Chaim Markus Wurzel, also known as Heinrich Wurzel, was born on 30 November 1891 in Tarnów, Lesser Poland, then part of Austro-Hungary. He was the eldest of six children born to Jewish husband-and-wife Isaak and Rachela (née Beitsch) Wurzel. He attended school in Tarnów and subsequently trained to become a milliner.
In 1914 he moved with his parents and siblings to Berlin. He was conscripted to military service by the Austrian Consulate and sent to serve at the Italian front. He returned to Berlin when the war ended and worked as a milliner. Initially, he lived in Prenzlauer Berg with his parents, who had a grocery shop at Mendelssohn Straße 7, where his youngest sister Rosa also worked.
Chaim Wurzel married Selma Meyer, who came from Wirsitz (Wyrzysk) in Posen. In around 1920 he opened a ladies’ wear and hat shop at Swinemünder Straße 74. He and his wife moved into a 2-room apartment in the same house. Around this time, he started calling himself Heinrich; he is first listed under that name in the Berlin directory of 1921. As well as running his shop, to which a small milliner’s workshop was connected, he also worked as a sales representative for a wholesale hat company.
The only child that Chaim and Selma Wurzel ever had died in infancy, aged only one. The 1930s also saw the deaths of Chaim Wurzel’s brother Max and his sister Esther, both of whom were under 40.
On 13 September 1939, Chaim Wurzel was imprisoned in Sachsenhausen concentration camp. His wife tried to secure his release by obtaining emigration papers through an aid organization. She wrote to his sister Chaja (whose married name was Knepel) in London, to where she had escaped with her daughters in May 1939. In her application for compensation, submitted in the late 1950s, Chaja Knepel states that she understood the cloaked message from her sister-in-law, which she received in November 1939 via Switzerland: “As the letter had been censored, this expression meant that he had been sent to a concentration camp.” On 9 February 1940, she received another letter from her sister-in-law stating that Chaim Wurzel would only be released if 200 dollars were made available for his emigration in a neutral foreign country. “As it was unfortunately not possible to deposit the money in a neutral country, we could not spare my brother his fate,” wrote Chaja Knepel.
On 15 July 1940, Chaim Wurzel was murdered in Sachsenhausen. The official cause of death was recorded as severe cellulitis. Chaim Wurzel’s widow, his parents and his sister Rosa were also murdered. Rosa Wurzel was deported to Riga on 26 October 1942 and killed there three days later. His father Isaak Wurzel was deported on 26 January 1943 to Theresienstadt, where he died on 12 June 1943. His mother Rachela Wurzel was deported on 28 May 1943 to Theresienstadt. She died on 13 February 1944. His widow Selma was taken to Auschwitz on 6 March 1943 and murdered there on an unknown date.