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Erzähler: Thomas Karallus
Sprecherin: Katja Pilawski

Selma Benjamin (née Pasch) * 1868

Groothoffgasse 8 (Hamburg-Nord, Winterhude)

1941 Riga

further stumbling stones in Groothoffgasse 8:
Thekla Bernau

Selma Benjamin, née Pasch, born on 10 May 1868 in Reisen, deported on 6 Dec. 1941 to Riga, where she went missing
Thekla Bernau, née Benjamin, born on 29 May 1900 in Dannenberg, deported on 6 Dec. 1941 to Riga, where she went missing

Thekla Bernau was the daughter of Selma Benjamin, née Pasch, and her husband Martin. The 1935/36 Hamburg Teachers’ Directory still listed her as a teacher at the school located at Bismarckstraße 131. However, she must have been dismissed soon thereafter, subsequently teaching only in one more instance, at "Cläre-Lehmann-Schule,” a Jewish private school in Heilwigstraße.

Although she was of Protestant faith, she was forcibly declared a member of the Jewish Community because of her Jewish parents. The Community’s administration registered her from 1939 onward as "Thekla Bernau, formerly Benjamin,” Protestant, unmarried, childless, and as a "laid-off teacher” without income. In the 1930s, she lived together with her mother in the Jarrestadt residential area, at Groothoffgasse 8.

In 1939, they both lived at Lehmweg 57 as subtenants. Prior to their deportation, the Gestapo quartered them together with several fellow sufferers in a house in Hartungstraße. On 6 Dec. 1941, she was displaced to Riga, together with her mother, who had volunteered for this transport after her daughter had received the deportation order. When they arrived there on 9 Dec., the killing operation of the SS against the Jews who had lived there until then was still under way, which meant the camp could not accommodate them yet. As a result, the Hamburg transport was diverted to the nearby Jungfernhof estate, where the newcomers had to stay in unheated and sometimes open barns. Thekla Bernau and Selma Benjamin perished either there or subsequently at the Riga camp – murdered by the SS or dying of the wretched living conditions.

"No trouble!” – Thekla Bernau’s last letter
The following letter by Thekla Bernau remains extant, a letter she addressed to her close relatives Margarethe and Selma in Friendsfield, USA, just before she was transported off. It reveals in a profoundly distressing way the circumstances of the deportations.

"Now we know: We will be off on 5 or 6 Dec. No one asks where to. Everyone knows it, and no one admits to it. We are now eleven persons in the two rooms in Hartungstraße. The Borowers are the oldest ones and both ill. Will they survive the journey? Wolf B[orower] says to his Fanni that it will be the promised land. And when she whimpers and tries to straighten her swollen knee, he caresses her and says she should be pleased about the ice flowers on the windows. Such beautiful ice flowers this year! As never before. And outside, he says, everything is so cheerful, no trace of the war. Had she seen the spruces and firs that would be fetched into the houses soon. The Christians decorate their firs; but it is Hanukkah now and we do not even have a Hanukkah menorah, only the ice flowers. Ice flowers sometimes replace the Hanukkah menorahs.

The copying pencil is so hard that I have to moisten it using my lips. When I think everything over, my lips dry up and I cannot write any longer. For whom am I writing? Perhaps so that Margarethe and Selma may read it one day after all. I wonder whether it is as cold in Friendsfield? Where is Friendsfield located? It is located far away from Dannenberg where I was born, and far away from Hartungstraße in Hamburg. So far away that I am unable to send any thoughts from here to there. Laura Mosbach is from Bünde in Westphalia and knows how to roll cigars from old leaves and newspapers. However, neither the Wenkels nor the Grothkopps want to smoke them. She is sad. Who wants to smoke these days anyway!

In the morning, SS men show up three times in succession, demanding our papers. We say that we have had to hand them over already and that we are registered. Might there be some fuel for heating and a doctor for Fanni Borower? They sneer and say that we do not need a stove anymore and that there aren’t any doctors left even for decent people. For decent people, he says. And Fanni Borower says she is doing better already. No trouble. No one wants to make any "trouble,” because otherwise one is sorted out and forced to come along immediately. Who knows where.

At two o’clock in the afternoon, everyone gets a slice of bread, jam, and some drippings. No one asks whether this really goes well together. We eat all of that up. Like rats that eat everything up as well without asking whether it goes well together. With it, we get hot malted coffee substitute. Then a woman appears. Fat and coarse. Body search! She grabs everyone beneath the shirt and in the pants. We have to hold up our arms and spread our legs. She feels her way through everything and takes away old Mrs. Borower’s tincture for her knee. That, she says, was alcohol. And any type of alcohol was forbidden for Jews. On penalty of death. Fanni whimpers, Wolf covers her mouth. The woman says that she is knitting a sweater for her son for Christmas but that you could not get such fine wool as in Mrs. Wenkel’s scarf anywhere. The Jews always had everything. The best! However, soon she would own such wool as well. Perhaps as early as tomorrow. Mrs. Wenkel ties the scarf tighter around her neck. She does not want her scarf to be unraveled for the fat woman’s Christmas sweater. The woman says things would get underway early tomorrow. We would be awoken, subsequently having to turn in our watches as well and our wedding rings. And no one should dare to hide anything. I will also have to hand over my writing; perhaps it will never reach Margarethe and Selma in Friendsfield. Never! All we do and think here is "never”!

In the afternoon, old Mr. Borower suffers a heart attack. We massage him and have to let in some fresh air, even though everyone is freezing. He is blue in the face, and we give him the rest from the pot to drink. "It will be the promised land!” he says repeatedly. "You will see it.” He says it over and over and has no belief in the promised land anymore. After we close the window, the ice flowers have disappeared. Fewer people are on the street. Two black cars park in front of the house. Guards. We are all accommodated in four houses. Children are crying above us.

One can hear noise from the house opposite and see candles being lit. At nightfall, a man comes walking down the street, dressing up as Sankt Nikolaus in front of the door. First, he puts on a red cape, then a mask and a high pointed hat. In his hand, he holds a sack and a birch rod. Is Saint Nicholas’ Day today or tomorrow? One forgets that which is. It would be better of one were able to forget even more. The man enters the room, the noise increases. Lights, noise, joy, gifts … In the evening, I have a crying fit.

Mrs. Wenkel says it will be the same as with the previous transports. The cattle cars stood at the Sternschanze neighborhood. Open. Women and men separate. At Altona, cars from Kiel and Hannover are added. Wolf does not want to be separated from Fanni. He laments not having done it like his friend Bukofzer. Bukofzer and his wife hung themselves. Why do you hang yourself? I have to muster all my strength and think only of the fact that Margarethe and Selma are safe in Friendsfield. Now it is shortly before midnight, or later already? Over there they are celebrating. Lights, warmth. The caretaker comes by and says it would be better to give him all valuables we still have for safekeeping. I have nothing. Only these sheets and the copying pen. He gets me an old envelope. This is where I will stuff everything and give it to him. He is supposed to mail it to Margarethe and Selma. He promises to do so. I will not write anything anymore. Adieu, my loved ones. Do not think badly of me.”

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

© Ulrike Sparr

Quellen: 1; 4; 5; StaHH 522-1 Jüd. Gemeinde, 992e2 Bd.3; Wolfgang Scheffler u. Diana Schulle, Buch der Erinnerung S. 606f; Beate Meyer (Hrsg.), Die Deportation der Hamburger Juden 1941–1945, Hamburg 2006, S. 64ff; Hamburger Lehrerzeitung hlz 8-9/07, S. 41f; (einges. 12.05.07); (einges. 12.05.07).

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