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.
Ostensibly for traffic-related reasons, the city of Munich informed the Jewish Religious Community on June 8 that it was to sell the magnificent, centrally located Main Synagogue and the lot on which it stood for a fraction of its actual value. On June 9, the demolition of the building, which for little more than 50 years had served as the spiritual and cultural center of the Jewish Community, began. According to this June 10 report by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Chancellor Hitler had personally ordered the removal of the “eyesore.” Rabbi Baerwald, the spiritual leader of the community, received no more than a few hours advance warning in order to salvage the community’s most sacred objects. The recently acquired organ was passed on to a newly-built Catholic church. The loss of this building that had once been a symbol of pride, permanence, and belonging, was devastating to the Jewish Community of Munich.
Lilly and Sim, a married couple in Mährisch Ostrau (Moravia), had so far been spared major hardship – at least on a personal level. But fear was mounting in the city near the Czech-Polish border because new rumors came up on a daily basis about which cities the Germans would occupy next. The worst news was about the fate of fellow Jews: in this December 10th, 1938, letter, Lilly tells her friends abroad about no fewer than 8,000 Jews of Polish extraction, who within three days had been forced to leave the city, some of them after having lived there for 20, 30 or even 40 years. Her greatest wish – getting out – was hard to realize, and she simply could not face joining a refugee transport to a random country “with an impossible climate” to work as farm hands. Meanwhile, Sim was facing a promotion, but given the total uncertainty of the future – with an agreement between Czechoslovakia and Poland pending, the couple did not even know which nationality they were at this point – the prospect did not occasion much joy.
Even though the climate under the Vargas regime in Brazil was becoming increasingly anti-Jewish, refugees could count on the support of allies. Already in 1933, an aid organization for German-Jewish refugees had come into being in Sao Paulo. And in 1936 in Porto Alegre, where Bernhard and Anni Wolf had recently fled from East Frisia, refugees established a Jewish culture and welfare society. The overall attitude of the Church was ambiguous; nevertheless, a Catholic aid committee for refugees lent significant aid to the newcomers. After an unsuccessful attempt to arrange their immigration to Brazil at the consulate in Cologne, Bernhard’s brother Richard and his wife Jola pinned all their hope on their relatives in Brazil.
In fact, Anneliese Riess was an archeologist. But after getting her PhD in Rome in November 1936, she had no chance as a foreigner to find employment in her dream profession. Therefore, she took a course in pediatric nursing in Geneva in 1937 and then returned to Rome. When the fascist government in Italy declared that foreign Jews were to leave the country within half a year, the school in Geneva agreed to employ Anneliese as an intern until the arrival of her US visa. However, due to Switzerland’s xenophobic and anti-Semitic immigration policy, she was denied entry at the border. In a letter from the school dated October 10th she was informed that such cases were so common among the students that the director of the school, Miss Borsinger, was not able to do anything for her to obtain a residence permit. She had, however, enclosed a letter to the consulate, testifying that Anneliese Riess was urgently expected at the nurse’s training school – albeit as a student. This, the letter states, was her only chance to be allowed entry.
At first glance it may seem abstruse. A certificate of good conduct from the police confirms to an employee of an insurance company, Franz Resler of Vienna, that he has not made himself suspicious, especially “not by panhandling.” At second glance, however, it is exactly the emphasis on panhandling that points to all the existential crises in which many Austrian Jews increasingly found themselves in 1938. With the “Anschluss” the Nazis had massively increased the economic pressure on Jews living in Austria. “Aryanisation” of companies and occupational bans deprived numerous people of their livelihood. As a result, Franz Resler and his wife Anna planned their emigration to Argentina, where Franz Resler’s sister Fanny had been living since the 1920s.
Barely one month after the collapse of the Weimar Republic, a “democracy without a user’s manual,” as he called it in “The German Masked Ball,” and one day after the Reichstag fire, the writer and Social Democrat Alfred Döblin left Germany. After a brief interlude in Switzerland, he moved to Paris with his wife and three sons in September 1933. Occasional publications with the German-language “publisher-in-exile” (Exilverlag) Querido (Amsterdam) yielded minimal income, and Döblin’s lack of French language skills were a major stumbling block to his gaining a foothold professionally. From 1936 on, the Döblins were French citizens. The 10th of August was the author’s 60th birthday.
Jews wishing to escape the chicanery and physical danger under the Nazis by emigrating had to procure a large number of documents to satisfy both the Nazi authorities and the authorities in the country of destination. In order to obtain permission to leave Germany, applicants had to prove that they did not owe any tax money to the Reich. In addition to the taxes levied on all citizens, prospective emigrants had to pay the co-called “Reich Flight Tax.” Originally introduced during the Great Depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s, the original purpose of the tax was to prevent capital flight from further depleting the national coffers. Under the Nazis, its main purpose was to harass and expropriate Jews. The tax authorities under the Nazi regime certainly did a thorough job. When the Weichert family of Vienna, consisting of the lawyer Joachim Weichert, his wife Käthe, and the couple’s two children, Hans and Lilian, prepared to leave, a tax clearance certificate was issued even to the ten-year-old son. The document was valid for one month. Having all required documents ready and still valid by the time their quota number came up was an additional challenge faced by those wishing to emigrate.
Wilhelm Hesse was a loving and profoundly involved father. Since the births of his daughters, Helen (1933) and Eva (1936), he had meticulously documented the girls’ development in diaries which he kept for them. In addition to little texts and poems he composed, he included numerous photographs as well as material referring to Jewish holidays. Occasionally, the frequently humorous, sometimes even childlike tone is interrupted by material documenting the political situation, such as a call by Rabbi Leo Baeck for Jewish unity and solidarity in the name of the Reich Representation of German Jews. But Helen and her sister Eva were lucky enough to be too young to grasp what was looming around them. June 30 was Helen’s 5th birthday.
The Gestapo warrant for protective custody dated June 29, 1939 confirmed the hitherto merely formal arrest of the Jewish and communist painter Lina (Lea) Grundig (also see June 1). After her conviction of high treason, she was held at the Dresden Court Jail.
The observance of Shabbat, holidays, and kashrut was so deeply ingrained in the life of the Lamm family in Munich that even the Catholic cook, Babett, saw to it that the traditional customs were adhered to. While traditional in their understanding of Judaism, the Lamms were open to worldly matters. After high school, Hans briefly studied law, but, understanding that in the new political climate, there was no way a Jew could advance in the field, he embarked on a career in journalism instead. The career paths of Jewish jounalists at the time were also stymied by the fact that non-Jewish papers would not hire them and Jewish ones were forced to close down one by one. In 1937, Lamm relocated to Berlin, where he studied with Leo Baeck and Ismar Elbogen at the Lehranstalt für die Wissenschaft des Judentums, in order to deepen his understanding of Judaism. Deeply rooted in German culture as he was, it was difficult for him to decide to emigrate. Yet eventually, his older brother convinced him that there was no future for Jews in Germany. In this letter, the 25 year-old Lamm cordially and politely, yet without palpable emotion, bids farewell to the editors of the Jewish monthly, Der Morgen, a high-level publication to which he had been contributing, expressing his gratitude for their support.
While antisemitism was by no means a new phenomenon in Yugoslavia—as a matter of fact, especially since World War I, the entire political spectrum found reasons to attack Jews—under the impact of events in Germany, the situation deteriorated in the 1930s. Fritz Schwed from Nuremberg was under no illusions regarding his and his family’s temporary refuge. In this lengthy letter to his old friend from Nuremberg days, Fritz Dittmann, who had fled to New York, Schwed describes the dismal situation of emigrants in Yugoslavia, who are routinely expelled with just 24 hours’ notice. Even older people who have resided in the country for decades are not exempt from this cruel policy. Emigrants are forbidden to work, and when they are caught flouting the prohibition, they have to be prepared for immediate expulsion. Concluding that “There no longer is room for German Jews in Yugoslavia, and it seems to me, nowhere else in Europe, either,” Schwed explores possibilities to immigrate to Australia or South America.
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.
In Anni Buff’s personal recipe book, dated June 25, 1938, traditional Bavarian dishes, like liver dumplings, Christmas stollen, and cottage cheese doughnuts, certainly outweighed traditional Jewish ones, such as matzo balls. The Jewish community in her native Krumbach was well integrated. Since its peak in the early 19th century, when it constituted about 46% of the population, its ranks had declined considerably, and by 1933, only 1,5% of Krumbachers were Jewish. In spite of this negligible presence of Jews, National Socialism with its rabidly antisemitic message took hold fast, and even before it became national policy, Jews in the little town were harassed by SA men. By 1938, the abuse had become so unbearable that Anni’s father Julius, who dealt in upholstery material, began to explore possibilities to find a new home on safer shores, such as the US, the Dominican Republic, or Shanghai. Not even the fact that he had lost a brother in WWI and had himself served in the 16. Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment—along with a young Austrian named Adolf Hitler—did anything to improve his standing with Nazi authorities.
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.
After his first official attempt to immigrate had failed under adventurous circumstances, 20 year-old Heinz Ries of Berlin made another effort to get permission to live in the US permanently and legally. For months, he had struggled in the shadows as an undocumented immigrant in New York. After obtaining an affidavit of support, Ries traveled to Havana and visited the US consulate there on June 23, 1938. Finally, he was admitted legal entry into the United States. After the war he returned to Germany for some time, first in the employment of the Allies, then as a photo journalist for the New York Times. The photographs of the Berlin Blockade and the Airlift, taken during these years, made him world-famous under the name Henry Ries.
Samuel (later “Billy”) Wilder had a mind of his own: born in 1906 into an Austrian-Jewish family in the Galician town of Sucha Beskidzka, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he was expected to join his father’s business, which consisted mainly of a chain of railroad restaurants. But after the Realgymnasium and a brief stint at law school in Vienna (he dropped out after three months), he decided to follow his true leanings. At the paper Die Stunde, a tabloid of questionable repute, he got his first shot at practicing his writing skills. In 1926, an opportunity arose for him to move to Berlin, where he freelanced for various tabloids and took up screenwriting. After the Nazis’ ascent to power, Wilder first moved to Paris and was given the opportunity to direct his first movie, Mauvaise graine. In 1934 he entered the US on a visitors visa. From 1936, he was under contract at Paramount Pictures. June 22, 1938 was his 32nd birthday – the sixth he celebrated in exile.
As the influx of refugees from Nazi Germany intensified, what had begun in 1934 as the anniversary brochure of the German Jewish Club in New York quickly turned into a professional publication and a lifeline for the uprooted. With its offer of a wide range of cultural and athletic activities, the monthly was an emotional anchor for the newcomers, but it also offered practical help getting settled in the new country. This issue of the Aufbau from June 1938 features a large number of rental ads, mostly for fully furnished rooms, often in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Northern Manhattan, thereby giving some extra income to the owners or main tenants while providing affordable housing to refugees who usually arrived with very little money and property.
Section 17 of the Third Supplementary Decree on the Reich Citizenship law (Reichsbürgergesetz), issued on June 14, called for marking Jewish businesses at a date yet to be determined. The Nazis lost no time. According to this article by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, days later, the word “Jew” and Nazi slogans were smeared on Jewish shop windows throughout Berlin in an organized fashion, with the same red, hard-to-remove oil paint used everywhere. There could be no doubt that the action was carried out with blessings from above. While no opposition from the non-Jewish population is recorded, the correspondent does point out that unlike in Vienna and in less affluent parts of Berlin, the crowd on Kurfürstendamm looked on quietly, without major enthusiasm. Tension among Jews was intensified by reports of plans to build labor camps where Jews apprehended in recent raids were to be put to work.
At a time when more and more German Jews became anxious to leave the country, this letter from a German-Jewish emigrant in Shanghai, addressed to the “gentlemen of the Hilfsverein [Aid Society of Jews in Germany]” and published in the “Jüdisches Gemeindeblatt für Berlin,” must have infused prospective emigrants with new hope: the writer exuberantly thanks the Hilfsverein for counseling him and gushes over the multitude of professional options available to immigrants at his new location, “provided, of course, that you have a skill and are able to work intensely.” According to him, musicians, physicians, and merchants are greatly in demand, and the situation is especially promising for secretaries and shorthand typists – on condition that they have perfect command of the English language, which could by no means be taken for granted among German Jews. The newcomers were not the only Jews in the country; a Sephardic community had been present in Shanghai since the middle of the 19th century, and settlement by Ashkenazi Jews had begun in the early 20th century and intensified in the wake of the Russian Revolution.
Since discussing the possibility of emigration with his relatives in Vienna on April 20, Adolph Markus of Linz had taken up English lessons at the synagogue twice to three times a week. On April 29, his brother-in-law had been picked up by the Gestapo, and the Markuses’ tension and nervousness was beginning to rub off on the children. Two weeks later, Mrs. Markus was questioned by the Gestapo about the value of a house she owned and all her other property. Finally, on June 18, two Gestapo officers appeared at the family’s home: While going over the contents of some boxes, one of them tried to frame Adolph Markus by sneaking in a communist leaflet. Markus mustered the calm and self-assurance to point out to the officers that he had never been politically active in any way. His allusion to his frontline service in World War I, combined with the remark that if they were to arrest him, they would have to take along his two little boys, since their mother was in the hospital, made them change their mind. They left – threatening to return after six weeks if he wasn’t going to leave the country on his own accord.
On June 17, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that in the last four days, the Nazi authorities have re-intensified their raids on cafés in Berlin and elsewhere in the country, which between June 13 and 17 have led to the arrests of 2,000 Jews. During the Weimar Republic, there had been a thriving Kaffeehauskultur—artists and intellectuals practically saw certain cafes as their homes, where they would spend half of their days and nights discussing art, literature, and politics. Under the Nazis, this phenomenon quickly disappeared; they suspected subversive activities among these free thinkers. The public sphere was infested with informers. By the time of the Juni-Aktion, in the context of which these raids were carried out, the original clientele had largely disappeared. Ostensibly, the raids were targeting “anti-social elements.” In fact, however, they constituted the first mass-arrest of Jews. The Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Gobbels, had summarized the intention with the pithy words: “Our password is chicanery, not the law.”
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.
Under the impact of the Nazi rise to power and increasing antisemitism in Europe, the great Yiddish writer and cultural activist Melekh Ravitch had had the foresight to raise the funds for a trip from his native Poland to Australia as soon as 1933 in order to scout the inhospitable Kimberley region as a possible place for Jewish settlement. His optimistic conclusion was that the challenges of the Outback could be tackled with “mer vaser, veyniker bir”—“more water, less beer.” By 1938, the territorialist Frayland Lige also began to look into the possibility. As per the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s report on June 15, the government was willing to consider individual cases of Jews wishing to immigrate but was not willing to support Jewish mass settlement in the country.
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.
The Jewish community of Eisenstadt in the Burgenland region of Austria had never been a large one, but as the oldest Jewish community in the area, it dated back to the 14th century and had a rich cultural life. The moment Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany on March 12, 1938, Jews were vulnerable. Under the deeply racist Gauleiter Tobias Portschy, the Burgenland was the first part of Austria to expel its Jewish population. In June 1938, Hilde Schlesinger Schiff was in Eisenstadt helping her parents get ready to relocate. In a birthday letter to her daughter Elisabeth, Hilde calls Elisabeth “a true Jewish child, not settled, always ready to be on the move,” in contrast with her own emotional connectedness to Eisenstadt, from which she is now forced to uproot herself. Mrs. Schlesinger Schiff writes that she hopes her parents will soon be allowed to immigrate to Czechoslovakia, but bureaucratic hurdles remain. Meanwhile, she is clearly taken aback by the eagerness of non-Jews to snatch up the family’s property at a low price, calling it “grave robbery.”
Leaving behind an increasingly antisemitic Germany, the Frank family of Frankfurt am Main fled to the Netherlands shortly after the Nazis rose to power. They settled on Merwedeplein in Amsterdam’s River Quarter, where more and more German-speaking immigrants were finding refuge. So large was the influx of Jews that some in the Dutch Jewish community were worried it would affect their standing in society and cause antisemitism. The Franks’ older daughter, Margot, went to school on Jekerstraat. Anne attended the Sixth Montessori School, a mere 5 minutes away from the family home. Fifteen of her classmates were Jewish. She loved telling and writing stories. Anne was curious, demanding, interested and very articulate. As her good friend Hanneli Goslar’s mother would say, “God knows everything, but Anne knows better.” In 1938, Anne’s father, Otto, applied for immigration visas to the United States. June 12 was her 9th birthday.
The family of Therese Wiedmann (née Toffler) in Vienna was secular and very well integrated. While the Tofflers were keenly aware of the situation in Germany, no one among Therese’s relatives foresaw that so many Austrians would be so quick to welcome Hitler and abandon Austrian independence. After the “Anschluss” in March 1938 she immediately lost her job with Tiller AG. Her grandfather, until recently the president of the company, was no longer permitted to enter his office. Her father, Emil, the executive manager, was kept around for the time being, in order to familiarize the new, “Aryan” management with the company’s operations. Luckily, he had transferred part of his assets to England before the “Anschluss.” In better days, the company was deemed sufficiently Austrian to be appointed a purveyor to the royal-imperial court, for which it produced army uniforms. This passport, issued to Therese Wiedmann on June 11, 1938, contains a visa that includes “all countries of the earth” and “return to the German Reich.”
In 1935, the Nazi party press had orchestrated a campaign to exclude Jews from public swimming pools, citing “unpleasant incidents” or warning the public of the “danger” allegedly posed by Jews. Suddenly, signs inscribed with texts like “Jews are not permitted access to this facility” were put up almost everywhere. Stölpchensee, one of the lakes just outside Berlin, was the last public bathing spot to which Berlin Jews had access. Fritz and Friedel F. were married and lived in Berlin, where Fritz owned a lamp store. In June of 1938, their weekend cottage at Stölpchensee was still a family escape from the city and harassment.
Hans Joseph Pinkus was a direct descendant of Samuel Fränkel, founder of a textile factory in Neustadt (Upper Silesia), which for a while was the primary employer in the entire region and one of the world’s foremost producers of linens. His grandfather, Max, had been a personal friend and patron of the Nobel Prize-winning author Gerhart Hauptmann. His great-uncle, the scientist Paul Ehrlich, had been a Nobel laureate, too. Lili, Hans Joseph’s stepmother, was hardly intimidated by this pedigree. In this letter, written on June 8, 1938, she gives him a major dressing down for having neglected his correspondence with his parents and sternly inquires whether he flunked his exam in the Czech language. At this point, 16 year-old “Pipo,” as the family called him, was staying with his step-grandmother in Brünn (Brno, Czechoslovakia) and attending school there. His parents and half-sisters lived in Neustadt: the directorship of the the S. Fränkel company had been handed down to male members of the Pinkus family for several generations and was now held by his father, Hans Hubert.
The Anschluss, Austria’s annexation by Nazi Germany in March 1938, precipitated a wave of anti-Jewish violence. Emboldened by their new status and by the utter defenselessness of the Jewish population, Nazis and their sympathizers entered Jewish homes and seized whatever property they liked. Jewish-run businesses were ransacked or destroyed, and Jews of all ages were forced to carry out the demeaning task of scrubbing streets to remove political slogans under the eyes of jeering onlookers. With no protection to be expected from police, a feeling of utter abandonment and hopelessness drove many Jews to take their own lives. In the first two months after the Anschluss, 218 Jews escaped the state-sanctioned cruelty by taking their own lives. The JTA’s June 7 dispatch lists the most recent suicides—including that of a family of four—and deaths at the Dachau concentration camp.