"She was a woman of great courage and devotion."Letter from a survivor of the Riga Ghetto
Nationality at birth: Germany
Nationality at death: Germany
Hugo Hirsch* Bützow
Jenny Hirsch* Bützow
Place of the fight for human rights: Bochum, Jewish community and Jewish school in Bochum, later ghetto in Riga, Latvia
|Profession, Activities||1909||1911||Gosslershausen, Westpreußen|
|Profession, Activities||1911||1917||Lautenburg, Westpreußen|
|Profession, Activities||1917||1920||Lautenburg, Westpreußen|
Else Hirsch saved pupils of her Bochum school from the murderous regime of the National Socialists.
How did the story become known?
Her story was told by survivors.
When did the story become known?
In the 1990s
Where did the story become known?
By whom did the story become known?
Letters and conversations of the former Hirsch pupils Ruben and Willi Moller, who were living in the USA, to the Bochum-based non-profit association “Erinnern für die Zukunft e.V.” drew attention to the story of Else Hirsch.
Naming of a street: “Else-Hirsch-Straße” in Bochum
Literature (literature, films, websites etc.)
Clemens Kreuzer, Die Lehrerin Else Hirsch und Bochums israelitische Schule in den Judenverfolgungen des Dritten Reiches. Ein Beitrag zum „Bochumer Bürgerbuch für die Opfer der NS-Zeit“ im Rahmen des Projektes „Stolpersteine“ des Kölner Künstlers Gunter Demnig und des Stadtarchivs Bochum, Online-Manuskript, Hrsg. v. d. CDU-Fraktion, Bochum 2006.
Project Jews in Mecklenburg (Juden in Mecklenburg): Gesamtstammbaum der Mecklenburger Juden (GEDCOM)
Else Hirsch was a passionate teacher. As such she must have felt a deep sense of responsibility for her students. She initially received support in organizing the Kindertransporte from her municipal secretary Erna Philipp. She then stayed in England with the last children’s transport and thus saved her life.
- Religious attitude
From 1938 to 1939, the teacher Else Hirsch, together with the municipal secretary Erna Philipp, organized child transports from Bochum to England and the Netherlands. In this way they saved the lives of more than seventy children from Bochum and Herne. These children were often the only survivors of their families.
Else Hirsch (1889-1942)
A woman of great courage and dedication
Else Hirsch was born on 29 July 1889 in Bützow in Mecklenburg-Schwerin. She studied in Schwerin and in 1908 she passed the examination for the higher teaching profession before the Grand Ducal-Mecklenburg Examination Commission. Between 1909 and 1920 she worked at various private schools and later at a municipal secondary school as a teacher in West Prussia.
After the First World War, West Prussia fell to Poland and she and her mother left home for Berlin, where she had to survive the next few years with private lessons and office work. As a teacher, she was transferred to Bochum in 1927 by the welfare office by means of an assignment notice, in order to work at the Jewish community’s Israelite school. Since she had the training for the work at the grammar school, she was not happy about the transfer at first, she even filed a written objection, which was rejected. Survivors report that she nevertheless approached her new task with a lot of enthusiasm and heart and thus, despite her inconspicuous appearance and her manner described as somewhat “quirky”, quickly won the hearts of the children and the respect of her colleagues.
One former student remembers “Fräulein Hirsch” as “an old-school teacher who dressed and coiffed in an unflattering way, who had peculiar habits (…)”. She was considered eloquent, spoke four languages herself and taught not only English and Hebrew but also Spanish, even outside of school. As a teacher, her former pupils describe her as being strict, but also fair and responsible. At first glance, she seemed reserved and shy, but she also showed great organizational talent and willpower.
Else Hirsch remained single and cared for her sick mother, who died in 1931. She was also involved in the Jewish women’s association in Bochum. The school was located in the immediate vicinity of the synagogue on what was then Wilhelmstraße (where today Huestrasse continues towards Kortumstraße at Dr. Ruer Platz). After several reconstructions, it offered space for 100 students with three classrooms. The Jewish community reached its highest number of members in 1930 with 1244 members. It was the third largest Jewish community in Westphalia. But with the deprivation of rights, suppression and harassment of Jewish fellow citizens, which began immediately after the National Socialists took power, Jewish life in Bochum collapsed. By 1934 a quarter of the Bochum pupils had already left the Jewish school. After the pogrom of 9 November 1938, in which the synagogue was also burnt down and the school devastated by the furious SA hordes, the school had to shoot first. Else Hirsch recognized the impending danger and the increasing importance of extracurricular English and Hebrew lessons and intensified this activity. In 1937 she took part in an English advanced training course at the “Reichsvertretung der Deutschen Juden” in Berlin. In 1938 she travelled to Palestine to find out how she could better prepare people for exile.
Else Hirsch fought for the reopening of the school after its closure by the National Socialists, which she temporarily succeeded in 1939. The school was able to resume its activities as a private school for a short time. Since most of the Jewish families had already emigrated or gone into hiding at that time, she taught only about 25 students during this time.
From 1938 to 1939, Else Hirsch, together with the municipal secretary Erna Philipp, organized transports for children from Bochum to England and Holland, saving the lives of more than seventy children from Bochum and Herne. These children were often the only survivors of their families. Erna Philipp stayed in England with the last transport and was able to save her life. Because of her concern for the remaining children, Else Hirsch remained in Bochum. Whether she had planned her own escape is uncertain. The closing of the border at the beginning of the Second World War made further departures almost impossible. Else Hirsch had to move into a so-called Jewish house, where people were crammed together under inhumane conditions. The Jewish private school was then finally closed in 1940.
Else Hirsch was deported to Riga in 1942 together with other citizens of the Jewish faith in Bochum. It was long assumed that she had been deported to the Auschwitz extermination camp. But from letters and reports of survivors from Riga we know today that she spent the last month of her life in the ghetto in Riga.
These survivors also reported that Else Hirsch taught children even in the ghetto and in this way gave them a little hope and “normality”. She also nursed the sick and collected medicinal herbs.
A survivor of the Riga Ghetto wrote in a letter: “She was a woman of great courage and devotion”. Else Hirsch probably died in Riga in early 1943. Today, research assumes that her mortal remains lie in one of the mass graves in Riga.
There is not much to read about Else Hirsch. No quotations or grand speeches have been handed down about the small, reserved and unimposing woman. Only a quote from a poetry album of a student can serve as a quotation for our presentation. ” Do not judge the value of man / quickly after a short hour / Above are moving waves / but the proof lies at the bottom”. Else Hirsch has held humanity high in Bochum in its darkest days. Today a stumbling stone, a street and, since August 1, 2019, a special school in Bochum-Gerthe remind us of the brave and courageous teacher who was an escape helper for many children and sacrificed her own life in the process.
Author: Daniela Collette
Quote: Daniela Colette, “Else Hirsch (1889-1942). A woman of great courage and dedication”, in: Fritz Bauer Library, URL: https://www.fritz-bauer-forum.de/en/datenbank/else-hirsch-2/