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Herbert Michaelis
© KZ Gedenkstätte Neuengamme

Dr. Herbert Michaelis * 1898

Isestraße 23 (Eimsbüttel, Harvestehude)

tot 14.6.1939 Gefängnis Plötzensee, Berlin


further stumbling stones in Isestraße 23:
Hedwig Augenstern, Gracia Gretchen Bachrach, Ingeborg Mirjam Bachrach, Hermann Bachrach, Georg Fränkel, Henriette Fränkel, Alice Maschke, Erich Wilhelm Maschke, Gertrud Seidl

Herbert Michaelis, born on 3 Sept. 1898, executed on 14 June 1939 in Berlin-Plötzensee

Herbert Michaelis was at the mercy of persecution by the National Socialist regime in three different ways: as a Jew, Communist, and resistance fighter. Ursula Wamser and Wilfried Weinke provided a detailed portrait of him in the publication entitled Eine verschwundene Welt: Jüdisches Leben am Grindel ("A Lost World: Jewish Life in the Grindel Quarter”). The reference work Das Jüdische Hamburg ("Jewish Hamburg”) also devotes an entry to him.

Herbert Michaelis was born on 3 Sept. 1898 in Hamburg. His father, Alfred Michaelis, worked in the commercial field. Herbert Michaelis attended the Talmud Tora School and the Oberrealschule [a secondary school without Latin] in Eimsbüttel. In 1916, he passed the graduation exam (Abitur). Afterward, he became a soldier until the end of the First World War, in the course of which he was decorated with the Iron Cross Second Class and the Hanseatic Cross (Hanseatenkreuz).

After the war, he began studying law, completing it with the state examination in 1928. That same year, he set himself up as a lawyer in Hamburg, marrying Marie-Luise Rom, a Swiss woman. The couple had three sons.

As early as 1924, Herbert Michaelis had joined the German Communist Party (KPD), and since 1928, he held public office hours for legal advice on the premises of the KPD’s newspaper publishing house. As a political opponent of the Nazis, Herbert Michaelis soon attracted the new rulers’ attention. Twice, in Mar. and Apr. 1933, he was denounced, though it was not possible to establish proof of his active participation in Communist operations.

In May, he lost his license to practice as a lawyer due to his Jewish descent. When he documented that he had been a frontline soldier, the Hamburg State Justice Administration (Landesjustizverwaltung) changed the grounds for the revocation: Now he was excluded because of Communist involvement. Thus, he was unemployed and dependent on assistance for himself and his family.

That same month, he was arrested: Since 1932, investigations had been underway against him on suspicion of forgery of documents and fraud. In Oct. 1933, the Hamburg Regional Court (Landgericht) sentenced him and his father for "continued fraud committed jointly” to two years in prison, a fine, and loss of civic rights for three years. Herbert Michaelis served his prison sentence in Lübeck.
Having been released from prison, he joined a Communist resistance group.

In January 1936, he and his family visited relatives of his wife in Switzerland. Upon his return to Hamburg, he tried in vain to have an illegal piece of writing printed in Switzerland and to distribute it, disguised as a calendar, in Germany.

In the Lübeck prison, he had met Bruno Rieboldt and Dagobert Biermann, who worked at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg. They reported to him details about armaments contracts and arms shipments to the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War as well as about the prevailing mood at the Hamburg shipyards. Herbert Michaelis attempted to disseminate this data abroad. However, his illegal work was exposed by a Gestapo informant. In Mar. 1937, he was arrested simultaneously with his Communist friends and put in strict solitary confinement in the Hamburg pretrial detention facility. After a spectacular escape attempt had failed, the conditions of his imprisonment were tightened up even more.

In Apr. 1937, Marie-Luise Michaelis fled headlong with the sons to Switzerland. She left the apartment on Isestrasse just as it was, without taking any furnishings or fittings. Probably she still corresponded with her husband in the Hamburg prison.

In Oct. 1938, one and a half years after his arrest, the "People’s Court” (Volksgerichtshof) brought charges for "preparation to high treason” (Vorbereitung zum Hochverrat). On 2 Mar. 1939, Herbert Michaelis was sentenced to death by the Second Senate of the "People’s Court” sitting in Hamburg.

A plea for clemency was turned down. The Chief Rabbi Joseph Carlebach was able to visit him in prison before the end of March. A letter to his family, in which Herbert Michaelis expressed his hope for a favorable outcome, was seized and did not reach the addressees.

On 14 June 1939, Herbert Michaelis was executed in Berlin-Plötzensee. Dagobert Biermann was murdered in Auschwitz in 1943.

Herbert Michaelis’ mother, Zerline Michaelis, also became a victim of the Shoah. She moved with her husband to Berlin in 1935 after their son-in-law had died. Their daughter emigrated to Britain and left Miriam, the granddaughter, in the care of the grandparents. After all documents required for Miriam’s intended departure to join relatives in Switzerland had been gathered, the German authorities prevented her from leaving. In early Feb. 1943, the grandfather died.

Zerline Michaelis was deported along with Miriam, by then nine years old, to Auschwitz on 26 Feb. 1943.

Of more than 200 persons from only a single street in Hamburg that became victims of the Nazi terror, Herbert Michaelis was the first and only one who actively put up resistance because from the very beginning, he had been under no illusion about the Nazis’ goals.

Translator: Erwin Fink

Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

Stand: October 2017
© Christa Fladhammer

Quellen: AB Hamburg 1938; AfW 041099; Wilfried Weinke, Die Verfolgung jüdischer Rechtsanwälte Hamburgs am Beispiel von Dr. Max Eichholz und Herbert Michaelis, in: Angelika Ebbinghaus, Karsten Linne (Hg.), Kein abgeschlossenes Kapitel: Hamburg im "Dritten Reich". Hamburg 1997, S. 248-265; Ursula Wamser, Wilfried Weinke, Der Fall des Hamburger Rechtsanwalts Herbert Michaelis, in: dies. (Hg.), Eine verschwundene Welt. Jüdisches Leben am Grindel, Springe 2006, S.291-296; Heiko Morisse, Herbert Michaelis, in: Das Jüdische Hamburg, Hamburg 2006, S. 190 f; ITS/ARCH/Korrespondenzablage T/D – 87 273; telefonische Auskunft von Dalo Michaelis, 16.12.2008: Auskunft per E-mail von Heiko Morisse am 5.8.2010 und am 11.8.2010.

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