17 October 1933
Letter from Harry and Margarethe Heller in Edinburgh to Adolf and Fanny Brauer in Berlin
When Harry (1899–1967) and Margarethe Heller (1892–1982) wrote this letter to Margarethe’s parents in Berlin, the couple had been living in Edinburgh for more than six months. They emigrated from Berlin after Harry Heller, as a Jew, was dismissed from his job as a senior physician at Friedrichshain Hospital.
Getting his qualifications recognized in Scotland was not easy. As he tells his parents-in-law, he had to take several examinations in different areas of medicine before he could work as a physician at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. The letter shows his frustration at feeling all his “routine and experience” gradually slipping away.
In their letter, the Hellers switch between everyday matters—such as recommending books to read—and passages that reflect their situation as emigrants. One striking section is where Harry Heller discusses current political events; he was evidently watching developments in Germany very closely. He shows sympathy for the German Reich’s withdrawal from the League of Nations on 14 October: “Now they [Germany’s opponents] can see how far their League of Nations gets them. Over here they talk a lot of nonsense about moral isolation. In reality, they are the ones who are morally isolated.” Even though he and his family were victims of the antisemitic Nazi regime, at this point his sense of attachment to his homeland seems still to have been largely intact.
Margarethe Heller closes the letter with brief greetings to her parents, and mentions that she and Harry listened to the radio broadcast of the Reichstag fire trial, which began on 21 September in Berlin. The Dutch communist Marinus van der Lubbe and the people allegedly behind him were accused of having set fire to the Reichstag on 28 February 1933.
In 1934, the Hellers left Britain and emigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine, where Margarethe had lived for a while in the 1920s. Harry Heller rebuilt his career as a physician and scientist. In 1967, after Harry’s death, Margarethe Heller moved to California to join her two sons. Margarethe’s father, Adolf Brauer, died in December 1933. Her mother Fanny managed to follow her children to Palestine in 1938.
17 October 1933
It was the right thing not to accept the registered letter. Dr. H. is not in Berlin. No special editions either. A shame to have wasted the postage.
The exams are really not as bad as you think. Still to come are one in January, Public Health and Medical Jurisprudence, and the main ones in June or July in internal medicine, surgery, gynecology, obstetrics, and the subsidiary subjects. If I knew why I had to do them, I wouldn’t mind at all. But I don’t, and that’s a different matter. It’s far from pleasant to sit listening to what is sometimes quite outrageous nonsense while all your routine and experience gradually slips from your fingers.
So G.S. managed it, and without any financial benefit; a likely story if ever I heard one. I’m surprised about the organization of mass departures for P[alestine]. I wouldn’t have thought it possible.
The author of Alice in Wonderland is called Lewis Carroll. That’s his pen name. He may be in the library catalogue under his real name, Charles L. Dodgson.
I’ve now read The Land of Smiles. The review itself is not worth talking about. The fact that it was performed, though, I don’t find such a bad thing. I consider it a very welcome, and also very respectable, achievement that over there [i.e., in Palestine] people are interested in things of that kind at all. They can’t be expected to make the right choice straight away. They are simply too uneducated for that, and of course too badly advised. But in any case, in my opinion this gives them the tools to do something better one day. The children’s supplement is just stupid, nothing else. The notes from the community leaders I didn’t read. Hans Kohn’s article struck me as being particularly boring. Quite apart from some quite aggravating wording.
Apart from that, we don’t have much to report. We see almost nobody. Recently I was at a meeting where the speakers thoroughly laid into Mr. MacDonald [the British politician Ramsay MacDonald]. Our pastor is still our most pleasant company. He challenged me to recite a few verses from Isaiah chapter 40, and I was ashamed that I could only remember the first few words. I think it must be eighteen years since I knew as little H[ebrew] as I do today.
Politically, of course, there is plenty happening here. We Germans of course welcomed the action of the Reich government with relief. The liberties that the Powers had taken were simply too much. If you could read the papers here (by the way, we didn’t send anything because I think the language would be too difficult for you!), you would throw up your hands in horror at the hypocrisy. Of course, people here are bound to cast suspicion on every German demand. If Germany calls for samples of all the weapons held by other nations, for the sake of its honor, then of course that’s immediately interpreted as meaning they just want to have the factories so they can manufacture as many of the weapons as they like. And all this at a time when Germany is surrounded by neighbors bristling with arms. Now they can see how far their League of Nations gets them. Over here they talk a lot of nonsense about moral isolation. In reality, they are the ones who are morally isolated.
The weather here is still remarkably mild and usually clear. We don’t understand why people told us this country was so northerly and cold.
We read recently that an almanac has been published by Schocken for 50 pf[ennigs], with essays by Kafka, Scholem, etc. Perhaps you could buy a copy and send it to us?
Warm regards, H[arry]
Today I only want to add a short greeting. We are still very well, and we continue to live a lonely and quiet life. Now and again we listen to the radio, recently we heard a London broadcast of Cavalleria Rusticana and right afterwards from Berlin the latest news and coverage of the Reichstag fire.
Do you know Thacker[a]y’s Vanity Fair? It’s a very gripping novel.
When we asked about the money, of course we didn’t mean we wanted you to send it. I was only interested to know whether it arrived.
How should we understand the comment about W.K.? Is he already in P[alestine]?
Erich [i.e. Margarethe's brother], have you thought about the stationery business? You didn’t answer regarding that. N.’s comment was very interesting, and it seems quite possible to succeed in it. Why don’t you have a serious word with the H.s? Perhaps you should use the free time that I suppose you have now to gather some specialized knowledge of the business. It’s a real shame I’m not there. We could do it together. But maybe I will join you later.
How is your health? The 10 pf. tours are a very good thing, because they help you get out of the house a bit.—In the last proofs, we thought the footnotes were quite mixed up. I hope you watched out for that.
I send everyone my warmest greetings and remain