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Confidence in chancellor Schuschnigg

Therapeutic Optimism

“We always had and continue to have full confidence in our Chancellor, in his open heart, fair-mindedness and sincerity. That confidence was strengthened after Thursday's declaration emphasizing that the government will stand by the Constitution of May, 1934.”


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.

Three Jewish Mother Tongues

A Tel-Aviv born actor brings “new Palestinian poetry” to New York

“His Hebrew program numbers are especially likely to draw major attention, since it can safely be assumed that no actor in New York has ever rendered the Bible and modern poetry in Hebrew in so sublime a fashion.”

New York City

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.

From Cologne to Kenya

A car mechanic seeks safety in East Africa

“Distinguishing marks: none”


Despite the restrictive immigration policy of the British colonial power, twenty-year-old Paul Egon Cahn, a car mechanic from Cologne, managed to flee to Kenya with the help of this passport. Paul’s sisters, Erika and Inge, reached safety in England and Australia respectively. The siblings’ parents, Siegfried and Regina Cahn, remained behind in Germany. In many cases, refugees not only had to cope with the loss of their homes and property and the separation from their relatives but were also forced to take on the challenges posed by foreign climate zones and cultures.


Young lovers face separation

“I say it is a good thing not to see each other for a longer period, for only then can one see how much or how little people have changed.”


By 1938, the Hirsch family from Hamburg had emigrated to Italy. In light of the volatile situation in Europe, members of the family began to look into options for emigration to the United States or South America. Julius Hirsch had met Elisabeth Schiff on a visit to Belgium in 1935 and fallen in love with her. The Schiff family had no plans to leave Europe, and when visas for El Salvador were procured for Julius and other members of his family, he must have been pained at the prospect of being so distant from his beloved. This letter from a friend in Hamburg reassures him that a temporary separation is not such a bad thing. Forced to remain in Italy because the US denied him the necessary transit visa, Julius ultimately reunited with Elisabeth in England.


Nazi Germany's break with modernity


With its traveling exhibition “Degenerate Art,” initiated in 1937, the Nazis used 650 works of art confiscated from 32 museums in order to force their idea of art upon the populace: newer trends like expressionism, surrealism, or fauvism, to name just a few, were regarded as “Jewish-Bolshevist” and roundly disparaged. The front page of the exhibition catalog shows a piece titled “Large Head” from the workshop of the German-Jewish artist Otto Freundlich, one of the first exponents of abstract art. It was created in 1912 to symbolize hope for a new beginning. Even apart from Freundlich’s Jewish background and his artistic leanings, being a communist made him politically unacceptable in the eyes of the regime.

Chronology of major events in 1938

Austrian Chancellor takes a stand for Austrian independence

Portrait of Kurt Schuschnigg in his office. Encyclopedia Brittanica.

In a dramatic speech to Parliament, Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg takes a stand for the independence of Austria. The Christian-Socialist chancellor declares that his government, including the National Socialist ministers Seyß-Inquart und Glaise-Horstenau, will uphold the constitution of 1934. Several European and US radio stations broadcast the speech. Von Schuschnigg warns Austrian and German National Socialists seeking an alliance that “Austria will go thus far and no further [. . .] Red-White-Red, until we are dead!”

View chronology of major events in 1938

Tel Aviv, Bauhaus, and “Grand Illusion”

Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

This view of Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv shows some of the typical buildings in the background to which it owes its unofficial name, “The White City.” Since 1933 and especially after the “Reichsbürgergesetz” came into effect in 1935, Bauhaus-trained architects had left Germany and were now putting their mark on Tel Aviv, either through their own creations or through their influence on others. The photo is dominated by the Migdalor building, which was built in 1935 and housed the city’s first air-conditioned movie theater. On the external wall there is a huge advertisement for Jean Renoir’s 1937 movie “Grand Illusion,” which due to its pacifist message was banned in Nazi Germany.

Chronology of major events in 1938

The Port of Tel Aviv opens

The opening of the port in Tel-Aviv. National Photograph Collection of Israel.

The port of Tel Aviv is completed and officially opened. When the Arab city of Jaffa closed its port in 1936 to counteract the rising number of Jewish immigrants, Tel Aviv established a port known as Sha’ar Zion, the Gate to Zion. During two years of construction, the capacity of the port was very limited, but it nevertheless took on an enormous symbolic importance for the Jews fleeing the National Socialists. With the official opening of the port, regular cargo traffic begins immediately, and the first passenger will arrive in April 1938. Two years later, when escape from Germany has become impossible and World War II has begun, the port will be closed for civilian usage and serve exclusively as a military port.

View chronology of major events in 1938

Coffee and cake in “Frankfurt on Hudson”

A New Life in Washington Heights, NYC

While enjoying coffee, cake, card games and a pleasant entertainment program, those present will have the opportunity to talk about their concerns.

New York

Between the Nazis’ rise to power in 1933 and the year 1938, about 16.000 Jews had immigrated to the United States. Many German Jews had made their home in New York, especially in the neighborhood of Washington Heights in northern Manhattan, gaining it the nickname “Frankfurt on the Hudson.” The event schedule of the German-Jewish Club lists a “Family evening with Kaffee-Klatsch” which offers “artistic and musical interludes.” The event is geared towards the needs of the older members of the community, as “a substitute for lodge, singing club, social club and other associations,” promising participants an opportunity to discuss what they had on their minds. In addition to cultural activities in German, the massive influx of German-speaking Jews to Washington Heights led to the establishment of numerous new synagogues, beginning with “Tikvoh Chadoshoh”—“New Hope.”

Colombia, the safety country

A health certificate from the Colombian embassy


In light of the looming danger, a young jazz musician from Breslau, Werner Dambitsch, considered various options for emigration. Like many others, he viewed Cuba, a destination for which it was significantly easier to obtain a visa, as a “waiting room” on the way to the final destination for many, the United States. While his application for immigration to Cuba was being processed, Dambitsch, to be on the safe side, seems to also have applied for a visa at the Colombian Embassy in Berlin. The document presented here is a doctor’s notice written by the doctor of the Colombian Embassy and attesting the perfect health of the prospective emigrant, one of the indispensable preconditions for receiving a visa.

Imminent danger

Dark premonitions fill the pages of the diary of a Jew from Linz

“Meanwhile the Nazi demonstrations are taking on ever-expanding dimensions, making the immense threat to Austria appear closer and closer.”


The Austrian Adolph Markus had started a diary on January 12, the day Hitler forced the “Berchtesgaden Treaty” on the Austrian chancellor, Schuschnigg. The treaty stipulated the release of National-Socialist prisoners, gave free rein to Nazi political organizing, and granted a greater measure of participation in government activities to their political representatives. Markus personally witnessed the thuggish behaviour of the released prisoners and their reception by sympathizers in the streets of Linz. In his diary entry on February 20, he records the events of the preceding day and reveals his worries for his country.

Doing fine here in prison

Letters from Alfred Rahn

“I am doing well under the circumstances, and if you do not worry, I shall be able to bear it doubly well.”


Not wishing to leave behind the family business and hoping that the Jews’ situation would improve over time, Alfred Rahn had initially been reluctant to consider emigration. However, in 1937 the family obtained US visas and sold the business to a non-Jew. Since they had officially approved the sale, the Nazis accused Rahn of trying to hide funds. As a result, he had to serve a 14-month prison term. From prison, Rahn writes to his wife Lilli in a matter-of-fact way about his hope to be transferred to a different section of the prison, the work imposed on him, and the books he reads. He manages to create the impression that nothing much is amiss.

Under the radar in Italy?

Italian antisemitism does not target local Jews, says report

“The anti-semitic movement in Italy is directed not at Italian Jews but rather at world Jewry, which is notoriously anti-fascist. Moreover, the movement is more political than racist in character.”


The orthodox Jüdische Presse quotes the state-run Austrian wire service Amtliche Nachrichtenstelle with a reassuring assessment of the situation of Jews in Italy: While there was an antisemitic movement “like everywhere else,” it was very moderate, and rather than targeting Italian Jewry, it opposed “World Jewry” due to the latter’s notoriously anti-fascist stance. Interestingly, the moderate nature of the antisemitic movement in Italy is seen as a result of the absence of a “Jewish movement” in the country. Indeed, Zionism had attracted very few followers in Italy, and between 1926 and 1938, only 151 Italian Jews had emigrated to Palestine.

“Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine!”

Children set out on their journeys to Palestine with Youth Aliyah

“Joy and pain are fighting against each other, as are courage and fear, mourning and hopefulness. One cries, the other laughs. Here the pain of separation is stronger, there the self-painted picture of the future outshines all grief of separation.”


Immediately after the Nazis seized power, on January 30, 1933, Recha Freier founded the Jüdische Jugendhilfe (“Committee for the Assistance of Jewish Youth”) soon to be known as Jugend-Alija (“Youth Aliyah”). The organization’s goal was to bring Jewish children past the age of elementary school to safety in Palestine. In the youth supplement of the Israelitisches Familienblatt of February 17, 1938, the children’s feelings are described as they depart for Palestine: Not only did they have to cope with the separation from their parents and families, but also with the uncertainty about their future.

25 Pfennige

Jewish Winter Relief alleviates poverty with a small raise in statutory fees among Germany's Jews

“In certain communities in those districts the destitute total is between 40 to 90 per cent of the total Jewish population. This is partly explicable by the fact that rural communities are especially open to the full force of the anti-semitic propaganda machine.”


In mid-February 1938, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, for years an attentive observer of the situation of German Jews, reports once again on the precarious position of Jews in Germany and the struggle of the Jewish Winter Relief to do justice to the acute needs of the community’s poorest. While the new, obligatory contribution addressed ongoing needs and made it easier to survive the winter, the numerous laws imposed by the Nazis since 1933 that banned Jews from various professions lead to an irreversible deterioration of their material situation.

A refuge under threat

The home of the Jewish Women's Association in Neu-Isenburg

“Isenburg Police issued an ultimatum to us today to hand over Esther Kleinmann's complete papers (notice of change of address and passport) by the 25th of this month, otherwise she will be deported.”


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.

Kibbutz Giv’at Brenner

German Jews find a new home in Palestine


Kibbutz Giv’at Brenner was established in 1928 by young immigrants from Poland and Lithuania who were soon joined by a group from Germany. As in many other kibbutzim, conditions at Giv’at Brenner were initially harsh, causing some members to leave. In the 1930s, due to the absorption of new immigrants, the kibbutz grew. Over time, a thriving agriculture and various industrial enterprises, including a cannery and a factory for irrigation equipment developed. The picture presented here shows the carpentry shop of the kibbutz in 1938. A unique feature was Beit Yesha, a vegetarian convalescent home established in the mid thirties—the first of its kind in a kibbutz.

Between deceit, lies and propaganda

The future of Germany's Jews according to the SS

“In 20 years Germany will be free of the bulk of its Jewish population, Das Schwarze Korps, organ of Chancellor Hitler’s elite guards, declares in its current issue in a leading article accusing the Jews of not wanting to emigrate.”


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.

Mouth of the Hydra

Old debates about Zionism and assimilation take on a new urgency in an atmosphere of heightened antisemitism

“It was the arrival of Jewish-nationalist Zionism and Poland's unification with Russian territories—with the ‘Litvaks’— that first opened the filth-spewing maw of the antisemitic Hydra. It is political Zionism that gave them the idea of an ‘alien’ people.”


One month before Anschluss, the Austrian-Jewish weekly Die Wahrheit, exhorts Austrian Jews to learn from the development of antisemitism in Poland. The newspaper, which, since the twenties had increasingly advocated integration and distanced itself from Zionism, perceived Zionism as a dangerous breach with Polish-Jewish history: in the past, says the author of this article, Jews in Poland stood out with their patriotism and commitment to matters of national concern. He opines that their turning towards Palestine creates the impression of a lack of loyalty, thus giving ammunition to Jew-haters. Moreover, the article accuses Zionists of exerting undue pressure upon dissenters.

Sell the jewelry

Brothers in exile worry about their parents

“By the way, do you happen to have mom's jewelry with you? Because mom had asked me if you told me, because I advised them to sell it, so that they would have means to live.”

Chelles, France

In February 1938, two brothers living in two different continents, Joszi Josefsberg in Europe (Chelles, France) and Arthur Josefsberg (New York) discuss in their correspondence how best to proceed to obtain affidavits to rescue their parents, who are still in Germany. But not only the fact that their parents’ emigration has not yet been secured worries Joszi—he is also concerned about their material survival. Such concerns were common among Jews who had left behind parents, siblings, and often spouses. Nazi efforts to force Jews out of numerous professions had made it harder and harder for those remaining in Germany to earn a living.

Hoping for a breakthrough

The refugee crisis


Already in 1936, the League of Nations had appointed Sir Neill Malcolm as “High Commissioner for German Refugees.” In light of the increasing stream of refugees from Nazi Germany, an inter-governmental conference was convened in February 1938 in Geneva under the aegis of the League of Nations. The orthodox paper Der Israelit reports on the first day of the gathering, which was attended by delegates from 14 states. Through the Nuremberg Laws, Jews had been declassified from “citizens of the Reich” to mere “subjects.” As soon as they left Germany, they could be stripped off their citizenship entirely. Two members of the liaison committee, N. Bentwich from London and M. Seroussi from Paris, therefore demanded the extension of refugee status to stateless migrants as well.

Frightening figures

The demographic change of the Jewish Community in Vienna


The figures computed by the registry office of the Vienna Jewish Community and published here in the Jewish paper Die Stimme paint a bleak picture: between 1923 and 1937, the number of Jews in Vienna had decreased from 201,208 to around 167,000. The notice specifically mentions emigration between 1935 and 1936. Moreover, probably as a result both of the general insecurity and the changed age structure of the community, the number of births among Austrian Jews had gone down from 2,733 in 1923 to a mere 720 in 1937. Among the 2,824 deaths in 1937, 105 are entered as suicides.

Last birthday in Germany

Martin Buber turns 50


The philosopher of religion Martin Buber was born on February 8, 1878, in Vienna. Best known for his 1923 work I and Thou, he also, in collaboration with Franz Rosenzweig, created a new translation of the Hebrew Bible into German. Buber was so popular with German-Jewish youth that the term Bubertät (“Buberty”) was coined to describe the phenomenon. Buber was among the proponents of a bi-national state in Palestine and in 1925, together with Gershom Scholem, Robert Weltsch, Hugo Bergmann, Ernst Simon and others, he founded “Brit Shalom,” an organisation that promoted Arab-Jewish coexistence on the basis of justice and equality. On February 8, he celebrated his 50th birthday, the last he would celebrate in Germany.

Stateless and defenseless

Antisemitism in Romania

“Charles A. Davila, former Rumanian Minister to the United States, sailing yesterday on the Conte di Savoia, said the current antisemitic campaign was ‘just a passing phase.’ No program based on intolerance can bring a solution of the minority problem, he said.”


Already under the short-lived Goga-Cuza government, half of the Jews living in Romania had been condemned to statelessness by having their citizenship revoked. The city of Iași, where in 1855 Romania’s first Yiddish newspaper had been printed and in which Yiddish theater saw its beginnings with the opening of Goldfaden’s theater in 1876, had an especially high percentage of Jewish inhabitants. In February 1938, George Gedye, a reporter dispatched by the New York Times, reports on excesses against Jewish citizens by “a brutal and unscrupulous minority.”

Émigrés on ice

The rich social-life of German-Jewish refugees in New York includes winter sports.

New York City

Among the many kinds of physical activity offered to the readers of the Aufbau by the German-Jewish Club, such as ping-pong, skiing, swimming and even a Katerbummel (a morning stroll after a night of heavy drinking), there was also an invitation to go ice-skating in Tibbetts Brook Park in Yonkers, New York. A familiar activity among sympathetic fellow German-speakers at a venue featuring a Tudor revival bathhouse may have awakened memories of better days in Europe. Despite their traumatic experiences under Nazism and their forced departure, many German Jews continued to feel a profound cultural connection to the country they had called their home.

Career change

Archeologist seeking work as a nurse

“I remembered an old acquaintance and wrote a letter which was answered very nicely, and I hope he'll get in touch with me within the next few days. I'd like to hear some advice regarding our old man and old lady and the like [...].”


In this short missive from Torino, written in a casual, sisterly tone to her sister Anneliese in Rome, Elsa Riess communicates her worries about their parents, who have remained in Germany. Elsa is concerned about her father’s employment situation and declares her intention to find out about possible ways to help their parents, from whom she hasn’t heard for a while. Anneliese had come to Italy in 1933 to study archeology, earning her PhD in 1936. Because of her own uncertain material situation, she was not in a position to help her parents financially. Unemployable as a foreigner in Italy and hoping to increase her opportunities by adding a practical skill, she had decided to take a course as a baby and child nurse in Geneva in 1937.

Chronology of major events in 1938

Law on Alteration of Family and Personal Names

Page from a ledger book of the Gesellschaft der Freunde in Berlin, 1792 - 1793.

The new Law on Alteration of Family and Personal Names regulates the change of names of German citizens and individuals without citizenship who live in the German Reich. The law empowers the Interior Minister to issue rules concerning given names and unilaterally change those names that do not conform to the rules, including names which were changed before the Nazis seizure of power in 1933. This primarily affects assimilated Jews who adopted less apparently Jewish names, which the Nazis viewed as an attempt to camouflage their Jewishness. The new law is the Nazis’ first step toward marking Jews by forcing them to adopt ‘typical’ Jewish names.

View chronology of major events in 1938

Atmosphere of hopelessness

A once-celebrated public health official writes in his diary

„One company after another founded by Jews is ,aryanized‘ – so goes the euphemistic term; Jews are being forced out the other businesses and pushed into the arms of the welfare agencies. The Sperrmark is rising uncontrollably, so that the emigration of the few capitalists is being made even harder.“


“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.


The Jewish community of Vienna faces its dissolution—700 years after the granting of the Privilege of Protection


This photograph shows a picturesque bird’s-eye view of Vienna’s 1st municipal district. At the beginning of 1938, the Austrian capital was still home to almost 170,000 Jews and 80,000 members of mixed (Christian-Jewish) marriages. Jews made up about 10 percent of Vienna’s population. The majority of local Jews were well integrated into Austrian society: not only was German their native tongue, they also shaped the cultural and social landscape of the city. Among them were the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, the Albanologist Norbert Jokl, the author Friedrich Torberg, and the composer Arnold Schoenberg.

Second opinion

An intentional misdiagnosis remedied

“It is therefore mystifying how a previous examiner could reach the assumption of a tuberculous lung disease in this perfectly healthy young person.”


Months after leaving Germany, 12-year old Herbert Friedmann (later Freeman) was still in Zurich waiting to reunite with his family already in the USA. Because of the previous, apparently intentional, misdiagnosis at the US consulate in Stuttgart stating that the boy was a “carrier of tuberculosis,” he had not been able to immigrate with his mother and brother. Finally, on February 2, 1938 a local physician attested to the boy’s “significantly above average” state of health, ascribing the previous diagnosis to an error. Ironically, the physician who issued this critical medical certificate was Dr. Ernst Hanhart, a geneticist and eugenicist who during the Nazi period published extensively on “racial hygiene” and wrote articles in support of the forced sterilization of deaf-mutes.


Tranquil landscapes and bloody unrest


This painting by the artist Hermann Struck, one of the relatively small number of German Jews who emigrated to Palestine 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. The violent clashes between the groups culminated in an Arab revolt in the years 1936–1939. In response, the British government issued its “Whitepaper” in 1939, which further restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine.