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Rolf William Levisohn * 1920
Grasweg 72 / Schule (Hamburg-Nord, Winterhude)
LODZ / LITZMANNSTADT
ERMORDET MAI 1942
CHELMNO / KULMHOF
Albert Levisohn, born 3/17/1891, deported to Lodz on 10/25/1941, died there on 2/18/1942
Cilly Levisohn, née Magnus, born 12/31/1894, deported to Lodz on 10/25/1941, died in May 1942 in Chelmno
Rolf William Levisohn, born 9/11/1920, deported to Lodz on 10/25/1941, died in May, 1942 in Chelmno
Albert Levisohn was born as the son of the Jewish couple William and Bertha Levisohn in Hamburg. His wife Cilly Magnus was the daughter of Adolf and Jenny Magnus, also a Hamburg Jewish couple.
Albert and Cilly Levisohn lived alone in their apartment at Gluckstrasse 24 until their first child Rolf was born; Rolf was physically handicapped from birth, suffering from dwarfism. The Levisohns’ daughter Ruth was born in February of 1928. Family lived in modest circumstances – Albert Levisohn had fought in WW I and was decorated with the Hanseatenkreuz, a medal awarded for valor in combat by the three Hanse cities Bremen, Hamburg and Lübeck. After the war, he first had his own business; then, he worked as an accountant and later as a book auditor for the Siegfried Halberstadt company at Hohe Bleichen 31 in downtown Hamburg, where he earned an average of 350 RM per month, with which he tried to feed his family.
Until March, 1935, Rolf Levisohn attended the Lichtwarkschule a renowned reform school, from which he was expelled because he was Jewish. His former classmates later remembered him, but he had had no real friends there. He switched to the Talmud Tora Schule, Hamburg’s orthodox Jewish elementary and secondary school.
In November, 1938, shortly after the pogrom, 18-year-old Rolf Levisohn and taken to the Oranienburg-Sachsenhausen concentration camp along with about 6,000 other Jewish "protective prisoners”, where they were subject to countless cruelties and harassments, e.g. being forced to stand motionless outside for 24 hours in the icy cold, or transporting heavy stones on the double. In case of "disobedience”, the prisoners were ordered to stand for hours facing the electrically charged barbed-wire fence. Rolf Levisohn recalled that many inmates let themselves fall into the fence in order not to have to stand any longer. He was released after six weeks of imprisonment and returned to Hamburg. From that moment on, Rolf Levisohn focused his efforts on leaving Germany.
As he was already over 18, Rolf did not qualify for emigration on a children’s transport. His mother Cilly Levisohn, especially, made great efforts to contact relatives and acquaintances all over the world to place her son somewhere. His eleven-year-old sister Ruth was luckier; she was able to reach England with a children’s transport in June, 1939, to escape further persecution. For a time, there seemed to be the chance for Rolf Levisohn to join people they knew in Basel, Switzerland with a student’s certificate and to reach Palestine from there. In the end, however, all these attempts failed.
The Talmud Tora Schule’s last high school finishing exam was taken in 1939/1940. Only two students were left to present themselves: Oskar Judelowitz and Rolf Levisohn. The paper Rudolf Levisohn wrote in German was on the subject: "Calamity is no Good, but it has Three Good Children: Power, Experience, Compassion.” Rolf’s memories of his imprisonment at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, stigmatization due to his handicap and life as a Jew in Germany surely deeply influenced his exam essay, as the summary clearly states: "Summing up, we may say that a calamity is dreadful when it occurs, but also that it is misfortune that makes man reach perfection.” On January 12th, 1940, Rolf Levisohn passed his Abitur exam before the commission headed by Oberschulrat Oberdörffer.
After his Abitur, Rolf Levisohn continued his efforts to emigrate; he joined the Zionist youth association Habonim, taking part in their summer camps, seeking some sort of relief and hope. Rolf Levisohn also began an apprenticeship at the metalworking shop of the Volks- und Höhere Schule für Juden, the Jewish Primary and Secondary School at Weidenallee 10b, an institution for the promotion of and preparation for emigration to Palestine.
Before starting his apprenticeship, Rolf Levisohn had to absolve a trial period. On March 3rd, his father received the notification that his son could start his training as a metalworker. Henry Halle, also an apprentice at the metal workshop and a friend of Rolf’s, recounted that Levisohn often had a hard time accomplishing the tasks at the metal workshop on account of his handicap, being so much smaller and more fragile than the other boys there. He was given a post at the vise in the farthest corner of the workshop, so that the other boys wouldn’t bump into him.
October, 1941 brought the turning point for the Levisohn family: they were ordered to report to the "Provinzialloge für Niedersachsen”, the Masonic temple in Moorweidenstrasse, on October 24th, from where they were deported to Lodz on the first transport the following day. The trip took two full days and brought them to a completely overcrowded ghetto with disastrous living conditions. The houses where the people were forced to live had no sanitary facilities, and most of them were decrepit. The hygienic conditions were frightening, the inhabitants suffered from hunger, typhus and dysentery; in addition, there was a lack of medicine, clothing and heating material. The Levisohns lived in 2, Rubens Street, and Rolf Levisohn was listed as a metal craftsman. Albert Levisohn died at the age 51 on February 18th, 1942, four weeks after the family’s arrival in Lodz. The cause of his death is unknown.
In April, most of the inhabitants of the ghetto were requested to report for medical examinations. This caused commotion among the inhabitants, so that too few people appeared, with the consequence that the SS forcibly collected people from their living quarters. On April 25th, Cilly and Rolf Levisohn were picked up and taken to a collecting point, where they were kept for eight days, examined, given a rubber stamp on their chests and a bowl of soup.
On May 4th, 1942, Cilly and Rolf Levisohn were "relocated” to Chelmno, which amounted to a death sentence by gassing. Together with other inhabitants of the Lodz ghetto, they were loaded and trucks and driven to the Chelmno (German: Kulmhof). On arrival, the deportees were told that they were to be taken to labor camp in Austria; before leaving, they were to be disinfected and bathed, and were accordingly ordered to undress.
After shedding their clothes, they were led through the basement of the manor house to a wooden ramp, where a closed truck was waiting. After 30 to 40 people had been crowded into the truck’s hold, the doors were closed and locked; the driver of the truck connected the vehicle’s exhaust pipe to the cargo bay and started the engine. Cries and moaning of the children, women and men inside the hold were to be heard – sounds that stopped after about ten minutes. The trucks then drove to the nearby woods, where mass graves had been dug, into which the victims’ bodies were dumped. Cilly Levisohn was 46 years old when she was killed in this way, her son Rolf 21. May 5th, 1942 is their most likely date of death.
Translated by Peter Hubschmid
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: March 2017
© Carmen Smiatacz
Quellen: 1; 4; 5; 8; StaHH 362-2/20, Lichtwarkschule, 45; Hochmuth/de Lorent: Hamburg: Schule unterm Hakenkreuz, S. 98; Louven: Stolpersteine in Hamburg-Wandsbek, S. 120; Offenborn: Jüdische Jugend, S.837, S. 1211; Pritzlaff: Entrechtet – ermordet – vergessen, S. 16ff.
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