The beginning of the end of German Jewry


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16 May 1933

Birthday poem written by Rabbi Arthur Rosenthal for his wife, Ilma

In 1933 Rabbi Arthur Rosenthal wrote a poem for his wife, Ilma, to mark her birthday on 16 May. But this poem was very different from the ones he had written in the past. The first few lines reflect the dramatically changed situation of Jews in Germany: "It is hard to endure / In this life full of thorns / When enemy forces / Rise up against us." The verses that follow testify to the author‘s self-confidence as a Jew: "They might likely think / In their cowardly intrigues / To bend our backs. / Never will they succeed, / In stealing our souls. / If we always maintain / Our profound faith in ourselves, / Then we will ride happily". Finally, the poem describes the deep love Arthur Rosenthal feels for his wife.

Arthur Rosenthal (1885–1951) and Ilma Flanter (1891–1975) were married in Berlin in January 1914. Judith, their daughter, was born one year later. Arthur, a rabbi candidate with a Ph.D., was ordained in August 1915. He first served in Rybnik, the Gesundbrunnen neighborhood of Berlin and Beuthen before he was appointed rabbi in 1925 at the Israelite Association of Lichtenberg (Berlin). During the November Pogrom of 1938, members of the SA dragged him from his home and forced him to watch as they destroyed the Torah scrolls and the furnishings from his synagogue in Frankfurter Allee.

It was not until July 1939 that the Rosenthals fled to London, taking their son and daughter with them. In Great Britain Arthur Rosenthal was subject to work restrictions and, among others jobs, gave correspondence courses for children evacuated from London. He died at the age of sixty-six in November 1951, ten months after the family moved from London to New York. "My father was unable to accept the demise of German Jewry," his daughter Judith Helfer wrote several years later. His beloved wife, Ilma, survived him by twenty-four years.

Aubrey Pomerance

Categorie(s): Berlin | religious life
Birthday poem written by Rabbi Arthur Rosenthal for his wife, Ilma, Berlin, 16 May 1933
Leo Baeck Institute, Judith Helfer Collection, AR 25079

Seven Years Later

To the Sweetest!
On May 16, 1940

'Tis not rhythm that does now exist;
In North and South, in West and East,
The jeering song of hate rings out,
The world‘s atremble; witches dance about.

On this day in May we wish
not to think of such mad anguish,
Let us our dreams of love uphold
In rhymes that are true and songs of old.

The language we now use for verse
Is not of our once land, brash and adverse.
We want in a different spirit to heal,
May your hours find naught but joy and appeal.

With most faithful love,
your Lp

Arthur and Ilma Rosenthal, Berlin, 30 January 1939
Gift of James H. Fraser