This one-page, handwritten ruling is the reply to a request submitted in 1892 by then 21-year-old Hans Julius Oppenheim. He had asked permission to use the family name Lübbert-Oppenheim instead of Oppenheim, his last name until then. The senate approved his name change, but not in the form he requested: his family name was to be Oppenheim-Lübbert instead. The ruling was written on a stamped form issued by the Hamburg senate and bearing the city seal.
This document (No. A I 11.1) is in the collection of the Oppenheim-Lübbert family archive, which is housed in the Hamburg State Archive, call number StAHH collection 622-1/533 Oppenheim-Lübbert.
Hans Julius Oppenheim came from a wealthy Jewish family of merchants and businessmen that had lived in Hamburg since the mid-18th century. In the early 19th century the family played an active and influential role in the city’s Jewish community life. For many years Salomon Oppenheim (c. 1770–1830), married to Judith Bondy (c. 1773–1857), was one of the heads of the Liberal German-Israelite Congregation in Hamburg and chairman of the Credit Institute Vorschuss-Institut, which had been founded in 1816 as a branch of the Israelite almshouse Israelitischen Armenanstalt. Salomon Oppenheim’s charitable work was remarkable, his actions were an expression of the Jewish Enlightenment, and the name Oppenheim was well-known and respected among Hamburg’s enlightened Jews.
Beginning in 1820 Salomon Oppenheim’s children – and all family members since – converted to the Christian faith, thus choosing the path of assimilation. When they were baptized, they stopped using their Jewish first names. His son Samuel, who was called Friedrich Wilhelm after his baptism in 1820, became a renowned physician and scientist; his brother Isaac (1805–1872), called Julius Ernst after his baptism in 1834 and grandfather to Hans Julius Oppenheim, continued the family tradition as a wealthy businessman and philanthropist. He founded the Jewish-Christian residential home Julius-Ernst-Oppenheim-Stift, whose residents were made up equally of both Jews and Christians. It is financed by the Hometown Foundation Vaterstädtische Stiftung and still exists to this day.
When Hans Julius Oppenheim was born in 1870 in the Hamburg district of Pöseldorf, the family led an upper middle-class life. In 1877 his father, Henry Carl Oppenheim, born in 1846 as the son of the extremely wealthy Julius Ernst Oppenheim, committed suicide, most likely out of financial reasons. Hans Julius was seven years old at the time. His mother Dorothea Christine, née Hansen (1850–1926), remarried in 1884. She married Eduard Lübbert (1854-1933), a career officer and son of a Silesian lord of the manor, who was to give the Oppenheim family its future name. The family moved to Silesia. After graduating school in Oels (today: Oleśnica) in 1890, Hans Julius studied law and political economics in Kiel and Rome until 1892, hoping to be admitted to the diplomatic service. In 1892 he married Jewish Eleonore Valentine del Banco (1859–1934), dropped out of university and initially followed family tradition by becoming a merchant.
The same year they were married, Eleonore del Blanco got baptized, and Hans Julius Oppenheim assumed the name Lübbert – his stepfather’s name – as his second name. In reply to his petition, the Hamburg senate informed him on February 10, 1892 “that the name change of the petitioner shall be permitted,” yet not in the way he had requested it – Lübbert-Oppenheim – but the reverse, Oppenheim-Lübbert. Two years later he acquired citizenship rights Bürgerrecht [citizenship right in the city]: The right of self-government; the precondition for acquiring civil rights was inherited real property, the swearing of a citizen’s oath, and the one-time payment of “Bürgergeld” [citizenship fee]; members of the nobility were excluded from this; until 1814 citizenship was granted exclusively to members of the Lutheran church [see: Helmut Stubbe-da Luz, Bürgerrecht, in: Franklin Kopitzsch / Daniel Tilger (eds.), Hamburg Lexikon, Hamburg 1998, p. 92.]. All legal constraints to his free choice of profession and economic success had now been removed.
Hans Julius changed his name at a moment of significant private and professional decisions in his life. In the same year, 1892, antisemitic tendencies increased in Hamburg due to the devastating cholera epidemic that was rampant in the city. It had led to the claim that Russian Jews seeking to emigrate via Hamburg’s port had introduced the epidemic to the city. It is not documented whether there was a direct connection between this first larger wave of antisemitism in Hamburg and Hans Julius Oppenheim’s petition to change his name.
Name changes could be approved by the local government if sufficient grounds existed, and they had to be recorded in the register of births, marriages and deaths. In general, petitions for name changes were relatively common, and the rise of antisemitic tendencies led to a significant increase in changes of so-called Jewish names. We can only speculate about Hans Julius Oppenheim’s reasons for changing his name as there is no known written statement. It is safe to assume that in light of rising antisemitism, the young man – influenced by his step-father, patriotic and militaristic Prussian officer Eduard Lübbert – hoped for an improvement of his future opportunities by changing his name: more social acceptance for himself and his family and advantages for his professional career.
Another step in the name change followed 19 years later. On February 1, 1911 Hamburg’s senate replied to another petition by Hans Julius Oppenheim-Lübbert by informing him that he, his wife Eleonore del Banco, and his three sons were permitted to use the family name Lübbert instead of Oppenheim-Lübbert in the future. It seems that Hans Julius no longer used the first part of his last name that revealed his Jewish origin since at least 1904 and possibly much earlier, however. For example, in his position as Hamburg’s government-appointed director of fisheries, he verifiably signed official letters and memoranda “Lübbert” only. His contemporaries, including Hamburg senator and mayor Werner von Melle, also only called him Lübbert.
Step by step, from conversion by baptism and new first names to assuming the step-father’s name as second name and finally permanently dropping the Jewish name Oppenheim, the family discarded its Jewish tradition, at least formally.
Hans Julius Oppenheim, as of 1892 Oppenheim-Lübbert, and just Lübbert as of 1911, had a remarkable career. In the course of his fulfilled life, he made his mark in Hamburg’s government, in teaching and research, in numerous publications, in international consulting, and in countless honorary appointments. His great interest in sailing and deep-sea fishery led to his appointment as fisheries expert for the outlying districts Landherrenschaften in 1904, followed by an appointment as Hamburg’s official director of fisheries in 1907, an office which he held, with interruptions, until 1948. From the beginning, his main mentor was senator and delegate from the outlying district Landherrenschaft of Ritzebüttel, Dr. Werner von Melle. In 1908 Lübbert played a major part in the building and further development of a fish market in Cuxhaven, which still belonged to Hamburg at the time. He tirelessly worked for the sale and consumption of fish. He gave lectures in fishery science at the Colonial Institute Hamburg Kolonialinstitut, established in 1908, and later at Hamburg’s university. His expertise on fishery questions was sought after internationally. Hans Lübbert promoted fishery and the science of it just as crucially as the development of northern German fishing ports. His life’s work received its highest acknowledgement when he was made an honorary citizen of the city of Cuxhaven and awarded an honorary doctorate (Dr. med. h. c.) and an honorary professorship from Hamburg University.
The name Oppenheim was no longer mentioned in the family, therefore it and the family’s Jewish origins were unknown to the grandchildren’s generation. After 1933 the past caught up with the family, however. The hopes for integration into the German middle class that were tied to dropping the Jewish name proved deceptive and were ultimately destroyed with the National Socialists’ rise to power.
In an article published in the fishery trade journal “Der Fischerbote” in June 1933, National Socialist Alfred von Pustau claimed that Lübbert, a civil servant in Hamburg’s government, had carried out the establishment of the Cuxhaven fish market in the pay of Hamburg’s moneyed interest Hamburger Großfinanz, a popular National Socialist stereotype referring to Jewish private bankers Ballin and Warburg and their championing of Cuxhaven’s deep-sea fisheries. He wrote: “that he was a suitable go-between for the moneyed interest is evident from his birth name ‘Oppenheim’ alone, it later became ‘Oppenheim-Lübbert’ and eventually only ‘Lübbert.’” Alfred von Prustau, Der Fischereidirektor, in: Der Fischerbote, June 1933. / Appendix to questionnaire by the Military Government of Germany, in: StaHH, 311 - 8 Finanzverwaltung - Personalakten 78 Hans Lübbert, 1945 - 1948. His significant birth name and the subsequent name change were now instrumentalized in the National Socialist interest. Lübbert pressed charges against Pustau, and the court decided in 1934 that he had to rescind the libelous allegations and publish a counterstatement.
Yet this was only the beginning. Between 1933 and 1938 Hans Lübbert lost the majority of his many offices, and his authorization to teach at Hamburg University was rescinded. Organizations cancelled his membership, and he was struck from editorial positions. After five years of National Socialist rule, Hans Lübbert – a man who had always been in the public eye – was relegated exclusively to being a private person. Since 1933 he lived in Hamburg in a kind of “inner emigration,” from 1936 until 1949 he inhabited a house in Blankenese that still exists today and which he shared for a few years with his sister-in law, Jewish artist Alma del Blanco. Immediately after she received her notice of deportation in 1943, she committed suicide.
After 1945 Hans Lübbert returned to public life, and he was once again appointed as the government’s director of fisheries. Having received many honors, he died in Hamburg on November 22, 1951. In the end, his desire to completely give up his Jewish identity and break with the family’s Jewish past by changing his name remained an illusion. For this path, chosen by many Jews since the 19th century, did not provide protection from unprecedented marginalization and persecution during the National Socialist period.
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Beate-Christine Fiedler, Dr. phil., born 1958, is freelance historian and works as research assistant at the State Archives of Lower Saxony, being based in Stade. Her focus of research: early modern history, regional and state history of Lower Saxony, especially of the Elbe-Weser area and the Swedish period in the duchies Bremen and Verden.
Beate-Christine Fiedler, Family Names and Matters of Identity. Hans Julius Oppenheim’s Petition (translated by Insa Kummer), in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, July 05, 2017. <https://dx.doi.org/10.23691/jgo:article-91.en.v1> [October 31, 2020].