Stumbling stones laid in the pavement at Goethestraße 69 commemorate the building’s previous Jewish residents. “Died fleeing deportation” are the words inscribed on the stone dedicated to Hanns Kornblum, and a date, 5 November 1943.
But what lies behind this brief information? Hanns Georg Kornblum’s story starts on 30 August 1908, when he was born in Dresden. In 1911, his parents, Eleonore Kornblum (née Kornblum, born in 1882 in Berlin) and Sally Kornblum (a merchant, born in 1878 in Leipzig), settled in the prosperous town of Charlottenburg, just outside Berlin. In around 1920, Sally Kornblum set up an import-export business here.
Hanns also completed a commercial apprenticeship, and possibly worked for his father later. Around 1935, Sally Kornblum was forced to give up his business at Schlüterstraße 17 due to the Nazis’ anti-Jewish measures.
Shortly before the outbreak of war, on 21 August 1939, Hanns Kornblum married Ottilie Schöner, a Jewish shorthand typist born in Bukovina, Romania, in 1914. Ottilie moved in with her husband and his parents at Goethestraße 69, where they had lived since about 1935.
Eventually Hanns Kornblum was recruited to perform forced labour as a machine worker. In late 1942, he faced the loss of both his parents. Sally Kornblum was deported to Auschwitz, where he died on 5 November 1942. Just one month later, on 28 December 1942, Eleonore Kornblum died of pneumonia. She was buried on New Year’s Day in the Jewish cemetery in Berlin-Weißensee. Hanns was the only one present to say the remembrance prayer “El malei rachamim” as his brother Helmut Kornblum had already emigrated to South Africa.
Hanns Kornblum, too, obviously sensed that his life was in grave danger. When a major raid of the armaments industry was conducted on 27 February 1943, aiming to round up Jewish forced labourers for deportation, he managed to go into hiding. Why he and his wife divorced in July 1943 must, like so much else, remain unexplained. Ottilie Kornblum fortunately survived the war; she died in 2004 in Frankfurt am Main.
After some six months “underground”, Hanns Kornblum tried to flee to Switzerland together with a girlfriend, 23-year-old Ilse Arendt, who was also living in hiding. Her cousin Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich had told her about Luise Meier, a widow and devout Catholic from Berlin, who helped others to flee. In the period 1943-44, Luise Meier worked with Josef Höfler, who lived at the German-Swiss border in Gottmadingen near Singen, to help some 28 Jews to escape, including Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich.
On 30 October 1943, Hanns and Ilse left Berlin on an evening train headed south. For security reasons, they travelled in separate carriages. But shortly before arriving in Singen, Hanns was arrested by police on the train who noticed an irregularity in his identity papers. While Ilse reached safety in Switzerland on 1 November 1943, her boyfriend was interrogated for days in the court prison. Finally, driven to utter desperation, he hung himself in his cell in the early hours of 5 November 1943. Three days later he was buried in the forest cemetery in Singen.
Probably around 1947, his body was transferred to the nearby Jewish cemetery in Gailingen. He was buried in a four-person grave, along with Othmar and Margarete Pollok from Berlin, who had taken their own lives in Singen in November 1942. They, too, had made escape attempts that had tragically failed.
In April 2010, a couple who had lived for several years in the house at Goethestraße 69 with the opulent art nouveau façade, and had researched its history, had stumbling stones laid for Hanns and Sally Kornblum, and for Esther Elise Weiss and Joachim Aronade.
The Silent Heroes memorial centre (Gedenkstätte Stille Helden) in Berlin-Mitte remembers the network of helpers around Luise Meier and Josef Höfler as well as the Jewish men and women who attempted to escape with their lives by going underground or fleeing abroad.