Post Pogromnacht Hamburg: Rolli writs from home


There is nothing left to do, except what we all did the last 2000 years: Waiting.

This letter is fascinating, shocking, and teaches us about the feelings and reality after the events of Kristallnacht, and especially, perhaps, on the Jews’ perspective on the situation; Point of view characterized by innocence, or simply lack of knowledge. On a personal note, I must point out that this is the letter I have read most often, each sentence fascinating and arousing questions. This is the single letter, which although I knew I was immune to it all – the tears still trying to come out, every time I read.

On Kristallnacht, some 30,000 Jews were arrested and taken to the “punishment camps.” Georg, was also taken to the Sachsenhausen camp in Berlin for six weeks. Marion, Rolli’s younger sister, is left alone in their home in Hamburg. Helga, her sister emigrated to Palestina and Rolli is in the training camp near Berlin.
Rolli arrives in Hamburg for ten days to check on his sister’s condition. He enters the empty house because she is at work, finds his father’s table in a mess, a bottle of alcohol on the table and he assumes that Marion, alone and frightened, must have drunk it. The first thing that Rolli does is sit down at the typewriter and write a letter to his sister Helga, in Palestina, with the following words:

15.12.1938 - המכתב מהמבורג

Rolli Baruch
Hamburg 13
Klosterallee 11 Hamburg,

15th of December, 1938

Dear Helli, dear Bernd,

I just arrived today at lunchtime in Hamburg, and I am about to pick up Marion at the store (He calls it „business“, maybe it is a workplace or she might have replaced her father in his business while he was in arrest. M.S. and L.O.), because I want to have a look, if everything is fine there, as, pretty much like you – I read your letters here – I have not gotten satisfying information from Marion in the last time. Therefore I want to give you a quick update.

Don’t hope for the certificate as long as the request is not confirmed, after confirmation, it will arrive automatically. It is not possible to get it via another, second way. Tourist-Visit-Visa is not given out at all, and whatever you heard about the English Consul, giving out Visa in Berlin, is simply not correct according to my information from Berlin. In Berlin, hundreds of people are standing in front of the Consulate, with waiting numbers, and the final handling will take days. There is nothing left to do, except what we all did the last 2000 years: Waiting.
Every day, people are released, and every day we expect daddy’s release. A few minutes ago, Mr. Streit was here, whom father told to send us greetings when he was released yesterday. father is healthy and he is fine.

Concerning myself: I am here for 10 days (Workers-Return-Ticket). As far as I have seen, everything is fine here (Literally he said, everything is in butter, that’s what Germans say when everything is alright. M.S.), nowhere a reason to worry. Don’t make yourself nervous, darling, nobody ever got eaten up here. Dear Schnucki (schnucki is like motek or darling. M.S.) got a bit agitated too, but I think the main reason is, that she has to make her sandwiches on her own now. Vatis desk looks like an editorial office after an earthquake. When I came in, there was a liquor bottle on the dining table – of course empty – and a hat, I think it is Marion’s. Thank god, there are also cookies, but not a slice of bread. Well, I guess, I will tidy up a bit. For the time being, we can keep the flat until the 1st of February, as the new renter had to cancel (Jewish). Great, isn’t it?

We will see, what will be with us. I think Ahrensdorf will go completely to England or the Netherlands (the Netherlands would be really great). Marion will have to make a driving license for „Leuwagen“, and make some watersport, otherwise, there are only little chances. I think, if she is outside once, her talents will break through (he uses the metaphor of talents being a train, and Marion doesn’t have to change trains, once she is outside. M.S.).

So, now I fulfilled my most urgent duty in answering you. In Hamburg, everybody seems to be away traveling. All friends are missing or abroad, address unknown. Well, now I have to go to Gerda Behrs mother and bring her a letter. Well, all the best, for the baby, too! Don’t worry, take a deep breath, and breathe calmly. Bye-bye!!

In deep love and with all my respect,


Handwritten Note on the letter:
Hold backside in front of a mirror, then you have it again.

There are so many amazing details in this letter. The innocence of “all the friends on vacation” and the update that a Jewish tenant has canceled the rent of the apartment so it is possible to stay there; “Great, isn’t it” – the cancellation reasons you might guess. What will come in the weeks after this letter was sent, is deteriorating horribly. There is nothing more to be done, and the gates of Germany are close to those who wish to escape. The family makes every effort to get Marion out of the country.

Georg returns with severe frostbite problems in his hands, Marion decides to stay with him a little longer to take care of him, and this decision will later become tragic.

Translated from German by Mimi Sewalski.

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