My brother Siegfried had already emigrated in 1933 to Buenos Aires, along with his wife, daughter and mother-in-law, since he could no longer continue as a stock broker in Berlin. Likewise my brother Leo, who until recently had been a buyer for the Tietz department store in Dusseldorf, emigrated to Argentina in 1934. In Munich, my twin sister Rosel Blumenfeld was stricken with a misfortune, for already in 1936 her husband Rudolf Blumenfeld, previously a confidential clerk in the Darmstadt Bank, was taken to the Dachau concentration camp. She and her daughter Hanna waited in vain for their travel permits to the United States, and were gassed in a concentration camp in 1942.
My younger brother Julius, who was eloquent and had a certain talent for business, always had the good fortune to avoid the consequences of his own mistakes. As a great admirer of his cousin Felix Fechenbach, he was already an early activist in social and political youth organizations, so that by 1934, he had already had to flee to France. In spite of the support that he received there, Julius could not abandon his political activities, and was therefore expelled. Thus he went to Spain where he was able to survive thanks to his business acumen. With his proceeds he helped a few lucky people to emigrate. His participation in the Spanish Civil War came automatically, for here too he wanted to help in the Social Democratic civil service. Even in a Spanish jail it was possible for him to be surrounded by friends. When the authorities extradited all Germans back to Nazi Germany, Julius was asked by a Jesuit priest whether he wanted to be returned to Germany or be baptized. Since this baptism meant his salvation, that's what he chose. So he could, after marrying a Spanish catholic, return again to Germany in 1946. Today he lives with his family in Dusseldorf.
Jewish children were expelled from German schools, which led to their attending private Jewish schools. In Bad Mergentheim teacher Adolf Zucker conducted the school in the community building. He was transported to Poland in October 1938. Manfred Bernheim, the Jewish higher councillor, succeeded him.
On 8th November 1938, the Nazi hell let all its devils loose, so that the destruction of the Temple by Belshazzar, King of Babylon, paled in comparison with Hitler. Hitler was able to carry on all his crimes for another six and a half years. In the unforgettable so-called "crystal night", all the synagogues in Germany were torn down, desecrated and burned; Jews were murdered, beaten and dragged off to concentration camps.
In Bad Mergentheim the Nazi gangs assembled in the Karlsbau on this evening, to drink up the proper courage for the attacks on defenceless Jews. Since my parents were still the rightful owners of the Karlsbau and lived on the second storey of this building, they began their attacks with them. The Christian citizens of Mergentheim were already all informed on what this night signified, but here German courage and the celebrated heroism to fight for right and freedom totally failed, and no one dared to protest against the fearful Injustice. Even Bernreuther, who had leased the cafe from Father was happy when he heard that my parents had to leave Mergentheim within 24 hours; especially since now he could take good advantage of the opportunity to become the owner of the Karlsbau. So he did not offer any resistance to their deportation, but on the contrary was only concerned that the apartment in the building would not be too badly damaged, and warned those who were breaking in not to go too far. At midnight the screaming mob stormed up the stairway to the Fechenbach apartment, as though they were besieging a heavily guarded fortress. They had to stop before the glass door and the bedroom door, since both of them remained closed, despite their shouts to open up. So the first wave of madness was turned against the doors. My mother's cries for help through the open window found no hearers in the entire neighbourhood, even though all the neighbours were standing behind their curtains so that they could see just how defenceless old people were mistreated. The warning that they had to leave Mergentheim within 24 hours was heeded the next morning, when they took the first train to Stuttgart.
The next "heroic deed" was when the victorious mob broke into Max Kahn's house, where they cut off the beard of the widely respected Rabbi, Dr. Moses Kahn, harshly maltreated him and threw him down the staircase. The interior fixtures of the synagogue were destroyed and the Holy Ark smeared with pork. Prayer books, volumes and ink pots in the school and the windows - everything was fanatically smashed and broken. No Jewish house remained untouched, and the defenceless residents were subjected to the most brutal outrages. Ferdinand Wurzburger, the last president of the synagogue was still able to rescue the religious objects from the synagogue, he gave them to Muhleck the shipping agent for safekeeping. He kept them hidden in his warehouse rooms until the American troops marched into Mergentheim In 1945. Naturally there were German people in the city and throughout the country who were not in sympathy with the Nazi crimes, and even gave expression to their sympathy for the Jews. Several even put their lives at risk in order to save Jews from the Nazis’ clutches. Also In Mergentheim there were some people who had the courage secretly at night to place food before the doors of those who were starving. The unique friendship between Frau Elfriede Carle and her Jewish friend could not be broken even by the Nazis, and she took care of those who were crowded together in the Municipal Hall by providing them with food to the best of her abilities. In her report she wrote: "When the synagogue was attacked, the Rothschild family was in our house, they had previously arranged this with their friend. The troops followed them right up to our garden, not daring however to come through the garden door." The Nazis had won their battle against the defenceless and they left many people helpless and seriously injured. No doctor in Mergentheim had the courage to help these poor people until the Nazi doctor, Weiss, took care of them under SA supervision.
Our little house stood in Hohenheimer Steckfeld, far from the populated areas, in the middle of a fruit garden. Even if we had no newspaper reports, nevertheless we had a connection with the Jewish artistic community, since I was in charge of the self-help projects. We had no inkling of Crystal Night until a telegram from my parents reached us, announcing that they would be arriving in Stuttgart at around 11 a.m. I took the next bus into the city, where there was an atmosphere of noticeable general excitement everywhere. In front of completely smashed Jewish stores stood the brown heroes, marvelling at their deeds. The mass of people in Hospital Street, where the synagogue was going up In flames left me nearly breathless. These silent pale faces who were anxiously watching the greatest temple destruction as though they were paralysed, must have already sensed that this was the beginning of an evil end. Only the SA and the SS seemed to be entirely in their element, and struck everything down that had any value whatsoever for the Jews. So also my Moses painting suffered its destruction. The community had commissioned it from me and hung it in the office building near the synagogue.
I telephoned my cousin Clare Kauffmann to ask how things were going with her; she was very excited and begged me to come. Here I found that the SA and the SS were searching every Jewish house and arresting the men. Sig, her husband, had hidden himself and she was completely helpless. I could stay with her for an hour, and since no one came in she was somewhat calmed. At the railroad station I greeted my very disheartened parents and brought them to Hohenheim, where they greatly appreciated our house and garden far from village and city, and gradually recovered a sense of security again. I had still a few things to accomplish in Stuttgart. In the meantime our house was searched, but the police begged our pardon, they only wanted to check whether we had weapons in the house. My wife Greta told them that we owned nothing of the kind. They asked about our visitors and then withdrew, after they had cast a quick glance into our room. My parents were again very anxious but Greta's determined attitude gave them the faith that while they stayed with us they would have a sheltering roof.
My wife and I now had the task of going to Mergentheim to put my parents' house in order and to pack everything up so that the shipping agent could take it away. My father also gave me complete power of attorney so that I could take charge of his financial situation in the banking house of Partln. My parents' apartment in the Karlsbau was still in the same condition that they had left it. Nevertheless we first made our preparations against any possible surprise attack. In any case, we wanted to be able to get away again as soon as we could. In case of need, we had the defence of the heavy restaurant plates which we could use as missiles. All along the house we stretched cords they would stumble over. However we were able to complete our work undisturbed. The only visitor was Frau Heinrich Strauss. The SA had not only beaten Herr Strauss nearly to death, but had also destroyed everything in the house. She anxiously asked for a chamberpot and we were glad to be able to help her at least in this respect.
When my wife and I had got everything In order after two days of work, we went to the station where an SA man started making a speech in the waiting room. Everyone left the room at once, so that only my wife and I stood against the guardian of the Fatherland's thousand year Reich. Since we were both prepared to defend ourselves against any attack, the heroic mouth appeared gradually to lose his courage and he left the waiting room. We were not entirely certain however, that he would not return if he found reinforcements. Only when the train was carrying us away from Mergentheim without any further problems, could we breathe freely again.
Although my parents were somewhat calm and relieved to be with us in Hohenheimer Steckfeld, they were not used to the solitary dwelling, lonely between fields and meadows. They missed the synagogue and all their friends, who had only until recently sat at the Fechenbach family table in the evenings and played cards. They were mainly drawn to go to my twin sister Rosel Blumenfeld and her daughter Hanna, for Rosel was always Father's favourite child, and so they decided to go to Munich to 23 Blumenstrasse. My sister was living there in greatly reduced circumstances, since her husband had been in a concentration camp since 1936, and her apartment was much too small. My parents had to rent a furnished room that they found at the home of an Aryan widow, Frau Schindler, on 45 Schwanthalerstrasse. The generous monthly rent appeared to be a big help to the widow, so that she did not take too seriously the evil of sheltering Jews. My parents had lunch with Rosel in the Blumenstrasse, but breakfast and supper were prepared by Mother over a spirit lamp in the furnished room. After nearly 70 years of independence, during which time they owned a big house and had servants at their disposal, these were very restricted conditions. However they gave themselves up to their destiny without complaining.
My wife and I also had certain plans to emigrate, and had already registered to go to Palestine in 1936. Since I was a 70% disabled war veteran and also could not raise the necessary capital funds, I continued to wait in hope for my certificate to arrive. Even a three month trip in February 1938 to Palestine could not accelerate the emigration process, although everyone appeared ready to help out and gave us the good advice simply to remain illegally in Palestine.
Since we had too many responsibilities to leave behind, we returned home in the middle of May. On the ship we made the acquaintance of an English Quaker lady, who gave us her address so that we could call on her in any emergency for help when required.
My endless efforts with the Zionist groups in Stuttgart, Berlin and Darmstadt had only resulted in obtaining promises, so that my wife lost patience and wrote to our English friend, telling her that she wished employment as house help. She received a reply at once with the address of the G. Cons family in Pettswood, room and board free and 15 shillings per week. Since my wife was not Jewish she received her exit permit without difficulty. She was able to assume her post in the middle of January 1939.
My firm belief that we would In the end finally reach Palestine, led me to make all the necessary preparations. My wife's entire photograph studio with all the furnishings, plus books, kitchen utensils, pictures and artifacts had to be prepared for packing. On the very day when these were taken out, the police had an eye on me. Again I ordered a ship's ticket from England to Haifa, and hoped that in the meantime our goods would have been delivered there. We had sold our house and garden, but could not get hold of the purchase price. Notwithstanding all our efforts, I was sent in vain from one office to another until I gave up. Here my father-in-law, Willy Batzke, was a saving angel, for he provided me with 1000 marks for me to meet all expenses. In return I gave him power over my bank and credit accounts at the Stuttgart Southwest Bank. You really had to consider yourself lucky in 1939 if Aryan friends were prepared to help a Jew, for most of them had withdrawn out of cowardly fear, and others had gone over to the enemy camp to demonstrate their Nazi convictions. They had slipped copies of the "StUrmer" into my mailbox in Hohenheim, but all this time I had been spared the effects of any serious attacks. My last lodgings were with our friends the Plettner family in Sonnenberg, and here I waited until finally in April 1939 I received permission to travel to England. The additional name of "Israel" in my permit came as a special designation for me, since it meant "God's Warrior" in translation. Now I had only to travel to Munich to bid farewell to my parents and sister. My sister was calm and un-worried, she was patiently waiting for her American visa. On the contrary, my father and mother had realised the seriousness of the situation completely, and hoped that my brother in Buenos Aires could soon send the requested "Lamada". They had found lodgings, a small furnished room with a bed, but Father assured me that they could sleep well in it. As a farewell present, Mother gave me her four diamond rings and Father gave me Grandfather's ring, but they kept their wedding rings. I could not imagine that this would be a farewell forever. I said au revoir with the parental blessing that the angels guard me on all my paths.
Finally I sat in the train and travelled along the proud Rhine marvelling at the wonderful homeland, the homeland that as a youth in good faith in 1916 I had gone out to fight in the war for and for which I had lost my left leg in August 1917. I had to get off just before the Dutch border, so that my exit permit, money and baggage could be inspected. Only 10 marks were permitted so I had to leave behind 5 marks and 83 pfennigs, which were sent to my sister in Munich. I didn't have to open my suitcase which pleased me greatly. A sigh of relief went throughout the train when we saw the German border behind us. Now for the first time everyone had a smile.
To one who had experienced the Nazi transformation of the German people since 1939, free England appeared to be a paradise. People that my wife and I were in direct contact with were not alarmed and ready to help. We were therefore very much inclined to over estimate their possibilities. Gradually it grew clear to me that here too they were under the influence of their government, only with the difference that this government called itself democratic, preferred peace, and above all believed that Hitler was the saving angel in an expected conflict between East and West. They tried their utmost to mitigate all his crimes, and refused to interfere with Germany's internal affairs. When the Second World War broke out in August 1939, it forced them too late unfortunately, to face up to the real intentions of the Nazis. The entire Western policy of digging a pit for the East had proved to be an error, for now, in the event, the West itself had fallen into the pit.
At the end of November, a letter arrived from my brother Leo announcing that he had been able to obtain a travel permit for our parents to go to Argentina, but I had to take care of buying the ship tickets in London for the voyage to Buenos Aires. I was to get them at a certain Italian agency. Although I could not understand that my parents were no longer able to pay with German money, I at once estimated all our resources, which partially consisted of money from my wife's household employment, as well as emergency funds which I had pressed between cardboard and smuggled out of Germany. This risky self-help was already necessary, since our goods had arrived In Haifa, and we had to pay storage charges there, but it was far more important to rescue my parents. I found out right away what the ship tickets cost. They were £96 and at least £4 was needed for spending money. This was an enormous sum for us, for although we already had £80 in savings, the important £20 was lacking. My next path led to the German Jewish Aid Committee, Bloomsbury House, London, where I requested a £20 loan. Since most of the employees there were Jewish refugees from Germany, one would have thought that they would have sympathy for my request, most especially since I placed all my parents rings as pledges at their disposal. Still I was turned away with obvious bureaucratic coldness; they could only take care of refugees In England and my case lay outside of their area of responsibility. When I asked to see a higher official, they spoke to me in English to make fun of me, since my knowledge of the language was imperfect. One can hardly understand it, yet they let me leave without hope or suggestions. Therefore there was nothing left for me to do but to ask the aid of the ever ready helpful Quakers. We knew Mrs. Sturges, who was the leading personality in Pettswood. She too said that it was impossible for us to sacrifice our entire savings for we also had responsibilities towards my creditors, and we could not remain entirely without means. I had only to recite the Biblical command, "Thou shalt honour thy father and mother," and she was ready to loan me the missing £20, which I could pay back within a month, since my brother Leo sent me this amount. It was also high time that my parents left the furnished room which was like a prison for them. The landlady was more and more anxious and continually set down new regulations. Nothing was to be burned for heat, and therefore in the middle of winter, my parents had to be content with staying in bed for warmth. Likewise with the lighting, they had to make do with a candle that they bought themselves. They had to listen to repeated threatening statements that it was forbidden to rent rooms to Jews. Finally the long desired ship tickets arrived and at the beginning of January 1940, my parents were able to leave Germany. Although it was difficult for them to leave my sister and her daughter Hanna, nevertheless they breathed a sigh of relief when they boarded the ship in Italy for Argentina, even though it was only a common freight steamer.
As had countless others, the Italian ship lines also understood the great profit to be made from Jewish refugees. Father and Mother had to pawn their wedding rings so that they could pay the porter. If the week long voyage on the freighter was extremely uncomfortable for the old people, nevertheless they were sailing off to their freedom in Buenos Aires, where they were awaited by my brothers Siegfried and Leo. The reunion after all the fears of death was indescribable, there were no words and only tears of joy flowed. Finally in a friendly atmosphere, free from hatred and persecution, Father and Mother in 1940 were able to meet my sister-in-law Bessy in Leo's home. There remained only the pressing worries about Rosel and Hanna; for the precious visa for America did not arrive. Thus they shared the fate of the innocent and defenceless millions, and were killed in the gas chamber by the Nazis in 1942.
Almost like Joseph in the Bible, the young Mergentheimer Adolf Hirsch had reached Argentina before the First World War, where all his undertakings had met with great success. Out of gratitude for all this success, he was already active as a benefactor on a large scale, and first saved his own family members from the claws of the Nazis. However he was not satisfied with only this but gave great amounts of money to the Israelite Philanthropic Association in Buenos Aires to help Jewish refugees throughout Europe. He was the founder of the generally beloved Adolfo Hirsch old age home in San Miguel, built in modern style in the middle of wonderful gardens and woods. There was a synagogue on the grounds, the place was strictly kosher and had doctors and nurses in attendance to care for the elderly residents. My parents were among the first. They had their own room and there hung my paintings that they had rescued. Thus for my Father, the unforgettable Mergenthelm Synagogue was nearby, where his father and great grandfathers had gone for services morning and evening.
Here they soon felt at home, and could exchange tales of similar experiences with the residents. Father attended the synagogue every day where he often led in prayers. The garden parties for residents and visitors always brought new life, and no one could wish for anything better for his old days. The Israelite Philanthropic Association with the help of Don Adolfo Hirsch had set an example here that coming generations will hold in grateful memory.
On 12th February 1945, my dear parents were able to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary, in which relatives, children and grandchildren, as well as all the residents of the home participated. My parents had a care filled life, but they had lived in harmony and mutual trust and we children had never seen them at odds. They had earned this golden age through their god-fearing habits of living. The home's residents collected a Festschrift in their honour with the verse:
Although the once dear homeland
Treated you harshly,
God's power granted
That you celebrate your golden anniversary
In the midst of your dear family.
In such an advanced age without any illness, you feel that every day is a gift of God. The individually furnished room in the home and the wonderful garden surroundings did not cause them to forget the rest awaiting them in the coming world. Unfortunately, they were never able to receive reparations from Germany. Since they were able to have some carefree years together, this was a matter of complete indifference to them.
On 8th November 1948, our dear unforgotten Mother celebrated her 77th birthday. This was a real family celebration. Who would have thought that a few days later on 11th November she would be surprised by sudden death from a heart attack. To depart from this world thus without any warning is certainly a special grace, even when the bereaved family can hardly comprehend this. Father had lost the home atmosphere and the enduring spirit, and it was too hard for him to make his way alone. On his 80th birthday I sent him a portrait of Mother that he had wanted, so that he could carry on conversations in his solitude in front of the picture of the departed. The only light in his life were the visits of Siegfried's and Leo's families, And yet to the end he answered all our letters with his good handwriting which had hardly changed at all.
On 24th August 1963, nearly 94 years old, eternal peace came also to our dear Father, and closed his tired eyes.