“May you continue for a long time to be granted the opportunity to dedicate your tried and tested skills to the welfare and benefit of the city.” With these words, Berlin mayor Heinrich Sahm congratulated Prof. Erich Seligmann, Director of Scientific Institutes at the Public Health Department and an eminent authority on issues of public health, on his 25th year of service in 1932. Barely half a year later, in March 1933, Seligmann was dismissed, despite his recognized scientific achievements and his outstanding knowledge in the field of epidemics control, which he had demonstrated inter alia as a staff surgeon in World War I. In this diary entry dated February 4, 1938, Seligmann writes about “widespread confiscation of passports from Jews” and “an atmosphere of hopelessness.” Seligmann was planning a trip to Rome, where he and his wife Elsa hoped to meet their son Rolf.
Not long after power was handed to the Nazis, the motto “Police – your friends and helpers,” which already during the Weimar Republic often reflected a hope rather than reality, lost any hint of meaning for opponents of the regime and for the country’s Jews. A law introduced as early as February 1933 stipulated that police officers who resorted to the use of firearms against people perceived as enemies of the regime were to go unpunished. As part of an unholy trinity, in tandem with the SA and SS, the police quickly became an instrument of Nazi terror. Therefore, obtaining a police clearance certificate was probably not the easiest of the requirements of would-be immigrants applying for US visas. On December 24th, 1938, this important document was issued to Ernst Aldor, a resident of Vienna.
Even the total defenselessness of German Jews in light of the acts of violence perpetrated during the November pogroms did not lead to an adjustment in international refugee policy that would be worth mentioning. Therefore, the Jewish Agency for Palestine had demanded from the British to permit the immediate immigration of 10,000 Jewish children to Palestine. As reported by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on December 14th, the British Mandatory Authorities viewed such a step as a danger to their diplomatic balancing act vis-à-vis the groups involved and rejected the request. It did, however, agree to temporarily admit them to England. Many Jewish parents were ready to make the painful decision to send their offspring abroad on their own, in order at least to spare them the constant hostility and the physical danger. Already before the attempt by the Jewish Agency, in November, the government had given the green light to the immigration of 5,000 unaccompanied children under the age of 17. The first group of children had gone to England at the beginning of December.
Had Austria’s history taken a normal course, Hanna Spitzer, a private teacher, would probably have stayed in Vienna and grown old there as a respected member of society. As a daughter of the late jurist and patron of the arts, Dr. Alfred Spitzer, she was co-heir to a major art collection comprising works by such greats as Kokoschka and Slevogt. Egon Schiele was represented too – among other works, with a portrait of Alfred Spitzer, who had been his sponsor and lawyer, and later his estate trustee. But the flood of anti-Semitic measures which had been unleashed by the “Anschluss” (the annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany) made it unbearable and dangerous to stay: this copy of a tax clearance certificate dated November 24, 1938 testifies to Hanna Spitzer’s efforts to gather the papers required for emigration. Already in January, she had arranged for the shipping of 11 containers of household effects and paintings to Melbourne and a delivery to the address of her sister, Edith Naumann, in Haifa.
On August 13th, 1869, the synagogue on Michelsberg in Wiesbaden had been officially opened in a festive ceremony. The building was meant to serve the increased spatial needs of the congregation but also testified to its increased wealth and civic self-assurance. In the presence of representatives of other faith communities, Rabbi Süskind had referred to the liberal house of worship as a “planting ground for patriotic virtues” which was to prove its unifying power not only within the circle of one’s own co-religionists, but “also in the wider circles of humanity.” After the pogrom that took place through the night of November 9th into 10th, 1938 (later known as “Kristallnacht” or “Night of Broken Glass”), all that was left of the magnificent building in Moorish-Byzantine style was the external wall. The interior was entirely gutted.
The arrival of Gertrude Münzer’s first letter from Palestine was a cause for joy, relief and hope to her family that had remained behind in Austria. The Münzers were a well-integrated family, but after the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, the tide turned and they had to endure increasing hardship, starting with their eviction from their home and Moses Münzer losing his job. With parental encouragement, Gertrude was the only member of her family to go to Palestine with a Zionist youth group. Inspired by her example, her older brother, Benno, had gone on hakhsharah. In his reply to Gertrude, dated November 4th, her father pleads with the 15-year-old girl to recruit support for him at the kibbutz or elsewhere to enable him to follow with the rest of the family.
Ernst Patzer, an employee of the criminal investigation department of the Berlin police and seriously disabled in World War I, had lost his job in March 1938. The reason was the Public Service Law of 1937 which barred those married to Jews from public service – and Patzer had been married to a German-Jewish woman for 25 years. This additional move of the Nazi regime to push Jews and their relatives out of all spheres of life hit the Patzers very hard: he was the sole wage earner and, after 25 years of service, lost not only his position but also any claim to his pension. This letter of October 24, 1938, shows how step by step, Ernst Patzer was excluded from civic participation. In vain he wrote, as a former frontline soldier, to Hitler and Göring, in order to obtain continued employment with a government agency. The marriage lasted, and he finally found work as an auditor with AEG (a producer of electrical equipment). The Patzers survived National Socialism.
In Vienna, Hans Hochhauser, together with his brother, had been a successful manufacturer and exporter of leather goods. But just one day after the “Anschluss,” he had packed up his life and fled Austria with his wife, Greta, and his daughter, Ilse, on adventurous paths: turned back at the Czech border, the family traveled to Switzerland by train and from there to England on a chartered flight, from whence the family finally made it to the United States. Having arrived in New York, Hans Hochhauser had to start from scratch: his new company was called “Hochhauser Leather Co. Inc.” In this letter to the US Consulate General in Vienna dated October 14, 1938, accompanying an affidavit for his cousin, Arthur Plowitz, he pointed out that while his new company was still in its beginnings, he was able to take advantage of his old business network.
The claim of the editorial in the October issue of Aufbau was clear: reminding readers that they were now “Americans with all rights, but also with all duties.” It acknowledged the existence mainly of familial and cultural ties but at the same time emphasized the importance of facing the future rather than looking to the past. The slogan was “America First!,” which can be understood as a call to Jewish immigrants to integrate into American society. The author of the editorial also supplied arguments: Europe could no longer guarantee the fundamental values of freedom and justice. In the United States, however, with its Bill of Rights, it was worth it to stand and fight for these values. The Jewish Club, as publisher of Aufbau, positioned itself clearly within American society, and expected this attitude from its readers and members as well.
Not a long letter, only a brief postcard was sent to Ludwig Guckenheimer from his old friend Kurt. Yet these few lines give a vivid impression of the situation in which his friend found himself. Kurt had sent the postcard from Genoa on the 14th of September. He’d been trying to prepare his emigration from there for some time. Kurt knew “that it’s time to rush.” Until now he’d failed for lack of money, but most of all from lack of sponsors. Many countries had massively heightened financial and bureaucratic hurdles to immigration in recent years. The United States for example expected, alongside numerous official certificates, at least two affidavits from close relatives. But Kurt wasn’t discouraged. Hope lay in efforts by his brother-in-law in Dallas.
Gisela Kleinermann (top row, right) had recently turned 10 years old. With her arm around her classmate, she looks, with a slight smile, into the camera. At this time, Gisela may already have known that she will not be part of this class of the Jewish school in Dresden any longer. In late summer 1938, her mother Erna prepared her family’s emigration to the United States. Step by step, in recent years the Nazis forced segregation in public schools. In many Jewish communities—as well as in Dresden—new Jewish schools were founded as a result.
Even though expressions of anti-Semitism were common in Austrian vacation resorts decades before the annexation of Austria, a phenomenon that lead to the coining of the term “Summer Resort Anti-Semitism,” they remained popular with Austrian Jews. But when Liesl Teutsch’s uncle spent his vacation in Filzmoos in the Austrian province of Salzburg in August 1938, its spectacular vistas could not distract him from the unsettling circumstances. In this postcard to his niece in Vienna, he makes it very clear that it is not just the poor weather that prevented true rest and relaxation. He seems to be apprehensive of returning to Vienna, where an uncertain future awaits him.
Gusty Bendheim, a Berliner, had never met the American branch of her family. As a 42-year-old divorcee, she had no other choice but to turn to her overseas relatives. She asked these quasi-strangers for help facilitating emigration for herself and her children, Ralph (13) and Margot (17). Gusty was an enterprising sort: by the time she got married to Arthur Bendheim, a businessman from Frankfurt/Main, around 1920, she had established three button stores. After the wedding, Arthur took over management and Gusty became a housewife. In spite of the increasingly alarming anti-Jewish measures taken by the Nazi government, Arthur was not willing to leave. After the couple’s divorce in 1937, Gusty took matters into her own hands. In this August 14th, 1938 letter to her unknown relatives, in addition to her request for help, she states that her former husband is ready to pay the costs of travel for her and their children to the United States.
Article 1 of §15 of the Nazi Conscription Law (introduced on May 21, 1935) stipulated that “Aryan descent is a prerequisite for active military service.” In the 1936 amendment, the language was even clearer: “A Jew cannot perform active military service.” In order to get permission to leave the country, prospective male emigrants had to present a document to the local military authorities confirming their Jewish descent and thus proving that they were not simply seeking to shirk their duties by emigrating. On August 4, 1938, the registry of the Vienna Jewish Religious Community, based on the documentation available to them, attested to Bruno Blum’s Jewish ancestry on both sides as part of the paperwork he had to submit in order to get permission to emigrate.
Ludwig Schönmann, born in Neu-Isenburg in Germany in 1865, had come to Austria early in life and was thus spared the first five years of the Hitler regime. But from the day the German army entered Austria to annex the neighboring country in March 1938, the 73-year-old witnessed all the same persecution that had befallen Jews in Germany – only at an accelerated pace. Jewish businesses were ransacked and their owners expropriated. Jews were publicly humiliated and expelled from the Burgenland region, where they had first settled in the 13th century. Jewish students and teachers were pushed out of the universities, and the infamous Nuremberg Laws were extended to Austria, leading to the removal of Jews from public service. The first page of a memorial album in honor of Ludwig Schönmann lists July 24 as the day of his death.
For a dyed-in-the-wool social democrat like the journalist, translator and writer Maurus (Moritz) Mezei, the changes that quickly took hold in Austria after the country’s unimpeded annexation by Nazi Germany must have been doubly troubling. During the period known as “Red Vienna,” the first-ever period of democratic rule in the city from 1918 to 1934, the Mezei family had moved to the “Karl-Marx-Hof,” a public housing project. Starting in 1938, “non-Aryan” families, including the Mezeis, were threatened with expulsion from the compound. Tenant protections initially remained in place for Jews, but they no longer applied to public housing. On June 10, Mezei had applied for immigration to Switzerland, but the reply, written on July 14, was negative. Only if he was to procure an immigration visa from a country overseas would Swiss immigration authorities reconsider his case and possibly grant temporary asylum.
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.
When the Halutz (Pioneer) Movement first began to establish itself in Germany in the 1920s, it had a hard time gaining traction among the country’s mostly assimilated Jews, who saw themselves as “German citizens of Jewish faith.” The Movement, which aimed to prepare young Jews for life in Palestine by teaching the Hebrew language as well as agricultural and artisanal skills, got its first boost during the Great Depression (from 1929), which made emigration more attractive as an opportunity for economic improvement. But even more significant growth took place after the Nazis’ rise to power: so-called “Hachscharot” sprung up all over Germany, instilling young Jews with a meaningful Jewish identity and imparting valuable skills. The photo presented here shows graduates of the Jewish Professional School for Seamstresses on Heimhuderstraße.
Despite the patriotism often espoused by German Jews and their manifold contributions to society, the Reichsbürgergesetz (“Reich Citizen Law”) of 1935 officially assigned an inferior status to Jews, declaring them to be mere “nationals” and further segregating them from the rest of the population. Over time, supplementary decrees were issued that provided the exact Nazi definition of what made a person a Jew and forced Jewish public servants into retirement. On June 14, 1938, the third such supplementary decree stipulated that Jewish-owned businesses were to be marked as such.
Close to 50 years before issuing an affidavit of support for his nephew, Karl Grosser, in Vienna, Frank W. Fenner had himself immigrated to the United States from Europe. A restaurant and confectionery owner in Mendon, Michigan, he pledged to support his young relative until the 26-year-old became financially independent. Finding a sponsor was a key prerequisite for obtaining an immigration visa that was often hard to fulfill. The visa process began by registering with the nearest US consulate, at which point a number on the waiting list was assigned. The length of the list depended on the number of Jews from a given country allowed to enter the US according to the quota system that had been in place since 1924. Despite the severe refugee crisis, quotas were not raised in 1938. During the waiting period, applicants had to procure all the required documents as well as certified copies. Prospective immigrants were lucky if their documents were still valid when their numbers came up.
After three decades of making his fellow Austrians laugh, cabaret artist Fritz Grünbaum’s career was brought to an abrupt end by the Anschluss. His politics alone would have sufficed to make him intolerable for the new regime: Grünbaum had returned from action in World War I not only a decorated soldier but also an avowed pacifist. As for Nazism, he did not mince words. Since 1933, he had been getting more political, and when during a 1938 performance a power outage caused the stage lights to go out, he commented glibly, “I see nothing, absolutely nothing. I must have accidentally gotten myself into National Socialist culture.” His last performance at the famous cabaret “Simpl” in Vienna just two days before the Anschluss was followed by an artistic ban on Jews. Grünbaum and his wife Lilly, a niece of Theodor Herzl, tried to flee to Czechoslovakia but were turned back at the border. On May 24, he was interned at the Dachau concentration camp. Grünbaum was also known as a serious art collector, mostly of modernist Austrian works, and a librettist.
On May 14, 1938, American moviegoers lined up to see Errol Flynn in his latest swashbuckling adventure produced by Warner Brothers. Flynn’s turn as Robin Hood was especially thrilling thanks to the lush film score by an Austrian Jew whose music was no longer welcome at home. Although a citizen and resident of Austria, composer and conductor Erich Wolfgang Korngold felt the effects of Nazi cultural policy soon after 1933, since he had often worked in Germany. In this climate, he did not have to think twice about Max Reinhardt’s invitation in 1934 to compose the score for his Hollywood production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Korngold’s symphonic film scores broke new ground and established the typical “Hollywood sound.” In 1937, while on an extensive visit to Vienna to complete the orchestration of his opera “Die Kathrin,” he received an invitation from Warner Brothers to compose the score for “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” This assignment spared him the turmoil of the Anschluss. He returned to the US well before March 12, 1938. This photograph shows what appears to be a recording session for the Robin Hood score. The actor in the photograph is Basil Rathbone, who played Robin Hood’s nemesis, Sir Guy of Gisbourne. Korngold won an Academy Award for his compelling score—his second after “Anthony Adverse” (1937).
Before Martha Kaphan could travel to Mandatory Palestine, she had to deposit the considerable amount of 800 Reichsmark at the Dresdner Bank. The Reich Office of Foreign Exchange Control, which played a major role in the exploitation of Jewish emigrants, demanded the sum for the issuance of her tourist visa. Thousands of Jews tried to enter Palestine illegally by means of tourist visas with the intention of applying for permanent visas later. Apparently, Martha Kaphan did not emigrate for long. The British Consulate confirmed her departure on December 24, 1938. The deposit was paid on December 29, 1938 in Breslau, and the account was closed on January 10, 1939.
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.
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.
On April 4, 1938, Arthur Sweetser, a member of the Secretariat of the League of Nations, met with US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. During the meeting, the two discussed the situation of German and Austrian Jews urgently seeking ways to emigrate. Roosevelt brought up the idea of an international conference. His reasoning was simple: only under determined US leadership could the problem be solved and other nations be convinced to take in Jewish refugees. It remains disputed whether the idea of a joint debate on the situation of the Jews under the Nazi regime came from Roosevelt himself or rather from high-ranking State Department officials.
A mere 20 years had passed since the end of World War I, during which Dr. Max Kirschner, a Frankfurt physician, had been decorated with the Iron Cross—remarkably, for extending aid to enemy infantrymen. Yet the fact that Kirschner had fought in the War as one of 100,000 German Jews, 12,000 of whom lost their lives, did not in the long run improve his standing with the authorities. In his eulogy for Hedwig Wallach, scion of an old Frankfurt family, he praised the deceased’s quiet devotion to her husband, her lively interest in her children and the quiet bravery with which she had borne her illness.
After the tribulations of their forced emigration, often accompanied by a loss of status, property, and basic faith in humanity, German Jews might not have been expected to feel particularly nostalgic for their former home. This ad from the Aufbau, the New York-based German-Jewish paper published by the German-Jewish Club, shows that nevertheless, Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany were not necessarily in a hurry to give up their eating habits.
This dark blue parochet (curtain for covering the Torah Ark in a synagogue) is part of the collection of the Israelitisches Blindeninstitut (Jewish Institute for the Blind) in Vienna. The institution was established in 1871 with the purpose of educating blind Jewish students. Professions taught ranged from manual occupations to translating and interpreting. Due to its excellent reputation, the school attracted students not only from Austria, but also from most other European countries. March 4 was one of its last days of undisturbed activity.
At the end of February 1938, there still seemed to be at least a few rays of hope for Austrian Jewry. In a sermon at the Vienna Central Synagogue, Chief Rabbi Israel Taglicht expressed the confidence of Austrian Jewry in Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg. A few days earlier, the Chancellor had asserted that Austria would hold fast to the principles of the Constitution of May 1934, which granted Jews equality before the law and religious freedom. About the same time, the pro-Nazi mayor of Graz had been dismissed for raising a swastika flag over City Hall. To prevent Nazi demonstrations, the University of Graz and the Technical College had been temporarily closed.
Few among the immigrant New York audience expected to attend a trilingual event of the Theodor Herzl Society had ever encountered native speakers of modern Hebrew: Hence, it is no wonder the Aufbau assumed that the Hebrew part would constitute the greatest attraction. The featured artist of the evening, actor Albert Klar (Sklarz), born and raised in Tel Aviv, had begun his career in Berlin under renowned directors such as Reinhardt and Piscator. He had made his way to New York thanks to an invitation from the great Yiddish actor and director, Morris Schwartz, who hired him for his Yiddish Art Theater. The venue was Ansche Chesed, a synagogue on the Upper West Side founded by German immigrants.