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Family letters as a source II: Father and daughter discuss emigration.

A postcard, c. 1937; a father asks his daughter for help emigrating from Germany.

Source: Postcard from Ludwig Rosenthal to his daughter Liesel, 17 January 1939.

Dear Liesel! First of all you must ask the Uruguay[an] consulate immediately if it is possible for us to travel from Engl[and] to Urug[uay]. We will of course take our own furniture with us, just as [we] would sort out our boat tickets here. If not then you must next try to arrange Australia for us, but I fear that this project is dragging on so long, and we urgently need a tangible, quick solution. There is no need to telegraph us, save your money, but please try to do more for us. Let us know as soon as you can about Uruguay, as d[ear] Mother may have to go to Berlin on that account next week. W[ith] love and kisses for you and Heller. Father.

Commentary on the Source:

This postcard is part of a private correspondence which Liesel – by then Mrs. Alice Schwab – had put in boxes and stored away sometime in 1948. Her daughter, Baroness and Rabbi Julia Neuberger, opened the boxes in 2012, and together we started reading. Julia Neuberger allowed me to write the story of her mother’s emigration from Heilbronn, Germanyto London. The documents are still private property but will be handed over the Heilbronn city archives. They tell –if we are able to make them speak – of a Jewish wine merchant family’s life in a small Southwest German town where they had felt at home for generations. With the Nazis' rise to power everything changed, and it was the daughter Liesel (Alice) Rosenthal who, with her decision to leave Germany in 1937, acted as a kind of pioneer for her family. She arrived in England through the Domestic Servant scheme, stayed with a family in Birmingham, but soon moved to London. Here she built up a new circle of friends and acquaintances and developed a degree of independence – her own emancipation – that was worrying for her parents. It took Ludwig and Hermine Rosenthal a long time to realize that they also had to emigrate – and that they now depended on their daughter. The postcard, from 17 January 1939, shows that they tried to make their own plans (Uruguay or Australia), that they still hoped to keep their possessions, and that they looked for help from Jewish aid organizations and foreign consulates in Germany. In the end, Liesel who had begun working for the German Jewish Aid Society in London’s Bloomsbury House managed to find guarantors and to bring her parents, as well as her younger brother Helmut (later Jack) to security in England. The source offers an insight into family and gender relations in a time of crisis, but also a close look into the cultural practice of emigration. As a personal document, it needs to contextualised with the political situation both in Germany and in Britain, with the approaching war and the increasing persecution of Jews in Europe –at the same time, the study of sources like this allows us to give such abstract notions a human face.

Suggested Rading

Joachim Schlör, Escaping Nazi Germany. One Woman's Emigration from Heilbronn to England. London: Bloomsbury Academic 2020 (forthcoming).

Source commentary provided by:

Professor Joachim Schlör
Professor of Modern Jewish/non-Jewish Relations in History at the University of Southampton.

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