A Reflection on “Reichskristallnacht” 1938

Lotte, Julius and Else Rosenberg (née Pabst). Source: Private Collection

The pogrom of Kristallnacht, the 9/10 November 1938, transformed Nazi policy towards German Jews from encouraged emigration to forced emigration. The burnings of synagogues, smashing of shop windows, incarcerations of men over 16 years of age, were all warnings to get out — fast.

German Jews had been emigrating steadily in the six years since Hitler had become Chancellor on 30 January 1933: by early November 1938, about one-quarter (25% or 150,000) had left.  They clearly heard the warning of November 1938 and by the end of 1939, nearly double that number (280,000) had left Germany. Those remaining in Germany, approximately 200,000, continued to search desperately for refuge.

The Rosenbergs’ Auswanderung/Emigration File. Source: Private Collection

The story of the family of Julius Rosenberg, his wife, Else, a non-Jew, and their daughter, Lotte (b. 1934) takes us inside this world. Julius and Else had begun to apply for emigration/immigration papers in mid-1938. On Kristallnacht, Julius was arrested and imprisoned in Buchenwald; upon his release in December, they intensified the search. The file, shown at left, titled simply Auswanderungpapiere /Emigration papers contains copies of all the letters and forms written by Julius and Else and by others on their behalf, as well as copies of the responses they received. It’s a thick file.

In early 1939, the Rosenbergs received notification of their numbers on the waiting list for admission into the United States, They knew immediately that it would be at least two  years before the American quota on German & Austrian immigrants (Jews and non-Jews alike) would allow them to enter. They continued to search for other possibilitiesm but there were none to find. The Rosenbergs remained in Germany throughout WWII: Julius was arrested in 1943 and murdered, probably in Auschwitz; Else and Lotte survived the war and emigrated from Germany for Canada in the early 1950s.

In February 1939, Julius Rosenberg replied to this ad in a Berlin Jewish newspaper that suggested that India might accept Jewish immigrants. He did not receive a reply and India accepted very few Jewish immigrants. Source: Private Collection.

The letters and postcards of Clara and Max Müller to sons Meinhold and Willi, both of whom had left Germany before November 1938, provide us with another perspective of the hunt for safety. Clara and Max too received numbers on the USA’s waiting list and knew how long the wait would be; as Clara wrote to her 16-year olf son, Willi, in Palestine on 9 April 1939;

Clara Müller, Themar, to Willi Müller, Palestine, 9 April 1939. Source: Private Collection

Aunt Bertha [Clara’s sister-in-law] from Hersfeld will move this month to Frankfurt and stay there until her number comes up. Siegfried Nussbaum and his wife will probably leave this summer for the States. We have a very high number and must wait a very long time. Love, Mama.

Documents such as these challenge the assumption that Jewish Germans, particularly the older generation, didn’t really want to leave Germany and did not attempt to leave, even after the warning of Kristallnacht. To date, little in the research about the Jewish community in Themar supports this notion. We know that very elderly people — for example, Karoline Mayer, née Eisenfresser, b. 1847 and therefore 92 years of age in 1939, the  mother of Frieda Wolf and Nanett Levinstein — did not apply to emigrate, but Jewish Themarens in their early 80s did.

Rather, it is the indifference of other countries to the plight of Jewish victims of Nazi oppression that screams out from the pages of evidence. By the end of June 1939, 309,000 German, Austrian, and Czech Jews had applied for the 27,000 places available under the quota. The Rosenbergs and the Müllers knew that their numbers would not fall within this quota for at least two years, given that the quota applied to both Jewish and non-Jewish Germans. They persisted in applying elsewhere.

Canada’s reluctance to accept Jewish refugees deserves special mention in this regard, given the special bond between Canada and Themar that has arisen since 2007, when the letters of Manfred Rosengarten were donated to the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre. Canada accepted only one of Themar’s Jews, Lothar Frankenberg, b. 1895. That’s not a record to be proud of!

Sharon Meen
Vancouver, Canada