Since the end of the 18th century and into the 19th century, after hundreds of years of being “tolerated” in Germany, the Jews were slowly becoming integrated in the general German society. New ideas about equality, the declining role of religion, the Industrial Revolution, all of which led to processes of emancipation of Jews in the different regions of Germany and opened new opportunities for them. In addition, ideas expressed by the great philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786) and his followers, who suggested that there is no negation between Judaism and “Germanness”, encouraged Jews to leave the ghettos, seek general education and become integrated in the German society.
The German Jews seized these new opportunities and found their way, in a long and painstaking process, to the centers of science, the economy, the arts, the professions and even into politics. The prevalent idea in the German Jewish community during the latter part of the 19th century and the first third of the 20th century was clearly one of integration into the society viewing their identity first and foremost as Germans, even if this sometimes meant conversion into Christianity, as the famous cases of Heinrich Heine and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdi’s father (Moses Mendelssohn’s son) show. In its declarations and behavior, the German Jewish leadership made it a very strong point to stress the Jews’ unmistakable and full loyalty to Germany. This was already expressed in a variety of ways during the Prussian – French war in 1870, but it received much stronger expression during World War I (1914-1918). Jews were encouraged by their leadership to get drafted into the German army and contribute in other ways to the war effort; over 15,000 Jewish soldiers were killed in that war and the Jewish leadership saw this as another indication of integration into the German society. Later, when the Nazis came into power, the Jews who participated in that war thought it would absolve them from persecution.
These developments, regarding participation in World War I had a direct bearing on my family. The three Gottfeld sons participated in the war and paid a very high price for it. Simon Gottfeld was killed early in the war, on December 28, 1914 in the battle of Schlacht a. d. Rawka – Bzura (rivers), in the Lodz/Skierniewice region. He was listed as living in Marienburg in West Prussia. He belonged to the 4 I. R. 129 Unit.
Sally was drafted on Oct. 12, 1913 and participated in the war. He was wounded twice in 1915, received the First Class Iron Cross (Eisenen Kreuz) for saving his officer’s life in the Eastern Front and received a rent from the army of 20% and later 30% as a bonus for serving on the front. He was always very proud of his army service.
Tobias came out of the war very shaken. According to his grand-daughter Viola, after seeing the mass killings in the battlefields, he apparently lost his belief in God and religion (any religion), forbade his family members to practice any religious rites and became a communist. In the Lewin family Hermann, Isidor’s third son participated in that war, as did Elias Hirsch, Therese’s (Isidor’s oldest daughter) husband.
Emma and Sally were married after he was released from the service, in 1917. We have their “Wedding Poem”, a custom practiced then, telling about the good qualities of the couple, written by Emma’s brother Hermann. Within the next 3 years they had their first three children, all born in Berlin: Mathilde (Hilde) – 1918, Johanna (Hanni, my mother) – 1919 and Alfred – 1920. Their younger children were born a few years later: Fritz in 1925 and Ingrid (Inge) in 1929. They lived in Moabit, a middle-class neighborhood. Sally was a sheet-metal specialist and a plumber; he was self-employed and had his own shop.
In 1921 Isidor and Jenny Lewin came to Berlin with their five younger children (after burying Frieda in Mogilno in 1920) and so did the two other children – Therese (Tessy) who was already married to Elias Hirsch, and Hermann, who was released from the army after the war.
Berlin after World War I was characterized by diverging and conflicting trends: (1) It was a city full of conflicts and social problems, resulting from the aftermath of the war – unemployment, high inflation, refugees (victims of the war), among them wounded and handicapped people filling the streets. (2) It was the capital in a country with a new regime – a new experiment in democracy – the Weimar Republic; after centuries of absolutist regimes, the last one an empire, there was now a democratically elected government. This did not prove to be a simple task as that government had to deal with conflicting ideologies (communism, socialism and nazism) that intended to topple it and a high level of violence in the streets resulting from it, including political assassinations. (3) Despite these difficult circumstances Berlin was also considered the “center of the world” in terms of its scientific, artistic and cultural life. Figures such as Albert Einstein, Berthold Brecht, Max Lieberman, Marlene Dietrich, Josef von Sternberg and many other intellectuals and artists lived and were active in Berlin during those years. This was the complex context into which my family relatives, coming from the Posen region, were to be integrated.
The Jewish community in Berlin was basically thriving during the Weimar Republic years. In 1925 some 178,000 Jews lived in Berlin and its surroundings. It was well organized, both geographically (in districts) and ideologically – by political parties and religious factions (orthodox, reform and Haredi – Adas Jisroel). It operated many welfare, cultural and youth institutions as well as libraries. There were at least 13 synagogues in the city, and there were a lot of citizens’ associations, including “Heimatvereine” – associations of people who originated in a particular city. One example, close to our heart was the association of Jews from the Posen region (“Verband Posener Heimatvereine”). That association had a monthly newsletter (“Verbandorgan”) – Posener Heimatblaetter with 3000 readers.
Those institutions were supported by the community, some of whose members were wealthy, running large department stores and other economic enterprises. At that point, the Jews saw themselves as part and parcel of the German nation, proving their loyalty during the war and being integrated in the economic and social spheres, contributing much more than their relative share of the population.
There was also a very active political debate in the community, which brought about major disputes and divisions within it: On the one hand, there were those who wanted to assimilate into the German society and considered their Jewishness a cultural trait; on the other were those who clung to their traditional orthodox truth, and a third trend was Zionism, which had a presence and began to be felt in the form of organizations and activities.
This unequivocal “Germanness” of the Jewish community was a point strongly stressed in all pronouncements of the Jewish leadership at the time. In some cases, children were not told they were born into Jewish families: Inge Deutschkron learned that she was Jewish only after the Nuremberg Laws went into effect and affected the Jews.
The Ostjuden – those Jews who came from Poland and Russia with their long black dresses, beards and Peot, were looked upon in disdain by German Jews, already integrated in the general society. My mother recalled an incident when she accompanied her father who had some work to do in Scheunenviertel – the low-class (slum) district in Berlin Mitte where the Jews from “The East” lived. This was the first time she saw “those” people and the clear message she received was that they are different from “us”.
During the 1920’s and early 1930’s all of the Lewin children got married in Berlin and started their families and so did Tobias Gottfeld, Sally’s brother.
When looking at basic data about this young generation of the Lewin family, two important features spring out:
1 ) Most of the Lewin married spouses stem from the same Posen/West Prussia region, where they came from. Mapping the places of birth of these men and women suggests many were born in the same region (see map):
– Elias Hirsch, Therese’s husband – in Otorowo;
– Sally Gottfeld, Emma’s husband – in Culmsee (Chelmza);
– Oskar Haase, Rosa’s husband – in Tremessen (Trzemszno);
– James Heimann, Marie’s second husband in Garnsee (Gardeja);
– Gertrud Cohn, Siegfried’s wife in Hohensalza (Inowroclaw).
– Henriette (Henny) Heidemann, Walter’s wife in Bromberg (Bydgoszcz)
The two exceptions were:
– Rachel Messing, Hermann’s wife – in Rzeszow (Galicia);
– Max Silberberg, Paula’s husband – in Ergste (Westphalia)
That says something about their social networks and their circles of acquaintances in Berlin, or, it has to do with the way matchmakers worked, who looked to find a match with some common demographic characteristic.
This proximity was instrumental as for weekends and holidays the family got together, usually at Isidor’s and Jenny’s apartment. My Uncle Fritz remembered that Siegfried (Sigi), the blind brother of Emma, played the piano well and he did that on such occasions; specifically, he remembered the song La Paloma that Sigi played.
The Moabit/Tiergarten Neighborhood
In 1933 there were over 250,000 inhabitants in the Tiergarten neighborhood, among them 12,286 Jews. A list compiled by Kurt Schilde of the neighborhood, which he calls “Jewish Topography” and includes names and addresses of Jewish institutions, shops and individuals, shows a pictures of dozens of institutions – from sport and youth organizations to cultural and social ones, as well as many shops owned by Jews.
One could characterize the social class of my family as petite bourgeoisie, or aspiring middle class; this can be seen from their occupational profile: They were workers or small shop keepers (the shops were rented). My grandpa Sally had a sheet metal shop in the back of the yard on Jagow Str. 13, a place that once used to be a horse stall; he employed occasionally a few workers. In the Jewish Yearbooks of Berlin, he is described as a Klempnermeister (sheet-metal specialist).
Elias Hirsch was a baker and had a bakery on Jagow Str. 20. He is described in the Yearbook as a Baeckermeister. Hermann Lewin was not regularly employed. According to one account he was selling cushions at Christmas Markets. He would come to his sister Emma who helped him when she could. Walter was a dentist (not a dental doctor) and had his own clinic. Siegfried, being blind, was a broom and brush-maker. Max Silberberg, Paula’s husband, was a house painter; he once painted the Gottfeld’s home. Rosa’s husband, Oskar Haase, was a barber, but did not own his business. Later he is listed as a driver. James Heimann was also a driver. The women, except Marie did not work outside the home; according to one account, Marie was beautiful and elegant; she worked as a secretary.
On the Gottfeld side, after Simon was killed in the World War I, there were Selma and Tobias, siblings of Sally. Selma was a registered nurse. She never married. Tobias was a glazer. He was described as a quiet man. He married Erna Markuse, his first wife in 1913. A year later he joined the army, fought in the war and returned home in 1918. They had 2 daughters, Ruth and Ursula. His wife Erna died in 1926, and Tobias remarried Charlotte Gruenbaum in the mid-1930, a widow with two teenage kids.
Sally’s father, Isaak, also lived in Berlin since 1920. He was a tall and strong man and easy to lose his temper. According to one account he killed a Polish man who called him a “dirty Jew”. He liked to drink and often got drunk. According to a story, his son Tobias, who owned a liquor store at one point, asked him to keep an eye on the store while he was away on some business; when he returned, he found him drunk. In 1933, before the Gottfelds left Germany, he was in a home for the aged and didn’t recognize them.
Walter was apparently the pride of the Lewin family. He came to Berlin (from Mogilno) already in 1917 or 1918, before his parents and siblings and lived with his sisters Emma and Therese. He did so to study the trade of dentist (he was not a dental doctor). He studied with dentist Baumgartner on Holzmarkt Str. He later opened a dental clinic of his own on Turm Str. 28, where he also lived, but had to close in 1938 due to the anti-Jewish laws. He later moved to Turm Str. 53. As a relatively well-off person he was the one who took care of his parents in their old age.
He was married to Henny (Henriette) Heidemann, born in Bromberg (Bydgoszcz, Poland) in 1912. They had two children: Ingolf (born 1933) and Jutta (born 1935). They were later divorced. The children lived with Walter and all three were deported on Nov. 27, 1941 to Riga and killed there. Henny was deported some 9 months later – on Aug. 15, 1942, to Riga as well.
The children went to the local public schools. My mother and her older sister Hilde went to the Heinrich von Kleist elementary Girls’ School on Levetzow Street, down the road from the Synagogue on the same street, just around the block from Jagow Street where they lived. The school exists today – it served as center for immigrants. It has a plaque commemorating the Jewish children who studied there and were killed during the Nazi era. Alfred went to the Friedrich Werdersches Realgymnasium und Gemeindedoppelschule on Bochumer Street 8, which today is a technical high-school (Staatlicher Technikerschule Berlin). That school celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2008.
It was planned by a famous architect of the times – Ludwig Hoffmann, who built several other impressive buildings in Berlin and other cities. Fritz went to the Bochumer Volksschule. In those public schools, there were weekly religious lessons; the Jewish kids had Jewish lessons taught by a teacher named Dr. Wacksman.
My mother’s recollections of the school were not too positive. She remembered harsh teachers and strict discipline. Hilde apparently excelled in school and her parents were exempted from paying tuition for her, as her father Sally was a war veteran. She was able to attend the Dorotheen Lyceum High School for one year before moving to Palestine. The other children of the extended family also attended public schools, until in 1938, when, following the Nuremberg Laws they were expelled from the public schools and had to attend Jewish schools.
I was able to obtain the list of the schools the children attended:
- Juergen Lewin, born in 1934, son of Hermann and Rachel, entered the 3rd Juedische Volksschule in 1940
- Edith Silberberg, born in 1927 and Ingeborg Silberberg, born in 1930, daughters of Max and Paula Silberberg, entered the Volksschule on Pistorius str. in 1933 and 1935 respectively. They had to change to Juedische Volksschule on Rykestr. in 1938. That school closed on June 30, 1942.
- Ingolf Lewin, born in 1933 and Jutta Lewin, born in 1935, children of Walter Lewin, entered school in 1938 and 1941 respectively. Ingolf went to the 4th Volksschule and is listed as leaving the school on November 1941; the reason given: Deportation. Jutta is listed in the private Volksschule der Juedische Gemeinde, Josef-Lehmann-Schule
- Thea Haase, born in 1928 and Joachim Haase, born in 1932, children of Oskar and Rosa went to different schools: Thea entered in 1935 the Levetzowstr. School (probably the Heinrich von Kleist). She is listed as changing to the “216 Volksschule; Hilfsschule” on Aug. 4, 1941. Joachim entered school in 1939 to the Klopstockstr. (4th Volksschule) He changed schools on Apr. 1, 1941; the reason given was “emigration”.
- Heinz Ingo Heinmann, born in 1931, son of Marie, entered in 1938 the 4th private Volksschule der Juedische Gemeinde on Klopstockstr. He is listed as changing schools on Apr. 1, 1941 and the reason given: “Evacuation!”
- Martin Lewin, born in 1934, son of Siegfried entered the Knabenvolksschule der Juedischen Gemeinde on Apr. 1, 1940 and left school on June 30, 1942; the reason given – school closing.
The Levetzow street synagogue, on 7-8 Levetzow, at the corner of Jagow street, inaugurated on April 7, 1914, was an impressive building. It was one of the largest synagogues in Berlin and was an attraction point for Jews to come to this neighborhood. This was our family’s synagogue. Alfred had his Bar Mitzvah there, just a few months before the family left for Palestine. Elias Hirsch, Tessy’s husband, who was a religious person, was the שמש – “Shames” of the synagogue. Fritz remembers that on Simchat Torah, when candy was given to children, Elias made sure the Gottfeld kids got more than their fair share… Sally was not religious but apparently knew the Jewish prayers from his days in Culmsee. On Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, he would go to the synagogue wearing a top hat. The neighborhood was near the Berlin Zoo and the Spree River was also close by. The children would go to the zoo and play in the park along the river. The economic conditions at home were harsh. The 1920’s were years of high inflation and high unemployment as well as political upheaval.
A great source for insight about Sally’s work patterns, his clients, the type of work he was engaged in and the payment he received was his work log that we found. The book starts in 1927 and goes to March 1933, then it pauses for 3 months and restarts in July till November 1933. It restarts in Haifa in early 1934.
From the analysis of the text one can learn that he was an expert plumber; he did both repairs (of broken pipes, etc.) and also building new structures, including welding. He had both private and public clients, mostly in Moabit, Charlottenburg or Mitte. His three biggest clients in the first years (between 1927 and August 1931) were the Nord-West-Hotel (Turmstrasse 7/8), the Jewish community at Rosenstrasse and the Bezirksamt Tiergarten (a municipality). For the municipality he worked at different schools in Moabit. For the Nord-West-Hotel he a lot of orders since April 1927. In his book he lists the materials he used and the working hours. At the beginning he charged 2,10RM per hour and later increased it to 2,40RM.
A most important client was the famous businessman and community leader Salman Schocken, who became his client in January 1931. Sally worked at his villa on Lessingstrasse 29-31 in Zehlendorf. He had diverse jobs there, both of construction and repairs in the house and in the garden. The invoice was sometimes sent to Zwickau, where Schocken had his business headquarters. His connection to Schocken was crucial in the process of the Gottfelds leaving Germany in 1933 (see below).
At some point the orders from the municipality stopped. Also, there were no jobs documented between March and June 1933 when he was arrested at Papestrasse by the SA (see below). He began working again in July after his release, with a job at Dortmunder Strasse 3, which was also the Gottfelds last address in Germany.
His last job in Germany was at Grenadierstrasse 4a on October 14th 1933, and his first job in Haifa was on February 25th 1934 at the house of Dr. Adler on Herzl St. A comparison between his practice in Berlin and Haifa shows that it was basically a continuation: repairing and laying pipes. In Haifa he did not have regular clients like in Berlin and there was obviously less work.
Sally had work sometimes and at other times he didn’t, and although he was an excellent artisan, he had difficulties to sustain his family.
During those tough times, my mother remembered that her mother Emma went from time to time to the Jewish welfare office and was given clothes and toys for the children and money for food. Alfred remembers a Frau Struck, a sort of a Lady Bountiful, who gave the children sweets in a demeaning way.
Betty Struck was indeed listed as staff person in the Jewish Welfare and Child Care Agencies of the Jewish Community of Berlin (“Wohlfahrts- und Jugendfuersorgeamt der Juedischen Gemeinde” for the Northwest District – offices in the Levetzow Str. Synagogue).
Another indication of the tough economic times was the fact that the family had to move several times. In addition to Jagow and Strom Streets they also lived on Putlitz and Dortmunder Streets. They did not own their apartments and when they could no longer pay for it – had to leave and find another one. Alfred remembers that these moves often took place at night. On the other hand, there were also more prosperous periods. In one case, there was a French teacher, Poirier, who came to the von Kleist School on an exchange program and was looking for a place to stay; Hanni and Hilde begged with their parents to invite him and he stayed at the Gottfelds for about a month and was very liked by the children.
Alfred suggests that Sally was a good artisan but a poor business man and lost money that originated from Emma’s family. In addition, Sally also liked to spend time in the pub. Alfred recalls that once he was sent to bring him home from the pub at night.
Isidor Lewin died in 1927 in his home on Zwingli Street. Fritz remembered him as a short and very quiet man. He had cancer and my mother remembered his extreme pain and his loud screams as he suffered.
He was buried in the Jewish cemetery at Weissensee. His wife Jenny died in 1933, shortly before her daughter Emma and her family left for Palestine. She too was buried in the same cemetery and they have a common tombstone.