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.
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.
The writer of this letter was a young man from Hildesheim, Fritz Schürmann (later Frank Shurman), born in 1915. Even though he is said to have struggled with antisemitism well before the Nazis rose to power, he joined the Deutscher Vortrupp (“German Vanguard”) in 1934, a group of young, extremely nationalistic Jews whose slogan was “Ready for Germany” and who hailed National Socialism as a force preventing Germany’s downfall. Given these views, it must have been especially painful for him to confront the bitter reality of rejection by German society. In this letter, he thanks a Mr. Dilthey in Berlin for the distinction of having spent time with him and dramatically informs him of his Jewish identity. “I am a Jew! A Jew in a desperate position: a Jewish German who in spite of everything that has befallen him or perhaps because of it cannot shed his ties to Germany […].” Denied his identity as a German by the Nazi regime, the writer communicates the crippling effects of the political situation on his psyche and the absurd notion of having to leave Germany in order to be able to be German.
Jenny Brinitzer was born in Riga, Latvia in 1884. After studies in Berne, Berlin and Kiel, she managed to establish herself as the first female physician in Hamburg Altona. There, the mother of three worked for 20 years in a joint practice with her husband, the dermatologist Dr. Eugen Brinitzer. In 1933, Jews constituted about one fourth of Hamburg’s physicians. Jewish physicians who worked directly for health insurance funds or for the public health service had been dismissed within the first two years of the Nazi regime. Starting in 1935, the Nazis began circulating a list of 150 Jewish doctors in Hamburg as part of their campaign to separate Jewish doctors from their “Aryan” patients. In April 1938, Dr. Jenny Brinitzer and her husband left Germany and emigrated to Bangalore, India.
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.
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.”
With Adolphe Adam’s comic opera “If I were King” and Ladislaus Bus-Fekete’s “Cape of Good Hope,” the Berlin Kulturbund offered its guests lighthearted distractions. The Jewish audience in Berlin in 1938 must have been receptive to an opera in which the powerless but honest hero wins and the bad guy gets his well-deserved punishment.