Hermann Gärtner was born on May 22, 1876 in Ruppichteroth as the fourth child of Simon Gärtner and his wife Regina Nathan. From 1898 to 1900 he served the 1st regiment von Goeben, 2nd Rheinisches, #28 at the fortress Ehrenbreitstein near Koblenz. In 1908 the butcher married Selma Mayer (* May 3, 1879) from Laufersweiler, Hunsrück, daughter of Bernhard Mayer and Bertha Salomon. The same year daughter Irma was born, nine years later son Paul.
The family ran a large butcher shop at Wilhelmstraße in Ruppichteroth. Hermann Gärtner served at the front during WWI, with only a short interruption due to sciatica. In 1924 Selma Gärtner was killed in a car accident in Hunsrück. In 1928 or 1929 Hermann Gärtner married Helene Winter from Rommerskirchen. She was registered in Ruppichteroth until 1932, but then went back to Rommerskirchen. Obviously the couple split up. Helene was deported from Köln to Lodz in 1941.
Daughter Irma attended the local cooking school around 1925. In 1929 she went to Hamburg and Berlin for some months. Irma often spent time at Bad Buckow, a resort located just outside of Berlin, where she would swim, meet friends and take a break from city life. On May 5, 1931 Irma married Hugo Tobias of Hamm on Sieg. They moved to Cologne where Hugo started working for Katz-Rosenthal, a Jewish owned butcher and snack bar chain. The pair lived in the rear house of Eigelstein 137, situated at a plaza in front of the medieval Eigelstein gate, once the northern entrance to the city of Cologne.
On April 1, 1933, the nationwide boycott of Jewish businesses took place. Since Hitler had seized power, Jews all over the world were protesting against his politics and some called up for a boycott of German goods. The Nazis therefore commanded a “re-boycott” and posted SA-men (storm troopers of the Nazi party) in front of every Jewish shop that morning, in order to discourage people from buying there. Hermann Gärtner boiled with indignation when a little girl brought back the meat he just sold her because she was told to do so by the SA. He was so angry that he went into several pubs in town and got completely drunk. That afternoon he met a neighbor and they got into a quarrel about the boycott. Hermann felt humbled, especially because he had served his country during the War and was one of the first to donate for a memorial for the fallen soldiers of Ruppichteroth. The neighbor insisted it was necessary to do something against the “horrible lies” of the foreign press, but Hermann disagreed and felt they weren’t lying because he had heard of Jews being abused in Marburg.
A few days later Hermann was taken into protective custody after the neighbor had reported their conversation to party members. The mayor was „afraid” people could get angry and attack him. Hermann recently had shown him an anonymous letter from Waldbröl threatening him his life if he didn’t leave Ruppichteroth by March 28. The neighbor stated that Hermann had proclaimed that 300 Jews were lying in the hospital of Marburg after being battered by Nazis. Hermann didn’t even remember their conversation at the time, nor the number of 300 abused Jews.
After a month at the prison of Siegburg he was released, only to be arrested again two weeks later and taken to the Klingelpütz prison in Cologne. The Special Court of Cologne accused him of “false and defacing assertions against the National Socialist State.” Although during the trial several witnesses stated that Hermann Gärtner had been drunk that day, the neighbor said he didn’t notice any drunkenness, and so the Court decided Hermann was fully responsible for his “false proclaims” and sentenced Hermann to 10 months of prison.
The world collapsed on Irma: her father was locked up behind bars; her husband Hugo lost his job at Katz-Rosenthal at the end of April; she was seven months pregnant, and her 16-year old brother Paul, was running around with no one able to take care of him. Helene, the second wife of Hermann, had packed her things and went back to her mother in Rommerskirchen. Irma’s 90-year old grandfather Simon was also economically dependent on Hermann’s income as a butcher. Agnes Müller, a neighbor of Eigelstein and member of the NSDAP, was shattered by the family’s fate and wrote a letter to the Court, begging for mercy, stating she was afraid that Irma and Paul might commit suicide in desperation. Irma and Helene also submitted petitions for clemency, and Hermann wrote a letter to Prime Minister Hermann Göring, asking that he be credited for time already served during the investigation. That request was denied. He had to serve every single day of his 10 months detention.
When Hermann Gärtner was released at the end of March 1934, his grandson Wolfgang was already six months old. Wolfgang was born on September 22, 1933 in his parent’s apartment in Eigelstein. It’s very likely that Hugo and Irma tried to get visas right away to leave the country. At this point there seemed to be little hope for better days to come. Paul made it to Palestine around 1937. Hugo’s brother Julius was the first to leave for the United States in October 1937. Hugo and Irma spent the rest of their assets for a passage aboard the “SS Berlin” leaving the port of Bremerhaven on December 11, 1937.
When Hugo, Irma and their four-year old son Wolfgang finally arrived in Ellis Island on December 21, 1937, the three of them were safe, but still deeply concerned about the ones they left behind, especially Irma’s father. Hermann already had to sell his property in 1932 before his imprisonment and since then had lived and worked with brother Gustav in Ruppichteroth. His elderly father Simon Gärtner had died on July 7, 1937. In the spring of 1938, Hermann was warned by a policeman that he might get arrested again and decided then to flee to the Netherlands. We don’t know if he was friends with any Dutch cattle dealers, but he found a place to live in Achttienhoven, Westbroek near Utrecht. It was a rural village where a small number of Jewish refugees lived. The farmers were still able to provide some labor and food for them. Hermann was called the “green Jew” in town because it was the color of his only jacket that he wore everyday.
Irma’s brother Paul had come from Haiffa, Palestine via Le Havre to the United States in September 1938. In September 1938 Hermann applied for a visa to follow his children to the United States, but it was desperate. The quotas had been exceeded for years. He was getting on in years, suffered from sciatica since WWI, and all efforts to open a necessary bank account in America failed because of unobtainable requirements. It was a vicious circle. The American Consulate of Rotterdam asked him to refrain from further inquiries as this will only delay the processing. Irma continued trying to obtain a visa for Cuba, but this alternative also failed. After a short stay in Zuider Amstellaan, Amsterdam, Hermann was arrested in September 1942, ultimately moved to the central Westerbork Transit Camp and transported to Auschwitz. He was killed there only six days later on September 24, 1942.
Hermann wrote on November 12, 1933 to Hermann Göring, Prussian Prime Minister, Berlin (Source: State archive of North-Rhine-Westphalia, Ger.-Rep. 112 / 16379):
I apply to you, Mr. Prime Minister, with the appeal for mercy as a combat veteran and former serving soldier. After serving 6 weeks of preventive custody I was further sentenced to 10 months of arrest, because I am said to have spoken out in my hometown Ruppichteroth to a single person, that in Marburg there were lying a number of Jews who have been beaten by members of the party.
The background is the following:
Now 58 years old I have served the 1. Regiment von Goeben, 2. Rheinisches, No. 28 in Ehrenbreitstein (Koblenz) between 1898 and 1900. Was sent to the front shortly after the outbreak of war, have been there steadily for 2 1/4 years as you can see from my military papers exhibited by lawyer Dr. Clementz, Köln, and took part in numerous combats. From there I have been sent back home seriously ill. After half a year in heavy sickbed I went back to my battalion. As well as during my serving time as during my time as a frontsoldier my report was behavior: good, no penalties. Since 32 years I am member of the comradely veteran’s association in my hometown Ruppichteroth, always regarded as a loyal citizen, so I was the first to donate 50 RM for a memorial for the fallen soldiers of the world war. For my reputation I name the following personalities from Ruppichteroth as witnesses:
Mayor Mr. Manner
Priest Mr. Karl Werner
Pastor Mr. Wilhelm Zeiler
My first wife was killed in an accident some years after the world war. I stand here without assets but two children, one of them in need of education, and further have to feed my 90 year old father. In this situation and after the boycott of my butcher shop on April 1 I was deeply hurt. In this condition I – always known to be a sober man – wanted to kill my pain with alcohol and in this state I am said to have done this remark. Do I have to distinguish with such a background how deeply I regretted this alleged remark?
Therefore, Mr. Prime Minister, I beg you to temper justice with mercy and to remit the rest of my penalty, after I have served 7 months overall now for this unfortunate comment. You’d approve high grace to a good citizen and his family and I beg you to be convinced that I will prove myself worthy for such a benefaction hereafter.
At the appeal from 11/12/1933 and the appeal to me from 11/5/1933 I am not led to support any kind of pardon. Based on my administered empowerment according to § 47, par. 3, Prussian law of execution of sentences and mercy from August, 10 1933 (G.S. p. 293), I hereby decline your request in the name of the Minister of Justice.
Letter from Hermann Gärtner to his daughter Irma, sent from the Netherlands, probably in October 1941.
Dear Hugo, Irma and Walther!
Your Rosh Hashana letter reached me on time when I came from the synagogue the 2nd day it was there and I rejoiced about it as always. The holiday seasons blessedly slipped by well. The last days of Sukkot I was with the beloved ones in Amsterdam, and these days are always nice memories for me. Tomorrow Tuesday Henry Kahn and his wife will visit me. The holiday seasons however were very exhausting for many of us. You can’t do anything about it and no one can escape one’s fate. Dear children, I shouldn’t boast about it but I’m blessedly doing fine healthwise and I am happy going to work every morning, that helps me to get over many things. I get much mail from uncle Gustav, he continually sends me money, but I shall send him [N.B.: food, goods] for that. I do it as far as possible. In Amsterdam I met many acquaintances. Ella’s daughter Eva is a tall beautiful girl. Dear Hugo, Mayer’s daughters, sisters of Sally, have been introduced to me as so many else. I meet Hermann Moses of Rosbach in the streets and the daughters of Ferdinand [Strausz] from Dierdorf are married in Amst. Amsterdam counts 90 000 jewish souls and is a wonderful city. Concerning the further content about Paul, dear children, perhaps you could do something for me again at the last hour. Otherwise I can’t write you more […]. Dear children, stay healthy and write back soon. What do you think about the issue of Paul and Ruth. I’d like to hear your judgment and opinion, because you certainly got to know the family in the meantime. So dear children keep in touch. Furthermore I wish you all all the best and I am with the most heart felt regards your Father.
- Hermann Gärtner (1876-1942) ∞ Selma Mayer (1880-1924) Ruppichteroth
- Simon Gärtner (1844-1937) ∞ Regina Nathan (1847-1902) Ruppichteroth
- Salomon Gärtner (1808-1871) ∞ Veronica Mayer (1813-1855) Kobern-Gondorf
- Nathan Nathan (1814-1880) ∞ Schöngen Katz (1812-1898) Ruppichteroth