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Dr. Carl Bruck * 1879
Elbchaussee 271 (Altona, Othmarschen)
further stumbling stones in Elbchaussee 271:
Dr. Carl Bruck, born 28 Feb. 1879, death by suicide 12 June 1944
Olga Bruck, née Jepsen, born 30 Mar. 1881, death by suicide 14 June 1944
On 12 June 1944, two policemen arrived at the home of Carl Bruck on the Elbchaussee. They suspected the 65-year-old man of having received a large amount of butter from a Jewish dairy worker, and he was to be escorted to the police station for questioning. Bruck excused himself, went into the kitchen and poisoned himself with potassium cyanide. He died an agonizing death. By taking his own life, he almost certainly prevented his imprisonment and murder at the hand of the Nazis. His wife took her life two days later with an overdose of sleeping pills.
The Jewish doctor Carl Bruck was one of Hamburg’s most prominent dermatologists and a leading practitioner in his field in all of Germany. He had gained recognition among his peers when he co-developed, with August von Wassermann, an immunological test for diagnosing syphilis. This method, called the Wassermann test, remained the standard method for diagnosing syphilis for decades. Bruck also took part in groundbreaking studies of tuberculosis.
Carl Bruck was born in 1879 in Glatz, Silesia to the Jewish factory owner Ludwig Bruck and his wife Martha, née Brieger. He grew up in a well-to-do environment and was raised as a Protestant. In 1883 his parents moved to Dresden, where Carl finished his college-preparatory schooling in 1897. After his compulsory military service, he studied medicine in Berlin. He took his state examination in Munich in 1902 and received his doctorate. He then did his residency with Robert Koch at the Royal Institute for Infectious Diseases, the modern-day Robert Koch Institute, in Berlin until 1906. From 1906 to 1908 he participated in a research expedition to the island of Java in Indonesia, sponsored by the German Imperial government, to study syphilis. Upon his return in 1908 he took a position in Breslau, in his Silesian homeland, as senior physician at the University Clinic for Skin Diseases, where he completed his postdoctoral studies and was granted the title of Professor in 1911. In 1914 he became chief physician at the dermatological clinic at the Altona City Hospital. In that same year he was called to serve as staff surgeon for the reserve forces. He served in this position for the entirety of the war, and was awarded several decorations, including the Iron Cross, 2nd Class and the Bavarian Military Merit Order.
In 1917, at the age of 38, he married Olga Amalie Auguste Jepsen, a non-Jew from Hamburg. Her father was the Altona businessman Gustav August Jepsen; her mother Helene, née Hackel, was also from Altona.
Carl Bruck returned to his position in Altona in 1919. The dermatology clinic, which he had expanded, was of great importance to the citizens of Altona. According to medical statistics from the 1920s, between 1600 and 1800 cases of skin disease and between 400 and 500 cases of syphilis were treated per year. Carl Bruck was one of the founders of the Dermatological Society of Hamburg-Altona. He also organized the Altona City Hospital’s advanced training courses for doctors in Altona. During the Weimar Republic era, he continued his research activities. He published frequently and developed several new medications.
Carl and Olga Bruck lived in a large house at Elbchausee 180 (now house number 271).
Carl Bruck retained his position at the Altona Hospital until 1935. That he was able to continue working after the Nazi regime banned Jewish doctors from practicing in April 1933 was due to his so-called mixed marriage. In March 1935 he was strongly advised to resign from his position as a city employee, but he refused. In November he was forced to retire and was divested of all titles.
He was able to practice in the private sector for three more years. The Hamburg address book of 1937 lists his dermatology practice at Am Hauptbahnhof 4 near the Altona train station. His license was finally revoked in 1938.
Carl Bruck was wealthy. He owned the plot of land on the Elbchaussee where his house stood, and had regular income from pensions and license agreements with pharmaceutical firms. But his accounts were frozen and placed under a security order on 2 December 1938. He was allowed to withdraw 1500 Reichsmarks per month, and further access to his assets was permitted only with approval of the Foreign Exchange Office of the Chief Finance Administrator’s office. Four days after the security order was issued, Carl Bruck applied in person at the Foreign Exchange Office for permission to transfer the Elbchaussee property into his wife’s name. Approval was given verbally, but not in written form.
In 1939 he attempted to transfer securities to his wife’s name, but was unsuccessful. Beginning in October 1939 his permitted monthly withdrawal was reduced to 750 Reichsmarks. Final approval for the transfer of the property to his wife hung long in the balance, but the authorities finally denied him permission. The Brucks wanted to sell their house in April 1942, but the authorities demanded that the proceeds be deposited in the restricted account. Carl Bruck was required to pay a Reich flight tax, a special departure tax levied on those Germans who wanted to emigrate, especially Jews, and the Jewish Property Levy. He was systematically isolated and expropriated by the Nazi regime.
The Brucks were well known in their neighborhood. A former neighbor, an elderly lady born in 1927, who lived with her family at Elbchaussee 277, remembers that Dr. Bruck often took his two terriers for walks in Jenisch Park. The families were passingly acquainted. She remembers that once, when she was 16 or 17, she greeted Dr. Bruck, without thinking, with "Heil Hitler!” as was the norm at the time. A friend who was with her hissed at her: "You can’t say ‘Heil Hitler!’ to Dr. Bruck!” She is still embarrassed about this faux pas. She remembers Dr. Bruck as an older man of middling height, with an unassuming appearance. He generally wore a gray herringbone jacket. He wore his Iron Cross over the yellow star, with a scarf over both that covered the star. Just a few days before his death he had offered his condolences to her parents for the loss of their son in the war. She seldom saw Mrs. Bruck.
Carl Bruck sought his refuge in death. His assets were confiscated by the Nazi regime. In Hamburg, 319 people took their lives for reasons relating to persecution and deportation. 16 of them were medical doctors. The pain Olga Bruck suffered over the death of her husband and the social ostracism she experienced evidently robbed her of the desire to live
For many years Dr. Carl Bruck was forgotten. On 13 November 2002 the Altona General Hospital named its new lecture hall in his honor and installed a memorial plaque.
Translator: Amy Lee
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
© Birgit Gewehr
Quellen: 2 (R 1938/ 3148); StaH 314-5 Polizeibehörde – Unnatürliche Sterbefälle, 1944/834; StaH 424-4 Personalakten Altona, B 619 (Bruck, Carl); StaH 131-11 Personalamt (- Gesamtregistratur), 1135 (Bruck, Carl); AB Altona 1937; Müller-Plathe, Carl Bruck; Müller-Plathe, Spurensuche; von Villiez, Die Vertreibung; v. Villiez, Mit aller Kraft, S. 237; Kopitzsch, Hamburgische Biographie, III, S. 63; Stadtteilarchiv Ottensen, Hamburger Abendblatt 9.8.2005: Sammlung Oswald Müller-Plathe, Aussage einer Nachbarin; Müller-Plathe, Aus der Geschichte des Altonaer Krankenhauses, S. 27 f.
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