The April 6 event at the Jüdischer Kulturbund (Jewish Cultural Association) in Hamburg was dedicated to dance. Elsa Caro, also known by her stage name, Juana Manorska, used challenging music not originally intended for dance as the inspiration for her performance. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the fixed, formulaic repertoire of movements in classical ballet seemed limiting and outdated to some. German dancers, among them Elsa Caro and the “half-Jewish” Gret Palucca, were at the forefront of those experimenting with new forms, a movement that gave birth to Ausdruckstanz, also known as “Expressionist Dance” or “modern dance.”
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.
One of the tools in the hands of the Nazis to terrorize Jews was arbitrary incarceration: the Enabling Act of March 24th, 1933, handed the regime the legal basis for the perfidious institution of “protective custody”: persons deemed to “endanger the security of the people” could be detained without concrete charges. Ostensibly, the policy was aimed at political adversaries. In fact, however, it was frequently used against Jews. The salesman Hans Wilk was among its first victims: in 1933, at 24 years of age, he spent over four months at the Lichtenburg concentration camp. During the November pogroms of 1938, he was among the roughly 30,000 Jewish men incarcerated in concentration camps. On December 16th, he was released from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg near Berlin. The requirement to report immediately to the State Police in his home town of Potsdam indicated that the harassment was not yet over.
Otto Neubauer was worried that his efforts to facilitate his relatives’ emigration would come to naught. With the US intent on denying entry to refugees “likely to become a public charge,” he knew his developmentally disabled 34-year-old brother, Ernst, might be denied entry. He had no doubt that his father, Maximilian, a resident of Mannheim, would never leave Germany without his other son. On December 6th, 1938, Otto assured Herbert Reich, who had expressed his willingness to help the Neubauers immigrate to the US, that Ern(e)st was “harmless” and that his needs were minimal. To increase his brother’s chances to be admitted, Otto reasoned that it would be helpful to procure two affidavits.
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?
Martha Lippmann, the widow of a wool merchant in Stolzenau/Weser in Lower Saxony, and her mother were the last family members left behind in Germany when the November pogroms (later known as “Kristallnacht” or “Night of Broken Glass”) ravaged German Jewry. Her daughter, Gertrude, fled to Belgium; her older son, Erich, to America; and her younger son, Hans Martin, to England. News of the wave of anti-Jewish violence increased the urgency with which emigrants attempted to intercede on behalf of loved ones left behind in Germany. In a letter dated Nov. 16th, Max Stern, Gertrude’s husband, tells Erich about a planned appointment with a Belgian lawyer on behalf of Martha Lippmann, the goal of which is to obtain a temporary visa for her. Erich himself had contacted William Dodd, the former US Ambassador to Germany, thanks to whom he himself had made it to the US. But so far this appeal was to no avail.
In the meantime, Hedwig Weiler, the blossoming 18-year-old idealist whom Franz Kafka fell in love with during a vacation in Triesch (Moravia) in 1907 has turned into a PhD-holding academic and the wife of the engineer Leopold Herzka. The events of the year 1938 in Austria have caused their circle of friends to drift apart in all directions. On November 6, 1938, in a letter to her former neighbors in Vienna, the Buxspan (later Buxpan) family, she enumerates a long list of relatives and common friends, who have either emigrated already or are preparing to do so. What is especially hard for Hedwig Herzka is the prospect of her daughter, Edith, leaving for South America. It has made Hedwig a bundle of nerves.
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.
When Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s tragedy “Emilia Galotti” was put on at the non-Zionist agricultural training camp run by the Reich Representation of Jews in Germany in Groß-Breesen (Silesia), the talented and energetic Friedel Dzubas, 23, was central to making it happen: not only did he direct the performance, design the costumes and design and create the stage decoration, he also played the role of Odoardo, the tragic heroine’s father. Lessing, the son of a Lutheran pastor and a central figure of the German enlightenment, had taken up the cause of the Jews early on in life and eternalized his close friend, the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, in his play “Nathan the Wise.” His determined stance earned him a place of honor in the hearts and minds of German Jews as well as in their libraries.
The letter that Joseph Roth sends to his cousin Michael Grübel in Mexico is short. Though written in a familiar tone, it limits itself to the most important matters of organization. Roth thanks him for establishing contact with a Dor. Com. Silvio Pizzarello de Helmsburg. The latter, he hopes, will help him “bring ten comrades to Mexico.” Whom exactly Roth has in mind here remains a question. Moreover, Roth asks his cousin to also obtain a visa for him personally. The famous author and journalist had emigrated to Paris in 1933. From there, he had since published numerous novels and essays and written for emigrant publishers in different countries. However, now Roth too seemed to toy with the thought of leaving Europe.
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.”
The passport of Martha Braun, a Viennese housewife, was issued on September 16, during the brief time window between the passing of the Executive Order on the Law on the Alteration of Family and Personal Names (August 17, 1938) and its entry into force (January 1939). According to this executive order, Jews were to add the middle name “Sara” or “Israel” to their given names. With the date of issue falling in September, Mrs. Braun received a passport without the stigmatizing addition – for the time being.
Dr. Max Wolf had already found his area of expertise years ago. Since 1922 Wolf practiced as a dermatologist in the Vienna Polyclinic as well as published numerous scientific essays in this field. The Vienna native had studied at the time of the First World War, and shortly thereafter he served on the Italian front as a M.A.S.H. doctor. Now, however, his career was about to end. After the “Anschluss,” the Nazis barred Jewish lawyers and judges in Austria from working. A ban for Jewish doctors was imminent. Meanwhile, Max and his wife Margarata Wolf prepared their emigration. The certificate about Wolf’s membership in the Viennese Society of Physicians makes it clear: Max Wolf did not intend to give up his profession while in exile.
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.
A classical anti-semitic trope of the 19th century was the notion that Jews are weak, unathletic and effeminate. In order to counter this stereotype, the Zionist physician, writer and politician Max Nordau created the antithetical concept of the “muscular Jew” at the Second Zionist Congress in Basel (1898). Drawing on paragons of Jewish fighting spirit like Bar Kochba and the Maccabees, he called for the regeneration of the Jewish people through physical exercise. Barely two months later, the Jewish sports club Bar Kochba was founded in Berlin. More and more Jewish sports clubs came into being, many of which were affiliated with the Zionist movement. The Frankfurt/Main chapter of the Bar Kochba Club was established in 1904. One of its teams can be seen here posing for the camera.
Jews were hardly the only “undesirables” the US Immigration Act of 1924 aimed to keep out of the country. When the law was introduced, efforts to exclude certain nationalities, especially Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian immigrants, had been going on for half a century. In the early 1920s, a quota system was introduced that favored immigrants from Northern Europe. The quotas were not adjusted to address the severe refugee crisis created by the persecution of Jews by Nazi Germany. Even for nationals of the favored countries of origin, just doing all the paperwork to get on the waiting list for an American visa was a major headache, and the waiting could be demoralizing. As documented by this ticket issued to Helina Mayer in Mainz by the US Consulate General in Stuttgart, applicants could expect to be summoned for examination according to their number in line, provided they had submitted “satisfactory proof” that their livelihood in the US was secured.
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.
As a deaf-mute Jew, Ursula Meseritz was doubly inferior in the eyes of the Nazis. Since July 14, 1933, the Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring had been in effect, which legalized the forced sterilization of the deaf, the blind, the cognitively disabled, epileptics, and others. Ursula had attended the only Jewish institution for the deaf-mute in Germany, the “Israelitische Taubstummenanstalt” in Berlin Weißensee. Under the Nazi regime, the use of sign language was forbidden in public schools, and in 1936, Jewish students were excluded from institutions catering to the needs of the deaf-mute. According to a “Questionnaire for Emigrants,” which she had submitted in April 1938, Ursula had been trained as a lab worker for clinical diagnostics and was hoping to work in this field in the United States. The captions on these photographs (dated July 17, 1938) show that in spite of the difficult times, the 19-year-old had not lost her sense of humor. They appear to show Ursula and her sister with their parents celebrating one last time before Ursula departed for the US.
In May 1938, Betty Blum had contacted her nephew Stanley Frankfurt in New York. Her son Bruno had lost his position in Vienna, and it was unlikely that he would find other employment. She did not elaborate on the situation of Austria’s Jews in general since the country’s annexation by Nazi Germany but wondered whether Stanley could do something for Bruno. When Bruno received Stanley’s July 16 letter, he must have been both relieved and taken aback. While assuring him that he had been active on his behalf doing the paperwork necessary to prepare for his immigration to the US, his cousin in New York also saw fit to point out to him that if his intention was coming to America for the purpose of “living a life of ease,” he was on the wrong track. Was Stanley really so uninformed about the plight of Austrian Jewry under the new authorities? It can be assumed that his sincere efforts on his Austrian cousin’s behalf made up for the bafflement that must have been caused by his inappropriate insinuation.
Lilly Popper (later Lilian Singer) was born in 1898 into a German-speaking family in Brünn (Brno). After graduation from the Gymnasium (high school), she began medical school in Vienna, later transferring to Berlin. There, in 1923, she got her driver’s license, which was just beginning to become socially acceptable for women. After a longer interruption, during which she worked for her father’s business and for a company in Amsterdam, she went back to school and in 1933 graduated from the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin, which had been accepting women as guest auditors since 1892 (and as full-time students since 1908), an opportunity initially seized by a disproportionately large number of Jewish women. With the “Law against the Overcrowding of German Universities” of April 1933, the Nazis limited the access of both Jews and women to higher education, but these regulations did not apply to foreigners. After graduation, Lilian returned to Czechoslovakia. In 1938, she was a resident in surgery at a teaching hospital in Prague. The suitcase shown in the photograph accompanied her on her many journeys.
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.
Erika Langstein was a young English teacher living in Vienna. In June 1938, having experienced the persecution of Jews in the Austrian capital for several months already, Erika sent a letter to Donald Biever, an American citizen, imploring him to help her and her Jewish father flee Austria by issuing an affidavit for them. Nothing would be unusual about this, except for the fact that the young woman had met Biever just once, briefly, on a train ride a year earlier, and had not communicated with him since. Despite the tenuous nature of their relationship, Erika describes to Biever the hopeless of the situation in Vienna. She also attaches a photo, in case Biever does not remember their encounter.
In his “Remarks about the Feast of Weeks,” published in the June issue of the “Jewish Community Paper for the Rhenish Palatinate Region,” Rabbi Dr. Ernst Steckelmacher of Ludwigshafen poses a real challenge to his readers. He interprets the Book of Ruth, one of the readings during the Feast of Weeks, as an example of Judaism’s emphasis on the precedence of the universal over the particular. Through Ruth, who embodies universal humanity, the book shows that goodness can be found anywhere. This was not an intuitive message at a time when the ostracism of Jews from German society forced them to turn inward. June 6, 1938, was not only the second day of Shavuot, but also the 80th birthday of Claude G. Montefiore, the President of the World Union of Progressive Judaism. Dr. Steckelmacher acknowledges this occasion and reinforces his universalist message by drawing attention to the similar sentiments of Claude Montefiore.
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.
In April 1938, Rabbi Leo Baeck, the president of the Reich Representation of Jews in Germany and as such the main representative of German Jewry, had presciently written, “And this year will be a difficult year; the wheel is turning faster and faster. It will really test our nerves and our capacity for careful thought.” Baeck had been an army chaplain in World War I and as a patriot must have been extremely pained by the persecution of German Jewry. With large parts of the community reduced to poverty, Jewish rights curtailed, Jews pushed to the margins of society, and no prospects for improvement, Rabbi Baeck’s 65th birthday on May 23 probably was quite a somber affair.
Ruth Wertheimer was born in Halberstadt (Saxony Anhalt) in 1915. Thanks to the revenue from a successful corset and lingerie shop with several branches, the family was living comfortably. However, in 1929, several years before the Nazis’ ascent to power, the family business had already suffered economic damage due to a libelous, antisemitically motivated claim against one of its proprietors, Ruth’s aunt Johanna. In 1932, while attending a business school in Berlin, where the family had moved in Ruth’s childhood, she was subjected to such intense antisemitism from teachers and classmates that she decided to quit before graduating. The passport displayed here was issued on May 16 in Paris and also lists Paris as Ruth’s place of residence. Her mother and stepfather had moved there in 1935. In Paris, Ruth resumed her studies.
While Sigmund Freud, the “father of psychoanalysis,” clearly did not underestimate the significance of the Anschluss—“Finis Austriae” was the succinct commentary he jotted down in his diary—even the search of his home and publishing house by the Nazis did not prompt him to explore emigration. As a matter of fact, he reportedly commented on the unsolicited visit of the Nazis, who had made off with a substantial amount of money, with the dry remark, “I have never taken so much for a single visit.” But when his daughter Anna, herself a renowned psychoanalyst, was interrogated by the Gestapo shortly thereafter, the usually restrained Freud’s reaction was highly emotional, and he began weighing the various offers of asylum he had received. May 6, 1938 was his last birthday in Vienna.
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.