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Franz Acker * 1903
Genslerstraße 16 (Hamburg-Nord, Barmbek-Nord)
Franz Josef Acker, born on 18 Oct. 1903, died in Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg Concentration Camp on 26 May 1943
Franz Acker came from a Catholic family. He had two brothers - Hermann and Heinrich - who migrated to North America in the 1920s. In the middle of the 1920s he came to Hamburg to work in his profession as a chef – later executive chef – and met his future wife Lissi. Lissi, born on 25 Apr. 1904, was the third of three daughters of the Jewish Kaufmann family living in Barmbek. They married on 15 Nov. 1930 at Barmbek registry office and initially lived at Lissi´s married sister Margarete Meyer´s place at Habichtstraße, later at Otto-Speckter-Straße, at Lambrechtsweg, and at Genslerstraße.
Before the wedding, Franz had taken up a position as an executive chef in Magdeburg where they planned to spend their future life. The couple had already ordered furniture and they had good prospects of getting an appartment. When Franz, however, asked his boss for some days off for the wedding and the employer heard about his future wife´s Jewish origin, an argument emerged which resulted in the termination of the employment contract. First repressive measures can thus already be seen in 1930. Outraged, Franz returned to Hamburg and found a job at what was then the Ernst-Merck-Hotel. In 1933 their first baby was born. Lissi wanted to call the child Iwan after an uncle who had fallen as a soldier during the First World War and whom she rated highly. The registry office, however, called the father to choose a German name and thus the son was called Helmut.
In January 1935 Franz had to change his job, because the administration of Hamburg implemented a decree which was meant to oust Jews or their spouses from jobs and training courses. Franz was not allowed to instruct apprentices any more. The Gestapo called him to get divorced from his wife - even Lissi herself offered this solution - but for him not even a feigned separation was an option, since he was aware that this was going to endanger his wife. A priest tried to convince Lissi to convert to Catholicism, but she refused. Franz´ brothers who lived in the USA offered to support the family´s migration to America, but Lissi shrinked from leaving her mother behind.
From 21 Jan. 1935 to 30 June 1936 Franz Acker was executive chef at the Gloria-Café in Harburg which was not part of Hamburg at the time. Since it was a long commute, his new employer asked him to move to Harburg. They found an appartment at Wilstorfer Straße. At this time, in front of many shops signs told customers not to buy at Jewish shops, or told Jews not to enter. Quickly, word got around that Lissi was Jewish. She herself made a clean breast of it. She also refused to hang up flags with the swastika on the window towards the street; while this was not allowed for her, her husband would have been able to do so. The hostilities made Franz to change his job again. Since July 1936 he had a new position in Bremerhaven at the Excelsior Hotel. Lissi and their son moved their with him. The employment contract lasted for two years, during the summer months of 1937 Franz worked in an additional of his employer´s hotels in Westerland at Sylt.
Also in Bremerhaven the family suffered from reprisals and they had to move again. Franz´ next stop of this odyssey was Cologne, where he worked at an excursion boat´s restaurant from July to Sept. 1938. Lissi remained in Hamburg with their son, because Helmut had been ill with measles and did not recover for long time; the doctor diagnosed severe homesickness. Indeed, he seemed to feel better immediately when his grandfather Kaufmann met the two at Hamburg Central Station. It is possible that Lissi herself also longed for a familiar surrounding since she had been on her own with the child in unfamiliar, often hostile environments, for a long time. In addition to that, she must have been aware of the grotesque situation that her husband – the family breadwinner – had better chances to find work when she was not around.
Lissi´s parents and two sisters had moved to Lambrechtsweg at Barmbek Nord in 1938 and Lissi found a small flat for herself and the child in the neighbouring house. In the same year her parents and sisters were expelled from the street due to denunciation and moved to a smaller flat at Bendixenweg. This was a reason for Lissi to leave the street as well. A landlord called Oberländer – who was very tolerant for the time – dismissed her Jewish origin and made clear that for him she was first of all a human being; he offered her an appartment at Genslerstraße 16. Since 1939 protection of tenants was officially reversed for Jews, but already before that it had been very difficult to find housing.
At Genslerstraße Lissi Acker also had positive experiences with the neighbourhood; the fact that she was warned before Pogrom Night on 9 Nov. 1938 is one example important to stress. A policeman next door literally ordered her to warn relatives living in the area of Hoheluft and to bring them to her flat in order to protect them from being arrested.
Regular control visits of the Gestapo were always connected to harassment; little Helmut, for example, was not allowed to keep his dog. The Gestapo also confiscated a precious collection of books and stamps belonging to the absent Franz. Absurdity culminated in the regulation that Lissi as a Jew was not allowed to use a radio, while her son and husband could own one in the same flat.
Since 1940 Helmut Acker went to school at Genslerstraße, Ecke Rübenkamp. One day he came home from school, crying; he had been punished by the teacher because he talked about his grandfather who had been honoured with the Iron Cross as a soldier of the First World War, and his uncle who fell as a soldier. The teacher accused him of lying; according to her, there had not been any Jewish soldiers. When Lissi confronted her with this later, the teacher admitted that she had been afraid of losing her job.
In the meantime, Franz had been working in Saarbrücken between Oct. 1938 and Aug. 1939. He worked at Café Kiefer and rarely saw his family. It was a long way to Hamburg and surely he was often worried whether his family was in fact protected by the privileges of the so-called mixed marriage while he was absent. Most likely he knew about his parents and sisters in law being expelled; they were not allowed to stay at Bendixenweg and were now living at Bogenstraße in a Jewish residential home. Supported by old acquaintances in Hamburg, Franz managed to find a permanent job at the Königstadt Hotel in Berlin-Potsdam in August 1939. Now he was able to visit his family in Hamburg more often, especially when using the "Flying Hamburger" ("Fliegender Hamburger"), a fast train between Hamburg and Berlin. This new job may also have been more profitable which was important for Franz who was saving up for his dream to start his own business.
He gradually had to worry more about his family; harassments against Jews increased and legislation limited life more and more. In 1941 the deportation of German Jews began. In 1942 the first of Lissi´s relatives were deported; her sisters were deported to Auschwitz on 11 July, her father to Theresienstadt one week later on 17 July. Her beloved mother died shortly afterwards in hospital. Franz is likely to have known about the developments in the country because of his work at the hotel located in vicinity to the capital.
In January 1943 Franz Acker visited his wife and son and he talked to Lissi about his wish to have a second child. Their son Helmut was nearly ten years old. Perhaps until then they had to postpone their wish for a second child because of their financial and political situation, but now Franz seemed to have a secure job. Franz believed furthermore that a second child could protect his wife and son from deportation. Back in Potsdam he openly told the kitchen boy – as it was very much like him – to better "put more effort into his education than to spend time with these murderers" (the Hitler Youth, Hitlerjugend, HJ). The Gestapo arrested him on 13 Feb. 1943. Directly from the kitchen he was brought to Sachsenhausen, Oranienburg Concentration Camp the same day.
Lissi Acker was not informed immediately and was waiting for the urgently needed housekeeping money. Only when calling to Potsdam she learned about her husband´s arrest from the owner of the hotel. After weeks she received a first postcard from him, dated already on 21 Feb. Altogether, four censored postcards exist which Lissi received until the middle of the year from her husband. Franz knew then already that his wish for a second child was going to come true. Lissi had nearly no money and did not know how to go on. Then, an acquaintance drove to Potsdam for her to collect Franz´ possessions from the hotel; among these things was also a savings book amounting 6000 RM. Being Jewish, she would have had to register savings and a "security order" (Sicherungsanordnung) would have been likely, but she managed to deposit this savings book in Switzerland until the end of the war.
According to the death certificate, Franz died on 26 May 1943 at 5:30 am. The certificate was issued by the registry office Oranienburg II on 16 June 1943, it is not known under which circumstances. Lissi was cited to the Gestapo in ABC-Straße where she and other persons affected by the policy had to report regularly.
This time, she went there accompanied by the Jewish lawyer Plaut who was a friend of the family. The Gestapo told her about her husband´s death and claimed an alleged cancer to have been the cause of death. In June she received a parcel with mouldy food she had sent to him and which apparently was never given to him. The food came from different shop owners in Barmbek who knew Lissi and her family and who sometimes illegally gave her food which she – as a Jew – was officially not allowed to get. A second parcel contained Franz´ clothes; his laundry was dirty with blood and pus.
The house at Genslerstraße 16 where Lissi – being then well advanced in pregnancy – and the ten year old son Helmut were living in was bombed out during the "Operation Gomorrha" in late July 1943. Even their suitcases were stolen when the cellar they had tried to find shelter in was evacuated. Helped by other refugees who were bombed out, Lissi and her son reached the village Brunau. There, they nearly starved; Lissi had to identify herself as a Jew, and the farmer at whose place they had been assigned to be housed, treated them very badly. Lissi later remembered Helmut saying to her: "Mum, let us rather return to the ruins and die there".
When they returned in Sep. 1943 they transitionally lived under very bad and poor conditions in small rooms as subtenants at Klosterstern, at Hartungstraße, and finally in a "Jews´ house" ("Judenhaus") at Rutschbahn where five families were housed in one big apartment. Lissi later remembered that Helmut and an older cousin had to help recovering bodies from the ruins at Grindelallee.
In Oct. 1943 the daughter Eva Maria was born at the Jewish emergency hospital auxiliary hospital (Notkrankenhaus) at Schäferkampsallee; her father was already dead for five months. At the hospital, Lissi was at risk of being arrested because she had not written the forced name Sara on the announcement of birth. She waited for deportation together with another patient; it was the Jewish film director Walter Koppel. He offered her to turn to him for help in case they were to survive. The deportation was not carried out, perhaps because of an air raid alert; the reason is not known. In a later interview, Lissi expressed that she did not have the heart to take Koppel´s offer.
Except of 64 RM orphan´s pension for each child, Lissi did not get any support. Only with the help of friends – among them former neighbours from Genslerstraße – she managed to collect everything needed for the layette. She later remembered to have been very worried about her children, she talked about harassments, but also about help from neighbours. After the war, it was very important for her to return to the Barmbek area. Initially she found an apartment for herself and the children at Meister-Francke-Straße, but she did not feel comfortable there. It was her biggest wish to return to Genslerstraße; the years there and the experiences of good neighbourhood meant home for her. After having multiply changed apartments – in a time of housing shortage – she finally managed to return; Lissi Acker lived at Genslerstraße until she died in 1991.
Lissi and her children survived the war and the "Third Reich"; the order for deportation for Jewish women living in "mixed marriages" in Feb. 1945 did not reach them. She was, however, forearmed; the doctor had given her a medicine she would have taken in case of need to set an end to her life.
Time had, however, left its marks. Lissi´s husband and her entire family - sisters, parents, relatives - fell victims to the Nazi regime, she suffered from Angina Pectoris and from a chronic biliary disease. She received invalidity retirement pension since 1954. Visits at administration offices and the struggle for compensatory payment cost her a lot of energy and often she rather resigned than having to expose herself to these tortures. Helmut was in frail health already at the age of 14; throughout his life he had several operations, among others cardiac surgeries, and he died aged only 64. Mother and son suffered from insomnia throughout their entire lives; steps at the staircase at night reminded them of visits of the Gestapo. Daughter Eva – born in late 1943 and brought up by a traumatized mother and brother, without any close relatives – often experienced the two of them falling silent when talk fell on the topic of National Socialism, in order to protect themselves. There were many questions she asked in vain or never asked at all out of consideration for them; many answers she had to search for herself.
Translator: Paula Antonella Oppermann
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
© Eva Acker/Erika Draeger
Quellen: 1; StaHH 351-11, AfW, Abl. 2008/1, 25.04.04 Acker, Lissi; Interview mit Lissi Acker, Dez. 1990, Geschichtswerkstatt Barmbek; Arbeitsbuch Franz Acker, geführt 1918 bis 1943; VVN; IGdJ: Das jüdische Hamburg, S. 206f; Meyer: Die Verfolgung und Ermordung der Hamburger Juden, S. 48, S. 79ff, S. 206.
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