Leo Aronsbach was born on 5 November 1872 in Berlin. He was the eldest son of Moritz Aronsbach, a cigarette manufacturer, and Ottilie Aronsbach, née Löwinsohn, who married in Berlin a year before Leo’s birth. Leo Aronsbach had several siblings: his sisters, Henriette, Hedwig and Recha Aronsbach, born in 1874, 1877 and 1885, and his brother, Paul Aronsbach, born in 1887, and three more siblings, Georg (*1875), Meta (*1883) and Rosa Aronsbach (*1881), who died in infancy or early childhood. Leo’s sister Henriette died in 1886 at the age of twelve. No records have survived to tell of the Aronsbach children’s family home, childhood, or youth in imperial Berlin, but it is most likely that their parents belonged to Berlin’s Jewish Community.
After completing his schooling, Leo Aronsbach trained to become a bookbinder and started working as a master bookbinder in the mid-1890s. On 8 October 1896, he married Flora Flieg, a seamstress from Berlin, three years his senior, and took an apartment with her at Pestalozzistraße 71 in Charlottenburg. Here, on 9 November 1897, their daughter Margarethe was born. In 1899, the Aronsbachs moved to Große Hamburger Straße 33, where their daughter Lina was born on June 21, 1901. Tragedy struck the couple a year later when four-year-old Margarethe died in the Jewish hospital in June 1902. Their third daughter, whom they named Ruth, was born on 27 July 1904. By that time, the Aronsbachs had moved to an apartment at Auguststraße 26b, where Leo Aronsbach had also relocated the bookbinding and paperwork shop Buchbinderei, Perforier-, Paginier- & Etiketten-Schneideanstalt that he had founded in 1896. The family was to move several more times before the end of World War I: in 1907 to Große Hamburger Straße 29, in 1910 to Rosenthaler Straße 36, in 1913 to Rosenthaler Straße 10, in 1914 to Auguststraße 32, and finally in 1918 to a three-room apartment on the third floor of Raumerstraße 9 in Prenzlauer Berg.
Leo’s siblings also lived in Berlin with their families: His sister Hedwig had married a merchant named Felix Marcus in 1900 and last lived with him at Bleibtreustraße 7 in Charlottenburg; his brother Paul lived with his wife Sara, née Goldemann, and their children Erika and Manfred, born in 1924 and 1936, at Große Präsidentenstraße 8. His sister Recha married a merchant named Albert Grätzer in 1922 and lived with him in Prenzlauer Berg.
Soon after World War I, in October 1919, Leo’s father Moritz Aronsbach died in Berlin. His widow Ottilie lived at Raumerstraße 21 – within walking distance of Leo’s home – until her death in 1935; perhaps Leo cared for his widowed mother in her last years. Leo’s daughter Lina divorced and remarried. She and her second husband Markus Hirschfeld, a master plumber from Strasburg an der Drewenz (Brodnica), had a daughter, Käthe Hirschfeld, born in Wiesbaden. Shortly after the birth, the Hirschfeld family moved to Palisadenstraße 55 in Friedrichshain, Berlin. Leo’s younger daughter Ruth began a commercial apprenticeship after leaving school and then worked as an accountant in Berlin. Unfortunately, no records have survived to tell of the family’s life in Berlin during the Weimar Republic.
The gradually introduced mechanisms to persecute Jews from 1933 on – or all those considered to be Jews under the Nazi state’s Nuremberg Laws – soon hit Leo Aronsbach and his family. They included numerous measures designed to discriminate against and exclude Jews from society, to deprive them of their civil rights and oust them from the nation’s business and economic life. Anti-Semitic riots had already occurred in Berlin during the Weimar Republic; by the early 1930s, the open violence had massively increased, with street fights, assembly hall brawls, and SA marches frequently occurring. From 1933 on, the Nazi state ensured that racism became institutionalized; various decrees and special laws increasingly stripped Leo Aronsbach of his rights. A police decree of 1 September 1941 “concerning the identification of Jews” was just one of many measures that had drastic repercussions. It meant that Leo Aronsbach could not leave his home without wearing the “yellow star” branding him as a Jew. In the 1940s, Leo Aronsbach was also made to perform forced labour. He worked at the Stolzenberg furniture factory at Lindenstraße 68 in Kreuzberg. His daughter Ruth lived with her husband Kurt Herzog in her parent’s apartment at Raumerstraße 9, where she gave birth to their son Gideon on 19 December 1941.
Having been stripped of their rights, the Aronsbach family then faced deportation: Leo Aronsbach and his wife Flora received a deportation notice in spring 1943. They were forced to leave the apartment at Raumerstraße 9 that had been their home for many years and were interned in one of Berlin’s assembly camps. From there, they were deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto on 17 March 1943, with the “4th major transport of the elderly”. Flora Aronsbach was murdered in Theresienstadt in May 1943. Her 71-year-old husband Leo was deported further to Auschwitz extermination camp on 16 May 1944 and murdered there immediately on arrival.
Leo and Flora Aronsbach’s daughters and grandchildren were all deported to Auschwitz and murdered there: Ruth, her husband Kurt Herzog, and their one-year-old son Gideon in February 1943; Lina, her husband Markus Hirschfeld, and their daughter Käthe on 17 May 1943. Leo Aronsbach’s siblings and their families were also killed by the Nazi regime: His sisters Recha and Hedwig, along with Hedwig’s husband Felix Marcus, were deported to Theresienstadt in September 1942 and then to Auschwitz on 16 May 1944, on the same transport as Leo Aronsbach. Leo’s brother Paul Aronsbach was deported with his wife Sara and children Erika and Manfred from Berlin to Riga in October 1942 and murdered there. The only family member to escape Nazi persecution – in exile in England – was Leo Aronsbach’s nephew Frank Alfred Marcus, the 1905-born son of Hedwig and Felix Marcus. He later changed his last name to Marschall.