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Mutual aid for the dispossessed

The Jewish Winter Relief Organization

“No one should suffer hunger and cold. Give to the best of your ability with a joyous heart.”


After the passing of the Nuremberg Laws in 1935, Jews were excluded from the support of the “Winter Relief Agency of the German People” and had to organize their own relief agency. Nazi legislation was making it more and more difficult for Jews in Germany to earn a living. The Jewish Winter Relief Organization stepped into the breach and assisted impoverished members of the community with food, medicine, and heating fuel. The photo was taken at a concert for the benefit of the Jewish Winter Relief.

Correspondence across the ocean

German-Jewish families separated by immigration restrictions

"Meanwhile the new year has arrived. What will it bring?"

Columbus, Ohio/Mannheim

This letter was written by Otto Neubauer, who had recently arrived in America from Mannheim, to his father Maximilian and his brother Ernst back home. Since the rest of the family was unable to emigrate despite years of trying, Otto wrote them regularly. The rich exchange of letters between the members of the Neubauer family reflects, as in the case of many other German Jewish emigrants in the 1930s, deep longing and attempts to describe every aspect of the new life in America.



Leo Baeck Institute – New York | Berlin


Otto Neubauer Collection, AR 25339


Box 1, folder 3

Excellence in exile

The Shared Fate of German Jewish Emigrants: Albert Einstein and Lotte Jacobi

“Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.” —Albert Einstein

Princeton, New Jersey

The people on both sides of the camera shared a fate that was common to many thousands of German Jews: shortly after the Nazis seized power in 1933, Albert Einstein decided to immigrate permanently to the United States. He took the position of professor of theoretical physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where this picture was taken five years later. In light of the increasing difficulties after the Nazi seizure of power, the photographer Lotte Jacobi also left Germany and emigrated to the United States in 1935. Jacobi was unpersuaded by the Nazis’ offer to grant her the status of “Honorary Aryan.” She left behind a studio in Berlin which she had run together with her sister, Ruth, also an accomplished photographer. Among the many prominent figures Jacobi photographed were Marc Chagall, Martin Buber, Eleanor Roosevelt, Thomas Mann, and Kurt Weill.

Unexpected allies

Words of Solidarity for German Jews from the US National Methodist Students Conference

“The National Methodist Students Conference has adopted a resolution protesting strongly against persecution of Jews in Germany and elsewhere.” (Jewish Telegraphic Agency)

St. Louis, Missouri

While the Methodists constituted a minority in Germany, they were a major denomination in the English-speaking world. The Nazis began wooing Methodist leaders in Germany as early as 1933, hoping to use them to propagandize fellow Methodists in the United States. German Methodist leaders became willing tools of the Nazis; not only did Methodist bishops avoid criticizing the regime, they explicitly praised what they saw as its successes. Against this background, it is all the more remarkable that the US National Methodist Students Conference adopted a resolution in which it condemned the antisemitic policies of Nazi Germany.

Crisis management

Factory owners navigating the needs of the day

“None of us can predict how things will turn out, no one can take offense at our holding on for as long as possible to what we have built together, and whether what we do now or in the near future is correct, cannot be judged by any one. Perhaps everything was wrong and too late.”


On January 5, 1938, Kuno Fleischer wrote to the shareholders of his family’s paper factory in the small Baden-Wurttemberg town of Eislingen about a recent business dispute and alluded darkly to a time when “grave decisions will have to be made swiftly.” He told his fellow owners—his brother and nephews—that he would soon travel to the United States to “orient himself” adding, “No one of us can predict how things will turn out, and no one can take offense at our holding on for as long as possible to what we have built together.”

Chronology of major events in 1938

Law on Alteration of Family and Personal Names

Page from a ledger book of the Gesellschaft der Freunde in Berlin, 1792 - 1793.

The new Law on Alteration of Family and Personal Names regulates the change of names of German citizens and individuals without citizenship who live in the German Reich. The law empowers the Interior Minister to issue rules concerning given names and unilaterally change those names that do not conform to the rules, including names which were changed before the Nazis seizure of power in 1933. This primarily affects assimilated Jews who adopted less apparently Jewish names, which the Nazis viewed as an attempt to camouflage their Jewishness. The new law is the Nazis’ first step toward marking Jews by forcing them to adopt ‘typical’ Jewish names.

View chronology of major events in 1938

“A quiet light in the dark night”

Birthday wishes in difficult times

“Blessed are we if at the end of our days we can also say that we bravely fought throughout our lives, when we can lie down with the awareness of having fairly struggled until the end.”


Sometimes the dark events were even reflected in the tone of birthday greetings. Fritz Schürmann, a Jewish teenager from Hildesheim, and Gerhard Loeffler, a Protestant from Dresden, had been good friends for years. On the occasion of  Fritz’s 18th birthday, Gerhard wished him safety, solace, and strength. Untypically for people of so young an age, the friend tries to convince Fritz of the necessity of hard experiences in the life of every human being.



Leo Baeck Institute – New York | Berlin


Frank M. Shurman Collection, AR 25219  


Box 2, folder 8

Improvisation impinged

Werner Dambitsch and his “Excentric [sic] Jazz Orchester”

This ID grants permission to participate in Jewish events. The holder is permitted to work, but the Reich Association does not guarantee employment.   

Breslau/ Berlin

Werner Wilhelm Dambitsch was born on June 23, 1913 in Breslau (today Wroclaw, Poland). Werner was interested in music from an early age, but he had to purchase his first instrument, a saxophone, with money he had earned himself. He did this in 1932 at the age of 19 and founded with four friends the ‘Excentric [sic] Jazz Orchester’. In order to perform, the combo had to join the “Reichsverband der jüdischen Kulturbünde in Deutschland” (Reich Association of Jewish Cultural Federations) and was forced to change the name to “Erstes Jüdisches Jazz-Orchester” (First Jewish Jazz Orchestra). While the association did not guarantee steady income or employment, at least it allowed the artists to perform at events attended by Jewish audiences. This image shows Werner Dambitsch’s Kulturbund membership card.

Doing fine under the circumstances

A letter from prison

“Under the circumstances I am doing fine, and when I think that it will be already two weeks tomorrow, I can hardly believe it. One must not think and brood too much, that’s the only way to keep one’s spirit up. And that’s what I want!”


Preparing for emigration to the United States, Alfred Rahn sold the family business, the M.S. Farrnbacher Ironmongery, in November 1937 without the consent of the Nazi authorities. Instead of leaving for the US at the end of December as planned, he therefore had to serve a 14 month prison term. From his prison cell in Fürth, Alfred Rahn expresses gratitude to his wife for gifts already received and asks for further necessities. His wife Lilly was a literary scholar and the last Jewish doctoral student to have graduated from the University of Erlangen (in 1934).



Leo Baeck Institute – New York | Berlin


Rahn Family Collection, AR 25538


Box 1, folder 10

Where strength and joy flow

A new Jewish Community Center in Hamburg

“We are responsible for the spirits and souls of the people. We cannot let them be crushed by everyday worries and hardship, be beaten down by the running battle of life, or whither away in the close air and restless drudgery.” (p.3)


In his opening speech at the inauguration ceremony for the new Jewish community center in Hamburg, Max M. Warburg, scion of a renowned family of bankers, describes the challenges the community is facing at the present moment and states the mission of the building and its leadership in troubled times. Describing theater as a source not only of “uplift and joy” but also of “moral fortitude,” Warburg declares the community center to be intended first and foremost as a home for the performances of actors and musicians of the Jewish Kulturbund.

One-way ticket

The travel agency on Meineke Street: South America, Columbia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, and Chile

“To South America (West Coast), Columbia-Equador-Bolivia-Peru-Chile”


If advertisements in newspapers reflect the main needs of society, then the Berlin Jüdisches Gemeindeblatt (Jewish Community Paper) from January 1938 can serve as a perfect example of such needs in times of crisis. By January 1938, when the majority of German Jews were preparing for emigration or actively looking for ways to leave the country, advertisements for travel agencies and shipping companies dominated the commercial space of the newspaper. The main destinations of German-Jewish emigrants were Palestine as well as North- and South America.

“Who won’t betray us in the end?”

Theater becomes the last cultural resort


As German Jews were getting arrested or being forced to leave the country, the performances put on by the local branches of the Jewish Kulturbund (Culture Association) were among the few places of refuge where Jews could enjoy culture as in earlier days. Among other things, in the winter season of 1937/1938 the Jüdischer Kulturbund Berlin performed Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin (Director: Dr. Kurt Singer) and Scribe’s The Ladies’ Battle (Director: Fritz Wisten). Since 1935, the Kulturbund’s venue had been the theater at 57 Kommandantenstrasse, the former Herrnfeld Theater, where popular Jewish plays had once been staged.

An arbitrary ordeal

Little Herbert waits for a visa

Does Papa remember the “dung beetle”, when Mr. M. said that he would never leave Germany and that a “Jewish Colony” should be built in Germany? Apparently he has been having second thoughts. The first proof was that he took his son out of the Kaiser Friedrich Gymnasium, and the second that he is sending his son to America.

Zurich/New York

Herbert Freeman was born Herbert Friedmann on December 13, 1925 in Frankfurt/Main, Germany. His father, Leo Friedmann, immigrated to the United States first. Herbert, his mother, and his brother applied for a US visa in Stuttgart. During the obligatory health check-up, the perfectly healthy Herbert was diagnosed as a “tuberculosis carrier” and was unable to join his mother and brother on their journey to the United States in 1936. After repeated unsuccessful attempts, in order to circumvent the Stuttgart US Consulate, 12-year-old Herbert was sent to Zurich (permission to file an application outside Germany was obtained in no small part thanks to the intervention of Albert Einstein). The letter was written during Herbert’s stay in Switzerland. He mentions his upcoming visit to the US Consulate and reapplying for the visa, and describes his days while separated from his relatives.



Leo Baeck Institute – New York | Berlin


Herbert Freeman Family Collection, AR 25346


Box 1, folder 4

Advice from New York

Remittances to Jewish recipients in Nazi Germany

We wish to point out that when using Haavaramark for your remittances you further the Jewish emigration from Germany.

New York

A representative of the New York office of Intria International Trade & Investment Agency Ltd., London, advises a client in New York to use the “Haavaramark” for “transfers to persons of Jewish descent residing in Germany.” The Haavara (transfer) Agreement had been made between Zionist representatives and the Nazis in 1933. It enabled emigrants to deposit money in a German account, which was used to pay for the import of German goods to Palestine. The proceeds from the sales of these goods in Palestine, after the deduction of costs, was disbursed to the new immigrants.

Staged normalcy

The Berlin Jewish Community: Between practical and intellectual needs


The January issue of the Berlin Kulturbund magazine conveys a sense of normalcy—local businesses advertise merchandise and services like cosmetics, women’s apparel and car repairs, while the Kulturbund schedule offers Eugene Scribe’s “The Ladies’ Battle.” The comedy must have provided a welcome respite from the worrisome situation.

Suited up

German Jews at the beach in Palestine

Daddy's visit.


Julius Ostberg was the owner of a uniform and coat factory in Essen. In January 1938, he visited his daughter Ilse in Palestine. Similar to other German Jews in Palestine, Ostberg did not think about giving up his outfit – associated among German Jews with correctness and good taste and often ridiculed by Jews of other nationalities. In this picture, taken on the beach, despite the casual environment, Mr. Ostberg presents himself in formal attire consisting of a suit and a tie.



Leo Baeck Institute – New York | Berlin


Ilse Gamper Collection, AR 25243


Box 1, folder 29

The noose tightens

The Reichsvertretung der Deutschen Juden appeals to the government

A considerable part of Jewry in Germany, in which older classes predominate, is incapable of emigrating and will end its days in Germany. If it is not to become a burden on the public welfare system, means for obtaining a livelihood must not be completely closed to it. Even the continuation of ordered emigration—and only that keeps the emigrating doors open—is possible only if the economic existence basis of Jews in Germany is not further curtailed.


The “Reichsvertretung der Deutschen Juden” (Reich Representation of German Jews) was established in Berlin in September 1933 as an advocacy group. After the passing of the Nuremberg Laws, it had to change its name to “Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland” (Reich Representation of Jews in Germany). Its president was Rabbi Leo Baeck. As a result of the increasing pauperization of the Jewish population, whose possibilities to earn a living were systematically taken away, the Reichsvertretung appealed to the government in January 1938 to desist from additional limitations depriving Jewish professionals of their jobs. The Reichsvertretung argued that not only was the increasing unemployment a burden on the welfare system, but it also made emigration impossible.

Mixed marriage by special permit

Letter congratulating Hermann Hoerlin on his upcoming wedding with Käthe Schmid

I wish the two of you every blessing. There certainly is no more magnificent, nobler character, no human being more joyously equipped by nature than Käthe Schmid, and therefore it says a lot that she is, as it were, being bestowed upon you, dear Mr. Hoerlin, and this wholeheartedly, with no ifs or buts, without any reservations.


An unidentified author congratulates the German mountain climber and physicist Hermann Hoerlin, based in Stuttgart, on his upcoming wedding with Käthe Schmid, who was considered a “Half-Jew” in Nazi parlance. The “Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor,” adopted in 1935, forbade marriages between Jews and non-Jews. Despite the law, the couple Hoerlin-Schmid obtained a special permit and the wedding could go ahead.



Leo Baeck Institute – New York | Berlin


Kate and Herman Hoerlin Collection, AR 25540


Box 2, folder 13

Nowhere safe to go

Dramatic events in Palestine

Last Sunday in a Jerusalem suburb, one Jewish auxiliary police man, Samuel Levi, was killed and another injured. In front of a Jewish workers' restaurant on Ben Yehuda Street, a bomb was dropped, exploding without doing damage.


When German Jews considered the various emigration options in January 1938, Palestine might have seemed a dangerous destination. As the Jüdische Rundschau reported, in the same month, attacks against Jewish inhabitants and clashes between Jews and Arabs occurred in numerous places in Palestine. Apart from local resistance, the paper mentioned Syrian terrorists, the smuggling of weapons from Libya, and the refusal of the Egyptian government to conduct direct Arab-Jewish negotiations. In light of these facts, emigrating to Palestine could appear to the prospective emigrants like jumping from the frying pan into the fire rather than finding a safe refuge.

Markus becomes Mischa

The 15th birthday of a German Jewish refugee in Moscow


Markus Wolf (center in the photo above), one of the sons of the communist physician and writer Friedrich Wolf (right), was born in 1923 in Hechingen in the Swabian Alps. After the Nazi seizure of power the family initially emigrated to Switzerland, then to France, and in 1934 to the Soviet Union. The Wolf family resided at the Hotel Lux in Moscow where a large number of communist refugees from Germany had been given shelter. During the years of the Great Terror (1936–38), deeply suspicious of the foreigners, in whom it saw potential spies for the Reich, Stalin’s regime tortured and interrogated many of the German emigrants. Among the approximately 600,000 victims of the purge were 178 German communists, most of them residents of the Hotel Lux. The Wolf family survived.

The “Harrods of Berlin”

Nathan Israel's department store


This picture-postcard shows Berlin’s oldest and for some time largest department store, named after the founder of the business, Nathan Israel. The Israel family had taken up residence in Berlin in the 18th century. The business was last located at 28 Spandauer Straße, across from the Rotes Rathaus (“Red City Hall”). Under its last director, Wilfrid Israel, the department store distinguished itself by providing uncommonly generous benefits to its employees, such as health and social insurance.

Counting refugees

The Decline in Numbers of German Jewry

“The Jewish population of Germany has declined by one-third since the beginning of 1933, the Union for Scientific Study of Population Problems reported today. A total of 135,000 Jews left Germany up to the end of 1937, according to the computation of Dr. Kurt Zielenziger, published in the Union’s organ, Population.”


After the Nazis’ rise to power, the economic historian and journalist Kurt Zielenziger fled to Amsterdam with his wife and son. There he co-founded the “Jewish Central Information Office,” the goal of which was to document the persecution of Jews by the Nazis and to spread the information. In this release, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency quotes his computation of Jewish emigrants from Germany according to destination countries. According to Zielenziger, by the end of 1937, a total of 135,000 Jews had left the country.

Victory of the underdog

The theater of the Berliner Kulturbund features a powerless hero who wins over his antagonist.


With Adolphe Adam’s comic opera “If I were King” and Ladislaus Bus-Fekete’s “Cape of Good Hope,” the Berlin Kulturbund offered its guests lighthearted distractions. The Jewish audience in Berlin in 1938 must have been receptive to an opera in which the powerless but honest hero wins and the bad guy gets his well-deserved punishment.

The American dream

A Jew who has taken the leap calls upon a friend to follow suit.

“My most beautiful dream is that all the people I like should live near me.”

New York/Berlin

As the number of Jewish emigrants from Germany was constantly growing, so was the number of letters exchanged between friends and relatives who had already left and those who stayed behind. In his handwritten letter from January 23, Mikloś Ehrenfeld suggests to his friend Kunibert in Berlin that it would be a good idea for him to leave Germany in spite of his good position and come to America, as Ehrenfeld himself did. Self-actualization and the fulfillment of personal dreams, Ehrenfeld wrote, were possible in America but hopeless in Germany.

The Fifth Column

Antisemitic decrees in Romania

Foreign Minister Micescu declared in Geneva that the the Romanian government does not intend to bring the Jewish resp. the minorities problem before the League of Nations, since Romania is not in need of advice regarding its domestic politics from abroad, and that the Minorities Treaties refer only to those nationalities living in separate territories which used to be part of the Hapsburg Monarchy and do not apply to Jews residing in the Old Kingdom.


In the 78th and last year of its existence, the orthodox weekly Der Israelit reports on measures of the anti-semitic, pro-German Goga-Cuza government in Romania: The country’s Jews were subjected to various chicaneries and occupational bans similar to those in Germany. As a result of gains in territory and population in WWI, about 30% of Romanians belonged to minority groups, who were seen as a “Fifth Column.” Jews especially were the object of fears and suspicions which easily turned into violent hatred.

Karl Adler’s 48th Birthday

The Jüdisches Lehrhaus Stuttgart


Born in Buttenhausen, Wuerttemberg on January 25, 1890, Karl Adler studied music at the Stuttgart Conservatory, where he became Director in 1921. He was a cofounder of the Verein zur Förderung der Volksbildung, an adult-education organization, and director of its music department. In 1926, he was among the leading forces that built the Jüdisches Lehrhaus Stuttgart. After his dismissal from his position at the conservatory in 1933, he initiated and directed the Stuttgarter Jüdische Kunstgemeinschaft, a branch of the Kulturbund. In 1935, he became the head of the music department of the Mittelstelle für jüdische Erwachsenenbildung, a division of the Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland dealing with adult education.



Leo Baeck Institute – New York | Berlin


Leopold Levi Collection, AR 1929


ALB-OS 19, F 84099

A forced move

Leo Perutz shortly before his emigration to Palestine

“For it’s human nature even in the direst extremity to see a spark of hope and blow it into flames” ― Leo Perutz, By Night Under the Stone Bridge

Vienna/Tel Aviv

There are many ways to describe Leo Perutz: novelist, mathematician, native of Prague, chess lover—to name but a few. He was admired by his colleagues and millions of readers. His success as a writer was so great that he decided in 1923 to give up his bread-and-butter job as an actuary. The Great Depression hit him hard, since the crisis not only negatively impacted the bookselling trade but also rendered the family company, in which he had a share, less profitable. To make matters worse, after the Nazis’ rise to power, his Jewish publisher, Paul Szolnay, lost his largest market in Germany. This is one of the last photographs taken before Perutz’s emigration from Vienna to Tel Aviv, Palestine in 1938.

Chronology of major events in 1938

Aktion “Arbeitsscheu Reich”

Poster for the Reich Labor Service, 1938.

Heinrich Himmler orders a “one-time, comprehensive, surprise attack” on Arbeitsscheue. This designation, which means “work-shy” or “indolent,” includes men of working age who have rejected two job offers or who quit after a short period of time. The Gestapo, the secret police force of the National Socialists, was tasked with the endeavor and collected the necessary information in collaboration with employment offices. From April 21 through April 30, between 1,500 and 2,000 men are arrested and brought to the concentration camp Buchenwald. Hearings are not scheduled to take place until the second half of the year.

View chronology of major events in 1938

No hope in the East

The Polish Parliament discusses the removal of Jews

Speaker Walewski reported that in the years 1926 to 1936 an average of 18,000 Jews annually, i.e. 60% of the natural increase of the Jewish population, had left the country. However, he demanded the emigration of at least 100.000 Jews annually and estimated that at least 1 million annually needed to be coaxed to emigrate.


As the situation of Jews in Nazi Germany deteriorated from day to day, the anti-Semitic atmosphere in other countries became increasingly tense. In neighboring Poland, anti-Semitic voices became louder and louder. As the C.V.-Zeitung, the organ of the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith, reported, the Lower House of the Polish Parliament expressed its anti-Jewish sentiments in the form of a plan to remove Jews from the country: it called for the emigration of at least 100,000 Jews annually. Besides Palestine, Madagascar was discussed as a possible destination. The case of Polish Prime Minister Sławoj Składkowski shows how widely antisemitism was accepted: commenting on the “unpleasant events” (presumably, the numerous cases of physical violence against Jews), he claimed that Jews themselves were to blame, due to their lack of understanding of Polish peasantry, which, just as the Jews themselves, was striving for a higher standard of living.

Stopover in Venice

Europe remains of great importance for Jewish emigrants in Palestine.

Palestine/ Venice/Essen

When Julius Ostberg visited Palestine in January 1938, his daughter Ilse had been living in the country for four years. She was born in 1912 and spent her first 22 years in Essen. After emigrating from Germany to Palestine in 1934, she, like many other German Jewish emigrants to Palestine, continued to visit Europe in the following years. The photos shown here were taken in 1937 during a stopover in Venice on the way back to Palestine.



Leo Baeck Institute – New York | Berlin


Ilse Gamper Collection, AR 25243


Box 1, folder 29

Religion, culture and the struggle for human dignity

Synagogues adapt to the changing needs of Jewish life.


This drawing shows the interior of the Prinzregentenstraße Synagogue in Berlin (Wilmersdorf). Built in 1930, the building was designed to fulfill the needs of a liberal congregation. As shown in the picture, the synagogue boasted a magnificent organ. Rabbi Leo Baeck gave the sermon at the opening ceremony. From 1933, when Jews began to be pushed out of Germany’s cultural life, the synagogue also became a Jewish cultural center.

No Reward for Patriotism

The Nazis suspend the newspaper of the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith.

“The paper is the second Jewish organ to be suspended within a week.”


The C.V.-Zeitung, Paper for German and Jewish Culture was the organ of the “Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith.” The Central Association’s political bent was liberal-conservative and it strove to represent the interests of all Jews, regardless of religious affiliation. The newspaper aimed to raise the self-confidence of German Jews as well as to deepen their love of “both German and Jewish culture.” (Jüdisches Lexikon 1927). January 30, 1938 was the last day of ordinary operations for the C.V.-Zeitung. On the 31st, the Nazis ordered its temporary suspension until February 24 with no reason given.



Jewish Telegraphic Agency


“C.v. Zeitung Suspended”

Source available in English

Vacation from the threat

A postcard from the French Riviera

“This is where I went to dance yesterday.”

Nice/Frankfurt am Main

Although one could imagine 1938 as a very gloomy and tense year for German Jews, some events, such as vacations, bore a semblance of normalcy. In this postcard from a trip to the “sunny South,” no political thunderclouds appear on the horizon. The writer tells the recipient in Frankfurt, Rosel Lehrberger, about an afternoon dance at the Palais de la Jetée in Nice, an elegant Moorish Revival casino from the Belle Epoque, which for decades was a tourist magnet.