During the night of September 30th going into October 1st, the synagogue of Mellrichstadt in Lower Franconia was completely devastated. In fact, the mob had it in for the congregants: Sudeten German refugees had incited the public to ambush worshippers on their way to the synagogue. However, the Jewish congregation had been warned with sufficient time and services canceled. Now the angry mob of Sudeten Germans and residents of Mellrichstadt stood before the door of the synagogue. Stones were thrown, the door was broken open and the interior destroyed. The mob did not spare the Torah scrolls and other ritual items. After that night, the synagogue could no longer be used.
It must have taken quite an effort for Eva Metzger-Hohenberg to write an imploring letter to her distant relative in Manhattan, Leo Klauber, a complete stranger to her. Her situation was precarious. There was no place for Jews in Germany anymore. Maria Metzger-Hohenberg appealed to Leo Klauber’s “humanity” and his “sense of a blood bond” and begged him to issue affidavits to her and her family. This letter from Vienna shows not only the desperate measures to which Jewish families had to resort, in order to make their emigration possible, but also drew a vivid picture of the situation in which many Jews found themselves in the Fall of 1938. Maria’s parents and her brother had to give up their butcher shop. Her husband’s wholesale business, which employed more than 140 staff members, was “aryanized.” In actuality, that meant it had to be sold for much less than its value. The fate of the Metzger-Hohenbergs was also that of countless other Jewish families during this time.
It was more of a wistful farewell than a joyful Bar Mitzvah: Rabbi Manfred Swarsensky seemed to be fully conscious of the situation in which his congregants at the Prinzregentenstraße Synagogue in Berlin found themselves. In his address on the occasion of the Bar Mitzvah of 15 teenagers, he captured the mood of this day of celebration: everything clearly bears “the stamp ‘for the last time.’” Many families, whose sons celebrated their Bar Mitzvah on this day, sat on packed suitcases. One family was departing the very next day. The synagoge, in Berlin’s Wilmersdorf neighborhood, had been one of the only synagogues first built during the Weimar Republic. It had also quickly developed into a center of Jewish culture. Now, at the end of September 1938, it was clear to the rabbi that his congregation was facing major changes: “In a few years, much of what’s here today will be gone and perhaps also forgotten.”
The lives of many Jews had become undone within the span of half a year, through occupational bans, Aryanization, dispossession, and denaturalization. After the Anschluss, many Austrian Jews again found themselves in an unstable and chaotic situation. It was all the more cynical then that many of them seemed to be confronted with a complicated, in some ways pedantic bureaucracy regarding visas. A September 27th, 1938 letter from the American Consulate General to Tony (Antonie) and Kurt Frenkl gives example of this: “Your visa application can be accepted at the earliest within months.” The quotas for Central European immigrants were filled. In order to be put on a waiting list for a visa, applicants had to fill in a pre-registration form. And, in order to “avoid delays,” an individual affidavit had to be submitted per person. So Tony and Kurt had to wait even longer, bracing themselves for the next bureaucratic hurdle.
Would the sisters Helen and Eva Hesse remember this year’s Rosh Hashanah someday? For their parents, Wilhelm and Ruth Hesse, the new year’s celebration of 1938 was a break with tradition. The family had made the decision to emigrate from Hamburg. Helen was five years old at this point in time. Her little sister Eva had just turned two. Their father kept a diary for both his daughters during this period. Over the entry for Rosh ha-Shana 5699 in large, typeprinted letters are the words: “We’re emigrating,” the theme of this year’s new year celebration. The rest of the entry Wilhelm wrote by hand. Until then, however, he wanted his daughters’ lives to be as carefree as possible. That it went very differently for their parents is clear at the end of the diary entry. There Wilhem Hesse wrote: “Later they’ll be amazed what their parents had to suffer in these times. We’re emigrating.”
Speak English fluently! This may have been among the resolutions of Jewish immigrants in the United States for the upcoming Jewish new year. The September edition of “Aufbau” featured a whole array of offers for learning English. Sundry advertisements wooed immigrants with, for example, “a low fee” and “original” methods in order to improve one’s English within a few weeks. These advertisements hit on a market. Because, to those who’d come to the United States, the English language posed an initial and legitimate, yet essential hurdle. Whoever wanted to work in the American environment and build a new life had to be able to be understood.
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.
Dr. Ernst Schaumberger was a doctor specializing in skin and sexually-transmitted diseases, a virtually apolitical occupation. However, National-Socialist ideology concerning race and morals interpreted sexual relations as a matter of political interest. Therefore, Dr. Schaumberger’s area of work became political. The confidential request, which he received from the agency of public health in Stuttgart on September 20th, is noteworthy in many ways. He was asked to report whether he had treated any girls or women who were infected with sexually-transmitted diseases due to sexual relations with Italians. So-called “racial hygiene” in National Socialism didn’t shy away from violating medical confidentiality. When Dr. Schaumberger received this letter, his days as a practicing doctor were numbered. He’d already been identified as a “Jewish doctor” in July, and an amendment to the Nazi Reich Citizenship Law decreed that, on the 30th of September, 1938, the licenses of Jewish doctors would expire. Nonetheless, he was still expected to cooperate with the Nazis.
Jewish refugee organizations had wide networks. This was due to individuals such as Kurt Grossmann, who steadily made more connections with contacts and developed cooperation on an international level. Kurt Grossmann, a journalist and General Secretary of the German League of Human Rights from 1926 until 1933, had escaped from Berlin just before an arrest. He fled to Prague, where he established and developed Democratic Relief for Refugees. Grossmann knew how to use his network for the increasing number of Jewish refugees, who had reached Prague. Even in Paris, where he had lived since 1938, he campaigned for support from the local refugee aid organizations. For example, in a letter from Grossmann on September 19th, 1938, he urges M. Gaston Kahn of the Parisian Comité d’Assistance aux Réfugiés juifs to help Erna Winter and her child.
An astonishing number of German physicians apparently not only had no qualms about being co-opted by the Nazi regime but actively subscribed to its racist and eugenic doctrines, conveniently ignoring their ostensible commitment to the Hippocratic Oath with its stipulation to do no harm. On top of propagating an ideology which declared Jews to be a danger to the “German race,” medical organizations in Germany expelled Jews, making it harder and harder for them to make a living. Under such circumstances, it’s not surprising that Dr. Max Schönenberg, a physician in Cologne, and his musician wife, Erna, supported their son Leopold’s emigration to Palestine in 1937, even though the boy was only 15 years old at the time. In this September 18th, 1938 letter to his son, Dr. Schönenberg touches upon various weighty topics, among them the regime’s recent decision to revoke Jewish doctors’ medical licenses and his uncertainty about his professional future (some Jewish physicians were given permission to treat Jewish patients).
Arnold Schoenberg was a pioneer of modern compositional techniques. However, his music also polarized listeners. Some freneticially celebrated it, other rejected it as noise. On September 13th, the Vienna native celebrated his 62nd birthday. At this time the musician had been living in the United States for almost five years. Schoenberg, a son of Jewish parents, lost his position at the Prussian Academy of Art soon after the Nazis took power. Thereafter he fled first to Paris, then emigrated to the United States. In Los Angeles, he was able to resume his teaching at the University of California.
“Free-of-charge”: it may seem like a generous “offer,” but behind this “free-of-charge” offer was ice-cold calculation. The Nazis’ evil intent was that all Jews still remaining in Burgenland, Austria, should leave the region. In Nazi jargon, this was called cleansing. After the “Anschluss,” Burgenland was the first Austrian region in which they had begun to systematically dispossess and expel the Jewish population. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on September 12th that out of the 3,800 Jews, who had previously lived in Burgenland, 1,900 had already been expelled, 1,600 people had fled temporarily to Vienna, and another 300 were interned in ghettos in Burgenland. According to JTA, the “offer” of the emigrant-smuggling group was financed by the Gestapo with 100,000 marks from the assets of the recently dispossessed Jews of the region.
Rome is the paradise of every ancient historian, a city rife with history. However, for Herbert Bloch, since 1935 a Ph.D. in Roman History, it was something more, a sanctuary from Nazi Germany. The native Berliner had come to the University of Rome as a student shortly after Hitler took over. In 1938, he was part of the team that excavated and examined much of the area of Ostia Antica, the ancient seaport of Rome. The photo shows Bloch on September 11th, 1938, in front of parts of the excavations. But 1938 was also the year in which the previously latent yet tangible anti-Semitism of fascist Italy officially became state policy. Just a few days before this photo was taken, Mussolini had passed the first of many anti-Semitic race laws. The “Measures for the Defense of the Race in the Fascist School” of September 5th, 1938 had especially hit home for Herbert Bloch. The law – among other matters – barred all Jewish teaching staff from schools and universities. Rome could no longer be Bloch’s place of refuge.
Dr. Max Wolf had already found his area of expertise years ago. Since 1922 Wolf practiced as a dermatologist in the Vienna Polyclinic as well as published numerous scientific essays in this field. The Vienna native had studied at the time of the First World War, and shortly thereafter he served on the Italian front as a M.A.S.H. doctor. Now, however, his career was about to end. After the “Anschluss,” the Nazis barred Jewish lawyers and judges in Austria from working. A ban for Jewish doctors was imminent. Meanwhile, Max and his wife Margarata Wolf prepared their emigration. The certificate about Wolf’s membership in the Viennese Society of Physicians makes it clear: Max Wolf did not intend to give up his profession while in exile.
Gisela Kleinermann (top row, right) had recently turned 10 years old. With her arm around her classmate, she looks, with a slight smile, into the camera. At this time, Gisela may already have known that she will not be part of this class of the Jewish school in Dresden any longer. In late summer 1938, her mother Erna prepared her family’s emigration to the United States. Step by step, in recent years the Nazis forced segregation in public schools. In many Jewish communities—as well as in Dresden—new Jewish schools were founded as a result.
“A traitor!” The journalist and author Joseph Bornstein left no doubt with regard to his opinion of the former Austrian chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg. Indeed, with friendly but very pointed words, he made it clear in a letter to his friend Bosch that Bosch’s “faith in the good faith in Schuschnigg” is totally wrong. Many Austrian Jews had long placed their hopes in Schuschnigg, who had tried as Chancellor to defend Austria from the influence of National-Socialist Germany. After the sender of this letter, Joseph Bornstein, lost his German citizenship in 1933, he immigrated to Paris. There he very quickly joined the intellectual milieu of other German journalists and authors in exile. He continued his collaboration with Leopold Schwarzschild and was active as editor-in-chief for the intellectual journal “Das neue Tagebuch” (The New Diary).
In August 1938 a new decree had been issued. Jewish people with names that were—in the perspective of the Nazis—not “typically Jewish” were to bear (starting January 1, 1939, the latest) a second given name: “Sara” for women, “Israel” for men. The September issue of Aufbau put the perfidy of this regulation in a nutshell: “If the motives on which this regulation is based were not so abysmally cruel, there would be nothing from its content about which to complain. ‘Israel’ means ‘Fighter for God’ and ‘Sarah’ or ‘Sara’ […] means ‘Princess.’” Not only did the Nazis help themselves to the content of Jewish culture, but they also misused it in order to restrict the private sphere of Jews on a massive scale.
The increased influx of European Jews seeking safety from the Nazis to Palestine led to resistance on the side of Palestinian Arabs. In 1936, an armed revolt erupted. During this period, Jewish settlers made use of a law from the times of the Ottoman Empire, according to which an unauthorized structure could not be demolished once it had a roof. By cover of night and with prefabricated pieces, they erected a fence surrounded by a stockade, so that, in the event of discovery by officials from the British Mandate, nothing could be done about it. At the same time, a structure of this kind was immediately defensible against attacks by local Arabs. One of these settlements was Ma’ayan (later known as Ma’ayan Tsvi), situated west of Zikhron Ya’acov on the northern coastal plain. Its 70 founding members, as members of the Maccabi Movement in Germany (and, since 1935, in Palestine itself), were prepared for pioneer life in the land.
The Jewish businessman Felix Perls was born in Beuthen (Upper Silesia) in 1883. By April 1st, 1938, following Nazi regulations, he had to relinquish his position as director of the Upper Silesian Lumber Industry Corporation. Two months later, he and his wife, Herta, moved to Berlin-Grunewald, in order to escape the hostility in Beuthen. Perls tampered with his 1938 postal ID. He changed its date of issue and its validity period. Postal ID cards were needed for receiving confidential mail but were accepted as identification documents elsewhere too.
It was under adventurous circumstances that Gisella Jellinek made her way to Palestine in June 1938. As part of a group of several hundred youths, she was smuggled into the area of the Mandate. The moment she came ashore in Palestine, she had to make use of the Hebrew language skills she had acquired at the Zionist agricultural training camp in Austria, in order to avoid being identified as an illegal immigrant by the British authorities. Roughly two months after her arrival, Gisella, who now called herself Nadja, turned 18. In this belated birthday note, her sister Berta wishes her “heroism, courage, and to be a good Haverah (kibbutz member).”
Of the American-Jewish self-help groups assisting Jews in leaving Europe and rebuilding their lives in the United States, the Boston Committee for Refugees was the first. Established in 1933, it consisted entirely of volunteers. Under the leadership of Walter H. Bieringer and Willy Nordwind, the Committee chiefly endeavored to obtain affidavits for would-be immigrants and see to it that they would find employment upon arrival in the U.S. Since the Great Depression, the State Department had orders to keep people “likely to become a public charge” out. It was of great importance to ensure the livelihood of the refugees. The annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany and the colossal failure of the Évian Conference on Refugees reinforced the urgency of helping the desperate asylum seekers. On August 26th, 1938, the Committee’s Acting Executive Secretary sent Bieringer a list of recent arrivals in need of placement.
The existential crisis of Jewish doctors in Germany, which had passed through various stages (exclusion from public service and health insurance funds, prohibition of cooperation between Jewish and “Aryan” physicians, etc.) escalated with the employment ban in July 1938 and required a creative approach. On August 25th, Dr. Felix Pinkus, a renowned Berlin dermatologist, wrote to his friend, Dr. Sulzberger, in America, in order to win him over as a fellow campaigner in an aid project. The sociologist and national economist Franz Oppenheimer had come to the idea of establishing a kind of residential colony for former doctors from Germany. The funding for this would be covered by contributions from American-Jewish doctors. According to Oppenheimer’s calculations, roughly 1,000 physicians would use this remedy. (Dr. Pinkus estimated that it was closer to 3,000).
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.
After six years in Palestine, Alfred Hirsch’s verdict was unequivocal: given the country’s political, climatic and economic structure, even people of the highest intelligence and stamina could not achieve much. He did not mince words in trying to dissuade his nephew, Ulli, from coming. Living in the very secular Haifa, Alfred Hirsch was convinced that for a young, Orthodox Jew like Ulli, life in Palestine would be a big disappointment at that point in history. Between the atmosphere generated by the collective misery of a large number of uprooted, depressed people and the political unrest, which led to major economic problems, the timing just didn’t feel right to Uncle Alfred. (The political unrest mentioned is the 1936-39 Arab Revolt in reaction to the massive influx of European Jews and the prospect of the establishment of a national home for the Jews in Palestine, as stipulated by the Balfour Declaration in 1917.)
Hitler’s plans for Czechoslovakia could not have been clearer: on May 30th, 1938, he declared to the Wehrmacht (German army) that it was his “immutable resolve” to shatter the country “in the foreseeable future.” Already months before, he had incited the leader of the Sudeten German Party, which was partly bankrolled by Nazi Germany, to conjure up a confrontation by making unreasonable demands on behalf of the German minority in the country. Under the influence of events in Germany, anti-Semitism had increased. But, so far, it had only led to boycotts and physical violence in the border areas of Northern and Western Bohemia, which were predominantly inhabited by Germans. While this crisis was brewing in the background, the psychiatrist and writer Josef Weiner, his wife, Hanka, and their two young daughters were on vacation in the central Bohemian town of Nespeky. Hanka’s letter (in Czech) to her father, the renowned Prague lawyer Oskar Taussig, smacks of a perfectly idyllic holiday atmosphere and spares its reconvalescent recipient anything unpleasant.
Until 1938, about 60,000 Jews lived in the Leopoldstadt district of Vienna, a fact that earned it the moniker “Isle of Matzos.” Between the end of World War I and the rise of “Austrofascism” in 1934, the Social-Democratic municipal government began to create public housing. By the time of the Anschluss in March 1938, there was a massive housing shortage in the city. The Nazis began to evict Jewish tenants from public housing. In light of the tendency of the police to ignore encroachment on Jewish property, it was easy for antisemitic private landlords to follow this example. Being a Jew was enough of a reason for eviction. When house owner Ludwig Munz filled in the eviction order form for his tenants Georg and Hermine Topra, he came up with as many as three reasons: his own purported need for the place, back rent, and consideration for the neighbors, who could not be expected to put up with having to live side-by-side with Jews.
This certificate, issued by the Rabbinate of the Vienna Israelite Community, was just one among a plethora of documents that Edmund Wachs had gathered in order to facilitate his emigration to the United States. Shortly after the Anschluss, Wachs was put in “protective custody,” a power handed to the Nazis by the “Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State,” also known as the “Reichstag Fire Decree.” The Reichstag Fire of February 27th, 1933, an act of arson involving the German Parliament building in Berlin, served as cause and justification for this law. It was passed on the following day and legalized the arbitrary arrest of anyone suspected of lack of loyalty towards the regime. The law did not stipulate the exact elements of the alleged offence and was widely used against Jews and political opponents.
Based on his handwriting and style, it seems that Michael Seidemann was quite young when he wrote this postcard to his grandmother, Louise Seidemann, in Breslau. Interestingly, the address from which he sent it was identical to that of the synagogue of the town, Oldenburg. Even though the earliest records of Jewish presence in Oldenburg are from the 14th century, it was only in 1855 that the congregation opened its first synagogue built specifically for this purpose. As a result of Emancipation, Jews came to contribute to Oldenburg’s commerce by selling shoes, books, bicycles, and musical instruments, as cattle dealers and in agriculture, among other things. Their share of the population rarely exceeded 1%. Nevertheless, in the 1920s, antisemitic thugs began attacking Jewish businesses. In 1933, the town had 279 Jewish inhabitants, out of a total of 66,951. By the time Michael wrote this postcard, only two out of dozens of Jewish shops and businesses remained in the town.
Article 1 of §15 of the Nazi Conscription Law (introduced on May 21, 1935) stipulated that “Aryan descent is a prerequisite for active military service.” In the 1936 amendment, the language was even clearer: “A Jew cannot perform active military service.” In order to get permission to leave the country, prospective male emigrants had to present a document to the local military authorities confirming their Jewish descent and thus proving that they were not simply seeking to shirk their duties by emigrating. On August 4, 1938, the registry of the Vienna Jewish Religious Community, based on the documentation available to them, attested to Bruno Blum’s Jewish ancestry on both sides as part of the paperwork he had to submit in order to get permission to emigrate.
The percentage of Jews among German physicians was so high that, initially, a comprehensive employment ban did not seem expedient to the Nazis. Instead, they issued the “Administrative Order regarding the Admission of Jewish Physicians” of April 22, 1933, which excluded “non-Aryan” doctors from working with the Statutory Health Insurance Funds unless they began their practice before WWI or could prove that they or their fathers had been frontline soldiers in the war. Starting in 1937, Jews could no longer obtain doctoral degrees. In an August 3, 1938 notice, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency draws attention to the fourth supplementary regulation added to the Reich Citizenship Law, passed days earlier, according to which, effective September 30, Jewish physicians were to lose their medical licences.
In the August issue of the Aufbau, an unidentified group of young immigrants was given the opportunity to call for the preservation and activation of democracy in the United States. They argue that the fascist regimes in Europe used the economic crises created by the unbridled military buildup in their countries to legitimize the confiscation of Jewish property. While praising the Roosevelt administration’s generosity and its openness to social reforms for the benefit of those who had escaped fascism, the group warns against the reactionary forces attacking this policy and their attempts to undermine democracy in the United States. The Aufbau editorial board noted its reservations regarding the group’s assessment of the role of economic factors in history but wrote that it was happy to grant the young people space to voice their concerns.