Due to the perception prevalent since the middle of the 19th century that immigrants, preferably from Europe, were needed to populate the vast expanses of Argentina, the country’s immigration policy was comparatively generous. But already following WWI, the country’s needs for manpower were perceived as saturated, and by the 20s, administrative barriers to immigration were put up. With victims of Nazi persecution seeking refuge, immigration policy was tightened even more. Nevertheless, many thousands of German Jews as well as political adversaries of the regime found refuge in Argentina. Among them was Max Busse. His sister, Anna Nachtlicht, had heard about plans of the Argentine government to ease immigration and make it possible to request permits for siblings. Max immediately went to make inquiries, but the results were sobering. In this December 26th letter, he is forced to tell her that no such plans seem to exist. Relatives in France had offered the Nachtlichts to stay with them to wait for their visas for a third country. Perhaps, Max suggests, it would be easier to apply from there.
No one reading the November issue of the Aufbau could have missed the front-page editorial message in bold print: under the heading “The Great Trial,” forceful language is employed to decry the abject failure of “the heads of state of the so-called democracies,” who have sacrificed Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany. Jewish refugees are left stranded in no man’s land in Bohemia, in Germany, the Nazis are dealing an “economic death blow” to the Jews, the British are jeopardizing the Zionist project, and “little more than a faint memory” remains of the Evian Conference, summoned in July to tackle the problem of resettling Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. Surely, this is “an era of complete sinfulness.” Will those under threat finally brace up?
Since the early 1880s, federal immigration law in the US included a provision seeking to keep out people likely to become a “public charge.” Under the impact of the Great Depression, President Herbert Hoover reinforced the ban in 1930. Aid organizations were hard pressed to find employment for the newcomers: on October 26, a representative of the Employment Department of the Greater New York Coordinating Committee for German Refugees explains to Willy Nordwind of the Boston Committee for Refugees the challenges of finding work for a man who had managed to enter the country but barely spoke any English and had no work experience to boast save as a candy salesman. Nevertheless, the representative promises to continue his efforts on the immigrant’s behalf.
Would the sisters Helen and Eva Hesse remember this year’s Rosh Hashanah someday? For their parents, Wilhelm and Ruth Hesse, the new year’s celebration of 1938 was a break with tradition. The family had made the decision to emigrate from Hamburg. Helen was five years old at this point in time. Her little sister Eva had just turned two. Their father kept a diary for both his daughters during this period. Over the entry for Rosh ha-Shana 5699 in large, typeprinted letters are the words: “We’re emigrating,” the theme of this year’s new year celebration. The rest of the entry Wilhelm wrote by hand. Until then, however, he wanted his daughters’ lives to be as carefree as possible. That it went very differently for their parents is clear at the end of the diary entry. There Wilhem Hesse wrote: “Later they’ll be amazed what their parents had to suffer in these times. We’re emigrating.”
Of the American-Jewish self-help groups assisting Jews in leaving Europe and rebuilding their lives in the United States, the Boston Committee for Refugees was the first. Established in 1933, it consisted entirely of volunteers. Under the leadership of Walter H. Bieringer and Willy Nordwind, the Committee chiefly endeavored to obtain affidavits for would-be immigrants and see to it that they would find employment upon arrival in the U.S. Since the Great Depression, the State Department had orders to keep people “likely to become a public charge” out. It was of great importance to ensure the livelihood of the refugees. The annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany and the colossal failure of the Évian Conference on Refugees reinforced the urgency of helping the desperate asylum seekers. On August 26th, 1938, the Committee’s Acting Executive Secretary sent Bieringer a list of recent arrivals in need of placement.
Hugo Jellinek was a man of many talents. The outbreak of WWI forced him to quit medical school in Vienna. As a soldier, he was severely wounded in Samarkand and fell in love with his nurse, who later became the mother of his three daughters. The couple settled down in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. His young wife having died in 1926, he fled the Soviet Union in 1930 and ultimately returned to Vienna, where he utilized his knowledge of 8 languages as a translator and also worked as a freelance journalist. Thanks to a warning about impending arrest by the Nazis, he was able to escape to Brünn (Czechoslovakia) in June 1938. His eldest daughter, eighteen year-old Gisella Nadja, departed for Palestine the same day. In this colorful letter, Hugo shows fatherly concern for Nadja’s well-being, but also talks at length about the hardship he himself has faced as a refugee and reports that his cousin’s son is interned at the Dachau Concentration Camp. He mentions with gratification what he calls the “League,” probably referring to the aid center of the “League for Human Rights,” which was looking after the refugees, defying Hitler’s sinister goals. Ultimately, however, the most important thing for him was the fight for a country of one’s own.
The first major rupture in artist Gustav Wolf’s biography had occurred during World War I. He had volunteered for frontline duty and was badly injured. His brother Willy was killed in combat. The works in which he processed his wartime experiences leave no doubt about his feelings. Instead of glorifying war, he shows its horrors. His confrontation with antisemitism during and after the war led him to an increased awareness of his own Jewishness. In 1920 he accepted a professorship at the Baden Art School in Karlsruhe, trying to realize his ideal of an equitable partnership between teacher and student. After a year, he quit this “dead activity,” referring to the school as “an academy of schemers.” In 1929, he designed the set for Fritz Lang’s silent film “Woman in the Moon,” an early science-fiction movie. Upon the Nazi rise to power in 1933, he canceled his memberships with all the artists’ associations to which he had belonged. In his letter to the Baden Secession, he explained his decision with the following words: “I must first get my bearings again. The foundations of my existence have been called into question and shaken.” After extended stays in Switzerland, Italy and Greece, he returned to Germany in 1937. In February 1938, he boarded a ship to New York. June 26, 1938 was his 49th birthday.
Since 1937, Lina and Siegmund Günzburger of Lörrach in southwest Germany and their son, Herbert, had been preparing their paperwork for emigration. The requirements amounted to nothing short of a nightmare. Prospective emigrants had to procure numerous personal documents, letters of recommendation, and affidavits. They were also required to prepare an inventory of all their belongings and to document that they had paid all their taxes. Apparently, the required documents also included this copy of the marriage certificate for Siegmund’s grandparents. Especially perfidious was the so-called “Reich Flight Tax.” Originally introduced in the waning days of the Weimar Republic to prevent capital flight in reaction to the government’s austerity policy, under the Nazis, it became a tool to cynically punish the Jews for leaving a country that was doing everything it could to make it unbearable for them to stay.
April 30 1938 marked the tenth and last day of “Aktion Arbeitsscheu Reich,” a punitive campaign targeting individuals deemed “work-shy” and “asocial.” The designation was sufficiently broad to target a vast array of elements deemed “undesirable” by the Nazis. Between 1,500 and 2,000 men thus classified were taken to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp in this first wave of such arrests, including Jews. They were identified by black triangles on their prison uniforms.
A month and a half after the “Anschluss,” Paul Steiner is still incredulous. Everything seems so unbelievable, he writes in his diary, that “even ones own words are becoming astonishing and dubious.” He wonders what the outside world is doing for the Jews in light of German barbarity, especially for the Burgenland Jews, who were brutally expelled right after the “Anschluss” and ended up stranded in totally inadequate shelters while their belongings were appropriated by their former neighbors. Steiner also imagines the “revenge” that Jews will exact, shaming the world with their achievements once they are given the right to self-determination.
During the years of the authoritarian regime installed in Austria in 1934 (“Austrofascism”), the police prison at Rossauer Lände in Vienna (nicknamed “Liesl” by the locals) had already been used as a lockup not only for criminals but also for political dissidents. After the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany on March 12, 1938 (“Anschluss”), the first 150 Austrians were taken to the Dachau concentration camp from this notorious prison. Some, like Edmund Wachs, were held there in “protective custody,” a convenient tool used by the nazis to rid themselves of Jews and political opponents, since it could be imposed arbitrarily and left the prisoners little or no recourse to legal support. In this postcard, Edmund’s brother, the attorney Dr. Karl Wachs, reassures Edmund that he is doing everything he can to press his case and asks him for patience.
Three prominently placed ads on the front page of the “Jüdisches Gemeindeblatt für Baden” make amply clear what is on people’s minds in April 1938: emigration looms large. Three businesses in Karlsruhe are offering related goods and services, such as passage to South America, Africa, and Asia, furniture for emigrants, and home sales. In the April 27 issue, the topic comes up from various perspectives: the shrinkage of congregations as a result of members going abroad, English classes for prospective emigrants, the departure of esteemed leaders, practical advice on how to get support from Jewish aid organizations during the emigration process, and more. Other parts of life seem to be taking their normal course. Lehrhaus activities, student concerts, Kulturbund events, personal ads and other topics counter-balance the abnormality of the situation.
Marseille was one of the most important ports of departure for the refugees on their way overseas. It was here that Moses Wainstein obtained the papers he still needed for his emigration to Uruguay. This certificate of vaccination was written in Spanish for submission to the authorities there. The former Berliner had already had his belongings shipped to Marseille by a German company. Wainstein was 40 years of age at this point.
In gloomy times like these, a letter promising a work opportunity in Canada constituted a much needed ray of hope. Although in possession of what Heinrich Heine famously referred to as “the admission ticket to European culture”—a certificate of baptism—Anton Felix Perl was dismissed on “racial” grounds from his position as a resident at the General Hospital in Vienna in 1938. Luckily for Dr. Perl, he had the support of a prominent advocate, the Archbishop of Winnipeg, who gave him valuable advice regarding emigration to Canada as well as promising practical help in this letter dated April 25, 1938.
The diary of Dr. Hertha Nathorff (née Einstein) paints a vivid and at times nightmarish picture of the Jewish physician’s experiences in Nazi Germany. On April 24, she describes a visit with her parents in her native Laupheim in Swabia. Many Jewish shops had been sold, and their owners had emigrated. The Nazis’ efforts to malign and isolate the Jews had been so successful that passers-by were afraid to greet her. Her father had informed her that he was not going to sell the company which had been in the family’s possession for four generations and that he would prefer that it perish along with their name. The degree of isolation experienced by German Jews at the time is also evident in another episode mentioned in the diary: Dr. Nathorff is amazed at the fact that her former professor had the courage to send her regards through a patient.
This advertising brochure shows the Prater, a large public garden and popular amusement park in Vienna’s central 2nd district, in the 1930s. Here, on Saturday, April 23, hundreds of Viennese Jews were rounded up and subjected to beatings and maltreatment in front of jeering onlookers. Some were forced to eat grass. Jews of both sexes, regardless of age and health, were made to run in circles until they collapsed. Many of those thus humiliated suffered heart attacks, some died.
Jenny Brinitzer was born in Riga, Latvia in 1884. After studies in Berne, Berlin and Kiel, she managed to establish herself as the first female physician in Hamburg Altona. There, the mother of three worked for 20 years in a joint practice with her husband, the dermatologist Dr. Eugen Brinitzer. In 1933, Jews constituted about one fourth of Hamburg’s physicians. Jewish physicians who worked directly for health insurance funds or for the public health service had been dismissed within the first two years of the Nazi regime. Starting in 1935, the Nazis began circulating a list of 150 Jewish doctors in Hamburg as part of their campaign to separate Jewish doctors from their “Aryan” patients. In April 1938, Dr. Jenny Brinitzer and her husband left Germany and emigrated to Bangalore, India.
According to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency report, on April 21, the Propaganda Ministry of Nazi Germany authorized the creation of a Jewish Cinema Institute. The name was misleading. It was not intended to serve the cultural enrichment of the Jewish community. The main purpose of the Institute was supposed to be the production of movies showing life in Palestine and urging German Jews to emigrate. In other words, the plan was just another part of the Nazi scheme to rid Germany of its Jews. At the same time, Der Stürmer, one of the most viciously antisemitic newspapers in Nazi Germany, declared that Jews should not be allowed inside cinemas and theaters.
Residents of Linz, Adolph Markus, his wife, and their two children were among the relatively few of Austria’s roughly 200,000 Jews not living in Vienna. On April 20, 1938 Markus went to visit his family in the capital in order to discuss the difficult situation and explore options for emigration. While his brother Rudi was prepared to lose his job any day, he opined that Adolph, as WWI combat veteran, had nothing to worry about. Indeed, combat veterans were exempt from certain anti-Jewish measures, as were Jews who had lost their father or a son in combat for Germany or its allies.
For Arthur Wolf, a fervent Austrian patriot and veteran of WWI, the Nazi takeover of Austria in March meant the collapse of his world, the loss of his homeland and equal rights. Wolf was the manager of a textile factory in Tannwald (then Czechoslovakia). His Russian-born wife, Maria, had stayed behind in Austria with the couple’s son, Erich (b. 1923). Given recent events, the tone of Maria’s April 19 letter to Arthur is remarkably playful. She marvels about 15 year-old Erich’s poetry, speaks warmly about their mother-son relationship and expresses longing for Arthur, avoiding any obvious references to current events.
After studies at the Academy of Art in Vienna, the printmaker Michel Fingesten had traveled extensively and ultimately settled in Germany. Neither the Austrian national’s Jewish descent nor his penchant for the erotic endeared him to the Nazis. The increasingly unbearable racial politics of the regime made him decide to stay in Italy after a family visit to Trieste in 1935. Fingesten is known mainly as an illustrator and as a prolific, imaginative designer of book plates. April 18, 1938 was his 54th birthday.
A WWI veteran, Alfred Schütz had studied law, sociology, and philosophy at the University of Vienna. Since the late 1920s, he had worked for the international banking house Reitler & Co. During the German invasion of Austria, he happened to be on a business trip to France. He opted to stay abroad, leaving behind his wife and child. A friend who had visited Vienna from London writes about his conversation with Schütz’s wife, Ilse. In his letter, he dissuades Alfred from returning to Austria due to the new regime’s attitude of suspicion towards the international banking industry. In light of the impending danger, a temporary separation from his family seemed like a better option to Schütz than coming back to Vienna.
In 1938, the first day of Passover fell on April 16. As they did every year, the inhabitants of the Jewish Residential Home for Youth and Apprentices in Berlin gathered around a festively set dinner table for the second Seder. Under the dedicated management of Paul and Friedel Joseph, the home provided its charges with opportunities that went well beyond practical needs like housing and vocational training. They also strove to provide them with cultural and intellectual stimulation that would expand their horizons. The boys and young men, ranging in age from 14 to 21, had been removed from their homes due to behavioral problems. According to Friedel Joseph, life in the home was still going on “relatively unimpeded” at this point, but the political situation cannot have been lost on its inhabitants. The Passover message of liberation from bondage under a tyrannical ruler must have resonated very strongly at this year’s celebration.
The special dietary requirements for the Passover week constituted an additional financial burden for German Jews, many of whom were scrambling to make ends meet. The Jewish Winter Relief Organization distributed 50,000 matzot to needy Jews and served about 1,000 guests at two seders. Donors to the organization’s Passover Appeal received a copy of Rabbi Selig Bamberger’s translation of the Haggadah with a sticker on the inside of the cover thanking them for their contribution. This photograph of holiday paraphernalia is from an album belonging to Heinrich Stahl, the president of the Berlin Jewish Community, who launched the Jewish Winter Relief Organization with Rabbi Leo Baeck in 1935.
Little more than a month after the Nazi takeover of Austria, a cascade of new regulations and actions taken by the new regime leaves little room for optimism. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports for April 14 from Vienna that Jews within 50 kilometers of the Czechoslovak border are to be expelled. Nazi commissars will be put in charge of Austrian businesses at the latter’s expense. According to the JTA, in the case of hundreds of Jewish-owned businesses, this provision has already been enforced. Finally, a law has been introduced establishing new procedures for determining the racial status of illegitimate children. The one positive item in this substantial dispatch is the prospect that all Jews currently interned at the Dachau concentration camp will not only be released but will also receive permits to enter Palestine.
Heinrich Stahl, chairman of the Berlin Jewish Community since 1934, was heavily involved in the work of the various Jewish relief organizations, for which there was growing need as Nazism took hold. On April 13, 1938, his 70th birthday, he received a gift from the Ahawah Children’s Home, a photo album which showed the wide range of activities pursued by the charges of this exceptional institution (see March 17). The album included several photographs from the Ahawah’s new branch, which had been opened in Palestine in 1934. A heartfelt warmth and gratitude shine through this rhymed dedication thanking Stahl for his service to the community.
German shipping companies profited handsomely from the dire situation of the Jews. There was no way around them for emigrants who wanted to transfer their belongings abroad. By the end of 1937, 135,000 Jews had left Germany. The events of the year 1938 led to a new upsurge. The Berlin branch of the Gustav Knauer Shipping Company handled the belongings of Lotte Doerner (née Simon). Doerner and her husband had managed to leave Germany and settle in England. When unpacking their belongings, they noticed that their linens were missing. In the letter displayed here, the company politely informs Doerner that everything the company had picked up from her apartment had also been loaded into the van, and it could not offer any compensation. The Knauer company had also been commissioned to transport many of the 20,000 objects from German art museums that were classified as “degenerate” by the regime to the infamous Munich exhibit, “Degenerate Art,” and then into storage.
As a leading functionary in various Zionist organizations, most notably the Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization of North America, Rose Luria Halprin had moved to Jerusalem in 1934, where she worked as the liaison between the local Hadassah branch and the National Office in the US. Having befriended Henrietta Szold, who led the Youth Aliyah in Palestine, Halprin, too, became involved in efforts to rescue German-Jewish youth by bringing them to Palestine. The Youth Aliyah had been founded by the prescient Recha Freier, wife of a Berlin-based rabbi, on the very day the Nazis were voted into government, January 30, 1933. In the years 1935 to 1938, Halprin repeatedly visited Berlin. April 11, 1938 was her 42nd birthday.
The entry of German troops into Austria on March 12 had preempted Chancellor Schuschnigg’s planned plebiscite on unification with Germany on March 13. The Nazis rescheduled the referendum for April 10 in conjunction with the first all-German Reichstag elections. Catholic bishops, under the leadership of Archbishop Theodor Innitzer, had issued a “solemn declaration” in which they called upon Catholic voters to cast their ballots in favor of the “Anschluss.” According to official figures, close to 100% of voters affirmed what was already an established fact. The document presented here is a voter ID to be used only by the addressee named on the front page. It explicitly excludes Jews from participating.
Usually the Jewish National Workers Alliance, as the Labor Zionist fraternal order was known, occupied itself with serious matters. Among other things, it strove to strengthen the working class and offered help in cases of economic hardship, illness, or death of its members. In 1911, it had established the first modern insurance system for Jewish workers. On April 9, 1938 it strayed from its core mission and held a Passover Ball in the German-Jewish stronghold of Washington Heights in New York. Among other items, the program featured “Cologne humorists.” German immigrants would have understood that this referred to Cologne carnival jesting, a tradition associated with the Catholic carnival season that dates back to the Middle Ages. The venue was the ballroom of the Paramount Mansion, which also housed several institutions that promoted the interests of German Jewish immigrants.
In Austria’s new reality, opinions could change very quickly. In a news item from April 8, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that Catholic clergyman, Pastor Breckle of Trinity Church in Vienna, wrote an article in “Catholic Action,” that referred to the Jews as “uninvited guests” in Europe. Breckle accused the Jews of “pushing themselves to the forefront” and praised Hitler’s approach as “free and humane.” Breckle had until recently been considered friendly toward the Jewish community.