A Tale of Cemeteries

The quest of the lost graves

The Hudtwalcker Family grave at Ohlsdorf cemetery, Hamburg

In the year of 1799, in the city of Hamburg, Jacob Hinrich Hudtwalcker, son of Jacob Hinrich the elder (1710-1781), died at the age of 46. His son, Johann Wilhelm, who was born in 1788 and suffered the loss of his father when he was 11 years old, would follow in his father’s footsteps almost four decades later (1837), having also an early death, at the age of 49, and repeating history: leaving the eldest of his two children, Johannes Christian1, before turning 12 years old. Their graves cannot be found in the cemetery where other Hudtwalcker family members are buried.

Until the end of the 18th century, Christian cemeteries in Hamburg were located in the inner-city church yards, as was usual at that time. It was only since 1770, because of the overcrowding and hygienic issues, one began attempts to move the burial places outside the city walls. Around 1790, in an initiative promoted by the Patriotic Society2, the main parishes started to build the Dammtorfriedhöfe3 outside the city walls. Here they could have enough space to emulate the architecture of the cemeteries in Hamm, Niendorf and Nienstedten, which at that time were leading the trend between Hamburg citizens because of their park-like layout … . But they didn’t get the expected results. As usually happens with any kind of change, thing takes time, and at the beginning those new cemeteries were known as “cemeteries of misery”, and, as a consequence thereof, the citizens did not want to use them because they were considered as inappropriate.

This being the case, Jacob Hinrich must upon his death in 1799 have been buried within the jurisdiction of one of the four main parishes of the city. But which one? What we know is that years later, Jacob Hinrich´s grandson, Johannes Christian, was baptized in Saint Michaelis church. With this information we can just guess that Johannes Christian and his family where members of St. Michael’s parish. Therefore, Jacob Hinrich might have been buried in the burial ground of the same church, at the city center of Hamburg.

Following that trace, we also know that in 1813, during the French occupation of Hamburg4, the use of the cemeteries in the inner-city was prohibited. Families started to use the cemeteries at the Dammtorfriedhöfe for their burials and in some cases to move their relative’s graves from their original place as well. Maybe in that moment the grave of Jacob Hinrich was moved to a new space in the Dammtorfriedhöfe, where about 30 years later his son, Johann Wilhelm must have joined him.

The new cemetery of Ohlsdorf5 was built in 1877. With 389 hectares, is the largest park cemetery in the world. Nevertheless, Dammtorfriedhöfe was open and active until 1909.

During the National Socialism regime, the cemeteries at the Dammtorfriedhöfe were destroyed in order to use the area as a military parade ground. Only the former St. Petri burial chapel from 1802 on St. Petersburger Strasse is preserved. The classicist building was the first chapel in the cemeteries. The Nazis only allowed the citizens to move the most artistic tombstones of their relatives to the new cemetery built in Ohlsdorf in 1877. We can guess that the procedure for that wasn’t easy.

Today in Ohlsdorf cemetery we find the Hudtwalcker family grave with the old Hudtwalckersäule (stele) next to it. The stele is the only round tombstone between the more than 280,000 graves of the cemetery. It was made in 1805 for the Hamburg senator and merchant Johann Michael Hudtwalcker on the occasion of the death of his wife, Elisabeth Hudtwalcker. The Hudtwalckersäule (stele) was originally located in the church burial ground of St. Catharinen, and must have been moved to the Dammtorfriedhöfe later.6 The senator Johann Michael Hudtwalcker was the eldest brother of Jacob Hinrich and the uncle of Johann Wilhelm.

The Hudtwalckersäule / Hudtwalcker-Stele at Ohlsdorf cemetery
The round Hudtwalcker-Stele was originally been located in a cemetery inside the city of Hamburg.

In this cemetery we can also find other graves of the Hudtwalcker family: the graves of Nicolaus Hudtwalcker, brother of Johann Michael and Jacob Hinrich, and his wife, Charlotte Amalie born Ohmann, and of their son, the insurer and art collector named as his father.

But what happened with the graves of Jacob Hinrich the second and Johann Wilhelm? Maybe we need to find the answer in the history of the Peruvian branch of the family.

The grave of Nicolaus Hudtwalcker and Charlotte Amalie born Ohmann.

About ten years after the death of Johann Wilhelm, his eldest son, Johannes Christian (1825-1903), left Hamburg and settled down in Lima, Peru. His brother, Wilhelm, followed him four years later but didn´t make it. He died at sea on his way to Lima. Their mother, Maria Eleonor Albers, died years later. Johannes Christian went back to Hamburg, and lived there from 1868 to 1877, when he, with his whole family, again moved back to Lima. In the following years until his death in Lima in 1903, he occasionally returned to Hamburg on business trips.

During the years of the Nazi regime, only Heinrich Carl Hudtwalcker (1880 – 1952)7 and his family remained in Hamburg. Most of the Hudtwalcker family had already left Germany, and the city all together. Jacob Hinrich’s and Johann Wilhelm’s descendants in Lima had lost any connection with their German family members. Accordingly, if the graves of father and son were indeed in the Dammtorfriedhöfe, as we presume according to the findings of our quest, they must have been destroyed by the Nazis.

Whatever the reason might be, the increasingly difficult life in Hamburg during the 2nd WW or simply a lack of information, there was nobody at that time to claimed their graves. But far away from the scene of European turmoil, on the other side of the world, Johannes Christian, son of Johann Wilhelm, had already managed to keep their legacy alive through a new and rapidly growing branch of the family tree.

Rodrigo Hudtwalcker Zegarra

  1. The Hudtwalcker Family in Peru
  2. Mary Lindemann: “Patriots and Paupers: Hamburg, 1712-1830”, Oxford University Press, USA, 1999
  3. Dammtorfriedh on Wikipedia
  4. Hamburger Franzosenzeit on Wikipedia
  5. Ohlsdorf Cemetary on Wikipedia
  6. Hudtwalcker Family Grave on Wikipedia
  7. The Third Branch

www.hudtwalcker.com 2020