The beginning of the end of German Jewry


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3 May 1933

Peter Jacob on his first day of school

Holding a cone full of candy, six-year-old Peter Jacob (b. 1926) smiles shyly at the camera—he has just had his first day of school. Peter was enrolled in Elementary School 25 in Sybelstrasse in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin. He did not have to take more than a few steps to get there, since his family lived right next door. Although he was Alfred und Herta Jacob‘s only child, he grew up in the security of an assimilated, liberal-minded extended family that regularly met at his uncle‘s summer house on Glienicker Lake. In addition, his parents had a large circle of friends that included many non-Jews. When Peter started school, he came into contact with a new and very different world.

But what did school hold in store for the inquisitive boy? Did it offer him tolerant teachers and individual support? Or, at the very least, friendly classmates? Nothing is known about Peter's experiences during those first years at school. He soon switched to the Waldschule Kaliski, a private Jewish reform school that from 1934 on was only allowed to admit Jewish children. In 1933, Jewish doctrine and history were added to the school‘s curriculum as a way of strengthening the Jewish identity of children often unsettled by what was happening around them. In the following years, this "haven of security," as former students described the school years later, intensively prepared its young charges for emigration, which now seemed inevitable. Foreign languages, manual and domestic skills, diplomas that were recognized internationally—all these things were offered to ensure the students would be able to lead independent lives abroad.

Ulrike Neuwirth

Categorie(s): Berlin | childhood | school
Peter Jacob on his first day of school, Berlin, 3 May 1933
Gift of Peter Sinclair, formerly Peter Jacob

Escape from Germany

Peter Jacob went to England on a children‘s transport in 1939. His father had emigrated to Argentina almost a year earlier but had not managed to bring the family to the country. Ultimately, his mother was also able to escape to Great Britain. Peter Jacob returned to Germany in 1945—as a soldier in the British Army.

Pupils in the first grade class at Elementary School 25 with their teacher, Fräulein Reinisch, Berlin, May 1933. Peter Jacob is standing in the back row (second from left).
Gift of Peter Sinclair, formerly Peter Jacob