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.

 

Seligmann Updates: Martha Oppenheimer Florsheimer

Turning for a bit from the Goldschmidt family, I need to discuss some updates involving the Seligmann family. Some of this information came from my cousin Wolfgang, some from Aaron Knappstein.  In this post I will look at some documents that Wolfgang located about Martha Oppenheimer Florsheimer, and then in the next post some relating to her brother Moritz Oppenheimer.

Martha and Moritz were the children of Pauline Seligmann and Maier Oppenheimer. Pauline was the sister of my great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman and Wolfgang’s great-grandfather August Seligmann. So Martha and Moritz were my first cousins, three times removed, or the first cousins of my great-grandmother Eva Seligman Cohen. I’ve written about them both before.

Martha married Heinrich Florsheimer on September 18, 1902, in Butzbach, Germany. They had two children, Gertrud and Paul. Martha and Heinrich were divorced on April 12, 1913. Martha was sent to the concentration camp at Theriesenstadt on September 2, 1942, and was released from there on July 8, 1945. She returned to Wiesbaden, where she’d been living before the Holocaust, only to learn that both of her children had been murdered by the Nazis, Gertrud at Sobibor and Paul at Majdanek.

The earliest of the new documents that Wolfgang located at the archives in Wiesbaden about Martha was dated March 7, 1940, and appears to be a form Martha submitted to report her assets and expenses. She appears to have reported no assets, and under expenses she reported 78.50 Reich Marks a month (I’m not sure what the 65 refers to) for rent, heat, gas, electricity, and water.

On page 2 of this document, Martha wrote the following note:

Ich werde unterstützt von meiner bis jetzt beschäftigte Tochter und meinem beschäftigt gewesenen Sohn.

Matthias Steinke of the German Genealogy group kindly translated this for me as, “I am supported by my still working daughter and my formerly employed son.”

 

On December 6, 1940, Martha wrote this note in Wiesbaden:

Thank you to the members of the German Genealogy group who worked to decipher this difficult handwriting. This was the translation done by Matthias Steinke:

Wiesbaden, 6th December 40

Kaiser Friedrich Ring 20

I am at the 1st march 1876 in Offenbach/Main born and the wife of the at the 7th January 1921 in Cologne deceased merchant Heinrich Flörsheimer.

My daughter Gertrude Sara Flörsheimer was born at the 24th january 1904 in Gross Gerau. Her at the 12th May 1927 in Wiesbaden happened matrimony with the administrator Fr. Heitmann was at the 10th January 1930 in Wiesbaden divorced. My daughter took her maiden-name back later.

Martha Sara Flörsheimer

I am not sure who this note was written to or for what purpose, except perhaps to register their names and marital status with the officials in Wiesbaden. Or perhaps it was a follow-up to the earlier document seen above.

This typewritten letter is dated March 23, 1943, three years later:

We hereby indicate that the aforementioned Jewish woman has been restricted due to your security order from 9 14 40 to 25 8 42, because she expected the receipt of a larger payment, coming from furniture sales. On 4 9 42, the only entry received the amount of RM 594. Due to the disposition of the Governmental Practitioner Wiesbaden from 27 8 42 I 9-337 / 42, the fortune of this Jewish woman has been confiscated in favor of the Reich. We have therefore transferred the above amount to Finanzkasse Wiesbaden under file number O. 5205/494. Heil Hitler.

I am not sure what all of this means, but I got the gist of this—that all of Martha’s assets had been confiscated by the Nazis.

Aaron Knappstein located Martha’s death record:

One thing of note on these forms is that Martha is identified as a widow, not as a divorcee, even though her marriage record records the divorce:

Martha Oppenheimer marriage and divorce record, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 924; Laufende Nummer: 323
Source Information
Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Marriages, 1849-1930

And interestingly she did not hide her daughter’s status as a divorcee, as seen above. So why hide hers?

Finally, Aaron also sent me a photograph of Heinrich Florsheimer’s headstone, which confirms the date of death reported by his ex-wife Martha in 1940:

These extra documents fill in some of the gaps in Martha’s life. The documents from the Nazi era are particularly poignant. Martha lost so much. Of course, losing her children was the most horrific loss, but she also lost all her property to the Nazis.

 

 

Two Sisters Who Were Second Cousins Married Brothers: More Twists in the Goldschmidt Family Tree

This post and the ones that follow will focus on Jacob and Jettchen’s fourth child, Mayer Goldschmidt,  who, like his brother Julius, married a first cousin. On August 30, 1895, he married Hedwig Goldschmidt, who was born on January 1, 1877, to Falk Goldschmidt and Babette Carlebach, in Frankfurt.

Marriage record of Mayer Goldschmidt and Hedwig Goldschmidt, Certificate Number: 1392
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 903,  Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Marriages, 1849-1930

Hedwig’s father Falk Goldschmidt was Jacob Meier Goldschmidt’s younger brother, so Mayer and Hedwig were first cousins on their paternal sides. Hedwig was seventeen years younger than Mayer and only eighteen when she married him; he was 35.

The annotation on the left margin of the marriage record was translated by Matthias Steinke of the German Genealogy Group on Facebook:

Frankfurt am Main, at the 24th November
To the signing registrar came today, the personally known salesman Marcel Goldschmidt, residing in Frankfurt am Main, Fichtestrasse 18, and showed a permission of the royal district-president in Wiesbaden, dated 7th November 1902, P. I A. 9406 wherein he was permitted, to change his firstname from Mayer into Marcel.
Readed, confirmed and signed
Marcel Goldschmidt

Thus, Mayer changed his name from Mayer to Marcel in 1902 when he was 42 years old.

Marcel and Hedwig had four children, Jacob, Nelly, Else, and Grete.

Jacob Goldschmidit (named for his grandfather and to be referred to as Jacob Goldschmidt II) was born on July 1, 1896, in Frankfurt.

Jacob Goldschmidt II birth record, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 903; Signatur: 903_9170, Year Range: 1896, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901

Their second child was named Nelly Goldschmidt. She was born on July 16, 1898, in Frankfurt:

Nelly Goldschmidt, birth record, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 903; Signatur: 903_9206, Year Range: 1898, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901

Else Goldschmidt was born on October 2, 1902, in Frankfurt.1 Then Marcel and Hedwig had a third daughter and fourth child, Grete Goldschmidt, born on September 25, 1904, in Frankfurt.2

Because Marcel and Hedwig were first cousins, their four children were not just siblings, but also second cousins to each other. All three daughters married in the 1920s. Amazingly, none married a cousin. But two of them married men who were brothers.

Nelly Goldschmidt married Moritz Gutmann on August 2, 1920, in Frankfurt.  Moritz was born on June 1, 1892, in Stuttgart, Germany. Some sources say his parents were Hermann Gutmann and Jettchen Ries, but I have not found a record to verify that since the marriage record does not include the names of his parents.

Marriage record of Nelly Goldschmidt and Moritz Gutmann, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 903, Year Range: 1920, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Marriages, 1849-1930

Nelly and Moritz had one child, a son Karl Hermann Gutmann, born on May 4, 1923, in Frankfurt.3

Nelly’s younger sister Else Goldschmidt married Nelly’s presumed brother-in-law Siegfried Gutmann on May 15, 1922, in Frankfurt. He was born April 28, 1886, in Stuttgart, to Hermann Guttmann and Jettchen Ries. Siegfried was sixteen years older than Else and had served in World War I for Germany.4

Marriage record of Else Goldschmidt and Siegfried Gutmann, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 903, Year Range: 1922, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Marriages, 1849-1930

Else and Siegfried had one child, Hermann Guttmann, born February 28, 1923, in Frankfurt.5 He later changed his name to Dennis John Goodman.

The third sister Grete Goldschmidt married Berthold Heimerdinger on January 18, 1924, in Frankfurt.6 Berthold was the son of Moritz Heimerdinger and Leontine Seligmann; he was born on September 20, 1890, in Wiesbaden, Germany. Berthold was slightly wounded while serving in World War I for Germany.7

After marrying, Grete and Berthold settled in Wiesbaden, where their daughter Gabrielle Heimerdinger was born on December 16, 1924.8

Marcel (Mayer) Goldschmidt lived long enough to see his three daughters married and several of his grandchildren born, but then died on November 2, 1928, in Koenigstein im Taunus, Germany. He  was 68.

Marcel Goldschmidt, death record, Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 908; Laufende Nummer: 1933, Year Range: 1928, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Deaths, 1851-1958

I was curious about the location of his death since Marcel was a resident of Frankfurt. According to Wikipedia, Koenigstein im Taunus, located about 15 miles northwest of Frankfurt, was “famous as “Jewish spa” mainly due to the high proportions of Jewish guests …. who stayed in the internationally famous sanitarium Dr. Kohnstamm … and Hotel Cahn, which offered kosher food. For these reasons, Königstein was an attractive city to visit for a day trip for many Jews in Frankfurt. Königstein became even more easily accessible from Frankfurt am Main in 1906, when the railway between Königstein and Frankfurt was built.”

Koenigsburg im Taunus, Brion Vibber / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

Life was thus very good for Marcel, Hedwig, and their children and grandchildren up through the 1920s. Much would change in the 1930s.


  1. Else Goldschmidt, Gender: weiblich (Female), Age: 19, Birth Date: 2 Okt 1902 (2 Oct 1902), Marriage Date: 15 Mai 1922 (15 May 1922), Marriage Place: Frankfurt am Main, Hessen (Hesse), Deutschland (Germany), Civil Registration Office: Frankfurt am Main, Spouse: Siegfried Gutmann, Certificate Number: 561, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 903, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Marriages, 1849-1930 
  2. Grete Goldschmid, Birth Date: 25 Sep 1904, Birth Place: Frankfurt, Federal Republic of Germany, Father: Marcel Goldschmidt, Mother: Hedwig Goldschmidt
    SSN: 064167857, Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 
  3. Karl Herrmann Gutmann, Birth Date: 4 May 1923, Birth Place: Frankfurt, Federal Republic of Germany, Father: Moritz Gubmann, Mother: Nelly Goldschmidt, SSN: 067180184, Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 
  4. Siegfried Gutmann, Residence Year: 1914, Residence Country: Deutschland (Germany), List Date: 21 Nov 1918, List Number: 2218, Volume: 1918_XVI, Ancestry.com. Germany, World War I Casualty Lists, 1914-1919 
  5. Dennis John Goodman, Gender: Male, Marital status: Single, Birth Date: 28 fev 1923 (28 Feb 1923), Birth Place: Frankfort, Arrival Date: 1949, Arrival Place: Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Father: Sigfried Goodman, Mother: Elsa Goodman
    Traveling With Children: No, FHL Film Number: 004564017, Ancestry.com. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Immigration Cards, 1900-1965 
  6. Grete Goldschmidt Heimerdinger naturalization papers, The National Archives at Philadelphia; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; NAI Title: Declarations of Intention for Citizenship, 1/19/1842 – 10/29/1959; NAI Number: 4713410; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685-2009; Record Group Number: 21, Description: (Roll 478) Declarations of Intention for Citizenship, 1842-1959 (No 355901-357000), Ancestry.com. New York, State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1794-1943 
  7. Berthold Heimerdinger, Residence Year: 1914, Residence Country: Deutschland (Germany), List Date: 22 Sep 1917, List Number: 1637, Volume: 1917_XVI, Ancestry.com. Germany, World War I Casualty Lists, 1914-1919 
  8. Gabrielle Joan Heimerdinger, Birth Date: 16 Dec 1924, Birth Place: Wiesbaden, Federal Republic of Germany, Father: Berthold Heimerdinger, Mother: Grete Goldschmidt, SSN: 102185390, Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007. According to Cibella/Baron, Grete and Berthold had two other children, but they did not have any dates for these other two, and I found no records for any other children born to Grete and Berthold. 

How the Nazis Treated Children of Mixed Marriages, Part II: Christine Seligmann

My last post told the tragic story of Emil-Jacob Seligmann, Jr., the great-grandson of my three-times great-grandfather Moritz Seligmann. This post will tell the story of his sister, Christine, known by the family as Christel. Emil, Jr. and Christel were the children of Emil Seligmann, Sr., who was Jewish, and Anna Maria Angelika Illian, who was Catholic, and they were raised as Catholics. But, as we saw in the prior post, Nazis treated those who had two Jewish grandparents as Mischlings in the First Degree. Although they were not thus identified as wholly Jewish, they were nevertheless not Aryan either and, as we saw with Emil, often persecuted. Emil was sent to Buchenwald in August 1944 and died there six months later on February 14, 1945, from poor health and a heart attack.

Christel was not sent to a concentration camp, but she faced persecution as well. In going through various papers that were found in Christel’s apartment after she died in 1982, my cousin Wolfgang located documents that revealed that Christel had applied for reparations from the German government for the harm and losses she suffered during the Nazi era. Those documents (which he has shared with me) reveal what Christel experienced and endured at the hands of the Nazis. The documents are all in German, but with a lot of help from Wolfgang and my elementary understanding of German, I have been able to piece together Christel’s story. You can see the documents I received here: Christine Seligmann dox

The first document was written by Christel on January 3, 1947, outlining her life in Wiesbaden before and during the Nazi era and World War II. She wrote that she was born on July 30, 1903 in Erbach, Germany. Her parents were quite wealthy, so Christel did not need to work. But in 1933 she became a certified baby nurse and began working for mostly Jewish families in that capacity. She was out of work due to poor health (rheumatism) from 1938 to 1942, but in 1942 returned to work for various families.

After losing both of her parents in 1942, Christel stopped working as a baby nurse and instead made a living by renting rooms in her family home. But in August 1944, her situation became much worse. Her brother Emil was arrested and sent to Buchenwald, where he died six months later.

Wolfgang found among Christel’s papers two cards that she received from her brother Emil while he was at Buchenwald. Wolfgang translated and summarized these cards for me.

The first card is dated September 10, 1944. At the top of the page are pre-printed instructions regarding written communications to and from prisoners. Prisoners were allowed to send and receive just two letters a month. The letters had to be written clearly. The rules also state that prisoners were allowed to receive food.

In the body of his message, Emil informed Christel that he was living at Buchenwald and that he was doing well, but he made several requests that he considered urgent. He asked her to send him money (30 Reichsmarken) and a long list of food items: marmalade, canned blackberries and raspberries, sugar, salt, cigarettes, and some cutlery. He also asked for something to treat fleas. He thanked her several times.

His second letter sounded more desperate. It was written in December, 1944, and it is obvious that the conditions and weather had become worse since his first card two months earlier. We can’t tell whether the siblings had exchanged other letters between September and December, but from the content of Emil’s December letter, we know that Christel had at least sent him one package. He wrote that he was happy to have received the package from her because he had been very worried and was glad to know that she was alive. He asked her to write him a letter—so perhaps she had not written to him, just sent the package.

He said that everything in that package was perfect, but that he now needed more money (50 Reichsmarken) and some winter clothing—gloves, earflaps (like ear muffs, I assume), and a winter jacket. He also asked for towels, handkerchiefs, a pen, a spoon, salt, cigarettes, glasses, and marmalade. Emil acknowledged that Christel might be too busy with work to get the items to him quickly and said she should ask the other women in her house for help. He closed by wishing her a good Christmas and sending her kisses.

We don’t know whether Emil heard from Christel again or whether she heard from him. He died less than two months after Christmas on February 14, 1945.

Meanwhile, Christel was having her own problems with the Nazis.  On the same day that Emil was arrested in August, 1944, the Gestapo raided their family’s apartment and forced her to move out on one day’s notice at great cost and with no help. They told her that if her furniture was not removed by the next morning, she would find it on the street. She was able to salvage some, but not all, of her belongings.

From October 1944 until December 1944, she was able to work as a nanny for a Christian woman, but then the Gestapo forced her to take a job in a cardboard factory. She found this work very difficult, and the long walk back and forth every day made matters even worse. Her feet became frostbitten and she developed bladder problems, but despite consulting three different doctors, she was unable to get any of them to give her a medical note to excuse her from work.

Once the war ended and the US army occupied Wiesbaden, Christel’s home was returned to her, but then was soon taken back by the US army to use as living quarters for American soldiers. Christel had just one room to live in. Nine months later her home was returned to her.

Christel filed a claim for reparations from the German government in November, 1953, for the loss of income and value she suffered by being forced from her home by the Gestapo, for the loss of her profession, for the damage to her health, and for the insults and humiliation she endured. She also claimed that a possible marriage was thwarted by the laws imposed by the Nazis. Wolfgang located in Christel’s papers a five-page petition filed by her attorney, Georg Marx, detailing her claims. Unfortunately, the copy I received is a bit too blurry (making it even more difficult to translate the German), but Wolfgang told me that it reiterates much of what Christel herself wrote in 1947 but with more details about her medical ailments.

According to Wolfgang, Christel did receive some money for reparations, but not very much.  She continued to live in her apartment in Wiesbaden for the rest of her life. When she died in 1982, Wolfgang and his father and uncle cleaned out the apartment. Christel was a bit of a hoarder, and there were many, many papers that were simply thrown away, papers that today might tell more of her story and that of her family.

Fortunately, however, Wolfgang’s uncle Herbert saved the “magic suitcase” that was in Christel’s apartment and that has become so critical to the family research that Wolfgang and his mother have done and have shared with me.