Friday, October 22, 2021

Bodenheimer villa Jagowstraße 29-33 in Grunewald

"As you know, Himmler lived next door to your great grandfather in Berlin, " my father's cousin casually dropped during last week's family Zoom call.  Uh, no, no I did not "as you know" that, not at all!  

Research Tip: Even when you talk with your oldest relatives on a regular basis, and remind them frequently that you are interested in family history, they will still surprise you with new information after 18 months of weekly Zoom calls. 


My great grandfather Siegmund Bodenheimer was a banker for Danatbank and Dresdner Bank in Berlin. Upon the the birth of his third child Helga in 1920 he purchased a large villa at Jagowstrasse 29-33 in the beautiful residential district of Berlin-Grunewald.  

Jagowstraße 29-33 in Grunewald

The villa colony of Grunewald was the elegant residence of people from the best of circles. Soirees, tea parties, celebrations, arts and culture were the festivities of the day. 


Many family photos feature the large garden and grounds of the villa's estate. 

There was at the end of the lot was a garage and behind the garage was a flower garden which...  with a gold... a little pond with goldfish. And it was all really very pretty, very peaceful, and it was quite an elegant setting.  —Gerda Blau geb Bodenheimer, 1979

Helga with cousin Ruth Maass at goldfish pond, c1927

Cook and chambermaids at Jagowstrasse 29-33, c1928


Now also in this garden there was something very important. There was a... quite a... a fenced-in area. quite large, for our dog. We had three dogs, one who was chained to a dog house at the garage, because he... It was kind of a punishment, because he had bitten my cousin Hans into his behind, and it was quite a bite that he took, and from that time on he was chained to the garage... to the dog house at the garage. 

Now the one in the... I don't know how you call it in English... it was called Zwinge like, like the the bears in Bern.    

It was an enclosure and this, in this enclosure was Tello, who was our favorite a big German shepherd, who was very, very good-natured and very devoted. and he spent his day there. 

But we used to take walks, most of the time after dinner, my father and my brother, Edgar. and I took a walk with Tello. And at night Tello came into the house, but he was not allowed to run around free, but was chained to a kind of fencing of the upper hall, and was on a big chain. And that was right in front of my door. So it was kind of a cozy feeling. Tello was really watching me. 

—Gerda Blau geb Bodenheimer, 1979 


About 1931 a family film was taken of the family in the garden.  Siegmund's grandson Ron Blau later complied the footage with voiceover by his mother Gerda to produce Our Time in the Garden (1981). This short film features a lot of great footage of the Bodenheimer villa.  

Now this villa in the Grunewald was a big house. It had 24 rooms and it had a quite a large garden. I felt like a free... I was as free as never before. I spent a great deal of time in the garden. There was a gym set and I could for hour do gym on this gym set, even by myself. The garden was... I remember when we first moved into this house the garden was so that you could ride a bicycle around the paths of the garden. But later on it was kind of fancied up and there were steps put in and from that time on we could not ride a bicycle anymore. But it was very, very beautiful and we spent a great deal of our time in the garden.  —Gerda Blau geb Bodenheimer, 1979

Family on bench from Our Time in the Garden

Siegmund with wife Rosi in the garden, c1931


After 43 years of arduous work, on 20 Sep 1933 Siegmund's work and business career came to an end with his resignation from Dresdner Bank.   

Siegmund's only son Edgar left Germany in October 1933 for New York, and Siegmund himself started making preparations to leave the country. 


In March 1934, Siegmund shook the dust of Germany from his feet and traveled to a resort in Switzerland with his wife and youngest daughter.  

Siegmund did not sell the house at Jagowstrasse, expecting to return to it someday after the Nazi craziness had blown over.  

There were still housekeeping staff living there, and Siegmund allowed his wife's cousin Vera Lachmann to run her Jewish Children's School out of the chauffeur's residence on the grounds. 

For six years, until the Nazis shut it down in 1939, Vera used the building as a school for Jewish children who had been excluded from the German education system under the April 1933 Law Against the Overcrowding of German Schools.

The same year, Heinrich Himmler moved into Hagenstraße 22, which was the neighboring house on the left to Jagowstrasse 29-33. Many of the wealthy Jewish families of the area were moving out of Germany, and the Nazis made themselves at home in their newly vacated homes. 


Siegmund Bodenheimer arrived in New City on 29 Sep 1936 aboard the SS Berengaria. 

His wife Rosi returned to Berlin at least twice to dissolve the huge Jagowstrasse household, and managed to get a good deal of the furniture, art, china, crystal, and silver out of the country. 

Three of the children who attended Vera Lachmann's school at Jagowstraße were the Frankfurther's.  Felix, Beate, and Eva Frankfurther were the step-children of Vera's sister Nina Frankfurther née Lachmann. Beate related a story to a relative that I'm paraphrasing here third-hand. 

While attending Vera's school at Jagowstraße, there were often times when a ball would go over the fence into the gardens of the neighboring villas.  One of the neighbors just happened to be the Reichsführer of the Nazi SS, Heinrich Himmler, who had the SS guarding at his residence 24 hours a day.  It was quite strange to have SS Nazi guards return the ball, ruffle our hair, and kindly tell us Jewish children to not kick the ball so high.

In checking the veracity of this improbable family rumor, I did in fact find that Himmler lived directly next door during that time.  So... plausible. 


Kristallnacht,  9 November 1938.


By 1939, the situation for Jews in Berlin was intolerable.  In April 1939 the Frankfurther children left Berlin for England with their parents following on one of the last flights out of Germany in late August. 

Hitler invaded Poland on 1 September 1939; two days later, France and Britain declared war on Germany, beginning World War II.

Vera Lachmann abandoned her school at Jagowstraße for the United States in November 1939, assisted by friends in both countries. In 1944 Vera established Camp Catawba in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina. 


Siegmund Bodenheimer became a Naturalized U.S. Citizen on 30 Nov 1943 in New York City. 

1943 naturalization of Siegmund Bodenheimer


During the war, aerial reconnaissance by U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency took place, and on 31 May 1944 this photograph of Siegmund's villa was taken.   Siegmund Bodenheimer, now a US Citizen owns property that appears to be untouched by the war and is still standing strong. 

From the photograph, you can see the main house is at the bottom left with a vast area of forested gardens. The goldfish pond is in the upper right corner of the estate. 

1944 aerial photograph

Also in the photo, you can see Heinrich Himmler's house neighboring on the left occupying the corner lot at Jagowstraße and Hagenstraße.  


Sometime between 31 May 1944 and the end of the war, the Bodenheimer villa at Jagowstraße 29-33 was destroyed by the Allied bombing of Berlin.  The single largest raid on Berlin took place on 18 March 1945 with over 1,221 Allied bombers in an all-out attack. Although the bombers targeted the city’s rail yard, their customary inaccuracy combined with the intermittent cloud cover meant that more than 3,000 tons of bombs impacted all over the city.

I suspect that this March 1945 is the raid that destroyed the house, and for about two days I thought that Himmler's house was the actual target and the neighboring homes were collateral damage. This is likely not the actual case, as the precision bombing wasn't that precise and cloud cover complicated things.  By the end of the war, half of all houses in Berlin were damaged and around a third uninhabitable. 

398th bomber group over Germany


Siegmund's son Edgar visited the divided Berlin in 1953, and walked the old familiar streets of his youth.  Edgar’s visit to the wrecked Bodenheimer family home on Jagowstrasse produced just this comment: “Only the back wall and back balcony remain of the house, and the rubble lies around messily. The garden is entirely overgrown and wild.”  


Here is the current aerial view for comparison.  To note, there are now four large houses on the property, with ample gardens in the back of each one.  Himmler's old house to the left is gone, and replaced with two villas.  The house to the right is the same as it was is 1944, as are the villas at the top of the photo.  

2021 aerial photograph

The street name has been changed from Jagowstraße.  The current address of the four villas are Richard Strauss-Staße 29, 31A, 31B, and 33 in Berlin-Grunewald.

1 comment :

  1. Thank you for your very interesting story with photographs of your family's beautiful home in Berlin. My late mother, Eva Bergmann, was one of the pupils at Vera Lachmann's school, and she also told me about the football often being kicked over the wall into Himmler's garden and being returned by the SS guards (although without the friendliness of the SS mentioned here). Being a classicist, the education Vera Lachmann offered her pupils centred around the Greek myths. The November 1992 edition of the Association of Jewish Refugees Information featured an articlle abour Vera Lachmann and can be found at this address