Irma's mother, Friederike Sophie Eckler, nee Horneburg, was the daughter of Jean Horneburg and his wife Johanna, nee Fliess, from Kiel. They were descendants of Sephardic Jews who had been forced to emigrate from the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th century. Throughout history, the life of the Sephardic Jews has been accompanied by persecution, terror and death.
After the destruction of the Second Temple by Emperor Vespasian and the closely ensuing final expulsion of the Jews from Palestine - only a few remained - the two thousand year history of continuous exile began: The Diaspora.
During late Roman times, exiles from Palestine also settled in Spain (Sepharad is a synonym for the Iberian Peninsula). The conquest of Spain by the Moors in the 8th century did not hamper their development. On the contrary, in the High Middle Ages there developed an astonishing, utterly unique, rich, mutual culture between Muslims, Christians and Jews. This fruitful exchange of intellectual ideas and art was first brought to a halt, essentially after 1100, by Spain's repossession of the Peninsula (The Reconquista). By Columbus's time, Jews who resisted compulsory baptism were driven out of, or were forced to emigrate from Spain and Portugal.
A branch of these Sephardic Jews settled in The Netherlands from whence quite a few later emigrated to Northern Germany.
From the beginning of the 19th century until 1852, there was also a Jewish Gemeinde ( congregation) in Homeburg/Niederelbe (near Hamburg).
A number of neighbouring congregations united to form a synagogue association, but this had dissolved by the end of the 19th century because its members had emigrated.
Some families stayed in Northern Germany and joined larger Jewish communities, such as those in Hamburg and Kiel.
A unique practice of the Sephardic Jews was the way in which they treated surnames and religious identity.
Friederike Sophie Horneburg, born in Kiel on 2nd November 1880, married Arthur Eckler on 24th March 1905 and moved to Hamburg with him. There was also a 'Portuguese' Gemeinde in Hamburg.
"Michael Belmonte was one of the three chairmen of the Portuguese- Jewish Gemeinde (community) in Hamburg, and his son, Salomon, was also a board member. They headed a community of Sephardic Jews whose ancestors had had to leave the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the 15th century. A group of them - at first posing as Catholics - settled in Hamburg at the end of the 16th century . Due to their economic prosperity they were welcome in their new surroundings. From this auspicious beginning the community flourished, only to dwindle in the 1920's. For over 300 years the Sephardic community strove to fit into a Christian-German world without ever losing sight of its religious orientation."
The brothers Alfred, Paul and Salomon Belmonte were tortured to death during their imprisonment in the Hamburg-Fuhlsbüttel concentration camp. Their father probably committed suicide. Of the seven members of the family none survived.
Irma Eckler was born in Hamburg on the 12th June 1913. She had two sisters, Herta and Lilly, both more than ten years her senior.
|Geburtsurkunde für Irma
Eckler, geboren am 12. Juni 1913
Hamburg, am 17. Juni 1913
Vor dem unterzeichneten Standesbeamten erschien heute, der Persönlichkeit nach durch Geburtsurkunde anerkannt, der Handlungsgehülfe Arthur Eckler, wohnhaft in Hamburg, Bornstraße 31, mosaischer Religion, und zeigte an, daß von der Friederike Sophie geborene Horneburg, seiner Ehefrau, mosaischer Religion, wohnhaft bei ihm, zu Hamburg in seiner Wohnung am zwölften Juni des Jahres tausend neunhundert dreizehn nachmittags um zehn Uhr ein Mädchen geboren worden sei und daß das Kind den Vornamen Irma erhalten habe. [...]
|Children randomly called together in the Roonstraße (1915). Irma is sitting on the curb at the right and Lilly is standing behind her. Herta is the eldest and tallest girl, standing in the middle of the back row.|
On the 28th April 1931, Frau Eckler and her daughters were baptised as Protestants (she did not have contact with the Jerusalem Gemeinde in Hamburg until 1949). Why this baptism? Did they hope that as 'Christians' they could escape the persecution of the National Socialists?
There were already grounds for concern: 1925 - Adolf Hitler refounded the NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei; National Socialist German Workers' Party) and the SS (Schutzstaffel; Elite Guard), "Mein Kampf' was published.
1929 - world-wide economic depression and mass unemployment encouraged membership growth and Hitlers's rise so that in the Reichstag's elections in 1932 the NSDAP became the strongest party.
Hamburg's Jews feIt the growing threat. In the document 'Identität und Assimilation, Hamburgs Juden in der Weimarer Republik', cases of anti-Semitic incidents in 1930 are described:
Frau Eckler found herself and her daughters in a difficult financial situation, especially as she and her husband had been living apart for a considerable time.
They were divorced in December 1931. The reasons, alleged and real, are hard to judge.
On the 22nd March 1932, Frau Eckler married the non-Jewish Ernst Graumann. The daughters, Herta and Lilly, also married non-Jews. As children were born to these couples, their marriages were designated as 'privileged rnixed-marriages'. Thus the sisters were relatively safe from persecution during the Third Reich and were able to survive.
What happened to Irma Eckler und August Landmesser...