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Johanna Wolff * 1911
Brahmsallee 12 (Eimsbüttel, Harvestehude)
Willy (Willi) Wolff, born on 18 May 1891 in Friedrichstadt, deported on 8 Nov. 1941 to Minsk
Thekla Wolff, née Franken, born on 9 Feb. 1889 in Hackenbroich, deported on 18 Nov. 1941 to Minsk
Johanna (Henny) Wolff, born on 13 Mar. 1911 in Hackenbroich, deported on 18 Nov. 1941 to Minsk
Ludwig Wolff, born on 12 Dec. 1913 in Hamburg, deported on 8 Mar. 1941 to Minsk
Karin Wolff, born on 27 Dec. 1937 in Hamburg, deported on 18 Nov. 1941 to Minsk
Uri Wolff, born on 12 Dec. 1940 in Hamburg, deported on 18 Nov. 1941 to Minsk
The Wolff family came from Friedrichstadt in Schleswig. Willy Wolff was born there on 18 May 1891 as son of the butcher Emanuel Wolff and Betty, née Behrens. Friedrichstadt had a Jewish community since the seventeenth century. The city was founded in 1621 under Duke Friedrich III of [Schleswig-Holstein-]Gottorp by Dutch religious refugees, the so-called Remonstrants. Their beliefs were extremely peaceful and oriented toward religious tolerance. So it came to pass that five religious denominations lived together in Friedrichstadt: Lutherans, Catholics, Mennonites, Remonstrants, and Jews. The duke expected economic impulses for his country from the activity of Jewish traders. Therefore, the Jews did not need any special privilege to settle in Friedrichstadt. In its heyday, the Jewish Community had a synagogue, a ritual bath, a cemetery, a school, and a kosher butcher. There were many contacts between Christians and Jews. In the middle of the nineteenth century, 421 of the 2,472 inhabitants of Friedrichstadt were Jews, i.e., 17 percent. In the second half of the nineteenth century, several Jews moved away from Friedrichstadt because they were able to settle in more attractive places in the course of general civic emancipation. The total population of the rural town decreased. The old-established families, to which the Wolffs belonged, remained in the village. Julius Wolff, Willy Wolff’s brother born in 1887, worked as a kosher butcher and headed the fraternal burial society; he was in charge of assisting the needy and sick and of funeral matters. The whole Wolff family still adhered strictly to the Jewish commandments, to the dietary rules and to the rest from work on the Shabbat.
Willy Wolff attended the Bürgerschule [a secondary school for the middle classes] in Friedrichstadt from the spring of 1897 to Apr. 1903. Having achieved good to very good grades, he was enrolled in the vocational Rackow School. In 1905, he wrote in calligraphy in his Christian friend Georg Behlau’s autograph book, "Be the master of your will and the servant of your conscience” ("Sei deines Willens Herr und deines Gewissens Knecht”). In 1906, working as a commercial apprentice, he lived at Westermarktstrasse 17; at the end of the year, he notified the authorities that he was moving to Kitzingen/Main. There he worked as an apprentice at the Gerseck & Sohn wine and grain shop. During his training, he received linen, clothes, and pocket money from his parents. Only as a journeyman did he earn his own income. As a participant in the First World War, Private Willy Wolff received the Iron Cross for Bravery and was promoted to non-commissioned officer in 1915. His marriage also took place that year. On 2 May 1915, Willy Wolff and Thekla Franken, born in Hackenbroich near Neuss on 8 Feb. 1889, were married in Dormagen. Their daughter Johanna (Henny) was born in Hackenbroich in 1911. In Dec. 1915, the couple stayed in Friedrichstadt, where the young woman was registered as a resident by the police at the time. Soon both returned to Kitzingen. The son Emil (Emanuel) was born on 14 June 1917 in Hackenbroich. Whether Thekla Wolff only went to her hometown for the birth, or whether she had lived there for a long time before, cannot be determined. In any case, in the same year both spouses moved with the two children to Friedrichstadt, where the following five daughters were born: Fränze, born on 2 Dec. 1919; Bertha, born on 26 Jan. 1922, died in Dec. 1930; Ruth, born on 8 Apr. 1924; Margot, born on 2 May 1926; Renate, born on 11 Apr. 1931.
For Willy Wolff, starting his own business in his hometown was not easy. In 1919, he was issued an itinerant trade license as a merchant, which certified him as "reliable in trading.” He was allowed to trade in wine, cigars, eggs, and non-rationed yard goods; he was prohibited from trading in spirits. He advertised the purchase and sale of eggs in exchange for ration cards at Westermarktstrasse 17 in the local newspaper. According to a personal description, we can picture 28-year-old Willy Wolff as follows: 1.62 meters (nearly 5 ft 4 in) in height, with blue eyes and blond hair. He was active as a cattle trader, then as a representative of the Bruno Levy textile wholesale company, occasionally also of the large Jewish M.&E. Goose Company for tailoring and clothing accessories in Borken/Westphalia. Willy Wolff was firmly integrated into Friedrichstadt society. He joined the Ringreitergilde ("ring riders’ guild”) in 1920, a special sporting feature of the town, became a substitute of a parental advisory board, occasionally won the daily prize in the bowling club, and was accepted into the Friedrichstadt Veterans’ Association (Kriegerverein) in 1928. In the same year, he announced his takeover of the newly renovated "Friedrichstädter Hof” restaurant, which offered "good food and drinks at any time of the day.” Wolff does not seem to have run the restaurant for a long time, as he mainly worked in his original trade, as a sales representative. The family lived at Westerhafenstrasse 14 in a rented two-and-a-half-bedroom apartment. The professional activity of the father allowed the family with many children to have a solid middle-class lifestyle. Proof of this status was commonly considered the fact that the mother of the family did not have to be gainfully employed. However, like many other entrepreneurs, he was hit by the great economic crisis, receiving temporary welfare assistance in 1932 and 1933.
With the National Socialists’ rise to power, the previously tolerant mood also changed in Friedrichstadt. Life became noticeably more difficult for Jews. The population was called upon to boycott Jewish shops in the area. One merchant who did not join the "Jewish boycott” had to walk through the city accompanied by SA men and a drum roll, forced to wear a sign reading, "I am a scoundrel” around his neck. Willy Wolff would not be intimidated. In the Friedrichstädter Zeitung of 3 Apr. 1933, he signed the following article, specifically as a "citizen of the Jewish faith and frontline soldier”: "We are accused that the campaign of hatred and incitement to lies originated with the German Jews; that it was up to the Jews to reprimand the liars, but that the German Jews refused to do this. Against this accusation, we 565,000 German Jews solemnly enter a protest before all of Germany. The German Jews did not cause anyone in Germany or in the world, directly or indirectly, to slander Germany, let alone take any action against the country. In fact, the German Jews have, as far as they were able, immediately done their utmost against it in order to make any insult to their homeland, any abuse of the government, any damage to the national economy impossible. Before God and the people we thus stand vindicated. With dignity and courage, we will bear the merciless measures of Germans against Germans on our own native soil.”
Willy Wolff’s public commitment to Germanness was regarded by the Nazi mayor as "grandiloquence” ("Grosssprecherei”) and anti-state activity. In his capacity as "local police authority,” he filed a report with the district administrator in Schleswig. Eight "particularly dangerous enemies of the state” were listed: four Bible students [i.e., Jehovah’ witnesses], three Communists, and as the last one, added in handwriting, "Willi [sic] Wolff – a Jew.”
While the working conditions of Jewish traders were severely restricted by anti-Semitic measures, because Jews were forbidden to sell trousseau articles in exchange for ration coupons, Willy Wolff was still able to feed the family, albeit miserably. In Aug. 1938, however, Wolff lost the basis of his work life. His application for an extension of the itinerant trade license was turned down by a "final decision.” In his reasoning, the mayor used all of the common popular phrases: "Well camouflaged in the manner of the Jews,” Wolff had allegedly disguised his anti-state attitude, "according to the well-known Jewish morals,” he had taken advantage of his business partner; according to this, he was a hypocrite, alcoholic, womanizer, etc. The conclusion appears to be deliberate humiliation: "Although Wolff would immediately fall under the responsibility of public welfare on 1 Oct. 1938 immediately upon handing in his itinerant trade license and for this reason the retention of the itinerant trade license would be desirable, this cannot, however, be supported in political and counterintelligence terms.”
This seems like a prelude to the November Pogrom of 9/10 Nov. 1938, which, like everywhere else, caused terrible damage among Jews in Friedrichstadt as well. The testimonies of former neighbors reflected their unease at what had happened: SA men from Husum reportedly entered the Wolff family’s apartment, threw family pictures out the window, knocked over furniture, and broke the good glasses, crushed the radio on the floor, and demolished furnishings. Other neighbors disagreed: According to them, it had not been that bad, the cupboards had only been rummaged through, not overturned. Opinions completely diverged when it came to the question of what had become of the furniture and utensils that the Wolffs had left behind when they left Friedrichstadt.
During the pogrom, Willy Wolff and his son were taken to Flensburg and from there to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. It took weeks for them to get out. Willy Wolff was then forcibly deployed as a "worker” to do road construction on the B5 route to Flensburg. During this time, he and his wife Thekla, son Emil and Willy’s 85-year-old mother Betty, née Behrend, lived at Prinzessstrasse 17. When Willy Wolff suffered a minor traffic accident on his way to work, the case was treated as bureaucratically correct as with any other citizen. However, constant minor and major instances of harassment made life in Friedrichstadt unbearable for the Jews. One Jewish family after another left for Hamburg. In the big city, they hoped, individual Jews would be less conspicuous. On 22 June 1940, Wolff’s parents moved to Hamburg to become subtenants in their daughter Johanna’s apartment in the basement of Brahmsallee 12. They had not been able to take along much more than the bedroom furniture. Son Emil had already been deregistered with the authorities on 26 Oct. 1937 as moving to Brahmsallee 12 in Hamburg. During Nov. 1938, however, he was documented as "jobless,” again residing with his parents in Friedrichstadt.
The son and the six daughters of Thekla and Willy Wolff had different fates. Bertha, born in 1922, died of septic sore throat at the age of eight. Johanna, called Henny, the oldest, attended the Talmud Tora School in Hamburg after her elementary school (Volksschule) years. In 1926, she began an apprenticeship as a tailor and was trained as a dressmaker in Miss Lachmann’s studio. Johanna Wolff lived in Hamburg at various addresses – Rappstrasse 2, Wrangelstrasse 14b, Grindelallee 188. Her sister Margot reported that Johanna had also acquired a French diploma. In Hamburg, she worked for an exclusive clientele and had the opportunity to earn money. She became a member of the Hamburg Jewish Community, but was not assessed for Jewish religious taxes (Kultussteuer). In 1937, she married the grocer Ludwig Wolff, born on 12 Dec. 1913 in Hamburg as the son of Willy Wolff and Emilie, née Budensberg. Apparently, he was not related to Johanna’s family. Johanna continued working after her marriage. However, as a Jewish woman, she no longer received many orders. The young couple lived at Brahmsallee 12, where two children were born: Karin on 27 Dec. 1937 and Uri on 12 Dec. 1940. The grandparents, Thekla and Willy Wolff, were to experience only these two grandchildren and not learn anything about their numerous descendants anymore.
Daughter Fränze moved to Stettin (today Szczecin in Poland) after leaving school in 1934 to train in home economics. She and her sister Ruth, five years her junior, were able to emigrate to Britain in 1938 with a visa for domestic workers. The two youngest children, Margot and Renate, were admitted to Britain at the beginning of 1939 through the "children’s emigration” department ("Kinderauswanderung”) of the Reich Association [of Jews in Germany] (Reichsvereinigung [der Juden in Deutschland]). All four sisters later married in Britain and started families of their own.
The only son, Emil Wolff, a journeyman butcher, also survived the time of terror, in various camps. He was released from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp to stay with his parents at Prinzessstrasse 17 in Friedrichstadt. He immediately applied for and received a passport and moved to Kiel. There he worked in the Seeschlachthaus (a seaside butchery). At the beginning of 1940, he was discovered as a Jew, fled to the Danish border and was cornered there, abused, and taken to Kiel prison. In a trial before a "special court,” he was charged with "racial defilement” ("Rassenschande”) as a "crime against the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor [Gesetz zum Schutze des deutschen Blutes und der deutschen Ehre]) dated 15 Sept. 1935.” The sentence was eight years in prison. In Auschwitz, he had the following horrible experience that he later stated in lieu of an oath:
"In Nov. 1943, I was in the Auschwitz concentration camp. At the time, I was assigned to the detachment that had to clear out the gas chambers and burn the bodies. Among the bodies, I found my father. I saw him with my own eyes and of course I recognized him immediately. That’s how I know my father was gassed in Auschwitz in Nov. 1943. Of course, I cannot give the date. We prisoners had no calendar at our disposal.” Taken from Auschwitz to Dachau, he was liberated there by the Americans. On 15 Aug. 1945, he returned to Friedrichstadt. He married Genia Hechter from Lithuania, born on 8 June 1922. The couple had two children, Willy and Jacob Wolff. The family was well received in Friedrichstadt. They lived at Am Binnenhaften 17. Emil Wolff joined the Ringreitergilde in 1947 and became "King” ("König,” i.e., champion) in 1949. In 1950, he passed the master’s examination for the butcher’s trade. He took in 12-year-old orphaned Hannelore Jacoby. She had been deported to Riga together with her parents in 1942. That is where her father had died. Her mother, Clara Jacoby, née Behrend, reached their hometown of Friedrichstadt on her way from the Stutthof concentration camp across the Baltic Sea together with her little daughter, where she died of typhoid shortly afterward. The orphan was taken to the "Lemsterhof” near Cismar, where surviving children were temporarily cared for. Emil Wolff took the girl into his family. But he did not want to stay in Germany. The family emigrated to Paraguay and lived in Asunción, where Emil Wolff died in 1999.
In Hamburg, at Brahmsallee 12, the Wolff parents and the young couple with the two children received the deportation order to Minsk in Nov. 1941. The men, Willy and his son-in-law Ludwig, were already assigned to the transport including 968 persons on 8 November, the women and children ten days later to the 407-person transport on 18 November. Since Minsk was indicated as a destination for both, the families hoped to be able to reunite there. Whether they really saw each other again, where and how they had to suffer death, we do not know.
At the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s, Emil Wolff joined three of his sisters living in Britain to form a community of heirs engaging legal counsel to pursue claims of restitution for damage to life, body and health, property and assets, economic and professional advancement vis-à-vis the Hanseatic City of Hamburg. For Ruth, who had died in the meantime, the claims were transferred to her widower and her son.
In Friedrichstadt, Stolpersteine commemorate Willy Wolff, his brother Julius Wolff and 23 other Jews from Friedrichstadt who were sent to their deaths from Hamburg.
Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: September 2019
© Inge Grolle
Quellen: StaH 351-11/11161 = Erbengemeinschaft Wolff, Thekla; StaH 351-11/ 13740 Wiedergutmachungsakte Willy Wolff, Bl. 59; 351-11/42345, Anträge auf Wiedergutmachung von Renate Kessler und Fränze Swann nach Johanna, Karin, Uri Wolff; Parak, Juden in Friedrichstadt; Goldberg, Abseits; Christiane Thomsen: Auskünfte und Kopien aus dem Stadtarchiv Friedrichstadt.