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Josef Cohen, 1937
© StaH

Josef Cohen * 1917

Simon-von-Utrecht-Straße 65 (Hamburg-Mitte, St. Pauli)

JG. 1917

further stumbling stones in Simon-von-Utrecht-Straße 65:
Max Düring, Horst Düring, Kurt Düring, Elsa Düring

Josef "Jupp” Cohen, born on 25 Mar. 1917, "protective custody” ("Schutzhaft”) in 1939 in the Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp, imprisoned in the Emmerich prison and Holstenglacis pretrial detention facility, executed on 26 June 1941

Simon-von-Utrecht-Strasse 65 (formerly Eckernförder Strasse 65) in Altona

"He believed that if he did his work faithfully and conscientiously, conducting himself in a helpful and comradely manner toward all, no one would reproach him for purely human things. You have lost a good boy, of whom you need not be ashamed at all.” (Chief Rabbi Joseph Carlebach on 27 June 1941 to Jette Cohen)

Josef Cohen’s Jewish parents, Jakob Abraham Cohen and Jette Hess, married on 1 Sept. 1908 in Dornum near Aurich. Abraham Cohen worked as a cattle dealer and butcher. He took part in the First World War as a soldier.

His wife later stated in court that she had had a relationship with a non-Jewish man during this time, a union that had produced her youngest child, Joseph. At the end of the 1930s and in the 1940s, quite a few Jews undertook such rescue attempts to have a "full Jew” ("Volljude”) declared a "half-Jew” ("Halbjude”).

Josef Cohen was born as the sixth child of Jette Cohen on 25 Mar. 1917 in Aurich/ East Friesland. Whether Abraham Cohen was his biological father could never be clarified.

The marriage between Abraham and Jette Cohen was not a happy one. Abraham Cohen later reported, "When I came back from the war in 1918, I found my youngest child Josef in a dermatological clinic in Bremen with Kopfaussatz [translator’s note: literally, "head leprosy”]. My wife had neglected him and had abandoned all the children. Where my children had been during this time, I do not know. Allegedly, they had been placed in an orphanage.”

Josef or "Jupp,” as he called himself, completed the eight-grade elementary school (Volksschule) in Aurich, attended vocational school in Düsseldorf at the age of 12 and then, at 14, began an apprenticeship as a machine fitter, which he successfully completed in 1935. After the apprenticeship, he lived first with his father in Aurich and then with his mother in Brandenburg/Havel.

When he could not find work in his profession as a machine fitter, he kept himself "above water” doing odd jobs. As a result, he gained experience in many areas of work, e.g., as a domestic help in Jewish families, as a coal carrier, electrician, but also as an unskilled worker in agriculture.

In 1936, he found work as a fitter at the Silbermann & Co. steel and rolling mill in Brandenburg and at Stahlbau Wittenau in Borsigwalde near Berlin. On 18 Mar. 1938, he then worked for the Wiegel construction company and in May 1938, for Paul Behrendsohn at the Köhlbrandwerft shipyard in Hamburg. In the fall of 1938, he took up a position as a stoker with the skipper John Paasche. He then worked on river steamers on the Elbe for the Dampfschifffahrtsgesellschaft AG, a steamship line.

He was registered on 1 Sept. 1936 as residing at Schlüterstrasse 82 in the Rotherbaum quarter of Hamburg, and in July 1938 at Eckernförder Strasse 65 (today Simon-von-Utrecht-Strasse), in the St. Pauli quarter.

In 1937, he was sentenced to ten months imprisonment for homosexual acts according to Sec. 175 of the penal code. According to later investigation files, he is said to have drunk a lot during this time and then got into fights. He also tried his hand at gambling, and he was caught stealing several times.

He served his sentence in Brandenburg/Havel. He was released from prison on 9 Jan. 1938.

His private interest was boxing, which he also actively pursued. During one of his boxing matches, he suffered a concussion with a fracture of the base of the skull and a tailbone injury and he was therefore admitted to the Hamburg Harbor Hospital in June/July 1938. Due to the severity of his injuries, the doctors prescribed absolute rest, which was difficult to bear for busy Josef Cohen.

Josef Cohen was a young man also very open to female contacts. He gave girls paper flowers, chocolate, drinks, and letters – as the law enforcement authorities later discovered. He liked to be photographed and took pictures himself. Through his work on the ships, he got around and met many women.

The tragedy that determined Josef Cohen’s further path in life began the night of 28 Aug. 1939: He worked for the Dampfschifffahrt AG on the steamer "Reiher.” The crew had shore leave. Josef and his colleague Rudolf M. visited an inn in the small village of Wendemark/Altmark. There he met Gertrud J., who had only been married for a short time, her mother-in-law Hedwig Q., and Gertrud’s brother Max J. Gertrud and Josef Cohen kissed in front of the restaurant. At night, they had sexual intercourse in a ditch.

The next day Josef Cohen boasted of his conquest to the ship’s crew. His colleague Rudolf M. related the incident to the captain, who reported the obvious "assault” to the water police, who had Josef Cohen searched, because in the meantime he had fled from the "Reiher” on 31 August, because he had noticed from the reactions of his work colleagues that he had made a mistake with his bragging. He tried to get to his brother, who by this time was living in the Netherlands. However, he did not succeed in finding out his address in The Hague. Thus, he started the return journey to Germany.

On 9 Sept. 1939, he was arrested in Emmerich for "unauthorized border crossing,” taken into police custody, and transferred to the Fuhlsbüttel police prison ("Kolafu”) in Hamburg at the end of Sept. 1939.

At this point, the criminal investigation department started investigations against Josef Cohen for "racial defilement” ("Rassenschande”). He described the sexual intercourse as consensual, but Gertrud J. later claimed in court that it had happened against her will, that Josef had squeezed her throat. Later, however, she explained that she had easily been able to free herself from the clasp. Her testimony proved to be highly contradictory. She had not previously reported a rape either, but had only spoken of one when she was interrogated on 10 Feb. 1940.

The fact that Gertrud J. could be located at all was due to the persistence of the Hamburg Kriminalsekretär [a rank equivalent to detective sergeant or master sergeant] Brandt: From Feb. to Apr. 1940, he conducted investigations along the route of the "Reiher” in Wendemark/Altmark, Magdeburg, Mühlberg, and Dresden and found several "Aryan” women whom he suspected of having had a relationship with Josef Cohen, investigating three cases of "racial defilement,” which, however, had never involved sexual intercourse The women only stated in the interrogations that he had "groped” them. However, by that time, the offense of "racial defilement” was no longer limited to sexual intercourse itself, but included such acts.

Each of these women was informed during interrogation that when it came to the offense of "racial defilement,” only the man would be punished. The woman involved, the information continued, would go unpunished. She was promised secrecy, but if she refused to testify, proceedings for "aiding and abetting racial defilement” would be brought against her.

On 16 Sept. 1940, Josef Cohen, through his Jewish lawyer Walter Schüler, who by then, like all his Jewish professional colleagues, had to call himself a "legal adviser” ("Konsulent”), applied for a hereditary biological expert opinion to prove his non-Jewish descent. Thereupon his mother was contacted in Milan, who declared by oath before the Consul General that she had had a non-Jewish boyfriend in 1916 and that this boyfriend was Joseph’s biological father. However, she did not want to provide the name of her "amorous adventure,” "for understandable reasons.” Whether her explanation is a fact or the attempt to save the son cannot be clarified any more: The criminal offense of "racial defilement” only applied to "full Jews,” not to "half-Jews” (who were nonetheless prosecuted by the Gestapo, however, without any legal basis for this).

On 5 Jan. 1941, the Regional Court (Landgericht) withdrew from Walter Schüler the mandate without giving reasons. (Walter Schüler was later deported and died on 29 Apr. 1945 in Mauthausen, see

On 5 Jan. 1941, Josef Cohen requested that Alfred Korn take over his defense, but the court rejected his request. On 15 Feb. 1941, the public defender Carl Schollmeyer based at Jungfernstieg 8 / Hamburg-Neustadt took over the mandate. On 15 Feb. 1941, the Regional Court in Hamburg declared that it no longer had jurisdiction and handed over Josef Cohen’s file to the Hanseatic special court (Hanseatisches Sondergericht) on the grounds that Sec. 1 of the Violent Offenders Ordinance (Gewaltverbrecherverordnung) applied in this case.

The "special courts,” which had existed since 21 Mar. 1933, were assigned to the respective Higher Regional Court (Oberlandesgericht). The proceedings before the special courts were characterized by, among other things, speed. It was at the special court’s discretion to decide which evidence was admissible; the accused had no opportunity to appeal. The Violent Offenders Ordinance issued on 5 Dec. 1939 provided for the death penalty as the only possible punishment for "acts of violence using a weapon.” On 17 Jan. 1941, it was applied retroactively to Josef Cohen by court order of the senior public prosecutor. For this purpose, the Reich Minister of Justice obtained, as a formality, permission by Josef Cohen’s lawyer, who agreed to the retroactive application.

On 10 Apr. 1941, Josef wrote a farewell letter to his mother: "Dear Mother, at the age of 24, I am so tired of life that I will prefer to say goodbye now and in this way. When You, dear Mother, receive this letter, please do not be too frightened, because it will be the last letter from me, as I will have ended my life myself. I would like to tell you, dear mother, once again that I have not committed the deed with which I am being charged. I have not even mentioned it in any of the many letters since the beginning of 1940, because I did not think it possible that the court would convict me for it. Dear mother, you have always loved me and I am sorry for you, too, that you have to experience this from your youngest.
Your youngest son Joseph”

Since he had announced that he would end his life himself with razor blades, he was handcuffed on 23 Apr. 1941.

On 29 Apr. 1941, the Hanseatic special court pronounced its verdict. "Justice” was administered to him in the presence of Regional Court Judge Ehlert, Regional Court Director Möller, Regional Court Judge A. Dauwes, Attorney Karl Gustav Max Kappauf and Senior Judicial Officer Otto.
Josef Cohen, who, according to the witnesses had not possessed a weapon, was sentenced to death by guillotine under Sec. 1 of the Violent Offenders Ordinance. The prosecution had simply equated his physical strength with a slashing, shooting, and thrusting weapon. In addition to the death penalty, he was deprived of his civic rights for life and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was acquitted in two of the "racial defilement cases.” The pretrial detention he had endured was counted toward the prison sentence.

On 30 Apr. 1941, Josef Cohen submitted a petition for clemency, the receipt of which was noted by the Hanseatic Higher Regional Court on 2 May. The following is an excerpt from the petition for clemency:
"I am submitting this petition because I am completely convinced that the sentence pronounced on me by the Special Court is not and cannot be a final one. I was and have never been a violent person. I conclude with the firm promise that I will prove, through unconditional obedience, faultless conduct, and above-average work performance, that the pardon would be granted to a person who sincerely repents his crimes and proves himself worthy of the pardon.
Joseph Cohen"

On 6 May 1941, Chief Rabbi Joseph Carlebach visited him in the criminal justice building on Sievekingplatz in Hamburg. Carlebach later wrote Josef Cohen’s mother, Jette Cohen, the letter quoted at the beginning.

On 16 May 1941, Josef Cohen’s public defender Carl Schollmeyer lodged an appeal against the order of the Hanseatic special court: "It is undisputedly one of the duties of a public defender in the case of an appealable or revisable judgment to make use of the legal remedies available if, in his firm opinion, the judgment is contestable. In my opinion, there has been a mistake in the application of the law.”

The petition for clemency submitted on 30 Apr. 1941 was rejected by the Hanseatic Higher Regional Court on 14 June 1941. The President of the "People’s Court” ("Volksgerichtshof”), Roland Freisler, also urged the greatest "acceleration of justice.” The execution, he argued, was to be carried out immediately. Moreover, Freisler ordered that the body be transferred to the Anatomical Institute of the University of Hamburg. (Roland Freisler, who was appointed President of the People’s Court in 1942, was responsible for 2,600 death sentences, among others against the "White Rose” resistance group)

On 25 June 1941 at 6 p.m., Josef Cohen learned the date of his execution: 26 June 1941 at 6 a.m. He immediately submitted a request for a retrial. The Criminal Division declared the reopening of the trial admissible, because there were well-founded doubts, among other things because of contradictory statements by the defendant as well as by the women, and because the equation of physical force with the use of a weapon could be questioned as well. The admission of the retrial resulted in a stay of execution.

As late as 25 June 1941, public prosecutor Kappauf filed a complaint and requested that the retrial be dismissed as inadmissible. Because of the threat of an air-raid alarm, the members of the Criminal Division did not meet in the court building, but in the Hotel Esplanade. At this location, they could have left the building again at any time in case of an alarm. At this meeting, the public prosecutor’s office reversed the decision of the Hanseatic Higher Regional Court on 25 June. The execution date on 26 June was then postponed from 6.00 to 9.00 a.m. Ernst Reindel (1899–1945) was appointed as executioner.

The execution lasted nine seconds. The costs for the executioner amounted to 292 RM (reichsmark). Josef Cohen’s execution was published on 30 June 1941 via the company Lütcke and Wulff for the purpose of deterrence. In Hamburg, it was announced everywhere with 500 notices (= posters) and published by advertisement in the newspaper. The posters were priced at 17.50 RM overall, which was charged to the family.

The family was never permitted to have Josef Cohen’s remains buried in a cemetery.

Stolpersteine in Aurich commemorate Josef Cohen and other family members (see below) (

Information regarding the fate of his parents:
Josef Cohen’s father Abraham, born on 24 Jan. 1877 in Aurich, fled to the Netherlands in 1937. There he married Eva van Gelderen on 17 Aug. 1938. The couple was interned in the Westerbork camp in 1943 and then deported to the Sobibor extermination camp and murdered. Stolpersteine at Marktstrasse 16 in Aurich commemorate the couple.

His mother Jette Cohen, born on 9 Apr. 1890 in Dornum/East Friesland, who divorced Abraham Cohen in 1936, fled to Milan, was arrested there in 1940 and deported to the women’s concentration camp in Vinchiaturo/Italy. In 1942, she was transferred to the internment camp in Giuliano del Scannio/ Italy. On 30 Oct. 1943, after Italy had terminated the alliance with Germany and the Allied troops had landed in Italy, she was freed from the internment camp. She emigrated to the USA where she later married Jerry Oberlin. She passed away in the USA on 2 July 1959.

Information regarding the fate of his siblings:
Moses Jakob, born on 14 Sept. 1909, died in Aurich in 1911.
Abraham Jacob, born on 4 Oct. 1910, emigrated to Ecuador and died there on 5 Aug. 1995. For him, a Stolperstein is located in front of the house at Marktstrasse 16 in Aurich.

Moritz Moses Jakob, born on 20 Nov. 1911 in Aurich, died with his wife and children in 1943 in the Sobibor extermination camp. Stolpersteine at Marktstrasse 16 in Aurich commemorate the family.
Betty Cohen, born on 16 Jan. 1913 in Aurich, went to the Netherlands in 1936 and married Jacob Valk. She had a daughter named Rossje with him, born on 1 Aug. 1937. The whole family was deported to Auschwitz and murdered. For them, Stolpersteine are located at Lilienstrasse 12 in Aurich.
Wolff Wilhelm, born on 4 Jan. 1915 in Aurich, emigrated to Australia and died there on 1 Dec. 1948. For him, there is a Stolperstein in front of the house at Marktstrasse 16 in Aurich.

Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

Stand: September 2020
© Bärbel Klein

Quellen: StaH; 1; 4; 5; 8; 332-5_263/1941; 242-1 II_2116; 131-3_C 61; 213-11_5565; 351-11_12338;
213-8_Ablieferung 2, 451a E 1, 1d; 621-1/85_447; ITS Archives Bad Arolsen Digital Archive Korrespondenzakte / 7105 Archivnummer [108884812] Einsicht am 7.3.2017; Hans Robinsohn, Justiz als politische Verfolgung, Die Rechtsprechung in Rassenschandefällen beim Landgericht Hamburg 1936-1943, Stuttgart 1977, S. 111 u. 121; Heiko Morisse, Ausgrenzung und Verfolgung der Hamburger jüdischen Juristen im Nationalsozialismus, Göttingen 2003, S. 171; div. Adressbücher Hamburg;
Zur Nummerierung häufig genutzter Quellen siehe Link "Recherche und Quellen".

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