The beginning of the end of German Jewry


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20 March 1933

Letter from Genia Grünberg to her brother Josef Hurtig

Genia Grünberg (1902–1991) wrote this letter in the Romanian region of Transylvania and sent it to her twenty-four-year-old brother Josef Hurtig (1908–1942) in Berlin. She was deeply worried about "Juziu," as she affectionately referred to him, who had moved to the German capital four years earlier to study economics—plans Genia had opposed from the outset.

Josef was in a precarious situation. He was short of money and just scraping by. He did not want to return to Romania, partly because he knew military service awaited him there. However, his residence permit was due to expire in the fall of that year and his future in Germany was uncertain. Genia was particularly worried about the political developments. After the NSDAP‘s landslide victory in the elections for the Prussian state parliament in April 1932, she had written to her brother: "Hitler! Hitler! The news has greatly depressed all of us here and we‘re afraid that there will be dire consequences for all of you foreign Jews."

Now Adolf Hitler had been appointed Reich chancellor and in a decree issued to the regional governments five days earlier, on 15 March, the Reich Interior Ministry had ordered the authorities to "stave off the influx of Eastern European Jews," expel those "Eastern European Jews who were living in Germany without a residence permit" and, in general, "refrain from naturalizing them."

Genia Grünberg saw no future for her brother in Germany. She and her husband, Phöbus, urged him to "take a trip" and seek safety elsewhere. As long as he remained in Germany, she asked him on behalf of her father to write at least once every two weeks.

Jörg Waßmer

Categorie(s): Berlin | students
Letter from Genia Grünberg to her brother Josef Hurtig (first page), Alba Iulia (Karlsburg), Romania, 20 March 1933
Leo Baeck Institute, Constantin Brunner Collection, LBI 2009/2

Josef Hurtig

Josef Hurtig was born in Bukovina in 1908 and moved to Berlin in 1928. Alongside his university studies, he devoted himself to philosophy and was active in the Communist Party.

On New Year‘s Eve 1933, he wrote in a letter to his sister: "My situation is precarious in every way. We are all depressed about the current political developments and our powerlessness to stop them. It seems we are in for a great deal of unpleasantness. The forces of reaction are more brutal and barbarian in Germany than in any other country in civilized Europe."

In October 1936 Josef Hurtig fled to Belgium with his partner, Mary Grünberg (1907–1942). Mary had been born in Berlin but was considered "stateless" due to her Eastern European background and was therefore unable to marry him. In August 1942, the two were deported from the Mechelen transit camp to Auschwitz and murdered there.

Josef Hurtig, probably 1933