In February 1938, two brothers living in two different continents, Joszi Josefsberg in Europe (Chelles, France) and Arthur Josefsberg (New York) discuss in their correspondence how best to proceed to obtain affidavits to rescue their parents, who are still in Germany. But not only the fact that their parents’ emigration has not yet been secured worries Joszi—he is also concerned about their material survival. Such concerns were common among Jews who had left behind parents, siblings, and often spouses. Nazi efforts to force Jews out of numerous professions had made it harder and harder for those remaining in Germany to earn a living.
Already in 1936, the League of Nations had appointed Sir Neill Malcolm as “High Commissioner for German Refugees.” In light of the increasing stream of refugees from Nazi Germany, an inter-governmental conference was convened in February 1938 in Geneva under the aegis of the League of Nations. The orthodox paper Der Israelit reports on the first day of the gathering, which was attended by delegates from 14 states. Through the Nuremberg Laws, Jews had been downgraded from “citizens of the Reich” to mere “subjects.” As soon as they left Germany, they could be stripped off their citizenship entirely. Two members of the liaison committee, N. Bentwich from London and M. Seroussi from Paris, therefore demanded the extension of refugee status to stateless migrants as well.
The figures computed by the registry office of the Vienna Jewish Community and published here in the Jewish paper Die Stimme paint a bleak picture: between 1923 and 1937, the number of Jews in Vienna had decreased from 201,208 to around 167,000. The notice specifically mentions emigration between 1935 and 1936. Moreover, probably as a result both of the general insecurity and the changed age structure of the community, the number of births among Austrian Jews had gone down from 2,733 in 1923 to a mere 720 in 1937. Among the 2,824 deaths in 1937, 105 are entered as suicides.
Among the many kinds of physical activity offered to the readers of the Aufbau by the German-Jewish Club, such as ping-pong, skiing, swimming and even a Katerbummel (a morning stroll after a night of heavy drinking), there was also an invitation to go ice-skating in Tibbetts Brook Park in Yonkers, New York. A familiar activity among sympathetic fellow German-speakers at a venue featuring a Tudor revival bathhouse may have awakened memories of better days in Europe. Despite their traumatic experiences under Nazism and their forced departure, many German Jews continued to feel a profound cultural connection to the country they had called their home.
In this short missive from Turin, written in a casual, sisterly tone to her sister Anneliese in Rome, Elsa Riess communicates her worries about their parents, who have remained in Berlin. Elsa is concerned about her father’s employment situation and declares her intention to find out about possible ways to help their parents, from whom she hasn’t heard for a while. Anneliese had come to Italy in 1933 to study archeology, earning her PhD in 1936. Because of her own uncertain material situation, she was not in a position to help her parents financially. Unemployable as a foreigner in Italy and hoping to increase her opportunities by adding a practical skill, she had decided to take a course as a baby and child nurse in Geneva in 1937.
“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.
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.
This painting by the artist Hermann Struck, a resident of Haifa and one of the relatively small number of German Jews who emigrated to Palestine already before 1933, shows one of the iconic landscapes of the Holy Land, the Dead Sea. It does not, however, reflect the difficult social situation in Palestine in the late 1930s. Due to the growing influx of Jewish immigrants in general and, after 1933, German Jews in particular, tensions between Jews and Arabs as well as between Arabs and the British mandatory administration were increasing. In 1936, an Arab uprising began which was still in full swing in February 1938.
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.
As the number of Jewish emigrants from Germany was constantly growing, so was the number of letters exchanged between friends and relatives who had already left and those who stayed behind. In his handwritten letter from January 23, Mikloś Ehrenfeld suggests to his friend Kunibert in Berlin that it would be a good idea for him to leave Germany in spite of his good position and come to America, as Ehrenfeld himself did. Self-actualization and the fulfillment of personal dreams, Ehrenfeld wrote, were possible in America but hopeless in Germany.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Preparing for emigration to the United States, Alfred Rahn sold the family business, the M.S. Farrnbacher Ironmongery, in November 1937 without the consent of the Nazi authorities. Instead of leaving for the US at the end of December as planned, he therefore had to serve a 14 month prison term. From his prison cell in Fürth, Alfred Rahn expresses gratitude to his wife for gifts already received and asks for further necessities. His wife Lilly was a literary scholar and the last Jewish doctoral student to have graduated from the University of Erlangen (in 1934).
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.”
The people on both sides of the camera shared a fate that was common to many thousands of German Jews: shortly after the Nazis seized power in 1933, Albert Einstein decided to immigrate permanently to the United States. He took the position of professor of theoretical physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where this picture was taken five years later. In light of the increasing difficulties after the Nazi seizure of power, the photographer Lotte Jacobi also left Germany and emigrated to the United States in 1935. Jacobi was unpersuaded by the Nazis’ offer to grant her the status of “Honorary Aryan.” She left behind a studio in Berlin which she had run together with her sister, Ruth, also an accomplished photographer. Among the many prominent figures Jacobi photographed were Marc Chagall, Martin Buber, Eleanor Roosevelt, Thomas Mann, and Kurt Weill.
This letter was written by Otto Neubauer, who had recently arrived in America from Mannheim, to his father Maximilian and his brother Ernst back home. Since the rest of the family was unable to emigrate despite years of trying, Otto wrote them regularly. The rich exchange of letters between the members of the Neubauer family reflects, as in the case of many other German Jewish emigrants in the 1930s, deep longing and attempts to describe every aspect of the new life in America.