30 December 1933
Excerpt from a letter written by Gertrud Ludwig to Max Pinkus
“It is my sincerest wish that 1934 will not be as traumatic for you as the last twelve months.” The sentiment expressed in this sentence, written in late 1933, probably reflected the feelings of most German Jews at the end of a year that had changed their lives in fundamental ways. In fact, it was to mark the beginning of a catastrophic period that lasted more than twelve years. These words were penned by Gertrud Ludwig, a non-Jewish woman living in the town of Liegnitz in Lower Silesia, and sent to Max Pinkus, the former director of a textile mill in Neustadt, Upper Silesia, which was one of the largest in the world. Pinkus was an honorary citizen of this town, a philanthropist and a collector of books and craftwork who had turned seventy-six just four weeks earlier. He was an old friend of Gertrud’s husband, Viktor Ludwig, who had died in January 1933. In 1922 the two men had published the first bibliography of the works of Silesian author Gerhart Hauptmann.
Gertrud Ludwig was well aware of the drastic changes in the lives of the Pinkus family. She was deeply worried about both Max Pinkus, whose world had been destroyed in the previous eleven months, and his children and grandchildren. “I never would have thought that recent events would have such far-reaching effects on your family and your life’s work.” She, too, was unable to understand what had become of the country since Hitler was appointed chancellor on 30 January.
In the course of the year Max Pinkus had been expelled from dozens of associations of which he was not only a member but also as a major sponsor. One of his sons had temporarily gone abroad and, judging by the letter, his granddaughters were in the Czechoslovakian town of Brno. In addition, the authorities were seeking to confiscate his factory. What were Max Pinkus’s feelings when he considered the upcoming New Year? Gertrud Ludwig was apparently confident in his ability to cope with the situation.
Four and a half months later she visited him with her children. In May 1934, after returning home, she expressed her heartfelt gratitude to him but also her concern about his well-being. Three weeks later Max Pinkus was dead. From what we know, she did not attend his funeral, but Pinkus’s friend Gerhart Hauptmann and his wife were there and were said to have been the only non-Jews present. Not one of the city councilors appeared to pay their last respects to this honorary citizen of their town.
30 Dec. 33
Recently, on the 22th, I was interrupted while writing to you and I have not yet found the time to return to my desk. However, I did not want the year to pass without wishing you all the best for the New Year. It is my sincerest wish that 1934 will not be as traumatic for you as the last twelve months. It was with great dismay that I read that so many of your dear family members are abroad—even the two little ones, Jenny and Freddy, who cannot yet understand why they have been made to suffer this fate. Am I right in assuming that they are with their grandmother in Brno? I sincerely hope that this is the case since it would mean that they can be reached relatively quickly and easily and are thus not completely separated from their parents.
But the situation remains infinitely sad. And the others, where are they? What about your son? I know very well, dear Herr Pinkus, that you do not like to talk about your life or your activities, but I would still like to take the liberty of expressing my heartfelt sympathy to you in the face of the difficulties you have experienced. I never would have thought that recent events would have such far-reaching effects on your family and your life’s work. And yet I know that you will find your own way to deal with the situation you are facing and, despite everything, to retain your vitality. It is in this regard that you are such a role model for me and probably for everyone who is close to you. This is also my sincere hope for you in the New Year.