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.
Few among the immigrant New York audience expected to attend a trilingual event of the Theodor Herzl Society had ever encountered native speakers of modern Hebrew: Hence, it is no wonder the Aufbau assumed that the Hebrew part would constitute the greatest attraction. The featured artist of the evening, actor Albert Klar (Sklarz), born and raised in Tel Aviv, had begun his career in Berlin under renowned directors such as Reinhardt and Piscator. He had made his way to New York thanks to an invitation from the great Yiddish actor and director, Morris Schwartz, who hired him for his Yiddish Art Theater. The venue was Ansche Chesed, a synagogue on the Upper West Side founded by German immigrants.
Despite the restrictive immigration policy of the British colonial power, twenty-year-old Paul Egon Cahn, a car mechanic from Cologne, managed to flee to Kenya with the help of this passport. Paul’s sisters, Erika and Inge, reached safety in England and Australia respectively. The siblings’ parents, Siegfried and Regina Cahn, remained behind in Germany. In many cases, refugees not only had to cope with the loss of their homes and property and the separation from their relatives but were also forced to take on the challenges posed by foreign climate zones and cultures.
By 1938, the Hirsch family from Hamburg had emigrated to Italy. In light of the volatile situation in Europe, members of the family began to look into options for emigration to the United States or South America. Julius Hirsch had met Elisabeth Schiff on a visit to Belgium in 1935 and fallen in love with her. The Schiff family had no plans to leave Europe, and when visas for El Salvador were procured for Julius and other members of his family, he must have been pained at the prospect of being so distant from his beloved. This letter from a friend in Hamburg reassures him that a temporary separation is not such a bad thing. Forced to remain in Italy because the US denied him the necessary transit visa, Julius ultimately reunited with Elisabeth in England.
In the traveling exhibition “Degenerate Art,” initiated in Munich in 1937, the Nazis used 650 works of art confiscated from 32 museums in order to force their idea of art upon the populace: newer trends like expressionism, surrealism, or fauvism, to name just a few, were regarded as “Jewish-Bolshevist” and roundly disparaged. The front page of the exhibition catalog shows a piece titled “Large Head” from the workshop of the German-Jewish artist Otto Freundlich, one of the first exponents of abstract art. It was created in 1912 to symbolize hope for a new beginning. Even apart from Freundlich’s Jewish background and his artistic leanings, being a communist made him politically unacceptable in the eyes of the regime.
This view of Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv shows some of the typical buildings in the background to which it owes its unofficial name, “The White City.” Since 1933 and especially after the “Reichsbürgergesetz” came into effect in 1935, Bauhaus-trained architects had left Germany and were now putting their mark on Tel Aviv, either through their own creations or through their influence on others. The photo is dominated by the Migdalor building, which was built in 1935 and housed the city’s first air-conditioned movie theater. On the external wall there is a huge advertisement for Jean Renoir’s 1937 movie “Grand Illusion,” which due to its pacifist message was banned in Nazi Germany.
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.”
In light of the looming danger, a young jazz musician from Breslau, Werner Dambitsch, considered various options for emigration. Like many others, he viewed Cuba, a destination for which it was significantly easier to obtain a visa, as a “waiting room” on the way to the final destination for many, the United States. While his application for immigration to Cuba was being processed, Dambitsch, to be on the safe side, seems to also have applied for a visa at the Colombian Embassy in Berlin. The document presented here is a doctor’s notice written by the doctor of the Colombian Embassy and attesting the perfect health of the prospective emigrant, one of the indispensable preconditions for receiving a visa.
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.
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.
Months after leaving Germany, 12-year old Herbert Friedmann (later Freeman) was still in Zurich waiting to reunite with his family already in the USA. Because of the previous, apparently intentional, misdiagnosis at the US consulate in Stuttgart stating that the boy was a “carrier of tuberculosis,” he had not been able to immigrate with his mother and brother. Finally, on February 2, 1938 a local physician attested to the boy’s “significantly above average” state of health, ascribing the previous diagnosis to an error. Ironically, the physician who issued this critical medical certificate was Dr. Ernst Hanhart, a geneticist and eugenicist who during the Nazi period published extensively on “racial hygiene” and wrote articles in support of the forced sterilization of deaf-mutes.
Although one could imagine 1938 as a very gloomy and tense year for German Jews, some events, such as vacations, bore a semblance of normalcy. In this postcard from a trip to the “sunny South,” no political thunderclouds appear on the horizon. The writer tells the recipient in Frankfurt, Rosel Lehrberger, about an afternoon dance at the Palais de la Jetée in Nice, an elegant Moorish Revival casino from the Belle Epoque, which for decades was a tourist magnet.
The C.V.-Zeitung, Paper for German and Jewish Culture was the organ of the “Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith.” The Central Association’s political bent was liberal-conservative and it strove to represent the interests of all Jews, regardless of religious affiliation. The newspaper aimed to raise the self-confidence of German Jews as well as to deepen their love of “both German and Jewish culture.” (Jüdisches Lexikon 1927). January 30, 1938 was the last day of ordinary operations for the C.V.-Zeitung. On the 31st, the Nazis ordered its temporary suspension until February 24 with no reason given.
This drawing shows the interior of the Prinzregentenstraße Synagogue in Berlin (Wilmersdorf). Built in 1930, the building was designed to fulfill the needs of a liberal congregation. As shown in the picture, the synagogue boasted a magnificent organ. Rabbi Leo Baeck gave the sermon at the opening ceremony. From 1933, when Jews began to be pushed out of Germany’s cultural life, the synagogue also became a Jewish cultural center.
When Julius Ostberg visited Palestine in January 1938, his daughter Ilse had been living in the country for four years. She was born in 1912 and spent her first 22 years in Essen. After emigrating from Germany to Palestine in 1934, she, like many other German Jewish emigrants to Palestine, continued to visit Europe in the following years. The photos shown here were taken in 1937 during a stopover in Venice on the way back to Palestine.
As the situation of Jews in Nazi Germany deteriorated from day to day, the anti-Semitic atmosphere in other countries became increasingly tense. In neighboring Poland, anti-Semitic voices became louder and louder. As the C.V.-Zeitung, the organ of the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith, reported, the Lower House of the Polish Parliament expressed its anti-Jewish sentiments in the form of a plan to remove Jews from the country: it called for the emigration of at least 100,000 Jews annually. Besides Palestine, Madagascar was discussed as a possible destination. The case of Polish Prime Minister Sławoj Składkowski shows how widely antisemitism was accepted: commenting on the “unpleasant events” (presumably, the numerous cases of physical violence against Jews), he claimed that Jews themselves were to blame, due to their lack of understanding of Polish peasantry, which, just as the Jews themselves, was striving for a higher standard of living.
There are many ways to describe Leo Perutz: novelist, mathematician, native of Prague, chess lover—to name but a few. He was admired by his colleagues and millions of readers. His success as a writer was so great that he decided in 1923 to give up his bread-and-butter job as an actuary. The Great Depression hit him hard, since the crisis not only negatively impacted the bookselling trade but also rendered the family company, in which he had a share, less profitable. To make matters worse, after the Nazis’ rise to power, his Jewish publisher, Paul Szolnay, lost his largest market in Germany. This is one of the last photographs taken before Perutz’s emigration from Vienna to Tel Aviv, Palestine in 1938.
In the 78th and last year of its existence, the orthodox weekly Der Israelit reports on measures of the anti-semitic, pro-German Goga-Cuza government in Romania: The country’s Jews were subjected to various chicaneries and occupational bans similar to those in Germany. As a result of gains in territory and population in WWI, about 30% of Romanians belonged to minority groups, who were seen as a “Fifth Column.” Jews especially were the object of fears and suspicions which easily turned into violent hatred.
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.
After the Nazis’ rise to power, the economic historian and journalist Kurt Zielenziger fled to Amsterdam with his wife and son. There he co-founded the “Jewish Central Information Office,” the goal of which was to document the persecution of Jews by the Nazis and to spread the information. In this release, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency quotes his computation of Jewish emigrants from Germany according to destination countries. According to Zielenziger, by the end of 1937, a total of 135,000 Jews had left the country.
This picture-postcard shows Berlin’s oldest and for some time largest department store, named after the founder of the business, Nathan Israel. The Israel family had taken up residence in Berlin in the 18th century. The business was last located at 28 Spandauer Straße, across from the Rotes Rathaus (“Red City Hall”). Under its last director, Wilfrid Israel, the department store distinguished itself by providing uncommonly generous benefits to its employees, such as health and social insurance.
Markus Wolf (center in the photo above), one of the sons of the communist physician and writer Friedrich Wolf (right), was born in 1923 in Hechingen in the Swabian Alps. After the Nazi seizure of power the family initially emigrated to Switzerland, then to France, and in 1934 to the Soviet Union. The Wolf family resided at the Hotel Lux in Moscow where a large number of communist refugees from Germany had been given shelter. During the years of the Great Terror (1936–38), deeply suspicious of the foreigners, in whom it saw potential spies for the Reich, Stalin’s regime tortured and interrogated many of the German emigrants. Among the approximately 600,000 victims of the purge were 178 German communists, most of them residents of the Hotel Lux. The Wolf family survived.
When German Jews considered the various emigration options in January 1938, Palestine might have seemed a dangerous destination. As the Jüdische Rundschau reported, in the same month, attacks against Jewish inhabitants and clashes between Jews and Arabs occurred in numerous places in Palestine. Apart from local resistance, the paper mentioned Syrian terrorists, the smuggling of weapons from Libya, and the refusal of the Egyptian government to conduct direct Arab-Jewish negotiations. In light of these facts, emigrating to Palestine could appear to the prospective emigrants like jumping from the frying pan into the fire rather than finding a safe refuge.
An unidentified author congratulates the German mountain climber and physicist Hermann Hoerlin, based in Stuttgart, on his upcoming wedding with Käthe Schmid, who was considered a “Half-Jew” in Nazi parlance. The “Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor,” adopted in 1935, forbade marriages between Jews and non-Jews. Despite the law, the couple Hoerlin-Schmid obtained a special permit and the wedding could go ahead.
The “Reichsvertretung der Deutschen Juden” (Reich Representation of German Jews) was established in Berlin in September 1933 as an advocacy group. After the passing of the Nuremberg Laws, it had to change its name to “Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland” (Reich Representation of Jews in Germany). Its president was Rabbi Leo Baeck. As a result of the increasing pauperization of the Jewish population, whose possibilities to earn a living were systematically taken away, the Reichsvertretung appealed to the government in January 1938 to desist from additional limitations depriving Jewish professionals of their jobs. The Reichsvertretung argued that not only was the increasing unemployment a burden on the welfare system, but it also made emigration impossible.
Julius Ostberg was the owner of a uniform and coat factory in Essen. In January 1938, he visited his daughter Ilse in Palestine. Similar to other German Jews in Palestine, Ostberg did not think about giving up his outfit – associated among German Jews with correctness and good taste and often ridiculed by Jews of other nationalities. In this picture, taken on the beach, despite the casual environment, Mr. Ostberg presents himself in formal attire consisting of a suit and a tie.
The January issue of the Berlin Kulturbund magazine conveys a sense of normalcy—local businesses advertise merchandise and services like cosmetics, women’s apparel and car repairs, while the Kulturbund schedule offers Eugene Scribe’s “The Ladies’ Battle.” The comedy must have provided a welcome respite from the worrisome situation.
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.
Herbert Freeman was born Herbert Friedmann on December 13, 1925 in Frankfurt/Main, Germany. His father, Leo Friedmann, immigrated to the United States first. Herbert, his mother, and his brother applied for a US visa in Stuttgart. During the obligatory health check-up, the perfectly healthy Herbert was diagnosed as a “tuberculosis carrier” and was unable to join his mother and brother on their journey to the United States in 1936. After repeated unsuccessful attempts, in order to circumvent the Stuttgart US Consulate, 12-year-old Herbert was sent to Zurich (permission to file an application outside Germany was obtained in no small part thanks to the intervention of Albert Einstein). The letter was written during Herbert’s stay in Switzerland. He mentions his upcoming visit to the US Consulate and reapplying for the visa, and describes his days while separated from his relatives.
As German Jews were getting arrested or being forced to leave the country, the performances put on by the local branches of the Jewish Kulturbund (Culture Association) were among the few places of refuge where Jews could enjoy culture as in earlier days. Among other things, in the winter season of 1937/1938 the Jüdischer Kulturbund Berlin performed Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin (Director: Dr. Kurt Singer) and Scribe’s The Ladies’ Battle (Director: Fritz Wisten). Since 1935, the Kulturbund’s venue had been the theater at 57 Kommandantenstrasse, the former Herrnfeld Theater, where popular Jewish plays had once been staged.
If advertisements in newspapers reflect the main needs of society, then the Berlin Jüdisches Gemeindeblatt (Jewish Community Paper) from January 1938 can serve as a perfect example of such needs in times of crisis. By January 1938, when the majority of German Jews were preparing for emigration or actively looking for ways to leave the country, advertisements for travel agencies and shipping companies dominated the commercial space of the newspaper. The main destinations of German-Jewish emigrants were Palestine as well as North- and South America.