Gerhard Neumann - Client of Niska's Black Market Passport Business

Preamble to Gerhard Neumann
Another blog in my series focused on the black market passport business run by Jürgen Ziebell in Berlin during the Second World War. 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 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.

Today, we are looking at Gerhard Neumann who, in late August 1938, purchased a double passport from Niska in Berlin. Gerhard would pay one of the highest amounts for a forged document.

Gerhard Neumann
Laitinen thesis: Gerhard Neumann was born 12 June 1903 in Berlin. He bought a forged Finnish passport from Niska at the end of August 1938, paying the princely sum of 20,000 German Marks for it. The passport was different in that it was a double passport, allowing a husband and wife to travel on the same document. Neumann apparently believed Niska’s story that he was a Finnish policeman and that the passport was legitimate. Neumann traveled to southern Holland in October 1938 and onwards to Amsterdam later in the year. By then, the Dutch police were aware of the need to pay attention to German-speaking foreigners who presented Finnish passports when they registered with the authorities. In early 1939, the Amsterdam police became aware of Neumann’s arrival in southern Holland the previous fall and he was arrested and prosecuted for using a false passport. Neumann was imprisoned as an undesirable alien. Laitinen has nothing on the fate of Neumann.

MI6 report: Simply notes that Gerhard Neumann was born 12 June 1903 in Berlin and that he had been detained in Holland.

Gerhard Benjamin Neumann was born 12 June 1903 in Berlin to manufacturer Berthold Benny Neumann (1868-1934) and Ella Margarete Friedländer (1880-1976). Normally, it would be extremely difficult to determine what sort of a manufacturing business but... Gerhard's son has posted some amazing photos on Flickr. Berthold's father, Julius (Jedhuda) Neumann founded a cigar firm in 1850: J. Neumann Cigarren and Aktiengeselllschaft (AG). There is a photograph of Berthold (all rights reserved) on Flickr. Berthold passed away of a heart attack in 1934 and Gerhard took over the directorship of the company.

J. Neumann Cigarren AG - with a boycott signs  displayed in the window  (from USHMM site - picture #07425)
J. Neumann Cigarren AG - with a Nazi boycott sign
displayed in the window
(from USHMM site - picture #07425)
Gerhard had a younger sister, Eva Neumann who married surgeon Dr. Carl Felix List in Berlin in 1931. By 1934, Eva and Carl had departed Germany for the United States, settling in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It would appear that Eva was later able to help her mother escape to America, for in 1940 and thereafter, Ella was a resident of the United States, passing away in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1976.

Gerhard also had an older brother, Julius Neumann who married in 1930 in Riga, Latvia and ended up in Sweden.

As for Gerhard… he married a fellow Jewish refugee from Berlin, Inge Erna Heidemann. Inge had been born 4 January 1911 in Berlin-Charlottenburg to Siegfried Heidemann and Martha Fischbein (married 1907). The couple had two other daughters: Herta (nee Heidemann) Steinert and Marie Louise (nee Heidemann) Rose.

Heidemann Villa - Griegstrasse 5/7 - Grunewald - Berlin (from Landesdenkmalamt Berlin site)
Heidemann Villa - Griegstrasse 5/7 - Grunewald - Berlin
(from Landesdenkmalamt Berlin site)
The Heidemann family lived in a villa at Griegstrasse 5/7 in Berlin- Dahlem and Siegfried was a retired textile manufacturer, the owner of S. Wolle GmbH, located at Bischofstrasse 19/21 in Berlin-Mitte, and which had factories in Saxony. In 1935, Siegfried had to give up the business and the villa under Nazis persecution. The family then moved to a rented flat in Clauswitzstrasse 9.

A few years earlier, in 1933, two of the daughters, Marie Louise and Inge, had immigrated to Holland, while the other, Herta, had immigrated to the UK at an unknown date with her husband (Heinz Steinert) and their daughter Renate.

As the Nazi persecution worsened, in April 1937, Siegfried and his wife moved to a rental flat at Beethovenstraat 132/III in Amsterdam. That fall, Siegfried went to Zurich, Switzerland and deposited money that hadn't already been stolen in the hope that it would strengthen the case to allow Swiss immigration.

It was around this time that Inge and Gerhard were married but the exact date and location of their marriage is uncertain. A Dutch newspaper index has two entries related to the marriage of Inge and Gerhard: 24 March 1937 and 7 January 1938. Information on the MyHeritage site indicates that the couple were married in Berlin on 19 January 1938. And... information on the Flickr site of Gerhard's son indicates that his parents were married after January 1937. A picture of Gerhard, taken in preparation for his wedding, is available on the Flickr site (all rights reserved).

J. Neumann AG share certificate with the name replaced by Gildemann Cigarren Fabriken AG
J. Neumann AG share certificate with the name replaced by
Gildemann Cigarren Fabriken AG

According to Gerhard's son, the J. Neumann cigar firm underwent a forced sale at the end of January 1938 to Martin Brinkmann KG, part of the Aryanisation of Jewish businesses. Over the next few months, the firm's shareholders and directors such as Gerhard and his mother, along with others, fled to England and Holland with what little they had left. Some were arrested and perished in concentration camps such as Sobibor in Poland. In 1941, J. Neumann Cigarren AG was renamed Gildemann Cigarren Fabriken AG. 

After escaping to Amsterdam in 1938 [Gerhard] was arrested by the Dutch for a problem with his passport. [Interestingly, Gerhard's son has a picture of the Finnish embassy on his Flickr account, but no caption with it. Did he know about the Finnish passport?] [Gerhard] remained in jail in Amsterdam for several months, but with the help of Hadassah [Women's Zionist Organization of America] he was not sent back to Germany and set free. With the help of family, in England, including his cousin Fritz Oppenheimer, he obtained a visa and moved to England in early 1939. (David Neumann's Flickr stream - caption for his father's picture)

Sterling Cable Co. (from Britain from Above site)
Sterling Cable Co.
(from Britain from Above site)

By 21 November 1939, both Inge and Gerhard were living in the UK as aliens, both exempt from internment. Gerhard gave his former occupation as manager, quite a step down from his present occupation as trainee at the Sterling Cable Works in Enfield on the outskirts of London. According to Gerhard's son, it was quite remarkable that a German-Jewish refugee should be involved in the manufacture of degaussing wire used by ships to detonate mines before the ships encountered them.

Even more interesting given that Gerhard's in-laws, Herta (Heidemann) Steinert and her husband Heinz Steinert had been rousted out of their home at 10 Lancaster Lodge, Lancaster Road, and interned on the Isle of Man from the end of 1939 until early 1941 as Category B aliens. Heinz had apparently applied to the Auxilliary Military Pioneer Corps but been rejected on medical grounds.

Gerhard and Inge were living at 20 Lancaster Lodge, Lancaster Road in Notting Hill, London. Unlike some Jewish refugees, Including Herta & Heinz Steinert, there is no evidence that either Gerhard or Inge tried to become naturalised citizens of the UK. Around that same time (the last quarter of 1939), the couple had a son, David Berthold Benjamin Neumann.

On 24 May 1945, Gerhard, Inge, and their son David arrived in the United States from Liverpool, having sailed on the 13 May. All three were stateless but had US immigration visas issued in London on 25 April 1945. Gerhard gave his occupation as testing engineer and all three had been living in Cuffley, north of London. Their nearest relation in England was Gerhard’s brother-in-law, Heinz Steiner[t] living at Lancaster Lodge, Lancaster Road in Notting Hill. Their nearest relation in the United States was Gerhard’s mother, Ella Neumann living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Gerhard and his family would not reside in Michigan, however, eventually settling in New York.

On 18 December 1950, Gerhard and Inge became naturalised citizens of the United States giving their address as 120 Haven Avenue, New York. Inge would later go on to become a fashion designer. Their son David became a physical chemist, married Ruth in 1967, earned a PhD in 1968 and had two sons and a daughter in the early 1970s. Gerhard and Inge lived to see some of their grandchildren, with Gerhard passing away in New York in March 1972 while Inge passed away in 1977.

As for Inge's parents, their story is a sad one. Although all three of their daughters managed to escape Nazi-occupied Europe, Siegfried and Martha would not be so fortunate. From the Find-a-Grave entry on Siegfried:

Siegfried and Martha were forced to sell off furnishings to survive. They were forced to wear the Yellow Star and on January 27th, 1943, arrested and taken to Westerbork Camp. They were able to delay deportation by paying bribes, but on February 1st, 1944, they both were sent to Bergen-Belsen.

Siegfried died in Bergen-Belsen on 1 April 1945 while Martha died on 10 April 1945. In a cruel twist, British forces liberated Bergen-Belsen five days later on 15 April.

In the case of Gerhard and Inge, forged Finnish passports did not save them. Family connections, particularly Herta's immigration to the UK, and their cousin Fritz Oppenheimer, likely tipped the balance in their favour.

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 - Austrian genealogical information
Yad Vashem - Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names
Jewish Businesses in Berlin 1930-1945 - Database
Find-a-Grave - entry for Siegfried Heidemann
Claims Resolution Tribunal - for estate of Siegfried Heidemann
Berlin Baudenkmal - Heidemann villa in Grunewald
Flickr - David Neumann's photo stream of his family's Berlin Company - J. Neumann Cigarren AG
Wikiwand - Neumann Family
Imperial War Museum - Liberation of Bergen-Belsen 


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