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Max Wagner * 1914
Brahmsallee 25 (Eimsbüttel, Harvestehude)
Max Wagner, born on 31 May 1914 in Altona, detained in the Oslebshausen penitentiary in 1939, murdered on 22 Feb. 1943 in Auschwitz
Max Wagner was the oldest of four children of his parents Jonas Juda Ginsberg, born on 1 Nov. 1891 in Grodek/Poland, and Bronia (Brane) Bertha Wagner, born on 2 Nov. 1890 in Vitky Lubaczev/Poland. Bronia’s parents Marcus Sommer and Frynet Wagner were not married by the state but by a rabbi, which is why Bronia was called Wagner from birth. According to her own statements, she was married to Jonas Juda Ginsberg in Poland in 1912, also according to Jewish rites only, as a result of which she kept her maiden name of "Wagner.”
In 1913, the couple took up residence in Altona, where Max was born in 1914. Since the marriage of the parents was not recognized under German law, all children were considered to be born out of wedlock and were named "Wagner” after their mother. Following Max, five more children of Bronia Wagner were entered in the civil registry. Two of them lived only a few days or weeks: Willy (born on 9 Dec. to 11 Dec. 1916) in Altona; Taube Jutta, born in 1924 in Hamburg; Kasril (24 Nov. to 29 Nov. 1926) in Altona; Benno, born in 1928 in Altona; and Hedi, born in 1932 in Altona.
Bronia Wagner told her son Max a personal version regarding his biological father. According to this, she was married to "Chajim” by the rabbi. After that, he emigrated to America and died there soon afterward. She did not provide any data other than the first name. No official documents confirming this information could be found later either. Whether Max Wagner had a "father” or a "stepfather” in the person of Jonas Ginsberg remained unclear. Jonas Ginsberg and Bronia Wagner married on 30 June 1939 in Zbaszyn, where they had been expelled as Poles from Germany. Ginsberg recognized all of Bronia’s children as his own and gave them his name. Max, however, had been in pretrial detention in Hamburg since May 1938 and continued to go by "Max Wagner” during his time in prison. In Altona, Ginsberg founded his own company for the production and sale of bags, employed several female workers, and had himself registered as a professional bag mender. In this way, he secured a good livelihood for the family. The business addresses changed from Grosse Mühlenstrasse near St. Michael’s Church (Michaeliskirche) in Hamburg to Altona at Taubenstrasse 1 and Scheel-Plessenstrasse. Initially, the family lived at Zeisestrasse 185, then at Taubenstrasse 16.
Max Wagner attended the first three grades of the Talmud Tora School and then the eight-grade elementary school (Volksschule) in Altona until he was 14 years old. He did not learn a trade, but took on occasional jobs as a messenger or handyman in the port. He sailed to Australia, Japan, India, and other countries as an assistant helmsman aboard various ships. At first, he earned 100 RM (reichsmark) in addition to room and board, later up to 380 RM per year. Apart from a four-week proof of employment on file with the Mariners’ Pension and Health Insurance Fund (Seekasse), no further evidence of his occupational activity could be found. In Altona and Hamburg, he often changed quarters as a subtenant and in the meantime, he repeatedly returned to his mother at Taubenstrasse 16. In Feb./Mar. 1936, Max Wagner resided briefly as a subtenant at Isestrasse 25 with Fleischmann, before that at Isestrasse 57 on the fourth floor, and afterward at Friedrichsbergerstrasse 15 on the third floor. He joined the Jewish Community in 1936, claiming to be a "domestic servant,” and no payment of contributions was noted on his tax file card.
In Mar. 1938, Max Wagner returned from a longer sea voyage and worked in the company of his father, Jonas Ginsberg. On 13 May 1938, he was arrested for "racial defilement” ("Rassenschande”) by the Secret State Police (Gestapo), questioned by a judge the next day, and placed in pretrial detention. Three quarters of a year later, on 16 Jan. 1939, he was convicted by the 6th Criminal Division of the Hamburg Regional Court (Landgericht). The accused was "sentenced to six years and six months in a penitentiary for racial defilement in two cases and for attempted racial defilement in another case. The period of pretrial detention was calculated toward his sentence.”
The verdict sheds light on the motives and proceedings of Nazi Hamburg judges in one of the 391 cases that led to convictions between 1936 and 1943 for "racial defilement.” The main interrogation began with the determination of the "racial” quality of the accused and of all witnesses, whereby physiognomy and physique were regarded as unmistakable characteristics. The Polish-born Max Wagner appeared to his judges as the "type of the so-called Eastern Jew [Ostjude]”; the first witness was "according to her appearance and the available documents of ancestry of German-blooded descent.” Witness number 2, a "Kontrollmädchen,” a female prostitute under police control, was found to belong to the German Reich and to be "of German blood.” The third witness and at the same time the informer, "who makes a Nordic impression,” could also prove her "Aryan” ancestors.
With regard to the descent of Max Wagner, the court accepted Bronia Wagner’s statement: that in 1913, she had been married to "Chajim” in Mährisch-Ostrau (today Ostrava in the Czech Republic) according to Jewish rites. After the birth of their son Max, Chajim … had emigrated to America and disappeared there. This story became interesting for the court when Max Wagner doubted in the main trial that his biological father was a Jew, i.e., that he himself was a "full Jew.” Since the court was unable to provide official proof of the existence and ancestry of "Chajim,” it based its argumentation on the fact that Max Wagner had declared himself a "full Jew” without hesitation in all previous hearings. Moreover, according to the court, the typically Jewish name of "Chajim” was proof enough for the fully Jewish ancestry of the accused. His sudden doubts, the argument went, could only be explained by the attempt to receive a milder punishment as the son of a non-Jewish father.
After this point was checked off, the judges fixed the sentence, arguing that Max Wagner had continued sexual relations with a "German-blooded” girl in full awareness of the criminality of this relationship following the enactment of the "Nuremberg Laws” [on race] of Sept. 1935. The fact that he had advised her to get married after jointly fleeing abroad did not diminish the crime. "Considering the fundamental importance of racial laws for the preservation and purity of German national character [Volkstum] and the need to deter racial crimes,” the court found a two-year sentence in a penitentiary appropriate for the continued "racial defilement” under the racial laws in this case. The one-time visit to a prostitute in a brothel in which entry for Jews was forbidden (case 2) was to be "atoned for” with one year in a penitentiary. Case 3 was judged much more harshly. To make the woman submissive, Max Wagner had allegedly taken advantage of the fact that he had known the girl since childhood and the fact that she worked like him in Jonas Ginsberg’s business. "His repeated attacks on the witness Wölffert, who makes a Nordic impression, clearly show his unrestrained Jewish greed for German women and the unscrupulousness with which the Jew Wagner disregards the basic laws of his host people.” The "necessary expiation,” the court reasoned, would consist of four years’ imprisonment in a penitentiary. The three individual sentences were combined to a penitentiary sentence of six years and six months. On 3 Feb. 1939, he was transferred to the Oslebshausen penitentiary near Bremen to serve his prison term. Before the sentence was served in full, the detention was interrupted by his being handed over to the police in Jan. 1943 at the order of the Reich Minister of Justice. German prisons, penitentiaries, and concentration camps were to be made "Jew-free” ("judenfrei”) by transferring the Jewish prisoners to extermination camps. On 14 Jan. 1943, Max Wagner was deported to Auschwitz, where he was murdered on 22 Feb. 1943. (The German Lower House of Parliament, the Bundestag, overturned "racial defilement” sentences on 25 Aug. 1998.)
After the arrest of her son Max, mother Bronia Wagner had in vain asked the female denunciator, who was also known to her, to withdraw the charges. She learned nothing more about Max’ subsequent fate. In fact, the Ginsberg-Wagner family was hit by a heavy blow on 28 Oct. 1938, the so-called "expulsion of Polish Jews” ("Polenaktion”). By forcibly deporting Polish citizens from the German Reich, the National Socialist government wanted to pre-empt a law announced by Poland on 30 Oct. 1938, which was intended to prevent the return of Polish Jews. As a result, the expulsion of the Poles from Hamburg was a coercive measure and came as a complete surprise to those affected. Having to leave everything behind, they were immediately put on special trains by the Gestapo and transported to the Polish western border. Their apartments and business premises were sealed. Immediately after the deportations, the guardianship courts appointed so-called "administrators for absent heirs” ("Abwesenheitspfleger”) who inventoried the assets and liquidated the ongoing business activities. The Ginsberg estate administration was completed in 1939. The assets in question were sold off cheaply ("verschleudert”).
The Ginsberg-Wagner family remained interned in Bentschen (Zbonschin, Zbaszyn)/Poland until June 1939. During this time, Bronia Wagner and Jonas Ginsberg married in a civil ceremony. In June 1939, the family went to stay with relatives in Tscheschanow (today Cieszanow) in the extreme southeast of Poland on the Russian-Ukrainian border. When German troops established the "General Government” ("Generalgouvernement Polen”) and occupied the country, the Ginsberg family, parents, and three children, fled to the "Ruda Ruczinska” forests, where the Polish farmer Zascha Dubinsky hid them in a wooden house. However, since for safety reasons not all of them were to stay together, the father separated with the two older children from the rest of the family. The testimonies of their deaths are contradictory. Bronia Ginsberg herself gave no clear information. Once she testified that the farmer, who had offered them a wooden house as a hiding place in the forest, recommended that Jonas Ginsberg and the two older children hide elsewhere for their safety. After that, according to this version, they were handed over to the Germans and had been missing ever since. Another time, Bronia Ginsberg claimed that her husband had visited her several times in the forest until 1943. In yet another version, she made a declaration in lieu of an oath that her husband and children Taube and Benno had been shot by the Germans. So initially, they were declared officially dead as of 8 May 1945. However, then a death certificate from Jonas Juda Ginsberg appeared, certifying that he had already died in Lemberg (today Lviv in Ukraine) on 13 Mar. 1940. The manner of death had not been recorded, and there was no trace of the two children at all. Bronia Ginsberg never again received a sign of life from her son Max.
She and her youngest daughter Hedi, the two survivors, remained in hiding until 1943. In 1944, the Russian army took the seriously ill woman into a military hospital, after which she was hospitalized in Lemberg (Lviv). Her daughter was always with her. After her recovery, Bronia Ginsberg worked in a ready-to-wear clothing factory of the Tscherwonai Company. The daughter married David Herczkowicz in Chust (Khust), Ukraine. The young couple moved together with their mother to Breslau (today Wroclaw in Poland), from where they tried to depart for the USA. This was very difficult in the countries of the Eastern bloc. They did not succeed until 1964, with the help of Bronia Ginsberg’s brother living in Israel. Accordingly, the applications for restitution sent to Hamburg were delayed. In view of the contradictions in her statements, the applicant’s age and lack of language skills were taken into account when assessing the amounts of restitution. She spoke and understood only Yiddish and her daughter spoke only little English.
Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: September 2019
© Inge Grolle
Quellen: 1; StaH 741-4/ A1263 Untersuchungshaftkartei; AfW 351-11/ 40375; 351-11/13133; 351-11/12093; 332-8/K4576 Meldekarte Altona; 213-13/559 Landgericht Hamburg; 332-5 Geburtsregister Altona: Nr. 1180/14 Altona I; Nr. 714/24 Hamburg 3a; Nr. 559/28 Altona II; Nr. 398/92 Altona II; Robinsohn, Justiz, S. 31, 63; Przyrembel, "Rassenschande", S. 495.
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