end of 1937.
Friedrich and Bernhard’s father, Abraham, also fled Germany for Amsterdam in August 1936. Clara followed him there in February 1938. Before doing so, she had sublet the apartment on Lübecker Strasse because she and Abraham were confident that the flight would only be temporary and that they would soon be living again in Hamburg.
When Bernhard Lewinsohn returned to Amsterdam from Buenos Aires in 1937, his future wife, Charlotte Kahn, was already living there. Her parents were Josef Kahn and Rosa, née Moser. When she was 16 in September 1933, Charlotte had come to Amsterdam for the first time; three years later she returned to her Barmen birthplace. From the beginning of 1937 until the early summer of 1939, she resided again in Amsterdam. In this period she and Bernhard got to know each other and fell in love. After a short stay in 1939 in Brussels, Charlotte returned to Amsterdam, where, on 6 February 1941, she gave birth to Bernhard’s daughter, Ruth.
Abraham, Clara, Friedrich, and Bernhard Lewinsohn did not want to stay in Amsterdam, however. Their goal was the USA. Only Clara succeeded in fleeing there. On 18 April 1941, she first traveled back to Berlin. A transit passage through Germany for Jews was still possible at this time, with permission from the Higher SS and Police Chief in the Reich Commissariat for the Netherlands. From Berlin she flew via Madrid to Lisbon and from there on to New York. She succeeded in doing so probably only because she had relatives in the USA. Thus Clara Lewinsohn reached safety.
To be sure, Abraham Lewinsohn had been born in New York, but because of his long period of residence in Germany, he lost his American citizenship rights. In all likelihood, he also made an effort to emigrate but was as unsuccessful as his two sons. Friedrich had filed an emigration application at the beginning of January 1940, but the processing dragged on. Then the German Armed Forces overran the Netherlands on 10 May 1940 and ended any possibility of escape.
Bernhard Lewinsohn was taken from Amsterdam to Westerbork on 26 February 1941. At the time, the later "Police Transit Camp for Jews” was still the central refugee camp, established by the Dutch government in order, from early 1939, to intern the great number of Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria in one place. On 7 May 1941, Charlotte Kahn and her little daughter Ruth also came to Westerbork. She married Bernhard there ten days later. On 15 July 1942, all three were deported from Westerbork to Auschwitz. It was the first deportation train to leave the camp. Charlotte and Ruth Lewinsohn were murdered immediately after their arrival in Auschwitz on 17 July 1942, Bernhard Lewinsohn a few weeks later on 4 September 1942. Ruth was only two years old.
Around two months after the murder of his son Bernhard, on 10 December 1942, Abraham Lewinsohn was brought to Westerbork. From there, more than two years later, on 25 February 1944, together with 24 other inmates, he came to Tittmoning in Bavaria. Castle Tittmoning served at that time as an intern camp for Jews with citizenship from hostile countries; thus Abraham Lewinsohn was considered a US citizen by the Germans, although the USA no longer recognized him as such.
Bernhard’s brother Friedrich had also gotten to know a woman in Amsterdam whom he married. Loria Schwarz from Bottrop and he married on 29 July 1942. He was 42 and she was 20 years old. On 15 February 1943, he was deported to the Vught (Herzogenbusch) concentration camp, that is, to one of its satellite camps, Moerdijk. Here, from the end of March 1943 to the middle of April 1944, on average a 1000 prisoners built tank traps for the German defenses.
On 3 July 1943, Friedrich Lewinsohn was taken from the Vught concentration camp to Westerbork and from Westerbork, on 16 September 1943, he was brought to Auschwitz. There he again did forced labor in Monowitz (since November 1943 Auschwitz Concentration Camp III). The camp bordered on the premises of the I. G. Farben Buna works and was the first planned and financed by private industry, exclusively for slave laborers.
Friedrich Lewinsohn survived Auschwitz and after the war reported in his reparations proceedings about his time in the camp, relatively matter-of-factly: "On the day of arrival in Auschwitz, on 16 September 1943, I was tattooed with prisoner number ‘150,719’ with a triangle (Jewish identification sign) on my forearm. Thereupon, still on the same day, 16 September 1943, after being robbed of my last possessions and dressed in the flimsiest clothing, I was, along with the approximately 150 other inmates from my transport, driven into the forced labor camp of the I. G. Farben-"BUNA” Trust, Monowitz, remaining there until 20 November 1944. At various times there I was, because of complete physical exhaustion, called forth by inhuman work stress and mishandlings, treated for deep infections [phlegmonen] and other maladies. After my transport back to the Auschwitz main camp, I again had to do the heaviest sort of labor in the so-called commandos, until at the beginning of January 1945, because of a violent infection-inflammation of the feet I was sent to the so-called Auschwitz infirmary. When shortly afterwards, the entire camp was evacuated I remained behind in the infirmary because I was not able to march. Then, on 27 January 1945, took place the liberation of the Auschwitz camp.”
Later, Friedrich Lewinsohn was better able to describe more clearly the barbarism in Auschwitz: "With horrible brutality, I was for days, months, years … driven to do the heaviest possible labor, most poorly fed and in the most threadbare clothing in winter and summer …. It was always speed it up, speed it up, at a breakneck pace, constantly beaten by Kapos and gang bosses, when not the SS-men themselves; they were the most brutal of all and went to bestial lengths, beating the prisoners half-dead or unconscious with rifle butts, clobbering them with iron bars, striking them dead or shooting them.” Ultimately, each had struggled for his own survival. And if the will was once broken, there spread a total hopelessness. They had become "wandering corpses,” in the language of the camp "musselmen.” Fatalistically accepting of their approaching end, they were inwardly moribund, apathetic, emaciated skeletons who could barely keep themselves upright. He had survived, so he said, by "more or less lucky accidents, a stronger physical constitution, a vestige of the will to resist, etc. In the external course of events,” this could "in exceptional cases, such as mine, barely suffice for ‘staying alive.’”
Friedrich Lewinsohn suffered a broken nose from a blow with a shovel which also knocked out six teeth from the right side of his face. There followed repeated blows until he became unconscious. According to him, the after-effects of this fearsome torture were "a permanent sufferings of a physical and psychological nature. Thus, I partially lost the ability to remember, I became very forgetful of whatever I did or undertook. From this I was left with mental weakness and flaccidity which made me incapable in any place or at any time of doing "good” work again.”
Friedrich Lewinsohn’s wife Loria was also deported to Auschwitz. She, also, was among the few who survived.
After the liberation of Auschwitz, Friedrich Lewinsohn remained in Monowitz until 8 July 1945, because he could not be moved. Than he returned briefly to Amsterdam and emigrated on 24 February 1947, with his wife Loria, taking a ship from Göteborg to New York. They divorced in the same year in the USA. Loria married again and became Schneidermann. Friedrich also remarried in New York in 1958. His second wife was named Elli Genull and also came from Germany. Yet the marriage was only briefly happy. In the following year Friedrich and Elli Lewinsohn separated. After the separation their son was born on 21 June 1960; he was named R. Elli soon returned with her son to Germany, to Wustrow in Wendland (Lower Saxony). A little later the marriage was officially terminated.
Äbraham Lewinsohn emigrated after the end of the war to the USA; he lived there together with his wife Clara at 177 East Houston Street on the Lower East Side. From as early as 1855, many German immigrants lived in this area, for which reason it was called "Little Germany.” Beginning in 1880, numerous Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe came also; by 1915, they made up nearly 60 percent of the inhabitants.
After his separation from his second wife, Friedrich moved in with his parents. He died on 15 December 1970, at the age of 71. Until his death, he was unable because of "great love for Germany to get it into my head that all these terrifying happenings were the naked truth.”
Translator: Richard Levy
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: December 2019
© Frauke Steinhäuser
Quellen: 1; 4; 5; 8; StaH 332-5 Standesämter 3919 u. 01/1903; StaH 351-11 AfW 2231; StaH 351-11 AfW 2232; StaH 351-11 AfW 2003; StaH 522-1 Jüd. Gemeinden 992 d Steuerakten Bd. 20; "Lewinsohn, Bernhard" in: Sterbebücher Auschwitz, 28100/1942; Andreas Hoffmann Schule und Akkulturation. Geschlechtsdifferente Erziehung von Knaben und Mädchen der Hamburger jüdisch-liberalen Oberschicht 1848–1942, Münster, 1999, zugl. Diss., Hamburg, 1999, S. 100ff. (Die Wahnschaffe-Schule, 1879–1939); Anna Hajkova, Das Polizeiliche Durchgangslager Westerbork, 2004, online unter: www.academia.edu/455726/Das_Polizeiliche_Durchgangslager_Westerbork_The_Police_Transit_Camp_Westerbork_ (letzter Zugriff 20.4.2015); E-Mail-Auskunft von José Martin, Kampwesterbork, vom 28.8.2013 zu Bernhard und Charlotte Lewinsohn; Katja Happe, Die Judenverfolgung in den Niederlanden 1940–1945. II. Zwischen Panik, Aufatmen und Ernüchterung – der Beginn der Besatzungszeit, online unter: www.uni-muenster.de/NiederlandeNet/nl-wissen/geschichte/vertiefung/judenverfolgung/beginn.html (letzter Zugriff 10.4.2015); Digitaal Monument Joodse Gemeenschap in Nederland, joodsmonument.nl: Abraham Simon Lewinsohn, www.joodsmonument.nl/person/476768/nl, Bernhard Erich Lewinsohn, www.joodsmonument.nl/person/541355/nl, Charlotte Lewinsohn-Kahn und Ruth Lewinsohn, www.joodsmonument.nl/person/503088/nl (letzter Zugriff 19.3.2015); stadsarchief Amsterdam, Archiefkaarten van Persoonskaarten: NL-SAA-3790684 Abraham Lewinsohn, NL-SAA-3691641 Charlotte Kahn, NL-SAA-3790699 Ruth Lewinsohn, NL-SAA-3830638 Clara Mensor, PDF-Downloads von http://stadsarchief.amsterdam.nl/archieven/archiefbank/indexen/archiefkaarten/zoek/index.nl.html (letzter Zugriff 20.3.2015); Detlev Stoltenberg, Zur Geschichte – die Frage der Kontinuität. Festschrift zum 120-jährigen Bestehen des AThs, 1993, online unter: www.albrecht-thaer-gymnasium.de/index.php/home/schulgeschichte?showall=&start=3; Außenlager des KZ Herzogenbusch, online unter: Gedenken in Benelux, www.gedenken-in-benelux.de/content/index.php?aID=39 (letzter Zugriff 20.3.2015)
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