How The Nazis Destroyed My Cousin Moritz Oppenheimer

Last time I shared the documents my cousin Wolfgang Seligmann found at the Wiesbaden archives about our mutual cousin Martha Oppenheimer Florsheimer. Today I want to share the documents Wolfgang found about Martha’s brother Moritz James Oppenheimer. Martha and Moritz were my great-grandmother Eva Seligman Cohen’s first cousins; they were the children of Pauline Seligmann, the sister of my great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman.

As I’ve previously written, Moritz Oppenheimer was born on June 10, 1879, in Butzbach, Germany. Sometime before 1902, Moritz married Emma Katherina Neuhoff, who was not Jewish. Moritz and Emma had two children: Paula (1902) and Walter (1904). Moritz owned a paper factory in Frankfurt before the war as well as a large and very successful horse stud farm where thoroughbred horses were raised and sold. As his granddaughter Angelika reported to me, Moritz was a member of the board of directors of several companies throughout Germany. He was a very successful and wealthy man.

Emma Neuhoff and Moritz James Oppenheimer
photo courtesy of Angelika Oppenheimer

Moritz was arrested in the autumn of 1933. His marriage to Emma was dissolved because mixed marriages were not legal under the Nazi regime. Then his assets including his horse farm were confiscated and put into the hands of an administrator, who sold them at far below their market value. According to his son Walter, Moritz had been in good health up to this time, but these actions caused him to become quite ill. After being visited by Gestapo, he reportedly took his own life on May 4, 1941.

Wolfgang found three documents that illustrate just how desperate Moritz’s situation was. I am deeply grateful to Cathy Meder-Dempsey of the blog, Opening Doors in Brick Walls, who translated all three of these documents.

The first is a letter written by Moritz in early 1941 regarding his taxes for the year 1940.

Letter by Moritz James Oppenheimer 1941

Transcribing and translating this letter presented some real challenges because, as you can see, the first several letters of the first word on the left side of the letter were not visible, but somehow Cathy was able to make sense of it all.

Here is her transcription and her translation of the letter:

[…] 10.6.1879 in Butzbach (Hessen)

[…]kenkarte H 0240/39

An das Finanzamt Wiesbaden

Im Jahre 1933 wurde über mein Vermögen das Konkurs

[verfahren] eröffnet (Frankfurt a. Main)

[Ich] besitze weder irgend welches Vermögen noch Wertgegen-

[stande], noch Möbel, Wäsche, etc.

Im Jahre 1934 wurde ich in Folge schwerer Erkrankung,

[…Er]weiterung und Verlagerung, Wasserbildung, Angina pektoris

[…auf]störungen, Kopfbeschwerden etc. nach Bad-Nanheim

[…] Dort war ich bis vergangenes Jahr in ärztlicher

behandlung und Aufsicht.

[…] schwerer Gelenkrheumatismus hinzutrat, kam ich

[ein art]ztliche Verordnung nach Wiesbaden zur Kur.

[Einko]mmen aus irgend welchen Möglichkeiten habe ich

[nicht]. Ich wohne möbliert.

[…]welche Neuanschaffungen habe nicht seit 1933 in Folge

meiner Mittellosigkeit nicht gemacht.

[Meine]Lebensunterhalt sowie Arzt, Apotheke, Zimmer und Kur

hatte ich aus Unterstützungen von ?200 Mk (monatlich)

[nur] von Verwandten gegeben werden.

[Diese] Zuwendungen stammen aus bereits versteuerten

[…]gen, Einkünfte meiner Verwandten.

Nach wie vor bin ich schwer erkrankt

[Meine] Ehe was Mischehe, Frau Arierin. Meine Kinder sind

[…]ft, konfirmiert und gelten nicht als Juden.

[…] ich eine andere Steuerklärung abgeben müssen,

[…] um Zusendung eines Formulares.

Moritz Israel Oppenheimer

Weisbaden

Pagenstecherstrasse 4 (?? Marx)

Zur Abgabe einer (Einkommen) Eink. Erklarung

fur 1940 aufgefordert.

Translation:

To the tax office in Wiesbaden

In 1933, bankruptcy was declared on my assets (Frankfurt a. Main). I have neither assets nor other things of value, furniture, laundry, etc. In 1934, as a result of serious illness, (enlargement and relocation – ??), water retention, angina pectoris, (other) disorders, headache etc. I was sent to Bad-Nanheim. Until last year I was there under medical treatment and supervision. As severe rheumatoid arthritis set in, I received medical orders to take a cure in Wiesbaden. I don’t have any income possibilities and live in a furnished place. No new acquisitions have been made since 1933 as I am penniless. My livelihood as well as doctor, pharmacy, room and spa expenses have been supported with [?] 200 Mk (monthly) from my relatives. This support came from already taxed income of my relatives. I am still seriously ill.

My marriage was a mixed marriage, my wife was Aryan. My children are ____, confirmed and are not considered Jews. [I assume that the word that we cannot see was Mischling.]

I have to file another tax return, and request a form be sent.

Signature and address

Notation in pencil: He was asked to submit a declaration of income for the year 1940.

Cathy thought he was writing to get the correct tax form for someone in his financial position.

Although I had read his son Walter’s description of Moritz’s financial and medical condition, reading this letter written by Moritz himself was just heartbreaking. Here was a man who had found incredible success in business brought down to being very sick and penniless.

The second document I received from Wolfgang was a letter written by Walter Oppenheimer, Moritz’s son.

Letter by Walter Oppenheimer 1941

Cathy translated the typed section, written by Walter, as follows:

In an immediate polite reply to your letter of the 15th of this month that I received only today, I inform you that my father died on May 4th, 1941. Who the legal heirs are now I am not able to tell you as the two children, my sister and I, refused the inheritance in a publicly certified declaration before the local court.

Heil Hitler!

Walter Georg Oppenheimer

I was very disturbed to see that Walter had used “Heil Hitler” in this letter, but Cathy explained that that was to be expected in a letter to officials during Hitler’s reign. Nevertheless, it made the hair on my arms stand to see a relative of mine use that expression.

I wondered why Walter and his sister Paula would have refused the inheritance, and Cathy suggested that it was a means of avoiding taking on their father’s debts since there were apparently no assets to inherit.

The handwritten notes on the bottom of the letter appear to have been made by some official commenting on the status of Moritz’s inheritance, as transcribed and translated by Cathy:

Anfrage beim Amtsgericht Frankfurt am Main

wer Nachlassverwalter ist, und

wer die gesetzlichen Erben sind,

nachdem die Kinder ausgeschlagen

haben.

Translation:

Inquiry to the district court Frankfurt am Main

who is administrator, and who are the legal heirs, after the children refused inheritance.

 

An das Amtsgericht ffm (Frankfurt am Main)

Der fruher dort wohnhaft gewesene Moritz Israel Oppenheimer

geb. am 10.6.1879 ist hier am 4.5.41 verstorben.

Der Sohn des selbend Dr. Walter Georg Oppenheimer ffm. Schumannstr. 47 wohnhaft, hat mitgeteilt daß seine Schwester und er ? haben.

Ich bitte nur ____ von 2 zu 4 Wochen.

Translation

To the district court Frankfurt am Main

Moritz Israel Oppenheimer, who previously lived there, born on June 10, 1879 died here on May 4, 1941. The son of the same, Dr. Walter Georg Oppenheimer, a resident of Frankfurt am Main, Schumannstrasse 47, announced that his sister and he (symbols? probably mean disclaimed inheritance). I only ask ____ from 2 to 4 weeks.

Finally, the third document Wolfgang found in the Wiesbaden archives about Moritz is this handwritten page of notes about Moritz’s “income” for the first few months of 1941 before his death:

Oppenheimer ist am 4.5.41 gestorben.

Eink. 41 wurde geschätzt und wie folgt errechnet: freiwillige zuwandungen seines Sohnes 1940 = 4060 Rm : 12 = 338

von 1.1 – 30.4.41 je 338 Rm = 1352 Rm

                                       4x

./. Sondereingaben 4 x 15   =       60                                                1292

                                                   -60         1432 Rm

angaben des Nachlasspflegers Spring:  Bl. 22

__                                    

Translation

Oppenheimer died on 4.5.41. Income for 1941 was estimated and calculated as follows: voluntary contributions of his son 1940 = 4060 Rm : 12 = 338 per monthfrom 1.1 – 30.4.41 338 Rm = 1352 Rm

                                    4x

./. Special income 4 x 15           – 60

                                                 1292

                                                    -60      1432 Rm 

information from the estate administrator Spring: Bl. 22

I’m not really sure what to make of all the numbers or the value in today’s money. I also have no idea what were the practical consequences of these calculations. Did Moritz (or his estate) owe taxes based on the money he was getting from his son?

What I think I can safely infer from these last two documents is that even after seizing all of the assets of Moritz Oppenheimer and driving him into bankruptcy, poor health, and ultimately suicide, the German government was still looking for some way to collect more money from his family.

Thank you again to Cathy Meder-Dempsey for her hard work in transcribing and translating these difficult to read documents. They add insights into the awful suffering of my cousin Moritz Oppenheimer.

Moritz Oppenheimer

UPDATE: A few readers asked me what I know about Emma Neuhoff-Oppenheimer’s life after Moritz died in 1941. I asked Angelika, Emma’s granddaughter, and she sent me this article:

Emma Neuhoff article-page-001

Most of it is about her life as a horseback rider, but the last part of the article addresses her life during and after the Nazi era. I will translate just that section:

“Ms. Emma never lost her dignity and discipline. Even in the bitter years of the ghost, when the beloved man fell victim to the Nazi regime, when her life became dark, often lonely. A courage deeply rooted in her and the quiet cheerfulness accompanied her to the age that she now enjoys with good reading with the two children and children-in-law, the two grandchildren, and many loyal friends.”

Emma Neuhoff-Oppenheimer died on February 2, 1968, at the age of 86, three years after this article was written. Angelika also told me that her grandmother owned a shop in Frankfurt and played the piano.

 

37 thoughts on “How The Nazis Destroyed My Cousin Moritz Oppenheimer

  1. Amy, I was happy to help you out with the transcriptions and translations of these records. I know you had two motives for asking me, the second being to help me get back to blogging. I am diligently going through records, citing sources, and evaluating information. However, I am still not able to focus on writing posts for my blog. Thank you for pushing me to at least think about it a bit more.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That was really a very heavy difficult post to read. The hairs were standing up on end for me too. I did find it interesting that the 2 children were not considered Jews, thankfully. Was this standard? I guess because the mother wasn’t, but had it been the other way around the mother Jewish and husband not they would have been? Do you know if that was the case? I had assumed all 1/2 were considered wholly and not spared.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Words almost fail me here..the absolute evil of the Nazi regime is exemplified in this one blog post. I cannot fathom this kind of hatred and the resultant persecution. Your poor cousin – what horrible heartbreak after having led such a normal, happy life.

    Have you found out what happened to his wife?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. From what I gather from the tragic story of Moritz Oppenheimer his estate went into bankruptcy in 1933, which was the year Hitler had just come to power. It is difficult to see how the Nazis had anything to do with his financial difficulties. His wife or Moritz must have agreed to the divorce because at that early time of the regime they could not have been forced to dissolve their marriage. Moritz had trouble with the tax department. The income indicated by the documents was minor and would not have amounted to much tax if any. Even today the Canadian tax department requires an annual tax return even if there is no income.
    Coming back to the divorce, in 1943, ten years later, German women in Berlin staged a protest against the Nazi regime in support of their Jewish husbands and saved them from certain death in the concentration camps. Love and courage made this rare event in the Nazi era possible.

    Like

      • Sorry about my short memory. I just went by what I read in your most recent post. One thing is however certain, if the two partners of a mixed marriage resisted the pressure by the Nazis, they could not be forced into a divorce. The example of the Berlin wives and their Jewish husbands and many other recorded instances make that clear. Amy, I promise to read your older posts again when something like this comes up again.

        Liked by 1 person

      • No reason to apologize! I should have been more
        specific in the new post. Lazy!

        I don’t know more about the marriage. Perhaps it was a way for Emma to preserve her property from Nazi confiscation.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Hi again, Peter. Your question about whether Nazis required interfaith couples to divorce led me to some research. I think this comment from a 2017 blog may explain it best: “Although the Nazis made such marriages illegal in 1935, as a part of the so-called Nuremberg Laws, that new legislation only prohibited future marriages. It is very rare that new laws would apply retroactively, so even this prohibition of mixed marriages did not apply to already married couples. After all, Germany was thinking of itself as an utmost lawful country, and the Nazis were very keen to keep this image. Retroactively dissolving marriages and breaking up families that had been perfectly legal before, would have been quite disastrous for that image. The Nazis therefore resorted to other means. In order to reduce the already existing marriages, they began to put a lot of pressure on the German spouses to divorce their Jewish partners, for example by making it quite impossible for Germans in mixed marriages to keep their jobs.” https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/mixed-marriages-in-nazi-germany/

      So perhaps Emma had no realistic option but to divorce Moritz after the Nazis confiscated his business in the fall of 1933. From the news article about her written when she was 83, it appears that she never remarried and still had loving thoughts about Moritz all those many years later.

      Thanks for inspiring me to check into this further!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Truly devastating. No matter how often I read these stories, they are always stunning in the cruelty suffered and its impact. This hits even harder because it happened to someone related to you….making it even more real.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Knowing this sort of thing happened and reading the particulars of one instance are wholly different. How unconscionably cruel the Nazis were. I do hope the world isn’t heading backwards toward that.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The loss was catastrophic. Thank Cathy for her patience in the translation. Any read that delves into the 1930’s era is always going to be uncomfortable. It would be interesting to read about the subsequent life of Emma Neuhoff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cathy did an awesome job, especially given how challenging it must have been to fill in the missing letters—like a crossword puzzle. I don’t know anything about Emma’s life afterwards. I suppose I should ask her granddaughter. Thanks, Shirley!

      Like

  8. Hi Amy, thank you for the update, it was a pleasure to read! I’ve spent a while reading excerpts of Emma’s earlier life. She studied agriculture which led on to her love of equines and she went on to learn the laws of breeding horses too, her parents had complete confidence in her abilities and she won prizes in this field. From her photo she looked a very cheerful lady despite the terrible injustice she faced in the 1930’s.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Shirley, for translating the contents of that article. I slogged through some of it, but was focused on learning what happened to her after the war so gave up!

      Like

  9. Yes, now the hair on my arms is standing up. Very chilling. When someone works so hard to build something so substantial (as his financial empire that I’m sure he cared deeply about) it is just cutting off a part of the body. What an awful but important story to be told, Amy.
    Cathy is such a treasure. I’m so glad she could help you!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This must have been a hard post to research and write. I’m glad that you were able to connect with those who could help you work through it all. What a tragedy that his life was destroyed by such evil.

    Liked by 1 person

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