The beginning of the end of German Jewry


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17 March 1933

Letter from Carl Friedrich von Siemens to Flora Meyer

This is in many ways a disturbing letter. It was written by Carl Friedrich von Siemens (1872–1941), the director of one of the largest companies in Germany, to Flora Meyer (1887–1965), the widow of one of his former Jewish managers. Dr. Georg Meyer, an engineer, had been killed at the front in December 1916. In his letter Carl Friedrich von Siemens expresses sympathy for German Jews, acknowledges their achievements and voices indignation at the anti-Jewish riots of the previous weeks.

But at the same time he credits the "founder and leader" of the Nazi movement with "rousing the German people and awakening their national consciousness." Furthermore, Siemens draws on blatant stereotypes. He sees the origins of anti-Jewish agitation in the "massive influx of foreign Jews after the war" and argues that it has been worsened by "excesses in the press and in the arts, where the Jewish element plays an important role."

In her memoirs Flora Meyer describes how Carl Friedrich von Siemens enabled her son to undertake a college internship at the company and how, in 1933, Siemens personally contacted the dean of the Technical University to protest her son‘s expulsion from the German student body. Siemens also stood by her daughter, helping her to get a job after she had been dismissed from Berlin-Anhaltische Maschinenbau AG in the summer of 1933 because of her Jewish background.

Flora Meyer emphasizes that, like most people, Siemens was firmly convinced that the "nightmare" would soon be over. Consistent with this belief, Siemens ends his letter with the conciliatory yet slightly gruff remark: "Nor do I understand your fear that the current agitation will have an impact once an enabling act has been passed. On the contrary, I believe that the situation will then settle down."

Carl Friedrich von Siemens was certainly not a Nazi—in 1933 he resigned from almost all his public offices. Nevertheless, under his leadership the Siemens Group became one of the country‘s largest weapons manufacturers in the mid-1930s. In addition, Siemens was still alive when the company began forcing Jews into slave labor. Flora Meyer was not able to flee Germany until April 1941, at which time she emigrated to Brazil with her children.

A comprehensive biography of Carl Friedrich von Siemens was published in 1960. It quotes extensively from this letter—but only from the first paragraph.

Aubrey Pomerance

Categorie(s): Berlin | businessmen | frontline soldiers
Letter from Carl Friedrich von Siemens to Flora Meyer (copy), Berlin, 17 March 1933
Gift of Georgina I. Meyer Düllmann and Ronaldo Meyer