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.
The “Aid Society of German Jews,” founded in Berlin in 1901, mainly supported Jewish immigrants to Germany. After the Nazis came into power, the association, now forced to call itself “Aid Society of Jews in Germany,” helped to facilitate Jewish emigration from Germany. In this context, it offered help with questions concerning government agencies, passport issues, or vocational retraining and also granted financial support. An important organ for its work was the periodical Jüdische Auswanderung (“Jewish Emigration”), which informed its readers about general living and work conditions but also about specific questions regarding Jewish culture in various countries. In the July 1938 issue, the US, Cuba, and the Philippines were introduced.
In the 1920s, the Catskill Mountains began to develop into a resort area that enjoyed great popularity with Jewish immigrants often unwelcome in non-Jewish hotels. Therefore, by the 1930s, “Borscht Belt” began to catch on as a moniker for the region. After humble beginnings, with Eastern European Jewish farmers in the area renting out rooms to city dwellers in need of peace and quiet, over time, boarding houses turned into small hotels and some of the small hotels into big hotels. While Jews of Eastern European extraction constituted the majority of hosts and vacationers, the political events of the 1930s led to an increase in the number of German-speaking Jews wishing to trade the hustle and bustle of the city for the relaxed atmosphere of the Catskills. In the July issue of the Aufbau, the Park Plaza Hotel in Fleischmanns, New York (named after Ch.L. Fleischmann, a Hungarian Jew who in the 19th century invented America’s first commercially produced yeast) offered Independence Day weekend vacations with four meals a day and a special 4th of July dinner. It can be assumed that the prospect of celebrating their new country among fellow European Jews in an establishment “widely acknowledged for exquisite, copious American, Hungarian, and Viennese cuisine” was attractive to the grateful newcomers.
This letter from a father to his children is dominated almost entirely by concerns about transferring people and goods out of Germany. According to the writer, regulations were changing so rapidly that it was hard to keep track. Lately it had been decreed that both for articles to be shipped and for personal baggage, itemized lists had to be submitted which were subject to authorization. This could be rather time-consuming. The writer of the letter points out that the speed with which answers are given is not keeping up with the speed of the changes necessitating inquiries.
The German lawyer Paul Schrag was employed at the Institut d’Economie Européenne in Brussels. He was planning to embark on the journey to the United States from Le Havre on July 15 with his Jewish wife, Suzanne, and their infant child. In his letter of July 2 to Prof. Max Gutzwiller in Fribourg, Switzerland, Schrag asks for a letter of reference for use in the United States. Gutzwiller, a fierce critic of the Nazis and also married to a Jewish woman, had left his chair for German Private Law and Roman Law at the University of Heidelberg in 1936. Schrag obviously enjoyed the esteem of his employers. The management of the institute had agreed to reserve the position of director general for him until the end of the year and even entrusted him with a “research mission” in order to enable him to look into his professional prospects in America without major pressure.
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.
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.”
By May 1938, emigration seemed to be on the mind of every German and Austrian Jew. This article in the <i>Hannover Jüdisches Gemeindeblatt</i>, for example, exhorts prospective emigrants to lose no time and start studying English as soon as possible. According to the paper, at least two-thirds of German-Jewish emigrants were likely to settle down in English-speaking countries, and even those heading to Latin America would profit from a solid knowledge of English. On the other hand, proficiency in Spanish could be useful because of extensive trade relations between North and South America. The answer to the question “Spanish or English?” therefore was an emphatic “Both!”
Heinrich Stahl, chairman of the Berlin Jewish Community since 1934, was heavily involved in the work of the various Jewish relief organizations, for which there was growing need as Nazism took hold. On April 13, 1938, his 70th birthday, he received a gift from the Ahawah Children’s Home, a photo album which showed the wide range of activities pursued by the charges of this exceptional institution (see March 17). The album included several photographs from the Ahawah’s new branch, which had been opened in Palestine in 1934. A heartfelt warmth and gratitude shine through this rhymed dedication thanking Stahl for his service to the community.
After their triumphant entry into Austria, the Nazis lost no time in intimidating the country’s Jews and forcing them out of positions of influence and out of society at large. Prominent bankers and businessmen were arrested, other Jews—especially those employed in fields that were considered “Jewish,” such as the theater and the press—removed from office and replaced by “Aryans.” At the same time that the atmosphere in Austria became unbearably hostile towards Jews, organizations aiming to facilitate Jewish emigration to Palestine were raided and it was announced that the passports of “certain people” would be voided. It bears mentioning that the number of Jews in Austria in March 1938 was about 206,000—no more than 3% of the total population.
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.
A representative of the New York office of Intria International Trade & Investment Agency Ltd., London, advises a client in New York to use the “Haavaramark” for “transfers to persons of Jewish descent residing in Germany.” The Haavara (transfer) Agreement had been made between Zionist representatives and the Nazis in 1933. It enabled emigrants to deposit money in a German account, which was used to pay for the import of German goods to Palestine. The proceeds from the sales of these goods in Palestine, after the deduction of costs, was disbursed to the new immigrants.