8 March 1933
Letter of complaint from Jakob Steinhardt, probably to the Berlin police authorities
The SA men did not have a search or an arrest warrant, but they nonetheless took the artist into custody and drove him to a private apartment for questioning. Steinhardt was accused of operating a secret radio station in his apartment but was released a few hours later when it became clear that the SA’s suspicions were unfounded.
The next night the artist was threatened by an anonymous telephone caller: “Well, Herr Steinhardt, how did you like things yesterday?. . .It’s time you left for Palestine. We’ll be paying you frequent visits from now on. We have your keys and can get in at any time we like.”
After the phone call, Minni Steinhardt suffered a nervous breakdown. Acting on the advice of a physician, the family left Berlin on 7 March. After remaining for several days in the Yugoslavian spa town of Bled, where Jakob Steinhardt wrote this letter, the family fled to Palestine in mid-March. They never returned to Berlin again.
I would like to ask you to take note of the following incident, which occurred during the night of. . .and to investigate how it is possible that entirely powerless and apolitical people can be subjected to such situations.
I have lived with my wife and nine-year-old daughter in a live-in studio at Pariserstrasse 27 for twelve years. I am a member of the Association of German Artists, the Berlin Secession and the Economic Board of Visual Artists in Germany. I fought in Russia and Macedonia during the war. I am not interested or active in politics. I do not associate with communists or politically minded people.
During the night of 3 March, our doorbell was rung loudly at 4 a.m. and I opened up to find five National Socialists standing in front of the apartment door. They told me they had orders from the Interior Ministry to search our apartment and arrest me. Since they were not able to give any more specific reasons for my arrest or produce a warrant, we immediately alerted the burglary squad. Only then did we let them into our apartment. The men conducted their search and shortly afterward the burglary squad arrived
and took down information. The SA men were once again unable to present the necessary authorization for my arrest and, at the insistence of the burglary squad, left the apartment. At around six thirty, the bell rang again and the same SA men were standing at the door, this time accompanied by an officer from the Criminal Investigations Department. Without presenting any official papers, this officer claimed that his mere presence in uniform meant that I was obligated to accompany him to Police Headquarters, Department 1A. I saw no alternative but to do as he said. However, once we were outside the building, the officer left and the SA men drove me to an apartment in the neighborhood of Luther Strasse and Motzstrasse. Here my pockets were checked and I was asked a number of questions that all boiled down to whether I had a private radio transmitter in my apartment!
After they had satisfied themselves on the basis of this interrogation and their search that their suspicions were unfounded, I was released. However, at five thirty the next morning (4 March) the phone rang and a voice I did not recognize asked to speak to me. When I identified myself, the person said [illegible]:
“Well, Mr. Steinhardt, how did you like things yesterday? We’re all very nice people, aren’t we? Have you realized now that it’s time you left for Palestine? We’re going to pay you frequent visits from now on. We have your keys and can get in at any time we like. We’ll be able to deal with the doorman—he’s no threat.” I didn’t say a word the whole time, although he acted as if he were really conversing with me. Finally I heard him say, “He hung up. Do we want to let the matter rest? I don’t think we should.”
As a result of the incidents on both these nights, my wife suffered a nervous breakdown on Sunday. I was advised by a doctor to go to a quiet place and traveled to Bled in Yugoslavia on Tuesday. On Sunday the 5th I learned from the police that the Memorial Church Burglary Squad was at my apartment and that the search and arrest had been carried out by the unit “Storm12, Standard 7.” I also learned that the names of the SA men had been taken down.
I would like to ask you once again to investigate this matter and above all to determine who is responsible for this defamation.
My address is Hotel Toplice, Bled (Yugoslavia)