1938 - Point of no return - Contemporary Testimonies of the German-Jewish Diaspora

In the year 1938 the situation of German Jews changed abruptly and irrevocably within a few months. A severe increase in the deprivation of rights, discrimination, and persecution was accompanied by an escalation of violence. This dossier shows the fates of individuals in the German-Jewish diaspora through letters, diary entries, official documents, and photographs.

In 2018, we mark 80 years since the momentous events of 1938, which taken together constitute a singular rupture in German-Jewish history. Within a few months, the situation of German Jews changed abruptly and irrevocably. A severe increase in the deprivation of rights, discrimination, and persecution was accompanied by an escalation of violence. The year 1938 serves as an example for the disastrous consequences of the defamation and exclusion of minorities. Given the national and international trend toward increasing populism and extremism, this is a timely topic. Therefore, the bpb, in partnership with Leo Baeck Institute – New York | Berlin, has created this dossier to show the fates of individuals in the German-Jewish diaspora through letters, diary entries, official documents, and photographs. Through these materials, the memories of those who were lucky enough to escape will return.

English version of all stories

The children´s home Beith Ahawah

Photo album of the children's home Ahawah (cover) (Leo Baeck Institute New York | Berlin - Heinrich Stahl Collection AR 7171 ALB 78) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

The Jewish children’s home in Auguststraße 14-16 (Berlin Mitte) opens in 1922. Prior to this, the building houses the Jewish hospital, where Jewish and non-Jewish patients are treated alike. Its good reputation leads to a continuously increasing number of patients that are admitted to the hospital since its early days in 1861. Thus a move becomes unavoidable in 1914. Afterwards the space is used as a refugee home for Jews from Eastern Europe. After 1916, a communal kitchen for children is added. The children’s home is founded by Beate Berger who is a nurse born in 1886. She takes in children who come, predominantly, from Eastern Europe, where they are orphaned by pogroms, or who live in precarious social conditions.

Beate Berger with the first group of Eastern Europen refugee children to arrive at Beith Ahawah Children's home 1923. Seated on the front left is Somka Reif. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Ayelet Bargur) (© United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, mit freundlicher Genehmigung von Ayelet Bargur)

The derelict brick building of the former Jewish children’s home in the Auguststraße 14-16, photographed on May 4, 2007. The children’s home Ahawah (Hebrew for “love”) from 1861 was restituted by the Jewish Claims conference to the Jewish community of Berlin in the 1990s. (© Foto: Picture-Alliance / Tagesspiegel)

As a name for the children’s home, Beate Berger choses the Hebrew word "Ahawah" (love). Right after the National Socialist’s rise to power Beate Berger makes up her mind that she wants to bring her protégés to safety. For this she struggles to establish another children’s home under the same name near Haifa which she manages to do in Kirjat Bialik in 1934. From then on she travels back and forth between Germany and Mandatory Palestine in order to accompany children from Berlin to Haifa. Since Mandatory Palestine is still under British administration it is only possible to receive permits for children who have reached the age of 15. Younger children from the children’s home Ahawah in Berlin are not allowed to enter. Until her last travel in 1939 Beate Berger manages to rescue about 100 children from Germany. Altogether she accompanies ca. 300 children from Europe to Mandatory Palestine. Beate Berger dies in May 1939 in Kirjat Bialik. The majority of her protégés from the Auguststraße 14-16 who have to remain in Berlin are killed in concentration camps.

A photo album for Heinrich Stahl - Everyday life

"In the glory of seventy years/You received love from everywhere/United are young and old in thanking you/ Reaching from East and West with blessed hands" Kinderheim Ahawah Berlin-Haifa, 13. April 1938.” Dedication to Heinrich Stahl on the occasion of his 70th birthday on April 13, 1938 from the children's home. (Leo Baeck Institute New York | Berlin - Heinrich Stahl Collection AR 7171 ALB 78) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

On occasion of his 70th birthday Heinrich Stahl, the chair of the Jewish community of Berlin, receives numerous honors. This dedication is written on the first page of a photo album which includes several images of the children’s home Ahawah that were taken on Jewish holidays like Purim, Passover and Hanukkah or snapshots of its protégés during classes or while joyously playing during vacation time. Despite increasing reprisals, German-speaking Jews seek to maintain a certain level of “normality” in their everyday lives. Within the communities events are organized and the communities looks after their members and listens attentively to their worries. Even in private, families try to keep up hope and dignity, be it at religious festivities that they celebrate or in everyday activities like meeting over coffee and cake.

The complete photo album

 Widmung des Kinderheims Ahawah Berlin/Haifa an Heinrich Stahl anlässlich seines 70. Geburtstags am 13. April 1938. "Die 'Ahawah' in Bildern - Purim 1938" "Unsere Kleinen - Purim 1938" "Unser Umzug - Purim 1938" "Purim 1938" "Purim 1938" "Unsere Großen beim Essen." "Gruppenabend" "Mädchenheim beim Nähen." "Allijahlager beim Lernen" "Beim Seder". Die Kinder lesen am ersten Abend von Pessach aus der Haggadah, einer Erzählung vom Auszug aus Ägypten. Auf dem Tisch steht der Sederteller. "Chanukah 1937 - Chor" "Chanuka - Die Lichter brennen." "Chanukah - Werkarbeiten unserer Kinder." "Chanukah - Die Kinder bestaunen ihre Geschenke." "Chanukah - Die Jungen spielen mit der Eisenbahn" "Chanukah - Die Puppenwagen werden bewundert." "Chanukah - Unsere Großen spielen Theater" "Lustige Sommer-ferien" "In den Ferien beim Spielen." "Beim Spielen - Beim Plauschen" "Die 'Ahawah' in Palästina" "Im Vordergrund zwei Chaluzin, dahinter die palästinänsische 'Ahawah'." "Gruppenzimmer in der palästinänsischen 'Ahawah'''

Heinrich Stahl, who is born in 1868 in Berlin, is among those who stand up against discrimination and the deprivation of rights for as long as possible. For many years he was the director of the Viktoria Insurance Company in Berlin and in the 1930s he heads the public relief office of the Jewish community. His nomination to become the chair of the Jewish community of Berlin happens after the National Socialists rose to power which leads him to establish the "Jewish Winter relief”. This charitable institution is intended to support members of the community who are affected by the racist legislation and suffer financial losses in their occupation or lost their income completely. The help, which is financed by donations, includes practical support like clothes, coals and food, as well as intellectual support by offering cultural activities and spiritual succor within the communities. In June 1942, Heinrich Stahl is deported to Theresienstadt together with his wife Jenny. He dies in November 1942 at the age of 75 years after suffering from pneumonia.

"From this day on you´ll be called differently" - Lillian and Georg Friedmann are being forced to change their names to "Israel" and "Sara"

It cannot be said for sure what went through the minds of Lillian and Georg Friedmann when they heard of the “Zweite Verordnung zur Durchführung des Gesetzes über die Änderung von Familiennamen und Vornamen“ (RGBl I, 1044) from August, 17. Only one thing is certain: that this bureaucratic procedure joined the steadily growing list of humiliations that the family had to endure. At the end of the year 1938 the name change of Georg, Lillian, Bruno and Amelie Friedmann, which was required by January 1939, was carried out. On December 21, 1938 the civil registry offices in Munich and Berlin as well as the local police authority in Schwandorf were informed via certified mail that the registration of the additional first names “Israel” and “Sara” took place.

Registered letter from Georg and Lillian Friedmann to the civil registry offices in Berlin and Munich to inform them that the registration of the first names "Israel". (Leo Baeck Institute New York | Berlin - George And Lillian Friedman Collection AR 7223) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

Registered letter from Georg and Lillian Friedmann to the civil registry offices in Berlin and Munich to inform them that the registration of the first names "Israel". (Leo Baeck Institute New York | Berlin - George And Lillian Friedman Collection AR 7223) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

A police ordinance regarding the identification of Jews is issued on September 1, 1941 (RGBl I, S. 547) and forces all Jews in the German Reich to wear a visible yellow badge (German: "Judenstern"). The autobiography of the German-Israeli journalist, author and contemporary witness Inge Deutschkron, which is often read in schools, directly refers to this aspect in its title I wore the Yellow Star (German: Ich trug den gelben Stern). But the public labelling of people who are considered “Jewish” under Nuremberg’s Racial Laws from 1935 begins even before the introduction of the yellow badge. The Grips-Theater, a Berlin theater aimed at children and adolescents, takes this into account on February 9, 1989, when a play based on Inge Deutschkron’s memoirs premieres under the title Ab heute heißt du Sara (Starting today you will be called Sara). Compliant with the "Zweiten Verordnung zur Durchführung des Gesetzes über die Änderung von Familiennamen und Vornamen" from August 17, 1938 (RGBl I, 1044) Jews are obligated to carry a name that identifies them as "Jewish" 3 years before they have to wear the yellow star. If their previous first names do not comply with the guidelines issued by the Reich Minister of the Interior, that is, if they do not conform to clear Jewish clichés, they are forced to add "Israel" or "Sara" as middle names. Thus the antisemitic legislation of the National Socialists intrudes once more into the private lives of those who are affected and takes away one of their most personal belongings: their own name. The official re-registration has to be done by January 1939 and announced to the local civil registry office as well as to the police. The new stereotypical names have to be used in all correspondence. In professional life as well as at legal proceedings they are forced to use at least one name that identifies them clearly as Jews. Noncompliance is punished with a prison sentence of one month. If it is assumed that the noncompliance was with intent, the prison term can amount to half a year.

Hedwig Jastrow is a former teacher and a feminist. Her case becomes famous when she, a 76 year old woman living in Berlin, commits suicide in order to avoid changing her name. For 43 years she had been teaching German children and ends her handwritten suicide note with the following words: "I do not want to live without fatherland, home, apartment, civil right, ostracized and insulted. And I want to be buried with the name that my parents gave me and which was in parts bequeathed to me and on which there is no blemish. I do not want to wait until it will receive a badge of shame." [1]

Georg and Lillian Friedmann - "The odyssey of the St. Louis"

Georg and Lillian Friedmann embark the St. Louis in Hamburg on May 13, 1938. (Leo Baeck Institute New York | Berlin - George And Lillian Friedman Collection AR 7223) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

In 1976 the movie Voyage of the Damned premiers. It features Max von Sydow, Oskar Kreisler und Faye Dunaway and is based on a book of the same name by Max Morgan-Witts and Gordon Thomas that was published two years prior and details the true story of the so-called odyssey of the St. Louis. The ship leaves Hamburg under Captain Gustav Schröder on May 13 1939 for Cuba. There are 937 passengers on board, the majority of them Jewish refugees. But upon arrival in Cuba they are refused entry.

June 1, 1939: The St.Louis, a passenger vessel of the Hamburg-Amerika-Linie (HAPAG) with over 900 German-Jewish refugees on board, is not allowed to land in the Cuban capital Havana despite the fact that the government had previously consented to grant temporary asylum to German refugees. The ship and almost all of the passengers have to return to Europe where many of them were killed in concentration camps. (© Foto: picture alliance/AP Images)

Merely 29 persons, among them 22 Jewish refugees, are allowed to disembark. All others have to remain aboard the St. Louis and return. Even the desperate attempt to gain support in the US and be allowed to land there fails. The refugees have to return to Europe. Knowing of the dangers that awaits his passengers, Gustav Schröder refuses to hand them over to Germany. After several efforts, the captain manages to let his passengers disembark in Belgium from where they are distributed to Great Britain, France, the Netherlands and Belgium. The assumed rescue proves to be a fallacy. After German troops invade France, Belgium and the Netherlands, the former passengers of the St. Louis are once more within reach of National Socialists. According to scholars, a quarter of them are killed in the Holocaust. The St. Louis and its courageous captain return to Hamburg in 1940 where Gustav Schröder is transferred to a desk job. In 1957, two years before his death, he receives the German Order of Merit and Yad Vashem posthumously declares him as one of the "Righteous among the nations".

Among those 22 Jewish refugees who are admitted to Cuba is the Friedmann family consisting of six people whose rescue baffle the authors Max Morgan-Witts and Gordon Thomas. It is not until June 20, 1975 that this mystery is solved when Lillian Friedmann writes a letter to Max Morgan-Witts explaining why her otherwise unknown family was allowed to disembark and enter Cuba under dramatic circumstances.

Jewish emigrants aboard the St. Louis at the port of Havana in the summer of 1939. They are not allowed to disembark and were later sent back to Europe. (© Foto: picture-alliance / akg-images)

Lillian Berta Friedmann is born in 1906 in Munich. She is the daughter of Isidor and Helene Bach. Until her marriage to Georg Friedmann in July 1930, she lives in her native city, before settling in with his family in Schwandorf, appr. 50 miles north-east of Munich, where they apparently operated a clothing store. Like ten thousand other Jews, the Friedmann family is arrested in the course of the November pogroms. Georg (born 1897) and his brother Bruno (born 1894) are incarcerated in the Dachau concentration camp while Lillian and her 67 year old mother-in-law Amanda are put into prison. Immediately after their release the family struggle to emigrate because the condition for getting out of the concentration camp is to leave Germany as soon as possible. A sister of Lillian lives in Cuba which enables them to get a passage on the “Orinoco”, a vessel headed for Havana, where they are hoping to prepare their immigration to the US. However, Georg does not want to wait until the Orinoco would set sail and instead books tickets for the St. Louis which leaves a few days earlier. On May 13, 1939 the ship sets sail. On board are the Friedman family: Georg and his wife Lillian, his brother Bruno, his mother Amanda, his sister Celia and her husband James Back. When it becomes apparent that the St. Louis is not permitted to land in Havana, the Friedmanns desperately approache distant relatives in the US, among them Sadie Cecilia Annenberg (née Friedmann), who, apart from her name, is unknown to them.

Amanda’s late husband Jakob had died in 1937 but he has a brother in the US with whom he corresponded once or twice a year and who always boasts about his daughter Sadie “who is so rich that she does not know how much money she has.” Sadie does not hesitate and promises to help. Throughout her life she keeps it a secret how she manages to get the Friedmann family off the St. Louis. The family has to wait in Havana for their quota numbers to come up in order to immigrate to the US. During this time Sadie once more supports them financially. After nine months Celia and Lillian are allowed to enter the US and go to New York where they work as housekeepers in order to support their relatives in Cuba and to stop burdening Sadie. The remaining members of the Friedmann family follow over the course of the next months. Georg and Lillian move to Louisville, Kentucky, in 1941 where Lillian works as a legal secretary until she joins her husband in his business, the Friedman's Display Company which provides window decorations and supplies. She continues his business after Georg’s death in 1950 but employs others to do the decorating until she retires in 1967. Their marriage remains childless. Throughout her life Lillian volunteers for different Jewish organizations. Lillian Friedmann dies in 2008.

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Paul Steiner

University Identity Card from the University of Vienna issued for Paul Steiner on November 14, 1936 (stamped November 16, 1936). (Leo Baeck Institute New York | Berlin - Marianne Steiner Collection AR 10443) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

Paul Steiner is born in Vienna in 1913. Already at the age of 13 he starts writing diaries and as a young man he aspires to become a freelance writer and philosopher which might have been encouraged by his acquaintance with the famous Austrian philosopher and journalist Egon Friedell (1878-1938). However, after receiving his Matura (high school diploma) in 1936 he decides to take a different path and studies law instead. He finishes his studies in January 1938 while continuing to write poetry. Additionally, while studying law, he works for the publishing house Moderne Welt in Vienna to support his mother and himself financially.

Excerpts from Paul Steiner's diary

 Tagebuch Paul Steiner S. 22 Tagebuch Paul Steiner S. 23 Tagebuch Paul Steiner S. 23_01 Tagebuch Paul Steiner S. 24 Tagebuch Paul Steiner S. 22

With the increasing dangers for Jews in Austria, Steiner is determined to emigrate. In November 1938, he manages to get a visa for America. Before emigrating he visits his mother in Brussels in January 1939 and after a short stay in London he immigrates via New York City to Akron, Ohio, in March 1939. Having barely arrived, he struggles to get visas for his mother in Belgium and his brother Franz who is interned in a camp in France. In December 1941 he manages to get an American visa for his brother Franz. But he is unable to save his mother who commits suicide before she is to be deported to a concentration camp.

In July 1941, Paul Steiner moves to New York City, where he rents a room from Marianne Esberg's family. Marianne Esberg shares his interest in art, culture, and music. They marry on February 14, 1942 and in the following year in May their son Thomas is born. Paul Steiner is granted American citizenship in 1945. Later he becomes the head of Chanticleer Press, the American subsidiary of the British publisher Adprint. When Adprint wants to sell the subsidiary in 1952, Paul Steiner buys it and turns Chanticleer Press into an internationally successful company that specializes in non-fiction books. Paul Steiner’s company becomes known for its modern four-color prints which he often produces for other publishing houses and museums worldwide. Besides a broad range of educational titles, Paul Steiner expands the company’s portfolio to include richly illustrated high-quality coffee table books. Paul Steiner dies in 1996 in New York. The obituary in the New York Times acknowledges his lifetime achievements with the words that he "helped reshape the publishing business in the United States and made the illustrated coffee table book an industry staple".

Historical Background: "Anschluss"- Annexation of Austria

The National Socialists’ desire to incorporate Austria into the German Reich had been looming for quite some time. On February 12, 1938 on the verge of the so-called Berchtesgadener Abkommen, Adolf Hitler demands from the Austrian Federal Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg to involve the Austrian National Socialist forces in the Austrian government and to install Arthur Seyß-Inquart as "Innen- und Sicherheitsminister" (Interior- and Security Minister) which would grant him control over Austria’s police. Kurt Schuschnigg is able to negotiate a temporary reprieve, but after three days he yields to the pressure and signs the treaty. Nonetheless, in his speech from February 24, 1939, which becomes known for his exclamation "Red White Red - until death", Kurt Schuschnigg speaks vehemently in favor of Austria’s independence. On March 9, 1938 Kurt Schuschnigg calls a plebiscite for the upcoming Sunday. Due to its numerous restrictions that are proclaimed in advance and the procedural errors that are made while preparing the plebiscite, Kurt Schuschnigg provides his opponents with the long awaited cause to intervene. Arthur Seyß-Inquart declares the planned plebiscite to be unconstitutional. The German side demands an immediate cancellation of the plebiscite and Kurt Schuschnigg’s resignation in favor of Arthur Seyß-Inquart while Adolf Hitler orders the mobilization of the German troops. On March 11, 1938 Kurt Schuschnigg resigns in a public speech over the radio. By then the first swastika flags are raised by Austrian National Socialists on public buildings. During the night of March 12, 1938 German troops march into Austria. As Kurt Schuschnigg requests in his resignation, there is no resistance from the Austrian army. Neither does the German Wehrmacht encounter any resistance from the population. On the contrary, contemporary eye witnesses report that soldiers are predominantly welcomed with delight and cheering. On the next day Adolf Hitler arrives in Linz and together with Arthur Seyß-Inquart, who is now installed as Federal Chancellor, the "Gesetz über die Wiedervereinigung Österreichs mit dem Deutschen Reich" (RGBl. I 1938, S. 237, Law on the re-unification of Austria and the German Reich) is fixed and passed on the same day. Federal President Wilhelm Miklas refuses to certify this law and resigns; thus his functions are passed down to Arthur Seyß-Inquart. With his signature the law becomes legally binding and the annexation of Austria is completed. The last parliamentary election to the Reichstag on April 10, 1938, turns also into a plebiscite on Austria’s independence. In that election 99,73 per cent of the Austrian population and 99,01 per cent of the German population vote for a single list of Nazi candidates and the annexation of Austria.

Harry Kranner Fiss

The first furlough as an American soldier - Harry Kranner Fiss (in the middle) with his Mother (on the right) and his stepfather (on the left) on March 15, 1945. (Leo Baeck Institute New York | Berlin - Harry Kranner Fiss Collection AR 25595) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

Harry was born April 15, 1926 in Vienna, Austria. He begins his diary on November 4, 1938. It is meant to document his emigration but soon becomes a testimony for the November pogroms and how the ensuing events affect his everyday life. The diary details the personal struggles that his family endure until they are finally able to leave Austria.

Vienna, March 1938: Jewish citizens are forced to scrub the streets as their fellow Vienna residents stand by and watch. This special form of humiliation was called a "Reibpartie" (scrubbing party). (© picture alliance/IMAGNO)

During "Kristallnacht", his home is searched by troops, his stepfather Emil Fichmann (renamed Fiss after immigration) is forced to scrub the sidewalk outside the family's residence while his uncle Artur Singer is arrested and spends several months at the concentration camp at Dachau.

Excerpts from Harry Kranner Fiss' diary

 Tagebuch Harry Kranner Fiss S.10 Tagebuch Harry Kranner Fiss S.11 Tagebuch Harry Kranner Fiss S.12 Tagebuch Harry Kranner Fiss S.13 Tagebuch Harry Kranner Fiss S.14 Tagebuch Harry Kranner Fiss S.15 Tagebuch Harry Kranner Fiss S.16

Harry’s family arrives in the United States in August 1939 and settles in New York City. In August 1944 Harry Fiss volunteers for service in the United States Army. After first receiving basic training as an airplane mechanic, he is transferred to the intelligence division due to his knowledge of German and French. His ship arrives in Europe just after V-E Day and Harry Fiss becomes part of the occupation forces in Germany. There he is assigned as a translator at the Nuremberg Trials, and becomes the head of documentation for the American prosecutor. After his honorable discharge from active duty in July 1946, Harry Fiss studies at New York University, where he majors in English and graduates in 1949. Although he finds work as a news writer in Hollywood, California, his advancement is hampered by his accent. Once more Harry Fiss begins studying at New York University where he attends graduate courses in psychology; three years later he is accepted into their doctoral program in psychology. In 1963 Harry Fiss begins collaboration with George Klein in conducting dream research. They receive a federal grant to establish one of the first experimental sleep laboratories. Their research leads to the discovery that dreaming occurs not only during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, followed by the importance of dreaming as an adaptive phenomenon. During the late 1960s Harry Fiss becomes director of the Clinical Psychology Training Program at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and accepts a professorship at Long Island University. By the 1970s Harry Fiss and his family decide to leave New York, and he finds a position at the University of Connecticut's School of Medicine, where he becomes head of the psychology department and chief psychologist in the department of psychiatry. Upon his retirement at the age of sixty-six he continues his private practice and also teaches graduate students in psychology at the University of Hartford. In 1990 he travels to Vienna, Austria to give a lecture series on sleep and dreaming, and also gives talks about his experiences during the 1930s. In 2001 Harry Fiss's wife, Gerda, dies after a prolonged illness. He marries Sari Max-Fiss in November 2002. In 2003 he is the keynote speaker in Vienna for the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of rapid eye movement (REM) in sleep. Harry Fiss dies on May 2, 2009.

Historical Background: Novemberpogroms

During the “Reichskristallnacht” the Jewish inhabitants of the town of Zeven (a district of Bremervoerde) in Northern Germany are rounded up, and the men are arrested. On the morning of November 10, 1938 the SA burns the synagogue’s furniture on the market square. Although the NS leadership describes the riots as a spontaneous public uprising, many national and international observers clearly recognize an officially staged pogrom. They are unconvinced by signs like the one on the picture stating "Rache für Mord an vom Rath! Tod den Internationalen Juden und Freimaurern!" (© picture-alliance / akg-images)

Images of burning synagogues, shattered shop windows, ravaged private households and their abused inhabitants have become symbols of the destruction of former prospering German-Jewish life. In the night from the 9th until the 10th of November 1938 the orchestrated violence against Jews in Germany and Austria reaches an unprecedented dimension. Members of the Sturmabteilung (SA) and Schutzstaffel (SS) smash shop windows with unrestrained brutality, forcibly intrude into Jewish households and bully and batter in the open streets those whom they identify as "Jewish". Those state-initiated riots are staged as “spontaneous public rage/Volkszorn” and therefore members of the SA and SS are asked to perform their deeds in civilian clothes. In contrast to the boycott actions of 1933 there is no visual documentation for propaganda purposes. On the contrary, these actions are supposed to happen as immediate “retaliations” for the assassination attempt on the Legationssekretär Ernst von Rath who worked at the German embassy in Paris.

Destroyed and pillaged Jewish store in Berlin, November 9/10, 1938. Riots organized by Nazis against Jewish citizens, stores and synagogues. (© picture-alliance / akg-images)

On November 7, Herschel Grynszpan shoots the embassy employee. A few days earlier,17 year old Herschel Grynszpan, who lives in Paris, learns that his parents are affected by the "Polish Action", in which Jews with Polish nationality who live in the German Reich are to be deported to Poland. His initial target is probably the German ambassador in Paris but instead he encounters Ernst von Rath who dies on November 9, 1938. Even though the reports reach the German public on November 8, 1938, the first violent clashes that are orchestrated by the SA and SS happened already on the day before.

Baden-Baden on the day after the “Reichskristallnacht” (November 10, 1938): a group of arrested Jewish men is being led through the streets of the city. (© picture-alliance / akg)

The pogroms in Germany reach their peak during the night from November 9 to 10, 1938. Jews in Austria feel their effects later, but with full force, as the organized harassment and excessive violence starts after November 10, 1938.

Destroyed synagogue after the "Reichskristallnacht" in Vienna 1938. (© picture-alliance / Imagno)

Antisemitism in Vienna: The facade of the Café Rembrandt and the sidewalk are smeared with Antisemitic slogans. Photographie. 1938. (© picture-alliance / Imagno)

The outcome is devastating: Between November 7 and 13, half of the synagogues fall victim to ravages and arson, about 7500 shops are wrecked within a few hours and about 30.000 Jews are arrested the following day and put into prisons or concentration camps. These measures are especially directed at young and affluent men who are taken into “protective custody” in order to coerce them into emigrating and relinquishing their assets. Until the dawn of November 10, 1938, 91 deaths are to be mourned. But the number of victims of these violent excesses, that are euphemistically called “Night of Broken Glass/Kristallnacht”, is much higher: more than 1300 people die as a result of the November pogroms through violence, through inhuman conditions while detained or through suicide.

Elizabeth Melamid - Saved, but alone

Certificate of Identity issued to Elisabeth Jonas on October 12, 1945 by the Home Office in Great Britain. Seven years prior she had managed to leave Hamburg on a Kindertransport as a 17-year old. Her parents committed suicide in 1939 (Leo Baeck Institute New York | Berlin - Elizabeth Melamid Collection AR 25691) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

Julius Jonas is born in 1874 in Itzehoe and lives in Hamburg-Altona since 1898. He graduates in law and receives his license for the district court of Altona in 1902. Furthermore, he works as a notary, establishes his own law office and, on a voluntary basis, is the chair of the German bar association. When in 1920 he marries Julie Oppenheimer, born in Hamburg in 1895, Julius Jonas already has three children from his first marriage: Annemarie (born 1909), Walter (born 1910), and Jens Peter (born 1914). Soon afterwards two more daughters come into the family: Elisabeth (born 1921) und Margarethe (born 1922).

The first antisemitic laws are already passed shortly after the takeover of the National Socialist. Among them is the "Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service" dating from April 7, 1933. Besides excluding political opponents from civil service, it is especially directed against "civil servants of non-Aryan descent". Those who meet these conditions can be dismissed or send off to an early retirement. Merely those civil servants who received their license before 1914 or those who have either lost their fathers or sons or served themselves in the First World War are exempted. As a result of these regulations Julius Jonas loses his position as a notary, but he is still able to work as a lawyer. When the “Fünfte Verordnung zum Reichsbürgergesetz” comes into effect on September 27, 1938 he loses even this option: As a Jew, Julius Jonas is excluded from the Bar on November 30, 1938.

First page of the “Reichsgesetzblatt” (Reich Law Gazette) from April 7, 1933. Two months after the National-Socialist rise to power it is used as a tool to bring the bureaucracy in line with Nazi ideology and dismiss opponents of the NS-regime. Lizenz: cc publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.de

In the meantime both of his sons have emigrated. Since 1933 Walter lives in Great Britain und Jens Peter decides in 1934 to join a kibbutz in Palestine. But his daughters remain in Germany which increasingly troubled Julie and Julius Jonas. Annemarie marries and moves to Berlin. The two youngest start their education at the high school Lyzeum in Othmarschen, but have to leave the school due to growing hostilities. Subsequently Elisabeth attends a private secondary school in Hamburg and a commercial college in Switzerland. Yet the progressing deprivation of rights that Jews suffer during National Socialism prevents Elisabeth from following her original goal of studying medicine at the University of Hamburg. Instead she begins her training as a physio therapist at the Swedish Institute for Physical Therapy, "Schwedische Institut für Heilgymnastik" in Hamburg. In November 1938 she receives her permit to leave Germany on a “Kindertransport”. On December 1, 1938, her sister Margarethe follows. Even Annemarie is able to immigrate with her husband and child to Peru.

Julie and Julius Jonas also try to emigrate and initiate the necessary steps. They pay the “Judenabgabe“ (an arbitrary fee that Jews have to pay) and the "Reichsfluchtsteuer" (a tax instituted during the Weimar Republic to prevent capital exodus that is implemented during the Nazi years to appropriate Jewish assets). Moreover, they receive their "Unbedenklichkeitsbescheinigung" (a clearance certificate from the tax office stating that the “Reichsfluchtsteuer“ as well as all other taxes have been paid and which is required in order to emigrate) and dispose of their assets. The only thing that remains is to sell their house in Walderseestraße 48, which Julius Jonas had commissioned in 1912 and where his family has lived since then. On the day the sale is meant to close, the couple commits suicide. After taking barbiturate pills, Julius Jonas dies in the evening of March 4, 1939, his wife Julie passes away on March 6, 1939. According to testimonies they had "put aside" the sleeping pills in their bedside cabinets. Their suicide note addressed to Elisabeth and Margarethe starts once more with the words: "My beloved, beloved children".

Postcards from Julie and Julius Jonas to their daughters in England

 Faksimile 1. Postkarte vom 14. Dezember 1938 Faksimile 1. Postkarte (Rückseite) vom 14. Dezember 1938 Faksimile 2. Postkarte vom 15.12.1938 Faksimile 2. Postkarte (Rückseite) vom 15.12.1938 Faksimile 1. Postkarte vom 14. Dezember 1938 Faksimile 1. Postkarte (Rückseite) vom 14. Dezember 1938 Faksimile 2. Postkarte vom 15.12.1938 Faksimile 2. Postkarte (Rückseite) vom 15.12.1938

Until they are prohibited to employ non-Jewish staff, Julie and Julius Jonas rely on the help of Elli Junge (née Sewalski) who works as the family’s nanny, housekeeper, and general helper. Now it is her turn to convey the sad news of their parent’s death to her former charges.

Elisabeth later immigrates to the US where she marries George Melamid and has two daughters. She dies in August 2015.

Historical Background: Kindertransport

Arrival in England on the second "Kindertransport". (© National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Public Domain)

After the November pogroms become public, the British government decides to ease the entry requirements for Jews. It is agreed to take in children and adolescents up to the age of 17 and thus form the condition for one of the largest and at the same time most tragic humanitarian endeavors in history: the “Kindertransport”. Within the framework of this program, Jewish children from the German Reich, its annexed territories and countries that are in danger of a hostile takeover, are brought to Great Britain starting in late November 1938. The Second World War brings an abrupt end to the “Kindertransport”. By then, however, Great Britain has already taken in around 10.000 children.

The governmental age restrictions prevent parents and adults from accompanying the children on their way thus leaving them in the care of older siblings or other youths who are traveling with them. In addition, the authorities demand a guarantee of 50 pound sterling per child. The money is provided by private individuals, various relief agencies and the Jewish communities. The amount is intended to cover the child’s sustenance, accommodation, and return because the admission is based on the assumption that the children will return to their homelands and be handed over to their parents after the situation settles down. Until then the children are taken in by foster parents, accommodated in hostels or in collective accommodations. Due to the large number of arriving children it is not always possible to closely examine the families before placing the children in their care. Some children find affectionate foster families who patiently take care of the often traumatized children. Others are less lucky and are exploited as cheap household aids. All of them have in common that they struggle to get accustomed to an unknown environment and a foreign language.

Jewish refugee children in Britain
Harwich, England December 1938. 206 German-Jewish youngsters, whose parents fill Nazi concentration camps, arrive on peaceful shores with their meager belongings to start life anew in comfortable quarters and in safe surroundings. Young Jewish refugees arrive in Britain. Girls walking down ramp from ship. Coats. Suitcases. Boys and girls walking along street with luggage. (27 secs., mute) (© Accessed at United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives & Records Administration)

First boatload of 200 German Jewish children arriving from Holland coming down gangplank each wearing tag around neck which is checked. Photographers and journalists take pictures. Shot of ship "Prague." Children board buses for Dovercourt holiday camp. Arrival at camp, kids carry in their luggage. Kids playing ping pong. Children eating in dining hall. (ca. 7 minutes, mute) (© Accessed at United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives & Records Administration)

The invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, marks the beginning of the Second World War and brings an end to the “Kindertransport”. Germans who are living in Great Britain are declared “enemy aliens” and put into internment camps. In 1940 these measures also affect around 1,000 adolescents who had entered Great Britain on a “Kindertransport” and are now of legal age. They are interned in camps on the Isle of Man, in Canada or Australia. Despite being categorized as “enemy aliens” they are offered to join the British armed forces. Many take this chance to fight against the National Socialists. Due to their language abilities a few dozens are assigned to the Special Forces and serve in the Allied Forces even after 1945.

According to current estimates about 1,5 million Jewish children are killed in the Holocaust. Several thousand children survive thanks to the “Kindertransport”. Emigration saves the children from National Socialist persecution, but by the end of the war many of those rescued have to discover that they are the only survivors of their families. The hastily and amid tears written notes before their departure or the letters and post cards that they receive in England by mail are often the last remnants that remain from their loved ones.



(Hebrew: "pioneer"): members of a Zionist Youth movement


(Hebrew: "lot"): Purim commemorates the salvation of Jews in Persia from Haman. On Purim one reads from the Megillah (the Book of Esther), eats hamantashen, wears masks and costumes and celebrates exuberantly.


(Hebrew: "order"): ceremonial dinner within the family circle on the first eve of Passover, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt.


(Hebrew: "ascent"): Jewish immigration to the former British Mandate Palestine and, after the declaration of the new state in 1948, to Israel.


Hedwig Jastrow, 28.11.1938, Dok. 181 in: Die Verfolgung und Ermordung der europäischen Juden durch das nationalsozialistische Deutschland 1933-1945. Deutsches Reich 1938 - August 1939, Band 2, bearbeitet von Susanne Heim, R. Oldenbourg Verlag: München 2009, S. 512.
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