Life and Loss in the Shad­ow of the Holo­caust: A Jew­ish Fam­i­ly’s Untold Story

Rebec­ca Boehling and Uta Larkey
  • Review
By – December 28, 2011
Based on cor­re­spon­dence writ­ten by the Kauf­mann-Stein­berg fam­i­ly that spanned two gen­er­a­tions, the authors have pieced togeth­er an impor­tant account of how a Jew­ish fam­i­ly in Ger­many coped with the Nazi seizure of pow­er in 1933. The book is a valu­able addi­tion to the lit­er­a­ture deal­ing with the unfold­ing trag­ic events that forced mem­bers of Ger­man-Jew­ish fam­i­lies to con­sid­er emi­gra­tion from Ger­many to Pales­tine or the Unit­ed States. The let­ters that con­sti­tute the basis for the book’s nar­ra­tive describe the dete­ri­o­rat­ing con­di­tions that the Kauf­mann-Stein­berg clan faced in Nazi Ger­many, as the Nazis pur­sued their objec­tive of forc­ing Jews to leave Ger­many. The let­ters con­vey all the emo­tion of the dan­ger that this par­tic­u­lar fam­i­ly faced on a dai­ly basis. 

The daugh­ter of par­ents who owned a dry goods store in Alter­nessen, Essen, Mar­i­anne Stein­berg exchanged more than two hun­dred let­ters with her fam­i­ly. The cor­re­spon­dence brings to life how dif­fi­cult it was for a bright stu­dent like Mar­i­anne to real­ize her ambi­tion of becom­ing a physi­cian as the Nazis passed laws that drove Jews from the pro­fes­sions. 

The authors, both schol­ars of twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry Ger­man his­to­ry and the Holo­caust, place the let­ters with­in the frame­work of the Third Reich’s social, polit­i­cal, and eco­nom­ic poli­cies toward the Jews. We learn many details of the obsta­cles placed before Jews. For exam­ple, the authors dis­cuss the Reich Flight Tax, a mea­sure that sought to facil­i­tate the regime’s con­fis­ca­tion of Jew­ish emi­grants’ prop­er­ty with­out dis­cour­ag­ing Jews from leav­ing Ger­many. This was only one of the addi­tion­al tax­es Jews seek­ing to emi­grate from Ger­many were forced to pay. There was also the  Dis­a­gio, a fee based on a per­cent­age of the last esti­mat­ed tax val­ue of a Jew’s prop­er­ty. Those hop­ing to emi­grate had to deposit their mon­ey in a spe­cial blocked account” for prospec­tive emi­grants . Orig­i­nal­ly set at twen­ty per­cent in 1934, this fee was imposed at a rate of six­ty-five per­cent of the val­ue of the funds and valu­ables emi­grants trans­ferred out of the coun­try. By the out­break of the war in 1939, the regime increased the fee to nine­ty-six per­cent. Thus the con­tra­dic­tion in Nazi pol­i­cy. On the one hand, the regime encour­aged” Jews to emi­grate, and on the oth­er, emi­grants faced an ever-increas­ing num­ber of tax­es and fees that dis­cour­aged them from leav­ing Germany.
The let­ters are a valu­able pri­ma­ry source that relate the dai­ly fluc­tu­a­tions of hope and despair that char­ac­ter­ized not only the Kauf­mann-Stein­berg fam­i­ly but prob­a­bly most Ger­man-Jew­ish fam­i­lies caught in the ever-tight­en­ing noose of Nazi persecution.
Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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