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Sophie Jansen
© Verein zur Erforschung der Geschichte der Juden in Blankenese

Sophie Rahel Jansen (née Schlossmann) * 1862

Blankeneser Hauptstraße 56 (Altona, Blankenese)

Freitod am 17.7.1942 in Hamburg

Sophie Rahel Jansen, née Schlossmann, born on 26 Mar. 1862 in Hamburg, suicide on 17 July 1942

In Apr. 1913, the municipality of Blankenese was able to welcome two new residents: the Hamburg lawyer Dr. Cäsar Max Jansen and his wife Sophie. The new arrivals had commissioned the contemporary top architect Baedeker to build for them a magnificent clinker brick villa on the banks of the Elbe River (Elbhang) – at Im Busch 7. As a partner of a renowned law firm, Jansen had achieved considerable prosperity and, as his long-standing work on the board of the Yacht Club demonstrated, he belonged to the distinguished circles of Hamburg society. At the soirees and salons, his wife Sophie probably supplied plenty to talk about: Her life was anything but usual.

Born as the daughter of the well-to-do shipping agent Carl Ezechiel Schlossmann in Hamburg and raised in Breslau (today Wroclaw in Poland) and Dresden, respectively, in 1882, as a 20-year old, she had married Cäsar Max Josephson, the son of a physician from Altona. However, social life and raising her six children did not suffice for her: In 1895, she persuaded her husband to purchase an estate in Grande near Trittau and to move there. While he commuted to his Hamburg law firm every day, she set out farming the estate covering approx. 400 acres (400 Morgen) – as an autodidact. Based on her own readings and exchanges with experts, she not only acquired the necessary knowledge concerning the keeping of cattle and dairy farming but also tried to support the contemporary reforms in livestock farming. However, these experiments were expensive, and a series of epidemics resulted in additional costs. In 1901, the couple decided to sell the estate and return to Hamburg.

The defeat was not simply ticked off and forgotten: In 1905, Sophie published a book about her experiences: Sofiensruh. Wie ich mir das Landleben dachte und wie ich es fand ("Sofiensruh. How I imagined rural life and what I found it to be"). The report, written with a fine sense of humor and drastic self-irony, became a bestseller and helped her achieve broad literary recognition. In 1908, her second book appeared, a novel about a young woman destroyed by the narrowness of social conventions. According to literary critics, one has to imagine Friede Wend as a kind of Buddenbrooks. Autobiographic experiences as a mother of by then six children were at the center of Bebi und Bubi. Ein Jahr aus dem Kinderleben ("Bebi and Bubi. A year in children’s lives"). The generously illustrated volume appearing in 1909 was to be her last one.

The reason for the end of her writing career was the discovery that she was needed more urgently elsewhere. Even during the devastating cholera epidemic of 1892, which raged particularly in the densely populated Hamburg working-class neighborhoods, she had been confronted with the social question, having tried to help spontaneously. Fifteen years later, inspired by the social involvement of a pastor from Barmbek, she became a pioneer of the newly organized poor relief system. In 1908, she was the first woman amidst hundreds of men appointed as a public poor-relief nurse.

Although this office ended with the move to Blankenese in 1913, her social commitment did not: From then on, it became the center of her life. Even as a poor-relief nurse in Hamburg, she had joined the General German Women’s Association (Allgemeiner Deutscher Frauenverein), which advocated extending the education, economic independence, and the political role of women in public life. In Blankenese, she continued this activity: In 1915, she became the first chair of the local branch of the North German Women’s Association (Norddeutscher Frauenverein). The war had vastly increased social distress, and the local branch reacted from day one to this situation: In Aug. 1914, a soup kitchen (Volksküche) was opened in today’s Witts Allee. Initially, it served meals for 100, eventually for 700 persons. In 1916, the establishment of an infant welfare office followed at the same location. Since 1917, a day nursery existed as well. In all of these initiatives, Sophie Jansen was involved very prominently. In 1919, the municipality honored her with a commemorative coin. It was bestowed on all of those "who during the war solicitously cared for our warriors and their relatives and selflessly did the general public a good turn, out of charity and patriotism.”

Over the following decade, too, Sophie Jansen remained the driving force behind social work in Blankenese. Commissioned by the Patriotic Women’s Association (Vaterländischer Frauenverein) and supported by the municipality, she continued infant welfare, at first in the municipal office, then at the Dockenhuden gym, and subsequently at the school on Kahlkamp. For this activity, she was later awarded the "remembrance cross” (Erinnerungskreuz) of the Patriotic Women’s Association. In addition, she worked as a board member in the General Poor Association of the Elbe Suburbs (Gesamtarmenverband der Elbvororte). She devoted particular attention to the poor house at Tinsdaler Kirchenweg. This active commitment for the socially weak did not take place based on the position of a large income: Since the early death of her husband in 1916, her economic situation had drastically deteriorated. Instead of residing in the villa overlooking the Elbe River, she lived in a smaller house at Blankeneser Hauptstrasse 56 since 1919.

By 1932 at the latest, Sophie Jansen withdrew from all of her functions – she was 70 years old and looking forward to quiet old age in the midst of her family. However, the transfer of power to Adolf Hitler on 30 Jan. 1933 changed everything. Together with her husband, Sophie had been baptized a Christian in 1888. In 1907, Cäsar Max had dropped his Jewish name Josephson. Since then, the couple had the same name that Sophie had already used as an author – Jansen. Two sons served in World War I, one of them was awarded the Iron Cross. Her own restless activity had earned her public recognition and respect. Now all of this was annulled – the German woman of Jewish descent had now become a "Jewess,” expelled from the community of Germans, exposed to persecution. The Nuremberg Laws [on race] passed in 1935 applied to her as well.

She lost her right to vote and was not permitted to hold a public office. Starting in 1938, her identification card featured the "J” for "Jew,” and the compulsory name "Sara” was added to her name Sophie. With the Pogrom of 9 November 1938, the economic plundering of Jews escalated: In December, she had to surrender her jewelry – "estimated value 100 RM [reichsmark], administrative fee 10 RM, sum paid out 90 RM.” Three months later, the silver cutlery was due. At the same time, she submitted the demanded listing of her assets: 28,351 reichsmark in bonds. She added to this, "From the small revenues from these securities, I cover my livelihood. […] For many years, I have rented out the ground floor of the house I own. I have no intention to emigrate." On 23 Dec. 1939, these details provided were obsolete as well: Based on a new law and pressure from her "Aryan” tenant, she was forced to sell the house and become a subtenant.

According to her daughter Eva, Sophie Jansen reacted in her own way to the compulsion of having to wear the "Jews’ star” ("Judenstern”) as of 19 Sept. 1941: She no longer appeared on the streets after the law had been passed. Neighbors and friends were not deterred and stood by her in this self-imposed isolation. It was only a reprieve. At the beginning of July 1942, she received the deportation order for Theresienstadt, dated for 19 July. On 17 July, while her daughter still tried in vain to avert her 80-year-old mother’s deportation, Sophie Jansen turned on the gas of her stove and put an end to her life. As she wrote in a farewell letter to her daughter, she could "no longer endure being dragged back and forth. I hope my persecutors are content now that I clear the modest little place I had reserved for myself in this world.” The provost of the Blankenese Protestant church parish, Schetelig, refused to bury the deceased. Her remaining assets were confiscated to the benefit of the German Reich.

Two of her children ended up in Theresienstadt as late as 1944: Edith Boehlich survived the camp, Hans Jansen perished there.

Her grandson Wolf Boehlich, passed away by now, wrote about his grandmother:
"One of her most remarkable qualities was the high standard she demanded of herself and of her family. Sofie [sic!] Jansen expected of everyone that they put in the best possible effort, and she did not shrink either from calling on others to behave in socially acceptable ways. She disapproved very much when one of her grandsons did not wish to learn anything else but his profession. Wherever she appeared, she enjoyed distinct respect. She was a severe taskmaster, though one should not think that she was not endearing as well. Children from the neighborhood, who played with her grandchildren, regarded as a privilege well into her final years the fact that they too were allowed to call her granny.”

Translator: Erwin Fink

Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

Stand: October 2016
© Hannes Heer - Recherche: Sabine Boehlich

Quellen: 2; StaH 331-5 Polizeibehörde – Unnatürliche Sterbefälle, 1942/1131 (Jansen, geb. Schloßmann, Sofie Rahel Sara); StaH 351-11 Amt für Wiedergutmachung, 746 (Erbengemeinschaft Jansen, Sophie Rahel); Familienarchiv Boehlich; Wolf Boehlich, Zur Erinnerung an Sofie Rahel Jansen, in: Verein zur Erforschung der Geschichte der Juden in Blankenese (Hrsg.), Stolpersteine, S. 13 f.; Boehlich, "Heb auf".
Zur Nummerierung häufig genutzter Quellen siehe Link "Recherche und Quellen".

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