Hugo Jellinek was a man of many talents. The outbreak of WWI forced him to quit medical school in Vienna. As a soldier, he was severely wounded in Samarkand and fell in love with his nurse, who later became the mother of his three daughters. The couple settled down in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. His young wife having died in 1926, he fled the Soviet Union in 1930 and ultimately returned to Vienna, where he utilized his knowledge of 8 languages as a translator and also worked as a freelance journalist. Thanks to a warning about impending arrest by the Nazis, he was able to escape to Brünn (Czechoslovakia) in June 1938. His eldest daughter, eighteen year-old Gisella Nadja, departed for Palestine the same day. In this colorful letter, Hugo shows fatherly concern for Nadja’s well-being, but also talks at length about the hardship he himself has faced as a refugee and reports that his cousin’s son is interned at the Dachau Concentration Camp. He mentions with gratification what he calls the “League,” probably referring to the aid center of the “League for Human Rights,” which was looking after the refugees, defying Hitler’s sinister goals. Ultimately, however, the most important thing for him was the fight for a country of one’s own.
After the Anschluss, the problem of refugees from Germany and Austria became even more pressing. In order to address the issue, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt had called for an international conference in Évian in July, 1938. The conference was anticipated with great hopes by the German-Jewish community but, due to the refusal of the international community to adjust immigration quotas to actual needs, the impact of Évian was extremely limited. Nevertheless, the Jüdisches Gemeindeblatt für Rheinland und Westfalen (Jewish Community Newsletter for Rhineland and Westphalia) tried to present some positive results by pointing out the readiness of several South American countries to absorb Jewish refugees. Regardless of the palpable attempt to remain hopeful, the underlying tone of this front page article in the July 23 issue is not one of excessive optimism.
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.
Käthe Hoerlin and Regina Ullmann had at least three things in common: both had Jewish ancestors, both converted to Catholicism, and both had the trajectories of their lives impacted by the Nazi regime. Regina Ullmann, a poetess and writer, was expelled from the Association for the Protection of the Rights of German Authors (Schutzverband Deutscher Schriftsteller) and left Germany to return to her native St. Gallen, Switzerland. Käthe Hoerlin’s first husband, the music critic Willi Schmid, was executed by the regime in 1934 in a case of mistaken identity. Days after this tragedy, Käthe, who was the secretary of the ill-fated Nanga Parbat expedition, got news that nine of its participants had died trying to climb the famed Himalayan peak. In 1938, thanks to the help of a Nazi official who had assisted her with her compensation claims after Schmid’s death, she got permission to get married to the non-Jewish alpinist and physicist Hermann Hoerlin (marriages between “half-Jews,” as she was classified, and “persons of German blood” required special permits which were rarely given). Hoerlin was highly critical of the regime’s interference in scientific research. This letter, which exudes sincere empathy and interest in her friend’s well-being in her new surroundings as well as groundedness in her Catholic identity, was written by Regina Ullmann just after the Hoerlins had emigrated to the United States.
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.
At a time when more and more German Jews became anxious to leave the country, this letter from a German-Jewish emigrant in Shanghai, addressed to the “gentlemen of the Hilfsverein [Aid Society of Jews in Germany]” and published in the “Jüdisches Gemeindeblatt für Berlin,” must have infused prospective emigrants with new hope: the writer exuberantly thanks the Hilfsverein for counseling him and gushes over the multitude of professional options available to immigrants at his new location, “provided, of course, that you have a skill and are able to work intensely.” According to him, musicians, physicians, and merchants are greatly in demand, and the situation is especially promising for secretaries and shorthand typists – on condition that they have perfect command of the English language, which could by no means be taken for granted among German Jews. The newcomers were not the only Jews in the country; a Sephardic community had been present in Shanghai since the middle of the 19th century, and settlement by Ashkenazi Jews had begun in the early 20th century and intensified in the wake of the Russian Revolution.
Since discussing the possibility of emigration with his relatives in Vienna on April 20, Adolph Markus of Linz had taken up English lessons at the synagogue twice to three times a week. On April 29, his brother-in-law had been picked up by the Gestapo, and the Markuses’ tension and nervousness was beginning to rub off on the children. Two weeks later, Mrs. Markus was questioned by the Gestapo about the value of a house she owned and all her other property. Finally, on June 18, two Gestapo officers appeared at the family’s home: While going over the contents of some boxes, one of them tried to frame Adolph Markus by sneaking in a communist leaflet. Markus mustered the calm and self-assurance to point out to the officers that he had never been politically active in any way. His allusion to his frontline service in World War I, combined with the remark that if they were to arrest him, they would have to take along his two little boys, since their mother was in the hospital, made them change their mind. They left – threatening to return after six weeks if he wasn’t going to leave the country on his own accord.
In his “Remarks about the Feast of Weeks,” published in the June issue of the “Jewish Community Paper for the Rhenish Palatinate Region,” Rabbi Dr. Ernst Steckelmacher of Ludwigshafen poses a real challenge to his readers. He interprets the Book of Ruth, one of the readings during the Feast of Weeks, as an example of Judaism’s emphasis on the precedence of the universal over the particular. Through Ruth, who embodies universal humanity, the book shows that goodness can be found anywhere. This was not an intuitive message at a time when the ostracism of Jews from German society forced them to turn inward. June 6, 1938, was not only the second day of Shavuot, but also the 80th birthday of Claude G. Montefiore, the President of the World Union of Progressive Judaism. Dr. Steckelmacher acknowledges this occasion and reinforces his universalist message by drawing attention to the similar sentiments of Claude Montefiore.
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.”
In April 1938, Rabbi Leo Baeck, the president of the Reich Representation of Jews in Germany and as such the main representative of German Jewry, had presciently written, “And this year will be a difficult year; the wheel is turning faster and faster. It will really test our nerves and our capacity for careful thought.” Baeck had been an army chaplain in World War I and as a patriot must have been extremely pained by the persecution of German Jewry. With large parts of the community reduced to poverty, Jewish rights curtailed, Jews pushed to the margins of society, and no prospects for improvement, Rabbi Baeck’s 65th birthday on May 23 probably was quite a somber affair.
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.
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!”
Unlike his older brother Hermann, the holder of several senior positions in the NS government and a notoriously brutal hater of Jews and dissidents, the engineer Albert Göring abhorred Nazism and was prepared to act on his convictions. He refused to join the party and demonstratively adopted Austrian citizenship. A resident of Vienna, he is said to have joined Jews, who after the Anschluss were forced to perform the humiliating task of scrubbing the pavement, and he did not hesitate to help victims and political opponents of the regime. In this letter to the Jewish lawyer, Dr. Hugo Wolf, he communicates his impression that “a significant calming” had taken place and his assumption that the danger was past. He also promises help in case of need.
While Sigmund Freud, the “father of psychoanalysis,” clearly did not underestimate the significance of the Anschluss—“Finis Austriae” was the succinct commentary he jotted down in his diary—even the search of his home and publishing house by the Nazis did not prompt him to explore emigration. As a matter of fact, he reportedly commented on the unsolicited visit of the Nazis, who had made off with a substantial amount of money, with the dry remark, “I have never taken so much for a single visit.” But when his daughter Anna, herself a renowned psychoanalyst, was interrogated by the Gestapo shortly thereafter, the usually restrained Freud’s reaction was highly emotional, and he began weighing the various offers of asylum he had received. May 6, 1938 was his last birthday in Vienna.
In 1935, under mounting pressure, the orthodox Hamburg physician Henri Hirsch left Germany and joined his brother Sigmund in Genoa, Italy. Shortly thereafter, he was joined by his second wife, Roberta, and by some of his young adult sons, and moved with them to Merano. In 1938, Henri Hirsch died. In this letter to his nephew Julius, Sigmund Hirsch tries to assuage the young man’s worries about an impending war, exhorting him to put his faith in God and promising help. Since he had been based in Italy for a while, many seem to have pinned their hopes on him: with palpable regret, he relates how little he can do for the “thousands” of people asking him for help.
Even though he professes to be in low spirits due to the serious situation and therefore hardly inclined to write and take photographs as regularly as before, Wilhelm Hesse, a lawyer in Hamburg, describes the development of his daughter Helen in some detail in his diary. He reports on her capacity to think logically and a desire to learn so strong that the parents feel they have to make her slow down a bit. Hesse also writes with satisfaction about Helen’s progress in a Jewish kindergarten, but he does not fail to mention that she must learn to get along better with her little sister, Evchen. Since the passing of the Nuremberg Laws in 1935—Helen was two years old at the time—Jewish children were no longer allowed to attend non-Jewish kindergartens, and Jewish kindergarten teachers were prohibited from taking care of non-Jewish children. The Hesse family was religiously observant and might have opted for a Jewish institution even under normal circumstances.
A month and a half after the “Anschluss,” Paul Steiner is still incredulous. Everything seems so unbelievable, he writes in his diary, that “even ones own words are becoming astonishing and dubious.” He wonders what the outside world is doing for the Jews in light of German barbarity, especially for the Burgenland Jews, who were brutally expelled right after the “Anschluss” and ended up stranded in totally inadequate shelters while their belongings were appropriated by their former neighbors. Steiner also imagines the “revenge” that Jews will exact, shaming the world with their achievements once they are given the right to self-determination.
The diary of Dr. Hertha Nathorff (née Einstein) paints a vivid and at times nightmarish picture of the Jewish physician’s experiences in Nazi Germany. On April 24, she describes a visit with her parents in her native Laupheim in Swabia. Many Jewish shops had been sold, and their owners had emigrated. The Nazis’ efforts to malign and isolate the Jews had been so successful that passers-by were afraid to greet her. Her father had informed her that he was not going to sell the company which had been in the family’s possession for four generations and that he would prefer that it perish along with their name. The degree of isolation experienced by German Jews at the time is also evident in another episode mentioned in the diary: Dr. Nathorff is amazed at the fact that her former professor had the courage to send her regards through a patient.
Residents of Linz, Adolph Markus, his wife, and their two children were among the relatively few of Austria’s roughly 200,000 Jews not living in Vienna. On April 20, 1938 Markus went to visit his family in the capital in order to discuss the difficult situation and explore options for emigration. While his brother Rudi was prepared to lose his job any day, he opined that Adolph, as WWI combat veteran, had nothing to worry about. Indeed, combat veterans were exempt from certain anti-Jewish measures, as were Jews who had lost their father or a son in combat for Germany or its allies.
The entire front page of Bratislava’s German-language religious-Zionist “Allgemeine Jüdische Zeitung” is dedicated to the Anschluss. Jews are called upon to stand by their Austrian coreligionists. An anonymous source notes the impoverished state of many Jews in Austrian lands and the resulting need to restructure social services as well as address the increasingly urgent issues of occupational retraining and emigration. The reader is reminded that Austria is still a member of the League of Nations and that Austrian law stipulates equal rights for religious and national minorities. Among other sources quoted is the British Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Butler, who reports having received assurances that the German government would “endeavor to achieve a moderation” of its policy towards minorities. The paper also reports that the President of the World Jewish Congress, Rabbi Wise, has appealed to the League of Nations to help Austrian Jewry. The rest of the picture is bleak: newspapers suspended, prominent Jews arrested, a Jewish theater closed, Jewish physicians dismissed, and other chicanery. The paper calls upon Jews everywhere to come to the aid of their Austrian brethren.
From March 12 to 14, Hitler visited Linz, which he had considered his home town since his adolescence there. In his address to the local populace he stylized himself as the enforcer of the people’s will and invoked the German soldiers’ “willingness to sacrifice” and the “greatness and glory” of the German people. While many reacted with enthusiasm, others were seized by fear. In his diary, Adolph Markus captures the anxious atmosphere at his workplace in Linz days after the “Anschluss.”
In spite of numerous signals that Austria was changing its political course, the Anschluss on March 12 caught many Austrian Jewish citizens by surprise. One of them was 25-year-old law graduate Paul Steiner. As is often the case with witnesses of cataclysmic historical events, he did not understand the magnitude of the change until it was a fact. On the day of the Anschluss, he expressed feelings of disbelief in his diary. Within just a few hours of the historical change, Steiner’s love and commitment to Austria changed into a feeling of indifference and alienation. Not seeing any hope in the new Austrian political reality, he made the quick but rational decision to leave his native land as soon as possible.
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Adolph Markus lived in Linz, Austria with his wife and two children. One month before the “Anschluss” (the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany on March 12, 1938), he started keeping a diary which offers a gripping account of the growing tension. The situation was changing from day to day, and the Jews could only guess what would happen next. One day before the annexation, Markus wrote in his diary: “The streets are strangely calm. ‘Calm before the storm.’”
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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.
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.
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.
One month before Anschluss, the Austrian-Jewish weekly Die Wahrheit, exhorts Austrian Jews to learn from the development of antisemitism in Poland. The Vienna-based paper, 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.
“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.
Sometimes the dark events were even reflected in the tone of birthday greetings. Fritz Schürmann, a Jewish teenager from Hildesheim, and Gerhard Loeffler, a Protestant from Dresden, had been good friends for years. On the occasion of Fritz’s 18th birthday, Gerhard wished him safety, solace, and strength. Untypically for people of so young an age, the friend tries to convince Fritz of the necessity of hard experiences in the life of every human being.
On January 5, 1938, Kuno Fleischer wrote to the shareholders of his family’s paper factory in the small Baden-Wurttemberg town of Eislingen about a recent business dispute and alluded darkly to a time when “grave decisions will have to be made swiftly.” He told his fellow owners—his brother and nephews—that he would soon travel to the United States to “orient himself” adding, “No one of us can predict how things will turn out, and no one can take offense at our holding on for as long as possible to what we have built together.”