The beginning of the end of German Jewry


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19 September 1933

Letter from Martin and Jenny Held in Spanish exile to Clara and Leopold Lemke in Tilsit in East Prussia

On the eve of Rosh ha-Shanah, the Jewish New Year, Martin and Jenny Held looked back on the year that was just coming to an end. Their life had changed dramatically. Twelve months earlier they had been living in the Schöneberg district of Berlin and now they found themselves in Spanish exile, hundreds of miles away from family and friends. They wrote this letter to Martin‘s sister Clara and her husband, Leopold Lemke, to wish them all the best for the year 5694.

The first few lines of the letter were written by fifty-one-year-old Jenny Held, née Wolff. She explains that they had emigrated from Germany more than two weeks earlier and were now staying in Barcelona. They had not informed anyone of their plans prior to departure so as not to make "parting any more difficult." What they desired most for the New Year was a "secure livelihood." Martin Held, born in Bromberg in 1879, was still pained by the necessity of having to leave his "homeland." In his view, the family faced a difficult future, but in the letter he only hints at their financial difficulties. Rosh ha-Shanah is a joyous occasion and he apparently did not want to burden his relatives with his worries.

In another letter written a few weeks later, on 20 November, Martin pours out his heart. Although he had prepared extensively for emigration—in May of that year he had spent "two to three weeks" in Barcelona "to get his bearings"—everything had gone wrong. "Nothing, nothing at all, works. I have not earned a penny; there are only expenses. I can't take much more and am on the brink of despair." A merchant by trade, he admitted to his sister and brother-in-law that he felt "like the most incompetent person in the world" and cursed "the decision to come here." He had recently suffered a severe nervous breakdown and it was only because of his courageous wife, Jenny, that he was now doing a little better.

Little is known of the family‘s subsequent experiences. For several months during the Spanish Civil War, Jenny Held took refuge on the coast from the air raids on Barcelona. In the spring of 1938 she managed to flee to the United States with her son Edwin. The Helds‘ daughter Hannelise had already emigrated there in the fall of 1936. Martin Held never reached the safety of American soil and died in Spain.

Jörg Waßmer

Categorie(s): emigration | merchants | religious life
Letter from Martin and Jenny Held to Clara and Leopold Lemke on Rosh ha-Shanah, Barcelona, 19 September 1933
Leo Baeck Institute, Meinhardt Lemke Collection, AR 4235