The beginning of the end of German Jewry


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16 November 1933

Letter from Hans Rosenbauer to Berta Levite

This two-page typed letter reveals not only conflicting opinions, but also very different lifestyles: the sender, Hans Rosenbauer, was married, had children and worked as a bank manager at the Westdeutsche Bodenkreditanstalt in Cologne. In other words, he was leading a settled middle-class life. The recipient, Berta Levite (1910–1998), was single and had evidently just lost her job. The two had known each other for many years and were good friends.

Hans Rosenbauer began the letter by reproaching his dear "Bertl" for not taking him up on his repeated offers to visit them in Cologne. She probably preferred staying in Württemberg over a "glass of sweet cider" to coming to the big city, he joked.

At the same time Hans Rosenbauer was well aware that the twenty-three-year-old was not as unadventurous as he was making her out to be. Although born and raised in the Bavarian town of Dinkelsbühl, she was not bent on remaining in the southern part of Germany—or even in Germany as a whole. Rather, she was entertaining the idea of immigrating to Palestine. Hans, for his part, felt these plans should be "seriously" reconsidered and tried to talk her out of them. "After all," he wrote, "things don‘t seem that easy there [in Palestine], either." As an alternative, he suggested that she come to Cologne and look for a new job there.

"Besides," he continued, "I really don‘t understand where your exaggerated fears come from." He apparently believed the situation in Germany was much less dangerous than she did. He himself was a Christian. His wife had been baptized since early childhood, but two years later she was to be considered "half Jewish" according to the Nuremburg racial laws. Hans Rosenbauer (still) trusted "Herr Hitler‘s" official statements—or at least claimed to. According to Rosenbauer, anyone who helped "rebuild Germany" and was loyal to the state had nothing to fear.

Berta Levite was more farsighted. She left Nazi Germany, not for Palestine, but for America. In August 1934 she boarded the Stuttgart in Bremerhaven, a passenger ship that took her to New York. Despite the distance, she and Hans Rosenbauer continued to keep in touch. He died in the mid-1960s. She lived in New York until her death in 1998.

Jörg Waßmer

Categorie(s): emigration | white-collar employees
Letter from Hans Rosenbauer to Berta Levite, Klettenberg, Cologne, 16 November 1933
Leo Baeck Institute, Bertha Bertheim Collection, AR 10198