The beginning of the end of German Jewry


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10 March 1933

School diploma issued to Judith Rosenthal

What was it like to graduate high school as an eighteen-year-old just six weeks after Adolf Hitler was appointed Reich chancellor? Did a young Jewish woman living in Germany at the time feel hope, enthusiasm and confidence when looking to the future? Of course, this school diploma reveals nothing about such feelings—though it does note the graduate‘s intention "to study art history."

Judith Rosenthal (1915–2002), a native of Berlin, was unable to fulfill this wish directly after graduating. However, after numerous detours she did manage to pursue a lifelong career in art. University was not her first stop on leaving school: whether or not she was barred from admission, we do not know. Instead, Judith, whose father and grandfather were rabbis, enrolled in the College of the Science of Judaism (Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums) in April 1933. One year later she transferred to a private school for fashion design and commercial art, where she remained until early 1936.

In August of the same year, at the age of 21, she married Simon Helfer, a bank employee and former religion student of her father‘s, who had been prohibited from continuing his law studies in 1933 because of his Polish nationality. In 1939, the Helfers fled to London, where Judith studied art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art. In 1951, the couple emigrated to New York and Judith began working as an artist. From the 1960s until shortly before her death, she was also active as an art critic, primarily for the German-Jewish émigré newspaper Aufbau.

Aubrey Pomerance

Categorie(s): Berlin | school | students
School diploma issued to Judith Rosenthal by the Pestalozzi Upper Girls‘ School in the Lichtenberg district of Berlin, 10 March 1933
Leo Baeck Institute, Judith Helfer Collection, AR 25079

School magazine for graduation

In preparation for their graduation ceremony, Judith Rosenthal and her classmates produced a funny and witty magazine featuring comical verses about teachers, a poem about the "final exam nightmare" and student advertisements. Judith billed herself as a fashion adviser and offered "extreme caricatures."

Cover of the graduation magazine produced by Judith Rosenthal‘s class, Berlin, spring 1933
Leo Baeck Institute, Judith Helfer Collection, AR 25079