Ludwig Wilhelm von Gans

The clockwork of Christuskirche still reminds of the donor

by Angelika Rieber

Villa Gans at Kestenhöhe

Villa Gans at Königsteiner Straße is known far beyond Oberursel. Inspired by the English country house style, the house at Kestenhöhe (named for its chestnut grove) was built for Ludwig von Gans and his family in 1909. It had a sumptuous interior and a park with exotic trees and cultivars from around the globe.

Ludwig Wilhelm von Gans was born into a respectable Jewish family in 1869. His father was factory owner Fritz Gans, co-founder of Cassella Farbwerke (later IG Farben). Like his brother Paul, Ludwig von Gans studied chemistry and began working for his father’s company. Business trips led him through the Balkans and all the way to Izmir (Turkey).
In 1897, Ludwig von Gans founded his own chemical company, Pharma-Gans. Initially headquartered in Frankfurt, it later moved to Oberursel. The successful company produced serums for vaccines and insulin, among others. Ludwig von Gans is also known for social innovations. Since 1912, the company paid a dividend to its employees.

The clockwork of Christuskirche reminds of the donor Ludwig von Gans

In 1910, the industrialist moved his family to Oberursel. He made a name for himself in the town’s local politics. From 1913 to 1919, he was a member of the town council. Ludwig von Gans, his family, his gentile wife Elisabeth and their four children Herbert, Armin, Marguerite and Gertrude, belonged to the congregation of Christuskirche. Here his son Armin was baptized in 1917 and his daughter Gertrude confirmed in 1925.

Marguerite married in Oberursel in 1922. Ludwig von Gans expressed his attachment to the church by a generous donation towards the clockwork in the steeple.

The family had to leave Oberursel in 1928, after Ludwig’s company lost a patent dispute with Cassella Werke (now IG Farben) and suffered the results of economic crisis. The company went bankrupt. Ludwig von Gans sold the family residence and returned to his native city of Frankfurt.

Nazi training school at Kestenhöhe

In 1934, the German Labor Front (DAF) bought Villa Gans and on 20 October 1935 opened the so-called “Reichschulungsburg Kestenhöhe”, a cadre school.
Just after the war, the Villa served as a country club for higher officers of the US Army. In 1953, the property went to the Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB), who opened a youth center for union members.

Suicide after liberation from Theresienstadt

Ludwig von Gans was struck first by the loss of his fortune, then by Nazi rule. In 1938, he decided to emigrate to Switzerland. But a visit to friends in Denmark shortly before the outbreak of World War II proved to be fatal. After the German occupation of Denmark, he was arrested and deported to Theresienstadt on 6 October 1943, at the age of 74.
When the Swedish Red Cross liberated him from the Theresienstadt concentration camp, Ludwig von Gans was half starved and mentally confused due to the harsh conditions. He was first brought to Sweden, then back to Denmark. He tried to get a repatriation permit from the military administration, but did not succeed. Ludwig died by suicide in Copenhagen in 1946, one and a half years after his liberation.

Peter von Gans’ whole world collapsed after learning about his Jewish roots

Ludwig’s son Herbert von Gans had career problems under the Nazis due to his Jewish heritage. He recounts being pressured to give up his share of the company Mettenheimer in Frankfurt. Like many “Half-Jews” (“Halbjuden”), he was initially drafted into the military and discharged in 1940. He was almost recruited forcibly into the Todt Organization (who built the Autobahn etc.) in 1944, but fled to Vienna. In 1954, he returned to the Taunus region, where he lived in Kronberg-Schönberg.

His son Peter spent the war years with his non-Jewish mother in Kitzbühel. When the boy learned about his grandfather’s Jewish origins, his world collapsed. His mother took active steps to prevent his exclusion from the Hitler Youth’s junior organization (Jungvolk).

Biographical notes

Name:
Ludwig Wilhelm von Gans

o    Born 1869 in Frankfurt am Main
o    Chemist, founder of company Pharma-Gans
o    Baptized, member of the Christuskirche congregation in Oberursel
o    Lived in Frankfurt and Oberursel: (1910-1928)
o    Emigrated to Switzerland in 1938
o    1943: Deportation to Theresienstadt on a visit to Denmark
o    1945: Liberated from the concentration camp
o    1946: Suicide

Children:
Herbert, Armin, Gertude and Marguerite


Sources:

  • von Gans, A. (2006): Die Familie Gans 1350-1963, Verlag Regionalkultur: Heidelberg
    Baeumerth, A.(1991): Oberursel am Taunus. Eine Stadtgeschichte, Verlag Waldemar Kramer: Frankfurt
  • Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Wiesbaden
  • Stadtarchiv Oberursel
  • Archiv der Christuskirchengemeinde

  • Conversation with Peter von Gans

Photos:
Archiv Angela von Gans, Angelika Rieber, Archiv Angelika Rieber, Sammlung Bernd Ochs

Text:
Angelika Rieber

Translation:
Emal Ghamsharick