The beginning of the end of German Jewry


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21 February 1933

Letter sent by Benno Chajes to the Schöneberg District Court concerning Eduard Bernstein‘s estate

Eduard Bernstein (1850–1932)—one of the most important figures in the history of the German socialist movement—was spared the experience of living under Nazi rule. A leading socialist theoretician and an associate of Friedrich Engels, August Bebel and Rosa Luxemburg, Bernstein died in December 1932, six weeks before Adolf Hitler was appointed Reich chancellor. He was almost eighty-three at the time. Benno Chajes, the widower of Bernstein‘s deceased stepdaughter, was responsible for cleaning out Bernstein‘s apartment and executing his will. Chajes was requested to inform the Schöneberg District Court of the estate‘s value—a routine task. As his letter makes clear, it was not worth very much—only around 4,000 reichsmarks.

A few months later, Eduard Bernstein‘s works were among those destroyed in the book burnings throughout the country and banned from publication.

Aubrey Pomerance

Categorie(s): Berlin | book burning | politicians
Letter sent by Benno Chajes to the Schöneberg District Court concerning Eduard Bernstein‘s estate, Berlin, 21 February 1933
Gift of Zev Chajes

Benno Chajes

Benno Chajes (1880–1938) was a medical doctor who served as director of the Institute of Social Hygiene in Berlin. From 1928 to 1932 he represented the SPD in the Prussian Landtag (state parliament) and was a political opponent of the Nazis. He was reelected to the Landtag in the election on 5 March 1933. On 18 May, acting together with the other SPD representatives, Chajes tried unsuccessfully to block passage of the Enabling Act for Prussia, which accorded the government sweeping powers. This was the last time the Landtag ever convened.

Aware of the dangers facing him as both a Social Democrat and a Jew, Chajes made arrangements to emigrate. He had already been suspended from his professorial position and lost his medical license in late April. He left for Palestine in July/August. There he opened his own practice and played a key role in the development of the country‘s health policy.


Identification card for the Prussian Landtag, fourth legislative period, Berlin, 20 May 1932
Gift of Zev Chajes