“I remember that my Uncle Hugo was a good, helpful man,” wrote Rosemarie Fleischer from Argentina, to where her mother Martha, née Haarzopf, had fled the Nazis with her husband. “He co-owned a textiles factory with a man named Troram. The last we heard of Uncle Hugo was a letter he wrote to my father asking how much the rent for a ten-room apartment in Buenos Aires would be, as he planned to come with his machines to Argentina. Unfortunately, it was no longer possible for my uncle to emigrate.”
Hugo Haarzopf was born on 20 August 1896 in what was then the small south Prussian town of Graetz (today, and before Poland’s partition, Grodzisk Wielkopolski). He had three sisters: Paula was seven when he was born, Martha was two and Julie was born after him. Hugo returned from the First World War with a number of medals and a serious facial injury. In 1920 his hometown became Polish again. His father Louis had died in 1917 in Graetz; his widow moved with her adult children to Berlin, where they started a new family business from humble beginnings. Hugo Haarzopf became a merchant and founded a business with a friend importing ready-to-wear clothing from the Netherlands.
In 1930 or 1931 he married Paula Jakob. “Uncle Hugo really liked children,” remembered Anneliese Klawonn (*1923), who had often received gifts from him. She and her brother Robert Lehmann (*1926) were the children of Hugo Haarzopf’s sister Julie. His oldest sister did not marry or have children. On 29 March 1933 Hugo’s daughter Eva was born, who remained an only child. “She was a beautiful girl with blue eyes,” wrote Anneliese Klawonn. “I remember how she once waited for me in front of the house, wearing a white dress with a yellow star on it.”
While the Nazi harassment steadily intensified, Haarzopf managed to keep his business running until 1938. After its closure, he bought eight crank-operated embroidery machines and opened a tailor’s shop in his large apartment at Schönhauser Allee 41, where he made dressing gowns with his sisters Julie and Paula, his mother and wife. The apartment was on the first floor.
By this time, his other sister Martha Joachimsthal, née Haarzopf, had already reached Argentina with her husband via Paris and Uruguay. Initially believing that nothing would happen to him, a former serviceman in the war, Hugo put off emigrating until it was no longer possible. In the light of the worsening political situation, his sister Julie Lehmann, who was married to a Protestant, made two suicide attempts and died as a result on 29 January 1941. Shortly afterwards, Hugo Haarzopf was made to perform forced labour for Siemens. In early summer 1942, the Gestapo arrested his mother and sister Paula and took them to the deportation camp in the Grosse Hamburger Strasse, formerly the Jewish old people’s home. His mother – Ulrike Haarzopf, née Himmelweit – was deported on 27 August 1942 to the Theresientadt concentration camp, where she died on 2 October 1942, probably of exhaustion. On 13 September 1942 his sister Paula was deported to Majdanek concentration camp and murdered.
Hugo Haarzopf did not have much time left. In a nigh-time raid on 16 February 1943, the Gestapo arrested him, his wife and daughter, as well as Heinz Galinski (later chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany) and his wife Gisela, who lived just a few houses away at Schönhauser Allee 31. On 26 February 1943 the three members of the Haarzopf family were deported along with over 900 other Berlin Jews to Auschwitz. Hugo’s 36 year-old wife and 9 year-old daughter were immediately sent to the gas chamber. Hugo Haarzopf, aged 47, was sent to the Auschwitz-Monowitz camp, where he was made to perform forced labour for the Buna works.
After almost two months in Monowitz, a doctor sent Hugo to the main Auschwitz camp, where a kind of sickbay had been set up, for treatment against an ulcer on his right foot. Seven weeks later, two anthropologists working for the pseudo-scientific SS organisation Ahnenerbe (“inheritance of the forefathers”), came to select Jewish men and women here and in Block 10 for a project led by professor of anatomy August Hirt, who held a chair at the Reich University of Strasbourg. Hirt planned to build a collection of skeletons of Jews for his research into racial biology. And as he regarded the lives of concentration camp inmates as already “spent”, as he put it, he had no qualms about having them murdered after their anthropological examination.
In late July 1943, Hugo Haarzopf was taken with 56 men and 29 women to the Struthof/Natzweiler concentration camp and murdered in the gas chamber on 17 or 19 August 1943. For technical reasons, the bodies could not be immediately dissected, so they were conserved for storage in the anatomy basement of the Reich University until after the war. The Allies uncovered the crime when they liberated Strasbourg. Hirt’s assistants had hastily chopped up most of the bodies but not had time to dispose of them. The remains now lie in the Jewish Cemetery in Strasbourg. Finally identified in 2006, a gravestone now commemorates all the victims by name, including Hugo Haarzopf.