Sally Mendheim was born on 4 May 1877 (the alternative birth year 1876 is given in many sources) in Kolmar (now Chodzież, Poland), a small town in the province of Posen. His parents Eduard and Sarah ran a farm, where Sally assisted as a child and youth. He attended the local school in Kolmar until he was 13 and then completed a commercial apprenticeship in Schneidemühl (Piła).
He moved to Berlin and worked in Hermann Tietz department store from 1894 to 1905. By the time he left he was a buyer. In 1905 he set up his own ladies’ wear business, S. Mendheim Spezialhaus moderner Damenkonfektion, which moved to premises at Turm Straße 66, on the corner of Gotzkowsky Straße, in Moabit in 1910. He lived on Essener Straße until around 1914, later moving to Jagow Straße 5. In 1918 he married Feodora Weishaus, a clerk, who then worked for his business. She was a native of Berlin and 14 years younger than him. The Mendheims had two children, Doris Elisabeth (*14 March 1920) and Hans Moritz (*24 May 1924). In around 1924 they moved to Bundesrat Ufer 12 and then, in the early 1930s, to a 7-room apartment with a roof garden at Solinger Straße 10. Sally Mendheim and his family lived in relative luxury, employing several domestic helps and travelling regularly on vacation.
Sally Mendheim owned an apartment block at Emser Straße 130/131 in Neukölln. Together with his brother David, he also owned a building at Kniprode Straße 13 (Prenzlauer Berg). In the early 1930s he became the main shareholder of a wholesale ladies’ coats business, Robert Kuesell & Co., which employed some 60 members of staff and produced around 800 to 1000 coats per week in its factory workshops at Schönhauser Allee 140. His wife took over the commercial management of the family business with its offices and sales rooms at Markgrafen Straße 37. On 13 September 1937, their 17-year-old daughter Doris gave birth to a son, Ernst Eduard. She had married the baby’s father, Ludwig Lesser, prior to the birth.
During the November pogroms in 1938, the business on Turm Straße was ransacked and looted. Shortly afterwards, Sally Mendheim was forced to sell it at far less than its fair value under the “decree to eliminate Jews from the German economy”. He also had to sell his real estate and his shares in the Kuesell company, leaving the family with no source of income. In addition, they were forced to hand in their valuables and pay “Jewish property tax” and “Reich flight tax” to the order of around 30,000 Reich marks.
In April 1939 Sally Mendheim’s children Doris and Hans emigrated to the United States. Doris’ son Ernst stayed with his grandparents in Berlin. Doris settled in New York, where she re-married after gaining a divorce. In the 1940s, she had two children with her second husband, Fred Schott. Hans, who changed his name to John, went to Chicago where he completed high school and studied.
Shortly after the children’s escape, Sally Mendheim took his mother-in-law, Laura Lea Weishaus, into his home. As it was rumoured that Jews who owned real estate could emigrate legally to South America, he bought some land in Paraguay. On 8 December 1941, he went to the Paraguayan consulate on Mohren Straße and declared under oath that he had helped his father run the farm in Kolmar and therefore had the requisite experience to work in agriculture again. At the same time, his daughter Doris in the United States tried to obtain the necessary documents for them to emigrate. By November 1943, she had paid a total of 430 dollars to Atlantic Tours travel agents for the provision and authorization of a visa for Cuba. A telegram from the Cuban All American Cables of 5 December 1941, signed by a minister of state from Havana, certified that all the legal requirements for a tourist visa were fulfilled. But all their efforts to escape to America were in vain.
Sally Mendheim’s niece Johanna Liebmann (née Rosenthal) and her husband Walter, who were in close contact with the Mendheims, later described how he made repeated attempts to avoid deportation. The Liebmanns’ statement is contained in an application for compensation that Sally Mendheim’s children submitted in the 1950s: “Among other things, he told us that when the deportations from Berlin were launched using a card index held by the Jewish Community, he sought out two contacts there in a bid to ensure that when the authorities looked through the index, his card and that of his wife and grandson Ernst Lasser were not among them. He said he paid 3,000 Reichmarks to these contacts, several times. […] In case they came for him unprepared, he had 10,000 Reichmarks inconspicuously hidden, in large-denomination notes wrapped up in a roll of toilet paper. In this way, he hoped to still be able to buy their release if necessary and no doubt intended to take the roll of toilet paper with him if deported.”
In summer 1942, Sally and Feodora Mendheim had to vacate their apartment on Solinger Straße. They moved into a 2-room apartment at Tile Wardenberg Straße 19 with Sally Mendheim’s mother-in-law and their five-year-old grandson. Laura Lea Weishaus was deported to Theresienstadt on 3 October 1942. She died there on 31 December that year. Sally Mendheim’s brother David was deported to Łódź on 1 November 1941. He was murdered on 9 May 1942 in Chełmno extermination camp.
Sally Mendheim was deported with his wife and grandson on 6 March 1943 to Auschwitz and murdered. His date of death was declared to be 31 March 1943, by order of the Tiergarten local court.