Entries in 120320 - Gertrud Falk geb. Raphaelsohn Siemens Scherb und Schwer Jaroslaw Stolpe (1)


That was then. This is now.

 20 March 2012

Sometime in the 1990s, the German electronics company Siemens AG, or its US subsidiary Siemens Corporation, started to advertise using the slogan "That was then. This is now."   Hearing and seeing that slogan aggravated my aunt Eva Wulkan, geb. Falk (1911-2005) in Chicago because it reminded Eva of her mother's forced labor (Zwangsarbeit) in Berlin from 1941/1942 until her deportation to Auschwitz on 29 January 1943.  With its directive to think about Siemens' history, the slogan readily took Eva (and then me) back to the 1940s and Siemens' involvement in the Nazi war effort and its role in using Jewish forced labor.  Eva always said that her mother had been in forced labor for Siemens.

In May 2008, in Berlin, after visiting the deportation memorial at the Grunewald Station, I learned that Gertrud FALK, geb. RAPHAELSOHN (1886-ca.1943), my grandmother (mother of Eva and my father) was not deported from that location.  Rather, Transport 27 left from the Berlin-Moabit freight station under the Putitzbrücke.  (As I have since learned, Transport 27 arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau on 30 January 1943 at 10:58 am, after a 17½ hour journey.  Immediately upon arrival, 140 women and 140 men were separated and interned in the Camp, and 724 were murdered in the gas chambers of Birkenau.  We still do not know which group our grandmother was in, though I tend to assume she was part of the latter set.)

When the S-Bahn loop trains pass the area of the Putitzbrücke, you can see the huge "Siemensstadt" a bit further to the north.  This seemed to fit the family narrative with Gertrud in forced labor for Siemens and then deported from a location not far the Siemens factories.  That was then.

The first seed of doubt about the Siemens angle came a few years ago when I contacted Siemens to learn whether they had archival records regarding the people used for forced labor.  I learned they did have such records, but when they looked for information about Gertrud, her name did not appear in their records.  This was not conclusive, but it opened up the possibility that our family memory was not correct.

When my brother Don and I were in Berlin in late October 2011, we made great discoveries about Gertrud's mother, our great grandmother Ida RAPHAELSOHN, geb.  JACOBSOHN.  Learning where Ida was living when she died on 12 Feb 1939 - Duisburger Straße 8 (Wilmersdorf) (with her son Hugo and her youngest daughter Else), Don and I went by that address on the Saturday before our date with cousins Katja and Barbara in Berlin-Westend.  Fresh with our discoveries, we told Katja and Barbara all about it.  Katja mentioned that her archivist friend Sonja might be able to provide more details about our RAPHAELSOHN family members who had lived in Wilmersdorf.  I jotted down the names and last-known addresses of Hugo, Gertrud (FALK), Helene (JACOBY) and Else and left them with Katja.

Six weeks later, I received information from Sonja via Katja about Hugo, Helene and Else.  The new information included the fact that Helene and Else had been in forced labor for a company called Elektro Glimmer und Presswerke Scherb & Schwer KG in Weißensee.  The company manufactured capacitors and other 1940s electronic components. The plant at Lehderstraße 34/35 was just over 1 km west of the Weißensee cemetery.

There was no new information about Gertrud, since she had lived in Schöneberg, not in Wilmersdorf.  Nevertheless, I immediately wondered whether Gertrud had worked at the same place as her sisters.  There may have been something reassuring about the possibility that she was with, or relatively near, her sisters during this increasingly difficult period of forced labor.

Sonja was kind enough (among all her kindnesses) to forward my inquiry about Gertrud to her colleague Hannelore (another kind soul) who works with the Stolpersteine project in Berlin-Schöneberg.   This led to the easy decision to request a Stolperstein to be prepared and laid in the sidewalk outside Motzstraße 47, Gertrud's last address before she was deported.  And that unleashed the formidable research energy, skill and determination of Hannelore in the service of uncovering details about Gertrud's life in Berlin.  Just yesterday (19 March 2012), Hannelore's research led to this note:

I had now access to the records of your grandmother Gertrud in the so-called Brandenburgisches Landeshauptarchiv.  Among the files there is the so-called "Vermögenserklärung" (Declaration of Property) your grandmother filled in.  Now we have full evidence that your grandmother was forced to compulsory labour in the same company like her sister Helene as you already supposed. She writes in the column "Last employment": "Scherb & Schwer Weissensee at a wage of 16,-- RM a week".

This is now -- another puzzle piece found.  Siemens has culpability for its Nazi-era actions, but they are not directly implicated in crimes against my grandmother Gertrud.  That honor falls on Scherb & Schwer and its successors in interest, including Richard Jahre GmbH which acquired Scherb & Schwer in 1979.

This trail could end here, but one thing always leads to another.   According to a website on the components used to make the Enigma machine ("Hellschreiber"), Scherb & Schwer was one of the contributing companies (even if "the prime manufacturer of the Hellschreiber was Siemens-Halske").  The firm Scherb & Schwer was the "Arjan" successor company to the formerly Jewish-owned company Jaroslaw's Erste Glimmer-Waren Fabrik.  Based on Berliner Adressbücher entries, Jaroslaws was founded by Dr. Benno JAROSLAW (b.ca.1873) before the First World War.

A new question:  Was this Dr. Benno JAROSLAW the same person as Benno JAROSLAW, son of David JAROSLAW and Friederike SCHREIBER (1842-1875)?  Friederike was a second cousin of Gertrud's husband Dr.med. Hermann FALK (1875-1932), my grandfather.

 1940 Berliner Adressbuch

1941 Berliner Adressbuch