Adolf Althoff (1913 - 1998)

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Adolf Althoff
1913 - 1998
June 25, 1913
October 14, 1998
Adolf Althoff was born on June 25, 1913. He died on October 14, 1998 at 85 years old.
Updated: May 18, 2021
Adolph Althoff was a German circus owner, animal tamer and performer who saved several people from the Holocaust by having them work and travel in his circus. A member of a 300-year-old circus family, Althoff and his story are featured in a book about Germans who saved Jews from the Holocaust. Wikipedia Born: June 25, 1913, Sonsbeck, Germany Died: October 14, 1998, Stolberg (Rhineland), Germany
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Adolph Althoff was a German circus owner, animal tamer and performer who saved several people from the Holocaust by having them work and travel in his circus. A member of a 300-year-old circus family, Althoff and his story are featured in a book about Germans who saved Jews from the Holocaust.

Personal Life

Rescue in a Circus Adolf Althoff's family had owned the famous Althoff circus since the 17th century. Adolf was born in 1913 in the family's circus wagon, while the circus performance was going on. When his older brother and sister took over the family enterprise in 1939, Adolf established his own circus. Shortly afterwards he married Maria, who was also from a circus family. The Adolf Althoff circus, which consisted of approximately 90 artists and their families, toured all over Europe, and continued its regular activity throughout the war years, traveling from one place to another. In the summer of 1941, the circus stopped for a prolonged round of performances near Darmstadt in Hesse. One of the visitors at the site was a young girl by the name of Irene Danner. She was a descendant, on her mother’s side, of the Lorch family, a celebrated German-Jewish circus dynasty that had settled in the small town of Eschollbrücken near Darmstadt in the 19th century. Her father was non-Jewish and had been enlisted in the German army. Although Irene was half-Jewish, she and her sister were considered Jews according to Nazi Germany's racial laws. They suffered from severe discrimination – they had been ostracized by their classmates, and following Kristallnacht in 1938, were entirely expelled from school. Irene had to give up violin lessons and was barred from fulfilling her dream and going to ballet school. All doors were closing in Irene Danner’s face. She therefore went to Adolf Althoff in the hope of being able to join the circus. Although he was well aware of her Jewish descent and despite being subjected to severe control by the German Ministry of Culture, Althoff agreed to engage Irene in his circus under an assumed name. She soon fell in love with another circus artist, a clown by the name of Peter Storm-Bento from Belgium. They couldn't get married because of the racial laws, but soon had a child and then another. In 1942, the persecution of the Jews of Darmstadt entered a new, lethal phase. On 20 March 1942, the first deportation to Lublin in Poland took place, to be followed by two more deportations in September 1942 and in February 1943. Irene’s Jewish grandmother was deported with the last deportation from Darmstadt and the family house was confiscated. Irene's mother, Alice, and her sister Gerda managed to escape to the circus. Peter Storm-Bento turned to Althoff and asked him to help his partner's family. “There was no question in our minds that we would let them stay…,” Althoff explained after the war, "I couldn't simply permit them to fall into the hands of the murderers. This would have made me a murderer." He provided shelter for the three women in his circus until the end of the war. They were eventually joined by Irene’s father, Hans Danner, who, like other partners in mixed marriages, had been sent home from the front and ordered to divorce his Jewish wife. Danner decided to defy his commanders and join his family’s clandestine existence. Sheltering four illegals during the war years was a high-risk undertaking. Although the circus’ relative seclusion did afford some protection from inquisitive eyes, the Gestapo would regularly inspect the circus when it arrived at a new place. The Danners would then hide on the premises until the danger passed. The whole circus kept the secret. No one denounced the family, but the Althoffs had to reckon with the ever-present possibility of a denunciation by one or another disgruntled worker. The threat actually materialized once, but the wily circus director knew how to distract the Gestapo officers’ attention with a drink or two, giving the illegals extra time to disappear. On January 2, 1995, Yad Vashem recognized Adolf and Maria Althoff as Righteous Among the Nations. “We circus people see no difference between races or religions,” said Adolf Althoff, when he received the honor. Online Store The Encyclopedia of the Righteous among the Nations The Encyclopedia of the Righteous among the Nations $435.00 Yad Vashem logo Yad Vashem Har Hazikaron P.O.B. 3477 Jerusalem 9103401 Israel Phone: (972) 2 6443400 Fax: (972) 2 6443569 Email: [contact link] Interested in receiving information and updates from Yad Vashem?

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Adolf Althoff, 85, Circus Chief Who Hid People From Nazis By Eric Pace Oct. 19, 1998 Adolf Althoff, a courageous German circus executive who saved several people in the Nazi era by having them work and travel with his circus, died in his sleep on Wednesday in a hospital in Stolberg near Aachen. He was 85 and lived in Stolberg. The cause was probably heart failure, said the German news agency DPA. He had been hospitalized after a fall at home. A member of a 300-year-old circus family, Mr. Althoff figures in a book about Germans who saved Jews from the Holocaust, ''Other Germans Under Hitler'' by Herbert Straeten, published last year in Germany. In the book Mr. Althoff is quoted as saying, ''Circus people don't ask if you are Christian, Jewish or heathen.'' When the book was published Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel of Germany said: ''It is incredible how many simple people -- farmers, people in the circus -- tried to help. But it was a minority who had the courage to resist. Most Germans did not.'' Mr. Althoff, who warned people who traveled with him when the Gestapo came to check the circus with the phrase, ''Go fishing,'' once said in an interview, ''In a circus you can do a lot and keep it secret.'' His bravery earned a high Israeli honor in 1995 from the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel. It also won him an award in 1994 from a German organization, the Stuttgart Circus-Friends, which called him a descendant of one of the oldest and greatest circus families in Germany. He was born into the family in Sonsbeck near Dusseldorf, while his parents' circus was on tour. At 17 he became publicity director of the circus. Mr. Althoff and his sister formed their own circus while he was in his 20's, and he was its ringmaster for 30 years. He was also, as one circus colleague put it after his death, ''a fantastic animal trainer and animal psychologist.'' He even managed to ride tigers. ''His operation was regarded as a model circus because of its discipline and the beauty of its numbers,'' DPA said. His career took him around Europe and to North Africa and the United States. What Happened After the Joke: A Stand-Up’s Harrowing Tale In 1940, Mr. Althoff began five years' of concealing the four members of the Bento performing family in his circus. By some accounts the husband, Peter Bento, and his wife, Irene, were Jewish. Peter worked as a clown and Irene as a trick rider. Other accounts suggest that the husband was not Jewish. Their two children were reported to be still performing in Germany 40 years after the war, much in demand as clowns. Mr. Althoff is said to have provided the the Bentos false identity papers and letting family members perform under pseudonyms. The German newspaper Die Welt said on Friday: ''In every city Gestapo officials came to check the circus. Because Althoff had friends in almost every city he was mostly informed a bit ahead of time about the 'visit.' Then he knocked on the widow of the Bentos' large covered wagon and gave the cue for them to disappear: 'Go Fishing.' '' Years later heart trouble and diabetes forced Mr. Althoff to cut back his activities. In 1965 he sold his circus at the time, the Frederike Hagenbeck circus, and founded a ''safari park'' near Aachen. When his son, Franz, founded the Williams Althoff circus in 1977, Adolf Althoff went on tour with it. When he was 70 a tiger performing with him bit his hand. He had the wound bandaged quickly and kept performing. Surviving are his wife, Maria, and son.

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In 1913, in the year that Adolf Althoff was born, Henry Ford installed the first moving assembly line for the mass production of an entire automobile. It had previously taken 12 hours to assemble a whole vehicle - now it took only two hours and 30 minutes! Inspired by the production lines at flour mills, breweries, canneries and industrial bakeries, along with the disassembly of animal carcasses in Chicago’s meat-packing plants, Ford created moving belts for parts and the assembly line was born.

In 1945, at the age of 32 years old, Adolf was alive when on December 5th, Flight 19 was lost in the Bermuda Triangle. All five planes and 14 airmen disappeared, as did 13 crew on a plane that was dispatched to find them. The official Navy reported the disappearance as "cause unknown".

In 1954, he was 41 years old when from April 22 through June 17th, the Army v. McCarthy hearings were held. The U.S. Army accused Roy Cohn (chief counsel to Senator McCarthy and later trusted mentor of Donald Trump) of blackmail. McCarthy and Cohn accused the U.S. Army of harboring communists. The Army allegations were found to be true. The U.S. Senate later censured McCarthy.

In 1962, at the age of 49 years old, Adolf was alive when on October 1st, African-American James H. Meredith, escorted by federal marshals, registered at the University of Mississippi - becoming the first African-American student admitted to the segregated college. He had been inspired by President Kennedy's inaugural address to apply for admission.

In 1998, in the year of Adolf Althoff's passing, on December 19th, the movie Titanic - based on the 1912 sinking of the ship and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet - was released. Winning 11 Oscars, it was the first film to gross over a billion dollars and eventually grossed over $2 billion.

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