22 August 1933
Letter from Charlotte Gumpert in Switzerland to Minni Steinhardt in Tel Aviv
Charlotte Gumpert was surely not in the mood for laughing when she wrote this letter to her sister-in-law Minni Steinhardt in August 1933. Despite her mood—or perhaps because of it?—she concluded her letter with three jokes, “even though you might already have heard them all”:
1) What are new arrivals to Palestine asked? Answer: Did you come out of conviction or are you from Germany?2) A German immigrant doctor who has just settled in Palestine runs an ad in the local paper: “Back again, after a long absence.” 3) What is an Aryan? Anyone with a Jewish great-grandmother!
Charlotte Gumpert, née Blaschko (1898–1933), wrote these lines from the sanatorium in the Swiss canton of Ticino, where she had been staying for several months. A native of Berlin, she had gone there to recover from tuberculosis, but her health had not improved. She was also suffering from the separation from her husband, Martin, and her daughter, Nina, who was almost six at the time. Compounding the situation was the unsettling political news from the German Reich. Her husband was about to return to Germany after a temporary stay in France. “I'm very sad about it, because I cannot imagine that I will ever be able to live in Germany again,” she wrote to her sister-in-law, who had already immigrated to Palestine with her husband, the painter Jakob Steinhardt, and their daughter, Josefa.
Charlotte and Martin Gumpert were also considering immigrating. However, the top priority for the thirty-five-year-old was to regain her health. They also needed to ensure they could work in their new home. “As long as you have nothing abroad (except for a sick wife) or even the prospect of a livelihood, you have to stick it out.” Charlotte and Martin Gumpert were both physicians and knew that there were few opportunities for them in the British Mandate of Palestine because there was already an “oversupply” of doctors. In her letter to her sister-in-law Minni, “Lotte” once again makes light of this unpleasant reality by telling a joke—this time about the yekkes in Palestine: “‘Are all Germans doctors?’ a Palestinian child asks.”
Charlotte Gumpert returned to Berlin and succumbed to her illness on 30 December 1933. Martin Gumpert immigrated to the United States two and a half years later and was joined in April 1937 by his daughter and mother-in-law.
… Yes, I have scolded myself enough now. As for us, the unfortunate news is that Martin has recently been looking for an apartment and is considering a modernized 3½-room flat at the corner of Uhlandstr. and Steinplatz. I’m very sad about it, because I cannot imagine that I will ever be able to live in Germany again. However, Martin is right. As long as you have nothing abroad (except for a sick wife) or even the prospect of a livelihood, you have to stick it out. And hopefully we’ll always be able to get rid of a 3½-room apartment. For the most part Martin sounds rather gloomy in his letters, though he does try to hide it. But how could it be otherwise? Well, at least he has our daughter with him, who is mostly in good spirits.
The plight of immigrant doctors, even the prominent ones, is actually quite bad. With the exception of Marcus, who is deservedly popular because he is capable and pleasant, only Lichtwitz has something—at a Jewish hospital in America. However, even in his case the question of naturalization has not yet been settled. Everyone else is in transit around the world. Regarding Palestine, we always hear about the oversupply of doctors (also in the form of jokes: ‘“Are all Germans doctors?” a Palestinian child asks’). Since a large number of enterprising colleagues have already gone there (I don’t mean Klopstock or Marcus), I can already tell you that Martin—who detests certain methods and, for professional and other reasons, refuses to ingratiate himself with people he dislikes—would have difficulty establishing himself.
He has never written a word about Palestine to me, but I would not be averse. Unfortunately traveling has now become too expensive. You can imagine how I am longing for a visit from Martin, especially since the Prussian regimen here is placing great demands on my rather reduced mental and physical powers—especially when it comes to patience and discipline. But it is impossible. The trip is so long and expensive and I simply have to stick it out. Everyone says the doctor is so good and I have to stick it out, so I submit.
Hopefully all of you have survived the heat. It was also very hot here, which was very pleasant for me. Eva almost melted away in Florence. I’ve thought of you often. Apparently we’ve acclimated quite well up here in the north and will now have to learn to cope with the heat again. How is Josepha? Does she want a birthday gift from Europe that Mother could perhaps get her? Or doesn’t she want to have anything to do with things from her old homeland? Does she ever miss it?
Finally, a few jokes, even though you might already have heard them all:
1) What are new arrivals to Palestine asked? Answer: Did you come out of conviction or are you from Germany?
2) A German immigrant doctor who has just settled in Palestine runs an ad in the local paper: “Back again, after a long absence.”
3) What is an Aryan? Anyone with a Jewish great-grandmother!
That’s all for today. I wish you good health, prosperity, and all the best for the workers’ courses, art schools and your general well-being. Write again soon and give my regards to Jak, Josepha and Fräulein Zuckerman.
How is Jak’s family doing? Where are they?