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Dr. Heinrich Wohlwill * 1874

Hindenburgstraße 111 (Hamburg-Nord, Alsterdorf)

JG. 1874
ERMORDET 31.1.1943

further stumbling stones in Hindenburgstraße 111:
Hedwig Wohlwill

Dr. Heinrich Wohlwill, born on 7 Feb. 1874 in Hamburg, deported on 19 July 1942 to Theresienstadt, murdered there on 31 Jan. 1943
Hedwig Wohlwill, née Dehn, born on 27 June 1877 in Hamburg, deported in 1942 to Theresienstadt, died of the effects of imprisonment in Hamburg on 3 July 1948

Jewish proponents of the Enlightenment

The family history of Heinrich Wohlwill goes back to a family of the Enlightenment, thus in particular to his grandfather and father. This family was characterized by great liberality in terms of its worldview and impressive self-determination concerning religion and ideology, a stance that was philosophically oriented and manifested itself at the same time through the interest of these two men in promoting the common good. During the French occupation of Hamburg from 1806 until 1814, Jews in Hamburg enjoyed full civic rights, which was immediately rescinded after the end of the occupation and replaced by the restrictive Jewish regulations dating from 1710. All petitions and legal opinions were rejected by the reinstated government of Hamburg. In this situation, enlightened Jews concentrated on modernizing Jewish life, especially the school system. The process of Enlightenment in Hamburg was not linked with demands for equal rights for Jews, and only few proponents of the Enlightenment in Hamburg championed this issue. Franklin Kopitzsch described Lessing’s and Mendelssohn’s battle for equality as not very successful in Hamburg. Ultimately, the realization of legal equality was tied to modernization of the economy and democratization of society (Helga Krohn, Das Jüdische Hamburg). The development thus characterized becomes discernible when looking at the lives of Heinrich Wohlwill’s ancestors. As a sign of religious liberality, his grandfather changed his name from Joel Wolf to Immanuel Wohlwill (1799–1847). He was born in Harzgerode and raised in Seesen, being active there in the Jewish Community. Starting in 1823, after obtaining his doctorate in philosophy, he taught at the Israelite Free School in Hamburg (founded in 1815), which was intended for the sons of poor Jews and, from 1859 onward, for non-Jewish students as well. The structure of this school offering a modern curriculum triggered controversy in the Jewish Community, which did not put off Immanuel Wohlwill, particularly as he earned respect among the Hamburg middle classes. Since he was not allowed to be a Hamburg citizen, he could not become a regular member of the Patriotic Society (Patriotische Gesellschaft). The association admitted him as an honorary member in 1834, thus honoring his Enlightenment pedagogics. In 1838, Immanuel Wohlwill went back to Seesen, working there as the principal of the Jacobson School. In this interreligious school, Christian and Jewish students were taught since 1801. In 1805, it was officially recognized as the first interdenominational school in Germany. The history of Enlightenment Jews in Hamburg is reflected in the life of Emil Wohlwill (1835–1912), the father of Heinrich Wohlwill. His battle for civic rights is testimony to the difficulties of Jewish emancipation. Starting in 1849, Jews were allowed to obtain Hamburg civic rights and soon afterward, hundreds of Jews took the civic oath. To be sure, though this opportunity was reserved for those who were and remained members in one of Hamburg’s Jewish Communities. For centuries, this membership had been an obligatory prerequisite for the right of Jews to settle in Hamburg and this regulation was not revoked either by the constitution of 1860, even though in this constitution, church and state were separated expressly. In 1863, when Emil Wohlwill submitted his application for civic rights, he specifically referred to this constitution. In his application, he left the column "religion” blank; Emil Wohlwill considered religion a private matter and described himself as a "freethinker.” His application was turned down and he was given to understand that if he was not a Jew, he could always present a baptismal certificate. Not until 7 Nov. 1864 did a law revoke "the compulsory responsibility existing for Israelites” to join one of the Jewish communities, and this law ended a special status of Hamburg Jews that had been in effect for centuries. Nevertheless, Emil Wohlwill still did not meet all conditions for obtaining civic rights: Citizens were allowed to choose freely a religious denomination – but they were not allowed to decide not to belong to any religious denomination at all. This right of "negative religious freedom” was granted to Hamburg citizens only in 1879. And yet, the Hamburg Senate awarded civic rights to Emil Wohlwill in 1865. He was the first member of the Wohlwill family to become a Hamburg citizen. We assume that this decision of the Senate was an uncommented special privilege for Emil Wohlwill and that the "negative religious freedom” had gradually become customary law anyway, before being codified. After being granted civic rights, Emil Wohlwill left the Jewish Community, and none of his children belonged to the Jewish Community either, which was reconstituted in 1867 as a "religious community with voluntary membership.” As early as 3 Apr. 1867, Emil Wohlwill joined the Patriotic Society. In 1842, a "Commission” of the Patriotic Society had already prepared reports about the current situation of Jews with respect to civic rights as well as drafts on "improving the civil state of Jews.” This Commission set in motion a corresponding Senate Commission, proposing first sets of legislation in 1844–1845. It may be that Emil Wohlwill’s joining of the Patriotic Society also constituted recognition of their work. The persistent stance of Emil Wohlwill shows a firm commitment to the City of Hamburg, which became characteristic of the entire Wohlwill family. In the "Harmonie” association (still existing today), too, Immanuel Wohlwill was a member, and he felt very much at home there, apparently also because of the natural commonalities shared by all Hamburg citizens. Furthermore, Emil Wohlwill was a co-founder of the "German Society for the History of Medicine and Natural Sciences” ("Deutsche Gesellschaft für Geschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschaften”) and a member of its first executive committee. After studying chemistry in Heidelberg, Berlin, and Göttingen and obtaining his doctorate, Emil Wohlwill initially taught physics at Hamburg vocational schools and in addition, he worked as a self-employed commercial chemist. In a pioneering process, he succeeded in extracting pure gold and silver in large quantities industrially through electrochemical electrolysis ("Wohlwill Process”). Not least due to this invention, Emil Wohlwill became the chief executive of the newly founded Norddeutsche Affinerie, a copper producer, from 1877 until 1900.

A Hamburg family

Like many Jewish families of Hamburg, the Wohlwill family was also an extensive family. Heinrich Wohlwill, born on 7 Feb. 1874, was the oldest son of his father Emil Wohlwill and his wife, Louise Nathan. Representatives of various occupations can be found in this family: Sophie Wohlwill became a well-known pianist and piano instructor in Hamburg; the arts were also represented in the family by Gretchen Wohlwill, the well-known artist of the Hamburg Secession. Accounts about Heinrich Wohlwill indicate that he played the violin very well. His brother Friedrich became a pathologist in the St. Georg quarter. The siblings affectionately cared for the oldest daughter Marie, who was frequently ill. The family included a great number of relatives. In his book on Hamburg Jews, the historian John Grenville lists 12 members of the Wohlwill family that were important for Hamburg – incidentally, Grenville is the only one to refer explicitly to Heinrich Wohlwill in several passages. In the course of our research, we otherwise depended mostly on files, especially on the restitution file. Heinrich Wohlwill grew up in Hamburg and obtained his high school diploma (Abitur) at the Wilhelm-Gymnasium high school. Afterward, he studied chemistry like his father and became his successor on the executive board of the Norddeutsche Affinerie in 1913. He joined the Patriotic Society on 13 Aug. 1929. The Hamburg directory mentions Heinrich Wohlwill for the first time in 1902 (as residing on Mittelweg), and from there he moved in 1910, by then already with his own family, to Hagedornstrasse. In 1902, Heinrich Wohlwill had married Hedwig, née Dehn. The directory shows that a large part of the Wohlwill family with many branches lived in the area of Harvestehude and Rotherbaum. A type of pioneer, as it were, Heinrich Wohlwill built a house at Hindenburgstrasse 111 in 1928, a street not developed at this time. As early as 1925, the directory names Heinrich Wohlwill as the chief executive of the Norddeutsche Affinerie and as a member of the Chamber of Commerce; this also applies to 1933 and 1934, but for 1935, the additional details are missing. Heinrich Wohlwill and his wife lived in this house until their deportation in 1942. Afterward, the property automatically went to the state.

Economic and civic marginalization

Heinrich Wohlwill played an important economic role in Hamburg. In 1903, he had invented a process by which to recover copper. This patent became the basis of the growth of the Norddeutsche Affinerie, and it played a major role until the Second World War; the Norddeutsche Affinerie was always a significant European raw material producer, and in this respect essential to the war effort. Heinrich Wohlwill was – like his father and his wife as well – a freethinker, who was not a member in any Jewish community. Due to the regulations of the "Aryan Paragraph” ("Arierparagraph”) (Sec. 3 of the "Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” ["Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums”]), dated 11 Apr. 1933, Heinrich Wohlwill and his wife were defined as "Jews.” As a member of the executive board of a public corporation, Heinrich Wohlwill was affected further by the professional consequences of this law: By a [Hamburg] Senate decree dated 23 May 1933, the law was extended to these types of companies and this resulted in Heinrich Wohlwill having to resign from the executive board of the Norddeutsche Affinerie. When the Chamber of Commerce "voluntarily” subjected itself to "forcible coordination” ("Gleichschaltung”) in 1933, 17 members, among them all "Jewish” and "half-Jewish members,” had to leave the Chamber of Commerce (including also Max Warburg). One can gather from the restitution file that after the end of his work as an executive board member of the Norddeutsche Affinerie, Heinrich Wohlwill continued to be employed in the position of a senior chemist. From Heinrich Wohlwill’s cousin, Dr. Paul Wohlwill, (regional court judge [Landgerichtsrat] until 1934), a letter dated 14 Mar. 1946 to the advisory center for restitution is contained in this file. Concerning Heinrich Wohlwill, it reads as follows: "During this time, his emoluments were settled by the N.A. [Norddeutsche Affinerie] in an accommodating way. In the very end, in Jan. 1939, he received a compensatory allowance of 30,000 RM. At the end of 1938, he was retired definitively and received pension benefits instead of his salary starting on 1 Jan. 1939.” In his letter, Paul Wohlwill also referred to the retirement: "Dr. Varlimont (correct spelling: Warlimont), the chairman of the supervisory board of the N.A., explained to the undersigned, Dr. P. W., that Dr. Heinrich Wohlwill, who since 1915 (partially illegible) belonged to the executive board, would have kept his position in the executive board until his death, had it not been for the intervention of the Nazi party.”

Persecution and deportation

After the November Pogrom of 1938, the Jewish Community had to rename itself "Jewish Religious Organization” ("Jüdischer Religionsverband”). Anyone considered Jewish according to Nazi regulations was forced to join this association. From 1939 onward, a Jewish religious tax (Kultussteuer) file card exists for Heinrich Wohlwill and his wife Hedwig. Both are listed on it as "without any religious creed.” The children of the couple, including Hedwig Elisabeth, who died at a young age, are entered as "Protestant.” By this time, son Max had already emigrated to Australia, Marianne still lived in Hamburg but was able to emigrate to Britain in time, and daughter Margarethe survived because of her marriage to the "Aryan” Albrecht Brandis. Like many persecuted Jewish citizens of Hamburg, Heinrich Wohlwill must not have reckoned with brutal persecution. Like many – e.g., Max Warburg as well – he may have hoped that the Nazi dictatorship would be of limited duration. With the November Pogrom of 1938 and its repercussions, however, he will likely have become aware of the brutality practiced by this dictatorship. At the end of his professional career, Heinrich Wohlwill contemplated emigration. In an e-mail dated 9 July 2007, Ursula Osborne relates that Heinrich Wohlwill had asked her father, Robert Solmitz, to inquire about affidavits of support to the USA for him and his wife. Apparently, there had also been an opportunity to possibly emigrate to Sweden. Some of Heinrich Wohlwill’s siblings managed to leave Germany in time. Friedrich emigrated to Portugal as early as 1933 and then to the USA at the end of the war. Sister Gretchen Wohlwill, dismissed from school service in 1933 and excluded from the art association, was able to emigrate, after prolonged hesitation, to join her brother in Portugal in 1940. From there she tried in vain to make a departure to Portugal possible for her sister Sophie and her brother Heinrich with his wife. Since 1941, when the expulsion and destruction of Jews had been decided upon by the Nazis, they were banned from emigrating. Like Heinrich and Hedwig Wohlwill, Sophie stayed in Hamburg – she was deported to Theresienstadt in Mar. 1943 and perished there in Apr. 1944. The regular music evenings in the Wohlwill house, held once a week most of the time, were continued at first. Heinrich Wohlwill regularly played together with the pianist Gisela Distler-Brendel. He also liked to spend time in the rooms of the Jewish Community, as long as they were still available. Concurrent with the escalation of persecution – reports Grenville – only few friends and acquaintances would come and visit anymore. Heinrich Wohlwill reportedly helped in a small hospital that was left to Jews, and this could have been the former Callmann Hospital. The physician Dr. Callmann, who had founded this hospital, was deprived of his medical license in 1938. In 1939, after the city had taken over the buildings, real estate, and remaining assets of the Israelite Hospital, the hospital was given, as a makeshift replacement, two buildings at Johnsallee (no 54 and no. 68, the former Callmann Hospital) until 1942, and after that, only no. 68. Toward the end of the war, the Israelite Hospital was relocated to the building of the former Jewish nursing home and infirmary, and probably the two buildings on Johnsallee were given up at that point. On 17 July 1942, Heinrich Wohlwill and his wife received the deportation order. On the evening before the deportation, Heinrich Wohlwill joined Gisela Distler-Brendel one last time to play sonatas – whether he was aware of the finality of the farewell remains open even in the account of Gisela Distler-Brendel (reference by Margot Löhr). Apart from Heinrich and Hedwig Wohlwill, occupants at Hindenburgstrasse 111 until the day of deportation also included Heinrich and Marie Mayer (Hedwig Wohlwill’s sister) and Hedwig Wohlwill’s cousin, Ella Nauen. The couple Mayer and Ella Nauen must have moved to Hindenburgstrasse only just before the deportation, as they are not mentioned in the directory. All of them were deported to Theresienstadt with the transport on 19 July 1942. Heinrich Wohlwill perished there on 31 Jan. 1943 (according to the information on the death certificate from Theresienstadt, of "heart failure”). The Jewish religious tax (Kultussteuer) file card noted "resignation through outmigration [Abwanderung].” Hedwig Wohlwill returned to Hamburg in 1945, dying there in 1948 as a result of the physical harm sustained in Theresienstadt. A separate restitution file (Wiedergutmachungsakte) exists for her. Just a short time after the deportation, on 25 Aug. 1942, the "voluntary auctioning” of four sets of silver cutlery owned by the Wohlwill couple took place by order of the Chief Finance Administrator (Oberfinanzpräsident). Due to the ordinance dated 3 Dec. 1938, the couple had already been forced to surrender the bulk of their jewelry and other items made of silver and gold to the municipal pawnshops serving as central collection points. In the Heinrich Wohlwill restitution file, the letter by Dr. Paul Wohlwill already cited refers to a postcard that Heinrich Wohlwill wrote to his daughter in Hamburg on 8 Dec. 1942. In it, Heinrich Wohlwill reports that in Theresienstadt he "held a responsible and difficult office.” He "represented there 2,500 laborers vis-à-vis the authorities.” (Neither Wolfgang Benz from the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism [Zentrum für Antisemitismusforschung] nor Tomas Fedorovic from the Historical Department of the Terezin Memorial were able to clarify on inquiry just what Heinrich Wohlwill referred to specifically by this comment.) Grenville gives to his book, The Jews and Germans of Hamburg, the subtitle "The Destruction of a Civilization 1790–1945.” He portrays very powerfully how the Jewish citizens of Hamburg were marginalized, persecuted, driven to emigrate, and murdered since 1933. The National Socialists, according to his thesis, did not destroy a Jewish civilization in Hamburg, they destroyed a special form of German civilization. With the dissolution of this civilization, Hamburg also lost the great Wohlwill family – with this biography, we wish to commemorate this grave and painful loss in terms of Enlightenment.

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

Stand: April 2018
© Marlis Roß und Hartmut Roß

Quelle: 1; 3; 4; 5; 8; Amtsgericht Hamburg, VA 44, Akten der Patriotischen Gesellschaft I–III; Patriotische Gesellschaft von 1765 – Protokolle der Vorstandssitzungen; 1866–2006; Sonderheft zum 140-jährigen Bestehen der Norddeutschen Affinerie AG, Hamburg 2006, S. 10, S. 15; Anfragen an Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Benz und an die Gedenkstätte Theresienstadt (Briefliche Antworten von Herrn Benz und Herrn Tomas Fedorovic 27.5.2014); Mail-Kontakt mit Ursula Osborne (Juli 2007); StaH 241 – 1 T._715 Gerichtsvollzieherwesen Versteigerung von Silbersachen am 25.8.1942; StaH 351 – 11_2398; StaH 351 –11_3632; StaH 351 – 11_35033 Amt für Wiedergutmachung (Heinrich, Hedwig und Marianne Wohlwill); Das Jüdische Hamburg 2006, darin: S. 277–281 Hans-Dieter Loose, Anna Wohlwill, S. 281 Helga Krohn, Emil Wohlwill, S. 281/282 Arno Herzig, Immanuel Wohlwill, S. 224f. Rainer Lehberger, Schul- und Erziehungswesen; Bajohr 2005; Benz 2013, S. 68–72, S. 205f.; Bruhns, Gretchen Wohlwill, in: Hamburger Biografien, Band 2, 2003; Büttner 1988, S. 131f; Gottwaldt, Schulle 2005; Grenville, 2012 S. 87/88, S. 228/229 und passim; Beate Meyer 2006 S. 70–73; Starke 1975, S. 45/46; Gretchen Wohlwill 1984; Hamburger Adressbücher und Telefonbücher; Internet:; Das Jüdische Hamburg, hrsg. vom Institut für die Geschichte der deutschen Juden, Göttingen 2006. FrankBajohr, Hamburg im "Dritten Reich", Hamburg 2005. Wolfgang Benz. Theresienstadt. Eine Geschichte der Täuschung und Vernichtung, München 2013. Maike Bruhns, Gretchen Wohlwill. In: Hamburger Biographien Band 2, hrsg. von Franklin Koptzsch und Dirk Brietzke, Hamburg 2003. Ursula Büttner, Die Not der Juden teilen, Hamburg 1988. Alfred Gottwaldt, Diana Schulle, Die "Judendeportationen" aus dem Deutschen Reich, 1941–1945, Wiesbaden 2005. J.A.R. Grenville, The Jews and Germans of Hamburg, The Destruction of a Civilization 1790–1945, London and New York 2012. Haarbleicher, Moses M., (Hrsg.), Zwei Epochen aus der Geschichte der Deutsch-Israelitischen Gemeinde in Hamburg. Verlag Meissner, Hamburg 1866, Online-Ausgabe Frankfurt am Main: Universitätsbibliothek JCS, 2009. Beate Meyer (Hrsg.), Die Verfolgung und Ermordung der Hamburger Juden, 1933–1945, Hamburg 2006. Jürgen Sielemann, Quellen zur Jüdischen Familiengeschichte im Staatsarchiv Hamburg (per Mail von Herrn Sielemann am 29.7.2014). Käthe Starke, Der Führer schenkt den Juden eine Stadt, Berlin 1975. Gretchen Wohlwill, Lebenserinnerungen einer Hamburger Malerin. Bearbeitet von Hans-Dieter Loose, Hamburg 1984. Hamburger Adressbücher und Telefonbücher. Diese Dateizugriffe wurden dankenswerterweise ermöglicht durch die finanzielle Unterstützung der GEN Gesellschaft für Erbenermittlung mbH.
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