By Timothy Hensley
Director of Collections
Virginia Holocaust Museum
Berlin was home to nearly a third of all German Jews when the Nazis came to power in 1933. Over the course of six years, Hitler’s government imposed increasingly tighter restrictions on the 523,000 Jews living in the Reich, with a goal of forcing them to emigrate. As World War II started and the Germans enacted the Final Solution to the Jewish Question – a plan outlining the destruction of European Jewry — Jews in Germany were rounded-up and deported.
Hans Rosenthal, who went on to become a well-known broadcaster, provides an example of the difficulty of surviving as a Jew in the heart of Germany during this period. In his autobiography, he describes how three different women risked their lives to shelter a teenage boy while Berlin’s Jewish population was deported to killing centers in Poland.
“I was not related to them,” he wrote. “They knew me only in passing if at all. They could have been indifferent to me. But they were good and righteous people, they were Germans, just as I once was – and just as I have once again become, now that the nightmare of National Socialism has passed from our fatherland.”
Mrs. Jauch was the first to take in Rosenthal in March 1943. Living in a small cottage on the east side of Berlin, Rosenthal remained in hiding until the summer of 1944 when Mrs. Jauch died suddenly. He turned to the only neighbor who knew of his situation, Mrs. Hardnt. However, she feared taking him in, as her husband was a known communist and likely surveilled by the Gestapo; with her encouragement, he was able to reach out to a Mrs. Schönebeck, who hid him until the Russians liberated Berlin in May 1945.
During the deportation phase, over 60,000 Jews are deported from Berlin to ghettoes and killing centers in occupied Poland, with only 1900 returning to the city after the war. An estimated 1400 remained in hiding in the capital throughout the Holocaust.
The End of War is on stage at the November Theatre through March 26.