The Initial Plea for Help - Black Market Passport Business

Another blog in my series focused on the black market passport business run by Jürgen Ziebell in Berlin. I highly recommended that you read my earlier blog for an overview of the sale of black market passports to Berlin Jews, as related by Josef Jakobs and Frau Lily Knips. Another key blog reviews the characters involved in the business which had several strands including Finnish and Irish passports. I am currently writing a blog series about the Jews who purchased forged Finnish passports via the Finnish smuggler, Algoth Niska. It was only in late September 1938 that Niska apparently made a deal whereby Ziebell purchased a batch of forged Finnish passports for his Jewish clients. As it turns out, Niska was selling forged passports to unsuspecting Jews all through July and August 1938 telling them that he was an official of the Finnish government or a Finnish policeman or... He was none of those things and you can read more about Niska in an earlier blog.

A key source for these stories is the 2009 Finnish thesis by Jussi Samuli Laitinen which I roughly translated with the help of Google Translate. It provides names and birth dates of Niska's clients which has been invaluable in tracing these individuals with certainty. Another key document was the MI6 report on Niska's activities, contained within one of the Security Service files on Josef Jakobs. These documents and a variety of genealogical sites form the backbone of the stories...

Individuals with a birth date are generally traceable, but not always. Part of the problem lies in the limits of genealogical resources which are rich for the UK, USA and, to some extent, Germany and Austria, but less so for other countries. For example, there isn't much online genealogical information for France, Switzerland, Palestine, Cuba, the Balkans or the Nordic countries. If Jewish refugees took any of these paths to freedom... they don't leave much of a trace. In many instances, no news is not actually good news.

I am going to begin each individual story with the information from the Laitinen thesis and the MI6 report, as these provide a factual leaping off point.

Niska couldn't have sold his Finnish passports without someone to open doors within the Jewish community in Germany. There were the two Jewish men who visited Helsinki in May 1938 and told him about the plight of the Jews: Albert Amtmann and Emmanuel Gartenberg.

What became of these men? Did they actually manage to escape the horrors of the Shoah?

Albert Amtmann
Laitinen: Albert Amtmann was born 13 July 1896 in Vienna. His wife, Maria (nee Küpperer [actually Kipperer]) was born 13 September 1899.  Albert and his wife lived at Düssseldorferstraße 51 in Berlin-Wilmersdorf. Albert had awoken Niska to the plight of the Jews during a trip to Helsinki in May 1938. When Niska first arrived in Berlin in July 1938, he met a group of Jews at the Amtmann residence.
MI6: Simply notes their names and Albert’s birth date. The one thing of note is that the MI6 report lists the surname as “Altmann” and this is the same surname that Niska used in his book. The discrepancy is hard to explain although Niska did use cover names for many of his clients in his book.

Albert Amtmann was born 13 July 1896 in Vienna to Josef Amtmann (1858-1938) and Josefine Bringer (1866-1940). Albert's parents had been married in 1895 in Vienna and his father, Josef, was an "agent" who had been born in Jassy (now Iași), Romania. Albert's mother, Josefine had been born in Lemberg (now Lviv), Galicia (a contested piece of territory at the intersection of modern-day Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine). Josef and Josefine had had several older children, all born illegitimate but legitimised after Josef and Josefine married in 1895: Irene, Isabella, Karoline, Paul Siegfried.

Albert's wife, Maria Kipperer, was born 13 September 1899 in Graz, Austria to Alois Kipperer and Aloisia Leitgeb. Albert and Maria were married on  16 August 1921 in Vienna. At some point, the couple moved to Berlin where they lived at Düsseldorferstraße 51 in Berlin-Wilmersdorf.

On 20 September 1941, Albert and his wife Maria (Mary) sailed from Lisbon, Portugal for New York aboard the SS Excambion. Albert was a merchant and he and his wife were stateless having an “undefined” nationality. They were not traveling with forged Finnish passports. Their race was given as Hebrew. Albert had been born in Vienna while Maria had been born in Graz. Their US immigration visas had been issued on 3 June 1941 in Marseille, France, which was also their last place of permanent residence. From this, we can deduce that the Amtmann’s managed to escape to France, from whence they successfully applied for a US visa. They were two of the fortunate ones. It may be that family connections facilitated their visa application since they were planning on joining Albert’s uncle, David Amtmann, who lived on Morris Avenue in the Bronx.

The Amtmann’s arrived in New York on 29 September 1941 and likely heaved a sigh of relief. They were safe. The following year, on 7 April 1942, Albert and his wife applied for US naturalisation. According to the form, the couple resided at 101 West 80th Street, New York, just across the street from the American Museum of Natural History. Albert was an antique dealer which aligns with his 1938 trips to Helsinki in which he was selling carpets. Albert was a rather portly man weighing 170 lbs but only reaching 5’3” tall. The couple had no children. That same year, Albert would register with the US Draft. Albert was naturalised on 23 January 1947 and Maria was naturalised on 12 May 1947.

The couple traveled extensively from 1948 to 1958, shuttling between the United States and Europe. They would often spend months in Germany as part of their trips and it would appear that at some point, Albert and his wife moved back to Germany.

Albert Amtmann died on 10 July 1969 at the age of 72 years in the Hospital zum Heiligen Geist (Holy Spirit Hospital) in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. He had a stroke which resulted in brain infarction (death of brain tissue due to reduced blood supply). He was cremated and his wife received his effects and a report of his death on 7 August 1969 at her address in Frankfurt, Rossertstrasse 6. From 1973 onward, Maria is listed in the Frankfurt telephone books. On 18 February 1991, Maria passed away in Frankfurt

The Laitinen thesis stated that Amtmann had reserved three of the first batch of forged Finnish passports for his family back in Vienna, some of whom had gone to Prague. Albert had four siblings and two parents - what became of them?
  • Isabella Bringer-Amtmann - born 15 May 1885 in Vienna - no further information although she may have passed away as a child in 1892
  • Irene Bringer-Amtmann - born 6 February 1887 under the surname Bringer - married Ludwig Paul Ullmann on 9 September 1915 in Vienna. Their story is briefly told in a book about Varian Fry. Ludwig was a journalist and editor who had written against Hitler and the Nazis and was wanted by the Gestapo. He fled to Hungary on foot after the Anschluss and ended up in Paris. After the fall of France, he and Irene sought refuge in the southern unoccupied zone where, in 1940, he wrote a letter to the Emergency Rescue Committee requesting assistance for his urgent case (he was in serious danger from the Nazis). They lived in hiding for the next two years until, finally, on 22 May 1942, they were granted US visas in Marseilles. They traveled from Lisbon to the United States aboard the SS Serpa Pinto the following month. This escape route is very similar to that of Albert and his wife, who also received US visas in Marseilles, albeit a year earlier. Ludwig passed away in 1959 while Irene passed away in February 1979 in Switzerland.
  • Karoline Bringer-Amtmann - born 2 December 1888 in Vienna - married a Swiss man named Guinnard who apparently passed away before 1942 - Karoline was in Switzerland in 1942 and living in Zurich in 1959.
  • Paul Siegfried Amtmann - born 29 December 1893 in Vienna - Paul went to Prague in 1940 and, on 21 May 1940, applied for permission to emigrate to Shanghai. He was unsuccessful. Paul/Pavel Amtmann was deported aboard Transport E, Train Da 20 from Prague to Lodz, Ghetto, Poland on 3 November 1941. He did not survive.
  • Their parents divorced on 2 May 1908. Their father, Josef Amtmann, then remarried in 1922 to Gisela Kann Rappaport. Josef and Gisela divorced in 1927. Josef died 25 November 1938 in Vienna (80 years old). Their mother, Josefine Bringer, remarried in 1908 to Edmund Blitz. Josefine passed away 2 February 1940 in Vienna (74 years old).
Most of this information came from the Geni and GenTeam sites which have quite a bit of information on the Amtmann family. It isn't clear from the Laitinen thesis who the three members of the Amtmann family would have been. In mid-July Niska traveled to Prague and met Albert there. At that time, mention is made of an Alfred Schapiro who wanted to buy some passports. It isn't clear from the source documents if Alfred got his passports in mid-July or in early August, when Niska came to Prague a second time. It also isn't clear how Alfred Schapiro is related to the Amtmann family.

Emmanuel Gartenberg
Laitinen: Emmanuel Gartenberg was an Austrian who had been born on 14 April 1888.
MI6: No mention of Gartenberg.

There isn't a lot of information to go on and I've not found much on Emmanuel. In 1935, there was an Emanuel Gartenberg living in Vienna at Schönbrunnerstraße 143. There is no further information on this individual.

There is also an Emmanuel/Manuel Gartenberg living in New York according to the 1920, 1930 and 1940 US census. This individual married Hattie Streifer in 1924 and, according to the 1930 census, they had two children. This Emmanuel Gartenberg was born in Galicia, Austria on 2 January 1893. It would seem unlikely that this individual is our Emmanuel as the birth dates are quite different.

I have also not found Emmanuel Gartenberg in the Yad Vashem database of individuals who perished in the Shoah.

Jussi Samuli Laitinen; Huijari vai pyhimys? Algoth Niskan osallisuus juutalaisten salakuljettamiseen Keski-Euroopassa vuoden 1938 aikana; Joensuun yliopisto; 2009 [Jussi Samuli Laitinen; Crook or saint? Participation of Algoth Niska in smuggling Jews in Central Europe during 1938; University of Joensuu; 2009]
Algoth Niska & J. Jerry Danielsson - Over Green Borders (1995) - English translation of Yli vihreän rajan published in 1953.
National Archives, Kew - Security Service files on Josef Jakobs - KV 2/24, 2/25, 2/26, 2/27
Ancestry - genealogical information - genealogical information on Amtmann family - Austrian genealogical information


Popular posts from this blog

Clara Bauerle is Finally Laid to Rest

Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?

The Truth about Clara Bauerle