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The Wollheim and Fabian families sit together in the living room of the home they shared following the imposition of the Berlin blockade.

Photograph | Digitized | Photograph Number: 49086

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    The Wollheim and Fabian families sit together in the living room of the home they shared following the imposition of the Berlin blockade.
    The Wollheim and Fabian families sit together in the living room of the home they shared following the imposition of the Berlin blockade.


    The Wollheim and Fabian families sit together in the living room of the home they shared following the imposition of the Berlin blockade.
    Luebeck, [Schleswig-Holstein; Hamburg] Germany
    Photo Credit
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Norbert Wollheim

    Rights & Restrictions

    Photo Source
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Provenance: Norbert Wollheim
    Source Record ID: Collections: 1999.A.31

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Norbert Wollheim (1913-1998), German Jewish social welfare worker, who administered the Kindertransport program; postwar leader of Jewish DPs in the British zone of Germany; and Auschwitz survivor who won a lawsuit against the I.G. Farben corporation. Wollheim was born in Berlin on April 26, 1913. During his youth he attended public school and was active in the German Jewish Youth Alliance until its dissolution by the Nazis in 1935. Intending to become a lawyer, Wollheim began law school in 1931. However, before he could complete his degree legislation was enacted barring Jews from the study of law. Instead, Wollheim went to work at a Jewish-owned, import-export business, hoping to make contacts that would provide him a way out of Germany. His main focus of activity, however, was social welfare work for the Jewish community. In the mid-1930s Wollheim became involved in organizing groups of Jewish youth to attend summer camps in nearby Denmark and Sweden. Shortly after Kristallnacht, he was asked by the leadership of the Jewish community (Reichsvertretung der deutschen Juden) to administer the new Kindertransport program, a plan to send thousands of children (mostly Jewish) from Nazi controlled central Europe to the United Kingdom. He was responsible for the application process, communication with parents, reserving special trains and finding escorts for the transports. He met with each group at the train station and personally escorted many to Britain, before returning to Germany to organize the next transport. In all, Wollheim arranged for over 7,000 Jewish children on 20 transports to reach safety in the U.K. The last Kindertransport left Berlin on August 29, 1939. Wollheim did not accompany this group fearing that if war broke out, he would be separated from his family. Both of his parents remained in Berlin. In addition, he had a young wife, whom he had married in 1938, and a baby born the following year. After the start of the war, Wollheim continued to work for the Jewish leadership body (now renamed the Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland) as the administrator of its vocational school. In 1941 he severed his relationship with the Reichsvereinigung and reported for forced labor. Wollheim's parents were rounded-up for deportation in December 1942. Though his father had been decorated with the Iron Cross for military service in World War I, he received no exemption, and both were sent to the gas chambers after their arrival in Auschwitz. Four months later in the last major deportation action in Berlin, Wollheim and his family were arrested and taken to the Grosse Hamburger Strasse assembly center. On March 11, 1943 they, too, were deported to Auschwitz in a transport of over 1,000 Jews, only six of whom survived the war. Wollheim, his pregnant wife and his three-year-old child squeezed into a car with one hundred other people, including several friends from his youth group. Since it was Friday night, they sang Hebrew songs, and one woman lit Sabbath candles. The following day they arrived in Auschwitz, where Wollheim's wife and child were immediately gassed. Wollheim was selected for forced labor. Claiming experience as a welder, he was sent to the Buna synthetic rubber plant at Auschwitz III (Monowitz), where he was put to work in construction. In Monowitz, Wollheim befriended a group of British POWs who shared their Red Cross parcels with him and relayed news of the war gleaned from BBC broadcasts. When Auschwitz was evacuated on January 18, 1945, Wollheim was put on a forced march to Gleiwitz. From there, the members of the evacuation transport were loaded without provisions on a train that traveled to Czechoslovakia, Austria, back to Czechoslovakia, and finally to Germany. Of the 6,000 prisoners who began the trip only 2,000 remained alive when the train arrived in Berlin on January 31. They were then taken to Heinkel, a satellite camp of Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg. During the bombing of Berlin on April 20, the camp was evacuated and the prisoners were marched out under SS guard. On the night of May 2, Wollheim fled to nearby Schwerin, where he met up with American troops. Not wanting to return to Soviet-controlled Berlin, Wollheim went to Luebeck, where he helped to organize a community of 800 Jewish DPs. After hearing that 30,000 survivors were living in nearby Bergen-Belsen, he arranged a visit. He met with DP camp leader Joseph Rosensaft, and together they organized the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in the British Zone, a democratically elected body in which Rosensaft served as chairman and Wollheim as vice-chairman. Wollheim subsequently remarried a German Jewish survivor who had belonged to his youth movement. They resided in Luebeck where they had two children. Wollheim continued to serve in a leadership role until his immigration to the United States in 1952. In 1953 he won a lawsuit against the I.G. Farben corporation for compensation for his two years of forced labor at the Buna plant in Auschwitz III (Monowitz). This legal decision paved the way for the establishment of a $6.4 million fund to compensate other Nazi-era slave laborers. Wollheim died on November 1, 1998.

    Joel Fabian is the son of Hans Erich and Ruth Hannah (Blumenthal) Fabian. He was born in Berlin on June 8, 1939. He had two younger sisters: Judis (b. 1941) and Reha (b. 1943). Both his father and his uncle, Heinz Kurt Fabian, were attorneys who had moved to Berlin from East Prussia after the close of World War I. During the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 9-10, 1938, Heinz Kurt was arrested and sent to Dachau, where he was imprisoned for a year. After his release, the two couples --Hans and Ruth, and Heinz Kurt and Lotte-- made plans to immigrate to Bolivia. However, by the time their visas came through, Ruth was pregnant with Joel and was unable to travel. Heinz and Lotte went on without them, hoping they would be able to join them later. By the time Ruth was able to travel again, however, the German borders were closed. During the final years of the German Jewish community, Hans Fabian served on the executive board and in the finance department of the Reich Representation of German Jews and later, the Reich Association of Jews in Germany, under the leadership of Rabbi Leo Baeck. Hans took over the leadership of the Reich Association in the brief period between Baeck's deportation to Theresienstadt in June 1943 and his own, two months later. The Fabian family was rounded-up for deportation on September 10, 1943. Perhaps owing to their relationship with Leo Baeck, the family enjoyed special privileges in Theresienstadt, including the ability to live together as a family. While in the camp, Hans worked as a shoemaker, but from time to time, he was sent back to Berlin by the Germans to propagandize about the pleasurable life Jews led in Theresienstadt. The Fabians remained in the camp until its liberation in May 1945. Soon after, Hans helped to organize a transport of German Jewish survivors to Berlin. Once back home, Hans and a group of other survivors worked to reestablish the Berlin Jewish community organization at the Oranienburgerstrasse synagogue. In the early postwar period Hans worked closely with Norbert Wollheim, and the two families became very friendly. Following the imposition of the Berlin blockade in 1948, the Fabians moved to the Wollheim home in Luebeck, and after the Fabians immigrated to the US in 1949, they sponsored the Wollheims. For a short time the two families even shared a home. After he was resettled in America, Hans went to work for the United Restitution Organization on behalf of German Jews.
    Record last modified:
    2012-12-04 00:00:00
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