The modern era in Germany was one of profound transformation. In less than eighty years, Germany experienced multiple regime changes, rapid urbanization and secularization, altered gender relations, and the ruin unleashed by war and genocide. Living amid all this tumult, socially and geographically mobile individuals could find it particularly difficult to establish a sense of who they were and how they fit into their societies. By falling in love and building families, a new generation of German Jews nevertheless believed they could, at least in their private lives, live a free and authentic existence. This is the argument of my book, German Jews in Love: A History—or at least the first half of the book, which deals with the period between the 1870s and 1933. The second half then describes the collapse of this ideal during and after the Nazi period. Instead of dreaming of a loving marriage as a refuge, Jews in Germany after 1945 were more likely to think that their partnerships should embody the values of a more self-conscious and assertive Jewish community.
These arguments stem from many individual love stories — found in the form of diaries, letters, and memoirs — that span fourteen archives and five countries. Of course, in a book that covers this much territory, some accounts had to be left out. What I present here are a couple of the stories I wish I could have included. They depict life in the Third Reich and romantic relationships that served as a salve in an otherwise bleak world. What is particularly striking is that the individuals involved seemed to realise that they needed to hang on to love in order to bear the political situation around them. A loving relationship could offer temporary respite, compensation for a life destroyed, or the possibility of a romantic future far away from Nazi Germany.
A loving relationship could offer temporary respite, compensation for a life destroyed, or the possibility of a romantic future far away from Nazi Germany.
Käte Schmid, a formerly Jewish convert to Catholicism, recognized this as she fell in love with the non-Jewish man who would become her second husband, the physicist Herman Hoerlin. Schmid was a remarkable woman with an exceptional story: She managed to have her first husband’s name cleared after he was killed by mistake during the “Knight of the Long Knives,” and she also persuaded Nazi Party leaders to classify her as a “Mischling of the First Degree,” despite the fact that she had two Jewish parents. Still, she was aware that her marginal status threatened her new partner. At times, she would worry: “I sometimes think I should remove myself from your cheerful and carefully laid out life,” she would say, or “I must leave you. You have freedom and well-being. Do you really want your fate bound to mine? Could I wish for that?” But she fed on Hoerlin’s own vitality, which she witnessed when spending time with him in their hiking club. Indeed, when he told her that he had the “strength to rip up trees,” she found that she now had the “energy to fall in love.” When Schmid thought about the future or zoomed out from her day-to-day life, she felt hopeless about “the cold and oppressive atmosphere” in what used to be her home. She despaired at the prospect of “giving birth in this Germany.” But more often, with what we might now call a kind of mindfulness, she dwelled on the immediate physical pleasures of being with Hoerlin. While waiting for him in his office on one occasion, she imagined seeing him in his “white lab coat”; she remembered rain hitting their “hot cheeks” while they went mountain-climbing; and she “really concentrated on thinking about [his] face” when she “sealed [his] mouth with [hers].”
It tended to be harder for mixed couples when the husband was Jewish. Not only did Jewish husbands usually face worse discrimination, but the inversion of gender roles within the marriage was more radical: Non-Jewish wives often had to take on the more public roles, negotiating with oft-hostile authorities on behalf of their partners. This situation usually caused both partners profound discomfort in what was an otherwise hypermasculine society.
Not all relationships could be so passionate as Kate’s and Herman’s. But even individuals who were not physically close could still bring each other strength. The idiosyncratic relationship that developed from late 1938 to early 1939 between distant cousins Helen and Kurt Kleinman illustrates that the fantasy of a life with a partner was enough to preserve one’s spirits. Helen, a US citizen from New York City, agreed to marry Kurt, a resident of Vienna, without having met him, in order to get him out of Europe. The couple wrote to one another before he set sail and, in the process, fell in love. Letters from Helen provided the perfect contrast to Kurt’s world of sleepless nights worrying about the persecution of friends and family. He drew strength from her kindness — a kindness that was all too absent in his daily life. As he told her: “You care for me like a mother … I always had courage and selfconfidence [sic], but sometimes I lose the belief in me already. There are only your letters, which give me joy and that I never shall forget.” It was only with her nurturing that Kurt could reengage a more carefree part of his personality. Having received letters from Helen for over two months, he told her he wanted to hear stories of “not reasonable but crazy things,” “for I will laugh, I will be glad and lucky after reading your letters.” She belonged to a fantasy world that was essential for his emotional survival. “You are,” he told her, “my fabelfairy [sic] darling and I am the poor prince, who you helped in the oppression.”
 For more, see Bettina Hoerlin, Steps of Courage: My Parents’ Journey from Nazi Germany to America, (Bloomington: AuthorHouse, 2011).
 Leo Baeck Institute, New York (LBINY), AR 25540, Kate and Herman Hoerlin Collection, Box 1, Folder 1, Kate Schmid to Herman Hoerlin — Booklet of Translations and Excerpts, 2008. Letters from 6th and 9th November, 1934
 LBINY, AR 25540, Hoerlin Collection 1/1, undated letter from summer 1934.
 LBINY, AR 25540, Hoerlin Collection 1/1, letters of 8th or 9th December, 1935 and 10th Jan, 1936.
 LBINY, AR 25540, Hoerlin Collection 1/1, undated letter from summer 1934, letter from 23rd September, 1934, letter from October, 1934.
 LBINY, AR 10738/MF 504, Kurt and Helen Kleinman Collection, Box 1/Folder 3, Letters from Kurt Kleinman, May 1938 to January 1939. Letter from 5th October, 1938.
 LBINY, AR 10738/MF 504, Kleinman Collection 1/3, letter from 8th October, 1938.
Christian Bailey is Assistant Professor of History at Purchase College.