“I wonder what happened to Carl Hamburger.”

Several times in his later years, my father would, in general reminiscing,   wonder aloud, “I’ve always wondered what happened to Carl Hamburger.”

Carl Hamburger was a young man who had worked at the Patz & Fortson store in Elberton in the early 1940s, and as the first German my father had ever met, he was a curiosity. But on his visits to the Patz & Fortson store with my grandfather, he, then about 12, and Hamburger became more than casual acquaintances.

Then came a day when Carl just wasn’t around anymore.

In my father’s recollection, the rumors around town were that Carl had been arrested as a German national found in possession of a shortwave radio. This would have placed his disappearance after Germany had declared war on the United States following the declaration of war against Japan. Having heard this story a couple of times over the years, I just mentally filed it away. Not long ago, however, I ran across the name Carl Hamburger in a newspaper account and it became spoor on the trail of what I found a fascinating story, and a bit of local history that should, if any of the old rumors linger, be set straight.

First of all, as rumors running rampant in small towns will as they run from mouth to ear to mouth, some things got mixed up, and other things were just plain wrong to begin with. There was at least one roundup of foreign nationals in Elberton, on October 13, 1942, in which the FBI netted four Italian nationals and one German. None were named in the newspaper account − the FBI refused to divulge any specific details to local authorities −  but all were alleged to have been found in possession of either firearms and ammunition, cameras or radios capable of sending or even receiving shortwave signals. All of these items were contraband for foreign nationals under edicts issued by the Roosevelt administration as a wartime measure once the United States was at war with Germany and Italy. The raid on Elberton was coincident with raids the same day in Athens and Atlanta. Elberton, though, with its significant Italian immigrant population employed in the granite industry, is apparently the only town of its size in Georgia that drew the FBI’s attention, at least in the raids of October 1942. Evidently, however, by the time the raid took place, Carl Hamburger had been gone from Elberton for some months. This is his story, both before and after his time in Elberton.

Carl August Hamburger was born July 4, 1922 in Wiesbaden, Germany, son of Anne Kahn Hamburger and Arthur Abraham Hamburger, a furniture dealer. According to an oral history given to the William Bremen Jewish Heritage Museum in Atlanta by Frances Bertha Hamburger Bunzi, Carl’s late sister, Carl and his father were arrested by the Nazis following Kristallnacht, ie “Night of the Broken Glass,” the nationwide November 9-10, 1938 pogram against Jews carried out by Nazi paramilitary forces. They were released on the condition that the family leave Germany. Arthur Hamburger was forced to sell his business for a fraction of its actual worth.

Father, mother and son went first to Cuba and from there entered the United States by way of New York City. They arrived in Elberton in time for Carl to finish school, graduating with the Elberton high school class of 1940. (Frances Hamburger, who had worked as a governess in England, was able to return to England and made her way to New York City from there.) It is uncertain from records, but there seems a good chance the Hamburgers’ immigration was sponsored by the Patz family of Elberton.

On July 18, 1941, Arthur Hamburger told his story before a meeting of the Kiwanis Club in Elberton, or rather Carl did. Arthur’s command of English at the time was limited, so Carl acted as his translator. “I am here to make you a good citizen,” he told the group, “and appreciate all the kindness shown me.”

Due to sketchy records, there is no evidence that Arthur was the unnamed German national arrested and interned in October 1942. But it wasn’t Carl. He had joined the U.S. Army some months before. Records indicate that he served as a translator with an Army intelligence unit throughout 1942-45. That would seem unlikely had his father been interned as a suspected enemy alien.

After the war, Carl attended the University of Georgia Law School but evidently never practiced law. Instead he entered business, eventually acquiring and operating several successful businesses in the Albany and Columbus area. He died March 12, 2012, at the age of 89.

So an idle question is at last answered and an unfounded rumor put to rest. Just a footnote in the larger story of Elberton during the years of World War II, but it had been left to gather dust in a quiet corner of history where the truth often lies.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s