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Dr. Edgar Fels * 1885
Hallerstraße 64 (Eimsbüttel, Rotherbaum)
Dr. Edgar Fels, b. 9.20.1885 in Mannheim, deported to Lodz on 10.24.1941, dying there on 5.22.1942
Edgar Fels practiced law in Hamburg since 1916 and in the 1920s and 1930s in a renowned communal office at Alstertor 21. He had married Alice Simon in 1919. Their marriage produced a son, Helmut Wolfgang. Nevertheless, the marriage failed. The couple divorced in 1926. A disagreement about the divorce settlement, during which Edgar Fels got physical, led to stressful proceedings, initiated by his ex-wife, before the Lawyers Guild Court of Honor. Alice Fels and her son emigrated to Palestine in 1927.
Edgar Fels remained in Germany. As a frontline soldier, he was "permitted” to practice his profession until 1938 and thereafter belonged among those few "legal consultants” who were allowed to represent their exclusively Jewish clients in juridical matters.
Edgar Fels expressed himself publicly in various personal testimonies. His statements reveal who he was and what befell him. In 1938, he wrote: "I was born in the year 1885 (20 September) in Mannheim, the son of the merchant Siegmund Fels. My father owned the first great office building with its own electric lighting system. My grandfathers were also well-known business people. I attended the Karl-Friedrich preparatory school in Mannheim, the universities of Berlin, Munich, and Heidelberg (graduating Dr. jur. magna cum laude). In 1907 and 1911, I passed both juridical state examinations in Karlsruhe, practicing briefly as (court) assessor in Mannheim, then resettling to the greater Hanseatic City of Hamburg. Here, until the outbreak of war, I worked also as a court assessor and replacement for Attorney Dr. Theodor Suse. Permanently disqualified for active military service because of a double hernia, I was a motorcyclist and volunteered with the 2nd Stettin Pioneers on 30 September 1914. As a Lieutenant of the Reserve and bearer of the A.K.K.37 medal I returned from the field on 1 December 1918. Meanwhile, admitted to the bar, I opened my own office on 3 January 1919. At the same time, I founded, with the major from my former unit, a local Officer’s Association, on the board of which I have served for many years. I had no experience with the police. I belonged to the Technical Emergency Service since approximately 1925, and also to the Air Raid Protection Service, as long as it was permissible for me as a non-Aryan; I also was a member of several sporting associations (among others, Klipper, S.C.-Viktoria football club). Like my five siblings, I was not brought up Jewish in a strict religious sense, and about 11 years ago, I withdrew from the Jewish Congregation, but continue to pay my communal religious tax voluntarily. I was formerly active in many sorts of legal affairs, most recently in emigration procedures and the sales of businesses.”
A month later, on 22 November 1938, in order to be able to function as a "consultant,” he revealed more about his personal life: "I married on 2 November 1919 and was legally divorced on 17 February 1926 … I have one son, Helmut Wolfgang Fels, b. 2.3.1921, a student of mathematics, presently abroad. I have never been politically active, never belonged to a political party, have always been active in sports and therefore belonged to various sports organizations, from which I have had to withdraw as a result of political developments.”
Edgar Fels lost his license on 17 November 1938, just like another 68 Hamburg attorneys on the grounds of "non-Aryan descent.” He was one of the four oldest.
He had previously, on 27 October 1938, applied for "provisional approval” to act as a "consultant” and wrote to the President of the Hanseatic Higher Regional Court on 31 October 1938. He included with the application: "the provisional statement concerning the Iron Cross, Second Class, the ownership certificate for the Iron Cross, First Class, the award document for the Honor Cross for Frontline Fighters, and documents concerning the awarding of the Hanseatic Cross.”
The Department of Justice wanted to appoint Edgar Fels as a "consultant” in Bremen, which, however, he resisted: Anticipating hard times, he had recently sold his property in exchange for a long-term lease, securing three rooms with the use of a garden. Also, his 55-year old "Aryan” housekeeper had the rights to a room in the house for the length of his lease. He also wanted to maintain his circle of friends: "It seem to me to be quite a mistake to think it easier for an elderly, unmarried man, like myself, to pick up and move to a completely strange city, than it would be for a married man.” He was not, at age 53, up to "the physical demands of maintaining his profession in the extensive Bremen District,” inasmuch as he would have to begin the establishment of a completely new livelihood.”
His application was granted, but he could not register within the prescribed deadline: In the wake of the November Pogrom, he was arrested and hauled away to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. A colleague requested an extension for him. Released on 17 November 1938, Edgar Fels was able on the 22nd of the month to have the requirements for his admission from the previous month reissued and was admitted "provisionally” as one of the seven "consultants” in Hamburg from 1–31 December 1938.
He continued to live and work in his former house at Klosterallee 76, ground floor, with garden access, which he had disposed of in exchange for a life annuity thus avoiding expropriation. The non-Jewish housekeeper looked after his needs.
The main task of the "consultants” was to give legal advice concerning emigration. The politically coerced emigration lowered the Jewish population of Hamburg by the end of 1940 to a quarter of what it had been in 1938. At times, Edgar Fels complained about being overburdened. Certainly, he earned an income from his activity, but 70% of the honoraria was paid into the "Compensation Fund” – for the welfare relief of former Jewish attorneys.
Since December 1938, Edgar Fels represented at least six cases of "racial defilement” before the court. The Gestapo’s attempt to convict him of the same offense proved fruitless.
In December 1939, the Nazi newspaper "Der Stürmer” published a defamatory article with photos, in which Fels was shown in court. It attempted to make him look ridiculous and showed him from behind or just his feet. Such disparagement was standard practice. After an appropriate request from Edgar Fels, the presiding judge of the Hamburg District Court, who was assigned supervision of the "consultants,” made an effort to hinder such articles. Fels had declared that under such circumstances he would probably have to cease continuing to act as an official defense lawyer for Jews.
In the autumn of 1940, because he was professionally overworked, Edgar Fels planned his own emigration. On 13 October 1940, he had an appointment at Hohenzollenring 34 to meet with the retired District Court Councilor Kurt Ledien (see www.stolpersteine-hamburg.de) for "a discussion of a pressing professional matter”: "This discussion took place, unusually, on Sunday afternoon because in the previous week and also in the weeks to come, in addition to my professional duties, I was hindered by a preparatory course in American accounting procedures on several afternoons from 4:00 to 7:30 PM, not getting home until 8:00 in the evening.” Kurt Ledien wanted to discuss a serious trial matter with him at his home and afterward intended that they play the violin. Fels supposedly appeared very punctually.
He began the trip on the elevated railway at the Hoheluftbrücke station. He was accompanied by Mrs. Breslauer, a pianist and piano teacher. He carried a heavy briefcase and a large instrument case with his violin; she carried music paper. However, the two did not manage to get off the train with their gear in timely fashion. They got off at the St. Pauli stop. Since the streetcar was crowded, they took a taxi. Near the Nobistor the police stopped the taxi and checked the passengers. Thereupon, they were accused of "carrying out a not life-threatening trip in a motorized taxi” as well as with the infraction of having not immediately making known their "Jewish identity” by means of the prescribed given names "Israel” and Sara.” However, after the incident was recorded by the police, they were allowed to continue their trip by streetcar, and reached their stop safely.
Nevertheless, there was an evil repercussion: On 5 November 1940, the Gestapo searched Edgar Fels’ apartment, arrested him provisionally and interned him for ten days, even though nothing was found of an actionable nature. Similarly, Mrs. Breslauer was also temporarily taken into custody and "brought” to the Fuhlsbüttel police jail for five days. In summary proceedings a few weeks later both were fined. In view of the fact that neither had been previously sentenced, the punishment was mild.
Through a chain of unfortunate circumstances, Edgar Fels, a short time later, again stood before the court. It was a matter of an only partially filled out Reich soap ration card. Ottilie Rutz, 59-years old, stated to the criminal police on 9 December 1940: "On 11.5.1940, when Edgar Fels was arrested by the Gestapo (in reference to the taxi ride – U.M.Sch.), the officials also took various papers lying on a desk in the hallway. On the following day, by order of the Gestapo, I had to deliver all the food ration cards to Schönstr. The soap card was missing from among them. Not until Friday did I receive back, with the papers the Gestapo had taken, the soap card. The soap card had not yet been used. Without noticing that the card had not been filled out fully, I detached the due sections so as not to let them lapse. When, on 11.12., Dr. Fels was released from custody, I received an order to fetch the ration cards from Schönstr.. I did not perform the task myself but, instead, sent the caretaker Gebhart. I gave him in addition to Dr. Fels’ power of attorney (without his knowledge) the soap ration card as proof of identity. Upon his return, Gebhard declared that the soap card had been taken at Schönstr.”
However, the police did not believe this, and on 21 January 1941 the Gestapo arrested Edgar Fels. They held the declaration to be a "genuine Jewish hoax,” intended to fob off guilt on other persons. On 22 February 1941, a penalty order was issued on account of the missing compulsory given name "Israel.” Edgar Fels protested this – apparently with success.
He had no luck with his emigration plans. He did not succeed in obtaining the desired visa. On 27 October 1941, his personal file was closed with the notation that he "had been ‘evacuated’ and "as of 24 October 1941, had suspended all activity.” Edgar Fels was deported to the Lodz ghetto on 25 October 1941.
It is remarkable how Fels was able to continue his professional activity in Lodz: he became the director of the Legal Counseling Office. In the Lodz archive there are numerous documents for "the newly settled,” that leave traces of his advisory work.
On 2 May 1942, he himself was supposed to be "resettled,” that is, taken to the Chelmno extermination camp. Under "RUSH,” he wrote on his own behalf from the address "Altmarkt 9, dwelling 1, to be reached at T 98, Youth Court Lodz” to the Deportation Office: "Today, I received a departure order for 4 May of this year and request to be freed from the departure, because I conduct, without remuneration, the giving of legal advice to the newly settled. Because tomorrow, on Sunday morning from 10:00 to 12:30, I must direct the Office of Legal Counseling for the Youth Court, I request speedy notification in light of the short period of time available to me, extending to Monday. With high esteem Dr. Edgar Fels.”
This is the last surviving life sign for Edgar Fels. Apparently, his request wangled him another three weeks of life. He and the other "newly settled” did not surrender. After seven months in the Lodz ghetto, he died on 22 May 1942 from malnourishment. It is recorded: "a Jewish camp official – also a former attorney … the weakened Fels had his soup ration withdrawn because he was late for work.”
Among his close relatives, his son, his divorced wife, and three of his siblings survived the era of National Socialism. A brother and probably a sister, too, were also victims of the Nazi terror.
With regard to Edgar Fels’ siblings, the matter can be clarified: Fritz Fels, b. 5.4.1887 in Mannheim, moved on 31 August to Frankfurt am Main, and on 29 September 1932 to Italy. In 1942, he was deported from the Gurs camp via Drancy to Auschwitz and murdered; he was declared dead on 8 May 1945.
Also probably killed was Martha Fels, b. 2.13.1889. Track of her is lost in Berlin where she was married to Leon Philipp.
Edgar’s brother Kurt Fels survived (presumably in a mixed-marriage), although he had been deported to Theresienstadt as late as 14 February 1945. He was the youngest of the brothers and sisters, b. 12.22.1897. He died in Mannheim-Feudenheim on 25 June 1966.
Two sisters reached old age. Alice Margaretha, b. 5.30.1884, divorced Linke, was the oldest of the siblings. She resettled in Switzerland, although she did not become a citizen. She taught Eurythmy at the Rudolf Steiner school in Dornach and died at 89 on 20 March 1973 in Arlesheim near Basel.
Her sister, Hilda Toni, b. 2.13.1891, left Mannheim on 1 July 1916 and moved to Munich. She died, 102-years old, on 27 June 1993 in Baden-Baden. With the exception of Edgar Fels, it is not known if the siblings had children.
Edgar’s divorced wife Alice Fels, née Simon, who had emigrated to Palestine with their son Helmut Wolfgang, lived at first with her father who owned a house there; later she moved with her son to Haifa. After he married, she remained alone, drawing, she later wrote, a small old age pension from the Jewish State. In 1960 she successfully sued in Hamburg for a widow’s pension, making the argument that she was in dire straits in 1937 when she had renounced further alimony. Edgar Fels had informed her that he was impoverished and could no longer pay alimony and that he was furthermore planning to emigrate. The renunciation of alimony was now nullified because it had come into force as a result of National Socialist persecution of her former husband. Alice Fels received a widow’s pension retroactive to 1942. She died on 3 November 1972.
Helmut Wolfgang Fels, b. 2.3.1921, took the name Shimon Fales. He worked as a teacher, married, and had children. More precise information is not available. On 11 April 1991, he deposited a page of memory for his father at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, and supposedly moved to a Kibbutz in Acre.
The German Bar Association in Berlin has erected a monument for lawyers killed during the era of National Socialism, on the fifth tablet of which is recorded the birth and death dates of Edgar Fels.
Translator: Richard Levy
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: September 2019
© Ulrike Martiny Schüddekopf
Quellen: 1; 2; StaH 621-1/120-143 (Edgar Fels); Personalakte E. Fels; StaH 241-2 A 2872; Strafsache 282/41 (unbefugte Kraftdroschkenbenutzung, falsche Namensnennung §23 KFG, 3 NamensVO); StaH, Strafsache 213-11, 2066/41 (Nichtannahme jüdischen Vornamens); StaH, Firmenarchiv 621-1/129; StaH, 351-11 20209 Alice Fels, geb. Simon; 522-1 Jüdische Gemeinden, 992b Kultussteuerkartei; Archiv Lodz/Auskunft Neubauer, Antrag auf "Befreiung von der Ausreise" v. 2.5.1942 v. 30.7.2015; Stadtarchiv Mannheim, D 44 Erhebungsbögen zum Schicksal der Mannheimer Juden in der NS-Zeit, Info Susanne Schloesser v. 2.3.2015; Staatsarchiv Solothurn, Info Regula Schmutz v. 12.3.2015; Stadtmuseum/-archiv Baden-Baden, Info v. Dagmar Rumpf v. 19.3.2015; Badener Tageblatt, Info Barbara Sollberger v. 13.2.2015; Hamburgischer Anwaltsverein e.V., Info Ellen Hustedt v. 2.6.2015; Morisse, Ausgrenzung, Bd. 1, Rechtsanwälte, S.13–16, 37f., 66–74; Ladwig-Winters, Anwalt, S. 217f.
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