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Marie und Heinrich Mayer im Sekretariat Warburg
Marie und Heinrich Mayer im Sekretariat Warburg
© StaH

Heinrich Mayer * 1866

Trostbrücke 2–6 (Hamburg-Mitte, Hamburg-Altstadt)

ERMORDET 2.12.1942

further stumbling stones in Trostbrücke 2–6:
Richard Abraham, Julius Adam, Julius Asch, Georg Blankenstein, Gustav Falkenstein, Ivan Fontheim, Henry Friedenheim, Albert Holländer, Max Israel, Gustav Heinrich Leo, Moritz Nordheim, Kurt Perels, Ernst Moritz Rappolt, Ferdinand Rosenstern, Walter Ludwig Samuel, Salomon Siegmund Schlomer, Ernst Werner, Heinrich Wohlwill, Alfred Wolff

Heinrich Mayer, born on 6 Feb. 1866 in Worms, died on 2 Dec. 1942 in Theresienstadt

The life of a liberal merchant

Heinrich Mayer was born on 6 Feb. 1866 in Worms. His parents had moved there from Rennertshausen near Worms to operate a store in the city. Their son Heinrich wished to get "more inspiration” and went to Hamburg, where in 1899 he took over Tomkins, Hildesheim & Co. (at Sandtorquai), which imported and resold coffee. Heinrich Mayer married Marie Dehn (the sister of Hedwig Wohlwill, née Dehn), a native of Hamburg born in 1880 who came from a large family with eight children. Her father was one of the first physicians at the Israelite Hospital. After training as a teacher, she began her professional career at the Paulsenstift School in 1905. Anna Wohlwill, head of this officially recognized girls’ secondary school from 1866 until 1911, continued the tradition of the former charity schools: Female students from all social classes were admitted, in part through allocating exemptions from tuition fees, and prepared for the new female social services profession of caregiver in the public poor relief system. After getting married, Marie Mayer left the school service in 1909. The Mayer couple had four children: the first child, Gertrud, died in 1910, shortly after her birth; the two sons, Reinhard and Wilhelm, were born in 1911 and 1912, and daughter Franziska in 1914. From the small apartment on Eppendorfer Baum, the family moved in 1912 to a spacious ground-floor apartment at Maria-Louisenstrasse 112, where the Mayer couple eventually spent most of their lives. Enrique Mayer reports that his grandparents liked to withdraw to a sort of weekend home, called "Die Masch,” in the Grossborstel quarter. This house, built in 1738, was a real farmhouse, accommodating in addition to the living room all of the stables and workrooms. In the bombing war, this rural area was completely destroyed. Asked about her parents’ political views, Franziska Mayer called them "somehow democratic, rather liberal.” This position also serves her to explain that her father was a member of the Patriotic Society (Patriotische Gesellschaft) since 1911. Heinrich Mayer was not a pious Jew – in 1926, he left the Jewish Community. The daughter does not recall ever having attended a service in a synagogue prior to her twenty-second birthday, though very clearly that her father showed her the synagogue in Worms (probably, the Medieval, liberal synagogue). The important thing, said her father, was the following: "Do your duty, follow your conscience.” And he added, "Our grandfather was a freethinker” to whom the "human qualities such as tolerance were important.” Enrique Mayer emphasizes explicitly: "He did not practice the Jewish religion but he was very interested in classical German culture. He did not feel Jewish but German. It was the Nazis that made him into a Jew.” Facing the pressure of persecution, Marie (in 1934) and Heinrich Mayer (in 1937, with the entry of "without any religious creed") re-joined the Jewish Community. Heinrich Mayer must have been an avid reader who was well versed in German literature, and also in German history – he was also a member of the Society of Hamburg History. (Verein für Hamburgische Geschichte).

Life in the Nazi dictatorship

The intervention of the Nazi dictatorship in the life of the family began – in addition to the restrictive general decrees – directly in the private sphere: In 1933, the sister of Marie Mayer, Bertha Dehn, was excluded from the Hamburg State Opera after working there as a violinist for 18 years, with illness indicated as the official reason. At first, she stayed in Hamburg and tried to make ends meet as a violin teacher and violinist in Jewish orchestras. After having been named on two lists already, Bertha Dehn managed to evade the deportation on 12 Oct. 1941 and flee to her brother in Ecuador. After completing school (high school graduation diploma [Abitur] at the Johanneum and Realgymnasium [a high school focused on science, math, and modern languages] for girls’ on Curschmannstrasse), the three children of the Mayer couple had difficulties with their training in the Nazi dictatorship. All three of them managed to save themselves by emigrating in time, spending periods during the war in various countries where they were allowed to work as well. Enrique Mayer relates that after the end of World War II, all three children of Heinrich Mayer lived together in Huancayo/Peru from 1949 until 1980. In 1985, Franziska Mayer and her brother Reinhard returned to Hamburg, on the one hand due to the acts of terrorism committed by the "Shining Path,” and on the other hand due to the uncertainty of the Peruvian old-age pension scheme. In 1994, Franziska Mayer passed away in a Jewish retirement home, where her brother resided as well until his death in 2004.

"Then came the people of the Patriotic Society”

In 1935, the Patriotic Society adopted the racist definition of "Jew” from the Nuremberg law [on race], and excluded, by way of this definition, Heinrich Mayer, who had belonged to the Society for 24 years. Franziska Mayer relates, "Then came the people of the Patriotic Society and said, ‘It is no longer possible. Do resign or otherwise the Patriotic Society will blow up.’” Probably the daughter refers to a letter by the Patriotic Society to all its members. In the meeting on 5 Nov. 1935, the executive committee stated that 21 members had left; in 1933/34, however, 95 members had quit already, probably to pre-empt their exclusion.

The "Aryanization” of Tomkins, Hildesheim & Co.

Most coffee companies had their headquarters, like Heinrich Mayer’s business, on Sandtorquai, where the morning market for coffee was also located since 1887. The significance of the coffee trade for Hamburg – before the First World War, the largest coffee market in Europe – is underscored by the founding of the "Association of Companies Participating in the Coffee Trade” ("Verein der am Caffeehandel betheiligten Firmen”) at the end of the nineteenth century (200 members). The coffee boom continued in the Weimar Republic and until the Nazi dictatorship. Heinrich Mayer initially reacted in 1935 to the mounting reprisals against Jews and to the emigration of his son Wilhelm, who was actually supposed to become his successor, by transforming his enterprise into a general partnership. He had his long-standing authorized signatory Hermann Niels Edler, an "Aryan,” join the company as a partner, though staying in the company with 70-percent profit-sharing and a monthly withdrawal of 4,000 RM (reichsmark). The situation came to a head at the end of 1936, when the Jewish members of the association of coffee companies were no longer protected but struck from the membership list of this association. All precautionary arrangements became obsolete in Nov. 1938 – after the November Pogrom. The "First Ordinance on the Elimination of the Jews from German Economic Life” ("Erste Verordnung zur Ausschaltung der Juden aus dem deutschen Wirtschaftsleben”) initiated the compulsory "Aryanization” and liquidation of Jewish entrepreneurs, and the "internal predatory raid” (Roth) began quite openly. Senator von Allwörden, previously Senator for Cultural Affairs, became head of the Department of Trade and Industry and at the same time, "Aryanization representative” of the Reich Governor (Reichsstatthalter). He commissioned the hitherto unknown Bernhard Rothfos (also a coffee trader) with eliminating the last Jewish owners in the coffee importing business. At the same time, due to his own business interests, Rothfos intervened in the regional labor market. In the deed of partition with Edler, Heinrich Mayer gave up his company in 1939, returning the disbursement of 70,000 RM as a loan to Edler. In connection with the "Aryanization,” Heinrich Mayer was also forced to sell a property located on Ekhofstrasse. After the Pogrom of 9 Nov. 1938, a special tax of one billion reichsmark was imposed on Jewish citizens, a sum intended as an "atonement payment for the hostile attitude of Jewry toward the German people.” With this collective punishment, Jewish citizens were supposed to compensate all by themselves for the damages having occurred in the course of the pogrom, including those on synagogues, houses, apartments, and businesses. Heinrich Mayer was also hit by this punitive tax; for him, it was a further plundering measure of the Nazi state, after the destruction of his economic livelihood. Due to the increasingly desperate financial situation, the large apartment on Maria-Louisenstrasse became too expensive, and therefore, the Mayer couple moved to a smaller apartment at Sierichstrasse 126 in 1938. In the directories until 1942, the couple is registered with the authorities as residing in this apartment: Thus, the move into a small room in the house of the Wohlwill couple at Hindenburgstrasse 111 probably took place in the second half of 1941 (the 1942 directory was issued in the course of 1941). From Oct 1938 until June 1941, a kind of refuge, "an oasis for Jews in Hamburg,” was the Warburg Secretariat at Mittelweg 17. The State Archives holds a copy of the memoirs of Robert Solmitz, in which he reports how Jewish citizens met in this beautiful house for conversations, concerts, and literary readings. At the same time, this was the venue for meetings of the executive committee of the Jewish Community (headed by Robert Solmitz) and for political talks. Marie and Heinrich Mayer, too, were fond of going to this house.

"Above all, the letters abounded with longing and bravery. The tears were kept inside.”

Enrique Mayer has in his possession a bundle of letters, most of them handwritten, that his parents wrote to their children between 1939 and 1940. In the following passage, I will refer to summaries and quotes from these letters. Heinrich Mayer, too old in 1914 for active military service, had worked as a censor in World War I. As far as that goes, he was aware of the danger that his and his wife’s letters abroad might be inspected. His grandson writes, "What moved me very much is the absolute silence on current news or political events during the years 1939/40.” When reading the letters, he said, it had seemed "as if there had not been a war raging, and nothing was mentioned of the increasing persecution directed against Jews.” The grandparents do not report about any want or any restrictions, and the censor was not given any pretext to intervene. "The letters abound with longing and encouragement … My grandmother tells about flowers, walks in the park, visits to relatives.” Two years before the deportation, Heinrich Mayer writes: "By the time you will receive this letter, my birthday will already have passed and I will have turned 74. In terms of health, I am doing very well, and the sleeping pills are kept in the medicine cabinet.” This clue to sleep-inducing medicine may allude to how oppressive the actual situation of the couple was.

The "domicile” is "relocated” to Theresienstadt

In contrast to his children, Heinrich Mayer initially rejected emigration, very clearly in 1935 when his son Wilhelm, actually designated as the company successor, emigrated to Peru. Franziska Mayer reports that after the "Aryanization” of the company, the Mayer couple tried in vain to obtain visas for Peru. Even though son Wilhelm had prepared everything in Peru, the Peruvian consulate in Hamburg refused to issue the visas. The last trace of the couple’s lives leads to Theresienstadt. Like the majority of Jews, the Mayer couple was unable to recognize that the term "ghetto for the elderly” ("Altersgetto”) involved a perversion of facts. Heinrich and Marie Mayer paid 55,441 RM for the "home purchase contract” ("Heimkaufsvertrag”), and added to this were the costs for taking along moving goods. By order of the Gestapo, the Reich Association of Jews in Germany (Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland) had to conclude these contracts and ensure that the necessary funds were raised. The entire moveable property was transferred to the Reich Association – after the death of the ghetto occupants, all remaining assets fell to the Reich. It may be that the two were able to imagine a life in the "ghetto for the elderly” after the humiliating experiences in Hamburg, especially since they were left to fend for themselves without the children. Officially, the couple was guaranteed, by way of the "home purchase contract,” lifelong free room, board, and health care. In Theresienstadt, the Mayer couple was committed to overcrowded, frequently unheated houses. This place is synonymous with the malice with which the ideology of National Socialism was applied, at the same time with the unlimited, bureaucratically organized plundering of the Jews. The deportations from Hamburg to the "ghetto for the elderly” in Theresienstadt began in July 1942. On 19 July 1942, Heinrich and Marie Mayer, together with Heinrich and Hedwig Wohlwill and Ella Nauen, were deported from Hindenburgstrasse 11 on a large deportation train to Theresienstadt. Heinrich Mayer died there on 2 Dec. 1942; Marie Mayer was deported to Auschwitz in May 1944, arriving there on 15 May 1944. We do not know the exact date of her death, but she was officially declared dead as of 8 May 1945. Even before the death of the couple, following the seizure by the Chief Finance Administration (Oberfinanzdirektion), the household effects were auctioned off on 17 Sept. 1942, and the remaining assets confiscated. Their Stolpersteine are located at Marie-Louisen-Strasse 112. For preparing this biography, I had at my disposal a number of sources beyond the official ones that provide information particularly on the private lives of Heinrich Mayer and his family. In the context of the "Workshop of Memory” ("Werkstatt der Erinnerung”) at the Research Centre for Contemporary History in Hamburg, I was assisted by Linde Apel in finding an interview with Franziska Mayer, the 87-year-old daughter of Heinrich Mayer (recorded in 1992). Via the Research Center, I also managed to establish contact to Heinrich Mayer’s grandson: Enrique Mayer, for many years professor at Yale University, today residing in Sao Paolo, sent me numerous pieces of information in letters and e-mails. The same holds true for the contact with Ursula Osborne (the niece of the Mayer couple), who, in addition to personal messages, also conveyed to me information from the Solmitz Archive.

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

Stand: April 2018
© Marlis Roß

Quellen: 1; 4; 5; 8; StaH 351 - 11, 1021 Wiedergutmachungsakte Rudolf Heinrich Mayer (mit Hinweis auf Versteigerung), 1022 Wiedergutmachungsakte Wilhelm Mayer, 1023 Wiedergutmachungsakte Franziska Mayer; StaH 362 – 6/11: 53 Bd.1 Personalakten Paulsenstiftschule; StaH 362 – 1 / 173 Akte Plaut A5; Amtsgericht Hamburg, VA 44, Akten der Patriotischen Gesellschaft I–III; Patriotische Gesellschaft von 1765 – Protokolle der Vorstandssitzungen der Patriotischen Gesellschaft Januar 1934 bis Februar 1943; Forschungsstelle für Zeitgeschichte, Werkstatt der Erinnerung: Franziska Mayer, Interview am 14.12.1992, FZH, WdE 122; Ursula Osborne, e-Mail-Kontakte; Enrique Mayer, e-Mail-Kontakte, Briefe, Hamburger Adress- und Telefonbücher.
Frank Bajohr 1998; Frank Bajohr 2005, S. 65ff., S. 121; Wolfgang Benz 2013, S. 205; Maike Bruchmann, 2008, S. 156–161; Beate Meyer 2006, S. 43–45, S. 70; Das Jüdische Hamburg 2006; Dorothea Wierling 2012, S. 35–46; Karl-Heinz Roth 1997, S. 15–176; S. 51, S. 57ff., S. 60/61; Tom Lampert 2003, S. 129; Ausstellungskatalog "Verstummte Stimmen" 2006, S. 48; Frank Bajohr, Arisierung in Hamburg, 2. Auflage, Hamburg 1998. Frank Bajohr, Die Zustimmungsdiktatur, in: Hamburg im "Dritten Reich", Hamburg 2005. Wolfgang Benz, Theresienstadt, München 2013. Maike Bruchmann, Marie Auguste Mayer und Heinrich Mayer, in: Stolpersteine in Winterhude, hrsg. von Ulrike Sparr. Hamburg 2008. Beate Meyer (Hrsg.), Die Verfolgung und Ermordung der Hamburger Juden 1933–1945, Hamburg 2006. Das Jüdische Hamburg, hrsg. vom Institut für die Geschichte der deutschen Juden, Göttingen 2006. Dorothea Wierling, Nachkriegsgeschäfte. Hamburger Kaffeehandel seit den 50er Jahren. In: 19 Tage Hamburg. Ereignisse und Entwicklungen der Stadtgeschichte seit den fünfziger Jahren. Hrsg. von der Forschungsstelle für Zeitgeschichte in Hamburg 2012. Karl-Heinz Roth, Ökonomie und politische Macht: Die Firma Hamburg. In: Angelika Ebbinghaus, Karsten Linne (Hrsg.), Kein abgeschlossenes Kapitel: Hamburg im "Dritten Reich". Hamburg 1997, S. 15–176. Tom Lampert, Ein einziges Leben. Geschichten aus der NS-Zeit, München 2003. Ausstellungskatalog "Verstummte Stimmen". Die Vertreibung der Juden aus der Oper 1933–1945. Ausstellung des Hamburger Abendblatts in Zusammenarbeit mit der Hamburgischen Staatsoper, unterstützt von der Axel-Springer-Stiftung. Hamburg 2006. Hamburger Adressbücher und Telefonbücher. Diese Dateizugriffe wurden dankenswerterweise ermöglicht durch die finanzielle Unterstützung der GEN Gesellschaft für Erbenermittlung mbH.
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