Twice in the course of German history, Jews were forced to change their names: the first time through the introduction of (often stigmatizing) family names during the Emancipation, the second time through the introduction of compulsory first names: “Sara” for Jewish women and “Israel” for Jewish men (August 17, 1938). Thus, Jews were singled out and made to stand apart from the rest of society. If the given name appeared on an officially approved list of Jewish names issued by the Nazis, no additional name was required. The regime also saw to it that Jews who had changed their family names in order to blend in and avoid discrimination had to return to their previous names.
Since its founding in 1904, the League of Jewish Women had worked to ensure the dignity and independence of Jewish women and especially to protect them from sexual exploitation by facilitating professional training. By 1938, another issue had come to the fore: emigration. On March 22, 1938, the Group of Professional Women within the League, represented by Dr. Käthe Mende, hosted a discussion for “female youth” about questions of career and emigration. The guest speaker was Lotte Landau-Türk, and the discussion was moderated by Prof. Cora Berliner, a former employee in the German Department of Commerce and a professor of economics who had been dismissed from public service after the Nazi rise to power in 1933.
Could Willy Nordwind of the Boston Committee for Refugees—an organization not dealing specifically with unaccompanied child immigrants—be entrusted with the well-being of a 16-year-old girl? The Relief Organization of Jews in Germany was not ready to take chances: rather than just sending Frieda Diamont on her way, the organization turned to the National Council of Jewish Women in New York to ascertain Mr. Norwind’s integrity. The Council’s Merle Henoch passed on the case to Jewish Family Welfare in Boston, Mass., where Nordwind, too, was based. For her there was no doubt: as generous a helper as Willy Norwind must be a trustworthy ally.
Amalia Carneri had seen better days. Once a celebrated opera and concert singer, she now had to cope with the death of her husband, the mine inspector Heinrich Pollak, as well as being forced to leave her family home of many years in Vienna and the distressing political situation all at once. In this letter, dated October 19th, to the elder of her two sons, Fritz, who had fled to America, she describes at great length her difficulties selling her possessions. Even with the assistance of a dubious helper, she is forced to sell below value. Not knowing what her widow’s pension will be and with only a vague hope to join Fritz in America one day, she is in a state of palpable restlessness, and her boys are her only comfort.
Dr. Ernst Schaumberger was a doctor specializing in skin and sexually-transmitted diseases, a virtually apolitical occupation. However, National-Socialist ideology concerning race and morals interpreted sexual relations as a matter of political interest. Therefore, Dr. Schaumberger’s area of work became political. The confidential request, which he received from the agency of public health in Stuttgart on September 20th, is noteworthy in many ways. He was asked to report whether he had treated any girls or women who were infected with sexually-transmitted diseases due to sexual relations with Italians. So-called “racial hygiene” in National Socialism didn’t shy away from violating medical confidentiality. When Dr. Schaumberger received this letter, his days as a practicing doctor were numbered. He’d already been identified as a “Jewish doctor” in July, and an amendment to the Nazi Reich Citizenship Law decreed that, on the 30th of September, 1938, the licenses of Jewish doctors would expire. Nonetheless, he was still expected to cooperate with the Nazis.
In August 1938 a new decree had been issued. Jewish people with names that were—in the perspective of the Nazis—not “typically Jewish” were to bear (starting January 1, 1939, the latest) a second given name: “Sara” for women, “Israel” for men. The September issue of Aufbau put the perfidy of this regulation in a nutshell: “If the motives on which this regulation is based were not so abysmally cruel, there would be nothing from its content about which to complain. ‘Israel’ means ‘Fighter for God’ and ‘Sarah’ or ‘Sara’ […] means ‘Princess.’” Not only did the Nazis help themselves to the content of Jewish culture, but they also misused it in order to restrict the private sphere of Jews on a massive scale.
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.
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.
Nobody saw fit to inform the worried wives of thousands of Jewish men arrested by the Nazis about their spouses’ whereabouts and the expected period of imprisonment. Many of them decided to go to the Rossauer Lände detention facility and the central police station in order to get information on the whereabouts of their loved ones. According to this June 3 report from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the detainees had been taken away in overcrowded railroad cars, many of them forced to remain in uncomfortable positions for up to five hours before departure. While there were intimations that those sent to the Dachau concentration camp in Germany would be exploited as construction workers in order to enlarge the camp and subsequently be released, many had no idea where their husbands were. The author of the report sees the “extraordinary callousness with which police have withheld information” as “one of the most terrifying aspects of the situation.”
The Central Office for Jewish Foster Homes and Adoption took its mandate for protecting mothers and children very seriously. When Frances and Bernard Rosenbaum of New York decided to adopt a German child, the agency offered Mrs. Rosenbaum accommodations in a private home while picking up the boy in Germany, so that the relationship would not have to begin in a hotel. The Central Office for Jewish Foster Homes and Adoption was part of the League of Jewish Women, founded in 1904 by Bertha Pappenheim in order to foster charitable activity while affirming Jewish identity. An outgrowth of this initiative was the development of professional social work.
A few inconspicuous lines in today’s issue of the Jüdische Rundschau advertise a lecture in Berlin’s “Ohel Jizchak” Synagogue by “Miss Regina Jonas” on the topic “Religious problems of the Jewish Community today.” Regina Jonas had studied with much dedication at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin and fought hard to reach her goal of becoming a rabbi. Not wishing to rock the boat in these troubled times, even liberal rabbis who might have been positively inclined toward the ordination of women, such as Leo Baeck, were not willing to ordain her. Her final thesis was a halakhic treatise on the topic “May a Woman Hold Rabbinic Office?” It was Rabbi Max Dienemann who in 1935 made her the first female rabbi in history. Interestingly, in spite of the passionate opposition in some quarters and doubts regarding the validity of Regina Jonas’s ordination, she enjoyed the respect even of some orthodox rabbis, who henceforth addressed her as Fräulein Rabbiner or “colleague.” The Jüdische Rundschau apparently preferred to play it safe.
On May 9, the Ärztegruppe of the German-Jewish Club (an informal association of physicians within the city’s main German émigré organization) in New York offered a lecture on the topic of abortion. During the Weimar Republic, repeated efforts had been made to abolish or at least reform the anti-abortion paragraph (§218). Its opponents pointed out that it put the working class at a disadvantage, since poverty was the chief motivation for abortion. In 1926, a member of the Reichstag representing a coalition of three right-wing parties, including the NSDAP, proposed legalizing abortion for Jews only. Under the Nazi regime, which promoted the production of “racially valuable” offspring, abortion was illegal unless it prevented the birth of children considered “undesirable.” In the US, the depression had led to an increased demand for abortion, and by the beginning of the 1930s hundreds of birth control clinics had sprung up. Poverty and the lack of access to qualified practitioners often led to the injury or death of pregnant women through self-induced miscarriage. The lecturer, Dr. Walter M. Fürst, was a recent arrival from Hamburg.
As a leading functionary in various Zionist organizations, most notably the Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization of North America, Rose Luria Halprin had moved to Jerusalem in 1934, where she worked as the liaison between the local Hadassah branch and the National Office in the US. Having befriended Henrietta Szold, who led the Youth Aliyah in Palestine, Halprin, too, became involved in efforts to rescue German-Jewish youth by bringing them to Palestine. The Youth Aliyah had been founded by the prescient Recha Freier, wife of a Berlin-based rabbi, on the very day the Nazis were voted into government, January 30, 1933. In the years 1935 to 1938, Halprin repeatedly visited Berlin. April 11, 1938 was her 42nd birthday.
By 1938, the ability of Jews to make a living had been seriously curtailed by a series of laws aimed at humiliating, isolating, and impoverishing them. While not all Jews were affected equally by these changes, the number of Jews dependent on the services of welfare organizations, such as the Jewish Winter Relief, was constantly on the rise. The level of solidarity and the support for the Winter Relief were remarkable. Much of the money came from small donations, and the Kulturbund held cultural events in support of the organization. Volunteers from women’s and youth groups assisted in the fundraising efforts.
Bertha Pappenheim (1859–1936), born and raised in Vienna, was a leading German-Jewish feminist. Better known as the patient Anna O. in Sigmund Freud’s “Studies on Hysteria,” she later moved to Frankfurt a.M., where she gradually shifted the emphasis of her activism from charitable work to women’s empowerment. In 1907, she established a home in Neu-Isenburg for young Jewish women in need of protection, a feat she considered her most important achievement. Under the Nazis, the home had to register all inhabitants with the police. In the letter displayed here, the secretary of the home asks Rabbi Dr. Merzbach at the District Rabbinate in Darmstadt to immediately send the papers of a resident of the home, Esther Kleinmann, who would otherwise face deportation.
The January issue of the Berlin Kulturbund magazine conveys a sense of normalcy—local businesses advertise merchandise and services like cosmetics, women’s apparel and car repairs, while the Kulturbund schedule offers Eugene Scribe’s “The Ladies’ Battle.” The comedy must have provided a welcome respite from the worrisome situation.