Many Jews in Germany reacted to the November pogroms with despair, existential fear, and even suicide. But the situation was also highly vexing for those who had managed to flee abroad. From afar they had to watch how their synagogues went up in flames, how Jews were arrested by the thousand and locked up in concentration camps, how Jewish property was stolen or destroyed. The worst, however, was the uncertainty about the well-being of beloved relatives and the torture of not being able to help them quickly enough or at all. One of the many emigrants expressing such feelings was Erich Lipmann. In this letter from Ohio to his mother and grandmother in Lower Saxony, he describes his helplessness but also mentions efforts to get support from official places.
Willi Jonas and his wife Hilde owned a shoe shop in tranquil Basel, Switzerland. Deeply worried about their relatives in Germany, Willi Jonas sent his Swiss chauffeur to sound out the situation. In a November 18th, 1938 letter, the couple tell emigré friends in America about their loved ones’ experiences during and since the night of pogroms (later known as “Kristallnacht” or “Night of Broken Glass”). Louis Jonas, a cattle dealer in Waldbreitbach near Neuwied, has gotten away without material losses. However, after having had to spend 4 days in jail and being released only due to the fact that he is above 50, all he wants is to get out. The news from Worms is even more alarming: Paul Weiner has been taken to a concentration camp and nobody has seen fit to notify his wife, Berta (née Jonas), as to which. The couple’s home was almost entirely wrecked, some of their property stolen.
On November 3rd, 1938, Herszel Grynszpan, a young Jew of Polish extraction, had received a message saying that his parents and two siblings had been expelled from their home in Hannover to Poland. The Polish parliament had recently passed a law according to which citizens who had spent five or more years abroad could be stripped of their citizenship. Fearing to be left irrevocably with over 70,000 Polish Jews, the Nazi regime had deported about 17,000 of them just days earlier. Herszel, who had managed to enter France in 1936, was living with his uncle and aunt at this point. Upset about the fate of his fellow countrymen, he walked into the German embassy in Paris on November 7th, shot to death a German career diplomat, 29 year-old Ernst vom Rath, and was arrested immediately.
This photograph, taken in October 1938, shows Moses Münzer, a tailor in Vienna, and his wife Lisa, with their five children, Elfriede, Benno, Nelly, Gertrude and Siegfried. After the “Anschluss,” Moses Münzer, like many Jews, lost his job. Lisa Münzer started working as a cook in the soup kitchen of the Brigittenauer Tempel on Kluckygasse, sometimes assisted by her children. By October 21st, 15-year-old Gertrude was on her way to Palestine on Youth Aliyah, an organization founded by Recha Freier, the wife of an orthodox rabbi in Berlin, before the Nazi rise to power. Its goal was to help Jewish youth escape anti-Semitism in the Reich and settle in Palestine. Gertrude left on her own, but the intention was for the family to reunite in Palestine.
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.
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 his article “Ten Commandments for Assiduous Language Learners,” published in the July issue of the Aufbau, Dr. Eugene I. Stern recommends making use of the entire arsenal available to the modern student of American English: radio, gramophone, newspapers, and novels. The meticulousness with which he describes what he considers the most promising methodology for language acquisition meets every stereotype associated with German Jews. Dr. Stern does not promise any shortcuts, and his assessment of the language learner’s prospects is not the most optimistic. He opens by declaring mastery of a foreign language to be an unattainable goal. Nevertheless, younger German-Jewish immigrants in America tended to acquire proficiency in English within a few years, while their counterparts in pre-state Palestine were notoriously slow and reluctant to pick up Hebrew. German Jews in America were assisted in their endeavors by various institutions, such as the National Refugee Service, the Adult Education Council, the YMCA, the YWCA, which offered free English classes to the newcomers.
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.
Time and again, unsettling news about sectarian violence in Palestine reached Jewish readers in the diaspora. On May 25, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a prime source of information on the situation of the Jews under the Nazis and of developments in the Yishuv, reports under the headline “6 Deaths Added to Terror Toll in Palestine.” It writes about the latest victims in Jerusalem, Haifa and Tiberias—both Jews and Arabs—and the circumstances of their deaths.
Nothing in this May 19 Jewish Telegraphic Agency report from its Jerusalem correspondent could provide German or Austrian Jews eager to leave for safer shores with the hope that life in Palestine would grant them peace and quiet. Between Arab attacks on Jewish workers or Jewish-built infrastructure and labor unrest among unemployed Jews, the only reassuring aspect of Palestine was its distance from the epicenter of Nazi activity. Since the beginning of the Great Revolt, Arabs, British, and Jews in Palestine had been embroiled in an often violent conflict—scarcely an attraction for weary Central-European Jews eager for peace.
In early 1938, a variety of assumptions regarding the future of the Jews circulated. The official SS organ Das Schwarze Korps (The Black Corps), for example, surmises that after the exclusion of Jews from “the spiritual and political life of the nation,” the physical separation from the majority of Jews within about twenty years will be no chimera. According to this notice disseminated by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), Das Schwarze Korps, claims that the Jews are not willing to leave Germany and that the “small number” of Jewish emigrants should not be ascribed to “foreign exchange and other problems” but rather to the unwillingness of Jews in other countries to “lift a finger to give the emigrants or would-be emigrants a home.” In fact, by 1937, as many as 130,000 (out of a total of 600,000) Jews had left the country.
This painting by the artist Hermann Struck, a resident of Haifa and one of the relatively small number of German Jews who emigrated to Palestine already before 1933, shows one of the iconic landscapes of the Holy Land, the Dead Sea. It does not, however, reflect the difficult social situation in Palestine in the late 1930s. Due to the growing influx of Jewish immigrants in general and, after 1933, German Jews in particular, tensions between Jews and Arabs as well as between Arabs and the British mandatory administration were increasing. In 1936, an Arab uprising began which was still in full swing in February 1938.
One of the first official acts of the new Nazi rulers in 1933 had been the elimination of the independent press. Already in February, the freedom of the press was abolished, and from October, only such individuals who were deemed politically reliable and could prove their “Aryan” descent were admitted to journalistic professions. Ernst Feder (b. 1881), a jurist and erstwhile editor for domestic affairs at the “Berliner Tageblatt,” fulfilled neither of these requirements. In his Parisian exile, he resumed his activities as a journalist as one of the founders of the German-language Pariser Tageblatt (1933-36) and as a freelance writer. On the pages of his diary, he covers a plethora of topics, ranging from the personal to the philosophical and political. Among his friends and fellow exiles was the gynecologist and endocrinologist, Dr. Selmar Aschheim (b. 1878). As Feder notes in his diary on December 30th, the eminent physician and scientist was looking for an alternative source of income, should he be denied the possibility to practice in France. Especially older emigrants often had to overcome major obstacles in order to gain a foothold abroad. Language barriers and admission examinations, for which decades of professional experience were not seen as a substitute, additionally exacerbated the situation.
The large-scale arrests of Jewish men during the November Pogroms – around 30,000 were incarcerated at the Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps – fulfilled its purpose: it served to blackmail Jews into giving up on their remaining assets and emigrating. Among the 10,911 Jews held in Dachau alone were Georg Friedmann, owner of a fashion shop in Schwandorf (Bavaria) and his son, Bruno. Lillian Friedman, his wife, lost no time. Already in November, with her husband and son still incarcerated, she went to the travel agency of the Hamburg-America-Line in Munich for a consultation, which was followed by an intensive correspondence. Thanks to a wealthy relative in New York (who had heard about them for the first time in this context), they had received an affidavit. The plan was to travel to New York via Cuba. On December 29th, the Hamburg-America-Line issued a receipt to Mrs. Friedmann for the passage from Hamburg to Havanna of her son, Bruno, and her mother-in-law, Amanda Friedmann.
Stella was not thrilled about the idea of living in Palestine. Like her friend, Annemarie Riess, with whom she shared her feelings on December 28th, she had fled to Italy. But as a Jew, she was no longer welcome there, either. According to the fascist regime’s new racial laws, non-native Jews were to leave the country within six months. 2,000 of the 10,000 foreign Jews who had settled down in Italy before 1919 were exempt from the provision. At least Stella had an immigration certificate for Palestine, issued by the Mandatory Government, and at a Tel Aviv clinic, an unpaid position that came with free room and board was waiting for her. Nevertheless, she continued to try to get permission to enter the US or England. Actually, even the offer on an unpaid position was more than many immigrant physicians could expect in Palestine. Since 1936, there was a surplus of physicians in the land, and a new wave of immigration after the annexation of Austria in February 1938 (“Anschluss”) had aggravated the situation even more.
At 16, Heinz Ludwig Katscher was among the older German-Jewish children the British government had agreed to accept as temporary asylees. His parents, the engineer Alfred Katscher and his wife, Leopoldine, as well as his younger sister, Liane, had stayed behind in Vienna. The boy, traveling with a group of youngsters all of whom were too young to go to an unknown place on their own, had clearly expressed feelings of homesickness in his first letters home, since his father refers to the topic lovingly and reassuringly. Even though Mr. Katscher obviously misses his beloved son, he comes across as upbeat: allegedly, the “American permits” are on their way, thanks to which the family is feeling “more determined and secure.” He is exuberant in his praise for his son’s accomplishment in traveling to England without his family and expresses his confidence in the teenager’s ability to make the right decisions regarding his future in England.
On November 10th, in the course of the pogroms sweeping the entire Reich, Ernst Aldor, an electrical engineer, was arrested in his own home in Vienna for the crime of being a Jew. He was deported to the Dachau concentration camp 366 kilometers west of his home town. On December 9th, he was released. During the period of his incarceration, his wife Renée received an entry permit for Bolivia and a telegram from her cousin, Emil Deutsch, in America, confirming that an affidavit was being prepared. Australia was a third option the couple had considered as a place of refuge. To prepare for emigration, Renée Aldor, a native of Hungary, procured this document from the registry office at police headquarters in Vienna, dated December 20th, listing all her residences in the city since 1920.
While Dr. Hermann Mansbach and his wife, Selma, had left their home in Mannheim and relocated to Haifa in September 1938, their son, Herbert, a dentist like his father, was stuck in Switzerland, trying to join his parents. The young man had left Germany following a Nazi decree according to which the conferment of doctorates to Jews was to cease immediately. Obtaining a certificate for entry into Palestine proved to be difficult, and to make things worse, Herbert had been defrauded of all his money. On December 19th, Hermann Mansbach gave an account of his new life in Palestine to the Frank family in Zurich, who were helping his son, and to Herbert himself. He describes the difficulty of starting over poor as a result of Nazi regulations and his struggle to learn English and Hebrew and to make money. As if that weren’t enough, political unrest was simmering in the background. Mrs. Mansbach adds that she and her husband never leave home at the same time in order to avoid missing a patient. Things are hard, but, as Dr. Mansbach says, their lot is certainly better than being in a concentration camp.
For many Jewish children in Germany, going to school had become an ordeal: the constant anti-Jewish indoctrination of German students was poisoning the atmosphere, teachers as the agents of this policy rarely supported the Jewish children, and the mere act of getting to school and back could be like running the gauntlet. As a result, Jewish schools began to proliferate, and those who could afford it sent their children to boarding schools abroad. When Ruth Berlak, in Berlin, received this friendly note from St. Margaret’s School in Westgate-on-Sea, Kent, informing her of the acceptance of her 13-year-old daughter, Marianne, as a pupil, little more than a month had passed since the Nazi regime had decreed the removal of Jewish children from German schools. Marianne’s maternal grandfather was Rabbi Dr. Leo Baeck, the president of the Reich Representation of Jews in Germany. Her father’s father was Leo Berlak, the chairman of the Association of Jewish Heimatvereine, clubs devoted to the maintenance of local traditions.
As the wife of a successful architect, Anna Nachtlicht had enjoyed social prestige and experienced years of material comfort. However, in 1932, the Great Depression forced the couple to auction off their art collection, and in 1933, Leo Nachtlicht lost his occupation. Eventually, the couple was left with no other choice but to rent out rooms. The couple’s two adult daughters, Ursula (b. 1909) and Ilse (b. 1912) contributed to the household. But the situation became untenable. As Anna Nachtlicht writes to her brother Max in Argentina on December 17th, the family had “every reason” to fear that they were about to lose their apartment in Berlin-Wilmersdorf, on top of everything else. While there was realistic hope that their daughters would soon find employment in England, Anna and Leo’s efforts to find refuge abroad had remained largely unsuccessful. Relatives on Leo’s side in France had agreed to house the couple temporarily, until a third country would offer them a permanent home. Anna Nachtlicht clearly resented having to ask for help and deplored the dependence on others, but the constant decline of the situation and dark forebodings left her no choice. She had heard that Argentina was about to change its immigration policy and make it possible to request permits for siblings. With undisguised despair, she asks her brother in Buenos Aires to immediately request a reunification with her and facilitate their emigration.
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.
The banishment of Jews from public spaces was far advanced by now. Already in 1933, Jewish creative artists had been dismissed from state-sponsored cultural life. Since November 12th, 1938, Jews were no longer admitted even as audience members at “presentations of German culture” and were banished from concert halls, opera houses, libraries and museums. More and more restaurants and shops denied access to Jews. On Dec. 12th, 1938, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency pointed out a striking discrepancy: while abroad, the “German News Bureau,” the central news agency of the Reich which followed the directives of the Propaganda Ministry, spread the information that from January 1st, 1939, certain anti-Semitic measures would be relaxed, quite the opposite had been communicated to Jews inside the Reich. One fact, however, was not hidden: the goal was to prompt all Jews to emigrate, “also in the interest of the Jews themselves,” as the Bureau put it.
The reply of the secretary of the Kenya Jewish Refugee Committee, Israel Somen, to Paul Egon Cahn’s request for help was rather reserved: the young man urgently wished to bring his parents from Cologne to join him, but he didn’t have the £100 which were to be paid to the British Colonial Office in Mombasa for entry permits. The financial situation of the Committee was utterly strained, so that Somen could only advise the young man to submit an orderly application with the immigration board in Nairobi. In addition, he would have to furnish proof that he was able to pay for his parents’ upkeep and that he had paid the fee for the permits. Only then would it be conceivable that the authority would follow the request, provided the Refugee Committee would give him security. This, too, Somen emphasized, was contingent on Paul Egon Cahn’s ability to prove that his parents would not be a financial burden on the Committee or on the local authorities.
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.
As double earners, the Nathorffs did quite well materially for a number of years: the pediatrician Hertha Nathorff was the director of a children’s home and baby nursery run by the Red Cross in Berlin Charlottenburg, and her husband, Erich, was an internist at the Moabit Hospital. On the side, the couple had a private practice. Shortly after the Nazis came to power, both lost their positions, but they maintained their joint practice until September 1938, when the licenses of all Jewish physicians were revoked. Erich Nathorff was among the few Jewish physicians who were allowed to tend to the needs of Jewish patients exclusively as so-called “caretakers of the sick.” However, during the November Pogroms, he was incarcerated at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. On December 4th, Hertha Nathorff confided to her diary that due to the insecure situation, she had “sent away” her son and that she was having financial problems. Due to the Nazis’ policy of blocking the accounts of Jews whose financial situation would have permitted them to leave the country, she had no access to her money.
Following the November Pogroms, individuals and groups in England, among them faith-based organizations, demonstrated through their relentless refugee advocacy and organizing how effective determined action by citizens can be. Among those who lobbied the British government specifically on behalf of Jewish children was the Society of Friends (Quakers). After initial rejection by Prime Minister Chamberlain, a delegation composed of Jews and Quakers met with Home Secretary Hoare, following which the government gave permission to issue visas and facilitate the children’s entry into the country. Within the shortest time, host families were recruited, donations solicited, tickets booked, transit visas organized (the children traveled via Hoek van Holland). The network of Jewish and non-Jewish helpers included Dutch volunteers who welcomed the children at the border, gave them food and drink and accompanied them all the way to the ship in Hoek van Holland. The first group arrived at Harwich on December 2. The organized efforts to rescue Jewish children from Nazi Germany later came to be known as “Kindertransport.”
In 1903, in the wake of the Kishinev pogrom, the British government agreed to allow European Jewish settlement in a territory then known as the “East Africa Protectorate,” today’s Kenya. Due to massive opposition from within the Zionist movement, the plan, known by the misleading name “Uganda Scheme,” did not come to fruition. 35 years later, Paul Egon Cahn, most recently a resident of Cologne, found himself in Rongai, Kenya. After the November pogroms, the 20-year-old car mechanic began to try to get his parents out of Germany. While European settlers and members of the local Indian community in Kenya opposed the immigration of Jewish refugees, the “Kenya Jewish Refugee Committee,” which had facilitated his immigration, was supportive. Thus, the young man turned to its secretary, Israel Somen, for help: he urgently needed the £100 the British Colonial Office charged for two entry permits.
The Intrators had been forced to flee once before: the anti-Jewish climate in their native country, Poland, had caused Rachel (Rosa) and Jakob in 1905 to make Berlin their home. Their son Alexander, born the same year, later became a successful concert violinist. Gerhard, five years his junior, went to law school, but the Nazis had hardly been brought to power when they began to systematically push Jews out of the legal professions. In light of the hopelessness of pursuing a juridical career in Germany, the 27-year-old emigrated to the US in 1937. Now he was making massive efforts to bring his parents. On November 19th, his father reported on the arrival of the affidavit which was needed for immigration. However, he added, they did not expect to receive their visas any time soon. Meanwhile, their circle of relatives and friends was getting smaller and smaller. Some were being forced by the Nazis to return to Poland, others simply disappeared.
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.
Harry Kranner was a boy of 12 when the Nazis staged a wave of anti-Jewish violence unprecedented in scope and intensity – purportedly a “spontaneous outburst of popular rage” in reaction to the murder of an employee of the German embassy in Paris at the hand of a young Jew. However, Harry’s diary entries show that he was keenly aware of the events around him. In the early morning of November 10th, when the violent events of the night spilled over from Germany into Austria, two Gestapo officers had come to the family’s home in Vienna – ostensibly in search of weapons. Harry understood how extraordinarily lucky he was to have gotten away with nothing more than a scare. He had heard about Jews being locked into or out of their apartments. But one big worry remained: by November 12th, there was still no trace of his uncle Arthur, who had been arrested along with thousands of other Jews. Following a news report that all arrestees were to be deported to the Dachau and Mauthausen concentration camps from the Vienna Westbahnhof, Harry’s father and aunt rushed there, hoping to find uncle Arthur, but to no avail. Meanwhile, it was reported that the Jews were going to be charged a hefty penalty for the violence to which they themselves had fallen victim.
Richard Neubauer was lucky. When, during the November pogroms, throughout the night from the 9th to the 10th (later known as “Kristallnacht” or “Night of Broken Glass”), Nazi thugs destroyed the property of his relatives in Germany, he was already in safety in New York. In this letter, his brother Fritz describes to him in vivid detail the horrific destruction wrought upon Jews and their belongings and the terror caused by the brutality. The Neubauer brothers had inherited the Neubauer Print Shop in Ludwigshafen. Due to the destruction of the free press through its forced conformity under the Nazis, the print shop had lost all its business. Thanks to some lucky coincidences, Fritz, his wife Ruth, and their two children were in possession of train tickets making it possible to legally cross the border into Switzerland. Ruth had managed to salvage them from the wreckage of their furniture.