Biographical notes

Jacob Strauß

January 8th, 1866 in Langen – April 13th, 1939 by suicide in Frankfurt
Residential address: On the Körnerwiese 15
Company: Gummiwerke Odenwald Administration: Frankfurt Mainzer Landstrasse 179-181 Manufacturing in the Odenwald: Mümling-Grumbach / Höchst, later: Sandbach / Neustadt


Stefanie Strauss, née Bachmann
07/11/1884 in Offenbach – deportation in May 1942

Daughter of Jacob Strauss:

Nora Rosenthal, née Strauss
09/02/1892 in London – 08/19/1981 in London


Dr. Bernhard Rosenthal
August 8, 1881 in Wetzlar – November 10, 1938 in Frankfurt by suicide
Gynecologist, head of the gynecological department and director of the Israelite Hospital Gagernstrasse


Mathilde (1922) and Alfred (1926) Rosenthal
Residential and practice address: Bockenheimer Landstrasse 70

Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Wiesbaden (hhstaw)
Institut für Stadtgeschichte Frankfurt
Stolperstein-Initiative Langen
Christine Wittrock: Das Unrecht geht einher mit sicherem Schritt, Hanau 1999, 2017
Traugott Hartmann: 95 Jahre Gummiwerke Odenwald GmbH, Breuberg 2017
Gerhard Grünewald: Zurück auf Anfang, in: Odenwälder Echo vom 10. Oktober

Dokumente zur Geschichte der Frankfurter Juden 1933-1945, Frankfurt 1963
Doris und Walter Ebertz: Die jüdischen Familien in Wetzlar, Wetzlar 2010


Images: HHSTAW, Inge Kirst, Institute for City History, Angelika Rieber

Research and text: Angelika Rieber
Translation: Peter Ormond

The aryanization of „Gummiwerke (Rubber factory) Odenwald“
Jacob Strauss – the tragic fate of a successful entrepreneur

Angelika Rieber

The two founders of the Gummiwerke Odenwald, Jacob Strauss and Jakob Hirschberger, and their fate have largely been forgotten. In 1920 the two entrepreneurs founded the wholesale business for rubber waste under the name of Feist-Strauss, and in the same year purchased a plot of land in Mümling-Grumbach in the Odenwald area. The administration of the Gummiwerke Odenwald, as it was now known, was in Frankfurt whilst the production was in the Odenwald. In 1937/38 the flourishing company was aryanized. Whilst Jakob Hirschberger managed to flee to the USA in January 1939, Jacob Strauss committed suicide in April 1939.

100 years of “Gummiwerke Odenwald”

100 years ago, on 30th October 1920, the entrepreneur Jacob Strauss from Langen founded the wholesale business for rubber waste together with Jakob Hirschberger under the name of Feist-Strauss, which was registered as a limited company in Frankfurt on 17th November 1920. The company produced bicycle tyres and inner tubes, rubber soles and sheets and commenced production with five workers. The head office of the company was at first in the Mainzer Landstrasse 120 and later on in the Mainzer Landstrasse 181, both in Frankfurt.

In October 1920 the two businessmen purchased the empty building belonging to the Klostermühle (Monastry mill) in Mümling-Grumbach near Höchst (Odenwald), where the production began. The expanding business soon started to burst at the seams, resulting in the purchase of a further mill in the Sandbach district, known as the Neustädter Spatmühle, where further buildings were erected. At first the production was split between both locations, however following the expansion of further buildings in 1926 was completely transferred to Neustadt. The ongoing development of the production processes resulted in the employment of additional technicians and chemists. By 1937 the successful recycling company employed 435 blue collar and 32 white collar staff.


The beginning of the Nazi era saw a permanent increase of pressure on the two Jewish entrepreneurs, “partly because our suppliers and customers were being incited against us by the NSDAP, and partly because we were only given access to certain raw materials either in small quantities or not at all. We were permanently the target of harassment.“ This was the statement of Jakob Hirschberger in the civilian tribunal (Spruchkammerverfahren) against Wilhelm Kaus, the subsequent purchaser of the company. (HHStAW, printed in Wittrock: 44 ff, as well as the following quotes)

At the beginning Strauss and Hirschberger attempted to withstand the hostility, as they did not simply want to give up their life’s work. The pressure however increased. The workers council, for example, threatened them with the “wrath of the masses.” As the two businessmen feared slander and arrest, they began in 1936 to seriously consider the sale of the business. One of the interested parties was Wilhelm Kaus, who was unknown to them as he had not previously been active in this line of business. Kaus was assisted by Emil Höhne, an economic leader and consultant for the town of Hanau, who in turn assured him of support by the NSDAP. Höhne carried out an intensive audit of the company. As the negotiations dragged on, Strauss and Hirschberger decided at the end of 1937 to start looking for other potential purchasers. At this point Kaus and Höhne told them that they would receive a firm offer. When they presented them with it Strauß and Hirschberger immediately considered it to be totally unacceptable. Simultaneously they were subjected to massive pressure, for example with the threat of sabotage, if they did not accept. “These threats hit us like a hammer,” said Hirschberger in his statement in 1948. Under these circumstances the only chance they saw was to improve the terms of sale as far as possible. Finally they were forced to sell their company far below its actual value. 2/3 of the amount was due immediately, the remainder in installments as agreed. One term of the contract specified that they would continue to provide their services until the end of 1939 “in order to acquaint the purchaser with the business and to smoothen the relationships”, for which they were to be compensated. In reality Kaus did not pay the full amount with the argument that there had been claims. Contrary to the terms of the contract, Jacob Strauss was dismissed in June 1938 and his remuneration ceased. Jakob Hirschberger was still employed until the end of September. Finally, at the beginning of November 1938 and under threat of being sent to a concentration camp, Strauss and Hirschberger saw no option but to agree to a compromise.

A few days later, during the November pogrom, they were faced with further threats but were fortunately able to count on the loyalty of previous employees. In understandable fear of arrest Hirschberger was hidden by the company’s driver, whilst Jacob Strauss found a hiding place in the rear office of the Gummiwerke Odenwald in the Mainzer Landstrasse.

At the end of 1938 both previous owners of the company were finally forced to sign their agreement to the removal of their names from the registrar of companies, although Jakob Hirschberger was in hospital at the time.

“Sicherungsanordnung” (Safeguard order)

In addition to the terms of the contract, which amounted to blackmail, Jacob Strauss was also subject to harassment by the tax authorities. “A letter from my partner Strauss to Höhne dated 18th January 1939 confirms the predicament in which we found ourselves… Despite the a.m. events and the blackmail by Höhne for Kaus, I once again kindly request you to send me certificate to be presented to the Inland Revenue.”
Strauss needed the a.m. certificate urgently because the Inland Revenue were insisting on tax due for the total amount agreed in the contract. Due to Kaus’ refusal to confirm the arbitrary price reduction and discharge, Strauss was unable to provide proof to the tax authorities.

At this point in time both partners were unable to freely access their funds. Since July 1938 a “Sicherungsanordnung” (safeguard order) had robbed them of the capability to access their finances and they were permanently faced with attempts to commit crimes. “As the Jews are suspected of trying to emigrate, I request the safeguarding of the a.m. funds”, wrote the “Zollfahndungsstelle” (Customs Investigation department of the “Devisenstelle” (currency authorities)) (HHStAW) . In his despair Jacob Strauss looked for ways to clarify the unresolved issues, in order to be able to leave the country.

Jakob Hirschberger, around 20 years younger than his business partner, left Germany in January 1939 with 10 Marks in his pocket. Jacob Strauss was unable to do so, as his passport and that of his wife Stefanie had been confiscated due to unresolved tax issues. The previous entrepreneur continued his attempts to clarify the issues with questions, explanations and requests, however in vain. In sheer despair he put an end to his life and died on 13th April 1939 in Frankfurt. According to eye witnesses he threw himself in front of a train. The death certificate gave “fracture of the skull” as cause of death.

„Abgeschoben” (Deported) by the Gestapo“

His wife Stefanie also failed in the attempt to clarify the unresolved issues. Her attempt to flee to Cuba at the end of 1941 was also unsuccessful.

Stefanie Strauss, according to the Inland Revenue in 1942, “was ‘abgeschoben` (deported) by the Gestapo.” She had been forced to leave her previous residence Auf der Körnerwiese 15 and spent the last months before her deportation at Liebigstrasse 27, both in Frankfurt.

She was probably deported on 8th May 1942, as she sent a last letter to a relative on 3rd May 1942 mentioning her pending deportation. Five days after this letter, on 8th May, a transport left for the Izbica Ghetto. From there Stefanie Strauss was most likely transferred to an extermination camp and murdered.

The death of Dr Bernhard Rosenthal received widespread attention

Jacob Strauss and his wife Stefanie were both married for the second time and had children from their first marriages who managed to flee from Germany. Jacob Strauss’ daughter, Nora Rosenthal, was destined to witness not only the tragic death of her father but also her husband’s suicide. Nora was a piano teacher married to the Gynaecologist Dr Bernhard Rosenthal, who originally came from Wetzlar. After studying in Giessen, Munich and Berlin he opened a gynaecological practice in Frankfurt in 1910 and served in the first World War as a medical officer for the battalion. In 1920 he married Nora Strauss. They lived with their two children in the Bockenheimer Strasse 70 in Frankfurt, where the gynaecologist’s practice was also located. Dr Bernhard Rosenthal was also the Head of the gynaecological department and Director of the Jewish Hospital (Israelitisches Krankenhaus) in the Gagernstrasse.
The well known and popular gynaecologist was frequently subject to harassment. In 1936 there was a denunciation against him due to treason against the people. He was also claimed to have been guilty of “Rassenschande” (racial defilement). (Ebertz: 336) In 1937 he was forced to pay the so called “Reichsfluchtsteuer” (tax on fleeing the Reich) “as a precaution”. Similar to his parents in law, he had requested a “Unbedenklichkeitsbescheinigung” (non-objection certificate) which he needed in order to be able to apply for a passport.
On the morning of 10th November 1938 he assisted with a birth, operated on someone and then made sure that his family was safe with friends. Then he poisoned himself. Attempts to save his life by pumping out his stomach were unsuccessful. “The Director of the hospital in the Gagernstrasse, Dr Rosenthal, committed suicide by poisoning for fear of being arrested”, as reported in a letter dated 24.11.1938 in Amsterdam. (Documents: 45)

Rosenthal’s death received widespread publicity.The “Baseler Nationalzeitung” (newspaper of Basle) reported the suicides of Dr Bernhard Rosenthal and his colleague Dr Loewe. (HHStAW)

After her husband’s death Nora Rosenthal prepared to emigrate. Her departure planned for January 1938 was however delayed due to many queries by the authorities. The house she lived in was requisitioned by the city in March 1939 and she was given notice. Finally, on 1st April 1939 she managed to flee to Great Britain via Switzerland and the Netherlands. (HHStAW)


Jakob Hirschberger, Jacob Strauss’ business partner, was born in Heilbronn in 1887. He lived with his wife in Frankfurt, Beethovenstrasse 64. Hirschberger was responsible for the production of Gummiwerke Odenwald in Sandbach, Strauss for the administration in Frankfurt where Erich Rosenberg, a younger brother Lisbeth Hirschberger, also worked. Born in Dortmund in 1919, Erich was forced by the situation during the Nazi era to start a commercial apprenticeship in his brother in law’s company instead of studying. After the aryanization of the Gummiwerke Odenwald, Erich Rosenberg was still employed there until 25th October, when he was able to flee to the USA shortly before the November 1938 pogrom. His previous landlord in the Schwindstrasse in Frankfurt died under particularly tragic circumstances. During the November pogrom Rosenberg’s previous flat was searched and demolished, causing his landlord to have a heart attack which he did not survive. Rosenberg arrived in New York on 11th November 1938 and was able to start a successful new life. Having fled Germany at the age of 18, he actually personified the American dream.

His sister Lisbeth and her husband Jakob Hirschberger managed to flee from Germany in January 1939 with only 10 Marks in their pockets. At that point in time they did not yet have entry visas for the USA, so they went first to London, where Jakob Hirschberger’s brother lived. At the end of December they were then able to continue on to the USA.

They never received their possessions. Every item of luggage had to be specified in a “removal list”, which was subsequently checked. This often led to lengthy queries and insinuations, as in the case of the Hirschbergers. Their luggage was supposed to have been sent on to the USA, however it never reached its destination. Their entire property was auctioned in Hamburg in 1941. (HHStAW)

Under these circumstances it was very hard for Jakob Hirschberger to start a new life, particularly as his wife Lisbeth died in March 1945 at the age of only 50.

Under great personal sacrifice Hirschberger built up a business in the USA, the Rotex Rubber Company, with his brother in law Erich, but in reality his heart was still set on the Gummiwerke Odenwald.

After the end of the war the Allies took control over properties and companies which had previously been in Jewish possession. If the previous property had been sold below value, as in the case of the Gummiwerke Odenwald, the new owners were obliged to compensate the previous owners by paying the difference to the real value. They could however claim the property back. Jakob Hirschberger decided to take this course of action and reclaimed the company in Neustadt which he had built up together with Jacob Strauss. In doing so he was able to count on the assistance of the Director Reinhard Althanns, who had been appointed to this position by Willy Kaus, who himself was unfamiliar with this line of business. Althanns had previously been employed by the nearby Veith Werke.

Hirschberger and Althanns worked closely together. After Althanns‘ death in 1954 however, Hirschberger decided to sell the business, this time again to Wilhelm Kaus, who made him a good offer.
Wilhelm Kaus, who had the reputation of having profited from aryanization after taking over several companies with more than questionable methods and who had worked closely with the Nazi authorities, was considered in the denazification processes to be “Offender” and or even “Main Offender”. Nevertheless he received a 1st class acquittal and was from then on considered as a “Less Offender”. Christine Wittrock described his career in her book “Das Unrecht geht einher mit sicherem Schritt“ (the steady pace of injustice).

Remembering the founders of Gummiwerke Odenwald

The two founders of Gummiwerke Odenwald, Jacob Strauss and Jakob Hirschberger and their fate have largely been forgotten. They were mentioned in a book published in 2017 by Traugott Hartmann “95 Jahre Gummiwerke Odenwald GmbH“ (95 years of Gummiwerke Odenwald), but certain facts need to be corrected.

In that book the founding of the Gummiwerke Odenwald was directly connected to the purchase of the Spatmühle (mill) in Sandbach in 1922. The effective founding of the Gummiwerke Odenwald was however two years earlier, in October 1920. In that month the manufacturers purchased the Klostermühle (Monastery mill) in Mümling-Grumbach and founded their business. The company was entered into the Register of Companies in November 1920. Due to the incorrect date the founders, Strauss and Hirschberger, faded into the background.

Jacob Strauss and Jakob Hirschberger build up a successful company, despite the world economic crisis and the obstacles created during the Nazi era. The company was in fact a role model for the economy of the Odenwald area. There are therefore many reasons to praise the achievements of Strauss and Hirschberger and in consequence to preserve them from oblivion. Wilhelm Kaus, in contrast to the almost forgotten founders and whose aryanization methods caused them much pain and grief, was made an honorary citizen of Neustadt.
Another correction is required to the statement that Jacob Strauss emigrated to the USA directly following the sale of the company (Hartmann: 21). The truth is that he came to a tragic end in April 1939 in Frankfurt.

Two Stolpersteine (commemorative “stumbling stones”) were embedded into the pavement in front of the house Auf der Körnerwiese 15 in Frankfurt on 22nd October 2020 in remembrance of the fates of Jacob and Stefanie Strauss.

An article published in October 2020 in the “Odenwälder Echo” honours the achievements of the two founders of the company.