Hamburg was the second largest city in Germany and the fourth largest German Jewish Community during the early 1930's. It was beautiful in its rural areas with its hills and slopes, with its flora and fauna, streams, rivers and lakes, and a total landscape of sheer beauty. It was the Yerushalayyim on the Elbe, which once was a kehilla kodesh The first Jews arrived from Portugal in 1575. Another group of Portuguese Jews arrived in 1601. They were allowed to bury their dead in neighboring Altona, whose Jewish cemetery, Cemetery Koenigstrsse. served the community from 1611 until the late 19th century. Here were buried noted rabbis, such as Rabbi Jonathan Eybeschuetz, (1690-1764), and Rabbi Jacob Emden (1697-1776) and Jewish scholars and poets and members of the family Glueckel von Hamelin. Glueckel of Hameln (1646-1724), born in Hamburg wrote a fascinating mirror of the times, in her famous memoirs. |
Jews contributed significantly to the economic development of the city. They played a key role in the development of the banking system , acting as co-founders of the Bank of Hamburg in 1619. Among the prominent physicians were Immanuel Rosales (1588-1662), who studied astronomy with Galileo, and Shemuel da Silva (1571-163). Hebrew printing presses were known form the late 16th century. The Ashkenazi community dated from at least the early 17th century In 1730, thousands of seamen and shopkeepers attacked Jews in streets and homes, causing mass flight to Altona, Wandsbek, and neighboring villages. The Portuguese Jews erected a synagogue in 1668 until the 1830's. The Ashkenazi community, consecrated its first synagogue in 1654, a new synagogue was consecrated in 1790, serving the community until 1906. An orthodox central Synagogue with 1,200 places was dedicated in 1859. The first chief rabbi of Hamburg was Dr Yitzhak Bernays from 1821, his successor was Dr. Stern (1820-88) By 1852, about 600 Jews had been granted citizenship in the city. In 1859, nine Jews were elected to Hamburg's 84-member Parliament.
In 1933 there were 16,885 Jews living in Hamburg. Most were quite assimilated. After the Nazis rose to power in January 1933, incidents of persecution increased. Jews were removed during the anti-Jewish boycotts of April 1,1933 from government positions, the court system, health services and the city's university.
Between 1933-1937, 5,000 Hamburg Jews left Germany. During the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938, most of Hamburg's synagogues were vandalized. From 1941-45, Jews were deported on 17 transports to Lodz, Minsk, Riga, Auschwitz, Thereseinstadt. More than 300 of the city's Jews committed suicide. At the time the Jewish victims of Hamburg had gathered together prior to deportation they were attended to by members of the Jewish community, and given 2 days food supplies for the trip, small quantities of containers of drinking water and water to wash themselves, towels, soap, medicine. The transport started out from the streets and the detained were put on trucks in the Lodge at the Moorweidenstrasse, in the school on Sternschanzen Bahnhof and in the Jewish community house on Hartungstrasse for the gathering point destined for Auschwitz. By 1943, there were only 1,800 Jews left in Hamburg, most of whom were married to non-Jews. The Jewish community was officially liquidated in June of that year. In all, around 7,800 Hamburg Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.
The Chief Rabbi of Altona and Hamburg, Rabbi Dr. Joseph Carlebach, his wife Rebbitzen Lotte Carlebach, and three daughters Naomi Oct. 24, 1927, Ruth Nov. 8, 1926, Sarah Dec. 24, 1928 perished in Riga. His youngest son Solomon, who was sixteen at the time of deportation in 1941, survived. In the middle of 1939 Mrs. Carlebach had been able to send their other children , one son and four daughters to England.
Dr. Max Plaut who survived Min ha-shamajjim wrote concise reports about the deportation and the way they were carried out. "The composure of the deported was not only remarkable but it was brave. The great number of them knew of their fate and bore it."
The Hamburg Yiskor book consists of six thousand names. Also came to an end the history of the Sephardic Jews in Jewish Hamburg who had flourished in that great northern seaport and had lived there almost half a thousand years.
Unforgettable to tens of thousands of Jewish women from Hamburg will be the memory of Dr. Sarah Israel, who was a prominent teacher at the "Jewish Girl's School of the Hamburg Jewish Community," for 36 years. She was a daughter of Israel Wertheimer, who was a son of the Altona Chief Rabbi Akiva ben Awigdor Wertheimer. Dr. Sarah Israel (September 28, 1873- Jan. 11, 1933) was childless - but she left "a name better than of sons and daughters, an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off." Isaiah 56.V
Another native of Hamburg was Norbert Masur, born May 13, 1901, Friedrichstadt, a savior of thousands - tens of thousands of Jews.
Masur became the official representative the great Meliz Jausher for his people Israel between Hitler-Himmler, the hangmen of six million Jews. It was the year of 1945, towards the close of the war that the Swedish Foreign Minister set up a secret meeting between Masur and Himmler.
Masur had stemmed from an old Jewish family. His grandparents and great-grandparents probably came originally from Glueckstadt where in much earlier times a settlement of Spanish and Portuguese took place amongst them the famous and celebrated physician, philosopher and theologian Joseph Solomon del Medigo the author of the famous "Taa'lumot Hokhmah" and "Mezaref la Hokmah." Masur's parents were Leser (Eliezer) and Hannah Masur (nee Levy).
When he was 6 years old the family moved to Hamburg where he attended the Hamburg Talmud Tora Realschule the only and most important Jewish school in all of Hamburg.
In 1920, Masur went to work for the firm A. J. Hollander & Son, and was later transferred to their branch in Sweden. In Sweden he became the leader of Zionism and active in Keren Hajesod and Keren Kajometh Le Jissroel. In April 1943 he became one of the founders of the Swedish branch of the World Jewish Congress with a seat in Stockholm.
After the beginning of the Nazis persecution in Denmark in September 1943 he was one of the organizers of the so-called underground traffic movements which was mainly responsible for the mass emigration of thousands of Jews from Denmark to Sweden.
Masur became one of the main architects of the plans of rescue action in March 1944 when Hungarian Jews in Hungary were under Nazi terror.
In 1944, Masur was one of the leaders in organizing vast supplies of for packages, mainly to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
There have been at least 12 authors who have written on the works of Masur's rescue activities in Sweden but very little has been written about his special meeting and heroic deeds pertaining to his secret flight to war-torn Germany to meet with Heinrich Himmler, Nazi leader and one of Hitler's principal lieutenants.
The meeting was with a man who became the butcher of Europe's Jews. Himmler regarded the extermination of the Jews as a glorious chapter in German history, and gave orders to adapt the camps for the "Final Solution," enabling them to effect the mass liquidation of thousands of persons daily and dispose of the corpses. At the same time he ordered the utilization of the concentration camp inmates for war production, where hundreds of thousands of prisoners who had been set aside in the "selections" from immediate death in the gas chambers, died as slave laborers of malnutrition and ill-treatment. Before the end of World War II, he allowed the transfer of several hundred prisoners to Sweden, hoping thus to exact better peace terms. In May 1945, he killed himself, following his capture by the British Army.
Masur himself wrote about his mission, which was published in Swedish under the title "Ein Jude Talar Med Himmler" (Albert Nonnkiers, Stockholm, 1945), and one copy today is available in the library of "YIVO" in New York City.
During the last years of the World War II Jewish organizations in neutral European countries strained their efforts to the highest to help bring relief to their Jewish brothers and sisters in the concentration camps. It was the Swedish Section of the World Jewish Congress which stood in the forefront of these activities. Hillel Storch, one of the leading men of World Jewish Congress, entered into negotiations with Dr. Felix Kersten, who was the medical healer of Himmler, and also the confidant of the chief of the Gestapo. Whenever Kersten brought relief to the sufferings of Himmler, who was afflicted with stomach ailments and pains, Himmler would make concessions to Kerstens demands for saving numberless victims from concentration camps.
Through the help and with the intervention of the Swedish Foreign Office and upon the request of Hillel Storch, Kersten promised to negotiate with Himmler to rescue Jewish men, women and children from concentration camps. After many discussions within the World Jewish Congress, Norbert Masur volunteered to fly with Dr. Felix Kersten to see Himmler in Germany. The fateful day was set by Himmler for April 21,1945.
Masur and Kersten started out in a German airplane, painted with a Swastika, which took off from the Stockholm air field and which had been sent there especially by Himmler himself. They and the pilot were the only ones in the air-borne ship. Masur wrote later, "It was to me a shocking thought to confront in a few hours the man who was one of the principle criminals responsible for the murder of millions of Jews. But my restlessness was somehow overwhelmed by the satisfying sentiment and feeling, to have finally the occasion to contribute an important part toward the salvation of my persecuted brethren. I had participated for a long time in rescue activities, but that was from the safe metropolis of Stockholm. This time I would become active in the direct front line which was to be set on April 19,1945, at 2 P.M.."
Masur and Kersten set out from Stockholm and their flight brought them into direct contact with the gruesome looking territories over which they flew, in Germany. It was a landscape to behold: Devastated was the land where once life and activities had flourished. Everything had been leveled to the ground by the combined armada and powerful fleets of the American, British and Russian air might.
When Masur and Kersten landed at the Tempelholf Air Field in Berlin, Hitlers' Germany was now in agonizing shambles with the once powerful dictator, now hiding deep down in the bunkers, fearful for his life as the onslaught of the Russians armies pounded at the gates of Berlin, which were now crumbling minute to minute; this "thousand year" Reich.
On April 19, 1945 Masur and his companion Kersten were whisked away by a waiting German car, which was given free escort by Himmlers orders; no passport, no identification cards had to be produced , because Himmler wanted to see Masur quickly; the quicker the better because it was the eleventh hour of a war moving to the ever mounting crescendo of Russian bombardment which threatened Himmler's life and he was looking desperately for a deal through which he could save his own life and skin.
Masur the representative of the Jewish people was soon to face the man who once had been the all powerful chief of the German Gestapo. Finally, the hour arrived. Masur and Kersten stopped in front of the Kerstens estate in the town of Harzwalde Place, a small town not far from Berlin. It was midnight. The only ones present outside of some servants and personnel was General Schellenberg, who was "Brigadefuehrer" and one of the closest friends of Himmler. He greeted Masur and Dr. Kersten cordially.
On April 21, 1945, at two- thirty in the morning, Himmer greeted Masur cordially. Himmler, responsible for the murder of millions of Jews now sitting face to face with the representative of a people which had been persecuted, killed and decimated
On that very day as he came into the room, Masur recalls, "Himmler was elegantly dressed, in a flawlessly fitted uniform, covered with flashing medals. Very neat, very well taken care of, fresh looking, and seemingly lively even at this late hour. Outwardly he was very quiet and controlled, his exterior appeared better than his photographs. If I had not known of his past atrocities I would never have believed that this was the face of a mass murderer."
A most important, long, intricate discussion about the Jewish people ensued and the going was rough.
Masur told Himmler directly to his face as he sat across from him, that "too much had happened which can not be changed or made good," and demanded in the name of the Jewish people and of humanity at large the liberation of those still languishing in the camps. He demanded those "Jewish sisters and brothers in the camps of Thersiendstadt, Rawensbrueck, Mauthausen, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald and the many others, to be set free." At the end of the conversation that lasted two and a half hours, Himmler agreed to the opening of the gates of the concentration camp Rawensbrueck . . In his memoirs, Masur wrote, "at one point I was completely alone with him, a free Jew, face to face before the feared, heartless, merciless head of the Gestapo, with five million Jews on his conscience."
When the meeting had finished Masur flew home to Sweden,. And it was not much later that Masur visited the liberated Jewish women, who had been sent to a place in the Southern part of Sweden. His encounter with them, was indescribable as he came face to face with these women who suffered unbelievable sufferings and torture for so many years.
Masur came away with the feeling and deep satisfaction that he was the messenger sent from G-d who not only was a part of the history of the Jews of Hamburg, but of the history of the Jewish people.
There were many notable Jews in commerce in the city of Hamburg. Jews in the clothing business opened such leading stores as Robinson's and Hirschfeld's at the turn of the 19th century while others founded department stores like Tietz in 1897 and Heilbut in 1898 with 800 saleswomen at four establishments within 15 years. In banking, Max Warburg (1867-1946) dominated the family firm for 45 years. Jews sat as judges in the city - Gabriel Riesser being elected to the supreme court as the first Jewish judge in 1860. 14% of the city's lawyers were Jewish, 8% of journalists , 6% doctors (including Bismarck's personal physician.) Another Warburg brother Aby, founded an art library in 1929 housing 60,000 books and a similar number of pictures (all moved to London in 1934). Of the city's 670 millionaires on the eve of WWI, no fewer than 132 were Jews. Otto Stern, became a winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics.
Only one of the seven extant Jewish cemeteries was in use in the 1990's. The six others were preserved and maintained under Federal German Law. In the course of the postwar years, the six cemeteries were repeatedly desecrated by Neo-Nazi hooligans.
Copyright © 2004 by Stanley Mann
Michlalah Jerusalem College All Rights Reserved