Erna Barth, divorced name Höhmann, maiden name Hesekiel, (photo from the 1970s) © Collection Petra Bonavita
Erna Barth, divorced name Höhmann, maiden name Hesekiel, (photo from the 1970s) © Collection Petra Bonavita
Erna’s surname gave away her Jewish heritage. That is why she married shortly after the pogrom days in 1938 and was able to change her Jewish name Hesekiel to the German name Höhmann. Her musician husband belonged to an artists-circle as did Erna herself. He deregistered himself shortly after the marriage and was never seen again. Her name change was the first step, which allowed Erna to successfully veil her Jewish heritage. Erna’s plans for the future had fizzled out long ago. As a dancer she had received short-term or limited contracts. The Nazis did not permit long-term contracts, so that without the approval from the Reichskulturkammer (the oversight committee for cultural life) this option was blocked.

She was at her parents’ house in Meisengasse on 19 October 1941 when her roommates Selma and Regina Schermann were sent for deportation She decided that she could not sit around and wait to be herself arrested. She began to prepare her illegal life in Frankfurt with the help of her fiancé and good friends. A simulated suicide was intended to distract the Gestapo. She intentionally left clothing and laundry lying around, prepared a suicide note which her mother presented to the police submitting a missing person report. Her mother was repeatedly requested to come to the police station during the next few days each time when a female body was hauled from the river and would have to be identified. However, as a result of her preparations Erna had already gone into hiding in the apartment of Ludwig and Anna Geisel, a working couple who lived at Gellertstrasse 29. Her fiancé provided her with groceries and she stayed in the apartment for three years. To hide in an apartment in Frankfurt for three years is a long time, and by the end of November 1944 she was unable to bear this “hidden lifestyle” any longer. She took the first steps in the direction of liberated France, only to be arrested in Straßburg by American soldiers. She remained in jail for nine months, until the validity of her story could be confirmed and she was released. She married her rescuer Karl Barth in 1946. Erna told her story to a group of friends in a pub one day. All the people sitting at the table had “flaws”, i.e. they were “non-Aryan” according to Nazi laws. Erna Barth lived in an apartment belonging to the Arbeiterwohlfahrt (Workers’ welfare association) viewing the Main River until her death in 1999.

Erna was hidden for three years by Ludwig Geisel and his wife Anna at Gellertstrasse 29. © Institut für Stadtgeschichte Frankfurt am Main
Erna was hidden for three years by Ludwig Geisel and his wife Anna at Gellertstrasse 29. © Institut für Stadtgeschichte Frankfurt am Main



See: Petra Bonavita: Mit falschem Pass 
und Zyankali, pages 84-86. Ferdinand Strauss 
also escaped from Frankfurt in the direction 
of his hometown Michelstadt in Odenwald shortly 
before a planned deportation in November 1941 
in: Claudia Schoppmann “Da packte mich das 
Mitleid …” in: Sie blieben unsichtbar, Editor: 
Beate Kosmala and Claudia Schoppmann, 
Berlin 2006, pages 50-57; Petra Bonavita: 
Mit falschem Pass und Zyankali, pages 88 f.

[german version]

One thought on “Simulated suicide as entry to illegal life

  1. Der vorgetäuschte Selbstmord zum Einstieg in das illegale Leben – rettungs.widerstand

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