Even though the climate under the Vargas regime in Brazil was becoming increasingly anti-Jewish, refugees could count on the support of allies. Already in 1933, an aid organization for German-Jewish refugees had come into being in Sao Paulo. And in 1936 in Porto Alegre, where Bernhard and Anni Wolf had recently fled from East Frisia, refugees established a Jewish culture and welfare society. The overall attitude of the Church was ambiguous; nevertheless, a Catholic aid committee for refugees lent significant aid to the newcomers. After an unsuccessful attempt to arrange their immigration to Brazil at the consulate in Cologne, Bernhard’s brother Richard and his wife Jola pinned all their hope on their relatives in Brazil.
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.
Days after his 12th birthday on April 15th, 1938, Harry Kranner, along with all his Jewish schoolmates, had been expelled from the Kandlgasse Realgymnasium in Vienna. By November, Harry’s mother, Gertrude, and his stepfather, Emil Fichmann, were making preparations for emigration. Harry shows great excitement about the prospect of traveling and the various pieces of equipment he’ll receive. In the November 8th entry in his new diary, given to him by his mother for the purpose of recording his emigration experience, he enthusiastically reports about his new leather gloves. But the bulk of the entry is concerned with the strong earthquake the night before.
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.
In the meantime, Hedwig Weiler, the blossoming 18-year-old idealist whom Franz Kafka fell in love with during a vacation in Triesch (Moravia) in 1907 has turned into a PhD-holding academic and the wife of the engineer Leopold Herzka. The events of the year 1938 in Austria have caused their circle of friends to drift apart in all directions. On November 6, 1938, in a letter to her former neighbors in Vienna, the Buxspan (later Buxpan) family, she enumerates a long list of relatives and common friends, who have either emigrated already or are preparing to do so. What is especially hard for Hedwig Herzka is the prospect of her daughter, Edith, leaving for South America. It has made Hedwig a bundle of nerves.
With a documented presence reaching back as far as the 12th century and as the second largest community after Berlin, Jews in Frankfurt were a profoundly established part of society. But under the Nazis, Frankfurt Jews, like all of German Jewry, were made to feel like unwelcome strangers in their own city and country, and large numbers of them were leaving Germany. The November issue of the “Jüdische Gemeindeblatt für Frankfurt” shows the omnipresence of the topic of emigration. Numerous ads were offering services and equipment specifically for emigrants. The “Aid Association of Jews in Germany” offered the latest news regarding immigration requirements to various countries but also a warning not to fall into the trap of fraudsters charging would-be emigrants hefty fees for useless advice. However, one contribution sticks out; in a letter from Houston, Texas, a former resident of Frankfurt shares her first impressions. The heat was challenging, potatoes didn’t feature prevalently enough on the menu, mosquito nets (“more mosquitoes than in Palestine”) and plastic flowers required some getting used to, not to mention giant spiders and flying cockroaches. On the other hand, there were built-in cupboards and large beds, as well as, best of all, the “almost unbelievable hospitality” of the locals.
The arrival of Gertrude Münzer’s first letter from Palestine was a cause for joy, relief and hope to her family that had remained behind in Austria. The Münzers were a well-integrated family, but after the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, the tide turned and they had to endure increasing hardship, starting with their eviction from their home and Moses Münzer losing his job. With parental encouragement, Gertrude was the only member of her family to go to Palestine with a Zionist youth group. Inspired by her example, her older brother, Benno, had gone on hakhsharah. In his reply to Gertrude, dated November 4th, her father pleads with the 15-year-old girl to recruit support for him at the kibbutz or elsewhere to enable him to follow with the rest of the family.
Mr. Wachsmann, an industrialist in Königshütte, Upper Silesia, tried to talk his gifted son, Franz, out of embarking on an unprofitable career as a musician. He imagined a more solid career for the youngest of his seven children. But Franz would not be dissuaded. While briefly working as a bank teller, he used his salary to pay for his real interests: piano; music theory; and composition lessons. After two years in this disagreeable position, he went to Dresden, later to Berlin to study music. Recognizing the young man’s talent, the composer Friedrich Hollaender asked him to orchestrate his score for the legendary 1930 movie, “The Blue Angel” with Marlene Dietrich. When in 1934, Franz was beaten up by Nazi hoodlums, he needed no further persuasion to leave the country and boarded a train to Paris the same evening. In 1935, he moved on to the United States, where, under the name “Waxman,” he quickly became a sought-after composer of film music. On November 3, 1938, Richard Wallace’s movie “The Young in Heart” was launched, with a soundtrack by Franz Waxman.
The fact that they had eluded the dangers of Nazism didn’t mean that it was time for immigrants to let down their guard. The editorial of the November issue of Aufbau exhorted the newcomers to acquire knowledge about the workings of American politics in order to be able to prevent developments similar to those that had brought the present government to power in Germany. In particular, the author warns against the curtailment of rights by “constitutional” means. The most potent protest against attempts to undermine democracy, in his opinion, was “protest by ballot.” Only those candidates who stood for true Americanism, as he saw it—for peace and justice, or, in other words, for democracy—deserved to be elected.
In the absence of closer relatives in America, the Metzger family of Vienna turned to their first cousin once removed, Leo Klauber, Esq., in Brooklyn, for help. Mr. Klauber was unable to personally procure affidavits for his Austrian relatives, but he promised to endeavor on their behalf. The extent of the relief caused by his promise is palpable in Eva Metzger-Hohenstein’s reply of November 1, 1938: after months of fear and despair, the Metzgers felt reinvigorated by the realistic hope for emigration, thanks to their cousin.
Since 1920, Toni Sender was a delegate of the Social Democratic Party in the parliament of the Weimar Republic. Early on, she began to oppose National Socialism and warned of the dangers it posed to democracy. Exposed to hostility and threats as a social democrat and a Jew, she fled in March 1933 first to Czechoslovakia and then to Belgium, continuing her struggle against the Nazis in exile. In 1935, she emigrated to the United States. There too, as an orator and journalist, she tried to inform the public abroad about the criminal character of National Socialism. As this letter from the Secret State Police (Gestapo) to the investigating judge at the People’s Court (Volksgerichtshof), dated October 22nd, 1938, demonstrates, her resistance did not go unnoticed.
On Rosh Hashanah, Arthur Kochmann had two wishes for the Association of Synagogues for Upper Silesia: that in the new year, every member’s wishes would be fulfilled, but also that Jews in Upper Silesia “would maintain their inner unity at all times” – two wishes which unfortunately had to come into conflict with each other many times in the fall of 1938. The number of emigrants from Gleiwitz had risen considerably over the past few months. Arthur Kochmann points at the dramatic consequences for many smaller synagogues in and in the vicinity of Gleiwitz: many would have to be closed and sold. For a long time, a provision for the protection of minorities from 1922 had protected many Jews in Gleiwitz from the anti-Semitic laws of the Nazis, but with its expiration in 1937, the reprieve came to an end.
Within the first few months after the annexation of Austria by the Nazis, Dr. Joachim Weichert, a Czech-born lawyer, lost most of his clients. He had no choice but to compile the documents necessary for emigration. In June, the family was notified by the Consulate General of the United States that valid affidavits and other documents had arrived for them from America. Nevertheless, due to the fact that the Czech quota was exhausted for the time being, they were put on a waiting list and told they wouldn’t receive visas for the next eight months. By August 22nd, it had been almost two weeks since Dr. Weichert was ordered by the Devisenstelle (financial administrative office in charge of supervising monetary transactions and emigration) in Vienna to submit within one week an itemized list of his assets. In this official communication from August 22nd, he is given an ultimatum of three days, after which criminal measures will be taken.
In this letter, Isidor Nassauer, based in Neuwied am Rhein, cooly describes his emigration plans to his friends, the Moser family, who are already in the US. Unsolicited, his brother-in-law has sent an affidavit, which due to a missing signature could not be used and had to be sent back. While waiting for the signed document, Mr. Nassauer is taking English lessons. Even though he has no idea how he will subsist in America, the fact that “so much bread has been baked for strangers” there gives him confidence. He is most concerned about selling the family house and seems certain that selling or liquidating the business (a brush factory) will be easy. In general, Jews were forced to sell their property far below its actual value.
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.