30 August 2019

Niska's Passport clients in Prague - Black Market Passport Business

Preamble
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.

Introduction
Palace Hotel, Prague
(from Palace Hotel site)
In mid July and early August 1938, Algot Niska made two trips to Prague. The first was to hand over three passports to the Amtmann family. Niska met Albert Amtmann at the Palace Hotel in Prague where he was introduced to Alfred Abraham Schapiro. It isn't clear how, or if, Alfred is related to the Amtmanns. It also isn't clear if Alfred received his passports in mid-July or in early August.

In early August, Niska again traveled to Prague, likely with a fresh batch of passports and met Albert Amtmann and Alfred Schapiro at the Hotel Alcron. He was also introduced to Leo Wiesen, a Berlin businessman who wanted to purchase a passport. A few days later, Niska met Richard Neumann who also wanted to purchase a passport, believing it was a legitimate Finnish document. Later, Neumann also requested two passports for Arthur and Hedvig Stern who purchased the passports without ever meeting Niska.

What became of these three individuals?

Alfred Abraham Schapiro
Laitinen thesis: Alfred Abraham Schapiro was born 22 March 1894 in Novogrudok, Lithuania and owned a trade in Berlin. He was quite wealthy but had left his business behind when he traveled to Prague. He bought three passports from Niska in Prague in July/August 1938. Schapiro later sold one of the passports. On 31 August 1938, Schapiro flew to Strasbourg and from there to Paris where he settled in the Hotel Scribe. In mid-September, a Jewish woman named Betty Kohn approached the Finnish Embassy in Prague and told them that Schapiro had sold her a passport and that he was living in Paris. This was apparently the first indication the Finns received that forged Finnish passports were being circulated through Europe. Schapiro was requested to report to the Finnish Embassy in Paris where his passport was found to be forged. He was arrested in the autumn of 1938 and held for a trial date in November 1938.

MI6 report: Confirmed the name, birth date and birth location of Schapiro. It also noted that he was a businessman and that he had been arrested in Paris.

In searching through Ancestry, I found an Alfred Schapiro living in Berlin from 1934 to 1938, the owner of a textile company (coats). The Jewish Businesses in Berlin (1930-1945) website lists an Alfred Schapiro who founded a textile and clothing business (coats and skirts) in 1933. The business was located at Kronenstrasse 23 (Berlin Mitte) and was transferred in 1935 (likely to Aryan ownership) and liquidated in 1938. This doesn’t quite match the Berlin address books which have the business located at Jerusalemer Straße 17 while Alfred Schapiro was resident at Budapester Straße 7.

Beyond that, I haven’t been able to find anything further on Alfred Schapiro. There was an Abraham Alfred Schapiro who emigrated to the United States, but he was born 21 October 1898 in Kovno, Russia. Similarly, I have not found a concrete match for Alfred in the records of the Yad Vashem database of those who perished in the Shoah. The fate of Alfred remains a mystery.

Leo Wiesen
Hotel Alcron - Prague (from TripAdvisor)
Hotel Alcron - Prague
(from TripAdvisor)
Laitinen thesis: Leo Wiesen was a Jewish businessman who owned a well-known Berlin clothing store. He met Niska in Prague in early August 1938 at the Hotel Alcron and paid 7000 German Marks for a passport. According to Laitinen, Leo Wiesen may have ended up in London by 14 October 1938.

MI6 report - Leo does not appear.

The Berlin address books have a Leo Wiesen, Kaufmann (businessman) living at Platanenalle 39 in Berlin-Charlottenburg from 1929 to 1934. Beyond that, we have nothing.

I haven’t found a business associated with that name in the database of Jewish Businesses in Berlin (1930-1945).

I also haven’t found any evidence of Leo Wiesen in England, although he may have anglicized his last name, which would make it difficult to trace him. The lack of a birth date also makes the search challenging.

Richard Neumann
Laitinen thesis: Richard Neumann was born 2 June 1893 in Vienna. He was a commercial agent and purchased a passport from Niska at the Hotel Alcron in Prague in early August 1938. Laitinen notes that Neumann probably ended up in London in the autumn of 1938.

MI6 report:  Richard Neumann was an agent born in Vienna on 2 June 1893.

Austrian genealogical records confirm that Richard Neumann was born on 2 June 1893 in Vienna. His parents were Julius Neumann and Helene Bosel who had married the previous year. The couple have several other children: Friedrich (born 1895), Margarethe (born 15 May 1900) and Hans (1903). We then have nothing on Richard, beyond what we are told from Laitinen's thesis until... 1939.

Richard Neumann (later changed his name to Newmann) and his wife Irma Neumann were listed on the 1939 National Registration for Paddington, London. According to the document, Richard was born 2 June 1893 and his wife Irma was born 25 September 1892. A marginal note suggests that Irma’s birth name was Ilse Wertheim, although it is interesting to note that the next flat (Flat 11) has a Hans & Ilse Wertheim in residence. Hans was born 1904 in Vienna. Could they be relatives?

Richard gave his occupation as Managing Director whereas Irma was Private Means. There is a closed record below Richard and Irma, which could be a child. The closed record is followed by a Margarete Dux, a widow, born on 15 May 1900. Her name is followed by another closed record, possibly her child. Margarete is likely Richard's sister who was also born on 15 May 1900. There was also a Margarete Dux from Czechoslovakia who was naturalised in the UK in 1948. More research would be required to see if this is the same lady. Richard and his family were living in Flat 10 at Streatham House.

Irma was deemed exempt from internment on 8 January 1940 as a Category C alien. Her nationality was Austrian and her place of birth (spelled very clearly on two forms) was KOMATAU or KOMATOW, a location I have yet to find anywhere in Austria (or the surrounding countries). The closest seems to be KOMAROW in former Galicia, Austria.

On 5 November 1940, Richard was deemed exempt from internment as a Category C alien. His regular occupation was export manager and his present occupation was belt manufacturer. He was living at 2 Streatham Place in London. Richard was naturalised as a British citizen in February 1948.

Arthur and Hedvig Stern
Laitinen thesis: Arthur and Hedvig Stern were Germans who had come to Prague in February 1937. Arthur worked as a Deputy Director at the Anglo-Continental Buying Agency Ltd. He and his wife were friends of Richard Neumann and, through him, bought two passports from Niska (without ever meeting him). Despite the fact that they had Finnish passports, they did not try to leave Czechoslovakia. Arthur was arrested on 13 February 1939.

MI6 report: Simply notes that Arthur and his wife Hedvig Stern had been arrested in Prague.

Without birth dates, these two individuals are very hard to trace. There are an awful lot of Arthur and Hedvig/Hedwig Sterns out there.

Sources
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
Geni.com - genealogical information
GenTeam.at - Austrian genealogical information
Yad Vashem - Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names

No comments: