04 September 2019

Black Market Passport Business - Berlin Clients - Fritz Lasch & Family

Preamble to Fritz Lasch & Family
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
In August 1938, Niska returned to Berlin from Prague and met Fritz Lasch who wished to purchase three passports from himself and his family. The Lasch family story deserves its own blog post as it is quite involved.

Fritz Lasch & Family
Laitinen thesis: Fritz J. Lasch was born on 4 August 1892 in Berlin. He was the former owner of J. Lasch & Sons Ltd, a glove factory. Lasch bought three passports from Niska in August 1938, paying 6000 German Marks for the forged documents. Lasch apparently believed Niska’s story that the passports were genuine. That autumn, the Lasch family, Fritz, his wife Basjo Beila (Sudarsky) (born 25 April 1897 in Lithuania) and their son Heinz (born 5 May 1924), departed for Amsterdam and then on to Paris. The Lasch family tried to live an unobtrusive existence in Paris, staying under the radar of the authorities who, in September 1938, had become aware of the forged Finnish passports circulating through Europe (thanks to Alfred Schapiro's sale of one of them). In mid-April 1939, Fritz Lasch was called to the Finnish embassy in Paris to verify his identity. The Finns quickly discovered that his passport was forged. Laitinen ends his brief paragraphs on the Lasch family by stating that Fritz Lasch boarded a transport on 22 November 1942 bound for Auschwitz and then on to Riga.

MI6 report: Simply notes “Fritz Lasch, particulars unknown”.

The Laitinen thesis had no information on Fritz's wife or son. It is a rather sad story but there is some good news: Basjo Beila Lasch and her son Heinz did escape the horrors of the Shoah. Why Fritz perished in the Shoah is unknown.

Fritz was born on 4 August 1892 to factory owner Emil Lasch and his wife Hertha Behrendt. He and Bassia Beila Sudarski were married on 17 December 1920 in Berlin. Beila had been born on 25 April 1897 in Wirballen, Lithuania (now Virbalis). Normally the marriage registrations list the names of the parents of the bride and groom but that is not the case on this registration. Although one Emil Lasch, age 59 (born 1861), was a witness to the marriage and is likely Fritz’s father.

There was also a glove manufacturer in Berlin called J. Lasch & Sohn at Oranienstrasse 70. The business was founded in 1903, transferred in 1934 (likely to Aryan ownership) and liquidated in 1941. This is likely the same company as mentioned in the Laitinen thesis.

Fritz and Bassia's marriage registration also had a marginal note which stated that the groom (Fritz) Lasch was declared deceased on 25 January 1980 and that the date of death was declared as 31 December 1945. This would seem to be one of the post-Shoah death declarations which are all too common in German vital records.

Fritz Lasch appears in the Yad Vashem database as a victim of the Shoah. According to their records, Fritz was deported on Transport 45, Train Da.901/38 from Drancy Camp France to Auschwitz on 11/11/1942. He was then sent on to Riga.

The Yad Vashem records include two pages of testimony for Fritz, one from 1977 and one from 1995, both from Fritz’s son, Henry I. Lasch of California. Knowing that Heinz/Heinrich/Henry Lasch ended up in the United States makes his trail relatively easy.

Heinrich Isaac Lasch was born 5 May 1924 in Berlin to Fritz Lasch and Bassia Beila Sudarsky. We know that he was naturalised in the United Kingdom on 24 July 1948. How he came to the UK is partially explained by a London Gazette notice of 17 August 1948 which published his naturalisation. According to the Gazette, Heinz Isaac Lasch was a student, formerly of Palestine, living at 85 Priory Road in London. Once Heinz was naturalised in the UK, he didn’t linger long, making the leap across the Atlantic to North America on 25 September 1948. He sailed from Liverpool aboard the SS Ascania, destination Montreal, Canada. This was not his final destination, however, as he arrived at St. Alban, Vermont border crossing by train on 4 October 1948.

Heinz/Henry was a strapping young man, standing just under 6 feet tall and weighing 189 pounds with blue eyes and brown hair. On 21 December 1953, he married divorcee Jindra Hanna (nee Bakrlikova) Cermak (or Cermakova), born 4 October 1919 (or 1909) in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Jindra’s parents were Jindrich Bakrlik and Anna Poesler, both of Czechoslovakia. Jindra had arrived in the US via New York on 22 February 1948 aboard the SS Hastings. There is an intriguing letter that Jindra wrote to the US Consulate in 1957 seeking assistance regarding her family’s villa in Czechoslovakia. The villa had been confiscated by the authorities and Jindra was seeking the assistance of the US authorities. The letter also noted that:
“After the World War II, I worked for about 3 years for the U.S. Government, first in Czechoslovakia, then in Germany. (Sudeten German expulsion and later tracing children, kidnapped by the Nazis, in Germany). Due to this job my life was endangered and I was granted a special visa to enter this country in 1948.”
Jindra was naturalised on 26 June 1953. Heinz/Henry applied for naturalisation in 1954 while living in Los Angeles, California. He gave his occupation as “Manufacturer’s Representative”.

Jindra passed away on 5 January 2006 in San Diego, California at the age of 86. Heinz/Henry passed away ten days later on 15 January 2006 in San Diego at the age of 85. Was it an accident? Or an illness? Or perhaps Henry couldn’t carry on without his beloved wife.

This, at least, answers the question surrounding Fritz Lasch’s son. What, however, became of his wife: Bassia/Bassjo Beila (Sudarski) Lasch? The answer lies in that Gazette notice of Heinz Lasch stating that he had come to the UK via Palestine.

After a few dead ends which suggested that Bassia had died in the United States as Beatrice Sudarsky… I found an entry on the Geni website which seems more of a match.

Wirballen, Lithuania postcard from Wikipedia
Wirballen, Lithuania postcard from Wikipedia
The Geni site notes that Batja (Bassja) Lasch (Sudarsky) was born 1895 in Vershkolov, Lithuania. This is likely supposed to be Verzhbolovo - the Russian name for Wirballen (or Virbalis) according to the JewishGen website. [Thank you to Traugott Vitz for directing me to this site!]

The date of birth isn’t that far off and errors like around birth dates can be quite common when relatives/friends are giving an individual’s information at their death. The Geni site says she was born in 1895 while her marriage registration states she was born in 1897.

The Geni information notes that Batja/Bassja was the daughter of Itzchak (Itzale) Sudarsky and Hinde Sudarsky. She had several siblings: Chaje-Sara (Chajsara), Zelig, Mendel (Dr.), Eliezer, Efraim, Braina, Chaim-Leib, Libbie, Nissan and Jakob. A rather large family!

According to the Geni info, Batja/Bassja was the wife of Fritz Lasch and the mother of Heinz Lasch and Ernst Lasch. Batja/Bassja passed away in September 1980 in Tel Aviv at the age of 85. The note about Ernst Lasch, another possible son, is intriguing. I have come across no other information to confirm this and it is possible that: (a) Ernst was older than Heinz and had already left Germany by 1938 or (b) Ernst had passed away prior to 1938.

The Geni information was posted online by one Nadav Gruengard. I did notice that a “Faivel” Grüngard had been a witness at Fritz and Batja/Bassia’s wedding in 1920. Some searching and it turns out that Nadav’s father was Jehuda Isaac Gruengard, born 1912 in Virbalis (Wirballen) Lithuania. And that Jehuda’s father was Feivel Gruengard. Perhaps the Gruengards and Sudarskys are distantly related.

We now know what happened to the rest of Fritz Lasch’s family. Somehow Bassia and her son, Heinz, escaped France and made their way to Palestine. Why they escaped and Fritz did not is a mystery. From Palestine, Heinz then made his way to the UK and ultimately the United States. It would seem pretty clear at this point, that their forged Finnish passports did not provide them with a ticket to safety and freedom, as evidenced by Fritz’s own death in the Shoah.

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

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