The course of the war had been decided by the beginning of 1945. It was only a matter of time until the allied forces had ended the Nazi government. Nevertheless, the Gestapo’s zeal to deport the Frankfurt Jews did not let up. 200 male non-Jewish partners of “mixed marriages” and “half Jews” were ordered to report for work in January 1945 by the “Organization Todt”. On 14 February 1945 the remaining persecuted who still remained in Frankfurt were ordered to report “for a foreign work assignment”, which really meant deportation to Theresienstadt. Only six weeks remained before the Americans arrived in March 1945,but none-the-less, 191 Frankfurt residents were deported, while 100 persecuted went into hiding at this time. The population was also much more prepared to provide the persecuted with a place to hide.
Max Keller contacted the Quaker Center in 1939 and offered the representative Rudolf Schlosser to help him find solvent citizens in the USA because the financial resources of the affidavits, which had been submitted to date were insufficient.Max Keller and his catholic wife Charlotte had had a good chance to emigrate, because based on their number in the queue it would have been “their turn” in March 1939. However, despite the Quakers’ involvement it was not possible for them to emigrate. “By coincidence, I did not belong to the Jewish mixed marriage partners who were deported and killed in 1942/43”, he wrote after 1945. When the last big deportation took place in February 1945 he went into hiding on 14 February 1945 along with Friedrich Stein and Adolf Rothschild. They hid in a garden hut in Frankfurt-Rödelheim, which had been provided by Margret Stitz. Their wives provided them with food supplies. The numerous Gestapo interrogations intimidated the wives, but Mrs. Keller was strong enough to withstand the interrogation and continued to deliver the food supplies. The three men survived the liberation.
Sources: Studienkreis Deutscher Widerstand
1933-1945 Frankfurt/Main and US Holocaust
Memorial Museum Washington D.C.
For two years Erich Gerber “bribed” an informant who “watched over” his wife at the Gestapo. This concerned in reducing the number of hours his wife had to work by forced work assignments and to provide sufficient warning about a planned deportation. However, Erich Gerber did not trust the informant’s services. As a precaution he furnished a room in a partially bombed out house located at Feldbergstrasse 10. Shattered windowpanes were sealed with cardboard; there was no longer any heating. It was there that Emma Gerber escaped. The husband Erich, who had refused to divorce his Jewish wife had been transferred to the forced labor camp in Clausthal-Zellerfeld in Harz in January 1945. Their daughter Erika who was the only person remaining in the parents’ house supplied her mother with food in her hiding place. She submitted a suicide to the Gestapo, in which her mother referred to her intention to commit suicide. Erika was placed under greater pressure, when as of 1 March 1945 two Gestapo civil servants were quartered in her parents’ house. During the day she worked in armaments factory; at night she supplied her mother with groceries. Friends helped her. A load dropped from her shoulders when the Americans liberated Frankfurt on 26 March 1945. She would remember this burden for the rest of her life.
The crossed out names on the deportation list dated 14 February 1945 refer to people who decided to go into hiding at the very last minute. For example there was Irene D. and her son who were hidden in the basement in Wielandstrasse by their former neighbor Berta Gies. Marianne M. was taken out of the deportation train by her uncle; father Müller hid his twins; mother Rosenberg brought her ten year old daughter to the Ries family in Steinau. The list of people, who managed to evade deportation at the last minute, is like a local directory: hidden by friends on Günthersburgallee, went into hiding in Offenbach, illegally in Stockheim, went into hiding with son in Röllshausen, hidden by the brother-in-law in Ulfa, by farmers in Rhön or found refuge in a small cellar. Most of the persecuted moved out of the city. They disguised themselves as refugees from the eastern regions, which had been conquered by the Red Army or as people fleeing air raids and hoped in this way to find acceptance amongst the rural population.
Several managed to avoid having their name appear on the list. In Elfriede Schöps’ case the manager of Franz Wagner & Sons got involved on her behalf. He convinced the Gestapo inspector Hummel that her work was crucial for the company. She was not deported, in contrast to other people forced to wear the yellow star. The employer August Weimer und the Gestapo informant Hans Baumann managed in the same way to save Ernestine Hoffman from being deported. Lili Scholz had already managed to get her mother released from Gestapo imprisonment through her connections and persistent discussions. It was an effort which lasted many weeks. Her mother’s name was crossed off of the deportation list after she agreed to forced sexual services.
In April 1945 the exile newspaper “Aufbau” printed the names of the 155 Jews who remained in Frankfurt after the city’s liberation by the Americans. They were almost all elderly persons who had been designated as “not transportable” by the doctor Dr. Alfred Goldschmidt.
Sources: Institut für Stadtgeschichte Frankfurt am Main, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Wiesbaden, Studienkreis deutscher Widerstand 1933-1945 in Frankfurt am Main. US Holocaust Memorial Museum Washington D.C., Conversations with contemporary witnesses and private photos. My heartfelt thanks to all those who lent photos.
The contact between some Jewish and non-Jewish neighbors was so close that one asks: Could not the friends do anything to save them in Frankfurt? It was however fear, which prevented even the best friends from offering any help. The controls were so tight (neighborhood watches, local groups, 100% Nazis as neighbors) and the readiness to denounce others so great that even the thought of helping seemed hopeless. Therefore the non-Jewish friends watched hopelessly as the deportations took place. As Margarete Stock wrote to Julius and Emma Hess’ sons in Israel after 1945: “It was to date the most difficult thing in my life which could have affected me when your dear parents and many dear acquaintances left us”. None-the-less, the one thing which could be done to help Jewish friends survive in the ghetto and “keep their head above water” was to provide the deported with groceries and money until hopefully the end of the war. Packages however had to be disguised when they were sent and secret messages confirming receipt were sent back. Such contact seemed less dangerous for non-Jewish friends when “mixed marriage couples” or “half-Jews” who had lived in Frankfurt since 1943 acted as intermediaries. Numerous Frankfurt residents made use of this precautionary measure. That is why Georg Hartmann, the owner of the Bauer’sche Gießerei, slipped 100 Marks into the hand of one of his apprentices with the request that the latter’s father the lawyer Max L. Cahn transfer this amount to friends in the Lodz ghetto. Emmy Saretzki requested in a postcard sent from the Theresienstadt ghetto that her “half Jewish” friend Eugenia Schöttle pass on a message to the non-Jewish family Baumeister.
One had to assume the worst when no postcard confirming receipt of the survival package was received. The certainty of a friend’s death in the ghetto could only be confirmed after the end of the war. Wilhelm Wagner wrote that the small packages might have made survival possible, “if it were not for the unrelenting brutality of the inhuman Nazis along with the ‘final solution’ in the Auschwitz crematoriums which had otherwise determined our friends’ fate”..
“I have his name inscribed in Yad Vashem” ….
…. bequeathed Ernst Valfer about Josef Stumpf. In 1932 Josef Stumpf was 25 years old when he moved out of his parent’s house and moved in with the Valfer family who lived at Gutleutstrasse 95. At that time the Jewish couple Valfer owned the “Kellerei Germania” and a vineyard in Hochheim. By 1938 the Jewish couple had lost all of their properties through the “aryanization”. This theft troubled Josef Stumpf because he had been their rental tenant. He was a technical worker from profession and had been assigned to work on the construction of the Siegfried-Line, but he continued to visit the family on weekends even after he had moved away. This was no obstacle for him, even later on, when contact with the family became ever more difficult. The Valfers’ son Ernst referred to the fact that the trusting and close relationship continued even in dangerous times: “Stumpf put on the table (documents), and if anybody had found out that he leaves his top secret maps in the house of a Jew with his pistol on top of it they would have caught him right there and then.”
In March 1938 the couple sent their son Ernst with one of the children transports to France. In 1939, as their financial situation in Frankfurt worsened, Heinrich Valfer was hired as an office worker in the Stumpf family’s business — this alone carried with it a big risk because the employment of Jews was explicitly forbidden. All of the couple’s attempts to emigrate failed and on 19 October 1941 Heinrich and Frieda Valfer were deported to the ghetto in Lodz. In June 1941 their son Ernst was able to escape with one of the last children transports from France to the USA via Portugal.
He returned to Frankfurt as an American soldier and searched for the family’s friend. Although Josef Stumpf had tried to ease the couple’s suffering by sending money to them in the ghetto he was unsuccessful. The couple was murdered at an unknown location on an unknown date. Josef Stumpf showed Ernst the money transfer slips and the confirmations which Ernst’s mother had sent until such time as no more answers came. “This act of solidarity remained despite its immense meaning simultaneously meaningless: no one was rescued” Ernst Valfer wrote. Josef Stumpf belonged to the “five percent that took on danger for humanity”.
See: Interview with Ernest Valfer
in: US Holocaust Memorial Museum,
Washington D.C.; with regard to Valfer
see also: Benjamin Ortmeyer: Berichte
gegen das Vergessen und Verdrängen,
Alfter 1994, pages 39/40.
Packages into the Ghetto Theresienstadt
Wilhelm Wagner Sr. owned a leather workshop in Bergen-Enkheim, which is close to Frankfurt. He bought his linings from the textile merchant Elias Singer. The business relationship developed into a friendship, which was not severed during the Nazi period. Wilhelm Wagner Jr. grew up with his father’s friends.
When Elias Singer was forced to give up his business in 1938 the Wagners bought the remaining rolls of fabric, and when food supplies became scarce they helped the Singers to survive. The son Wilhelm risked a lot when in November 1938 he saved many prayer books, Torah scrolls and other irreplaceable cultural items from the synagogue on Friedberger Anlage and brought all of these items to the Singers’ home for safekeeping. The Wagners were unable to save Elias and Gella Singer from being deported on 15 September 1942. However, they did not remain inactive. They drove twice to the Singers’ home, which was located at Obermainanlage 12, in order to pick up the religious items from the synagogue and brought these to their own home where they were hidden in an iron-clad trunk. They also arranged to send their friends food packages to the ghetto in Theresienstadt so that they would not starve. Based on the mail and correspondence it is apparent that they had discussed this with their friends beforehand. One can only understand much of the coded text with the help of Wilhelm Wagner Jr.’s explanations, which he provided after 1945. This was necessary because the contact was per se “difficult and was accompanied with danger” and was only possible based on “clever disguised comments”.
Nine postcards, which were sent from Theresienstadt still exist. In order that no one could prove that there was any direct contact between the families Gella Singer wrote: “Our friends receive mail almost daily from their loved ones, which makes them very happy. Please convey our sincerest greetings to our loved ones and ask them to write, because we would be very happy to hear from them.” Wagner’s explanation: “Because of the danger of being charged by the Gestapo their receipt was only referred to in general phrases. – In order that we knew that both were still alive the sender was Elias Singer while the signature was that of his wife Gella Singer who had to have lived in another part of the confinement. – Shortly thereafter addressing mail directly was no longer possible because the local mailman (a Nazi activist) figured out what was going on and a continuation of the contact in this manner would have been suicidal.”
Other people who had been warned in this way would have stopped the mail correspondence and food supply packages, but Wilhelm Jr. found a solution for the food supply package problem. As of 1944 the recipient of the postcards from Theresienstadt was Martha Dellheim and Wilhelm Wagner left the following explanation: “After several attempts to make contact with the Singer family in Theresienstadt (amongst which were some via Switzerland) it was possible to find a trustworthy and reliable broker of our signs of life and packages in the form of the Dellheim family in Frankfurt am Main. This circumstance was favored because Alfred Dellheim was Jewish but his wife was not. After that we no longer sent the packages, but rather Mr. or Mrs. Dellheim dropped them off at various post offices in Frankfurt/Main. The contents of the packages were such that the Singer family could have held out until the end of the war if it were not for the unrelenting brutality of the inhuman Nazis along with the ‘final solution’ in the Auschwitz crematoriums which had otherwise determined our friends’ fate”. – As can be seen by a seal imprint it was no longer possible to send a letter to Theresienstadt as of 1944, but only simple postcards. For reasons of prudence everything, which was sent was disguised with aliases, for the most part “Schmidt”. … This postcard dated 4 February 1944, checked on 21 April 1944 and received on 9 May 1944 shows how difficult and dangerous it had become in the meantime to send messages, let alone the harassment by stretching the delivery over three months. It was always necessary to find a new code, for example here: ‘Send this card to my girlfriend’ so that we know that both of our last packages had arrived there. The sender of the card is in this case Mrs. Singer, Wallstr. 60/8 ‘living’ while the previous card is from ‘Elias Singer, Parkstrasse 4’. The last words on the card: ‘We are happy that we are healthy. Thank you very much from my wife’ referred first to a disguised report about various air raids which we had reported in numerous postcards and secondly Mrs. Singer thanks for the referenced packages which had arrived safely.” The final comments from Wagner Jr. refer to a postcard, which Gella Singer had sent on 19 April 1944. It is the last direct news from their friends in Theresienstadt. “We had reported about the son’s birth but also written about the effects of the severe air raids on Frankfurt and the destruction of their house at Obermainanlage 12. Through the use of disguised comments we referred to the war’s forthcoming end, so that they would not lose courage. However, towards the end of November 1944, i.e. a few months prior to the liberation, both of them – according to a statement of the survivor Josef Kanner they were designated for ‘transport’ to Auschwitz where their fate was determined.”
Elias and Gella Singer were murdered in the extermination camp Auschwitz. Elias Singer was 59 years old and Gella 50 years old. In November 1945 Wilhelm Wagner brought the Hebrew Torah scrolls, many prayer books and other ritual items, which had been entrusted to him to the Frankfurt rabbi, Dr. Neuhaus..
See: Petra Bonavita: Mit falschen Pass
und Zyankali, Stuttgart 2009, pages 103-108.
A valuable Ring was smuggled into the Ghetto Minsk
In 1934 Julius and Emma Hess along with their two sons moved from Birstein to Obermainanlage 24 in Frankfurt. They hoped that the anonymity of the big city would allow them to live without attracting any attention. They established a friendly relationship with their non-Jewish neighbor Margarete Stock. The parents managed to send both sons to England, respectively Palestine, after the pogrom nights in 1938. However, they were unable to find any acceptance country for themselves. As Margarete Stock wrote after 1945 it was a very difficult parting when they were dragged off to the ghetto in Minsk on 11 November 1941.
The neighbor and friend Margarete Stock remained in contact. She managed to send packages to the ghetto for two years via two guards from the ghetto who had returned on home leave to Frankfurt and respectively Giessen. Included in the packages were food supplies, clothing and also a present for the guards. Emma Hess wrote long letters in which she described her husband Julius’ death, her work in the sewing workshop and life in the ghetto. One day Emma Hess asked her friend to send a valuable ring, which she was not allowed to take with her when she was deported. “Well, that made me happy when she wrote that it was in her possession and she had been able to do a lot of business with it”, reported Margarete Stock to the sons after 1945, who in the meantime were living in Israel.
In hindsight she realized how reckless it had been to send the packages and was aware that she stood with one foot in ”the concentration camp”. Her husband had implored her finally to stop. She did it behind his back and was very lucky. The contact ended when no more letters from Emma Hess arrived in Frankfurt. She had died in an unknown location..
Research Renate Hebauf, Frankfurt/Main.
See: Laying of the “Stolpersteine” for Julius
and Emma Hess in 2010, Stolpersteine
Initiative Frankfurt am Main.
Based on an official order dating from summer 1943 children who were specially classified as “valid Jews” or as “mixed race first grade” and were under the care of “Jugendamt der Stadt Frankfurt” (Frankfurt Youth Welfare Department) were supposed to be institutionalized in the Euthanasia Asylum in Hadamar. When Theo Walter, the head of the municipal Youth Welfare Department received a copy of this order he did everything in his power, together with “Caritas” (the catholic welfare organisation), to protect such children from this measure. Inge G. was housed in an abbey in Lower Bavaria and Erna H. in a home in Palatinate on account of the help offered by the Monica Home, a Social Welfare Home for Catholic Women. Curt Leon Speier was housed in an orphanage in Baden-Württemberg. The Gestapo civil servant gave Curt’s aunt and a Youth Welfare Department employee an additional three days in order to get him out of the city.
Franz R. had a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father. After his mother had been deported his father was also able to find a place for him in a home for the handicapped located in Hochdorf/Baden-Württemberg. The Hotel Viktoria Children’s Home in Schlangenbad (which served as an alternative accommodation for Frankfurt children homes) accepted Renate S., after her brother Karlheinz, who suffered from epilepsy, was sent by the municipal Health Department to Hadamar and was gassed there in August 1943. The children had previously been taken care of by relatives, but as this accommodation was no longer deemed safe after the brother had been sent away Renate was housed in an external children’s home. Mrs. Niklas’ three children, who were classified as “valid Jews”, were housed with farmers in Zwingenberg. They emigrated to Palestine after 1945 with the help of “Caritas” and the Youth Aliyah. Orphanages in Thuringia and Sachsen also housed such children. 40 children in children’s homes, care centers and relatives’ households were allowed to stay because the head of the municipal Youth Welfare Department refused to carry out the order..
See: Petra Bonavita: Mit falschem Pass
und Zyankali, Stuttgart 2009, pages 157-159.
A confirmed rescue helper was the postal ID card. This substitute document for the former personal identity card was sufficient to pass the first control checks. Many survived with the substitute document. Siegmund Stein received a summons from the Gestapo in mid-June 1943. The anti-fascist had already survived several prison terms and had lost his company. The summons to appear in the Gestapo headquarters on Lindenstrasse was the signal to go into hiding. His wife reported him as “missing” at the police station; Siegmund Stein escaped to Vienna. Thanks to his anti-fascist contacts he was able to get a postal ID card in the name of Oskar Werm within two weeks. He survived illegally for two years in Vienna as a “submarine”, the term, which was used to refer to those who had gone into hiding in Vienna, and returned to Frankfurt after 1945. In 1943 approximately 30 other people did not appear at the Gestapo headquarters after they had received their summons. Most of these people left Frankfurt. With the help from friends and relatives they went into hiding in Gmünden, Berlin and Hofheim, in Vogelsberg and in Rheingau. They were not registered with the police and lived without rations cards but exclusively from the support of couraged people.
Bertha Esser’s husband had divorced her. She had therefore lost the protection of being married to a non-Jewish husband and the protective status, which a “mixed marriage” offered. In December 1942 Esser managed to obtain a postal ID card without the additional name “Sara” as had been required for a long time. She decided to escape when she was required to vacate her apartment on 12 January 1943 and proceeded to the communal housing located at Hermesweg 5. She escaped via Straßburg to Mulhouse in Alsace with the help of her friend Margarete Foessl-Neuland’s family. They were Christian friends who helped her to escape in March 1943 and encouraged her to jump on a freight train that went to Switzerland.
See: Petra Bonavita: Mit falschem Pass und
Zyankali, Stuttgart 2009, pages 125-127
and 110-113; see also how a postal ID
card issued in Frankfurt/Main, helped Helga
Frühauf to escape, in: Armin Schmid: Im
Labyrinth der Paragraphen, Frankfurt/Main
2006, pages 83-88.
Richard Nägler was warned by his employer Kurt Würz about the selective Gestapo summons in Frankfurt. Kurt Würz who was a member of the Nazi party had heard that Nägler’s Jewish wife Edith was in danger, because the goal of he Hessen-Nassau region was to present itself as being “free of Jewish people”.
Nägler knew what this meant, because a year earlier the Frankfurt unemployment office had offered him a job at the IG Farben factory. The place of employment was Auschwitz. He was unable to forget the trip and the subsequent tour of the inhuman and brutal conditions in Auschwitz in spring 1942. He declined this job and found another job in Kurt Würz’s printing company. He knew his colleagues well enough in spring 1943 so that he was aware of their attitude towards the Nazi regime.
He therefore turned to a colleague from Singen in Baden-Württemburg, which bordered on Switzerland, and asked if the latter knew of any possibility to cross the green border. After the colleague Richard Jäckle had consulted his family in Singen a place was found close to Gottmadingen, which would serve as an appropriate escape crossing point. The path led from the back of the cemetery and through a deep protected hollow directly to the customs house Buch on the Swiss side. The only thing one had to be careful of was that the German border guards, who were housed in Murbach (from which the crossing point could not be seen), had withdrawn. Edith Nägler arrived in the village disguised as if she was going for a walk, used the opportunity and ran to the Swiss customs house. Not only did she manage to escape, a couple of weeks later Richard Nägler also managed to escape and avoid a Gestapo summons. .
See: Petra Bonavita: Mit falschem Pass
und Zyankali, Stuttgart 2009, pages 148-156.
Martha Wiroth had already been denounced at the end of 1938 because she socialized with Jews and had voiced subversive comments against the government. Emil Wehrheim therefore was aware that she was an opponent of the regime when he looked for a hiding place for his wife Elisabeth on 22 March 1943. Wehrheim went to the police station two days later and reported his wife Elisabeth as missing. After being questioned numerous times the case was “closed” and Elisabeth Wehrheim was “de-registered”. Numerous people housed Elisabeth “illegally” and took care of her during the next two years. She stayed with Martha Wiroth at Rohrbachstrasse 51 the first three days. She lived with Mina Hofmann at Schwarzburgstrasse several months. Then she stayed with Ludwig Ritz, again at Rohrbachstrasse 51; two months with Martha Wiroth who herself had moved to Stockheim; then with Josefa Wallner at Rohrbachstrasse 24; and the final two months of the war again with Wiroth in Stockheim. Elisabeths’s cousin Betty Faulstroh also went into hiding at Martha Wiroth’s home in Stockheim shortly before the last big deportation on 14 February 1945. Both women survived.
In 1967 Martha Wiroth spoke extensively with the American sociologist Manfred Wolfson about the motivation for her “forbidden help”. She came from a poor family but her parents impressed upon her values such as justice, socialistic ideas and “the good heart” in people. She saw through the Nazi’s intentions against the Jews very early and talked about the fact that “their goal is to confiscate everything from the Jews and then get rid of them”, what eventually led to the first summons in 1938.
See: Kosmala, Beate/Ludwig-Kedmi, Revital:
Verbotene Hilfe, Zürich und Donauwörth 2003;
audio document in the Gedenkstätte Deutscher
Widerstand Berlin; Petra Bonavita: Mit falschem
Pass und Zyankali, Stuttgart 2009, pages 120/121.
A Gestapo „Special Operation“ and Escape into Illegality
In autumn 1942 already – after the completion of the big deportations from Frankfurt am Main – the Hessian “Gauleiter” Jakob Sprenger instructed the head of the Gestapo to deport 100 “mixed persons first grade” and “Jewish mixed-marriage partners” per month to the concentration camps. Hessen-Nassau was to be reported as the first region “free of Jews”. No one within this persecuted group had reckoned on being deported, because officially the Nazi regime’s decision to proceed against “mixed marriage couples” and “half Jews” was technically only scheduled to start after the end of the war.
170 Frankfurt Jews who were identified as belonging to this group were deported in the first nine months after September 1942 (an unknown number from the Hessen-Nassau region was also deported). 28 of the persecuted committed suicide after receiving their summons. Many months went by before the news of this action –no hearing, only detention and deportation– was spread. In February 1943 Claire von Mettenheim noted this local action by the Frankfurt Gestapo and the fact that Jewish citizens were being deported to a camp in Upper Silesia without pretext from which none returned. Only a few relatives managed with great effort to get their partner released from Gestapo detention. Many people in “protected mixed marriages” trusted that their status would save them and therefore did not go into hiding upon receiving a summons.
One of the few women to come out of prison was Jenny Iller. Her case shows how difficult it was to organize such a release. One of these women who were released later wrote, this was only successful by five from 80 women who were imprisoned.
Jenny Iller and her daughter Ruth received a Gestapo summons in March 1943. Ruth was classified as a “mixed person first grade” and the bishop of Limburg got involved on her behalf, so that she was released after three months. Ludwig Iller was not allowed to visit his wife in prison and only managed to remain in contact via secret messages hidden in the weekly laundry packages. Iller was severely insulted and threatened by the Gestapo civil servant Heinrich Baab. With the help of the prison doctor Dr. Vorschütz and the prison warden Liesel Wetzel he was none-the-less able to have his wife transferred to the infirmary for Jews, located at Hermesweg 5/7. A good dose of medical poisoning was sufficient reason to get her out of the prison. Jenny Illner escaped from the infirmary on Hermesweg after a few days. Her husband had had enough time to organize her life in the underground –sometimes it was for a few days, sometimes for months that she spent with families in Frankfurt who were prepared to help. The prison warden Liesel Wetzel belonged to this group, as did five families in Frankfurt, Wiesbaden, Offenbach, and in Rück, not far from Obernburg. It was there that she experienced the liberation by the Americans.
See: Petra Bonavita: Mit falschem Pass
und Zyankali, Stuttgart 2009, pages 118-119
and in: Heike Drummer – Gegen den Strom,
Editor: Fritz Backhaus/Monica Kingreen,
compendium to the exhibit with the same
title, Frankfurt/Main 2012, pages 50-52;
see also Lili Scholz’s release from detention
in: Lili Hahn, “… bis alles in Scherben fällt”,
In 1944 Margarete Knewitz received a summons to be questioned by the Gestapo. Such hearings led to subsequent imprisonment and deportation. The people who were summoned were then confronted with construed charges, placed under pressure and worn down until they signed an admission of guilt. The information that this tactic was used against the “mixed marriage partners” in order to deport them had been spread around amongst the persecuted.
Margarete Knewitz’s daughter Renate sought help from her friend Erica Ludolph, and she in turn contacted the reverends at the “Trinity Church”, which belonged to the “Bekennende Kirche” (part of the protestant church against Hitler). Reverend Welke began preparing the escape. That very evening Margarete Knewitz no longer stayed in her own apartment, but rather her daughter Renate brought her to stay with the Impekovens, an actor family with whom she was friend. Welke started looking for a place of refuge. During this time, Margarete went into hiding at her friend Grete Kerler’s house in Memmingen. With the help of the reverend Kurt Müller in Stuttgart it took ten days to obtain a substitute photo document in the name of “Margarete König” issued on 22 May 1944 from the community of Höfingen. Kurt Müller also found an even more remote hiding place. Müller’s wife Illa Müller was staying with her sister Gertrud von Marschalck at the Ovelgönne estate in Hechthausen, and this is where Margarete Knewitz alias Margarete König was supposed to go into hiding.
Margarete Knewitz was accompanied by Erica Ludolph on the trip from Memmingen until close to Cuxhaven. The trip took four days and nights in these last months of the war, with overnight stays in various reverend’s homes and a train trip, which brought with it its own complications. They traveled in the evenings in order to avoid the controls. As a train ticket only allowed trips of up to 100 kilometers this meant numerous breaks, stays and risks. After her arrival in Hechthausen Margarete Knewitz had to change her hideout four times and at the end of 1944 she left the Cuxhaven area and traveled via Bad Pyrmont to Stuttgart and to reverend Müller. She was registered as an air raid victim with the “Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt” (National Socialist Welfare Organisation) at the end of February 1945, at which time she received ration cards. Her husband Hugo Knewitz and daughter Renate avoided questioning and torture by the Frankfurt Gestapo by escaping to Ehrwald in Austria.
See: Petra Bonavita: Mit falschem Pass
und Zyankali, Stuttgart 2009, pages 28-34.
A father wants to protect his daughter, an understandable situation: from questioning by the Nazi authorities, from an obligation to work in the weapons industry, and finally from being arrested by the Gestapo in the last few months of the war.
Carl Rhotert’s family was not unknown in Frankfurt am Main. Their store, “Schirmgeschäft (umbrella shop) Aloys Rhotert”, located at Liebfrauenberg, had been there for decades. It was centrally located and a good address. The long tradition of this well established store would certainly have continued, but after the Nazis came to power other laws prevailed. Erna Rhotert, Carl Rhotert’s jewish wife – long ago baptized -, was no longer acceptable. The small family with the 12-year-old daughter Maya fell apart. Erna Rhotert had to quit as managing director; her husband looked for an “Aryan” partner in order to enable his wife to live outside of Nazi Germany. She escaped to southern Tirol in October 1939. The couple separated in the same year and thereafter she escaped further to Switzerland. Erna Rhotert was scheduled to be sent back from Bern at the end of 1939, but luckily, she married Arthur Schaub, a Swiss citizen in February 1940, which permitted her to stay.
The daughter Maya who was 14 years old in the meantime suffered because of her mother’s absence. She also had problems in school and a desired education at the “Städelschule” (art school affiliated with the Städel-Museum) was denied her as a “half-jewish”.
Friends emigrated from today to tomorrow; the fate of family members was gruesome: an uncle and aunt managed, with great effort, to cross into the Netherlands; cousins were deported together with their parents from Cologne; other residents in their house were picked up early in the morning.
Maya spent an obligatory year working as a household-help. She was then supposed to start working in a company which was important for the war effort, because in autumn 1943 “mixed persons first grade” were scrutinized more and more by the Gestapo. Her father wanted to protect her from this measure. Maya had acted as a courier for the “Bekennende Kirche” (part of the protestant church against Hitler) during the last few years, but because of her fluency in French she was suspected of working for the French resistance.
An acquaintance who worked as an engineer and managed the Degussa branch in Waldkirchen offered to help her. The deregistration to Waldkirchen won her a bit of time, which lasted until the autumn of 1944. Her ID card was withdrawn on 6 November and she was supposed to be sent to a labor camp in Passau. The search for places to escape began. At the same time that she lived in the engineer’s apartment in Waldkirchen her father Carl Rhotert and the reverend Heinz Welke planned her further escape.
Her mother and stepfather tried to help from Switzerland. Erna Rhotert-Schaub and her husband Arthur Schaub made several attempts to rescue Maya: “We tried to smuggle her into Switzerland with the help of a boatman from Mannheim but this failed; my husband (Schaub) swam across the Rhine to the German side twice near Wyhlen in order to get her. However, as we were not able to inform her in time and she was being watched this too was unsuccessful. An application for adoption by my husband remained unprocessed at the Swiss consulate in Chiemsee.” Her escape finally succeeded after a plan was devised which involved marrying a young Swiss man.
Everything went wrong. The Gestapo followed her trail and she reached her final sanctuary, the “Gotisches Haus” in Bad Homburg, only after hastily departing with a truck hauling wood, in which she was disguised as a boiler man. She experienced the liberation close to a forest outside of the city.
She emigrated to the USA in 1947 together with her husband Eugene Jussek in order to escape all the bad memories.
See: Petra Bonavita: Mit falschem Pass
und Zyankali, Stuttgart 2009, pages 41-51.
Hildegard Graebner recognized the danger of the Nazi race politics very early. She went to the Netherlands with her daughter Ilse in 1939, i.e. even before the start of the war in September. Hildegard lived with Ludwig Graebner in a “mixed marriage” and such marriages were considered “protected”. However, during a control search a number of weaknesses were identified in her paperwork. Her marriage ceremony had been carried out in accordance with Jewish ritual. However, couples were classified as “dissidents” if they withdrew from the Jewish community shortly after their marriage. Only in 1939 did they join the Protestant-Lutheran Matthäus church community in Frankfurt along with their daughter Ilse.
Hildegard Graebner had a strenuous job in an old age home in the Netherlands before she and her daughter was taken in by the reverend Ottho G. Heldring in Zetten. The reverend had five sons amongst whom Ilse found compatible playmates. However, a shadow soon came over the reverend’s peaceful home. News arrived from Cologne that Hildegard Graebner’s parents and brother had been deported; an uncle in Arnheim was also deported. Reverend Heldring was taken captive by the Germans in 1942 and the “Joodsche Rat” in Amsterdam demanded that Hildegard register herself.
Hildegard and her daughter moved to different cities. The two women were registered as a “Jewish household” in The Netherlands. However, as Frankfurt offered Hildegard “dubious protection” as a mixed-marriage partner she decided to return to the city. That was in the middle of November 1942. Shortly after her return the Graebners turned to reverend Welke who looked for a way that Hildegard could escape. Not every refugee could be expected to handle the strain of such a trip, combined with an illegal border crossing, and Welke later wrote: “In recognition of this permanent danger I searched for new escape possibilities to Switzerland, but in light of Mrs. Graebner’s ever worsening physical condition – in expectation of the superhuman hardships and nervous stress – this could not be considered.” The helpers and Mrs. Graebner decided that she should stay in Frankfurt and only in case of a wave of arrests should Hildegard Graebner escape to relatives in Baden-Württemberg. Hildegard hardly left her apartment. Nevertheless, in late autumn 1944 a policeman showed up at her doorstep and inquired about her. There were luckily no further inquiries or orders to appear for questioning.
Thanks to Ludwig Graebner’s unconditional loyalty to his wife, her own clever foresight, courage and perseverance, money and contacts, luck and coincidence, she survived the period of persecution and was able to experience the liberation.
Hildegard Graebner could consider herself saved, but the fear never left her. She was afraid of a new Nazi brown political party and fled a second time to Hulsberg, the Netherlands in 1967, this time together with her husband. Hildegard Graebner died there in 1975.
See: Petra Bonavita: Mit falschem Pass
und Zyankali, Stuttgart 2009, pages 65-73.