The beginning of the end of German Jewry


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22 June 1933

Teaching license for the pianist and music teacher Ilse Wunsch

In the first few months of Nazi rule, dismissals, restrictions, transfers and suspensions were typical occurrences in the working lives of Jews in Germany and any professional license issued by a state authority was an exception. With the document shown here, the superintendant of the East Charlottenburg school district in Berlin granted the twenty-two-year-old Ilse Wunsch permission to give private piano and ear training lessons "to individuals and in private music schools." The young pianist had qualified as a teacher two years earlier after passing the state examination for private music teachers.

Ilse Wunsch (1911–2003) began taking piano lessons as a child. At sixteen she studied with the renowned pianist Franz Osborn and from 1929 to 1931 she attended the music education seminary run by the pianist and educator Maria Leo. After her studies, she started giving private lessons and public concerts. The document reveals that she had been required to reapply for the teaching license in April 1933. However, it does indicate whether the fact that she was granted a license was the result of her father‘s death while serving as a field doctor during the First World War.

The license did not cover the establishment of a private music school. In addition, it was valid only as long as she lived in the East Charlottenburg school district. What is noteworthy is that it does not ban her from teaching at conservatories or music seminaries—the relevant passage is crossed out on the form. This exception is explicitly confirmed on the back of the document.

There is no record of Ilse Wunsch continuing to give lessons after receiving the license. Eight months later, she joined her fiancé, the organist and pianist Max Janowski (1912–1991), in Japan, where he had been named head of the piano program at the Imperial Academy of Music in Tokyo. There Ilse Wunsch was able to teach and give concerts.

Aubrey Pomerance

Categorie(s): artists and writers | Berlin | school
Teaching license for the music teacher Ilse Wunsch, Berlin, 22 June 1933
Leo Baeck Institute, Otto Mainzer Collection, AR 10342

From Japan to the United States

Ilse Wunsch married Max Janowski in early April 1934 and subsequently acquired Polish citizenship. After the tragic death of her brother, who had fled to China, she returned to Berlin in 1936 to visit her mother. Because she no longer held German citizenship, she was only able to obtain temporary residence permits. Max Janowski immigrated to the United States in 1937 and Ilse Wunsch followed him there one year later. Their efforts to save her mother failed.

In the U.S. the couple settled in Chicago and Ilse Wunsch studied at the Chicago Musical College. But their marriage eventually broke up. In 1941 she met Frankfurt–born Otto Mainzer (1903–1995), a lawyer and writer, with whom she remained for the rest of her life.

Ilse Wunsch continued to work in music education: In New York she taught piano and music theory at the New York College of Music and the Stern College for Women. In the late 1960s she became an assistant professor at New York University. She also wrote several books on music theory and music education and in 1998 published her memoirs. Ilse Mainzer died at an advanced age in New York in 2003.

Ilse Wunsch at the piano, Chicago, 1940.
Leo Baeck Institute, Otto Mainzer Collection, AR 10342