19 September 1933
Letter from Martin and Jenny Held in Spanish exile to Clara and Leopold Lemke in Tilsit in East Prussia
On the eve of Rosh ha-Shanah, the Jewish New Year, Martin and Jenny Held looked back on the year that was just coming to an end. Their life had changed dramatically. Twelve months earlier they had been living in the Schöneberg district of Berlin and now they found themselves in Spanish exile, hundreds of miles away from family and friends. They wrote this letter to Martin’s sister Clara and her husband, Leopold Lemke, to wish them all the best for the year 5694.
The first few lines of the letter were written by fifty-one-year-old Jenny Held, née Wolff. She explains that they had emigrated from Germany more than two weeks earlier and were now staying in Barcelona. They had not informed anyone of their plans prior to departure so as not to make “parting any more difficult.” What they desired most for the New Year was a “secure livelihood.” Martin Held, born in Bromberg in 1879, was still pained by the necessity of having to leave his “homeland.” In his view, the family faced a difficult future, but in the letter he only hints at their financial difficulties. Rosh ha-Shanah is a joyous occasion and he apparently did not want to burden his relatives with his worries.
In another letter written a few weeks later, on 20 November, Martin pours out his heart. Although he had prepared extensively for emigration—in May of that year he had spent “two to three weeks” in Barcelona “to get his bearings”—everything had gone wrong. “Nothing, nothing at all, works. I have not earned a penny; there are only expenses. I can't take much more and am on the brink of despair.” A merchant by trade, he admitted to his sister and brother-in-law that he felt “like the most incompetent person in the world” and cursed "the decision to come here." He had recently suffered a severe nervous breakdown and it was only because of his courageous wife, Jenny, that he was now doing a little better.
Little is known of the family’s subsequent experiences. For several months during the Spanish Civil War, Jenny Held took refuge on the coast from the air raids on Barcelona. In the spring of 1938 she managed to flee to the United States with her son Edwin. The Helds’ daughter Hannelise had already emigrated there in the fall of 1936. Martin Held never reached the safety of American soil and died in Spain.
Tuesday 19 September 33
Barcelona, Paseo de Bonanova 32
c/o Max Wolff
My dears! You surely know that we arrived in Barcelona by ship a few days ago after a twelve-day voyage. We are only writing you now from our new place of residence because we did not wish to make the parting any more difficult. We have gone through such an endlessly difficult time during the last few weeks and I was above all happy and content that Martin survived all the exertions and excitement well. I don’t want to go into any more detail today. My thoughts are melancholy on the occasion of the holidays because our loved ones are scattered to the four winds. We will stay another fourteen days or so with my brother and then see to it that we get ourselves a modest small home.
Today, we send you all our best wishes for the New Year. May we be granted what we have wished each other—a secure livelihood once again! Is Meinhardt still in Breslau?
With warmest regards and best wishes for the holidays,
Jenny, Hannelise and Edwin
My dear sister and brother-in-law!
I am hardly able to describe the difficulties we had to overcome before we were ready to go. But my affairs are arranged such that I can return to Germany at any time and I hope that I will even be able to travel to Berlin for a few days in winter and perhaps visit you and our other siblings, a trip that, despite my plans, is currently impossible. So now we are here; it was difficult enough for us to leave our homeland and I am still pained by having to do so. Our goal is to start a new life and it is perfectly clear to me that this will not be easy, as I have limited resources. But you can be sure that I will not forget you, my dear ones, even if we are so far apart! Without knowing all the details, it’s clear to me that you will be struggling now more than ever, but keep up your courage, as I also must. After all, we all have faith in God. None of us has ever done anyone any harm, at least not knowingly, and so God in his benevolence will protect us. This is the hope we have for each other for the coming year.
So once again, chin up, do not despair, happy holidays, I pray for all the best for you on the Day of Atonement & offer my most heartfelt greetings.
Write us a long letter soon. My warmest congratulations and regards to the children. Can you send me Meinhardt’s address? He wrote to me some time ago, but I can’t find his letter.