Wednesday 22 November 2023



This is the fourth letter in the correspondence between Emma and Gretel. For the first three letters see the preceding blogposts (15, 16, 19 November).

The original of this letter is lost. We have only an “extract of a 6-page long letter” typed by Gretel. The elision points in the letter are hers and indicate where she has omitted text.

Mainz, 20.11. 38

My dear Gretel, my dear child,

Thanks, many thanks for your kind messages and offers from you and the dear children [her grandchildren, Wolfgang b. 1908, Elsbeth b. 1911, Hannah b. 1912, and Ernst b. 1918] So far nothing of the package has arrived, and it is a shame if such good things get into other people’s hands. Therefore don’t send me anything more. Nor am I in that respect so badly off, mainly because I can’t stint on anything in the interest of Adelheid (her maid)…. Yesterday I moved back into my living and bedroom [a reference to the extensive damage and destruction caused by Nazi hordes during Kristallnacht – see preceding blog postings]. Fortunately, nothing is lacking to make me comfortable – not as far as having a bed to sleep in and a chaise longue to rest on. And there are a sufficient number of chairs, but no more mirrors (there were 4 tall mirrors just in the three front rooms), but it is good if one doesn’t see one’s reflection in them…

I had small repairs done to Adelheid’s furniture (I had promised her most of the furniture for later on), for the rest I leave everything as is in the storage room –the dining room. Tutu [unidentified] need not fetch me, because (1) things don’t happen as fast as you think, and (2) I can’t leave that fast because many things need to be straightened out first. Also, the thought of coming to my grandchildren as a poor woman is terrible. In any case, one must take along what one can and is allowed to take – surely, they cannot deny us clothing and underwear.

It was very nice of you to send a wire to Lilly [Emma’s older daughter] to let her know that I am unhurt, and I am glad of it. The thought that the poor thing knows nothing of me was a great bother to me…

Yesterday a real estate agent was here, a former director of the savings bank. I heard from him that until 31 December the house can still be sold freely [a reference to the law which required Jews to transfer their property to non-Jews]. Thereafter the sale will be regulated in another form. What is your opinion?...

I send a 1000 heartfelt greetings to all my beloved and I thank them for their kind attitude toward me.

I am very tired now, I will just lay one game of Solitaire, then I’ll go to bed. Till we see each other again, indeed hear each other again! And a warm greeting and kiss from your devoted old mother, who will not lose her head – whatever happens, unless of course they pass a law about that! Don’t laugh! 

FOR MORE LETTERS SEE MY NEXT BLOGPOST. For the originals see LBI Archives AR 7167/MF 720.The translation is by Erika Rummel and Susi Lessing.

Sunday 19 November 2023



This is the continuation of the correspondence between Emma and Gretel. For earlier letters see previous blogposts.

Tuesday, 19.11.38 [Something is wrong with the dating/day of the week; 19 November was a Saturday].

My dear Gretel, don’t hold it against me if I don’t write to you as often as you and I would like, but I don’t get around to anything. There are always people around, I can’t get the glaziers out of the house [During the Nazi rampage of Kristallnacht (9/10 November) windows and mirrors in the house were broken], and there are many others. And from noon on, after my rest, there are almost always visitors, yesterday until 7.30. A little while ago an agent from the insurance company was here with plumbers who turned off the gas meter. At least I still have a stove. Poor Mimi has only gas appliances. But she has her children! Don’t be sorry that you are not here, that is my only consolation: you, Lilly [Emma’s older daughter, Louise (Lilly) Lessing], and the children. As you know [the following is quoted in English]: “Better to sit and watch what may and think thee safe though far away than have thee near me and in danger.” In any case the gas was cut off (at least that’s what I think) because so many people today opt for suicide. Yesterday Lilly of Ingelheim [married to Emma’s nephew, Karl Neumann] was here – she lives with her brother-in-law. What we have to deal with here is child’s play by comparison with what’s going on there and at Babette’s, who also lives with relatives here. You have no idea. I wrote an airmail letter to Lilly, and I am sorry that it will take 8 days for her to hear from me. Karl N[eumann] and his young son went on a “journey” [he and his son Hans were taken to the concentration camp Buchenwald; he died there on 10 April 1944] like a thousand others. Today S. Bl. returned to me the letter and the money. I am supposed to send immediately 23 Marks and 8.75 to the tax office, etc. (the money, however, has been sent on the 5th of the month). I had L. come here, and he faithfully looked after everything. Adelheid has a lot of work and a lot of running around. I can’t use her for such things. I had Mrs. Pertelan take me to the bank because I am still somewhat weak in my legs, but it would not have been necessary. Why is Jakob not with his father? If you are absolutely sure that I must leave, one could embark on the necessary steps, and then we’ll see. I myself am unable to do anything, nor do I know how to go about it. I have surrendered my passport. [ On Oct. 5, 1938, the Ministry of the Interior invalidated all German Jews’ passports and required them to have a “J” stamped on them]. I haven’t gotten around to request an ID card, which one gets only toward the end of December. I hardly go out anymore, nor is it necessary. I have very many good friends, also of the “other faculty” [i.e. non-Jewish?]. Actually, the action was not aimed at me but, I understand, at Mr. L [Perhaps Ludwig Friedmann, who lived in Emma’s house at 27 Kaiserstrasse, Mainz and died in Auschwitz, 1943] – they were searching for him in the house. It is fortunate that the company name of the new tenant [because his name was not obviously Jewish?] is on the sign at the front gate since the 1st of the month.

 I must end today’s letter. Have you spoken to Mrs. I., who phoned me before my consultation with you and who wanted to calm you down regarding my situation. Do write to me frequently. I still have my note, which I enclose as my response. Farewell, my dear, good girl, and let me greet and kiss you with all my heart. Your devoted mother, and a thousand greetings for the others.

FOR MORE LETTERS SEE MY NEXT BLOGPOST. For the originals see LBI Archives AR 7167/MF 720.The translation is by Erika Rummel and Susi Lessing.

Thursday 16 November 2023



A second postcard from Emma Neumann, with the postal stamp “18.11.38”, addressed to her daughter “Frau Prof. Goldstein, 8 Holland Villas Road, London W 14, England.” 


My dear Gretel, as promised I am writing to you right after the visit of the “uncle” who was here earlier and who had only half an hour for me because today and tomorrow, especially, he has a crazy amount of work to do, and no one has any information. From here he went to P.S. to obtain the necessary things, which he had not sent to him despite his promises, and he will apply himself in the near future to the most urgent matters concerning you and me. To begin with, he noted down the address of that British Ministry of Finance, to find out from them the amount of payment necessary for your furniture [Gretl had furniture shipped to England, which required paying a customs fee]. But all experts declare that no money can be had at all until the house is sold (we are no longer able to get permission to raise a mortgage), and they cannot understand what you have in mind [A decree from October 3, 1938, required the transfer of assets from Jews to non-Jews and controlled the process]. By chance, another gentleman came soon afterwards, about whom I wrote to you earlier. He is necessary for and competent in all sorts of things, since the other man cannot possibly do everything. Tomorrow he will talk once more to someone about the sale of the house, and there is a slight possibility, but we must not have any illusions, and it may be a long, drawn-out matter. And my affairs may take even longer. But there is no hurry in my case… [two illegible words], just don’t burden yourself with too much work. If I had to travel in this weather, it would not be physically possible for me and especially not at this time of the year. About that subject I’ll write to you another time. I had a nice invitation today from L. M. Will you thank him in my name, or do I have to do that myself? Lieschen also asked for your address on behalf of Mariechen, whose husband is on a journey [a euphemism for having fled or having been arrested]. I am sorry that you are importuned by all sorts of people, especially now that you have committed yourself to work [Gretel became Organizing Secretary for the World Union of Progressive Judaism]. Most of all, remain in good health and don’t work so hard, especially in that bad weather! To all of you jointly warmest greetings and kisses!


FOR MORE LETTERS SEE MY NEXT BLOGPOST. For the originals see LBI Archives AR 7167/MF 720.The translation is by Erika Rummel and Susi Lessing.

Wednesday 15 November 2023


The Leo Baeck Institute, New York, has in its archive a collection of letters dating from 1938/9, a precarious time for German Jews. The writer is Emma Neumann, née Gutmann, of Mainz. The addressee is her daughter, Margarete (Gretel) Goldstein, née Neumann, who has escaped to England. The correspondence illustrates Margarete’s unsuccessful attempts to arrange for her mother’s passage to England and the increasing harassment and persecution Jews suffered in Nazi Germany during 1938/9. The earliest item in the correspondence is a postcard addressed from Emma to Gretel in London. The postal stamp “12.11.38” shows that it was written two days after Kristallnacht (literally “The Night of Crystal”). The name refers to the shards of glass littering the streets after an organized Nazi rampage, which resulted in the destruction of numerous Jewish establishments. 

 My dear Gretel, I would have liked to write earlier, but I was in no condition to do so, although I am fortunately unhurt, and that is the main thing. I am camping out in the backroom, where it is quite cozy, I receive visitors there, etc. and have even managed to sleep well. Thursday was not a good day, but it is over now. I felt like Hannibal in the ruins of Carthage [referring to the defeat of the African general Hannibal by the ancient Romans in 202 BC]. My rooms in the front are gradually being restored to order. It is a lot of work for Adelheid [Emma’s maid?], but she had help yesterday, and I had various, quite capable workmen who put all sorts of things in order again. The glaziers, mainly, had a lot to do, and then there was also your postal order. I will see to it that the payment is sent today, but please don’t cause me a lot of work. I can’t manage to think of anything. I have to stop writing – massive numbers of visitors, Babettchen [unidentified] has just come, Lene (?) Hasch (?). etc. Bab[ettchen] stayed here, could not remain in Oe. 1000 greetings and kisses, Your devoted mother. Greetings to all. 

 FOR MORE LETTERS SEE MY NEXT BLOGPOST. For the originals see LBI Archives AR 7167/MF 720.The translation is by Erika Rummel and Susi Lessing.