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Emma Böhme * 1884
Nagelsweg 33 (Hamburg-Mitte, Hammerbrook)
further stumbling stones in Nagelsweg 33:
Emma Bertha Marie Böhme, née Görlich, born 10 Aug. 1884 in Barth (West Pomerania), died in the Auschwitz concentration camp 11 Mar. 1943
When Emma was born in the small town of Barth, on the Baltic coast west of Stralsund, her father Wilhelm Görlich had just died, and her mother Wilhelmine, née Range, who later married a man by the name of Marx, bore sole responsibility for the family at first. Emma attended and completed Volksschule (the compulsory eight years of schooling) in Barth and then "worked for a farmer.” She was only eighteen when she married Max Hopp, a farm worker, with whom she had four children. It was probably before she had her children that she went to Stettin, the provincial capital of Pomerania, in 1907, and completed training as a midwife in one year in the provincial midwives’ training facility (Provinzial-Hebammen-Lehranstalt) that was affiliated with a gynecological clinic. Taking this step, which was surely unusual at the time for a young married woman from a simple rural background, seems to point to a personality that, according to a statement by her second husband in a later police interrogation, must have been decidedly energetic and able to cope with life.
Following her vocational training, she opened her own practice as a midwife in Luedershagen near Barth. However, she appears not to have been happy with her first husband, as she described him as an alcoholic and as violent toward her and their children. When the war broke out, she separated from him and then had to support herself and her children on her own. She did so by working at an iron foundry and driving a stagecoach—possibly in addition to her work as a midwife. In 1918, the year the war ended, she moved to Hamburg with all her children and had to support the family by herself there, too.
However, she could not work as a midwife in Hamburg, apparently because her Pomeranian professional license was not recognized. For this reason, she opened a massage parlor which, as the Nazi justice authorities later alleged, was to have served as a cover for abortions; she also ran a cigar shop "on the side.” Since her income from legal activities was not enough to support the family, she performed abortions on other women "out of need,” as she later stated. For this reason, the Hamburg Criminal Court (Schwurgericht) sentenced her to four years hard labor in October of 1920 for "performing abortions for pay” in three cases, and in one case, in concurrence with negligent homicide (one woman died of complications of the procedure). (In February, 1920, she had been sent to prison for a week for petit larceny.) The circumstances of these crimes are unknown because the criminal file no longer exists. Apparently, Emma Böhme conducted abortions together with another woman and considered herself, as she later stated, as "convicted although innocent,” which she probably meant with reference to the negligent homicide.
Her husband, from whom she was separated, took her conviction as an opportunity to get divorced in 1922. Because of her conviction, she was considered solely at fault for the divorce, which meant that she lost all her rights to financial support from him. Her four-year sentence was reduced to one year probation through 1926, so she was already released in 1923. Yet in 1925, she was convicted to two years hard labor by the Stralsund Local Criminal Court, again for performing abortions, which meant that she had to serve the remaining year from her previous conviction and was released from criminal incarceration only in March, 1928.
After her release from hard labor, she first worked sewing sacks and, left to fend for herself, presumably had to survive a difficult time. Just a few week after her release, she visited a woman who had also been in prison and who had been convicted with her in 1920 for performing illegal abortions, and asked her to carry out an abortion on a "country woman” she did not know. She agreed and, as she admitted eleven years later in a police interrogation, performed another abortion the same year; for each of these abortions, she was to have received 15 to 25 Reichsmark. In 1929, she married Erich Böhme, whom she had met in 1925 and who was eleven years her junior. At the time, he was still married, but got divorced from his first wife a short time before his second wedding.
From 1929 to 1935, the Böhmes lived on Seilerstraße in the St. Pauli neighborhood and on Eduardstraße in the Eimsbuettel district. Since her husband had steady work and most of her children were grown, this period presumably improved Emma Böhme’s social situation, and it was then that she met a midwife from the Altona district for whom she occasionally worked. That midwife approached her in the summer of 1934 and asked her urgently to perform an abortion on a young woman; she herself had attempted to do so several times, but without success. Emma Böhme consented and carried out an irrigation of the uterus with a syringe, resulting in a miscarriage a few days later. She was paid just 20 Reichsmark, even though the Altona midwife had charged the woman between 200 and 300 RM (according to later statements by Emma Böhme and the pregnant woman). After this incident, Emma Böhme no longer worked together with that midwife because of her selfish behavior.
From 1932 to 1936, Emma Böhme’s husband was unemployed, and the couple’s social situation worsened again; Erich Böhme found a steady job as a crane operator with the Deutsche Werft (a shipyard) in Hamburg only in 1936. When the Böhmes had just moved to Ifflandstraße in the Hohenfelde district in March, 1935, Emma Böhme was visited by the woman on whom she had performed the abortion in the summer of 1934. She implored her to perform another abortion, as she was two or three months into an unwanted pregnancy. Emma Böhme agreed, even though she had promised her husband that she would not perform abortions again. She carried out the abortion without complications using the same method as the first time and received 50 Reichsmark from the woman for the abortion and for aftercare following the miscarriage. Although she said that the payment was voluntary, the patient later stated that the woman had been "demanded” of her. The same year, the Böhmes moved to Luisenweg in the Hamm district. In 1936, when her husband had found a new job, they leased 700 m2 of land owned by the German State Railways (Reichsbahn) in the Tiefstack district, and Emma Böhme in particular used it as a garden.
The woman on whom Emma Böhme had performed the abortions in 1934 and 1935 suffered a miscarriage again in July, 1937, even though she stated that she had intended to carry the pregnancy to term, as she and the child’s father intended to get married soon. Nonetheless, a denunciation a long time after this third miscarriage — in December of 1938 — was to prompt the Hamburg headquarters of the criminal investigation department (Kriminalpolizeileitstelle) to summon the woman for an interrogation because they presumed an abortion, according to a file memorandum. After hesitating at first, she named Emma Böhme as the woman who had performed her two abortions in 1934 and 1935. As a result, Emma Böhme was again drawn into the persecution machinery of a relentless criminal justice system that had further toughened how it handled the prosecution of abortion crimes in the Nazi period. When interrogated by the criminal police on 3 Feb. 1939, she first admitted that she had performed abortions: in August of 1937 on a middle-aged woman, and in October of 1938 on that woman’s fifteen-year-old daughter who had been made pregnant by a businessman and "squad leader” ("SS lance corporal”) (Rottenführer [Obergefreiter] der SS). According to the fifteen-year-old’s mother, Emma Böhme received a voluntary payment: 20 Reichsmark in one case and 30 Reichsmark in the other.
Later Emma Böhme admitted that she had performed two or three further abortions, but could not remember the precise dates and the names of the women. After the interrogation, she was immediately interned in the pretrial detention center (Untersuchungsgefängnis) Hamburg-Stadt; beginning 6 Feb., she was in "protective custody” ("Schutzhaft”) in "KolaFu,” (abbreviation for Konzentrationslager Fuhlsbüttel, Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp), and was then returned to detention awaiting trial.
Even the investigation files make clear that the criminal police wanted to portray Emma Böhme as an unscrupulous repeat offender whose sole aim was to earn as much money as possible by performing abortions. In this vein, her husband’s statement that she was very good at making do with little in financially difficult times was taken as evidence that she was constantly supplementing the family’s income with abortions.
However, this did not take into account that she by no means exploited the women she treated, but rather received sums from them that were relatively moderate even for that time; in several cases, she even told the women, "pay whatever you can.” While performing the abortions, she was in no way brutal or irresponsible (at least not after she was released from jail in 1928), but visited the women days after the abortion to make sure that there were no complications from the induced miscarriages. The investigating officers were hardly impressed by the fact that Emma Böhme’s daughters described her as "very good-natured and willing to help.”
This official bias against Emma Böhme was to intensify even more during the criminal proceedings. The indictment of the chief prosecutor at the district court (Landgericht) dated 5 July 1939 calls her a "pest harmful to the people and constituting a public danger” ("gemeingefaehrlicher Volksschaedling”). "As a typical abortionist without a conscience … she continued her "deeds detrimental to the people” ("volksschaedliches Treiben”) from the moment she was released from the penal institution to the most recent time. When considering her deeds and her inner character overall, one must conclude that the general public can be protected from her only by ordering preventive detention.” In a clear exaggeration of the facts determined, the indictment even states that she had "performed abortions practically on a continuous basis.”
The tone of the ruling of the Criminal Court against Emma Böhme, dated 30 Aug. 1939, was hardly different from the chief prosecutor’s accusations. It also speaks of "a criminal inclination rooted in her personality to obtain a source of income through abortions” and "deeds … detrimental to the people” and states, intensifying her culpability, that after the takeover of power, Emma Böhme "must have been particularly aware of the struggle especially of the National Socialist state against commercially performed abortions.” She was finally sentenced to five years hard labor with preventive detention because of "commercially performed abortions in four cases and attempted commercially performed abortions in four cases.” In the latter cases, it was possible to prove only attempting to perform abortions, since the names of the women were not known and it was impossible to verify whether they had in fact had artificially induced miscarriages.
All that is known about Emma Böhme’s further fate is that she was interned in the women’s prison Luebeck-Lauerhof to serve time on 21 Sep. As early as 7 Jan. 1943—more than one year before the end of her regular punishment of hard labor on 6 Feb. 1944—she was interned in the Ravensbrueck concentration camp. She can have spent only a short time there, as she lost her life on 11 Mar. 1943 in the Auschwitz concentration camp, according to a "death certificate” issued there.
Translator: Sandra H. Lustig
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
© Benedikt Behrens
Quellen: StaH213-11 Staatsanwaltschaft LG – Strafakten, 10153/39; StaH 213-8 Staatsanwaltschaft OLG Verwaltung, Abl. 2, 451 a E I, 1 d; Schreiben des Museums Auschwitz-Birkenau v. 30.6.2005 und E-Mail dess. v. 5.8.2005; http;//de.wikipedia.org.wiki (Stichwort "Stettin").