The Nazi Party seized power in Germany on January 30, 1933 after winning the Reichstag (parliament) elections. The elections were won against the background of a very difficult economic situation, with massive unemployment and high inflation, when, in the 1920’s, the money changed its value within the same day. It was also a time of political unrest: Socialists, communists and Nazis were fighting with each other, with frequent cases of political assassinations, which resulted in a very unstable political system. The humiliating conditions of the Versailles Agreement ending World War I were an additional factor. There was a yearning for a “strong man” to bring order to the country. As a means of attracting the support of the German people, Adolf Hitler played the “Jewish card” – finding a scapegoat to blame for Germany’s problems. This apparently worked well as it got him the support in the elections of 1933 and later in his policy of annihilation of the Jewish people, in which many Germans actively participated. In this context, it has to be stressed that there was also opposition in Germany to Hitler’s politics and policies towards the Jews. As we know now there was an active underground that helped save Jews and other “enemies of the regime” in various ways, during the dark years of Nazism.
Hitler came into power at the end of January 1933; less than a year later, on December 25, 1933 Sally Gottfeld, his wife Emma and their five children (aged 4-15) landed in Haifa, in British mandated Palestine.
What made Sally leave Germany so soon after the Nazis seized power, before the discriminatory Nuremberg Laws of 1935 against the Jews were enacted, and of course, long before the actual persecutions started? Was he a Zionist? Could he foresee and envision what is coming? He was clearly not a Zionist. He was proud in his “Germanness” and was far from supporting issues pertaining to the Jewish people as a whole; he also made it clear he was different than those Jews from Poland and Russia – the “Ostjuden”. He was also not a visionary with the ability to look into the future and forecast what would happen. So why did he make such a drastic move?
Based on several detailed testimonies by Sally in the years 1952-54 and one in 1959, he was arrested on the night between May 17-18 at his apartment on Putlitzstr. 15 by SA men who took him to the SA headquarters on Hutten Str. From there he was taken with some 20 more arrested men to the ULAP Park on Lehrter str. and then also to the Police Headquarters on Alexanderplatz. The SA tried to put the arrested at the Horst Wessel House (another torture place), but it was full and they were taken to the Police Headquarters.
The former SA Prison Papestrasse is the only historical site of early Nazi terror in Berlin where unequivocal traces from the year 1933 can still be found.
The premises at Papestrasse were originally used as a utility building for the Prussian Railway Regiments. From March to December 1933 it was the site of an early concentration camp run by the SA Field Police (SA-Feldpolizei). At this site, the men of the SA (Sturmabteilung, or Storm Troopers) arrested, interrogated and tortured above all political opponents, Jews and other groups persecuted by the Nazi regime. The names of almost 500 persons who were imprisoned in Papestrasse are presently known. It is likely that the total number of prisoners is considerably higher.
For the most part, the rooms used for imprisonment are still in their original condition and serve as a memorial and place of learning.
On May 19 he was questioned whether he had any political connections, especially to the Communist Party. As he had no such connections he was released. A few SA men waited in the corridor and took him with six more men to the coal cellar on General Pape Str. where they were locked up. This cellar was used by the Nazis early on as a way to terrorize the “enemies of the regime” and was nicknamed the “little concentration camp”; it was a way for them to try out the concept and to develop it later to its frightening dimensions. In the cellar the detainees were beaten every day by young guards, in their 20’s that belonged to Major Wecke’s group. In the evening they had an older guard: 30-35 years old, who only once beat them.
He describes in detail the torture and humiliation he underwent in the Pape Str. cellar: He recalls that on the second day of his arrest, May 20, he refused to lick the saliva of a SA person from the ground and was hit with a rubber stick on the face, whereby his glasses broke and he was wounded on his cheek and nose. Every day there were “visits” in the cellar by very young SA personnel who wanted to “exercise” with the detainees. As he had broken glasses and couldn’t see well and was bleeding from his wounds, he couldn’t participate in those and therefore beaten not only with the rubber stick but with a steel rod, which took out some of his teeth and the upper jawbone was broken. In his testimony, he was unable to recall how many days this lasted, but he remembered that as a Jew he was particularly targeted by the SA men (there were other non-Jewish “enemies of the regime” with him). During his entire stay in the cellar, he received no medical treatment. An attorney, the son of a friend who served with Sally in the same regiment during WWI, finally released him on June 22. On the day of his release, the attorney took him to a first aid station, where his wounds were bandaged and he received certain injections. He was taken there by taxi as he was unable to walk. The taxi fare was paid by the attorney. Private doctors were afraid to treat him when they heard he was incarcerated at the cellar on General Pape str. After a lot of efforts, he found Dr. Leopold Berlin who treated his general condition and the dentist Walter Lewin (his brother-in-law), who began to handle his jaw. The treatments took a long time. His face was swollen and he suffered a lot of pain, he had difficulties walking and urinating. His left knee was misplaced and it took a long time until he could use it again. In light of all this he was unable to work in his profession, which included climbing buildings. He could not properly chew and was able to eat only liquid meals. Later he was told he needs a prosthesis in his jaw, but did not have the means to get it. During his arrest, his apartment was searched for weapons, uniform and forbidden literature but nothing was found, except a pair of used boots. The attorney who released him suggested Sally change his residence, which the Gottfelds did – from Putlitz Str. 15 to Dortmunder Str. 3. Sally had no idea why he was picked up by the SA; he speculates that a Nazi competitor, a certain Klempnermeister Kaiser, directed the SA to him, but he has no proof of it. The experience in the cellar and the advice he received from his buddies from WWI to leave Germany did it. During the summer months, in addition to deal with his wounds, he was weighing his options and possibilities. We know that Sally went to the Palaestina-Amt (Palestine Bureau) on Meineke Str. 10 and applied for a Category A3 “Professional’s Certificate” for immigrants to British Mandated Palestine. He filled such an application on September 20, 1933. In the application, he states that he is a sheet-metal specialist for 26 years (he was 42 at the time). He states that he can read Hebrew but not write or speak it. To the question about his reasons to go to Palestine he states that in light of changing (political?) conditions he is no longer able to make a living in Germany. He states that he possesses machinery and work tools that he plans to take with him. He states he is not a member of a Zionist organization, but he states a reference: The famous businessman and Jewish community leader in Berlin Salman Schocken of Lessingstr. 29 (later to become the owner of the Schocken Publishing House and the Ha’Aretz newspaper in Israel). As to his plans in Palestine, he states that he wants to open a sheet-metal shop. Finally, to the question regarding the timing of his emigration, he states: “As soon as possible”.
At the same time, the family made immediate plans to leave. Emma’s passport contains a “visa for Palestine” granted by the British Consulate in Berlin on Sept. 28 – just a week after his application at the Palaestina-Amt. Apparently this was a visitors’ visa, but Sally aimed for an immigration certificate, which obviously took more time.
Based on his application, the Palaestina-Amt Berlin tried to get him an A3 certificate but were unsuccessful. In a letter from Berlin sent on October 24, 1933 to Mr. Barlass at the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem, the writer (signature not legible) states that Mr. Gottfeld needs to leave Berlin very urgently. The letter further suggests in case the contract for Category A3 cannot be produced, it is suggested to move Mr. Gottfeld to a different category in order for him to receive the certificate. He ends his request by emphasizing the fact that Mr. Gottfeld is a very qualified professional and that he awaits a telegraphic answer. Apparently, no answer was sent to Berlin and on November 14, 1933 a second letter was sent by W. Tempel from Palaestina-Amt Berlin to Jerusalem, referencing the previous one and stating that in the meantime the situation for Mr. Gottfeld became critical (!) and immediate action is demanded.
The letter adds that, based on his military service, Mr. Gottfeld receives a monthly allowance of 48 Marks. This letter was answered by Mr. Barlass on November 30, stating that unfortunately, in light of the immigration situation, the Jewish Agency can do nothing on the matter and suggests the Berlin Bureau gives Sally an immigration license for people 35-45 years of age – apparently a different category. The attempt to get a “Professional’s Visa” seems to be related to the business contacts Sally had with Walter Bonwitt – a businessman who actually sponsored Sally and paid the fare for the trip of the family, along with equipment for his work that was shipped to Palestine. His name is stated as a contact Sally had in Haifa in the documents when the family disembarked the ship upon arrival. In the same documents, he also states he brings with him 2500 Marks (in cash and equipment).
On a Saturday night, Dec. 16, 1933 Sally received a message from Councilman Kresiment, that he was about to be arrested again. Mr. Kresiment gave him the urgent advice to leave Germany immediately and not stay in the apartment on Dortmunder Str. 3. He took the advice and left Berlin with his family by train on that Saturday night. Apparently, they did not want to make a big fuss of the fact they were leaving so they left the lights on and took only necessary things with them, Sally was pushing a cart with all their suitcases to the Anhalter Train Station. In the train they had a compartment for themselves. They first crossed the Austrian border (Salzburg) on December 17 and from there continued to Trieste, Italy. My mother recalled that they could only take a small amount of money with them but her father smuggled more than was allowed by using a double bottom biscuit box to hide the cash. When they crossed the border and their packages were searched, the policeman asked what was in that box, and Sally answered – “cookies” and offered him one. Fritz remembered that incident and how his heart was pounding at the time. In Trieste, they boarded the Martha Washington ship which left for Haifa on December 20, arriving there five days later.
Life in Haifa in the 1930s was hard. The family first lived in a small apartment on 16, Hermon Street – Beit Sherer, on the ground floor; a few months later they moved to 19 Hermon St. – Beit Guttman – a 3-bedroom apartment. Sally had his first shop on Tabor Street. Sally first worked as an employee at Shemen (an oil factory in Haifa) but quit as he was not used that others tell him what to do… He got some contracts and would often go to construction sites and build roofs with sheet metal. According to a family story, Sally lost a lot of money after he trusted a contractor who hired him and did not pay attention to the legal aspects of the contract. Apparently, such cases of swindlers who took advantage to the Jeckes (German immigrants) who were accustomed to other business standards were not uncommon at the time. This caused the family to actually live in poverty; Fritz remembered days of hunger when he came home from school feeling stomach pains and the man at the grocery store would not give him a loaf of bread because his mother owed 25 Piasters. The family moved to Masada Street, first to number 38, later to 56 and finally to Massada 46 – Beit Tchechkovitchka (where I was born). It was a two-bedroom apartment on a second floor with a kitchen, a small corridor and a small porch overlooking the Haifa harbor. The three older kids, Hilde, Hanni and Alfred, now teenagers, did not continue their studies as the family could not afford paying for it and had to work.
My mother Hanni and her sister Hilde worked in child-care and babysitting; my mother also worked in a fabric store – “Salma” (following the footsteps of her grandparents…) and apparently was a very good saleswoman. Alfred worked with his father in his shop and had a lot of conflicts with him. The two younger kids, Fritz and Inge went to elementary schools. My aunt Inge remembers that her older sisters’ salaries were used so that she and Fritz could go to school. The three older kids were also members of the Youth Movement HaNoar HaOved and at one point the two girls went to Kibbutz Na’an for a while, trying to find their way in their new country in the spirit of those days. They returned to Haifa after a while.
While the relatives left in Berlin did not approve of the Gottfelds leaving Germany in 1933, the worsening conditions under which Jews lived in Germany made them change their minds and both Fritz and Alfred remembered letters being sent inquiring about life in Palestine and about the possibility to move there. Sally’s reaction was not encouraging them to come, because of the hardships his family experienced. Apparently, letter (and package) communication existed between the family in Berlin and Haifa; Fritz remembered receiving a watch for his Bar Mitzvah in 1938.
One indication on the difficult times the family underwent in Berlin was an undated poem sent by Marie for Rosh HaShana (Jewish New Year), which is full of hope for better days, but at the same time hints about the difficult times they live through.
In the meantime, the Nazi regime was implementing its anti-Jewish ideology. In addition to propaganda against the Jews as usurping the German nation, there were practical steps taken to restrict them and restrict the non-Jews’ relations with them. This was expressed in 1935 by the Nuremberg Laws, which restricted Jews’ movement, marrying non-Jews, attending cultural events, forbade selling them real estate and other items, restricted Jewish professionals such as doctors and lawyers from practicing and forbade Jews to have pets. Also, forbade Jewish children to attend public schools and eventually also forced Jews to wear a yellow Star of David with the letter “J” in the middle standing for “Jude” and add, officially to their first names, the name “Israel” for males and “Sarah” for females. These measures went into effect and clearly meant major changes in the way Jews lived in Germany. How specifically they affected my relatives, we have very little information; we have not found letters and communication from them describing their fate during the 1930’s. But as we saw above the children were forced to leave the public schools and initially move to Jewish schools, which later were shut down altogether. We also know that some had to leave their homes, were crammed into smaller apartments, usually with other Jewish families, before being deported.
On November 9th, 1938 Pogromnacht (also called Kristallnacht) occurred – all synagogues in Germany as well as many shops owned by Jews were burned down. The fire brigades that were called made sure that the fire did not hit neighboring houses, but did not prevent the Synagogues from burning down. This was the first step in an all-out open war against the Jews in Germany (and later in other European countries) with the intention to fully annihilate them. The Levetzow Street Synagogue was obviously burnt too, but the building did not collapse; it would be used a few years later for a more sinister purpose. For the Jews remaining in Germany this was a (belated) sign of things to come and after November 1938 many attempted to leave, but for most it was too late as on the one hand the German government did not allow such immigration (unless tremendous amounts of money were paid) and on the other, there were no countries willing to receive them.
What was the reaction of my family members to these events? We do not know. It would seem logical that they wanted to leave, but having no money and no connections, this was not a viable option. We know that as of 1938 Jewish kids were no longer allowed to attend general public schools. The story of Ingeborg Silberberg, Paula Silberberg’s daughter, whose friend from those days I detected (or rather she found me) is a case in point. Eveline Grasse (formerly Haucke) and Inge were best friends: They were in the same class in the Clara Schumann School (or Third Volksschule) on Pistorius Street in the Weissensee neighborhood. They would visit each other and play with dolls. One day in 1938 Ingeborg disappeared and Eveline never saw her again. When she inquired about her, nobody knew (or said they didn’t know). They were 8 years old at the time and all those years since then she wondered what had happened to her best friend. Apparently, this was not unusual – people disappeared from one day to another. Only later, when she grew up did she learn what the Nazis did to the Jews, but hoped that Inge somehow survived. It was my website, which her grand-daughter found where she learned of Ingeborg’s fate. As we know now Ingeborg and her older sister Edith left that public school on Nov. 22, 1938 and attended a Jewish school – the Juedische Volksschule on Rykestr, until their family’s deportation.
In July 1937 the SS had the forest cleared on the Ettersberg Hill near Weimar to make way for the construction of a new concentration camp. The facility was to aid in the suppression of political opponents, the persecution of Jews and gypsies, and the permanent exclusion of Gemeinschaftsfremde (“strangers to the community”) – among then homosexuals, homeless, Jehovah’s Witnesses and persons with criminal records – from the Deutscher Volkskorper (“body of German people”). Buchenwald soon became a synonym for the National Socialist concentration camp system. Once this had started, people were deported to Buchenwald from all over Europe. Altogether more than 250,000 persons were imprisoned in the concentration camp on the Ettersberg and its 136 sub-camps. The SS forced them to perform labor for the German armament industry.
Some family members however were able to leave Germany in time: One was Therese (Tessy) Hirsch, Emma’s older sister, who, being born in New York, had an American passport. Her husband Elias (they had no children) was sent to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp – we have no date when this occurred and why he was sent. Therese was able to free him on July 29, 1938 and they left to the only country where they could go – Colombia. They left Germany on Aug. 27, 1938 and arrived in Colombia on Sept. 17, some two months before Pogromnacht. They settled in the city of Cali.
The two daughters of Sally’s older brother Tobias from his first wife – Ruth and Ursula (Ulla) Gottfeld, were also able to leave in time, being helped by a friend. Ulla came to the UK on June 2, 1939 and her sister Ruth came there in August, just before the war broke out. Tobias had the opportunity but refused to leave Berlin; he considered himself to be safe as a ‘German’ who had fought in WW I. Another person to leave Germany on time was Sally’s and Tobias’ sister Selma Gottfeld. She too left to the UK.
As soon as Germany started the war on September 1, 1939, plans were also drawn to deal with the “Jewish question”. At first the plan was to deport them outside of Germany, to the East, for “resettlement” purposes. The first such deportation took place in the city of Stettin on February 12, 1940, when some 1200 Jews were ordered to pack and within 4-8 hours were taken to the Lublin area. This was “explained” by the need for their homes for Germans whose homes were bombarded. They were packed on a train in cattle wagons. The Jews deported got the impression they would stay in Poland until the end of the war. A month later, on March 12, the Jews from Schneidemuhl were deported in the same manner. On October 2, 1940, another deportation occurred of the Jews living in Baden-Pfalz. They were collected from several cities and towns in the region and some 6000 of them were sent from Freiburg to a concentration camp in Gurs, on the Spanish-French border. This was a camp that was used after the Civil War in Spain as a transit facility for those fighting in the war (1936-39) and returning to their home countries. The Jews who survived the conditions in Gurs were later sent to Auschwitz. It is important to stress that these deportations as well as future ones, took place with the full (forced) participation of the Jewish leadership, which had to organize the operations and amass the deportees.
After gaining the experience in those deportations of the Jews in Germany in 1940, starting in October 1941 the Nazis began to deport the Jews in large masses from other parts of Germany, including Berlin. This meant my family members too. On October 1, in the middle of the Yom Kippur services, Moritz Henschel, the President of the Jewish community in Berlin, was summoned to the Gestapo and was told that a “resettlement” (Umsiedlung) process was now beginning for the Berlin Jews in Lodz. The community would ask a few thousand to complete a questionnaire for this “project” and they would be deported in groups of one thousand at a time. He was threatened not to leak this information. This was supposed to be in the context of evacuating the apartments in which they lived. On the assigned day, they had to come to the Levetzow Street Synagogue to be deported. The first train left on October 16 with 1082 people aboard from the Grunewald train station to Lodz. Before deportation, each family had to complete a detailed questionnaire listing all their belongings and assets, which were, of course, confiscated. Those declarations are a tremendously important indication of how people lived and what they had. Unfortunately I was only able to obtain one of these forms of our family members – Siegfried’s. As his declaration indicates, his “property” is very minimal – a kitchen table and some chairs, etc.
Hermann Lewin, his wife Rachel (nee Messing) and their son Juergen, age 7, were on Transport Number 3, on October 29, 1941. It left Grunewald train station with 1009 people, arrived in Lodz with 908. The 101 “missing” were either dead on arrival or, maybe, some were able to escape. During October and November some 20,000 Jews were sent to Lodz (Litzmannstadt), not just from Berlin but from cities such as Frankfurt, Köln, Düsseldorf and Hamburg. They were added to the local Jewish population living in the ghetto of some 200,000. They were housed mostly in public places under horrible hygienic conditions and hunger, which caused illnesses. Very few residents found employment in the Ghetto. Based on information we obtained, Hermann Lewin died in Ghetto Lodz on August 1, 1942. His wife Rachel was sent to Chelmno and was killed there on September 12, 1942. Recently I discovered that their son Juergen died on April 5th, 1944 and is buried in the Jewish cemetery in Lodz. This means that he lived about a year and a half after both his parents died!
The Rumbula massacre is a collective term for incidents on November 30 and December 8, 1941 in which about 25,000 Jews were killed in or on the way to Rumbula forest near Riga, Latvia, during the Holocaust. Except for the Babi Yar massacre in Ukraine, this was the biggest two-day Holocaust atrocity until the operation of the death camps. About 24,000 of the victims were Latvian Jews from the Riga Ghetto and approximately 1,000 were German Jews transported to the forest by train. The Rumbula massacre was carried out by the Nazi Einsatzgruppe A with the help of local collaborators of the Arajs Kommando, with support from other such Latvian auxiliaries. In charge of the operation was Höherer SS und Polizeiführer Friedrich Jeckeln, who had previously overseen similar massacres in Ukraine. Rudolf Lange, who later participated in the Wannsee Conference, also took part in organizing the massacre. The Rumbula killings, together with many others, formed the basis of the post-World War II Einsatzgruppen trial where a number of Einsatzgruppen commanders were found guilty of crimes against humanity.
If the Lodz deportations gave at least the impression of a “resettlement”, the next transports were already within the framework of the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” with the intent to kill the deportees. The idea was to do that dirty work far away from Germany. The next transports, starting in November 1941 were headed to Riga (Latvia), where 25 transports were supposed to land bringing altogether 25,000 German and Austrian Jews. For some logistical problems, the first 5 of these transports were directed to Kowno/Kaunas (Lithuania).
Marie Heimann, her second husband James and her son Heinz (age 10) were on Transport Number 6 to Kowno/Kaunas leaving Grunewald Train Station on November 17, at 18:25 with 944 Jews. It was escorted by two Gestapo and fifteen police officers. Transport commander was Kriminaloberassessor Exner, who had two copies of the transport list with him. The train reached Kowno on November 21. On November 25 and 29 two separate mass shootings of 4,934 German Jews took place at the Ninth Fort near Kowno. These mass killings were performed by the men of Karl Jaeger’s Einsatzkommando 3, “the most prolific killers on the entire Eastern Front” as one source described them. On the first of these 2 dates (November 25), 1159 Jewish males, 1600 females and 175 children, “resettled” from Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich, were killed at this site. This is when Marie, her husband and son were murdered. Thus, they were part of the group which constituted the first systematic mass killings of German Jews during the Holocaust.
Walter Lewin and his two children, Ingolf (age 8) and Jutta (age 6), as well as his sister Rosa Haase, her husband Oskar and their two children Thea (age 13) and Joachim (age 9) were on Transport Number 7 that left Grunewald Train Station on November 27, 1941, just 10 days after the deportation of their sister Marie and her family. That transport was headed to Riga (Latvia). It contained 1053 deportees and arrived at Riga Skirotava Train Station on the night between November 29 and 30. They were then marched to the Rumbula forest execution site. The next morning, November 30, all deportees were killed. Following the killing of the Berlin Jews coming on that Transport early in the morning, an additional 10,000 Jews from the Riga Ghetto were killed too on the same day and place.
Otto Weidt was born in 1882 in northern Germany. During the First World War he was a convinced pacifist. As he was himself visually impaired, he established in the 1930’s a workshop for the manufacture of brooms and brushes and as he objected to the Nazi regime, he employed in it Jewish blind and deaf workers. He was able to obtain a contract from the Wehrmacht (the German army) to supply them with brooms and brushes and his deemed “very important for the war effort”. It had some 30 blind and deaf Jewish workers as well as 8 other Jews that he was helping. For a long time he was able to protect his workers from deportation by bribing the officials of the unemployment office and the Gestapo. With the help of other collaborators, he got false documents and work permits for some refugees. To be able to buy more food he sold many of his brushes in the black market. He was able to protect the workshop and his workers until February 1943. The Fabrikaktion, in which Jews who were not yet deported, because they worked in essential jobs, were targeted, brought an end to Otto Weidt’s struggle to protect his workshop and his Jewish workers and most of them were sent to Auschwitz. For Alice Licht, who was his secretary and with whom he had a close relation, he rented a place in an inner yard for her parents and herself. The four members of the Horn family he housed in his workshop behind a hidden wall. An informer disclosed their hiding place and they were deported to Auschwitz on Oct. 14th, 1943. He was able to connect with Alice Licht and enabled her escape to Berlin.
Otto Weidt died in 1947 in Berlin. His wife received the Award for the Righteous among the Nations from Yad VaShem in 1971.
A survivor thanks to Otto Weidt’s help is the author Inge Deutschkron (see below). As a result of her initiative the former workshop was turned into a museum in 2006 – The Otto Weidt Blindenwerkstatt – that tells the Weidt’s story with archival photos and interviews with some of those he saved.
In the history of deportations and mass murder, this specific transport had a particular significance. Apparently after the mass murder in Kowno, where Germans Jews (as opposed to Polish, Russian, Ukrainian Jews), some of them with records of fighting for the “fatherland”, were killed in a brutal way, there were some misgivings in the Nazi leadership regarding the methodology used. Thus, the idea was to bring the deportees to the ghetto in Riga, as was done in Lodz, in future transports, not to shoot them upon arrival. Himmler sent a message to Heydrich from Hitler’s headquarters in Berlin on November 30 saying “Jewish Transport from Berlin – No Liquidation” (“Judentransport aus Berlin – Keine Liquidierung”). The message arrived too late; it was already after the deed. The German Jews in the next 20 transports to Riga were, indeed, sent to the Riga Ghetto, as the Nazis wanted to annihilate them in a more discrete and “humane” way .
Tobias Gottfeld was killed in Sachsenhausen on September 16, 1942.
The concentration camp of Sachsenhausen, a small town north of Berlin, was already built in 1936. It was meant to incarcerate “enemies of the regime” and indeed it housed not just Jews but political opponents and later, during the war, also Soviet Russian prisoners-of-war. In fact, the largest group of inmates in Sachsenhausen was this group of Russian prisoners. The camp was used as a training site for the SS and an experimental site for methods of treating and killing prisoners, which they later used in other camps. Why did Tobias end up there? When was he taken there? I was unable to obtain that information as the records in Sachsenhausen were lost; they only had his date of death. Thus, regarding the reason he was sent there, one can speculate that it was either the fact that he was a communist (although not an active one), and those were clearly considered “enemies of the regime.” Another option is that he was considered a Polish Jew and a group of 900 of those were rounded up in Berlin on September 13, 1941 and put in Sachsenhausen. This option is strengthened in light of the last address given for him – Grenadier Street 7, which was in Scheunenviertel – a neighborhood in Berlin’s Mitte where mostly Ostjuden (Jews from the East) lived. Tobias’ second wife Charlotte with her two children, Eva Nawratzky (age 9) and Helmut Nawratzky (age 7) were sent to Auschwitz on Transport Number 27, which left Putlitz Street Train Station in Berlin on January 29, 1943 with 1004 Jews abroad and arrived Auschwitz the following day.
At that stage, the Nazis lost all their misgivings and hesitations regarding the methods of killing and sent German Jews directly to the death camps. The developments of the death camps in 1942/3 were related to the Wannsee conference, which took place in January 1942, attended by the senior Nazi leadership (including Eichmann) and headed by Heidrich; it was devoted to the detailed plans for “the final solution of the Jewish question”.
Siegfried Lewin, his wife Gertrud (nee Cohn) and their children Martin (age 9) and Scheine (age 4) were sent to Auschwitz on Transport Number 39 on June 28, 1943. It contained 314 deportees and arrived in Auschwitz the following day. Sigi was the youngest brother of my Grandma Emma; he was blind. He was a broom and brush maker and since 1935 worked at Otto Weidt’s workshop on Grossbeeren Str. 92. Weidt, an anti-Nazi entrepreneur, expanded his business when the war erupted, had a contract with the Wehrmacht to provide them with brooms and brushes and thus was able to employ more people; he employed Jewish blind and deaf people, saving them from deportation. He was able to save them to a point, but in mid-1943 most of them were taken.
An author and journalist, born in Berlin (1922), she worked during the war as a secretary in Otto Weidt’s workshop. After the closure of the workshop, she hid with her mother in various places in Germany and was able to survive. After the war she moved to the UK for a short time and then came to live in Israel. She worked for the daily Ma’ariv and as such was sent to be that newspaper correspondent in Bonn. Later she went back to live in Germany and after unification in 1989 she went to the workshop, which was located in the no-man’s-land between the two parts of the city and discovered the place stayed as it used to be. She worked diligently to turn the place into a museum commemorating Otto Weidt and other dissidents of the Nazi Regime.
Interview with Inge Deutschkron, Berlin, Nov. 16, 2009
In 1935/6 Otto Weidt became blind. At that time he had a small workshop for brushes and brooms on Grossbeehrenstr. In 1939 he was given an order (and a contract) from the Wehrmacht to deliver to them brooms and brushes. As an avid anti-Nazi this gave him the idea on how to dupe them. He received the materials to make the brooms, but delivered only a fraction of what was expected. With the rest he was able to handle and get all kinds of concessions – he would go to a department store and offer them his merchandise (which was in short supply then) and get in return food, clothes or money with which he could bribe the Gestapo. He always had a parcel under his arm, so people knew to expect gifts from him.
The Gestapo was in charge of all jobs where Jews were employed. Jews were only allowed to work in “heavy duty” jobs such as in AG Farben, Siemens and other heavy labor. Only those who were ill or unfit were given other jobs. Inge (19 at the time) had such a job in AG Farben, which was terrible. She thought of a way to get out of it. She was young and very healthy. One day she wore very high heeled shoes; she took the tram to work – one and a half hours each way + 10 hours work – she developed an infection in her knee which made her unfit – a problem she carried throughout life and was given restitution for. This paved the way for her to be employed by Otto Weidt, whom she knew. He wanted to employ her but actually had no work for her, but he made up something as he liked her. He was a pacifist, never took a weapon. He said he was a socialist but not a member of the Socialist Party. He lied (to the Nazis) and was a good actor, used various tactics to attain his goals. He was blind (to an extent) but used his blindness when it suited his needs. Inge’s father was a socialist and his friends were helping her and her mother to hide when she was no longer able to work for Weidt.
Deportation. In the Fall of 1941 some people received forms to fill regarding their assets. Nobody knew for what purpose. In the house where Inge lived one such family received it. Then on Oct. 16 at 8 pm the Gestapo arrived at the apartment. Inge opened; they asked for this family and gave them 10 minutes to pack and took them; this is how the deportation begun. From that moment it was known that a family receiving such forms is to be deported next. Such an event took place every month more or less, and after each deportation people sighed a sigh of relief that they were not on it. The deportations were to the “East”; nobody knew what happened to the deportees. This is how most Jews of Berlin were sent on their last journey. The ones that were left were the “needed” workers. This took place throughout 1941-42. Toward the end of 1942 Inge started to look for hiding places. In Nov. 1942 they heard on the BBC (which was forbidden to be listened to, but people did it covered with heavy blankets) a vague news item regarding mass killing of Jews that is taking place in the “East”. This was the first time.
One day in 1942 a van of the Gestapo came to the yard of the Blindenwerkstatt and picked up all the workers for deportation. Otto Weidt went to the Gestapo and asked them to explain how they dared take his workers away when he has orders from the Wehrmacht to deliver merchandise. He came back with his workers a few hours later.
Feb. 27, 1943 – Berlin was declared “Judenrein” and a FabrikAktion started to round up all remaining Jews, including those working in the “needed” jobs; the SS went to the work places, not the homes, to pick up the Jews. Weidt couldn’t help any more. Inge remembers when they rounded up the workers for the last time, one worker, Rosa Katz, said “Ich hab noch nicht eine Jacke fuer die Reise” (I do not even have a coat for the trip); Inge gave Rosa her jacket. On Christmas Weidt brought her a new jacket. He was a very sensitive person. When she and her mother went into hiding, they didn’t know what to do with the furniture, so he suggested taking it to the workshop, and he did (later to be stolen). He hid a few workers in the workshop, which later were found as someone was talking about that with a Jewish “spy” who worked for the Nazis. There were several who did that – Inge did not want to talk about it; she only mentioned Stella – a famous informer who turned in many, whom she said she (Inge) wanted to kill after the war.
After the deportation, Weidt sent 150 parcels to Theresienstadt , which were very important for the inmates of the camps. Documentation for these exists in the museum. In May 1944 Alice Licht his secretary, was sent to Birkenau. She wrote Weidt a postcard saying they are taken to Auschwitz and threw it from the train. Apparently, somebody found it and sent it. Weidt went to Auschwitz, brought money and clothes, found a way to bribe a guard to give her a letter saying where she can find clothes and money (hid somewhere in town) and let her out, and this is how she was saved.
Paula Silberberg, her husband Max and their daughter Edith (age 16) and Ingeborg (age 13) were deported to Theresienstadt on February 2, 1943 with an Altertransport (transport of old people) in a group of 100 deportees. Theresienstadt was not a “regular” concentration camp. It was first designed as a place for old people, which the Nazis duped into depositing all their assets and “move” there. Eventually they sent not just old people to Theresienstadt. The camp was managed by the Jewish leadership. People worked there both in forced employment and in running the routines of the camp. It was also a showcase for the Nazis and at one point a delegation from the Red Cross from Geneva visited and was shown the cafes and cultural activities undertaken there.
How and why did the Silberbergs end up in Theresienstadt rather than sent directly to Auschwitz? We don’t know. In one document from Theresienstadt in which Paula’s name appears, she is listed as a “worker” (“arbeitaerin”).
The family spent about a year and a half in Theresienstadt before being deported to Auschwitz on September 29, 1944 (Max, in an all-men transport), and on October 12, 1944 (Paula and her daughters) – just 4 months before Auschwitz was liberated! Apparently, the older daughter Edith chose to join her mother and sister on that last trip. This can be deduced from the fact that she had a much higher serial number than Paula and Ingeborg. Their numbers on that transport were 92 and 93 and Edith number was 1497.
All in all, within 3 years – between October 1941 and October 1944, 23 uncles, aunts and cousins of my mother were killed by the Nazis, the last ones, just a few months before the end of the war:
Victims of the Holocaust
Juergen Lewin, the only son of Hermann and Rachel Lewin, was deported with his parents to ghetto Lodz on October 29th, 1941. Juergen, born April 4th, 1934, was seven at the time. The picture, taken a year earlier, shows him at the first day in school, carrying a big bag of candy, which was the custom in those days.
The record shows that the family resided on Reiter St. 23 in apt. 21. In the records Hermann Lewin was listed as a “worker” (arbeiter) and Rachel as a “cook” (kochin). The record also shows that five members of the Targownik family also lived in the same apartment.
When records of their death were examined, we discovered that Hermann died on Aug. 1st, 1942, apparently in the ghetto; his wife Rachel died some 6 weeks later, on Sept. 12th, 1942 in the Chelmno Extermination Camp. Juergen’s date of death was April 5th, 1944, on his 10th birthday, more than a year and a half after the death of his parents! Furthermore, unlike his parents, Juergen was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Lodz and the exact location of his grave was found. A gravestone is being laid on his grave.
How did Juergen, a child, 8 years old, survive those 18 months without his parents? Who took care of him? We found a document stating that he was an apprentice (“Lehrling”) in a tailoring factory (“Schneiderei”) in the forced labor system in the ghetto (see document). According to the document he started on his job on Jan. 12th 1944, namely 3 months before he died. The way he survived those 18 months will continue to be a mystery.
Emma’s only surviving sister, Therese (Tessy) and her husband Elias Hirsch spent the war years in Cali, Colombia. He had a small bakery there. They came to Israel on September 12, 1949, stating the Gottfelds as their relatives.
Ruth and Ulla Gottfeld spent the war years in London. They both went into domestic service when they arrived in UK but, along with many other Jewish German females, were rounded up, sent to Holloway Prison and then to Isle of Man where they were interned for about 18 months. Following internment, Ruth joined the British army, posted in Devon and worked in the kitchen. Ulla, too spirited to be ‘told what to do’ opted to do war work (ammunitions) in London where life was very hard. In the early 50s, Ruth’s husband Hans Dahl, saw a notice posted by Sally in the Jewish Chronicle, looking for Ulla and Ruth, hence they finally connected. They remained in the UK after the war.
Selma Gottfeld too spent the war years in the UK and moved to New York after the war, where she was a private nurse. My mother and her brother Fritz tried to contact her there, but she adamantly refused all contact with Sally or his children.
Another distant family member who survived the war, actually the Theresienstadt ghetto, was Henriette Zander, Sally’s aunt (younger sister of his father Isaak, born in 1869 in Bruss). She was taken to the Ghetto in 1942 and was released when the camp was liberated in 1945. She moved to an old-age home in Frankfurt after the war. A few years later she was looking for her nephew Sally in Israel. On November 25, 1952, she wrote a letter to the Israeli Radio, which at the time had a program in search of persons whose relatives’ fate was unknown as a result of the war. She ends the letter with a short phrase in Hebrew “יישר כוח” and “ובא לציון גואל”. The request is turned to the Search Bureau for Missing Relatives of the Jewish Agency, which located Sally and his address was sent to his aunt on Jan. 11, 1953.
The war years also saw marriages of the two oldest Gottfeld daughters in Haifa and births of their first children – first grand-children of the Gottfelds. Hilde married Yoel Dreikurs (later Hebrewized to Doron) on February 2, 1940. My mother Hanni married my father Karl Gradwohl on October 12 1939. I was born on May 7, 1941; my cousin Jacob Doron was born on August 1941 and his sister Yehudit in October 1943.
My recollections of these years as a small child were of sirens that signaled the coming of Italian planes to bombard Haifa (which had a port and a large oil refinery) and my parents taking me downstairs to the hallway (no shelters then). I also remember my Uncle Alfred, who volunteered to serve in the British Army. He was drafted on July 14, 1942; he worked at the time as a mechanic at the Ford Company in Haifa and was assigned to the R.E.M.E. (Royal Electric Mechanical Engineers) Unit, where he served as a mechanic and was stationed in Egypt. When he came home on leave, wearing his uniform he brought me candies and chocolates from there.
Looking back on those 12 years of the Nazi regime and their impact on our family, what stands out was the decision of my grand-father, Sally Gottfeld to leave Berlin in 1933 and emigrate to Palestine. It stands out in two inter-related ways: The first has to do with the tragic fate of his and my grand-mother’s Emma siblings and their families – altogether 23 persons killed , a fate that would have surely awaited his family, had he stayed.
The second has to do with the outcome of this decision, in terms of the family’s development. Sally and Emma had 5 children. The next generation consisted of 12 Gottfeld grandchildren, whom they all knew before they died (Emma in 1961, Sally in 1964). After their deaths those 12 grandchildren had families of their own and have altogether 31 Gottfeld great-grandchildren; and those in turn have at last count (September 2010) 34 Gottfeld great-great-grandchildren and counting!
All of those are the outcome of Sally’s escape from Berlin in 1933.
 To these we have to add the two children of Charlotte Gottfeld – Tobias’ second wife – Eva and Helmut Nawratzky, who were killed with their mother in Auschwitz in January 1943