The beginning of the end of German Jewry


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17 October 1933

Letter from Harry and Margarethe Heller in Edinburgh to Adolf and Fanny Brauer in Berlin

When Harry (1899–1967) and Margarethe Heller (1892–1982) wrote this letter to Margarethe‘s parents in Berlin, the couple had been living in Edinburgh for more than six months. They emigrated from Berlin after Harry Heller, as a Jew, was dismissed from his job as a senior physician at Friedrichshain Hospital.

Getting his qualifications recognized in Scotland was not easy. As he tells his parents-in-law, he had to take several examinations in different areas of medicine before he could work as a physician at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. The letter shows his frustration at feeling all his "routine and experience" gradually slipping away.

In their letter, the Hellers switch between everyday matters—such as recommending books to read—and passages that reflect their situation as emigrants. One striking section is where Harry Heller discusses current political events; he was evidently watching developments in Germany very closely. He shows sympathy for the German Reich‘s withdrawal from the League of Nations on 14 October: "Now they [Germany‘s opponents] can see how far their League of Nations gets them. Over here they talk a lot of nonsense about moral isolation. In reality, they are the ones who are morally isolated." Even though he and his family were victims of the antisemitic Nazi regime, at this point his sense of attachment to his homeland seems still to have been largely intact.

Margarethe Heller closes the letter with brief greetings to her parents, and mentions that she and Harry listened to the radio broadcast of the Reichstag fire trial, which began on 21 September in Berlin. The Dutch communist Marinus van der Lubbe and the people allegedly behind him were accused of having set fire to the Reichstag on 28 February 1933.

In 1934, the Hellers left Britain and emigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine, where Margarethe had lived for a while in the 1920s. Harry Heller rebuilt his career as a physician and scientist. In 1967, after Harry‘s death, Margarethe Heller moved to California to join her two sons. Margarethe‘s father, Adolf Brauer, died in December 1933. Her mother Fanny managed to follow her children to Palestine in 1938.

Lea Weik

Categorie(s): Berlin | emigration | occupational ban | physicians
Letter from Harry and Margarethe Heller to Adolf and Fanny Brauer (transcript), Edinburgh, 17 October 1933
Gift of Eri Heller