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Hermann Silberstein

Stolperstein Hermann Silberstein Bild: Stolpersteininitiative Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf
Fritschestr. 54

Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf – Charlottenburg

1899 in Löbau in Westpreußen / Lubawa
1940 Flucht über Genua nach Shanghai

Hermann Silberstein, later Hermann Spencer, was born in Löbau/West Prussia at the end of 1999, less than two years after his sister. After graduating from high school, he attended a commercial school for three years specialising in the clothing industry. He then served two years in the army.

At the age of 23, Hermann started his own business from his family home, as a merchant for women's fashion. By 1928 his company was so successful that Hermann could relocate his business to the Berlin fashion district around Hausvogteiplatz. Owing to the continuing growth of his business, he relocated to bigger premises several times. Finally, together with his ten employees he moved to Kronenstr. 56, where he rented the entire 1st floor.

It was there that Hermann and his father experienced the unprecedented brutality against Jews during the November Pogroms in 1938. At around 9 a.m. on November 10, Hermann became aware of a large aggressive crowd - he estimated around 1,000 to 1,500 people – coming closer very quickly, destroying whatever they could, demolishing and looting from almost all the shops along the street. It was only because the main door on the ground floor withstood the attacks of the fast moving mob, that the house on Kronenstr. 56 and Hermann's business did not suffer much damage at that time; but Hermann and his father were so terrified that they didn’t dare to move from their premises for several hours after. They decided to wait until the evening and then head home in the cover of darkness.

However, the mob came back at 3 p.m. and now targeted all businesses that had not yet been destroyed during the first wave of the attacks. Hermann later recalled: „...after a short time, they had broken open the main door and shop entrances on the ground floor. Of course I had locked the door of my shop, which was protected by iron plates. But within a few minutes, it too was broken open and in rushed 20 to 25 men who pushed me and my old father down the stairs. When I came to my senses for a moment on the street, I already saw a large part of my merchandise, finished clothes, bales of fabric etc. lying on the street amid the shattered glass of the shop windows."

Chairs came flying down, some men broke off the chairs' legs and started attacking Hermann with them. As he ran for his life, he was followed by around 15 men who continued to hit him, aiming mainly at his uncovered head. When a car was approaching, Hermann – covered in blood – waved for help, but the driver did not stop. He continued to run and then managed to jump into a taxi and hold the doors shut, while the driver quickly left the scene and took Hermann to a clinic for first aid. Hermann was hospitalised for more than two weeks due to his severe head injuries and a nervous breakdown. Despite the treatment, internal bleeding led to a permanent loss of hearing in both ears.

Meanwhile, Hermann's father who had somehow managed to escape the attackers, tried to salvage as much as possible of what was left of the business. However, shortly after his return, Hermann was forced to sell the remaining items at reduced prices and shut the company down. He was robbed of his livelihood.
It was already in May 1940 when Hermann finally had the means to flee from Germany. The ship he boarded in Genoa was presumably the SS Conte Verde, operating under the Italian flag. The voyage lasted 3 weeks. A few days after the arrival in Shanghai in early June, Italy entered World War II; the Conte Verde would never return to Italy.

Despite his physical handicap and having arrived in Shanghai with hand luggage only, Hermann set up a small trading business in Shanghai.Three years later, with the forced relocation to the Shanghai Ghetto, he also lost this livelihood. Together with many other Jewish refugees, he was housed in a former school building. There he survived serious illnesses like epidemic typhus, but also an air raid in which twelve other inhabitants of the building died and many others were injured.

Even so many years after the war had ended, many Jewish refugees had nowhere to go. In Shanghai, Hermann remained unemployed, was weakened by illness and suffering from the climate. Finally, in 1949, he was granted permission to immigrate to the USA. As a stateless person, the IRO (the United Nations' international refugee organisation) issued him a passport substitute in Shanghai on September 29, 1949; just two days later, Mao Zedong proclaimed the People's Republic of China. By mid-November 1949, Hermann had made it to Manila, where he boarded the SS President Harrison.

After almost four weeks on board in freight class, Hermann set foot in San Francisco on December 5, 1949. He settled down in New York City, where his younger brother Martin had been living since fleeing from Europe in 1939. It was around this time in which the process of searching for and finding lost relatives started and often took years. The siblings learned of the fates of their parents, older sister, Martin's wife and her mother, who had all died in the Holocaust. Like his surviving siblings Martin and Bianka, Hermann took on the family name „Spencer“ instead of Silberstein.

Hermann was never able to resume his entrepreneurial career in the USA and had to make ends meet as an auxiliary worker. At least, he was blessed to meet his future wife Aloisia Goldman in New York City. Aloisia was born into a Jewish family in Vienna. She first fled to London on a domestic helper visa. In 1940, at the age of 37, she received permission to immigrate to the USA and settled down in New York.

According to an official confirmation, Hermann's income was "not enough for him and his family's subsistence, since he is burdened with special expenses due to his poor health." The situation became even more precarious after Hermann became unemployed. Hermann sought financial support under the German compensation act (Bundesentschädigungsgesetz), but, as so many other refugees from the Nazi regime, was degraded to the status of a petitioner, with his entitlement for compensation being questioned again and again for years on end. From 1958 he received a small pension, which, however, was not enough to live on in New York City, even in the most modest conditions. Even this small pension was reduced after some time via an amendment by the compensation office.

One can only imagine how much despair Hermann felt in order to return to Germany in 1959, in an attempt to gain a foothold and resume his professional career. Unsuccessful in his attempt, the couple returned to the USA in January 1961. As their ship departed from Southampton, it can perhaps be assumed that, before leaving Europe, Aloisia and Hermann spent some time with his sister Bianka in London. After their return to the USA the couple relocated to San Francisco, where life was more affordable and the climate more agreeable than in New York City.

The Spencers began the last phase of their lives as subtenants. Around 20 years after the original application to the compensation office, Hermann was finally granted a permanent, albeit modest, pension. The couple remained childless. Unfortunately, no other information on their life in San Francisco could be found.
Hermann died on June 18, 1981 in San Francisco; Aloisia lived on for a few more years after the death of her husband.

Biographical Compilation

Kerstin Pohle

English Translation

Kerstin Pohle, Berlin