The beginning of the end of German Jewry


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23 May 1933

Letter from Emil Gerson to his niece Margarethe Paderstein

Sixty-six-year-old clothing manufacturer Emil Gerson (1867–1952) picked up pen and paper to tell his niece Margarethe Paderstein (1896–1990) about her ancestors. Since his siblings had already died, he was the last member of his generation who could provide this information. Gerson took pleasure in recounting the stories that had been passed down, all the more so because his niece had obviously asked him to.

The Gerson family originally came from the Westphalian town of Soest and looked back on a long history. As Emil Gerson reports, one "progenitor" bravely defended his hometown during the Thirty Years‘ War. His grandfather Israel Gerson was a co-owner of the Gerson brothers‘ drapery shop in Hamm. He moved in high society and enjoyed "great popularity among the ladies of the Westphalian nobility," as Gerson somewhat mysteriously writes. A brother of his grandmother Minna was killed in 1813 in the Napoleonic wars.

At the end of the letter Gerson moves from the glorious past to the present. His situation "reflects present circumstances." His son Heinrich, who was a lawyer, was being "forced to close his office." Due to the Law on Admission to the Bar, Heinrich was no longer permitted to practice his profession and would shortly afterward emigrate to London via Paris. The news that Gerson provided about his daughter Anne Marie and her husband, Leo Grebler, a correspondent for the Frankfurter Zeitung, was also not good. The couple was concerned about the "new press law." And, indeed, as a result of the Editors‘ Law, passed on 4 October 1933, Leo Grebler would ultimately lose his job and emigrate with Gerson‘s daughter to the United States via Switzerland. And the recipient of the letter? In 1938, Margarethe Paderstein fled to Brazil with her family.

After emigrating to Great Britain himself in 1939, Emil Gerson wrote an extensive family history, which also covered the period of Nazi persecution: "But I do not wish to write a history of National Socialism here," he states. "I want to tell the story of the Emil Gerson family, which has unfortunately been directed down very different paths by political events."

Jörg Waßmer

Categorie(s): Berlin | businessmen | journalists | lawyers
Letter from Emil Gerson to his niece Margarethe Paderstein, Berlin, 23 May 1933 (front and back).
Gift of Helga Flatauer