Life of Frieda Bensew Loewenherz, Part II: 1913-1918

In my last post, I shared some excerpts from my cousin Frieda Bensew Loewenherz’s memoir, covering the years from her childhood in Germany, her immigration to the US in 1907, and her life in the US up through 1912. We left off with Frieda’s decision to take a new job, a decision that changed her life. Here is how she described her new workplace:

It was an importing firm, headed by an Austrian, Dr. Sokal, a brilliant man, Dr. of chemistry. . . . My work was interesting especially since a new project was to be worked out. It entailed the representation of a German firm in Cologne manufacturing accumulation plates for lead batteries and the import of them. I carried on the German correspondence, translating into English formulas, etc. and finally the contract.

But perhaps of more interest to her than her work was the man she met at her new job:

After a few weeks a new member of the firm arrived from Europe where he had been traveling and visiting his family in Leinberg and Vienna, etc. He was an engineer, Mr. Emanuel Loewenherz. Little did I think at our first meeting that I had met my destiny!

For a while their outward relationship was “strictly business,” but it seems that from the beginning their feelings were more personal than that.

In those days there was much more formality. We were both European born and reared and the rules were even more strict. Nobody could help being impressed by Mr. L’s bearings, his impeccable manners and old world politeness. And he was startlingly handsome! He was a graduate of the technical University of Berlin, widely travelled and very cultured as was his background. Before going to Europe he had been for many years with the Western Electric Co., also held important positions in New York. Little me was awed by this cosmopolitan man of the world! Now and then we had little conversations not related to business and I thought that would be as far as it would ever go….

Emanuel Loewenherz. Courtesy of Franz Loewenherz

And then things changed:

But in the spring of 1914 when I was again planning to see my parents and was given a leave of absence, Mr. L. invited me to dinner as a “”farewell party” at the Bismarck Hotel where he was at home, the owners being his friends. I was so excited I could not eat! The excellent dishes, the wines, ordered by a real connoisseur practically remained untouched by me. But we had a fine evening and I was walking on air!

My friend Clara A. and two other girls who were traveling with me had the usual send off at the station, friends, relatives, a regular delegation. “He” arrived with a great bunch of red roses and created quite a sensation. He was also the only one who did not kiss me goodbye — One of the girls whispered to me: “Frieda, red roses, that means something!” All I answered was “don’t be silly.”  I think I even meant it at that time- I was so unsophisticated! And then, on the boat, there was a special delivery letter awaiting me and a little later, a beautiful fruit basket was delivered to my cabin. I was speechless – Of course, I wrote him a warm letter of thanks, but rather formal – it was the trend of the times.

Frieda then went off and spent the summer of 1914 in Germany with her parents and was pursued by at least two other men. But her summer of family and fun was darkened by the threat of pending war. She wrote:

It was June 28, we were sitting at a table of a sidewalk cafe when suddenly [newspaper] “extras” appeared. We grabbed one — the headline said: “Austrian heir to the throne, Prince Ferdinand and wife, assassinated at Seraguro[Sarajevo]!” The shock was terrific, and we knew at once that this would mean war — there was, of course, hope it could be averted….the war clouds grew darker each day — the German press told us very little and only from their angle. Propaganda against Russia was vicious. And then came partial mobilization – and with it the spy craze, suspicion and all ugliness. The railroad, bridges, etc. were guarded by civilians pressed into service and rumors flew around day and night. On July 28 war started by Austria against Russia was declared and on August 2nd England declared war against Germany–World War I was on! Germans were a war loving people, their enthusiasm was boundless, they thought the war would be over that Christmas and, of course, they would be victorious.

My brother [Julius Bensev] and I had our own thoughts and personal concern: how to get back to America! We had return passage on the Hamburg America Line and the British blockade was tight. Our parents were worried for our sakes — we worried about them. Anxious weeks followed: We spent much time at the railroad station, to watch the mobilization. The military trains, westward and eastward bound, rolled in day and night, only about 15 minutes apart….The local women and young girls would meet the trains offering all kinds of food – this happened at every stop. Meanwhile the young men of my hometown had all left — each knowing where to report to his unit — I waved to many as they rode by, some never to return.

This month of August also brought in the first trains of wounded and prisoners of war. Of course the papers only reported the wonderful victories and, as if it were the most logical thing to do, the invasion of Belgium. There was no radio or TV in those days, and the papers brought only the German version, and only the censored.

At last we got word that it was feasible to reach Holland from where we hoped to get passage to the United States. To say goodbye to our parents was even worse this time under prevailing circumstances and they were very worried about our safety.

After several delays and obstacles, Julius and Frieda were able to board a ship from Amsterdam to New York, crowded with many others seeking to leave Europe.

It took us ten days to reach New York — it is hard to describe my emotions when I saw the statue of Liberty! There were tears of joy and I was not ashamed of mine.

After a visit with her relatives in Philadelphia, Frieda returned home to Chicago and to work and to Emanuel Loewenherz:

I did not do much work the first few days, and I must confess that I was rather excited at seeing “Mr. L” again! As he stated much much later when we had become friends that he was concerned when and how I would be able to get out of Germany. …. Our personal relationship kept growing although still rather formal. It was the trend of times and our upbringing! ….

We eventually addressed each other by our first names but with the prefix “Mr.” and “Miss”: how times have changed — I was so careful not to show my feelings and interpreted his as just being friendly. I blushed so easily in those days! During the day it was, of course, all business but when we went out which we did quite often, to dinner, plays, and concerts, I thrilled at the sight of him — but held myself in check and would not for the world reveal my feelings. I knew he was not indifferent either! His looks and attitude spoke volumes and we became better and more intimate friends.

We had a great many interesting discussions and occasional differences which added spice to our friendship. He later confessed that he led deliberately up to those to tease me and to see how well I could control myself! I had a flair for poetry and often after a particularly stimulating evening I would write a little note in verse to him. And so the years passed, filled also with anxiety about our families in Vienna and Germany.

Emanuel Loewenherz at KW Battery. Courtesy of Franz Loewenherz

But things became more difficult for Frieda and Emanuel and many, many others when the US entered the war against Germany and Austria in the spring of 1917:

It is impossible for me to describe the conditions here, hatred of the “Huns” or as the French called the Germans “Boches”– The history books have recorded all and I will contain myself to relating personal events. As “enemy aliens” we were both under suspicion. The amateurish American Protective League did in their zeal more harm than good. My room was ransacked while I was at the U.S. Dept. being questioned about my father’s activities, etc. My “Crime” consisted of getting an occasional note from a friend in Denmark who was in touch with my parents and my answers to them relayed by her. Just a few words to know they were alive. Finally I was released and returned to the office.

Manek [Emanuel’s nickname] was even worse off, he was being shadowed and every so often when he came back to the office after a business call he would tell me about the man following him. Finally he went to see Mr. Herman Paepcke who had financed the KW (and where I went every week for the payroll). He was one of the most prominent German-Americans in Chicago, a veteran of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. A very cultured, fine man with whom I had many interesting conversations. In fact he would have liked me to be his secretary but for understandable reasons I wanted to stay with KW. Mr. Paepcke arranged a meeting of a member of the Amer. Protective League with Manek at his office and things were explained in a most satisfactory way. Manek’s feelings were completely against Germany from the start of the war and the suspicions that he was a “spy” ridiculous. Mr. P. ended the interview by saying “aren’t we all Americans?” And: “Mr Loewenherz, you shall not be molested any more” –

Although I had learned about the anti-German discrimination that existed in this country during and after World War I, reading about it from the perspective of someone who experienced it directly—a young woman who had been living in the US for ten years and whose brothers had already become US citizens—was much more disturbing than reading about it in history books.

Despite those dark experiences, Frieda and Emanuel’s romance continued and deepened.

So things went on with us in a more normal way. Of course we did not speak German on the street or public places, only when we were absolutely sure that we could not be overheard. And there were things that we felt we could only express in that language. It became more and more intimate! I knew I was madly in love with him and felt that he was not indifferent. (Anything but — his looks and actions, yes, and his kisses when he took me home after an evening date expressed his feelings only too well). As he told me later he was in love with me long before I had any inkling but was not ready to declare himself. We were both mature people and our friendship was not based on Saturday night dates, we faced every day life in all its aspects together, war having a special meaning. Love can conquer all and it did!

On February 5, 1918, the fifth anniversary of their first meeting at KW, they became engaged to marry, and on May 4, 1918, they were married.

Emanuel and Frieda Loewenherz. Courtesy of Franz Loewenherz

Here is Frieda’s alien registration card dated sometime after she married Emanuel as well as a permit issued to her allowing her to live and work in Chicago but with the restriction that she was prohibited from the water front zone:

Courtesy of Franz Loewenherz

Courtesy of Franz Loewenherz

Emanuel became a US citizen in December, 1918, and as his wife Frieda automatically also became a US citizen. The war had ended a month before, and life returned to normal for the newlyweds.

But life would again become more complicated, as we will see in the final post based on Frieda’s memoir.


All excerpts from Frieda Loewenherz’s memoir and all the photographs in this post are published with the permission of Franz Loewenherz, her great-grandson. My deep gratitude to Franz for his generosity.

23 thoughts on “Life of Frieda Bensew Loewenherz, Part II: 1913-1918

  1. This is another absolutely amazing post Amy. I am just blown away by how captivating Frieda’s words are. Her story just draws you in to where you feel like you are living her path. I honestly had no idea about the anti German discrimination during WWI here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • She really is a gifted writer. I wish she’d written more! And I knew about the anti-German discrimination, but never really thought about it being directed at German Jews, nor did I know that it was not just society but the government itself!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The diary format recollection of Frieda’s makes a romantic, sweeping read. I felt I was there along
    side her! Historically, I was unaware Austria declared war with Russia in the July of 1914 (and I should know these things because I’m over the pond) but here is a first hand account from Germany, Amsterdam and Vienna of the chaos and reality of war. Thanks to Franz her great-grandson for sharing Frieda’s memoir.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s how I feel when I read it also, Shirley. She really had a way with words. And yes, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914, one month after the Archduke’s assassination, and Russia was Serbia’s ally, so effectively that started the war between Austria-Hungary and Russia—from what I am now reading. I did not recall all the details either—it’s been a while since I studied World War I!

      Like

  3. What a beautiful courtship. It must have been terrifying to feel trapped in Germany those first few weeks. And horrible getting home to anti-German sentiment. Especially as the US was not at war with Germany at the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I learned something new, Amy. I never knew about the restrictions put on German-Americans during WWI. I felt like I was right in the flow of things, especially when she described how she and Emmanuel had to find a secure place in which to have a conversation in German. All these little details make the experience immediate and understandable.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Life of Frieda Bensew Loewenherz, Part III: 1919-1975 | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

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