BIOGRAPHY of HUGO SEILER
The adjacent photo is of Hugo SEILER with his son-in-law, Mr. Dantzer (an Alsatian Christian), Dantzer’s sister-in-law, Mathilde Dantzer, and one of Hugo’s grandaughters at her christening in 1942.
Hugo SEILER was born in July 19, 1890 in Vienna, Austria into a Jewish family whose paternal branch came from Koloméa in Galicia (now in Ukraine), the maternal branch coming from Nikolsburg, the German name of Mikulov, today a town in the Czech Republic. His parents had four sons, of which Hugo was the second.
At the age of 16 he was apprenticed to his father, who then ran a dyer’s shop. Three years later he obtained his apprentice’s certificate. He then left to do his military service in 1911 and was inducted during the First World War. He was sent to the Russian front. Demobilized, he married Berthe Turkel in the synagogue of the Vienna garrison in October, 1918. They had a daughter Rose in 1920.
His wife’s family came from Lemberg, the Austrian name of the Galician capital up until the Great War. It is now Lviv in Ukraine. There they ran a café, “The American Café”. They fled the Russian advance all the way to Vienna. Berthe was born in Czernowitz, the Austrian name of Tchernivtsi in present-day Ukraine.
Between 1920 and 1923 Hugo took up the jute trade; he was sent by his employers to take over the management of a jute factory in Port Saïd, Egypt, whence he was expelled by the English for being Austrian.
In 1924 the small family took up residence with Berthe’s father in Alsace, where her brother had found work.
Berthe’s father died in 1936.
In Mulhouse, at the age of 34, Hugo started over from zero, training from 1925 to 1930 to be an engraver. As the work didn’t suit him, however, he ended up taking a job as a sales agent in the confectionery business from 1930 to 1939.
He crisscrossed Alsace at the wheel of his car with his samples while his wife opened a boarding house for Polish Jews studying at the Mulhouse School of Chemistry.
In November 18, 1939, under the provisions of the decree on the measures to be taken toward individuals dangerous to national defense, Hugo, Berthe, and Rose were labeled “enemy nationals”.
In September Hugo was imprisoned in the fortress of Langres, but thanks to the intervention of Mr. Wagner, the mayor of Mulhouse, he was released two months later. He was put under house arrest in Nîmes, far from the border, and he, his wife, and his daughter were all three compelled to sign in at the police station twice a week.
Berthe had to close her boarding house, as the Polish and Austrian parents of the students could no longer cover their children’s expenses after 1938. Hugo was forbidden to work and their resources melted.
In the midst of preparing to move to Nîmes on December 15, 1939 his wife was handed an order by a policeman requisitioning all their possessions. She suffered a stroke in front of her daughter and died the next day in the Mulhouse hospital. She was 47 years old.
The police chief gave Hugo a leave of two days to go and bury his wife in the Jewish cemetery of Mulhouse and come back with his daughter and her luggage.
On June 10, 1940 Italy entered the war on the side of Germany and Japan; Hugo was reinterned, this time in the prison of Mende in the Lozère department, before being again released.
On November 11, 1942 the Germans invaded the Free Zone. At Romans Hugo was interned in a disaffected factory in horrible conditions. “People slept on a little straw strewn on the floor, there were no doors, no windows”, his daughter says. She was able to get him freed through the intervention of a refugee wine merchant, Monsieur Burkard. She was herself the target of an internment order she received by mail, she rushed to marry a non-Jewish Alsatian in April, 1941. She gave birth to a little girl, Emmy, on October 10, 1942, who was baptized immediately.
On May 19, 1944, she was delivered of a boy, Robert, in St.-Étienne.
Meanwhile, the vise was tightening around Hugo, who was arrested on May 31, 1944 after being denounced by his neighbors for listening to the radio in his flat, or, according to another source, while conversing with some Austrian soldiers garrisoned in Nîmes.
His apartment was given to a Spanish cleaning woman who worked at Gestapo headquarters. His car was confiscated by the Germans. The few possessions he had stashed in a box in the cellar were pillaged.
His daughter’s maternity kept her tied to St.-Étienne, and her inability to do anything for him left her in despair. She herself and her family were also in danger (122 Jews were arrested in St.-Étienne in May).
Hugo was sent to work with a mine-clearing squad at the Nîmes train station, then sent to Drancy, deported in convoy 77, and selected for forced labor upon his arrival.
It is known that he worked on road construction, in a mine, and at the Buna-Monowitz factory. Unusually, there is a mention on the back of his Drancy identity sheet that he was part of the big selection for the gas chamber (block 5) carried out on October 13, 1944.
This selection is described by Primo Levi in his book Si c’est un homme in the chapter titled Octobre 44.
This mention was inscribed by Anne Sussmann, an Austrian Auschwitz survivor who knew Hugo in deportation. Yvette Levy, another survivor, remembers Anne and reports:
“She was engaged in spreading disinformation among the German troops in Lyon for the Résistance. She became pregnant while in the camp and had a miscarriage during roll call. With the complicity of some Lorraine workers she escaped from an arms factory to which she had been sent. It is not unlikely that she and husband knew Hugo, for the Austrians had been gathered together. Her husband survived by a miracle, and they lived for a while in Paris before leaving for Vienna. They were genuine militants for keeping memory alive.”
On her return to Paris she worked at the catalogue of resistance activists and war victims, which gave her access to the Drancy file to which she was able to add the note that informs us of Hugo’s fate. She and her husband died in 1986 and 1987.
This handwritten note was only discovered in 1990 when more intense research was sparked by the work of Serge Klarsfeld and of the FFDJF (Sons and Daughters of French Jews), when a photocopy was made of the data sheet.
Hugo’s daughter Rose long believed her father had died during the great evacuation march in the snow in January 45. A tailor who had survived it had told her so.
Rose Seiler became a French citizen after the war. She has always refused to accept any monetary compensation from Germany despite the precarious situation in which she found herself after her divorce in 1960. She had five children, 14 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-granddaughter named Cléa, as of May 2017.
3500 Austrians, mostly Jews, were deported from France. 200 of them survived.
Biography established by Kathy Dantzer-Lalo