Search for Names, Places and Biographies
Already layed Stumbling Stones
Paula Gans * 1883
Eppendorfer Baum 10 (Eimsbüttel, Harvestehude)
GEDEMÜTIGT / ENTRECHTET
FLUCHT IN DEN TOD
"I can never again find my way in such a world and have no single, other wish than to leave it, to which I no longer belong. What sense is there - without family and without the once so beloved art and without any human being - to continue to vegetate lonely in such an indescribable world, which has lapsed into madness, and to gradually perish inwardly from its cruelties?"
Anita Rée Dec 12, 1933
A search for her traces
Paula Gans was born on May 9, 1883, the daughter of Ignaz Gans and his wife Johanna, née Goldberg, in Hronow near Prague.
We could not find out anything about Paula Gans' childhood and youth.
In 1920 she came to Hamburg with her brother Richard, who was six years older. There they lived in a middle-class house at Heinrich-Barth-Straße 12, which the brother had previously bought. Richard Gans, an im- and export merchant, traded in textiles from/into (?) Czechoslovakia.
Paula Gans had passed a state examination for English in Vienna, but there is no indication that she earned her living as a foreign language correspondent in Hamburg.
In fact, she took a completely different path in life. She became a painter. This is attested to by her paintings, which were found in the estate of the painter Hertha Spielberg (1890-1977) after her death. Paula Gans had befriended her soon after her arrival in Hamburg and shared a studio with her at Rothenbaumchaussee 15.
Hertha Spielberg had received a solid education as a painter under the tutelage of Arthur Illies at the Altona School for Arts and Crafts (Altonaer Kunst-Gewerbe Schule) before going to Paris in 1910 for three years at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. This Académie was very popular with young German women artists at the time, because there they could learn and practice the style of expressive realism in the tradition in avant-garde art emanating from France. Women were not allowed to study at the art academy at that time.
Another Hamburg painter, Else Weber (1893-1994), who had also gone to Paris for a year in 1929 to the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, exhibited the pictures she had painted in Paris in Hamburg on her return from France. They met with great acclaim from visitors.
There is no indication that Paula Gans also stayed in Paris for study purposes.
Through Hertha Spielberg, Paula Gans also met other Hamburg artists, including the painter Gertrud Schaeffer (1892-1960) and the photographer Charlotte Rudolf (1896-1983), both of whom shared the studio on Rothenbaumchaussee with her and Hertha Spielberg for a time. Among the works of photographer Charlotte Rudolf is a portrait of the famous dancer Mary Wigman (1886-1973).
The friendship with these artists definitely had a creative effect on Paula Gans' work. By sharing the studio, it was obvious that the women mutually fertilized each other; thus the painter took portraits of the photographer, and the photographer photographed the painter.
The landscapes and still lifes found in Spielberg's estate show that Paula Gans was strongly oriented towards the French Impressionists. The trips (1932) to Paris and the south of France, which she took together with Hertha Spielberg, may also have contributed to this.
During this time, she also developed into a sought-after portraitist in Hamburg and the surrounding area, as evidenced by the paintings that were also found in her estate, including several portraits of the pianist Wilhelm Barg, with whom she was friends, and his father. A portrait of the artist Gertrud Schaeffer is also among them. These portraits are painted in a realistic style and have a neo-Saxon clarity. Several paintings depict a female nude painted in a realistic manner.
The painting of a rabbi, painted in 1920, showing him at the Tabernacles ceremony, impresses with its authenticity and quality. The ascetic face with the strong full beard, the prayer robe and the opened prayer book characterize the situation of concentrated immersion in prayer. It is the only picture that indicates Paula Gans' Jewish Orthodox origins. This picture hangs today in the Hamburg Museum.
It is striking that the 37 paintings found in the Spielberg estate bear the signature Paula Gans only up to the year 1932. All later works remained unsigned. Was this prescient caution?
The art scene in Hamburg in the twenties was known and famous beyond the city's borders.
Parallel to a group of artists (Hamburger Künstlerverein), established in the Weimar Republic artists such as painters, graphic artists, sculptors and architects had joined forces and consistently oriented themselves towards the avant-garde. Their goal was interdisciplinary networking. Musicians, dancers and photographers also belonged to this association, which later became the "Hamburg Secession". (1919-1933). Among the 52 founding members were Anita Rée and Alma del Banco. A strict jury, concerned with quality, limited the admission of new members.
The "Hamburger Sezession" not only organized exhibitions on various artists, it also invited people to readings, concerts and artists' festivals. In their performances, the artists commented on the rise of the National Socialists with satire and biting derision, leaving no doubt about the anti-democratic sentiments of this party. At artists' festivals, which often lasted several days, artists and good citizens celebrated with each other, even if the traditional Hamburg bourgeoisie was somewhat skeptical about these activities. These festivals often had a theme; the rooms in the Curiohaus were elaborately decorated for the occasion, and the guests appeared in fantastic costumes that often took weeks to make.
It was to be the last artists' party, which was celebrated in the Curiohaus on January 30, 1933. Under the motto: "Heaven for a Time", the artists and their friends celebrated for several days and nights, during which they danced, drank, made music and acted exuberantly for the last time. When they woke up the next morning, Adolf Hitler had been appointed Reich Chancellor.
The "Hamburgische Künstlerschaft" was brought into line by the National Socialists, and its Jewish members - including Paula Gans - were expelled.
The National Socialists also ended the 12th exhibition of the "Hamburgische Sezession" in the same year and demanded that the association expell all Jewish members. The "Hamburg Secession" refused and dissolved itself.
GEDOK (Gemeinschaft der Künstlerinnen und Kunstfreunde Hamburg/Societ of artists and their friends in Hamburg) also came under political pressure. The chairwoman and founder Ida Dehmel was forced to resign because she was Jewish. On Apr 20, 1933, the GEDOK was dissolved.
Ominous clouds were gathering in the sky over Germany.
On February 27, 1933, the Reichstag burns. One day later, the Emergency Decree for the Protection of the People and the State was issued. With it, essential basic rights are suspended. On March 23, 1933, the Enabling Act ("Ermächtigungsgesetz”) comes into force, enabling the Reich government to pass laws without parliamentary participation. The Reich Chamber of Culture, founded in September 1933, aims to bring all areas of cultural life in Germany into line.
If Jewish artists wanted to continue to work, they had to join the Kulturbund deutscher Juden (Cultural Association of German Jews, renamed Jüdischer Kulturbund under duress in 1935).
On December 12, 1933, Anita Rée, one of the most important Jewish artists in Hamburg and a founding member of the "Hamburger Sezession," took her own life in Kampen on the island of Sylt. Many were to follow her.
Persecution and discrimination against Jewish artists increased.
After the passing of the "Nuremberg Laws" in September 1935, Jewish artists were forbidden to exhibit their works of art in public spaces. They were only allowed to exhibit their art in purely Jewish cultural organizations. This measure amounted to a professional ban on Jewish artists. There are indications that from now on Paula Gans increasingly portrayed people from the Jewish community and exhibited her paintings at events in the Jewish community. Paula Gans and her brother were of the Jewish Orthodox faith. Although it appears from their religious tax card that the siblings "furthermore wish to remain without belonging to a confession," they were members of the Jewish community in Hamburg. In the Israelitisches Familienblatt of Dec 10, 1936, there is a report of an event organized by the Jewish Cultural Association for the Jewish Festival of Light, in which Paula Gans is mentioned in praise.
Since it was forbidden for her to exhibit her paintings publicly, but she urgently needed money for her livelihood, she gave drawing and painting lessons. Most of her students came from the Jewish community.
And although the political situation in Germany became more threatening every day and the repressions against the Jewish population increased, Paula Gans still traveled to Italy (1936) and Amsterdam (1939), where she visited Ruth Fischer. Ruth Fischer was "half-Jewish" and through her father, who came from Prague, she had Czech citizenship, as did Paula Gans. It is quite possible that Paula Gans wanted to seek advice from Ruth Fischer, because the living conditions in Hamburg were becoming increasingly unbearable for her and her brother.
Trade in goods between Germany and Czechoslovakia had almost come to a standstill since the annexation of Czechoslovakia in 1939. The income of the siblings decreased visibly and Richard was finally forced to sell the house in which he and his sister lived. There was already a buyer. The owner of the Stahl electrical store had already made Richard Gans an offer to buy the house the year before. Richard Gans had considered it too low and rejected it. But the house was burdened with high mortgages that Richard Gans could no longer service. Now circumstances forced him to sell the house. The purchase price was so low that only a small surplus remained after the mortgages were paid off. This amount was not paid out to him either, but went into a blocked account, which Richard Gans was only allowed to dispose of in a restricted manner.
In the purchase contract it is noted: "The buyer is anxious to emigrate as soon as possible. Until that time, but at the longest until 31.12.39, he is entitled to live rent-free."
In the spring of the same year, Paula Gans had to disclose her financial circumstances.
An exchange of letters between the Hamburg Chief Finance Office and the Hamburg Police Headquarters shows that the latter suspected her and her brother of capital flight because the siblings secretly might want to leave Germany: "It has come to my attention that the Jew Richard Gans, residing Hbg 13, Heinrich-Barth-Str. 12 possibly intends to emigrate. I am therefore currently checking whether security measures are necessary in accordance with §37a of the Foreign Exchange Law of 4.2.35. I request that the aforementioned be temporarily deprived of his passport until my examination has been completed, without, however, informing him that the deprivation of his passport has been effected at my instigation."
Another letter to the police chief followed a few days later: "The merchant R. Gans still lives at Heinrich-Barth-Str. 12. The apartment is still fully furnished with his own furniture. There should be no intention to emigrate." Richard Gans informed only much later - too late! - in 1941, in a letter to the Chief Finance Office, Richard Gans communicated his intention to emigrate.
After selling the house on Heinrich-Barth-Str. in March 1939, Paula and Richard Gans moved into a small apartment at Eppendorfer Baum 10 on June 9, 1939.
The house at Eppendorfer Baum 10 had previously belonged to the Levy family. Ernst Alfred Heinrich Levy, his wife, his son Gustav and his maternal grandmother had been able to leave Germany on July 8, 1939 aboard the Norwegian steamer Kong Ring after paying horrendous duties. (On April 9, 1940, Norway was attacked by Germany and on June 10 Norway had to surrender. The persecution of the Jews increased, and it was only possible to stay in Oslo at the risk of one's life. The Levy-Hüneberg family, as they now called themselves, emigrated a second time to Sweden in December 1942.)
Many Jewish families who had been expelled from their own houses and apartments now lived in this large middle-class house on Eppendorfer Baum. Since the November pogrom in 1938, the situation of the Jewish population had deteriorated dramatically. Many Jews and political opponents of National Socialism had been arrested and deported to concentration camps. The everyday life of those who had not been able to emigrate was determined by the fear of persecution and deportation. In addition, there was great poverty and a feeling of hopelessness.
Paula Gans wrote to the Chief Finance President on April 9, 1940: "With the letter of 26.3.'40 I was informed that the allowance for living expenses, previously set at 460 RM, was reduced to 250 with effect from 1.4.'40. I take the liberty of pointing out that the monthly expenses for rent, gas + light, salary of the household help, social security contributions, food already require an amount of 290."
Even if her brother contributed adequately to the household, the amount of RM 250 was not sufficient, so she requested that the amount be increased to RM 350. There follows an addendum that shows some courage on her part: "Since the last letter was addressed to 'Mrs.' Paula Gans, please take note that I am unmarried and a member of the Protectorate of Bohemia. Paula Gans". The letter ended without the usual polite formulas.
The answer from the foreign exchange office arrived at Paula Gans' home only a few days later (April 16, 1940). The salutation reads: To Miss Gans! The official informed her that the decision had been revoked and that she could count on 300 RM per month. This was followed by repeated petitions from Paula Gans, in which she asked for permission to release smaller amounts from her assets: sometimes it was for 35 RM for a change of clothes, sometimes for 25 RM for the refurbishment of a fur collar. The requests were granted.
In September 1941, Richard Gans wrote: "I am a Jew in the sense of the Nuremberg Laws and request information on the following question: a friend living in Switzerland has agreed to provide me with the prescribed show money in the amount of USA 500 as a loan in the event of my emigration to Shanghai, but wishes me to provide him with security from my assets located here in an amount yet to be agreed upon ..." He received no reply to this letter. In October 1941, a decree was issued prohibiting Jews from emigrating.
On September 15, 1941, Richard Gans again wrote to the foreign exchange office and asked to be allowed to spend RM 7.80 for a typewriter repair. This request was granted!
In November 1941, Paula and Richard Gans received the order for deportation to the Minsk Ghetto.
On November 7, 1941, one day before the deportation, Paula Gans took her own life.
From her brother's statements to the police, it appears that his sister had expressed several times in the days before the deportation that she would not follow this order for deportation. "I'm not going along with this, I'm calling it a day!" she had repeatedly said. Paula Gans took the liberty to depart from life herself, as many of her artist friends had done before her. Paula Gans is buried in the Jewish cemetery Ilandkoppel, but one searches in vain for a gravestone.
The Gestapo planned another transport with 420 Jews from Hamburg to Minsk on November 18, 1941. On the list of names was the name of the brother: Richard Gans. After that his trace is lost.
In front of the house Eppendorfer Baum 10 there are 2 Stolpersteine for Paula and Richard Gans.
Translation by Beate Meyer
Stand: January 2022
© Gabriele Nouveau