The beginning of the end of German Jewry


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29 June 1933

Statement of renunciation by Paula Gieselmann

Five months after Hitler was appointed Reich chancellor, Paula Gieselmann left Judaism. Her letter of renunciation is one of three such documents from 1933 that have been preserved in the estate of Hans Kronheim, who served as a rabbi in Bielefeld from 1917 until his emigration in 1938. In view of the fact that around eight hundred Jews lived in Bielefeld in 1933, this figure may seem low, but it is unlikely that all such renunciations found their way into Kronheim‘s estate.

Although there is no reliable information on how many people left Judaism after 1933, it is clear that their numbers increased dramatically after the Nazis assumed power. Studies of the Jewish community in Berlin suggest that between 1933 and 1941 around 5,300 people renounced the Jewish faith, corresponding to about 3 percent of the 170,000 Jews living in the capital in 1933.

In the case of Paula Gieselmann, who was born in 1893 in Berlin, her marriage to a non-Jew in early 1922 surely played an important role in her decision. Nevertheless, the timing suggests that she also hoped to escape discrimination, exclusion and persecution. This applied to all the people who renounced Judaism in the Nazi era, but it was the result of a misunderstanding. Nazi persecution was based not primarily on religious affiliation, but on descent, in line with the party‘s racist ideology.

Despite her marriage to a non-Jew and her decision to leave of Judaism, Paula Gieselmann was interned in the Elben labor camp near Kassel on 19 September 1944. Her daughter was forced to perform slave labor as a stenographer in Bielefeld. On 12 February 1945 Paula was deported to Theresienstadt via Münster. She managed to survive the following three months and was one of the roughly 17,000 prisoners liberated by the Red Army on 9 May. After the war her name was found on the lists of Jewish survivors. She returned to her husband and daughter in Bielefeld and died in 1985 at the age of ninety-two.

Aubrey Pomerance

Categorie(s): religious life
Statement of renunciation by Paula Gieselmann, Bielefeld, 29 June 1933
Leo Baeck Institute, Hans Kronheim Collection, AR 3156