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Exit Berlin

Exit Berlin: How One Woman Saved Her Family from Nazi Germany

Charlotte R. Bonelli
With translations from the German by Natascha Bodemann
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vks8b
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  • Book Info
    Exit Berlin
    Book Description:

    Just a week after the Kristallnacht terror in 1938, young Luzie Hatch, a German Jew, fled Berlin to resettle in New York. Her rescuer was an American-born cousin and industrialist, Arnold Hatch. Arnold spoke no German, so Luzie quickly became translator, intermediary, and advocate for family left behind. Soon an unending stream of desperate requests from German relatives made their way to Arnold's desk.Luzie Hatch had faithfully preserved her letters both to and from far-flung relatives during the World War II era as well as copies of letters written on their behalf. This extraordinary collection, now housed at the American Jewish Committee Archives, serves as the framework forExit Berlin. Charlotte R. Bonelli offers a vantage point rich with historical context, from biographical information about the correspondents to background on U.S. immigration laws, conditions at the Vichy internment camps, refuge in Shanghai, and many other topics, thus transforming the letters into a riveting narrative.Arnold's letters reveal an unfamiliar side of Holocaust history. His are the responses of an "average" American Jew, struggling to keep his own business afloat while also assisting dozens of relatives trapped abroad-most of whom he had never met and whose deathly situation he could not fully comprehend. This book contributes importantly to historical understanding while also uncovering the dramatic story of one besieged family confronting unimaginable evil.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-20677-7
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xiii)
  4. Hecht and Isack Family Trees
    (pp. xiv-xx)
  5. HOW IT ALL BEGAN
    (pp. 1-8)

    Exit Berlinis based on a selection of letters from the American Jewish Committee’s Luzie Hatch Collection. Luzie, a German Jew, fled to the United States from Germany in 1938. Four months after her arrival, she found employment in New York at the American Jewish Committee. Hired for a temporary position, she had a hunch, a correct one, that she might stay longer. Luzie worked at the AJC from 1939 until her retirement in 1977, and she was well known to everyone. Thus it was understandable that when these letters were discovered, after her death, by an estate executor, he...

  6. PART ONE May 1933–September 1938

    • 1 Berlin Beginnings
      (pp. 11-19)

      It is ironic that Luzie Hatch came to this country, and left the world, on the heels of an evil wind. She fled Nazi Germany in 1938, one week after the Kristallnacht pogroms had torn through the Jewish community leaving 267 synagogues and 7,500 Jewish businesses burned to the ground or destroyed. Ninety-one Jews were murdered and nearly thirty thousand Jewish men were incarcerated. In her letters, Luzie referred to Kristallnacht as “the terrible days.”

      She died on September 16, 2001, just days after the 9/11 attacks, when terrorists had transformed an ordinary means of transportation, passenger planes, into weapons,...

    • 2 From Hecht to Hatch: American Relations
      (pp. 20-22)

      According to family lore, Neuhaus, Bavaria, was simply too confining for Nathan Hecht. At the age of sixteen, he set sail for America on theWestphalia,arriving in New York City in June 1873. He had chosen a nation that was moving forward rapidly, expanding in all sectors: urban centers, agriculture, industry, and transportation. For someone who was unafraid of hard work and willing to take risks, with a creative spark and the blessing of good luck, opportunities were plentiful.

      Little is known of Nathan’s very early time in the United States. According to his obituary in theCohoes American,...

    • 3 First Requests
      (pp. 23-27)

      When Luzie and her father first wrote to Nathan in Albany, New York, in the spring of 1933, it was amid a disturbing string of events. On March 23, only two months after Adolf Hitler had become chancellor, the Nazis maneuvered the Enabling Act through the Reichstag, thereby granting Hitler dictatorial powers. It had taken Hitler little time to transform himself from chancellor to dictator.

      Just nine days later, on April 1, German Jewry witnessed the first national boycott of Jewish businesses, products, doctors, and lawyers. “Germans! Defend Yourselves! Do Not Buy from Jews!” This was the common slogan plastered...

    • 4 Persistence Rewarded
      (pp. 28-40)

      Nathan Hatch’s hope of “better times ahead” never materialized. For a short time, it had seemed as though anti-Jewish agitation was slowing, and some Jews who had emigrated made the tragic mistake of returning to Germany. The Nazi hand grew stronger, more expansive, and more brutal. The Kristallnacht pogroms are spoken of as the “watershed” event that made German Jews realize that emigration was not a choice but an urgent necessity. But even though those pogroms of November 1938 were the most vicious attacks on German Jewry to that time, they were hardly the first such assaults.

      Three years earlier,...

  7. PART TWO December 1938–August 1939

    • 5 Settling In: A New Life in New York
      (pp. 43-70)

      Luzie and her cousin Herta Stein boarded theManhattan,a steamer bound for New York, on November 16, 1938, just one week after the Kristallnacht pogroms. They were leaving in the wake of a nightmare, well described in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s wire:

      An estimated 25,000 Jews were under arrest here today in the wake of the worst outbreak of anti-Jewish violence in modern German history, which left throughout the nation a trail of burned synagogues, smashed homes, wrecked and pillaged shops, and at least four known dead. Police seizures of Jews continued throughout the night and this morning. Three...

    • 6 Looking Back Home
      (pp. 71-80)

      Luzie’s first three months in the United States had been filled with tumult, tension, and challenges. Yet she had done well. She had secured affidavits for her family and for her uncle Salomon, incarcerated in a concentration camp. Although her hope of reentering the merchandising world had not been realized, she had secured a temporary job at the American Jewish Committee as a special project assistant. In addition, she had averted a potential breach with her cousin Arnold.

      These were not insignificant achievements, and they had been accomplished while she was learning her way around the expansive New York City...

    • 7 Escape to Shanghai
      (pp. 81-103)

      When Muhme had said farewell to Luzie’s family, she had wished them well on what would be a vast journey, a voyage to Shanghai. Seeing not refuge but squalor, danger, and confusion, Arnold remained firmly set against the family’s Shanghai venture. “Mr. Hatch,” Luzie wrote to a friend, “sees Shanghai like a red rag to a bull; he would rather see my parents in Germany!” Edwin Hecht, however, recognized that remaining in Berlin was the far greater danger. By this time, it would have been difficult for a German Jew to think otherwise. Kristallnacht set in motion a stream of...

    • 8 A Widening Circle
      (pp. 104-134)

      With her immediate family out of Berlin, Luzie could turn her attention to other family members. Among those looking for an exit from Germany was Aunt Paula Steinberg, the sister of Luzie’s deceased mother, Johanna. Her children, Erna, Walter, and Hilde, had emigrated to Palestine, leaving Paula quite alone. In her letter, Luzie apologizes to her aunt, who was angry at her for not writing sooner, and she shares with her what life in New York was like....

  8. PART THREE September 1939–October 1941

    • 9 Desperate Appeals
      (pp. 137-181)

      At 5:45 am on September 1, as most Europeans still slept in their beds, an estimated one million German soldiers began their assault on Poland. The Nazi invasion was a concentric attack, with forces moving in from the west, north, south, and east. On September 3, two days following the invasion, honoring their treaty obligations to Poland, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. Writing to her friend Hans Hirschfeld, Luzie shared her thoughts on these ominous events....

    • 10 The Shanghai Solution
      (pp. 182-189)

      In early August, Luzie visited two shipping companies, hoping to secure passage from Shanghai to the United States for her family. At each office she dutifully took out a notepad and recorded the information. “Booked for six months including first class. Do not accept any application for the next 5 months” was what she heard at the Nippon Line. She underlined the disappointing information with thick and long pencil strokes. The story at the American President Lines was the same, no openings, even for first class, and no future applications being accepted.

      It was disheartening news for a young woman...

    • 11 Rosh Hashana, 1940
      (pp. 190-204)

      September, the month of the Jewish New Year, brought Luzie what she hoped for most, the arrival of her family in the United States. They had finally made it to America, albeit their route had included a challenging eighteen months in Shanghai. Once their ship docked in San Francisco, the family faced the last leg of their journey, a cross-country train trip that likely took seven days. Their reunion was a heartwarming event. Other developments, however, brought distress rather than joy.

      Cousin Dora feared that she would be losing her financial support, the allowance from her brother-in-law Leopold’s estate. When...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • 12 Deportation to Gurs: ILOT K
      (pp. 205-235)

      “My stay here is now soon coming to an end. The thought of falling prey to the Jewish social services depresses me very much, but what can I do? I am just old, sick, destitute, and homeless.” These were Dora’s words to Luzie in September 1940. She had learned for certain that she would no longer have any access to her brother-in-law Leopold’s estate. As disturbing as this news was, Dora’s financial distress would soon be displaced by a matter of even greater concern.

      Each day, in the office at the American Jewish Committee, Luzie could read news from around...

    • 13 A Closing Door
      (pp. 236-257)
  9. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 258-268)

    “I am wondering if you could get any information for me with reference to the whereabouts of Alfons Isack, Martha Marchand, and Norbert Hecht.” The instructions, written two weeks after the German surrender in May 1945, came from Arnold’s younger brother, Stephen Hatch.

    Arnold had died of a heart attack on October 20, 1943, the very day the strike at his plant had been settled. Perhaps the stress of the labor dispute aggravated his medical condition and contributed to his early death at the age of fifty-five. Having cared so long for many of his relatives, he himself did not...

  10. APPENDIX
    (pp. 269-274)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 275-284)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 285-293)