The beginning of the end of German Jewry

1933

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Wednesday
9 August 1933

Letter written by Werner Kraft in Swedish exile to Margarethe Heller in Edinburgh

On 9 August 1933 thirty-seven-year-old Werner Kraft (1896–1991), a librarian, literary scholar and author, wrote this letter to his acquaintance Margarethe Heller (1893–1982), whom he had met several years earlier through a mutual childhood friend, the philosopher and religious historian Gershom Scholem. The two had been living in exile for quite some time, Kraft in Danderyd near Stockholm, Heller in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The letter reflects the hardship suffered by emigrants. Their careers abruptly terminated, they often did not speak the language of their country of exile and were dependent on others for help. At the same time they were anxiously following developments in Germany.

Werner Kraft was considering continuing on to Palestine, but he first wanted to try to “settle here in Europe.” Although not particularly optimistic about the outcome, he asked Heller to inquire at the university library in Edinburgh “whether there are any opportunities for Jewish librarians from Germany in the British library system.”

Kraft closely followed the German-language press and took the opportunity to comment on current events. Two days earlier the Nazis had murdered the Jewish journalist and Social Democrat Felix Fechenbach and Kraft wrote in his letter: “How hellish life has become in Germany. Poor Fechenbach!” Concerning Karl Kraus, the Austrian writer and editor of the journal Die Fackel, he quoted another source, reporting: “He’s physically well, but his silence reveals just how much he is suffering from the unspeakable conditions we are experiencing.”

Lea Weik

Categorie(s): artists and writers | civil servants | emigration | Hanover
Letter from Werner Kraft to Margarethe Heller, Danderyd (Sweden), 9 August 1933
Gift of Eri Heller

A life devoted to books

Werner Kraft was born on 4 May 1896 in Braunschweig and grew up in Hanover. After studying German, French and philosophy, he trained to be a librarian. He received his PhD and in 1928 was appointed senior librarian at the Vormals Königliche und Provinzial-Bibliothek, a regional library in Hanover.

In April 1933 Kraft was dismissed from his position as a result of the implementation of the Law for the Restoration of the Civil Service. Together with his wife, Erna, and their two children, Caspar and Else, he immigrated to Sweden. Following short stays in London and Paris, the family finally settled in Jerusalem in 1934.

Between 1936 and 1942 Kraft served as a librarian at the Centre de Culture Française in Jerusalem and from 1947 to 1956 in the antiquities department of the Rockefeller Museum. He was also an author himself: in addition to novels and poems, he wrote monographs on such figures as Karl Kraus, Martin Buber and Franz Kafka. On 14 June 1991 Werner Kraft died in Jerusalem at the age of ninety-five.

Postcard from Erich Brauer to Werner Kraft in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, after 9 Oktober 1934. Erich Brauer was an ethnologist and the brother of Margarethe Heller.
Gift of Eri Heller 
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