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Brown leather billfold brought with a German Jewish prewar refugee

Object | Accession Number: 2008.204.3

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    Brown leather billfold brought with a German Jewish prewar refugee

    Overview

    Brief Narrative
    Leather, bifold wallet taken with Ernestine Wiesenthal when she emigrated from Berlin, Germany, to London, England in 1939. The billfold originally belonged to her husband, Otto Wiesenthal, who passed away in 1930. Otto had been a physician, and a slip of paper, identifying his status as a Privy Medical Consultant, is still adhered to the interior. This was an honorary title bestowed on respected medical doctors with more than 20 years of experience. On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany. Following the passage of the Nuremberg laws in 1935, Ernestine’s son, Fritz, began looking for places where the family could immigrate as life became increasingly difficult for German Jews. Later that year, Fritz, a doctor, and his wife, Gertrude, sent their daughter, Illa, to boarding school in England. When their daughter, Nellie, was no longer allowed to attend public school, she moved into Ernestine’s home and attended a local Jewish school. Eventually, Jews were no longer able to practice medicine, and the family needed to emigrate. In 1938, Fritz left for the US in order to begin studying for the medical boards he needed to pass in order to practice medicine. He sent for Illa in August 1938. Nellie arrived in January 1939, and Gertrude arrived in March. Once in London, Ernestine spent her time knitting for the Red Cross. In the fall of 1942, she traveled to the US aboard a freighter in a Greek convoy.
    Date
    emigration:  1939
    received:  approximately 1930
    Geography
    received: Berlin (Germany)
    en route: London (England)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Nellie Fink
    Contributor
    Subject: Ernestine Wiesenthal
    Subject: Nellie Fink
    Biography
    Ernestine Unger (1873-1947, later Wiesenthal) was born in Berlin, Germany, into a Jewish family that had lived in the city for generations. She married Otto Wiesenthal (1859-1930) on February 15, 1891. Otto was a physician, as was his father. Their son, Fritz (1893-?), would become a doctor as well. They had one daughter, Helene (1892-?, later Meyer). Ernestine’s family was assimilated and lived a comfortable middle-class life. Her daughter married Edgar Meyer (1893-1963) and they had three children: Eva (b.1927), Peter (b. 1930, and Angelika (?-1938). Ernestine’s son married Gertrude Loewenberg (1898-1986) on May 15, 1920, and they had two daughters: Illa (b. 1921, later Ilse) and Nellie (b.1930, later Fink). Ernestine often cared for her granddaughters because Gertrude suffered from an obsessive compulsive neurosis. She feared that she might get her children sick, often thinking she was carrying diseases like polio, meningitis and scarlet fever. This condition controlled much of Gertrude’s life, so she was often away in sanatoriums, living apart from the family much of the time due to her condition. Ernestine’s husband, Otto, died in November 1930.

    In 1933, Hitler was appointed Chancellor, and by that spring, anti-Jewish legislation was in effect. In 1935, as the Nuremberg race laws were passed and life for Jews in Germany became extremely precarious, Ernestine and her son, Fritz, took a trip to Palestine in search of a safe place to live. Eventually, Fritz decided that it would be better to go to the United States because there were already a few of his wife’s relatives living there. Ernestine’s granddaughter, Illa, was sent to a boarding school in England. In 1936, Ernestine’s granddaughter, Nellie, came to live with her because the Jewish school she now had to attend was close to her home. Eventually, Jews were no longer able to practice medicine in Germany, and Fritz had to seriously consider emigration. He began making plans to go to the US, and find out if he could work there as a doctor. In the spring of 1938, Fritz visited Illa in Brussels, Belgium, on his way to the US. He settled in New York, and lived with Gertrude’s brother while studying for the required medical exams. After finishing school in England, Illa had moved there to study at a convent school, St. Dorothe. She focused on learning French, as well as secretarial and domestic skills, because her father felt that she would need to be able to make her own living once they got to the United States.

    In September, Nellie, who was still living with Ernestine in Berlin, was sent to Switzerland with Ernestine’s daughter, Helene Meyer, and her three children. Ernestine could not leave because she was unable to acquire the necessary papers. Helene and the children stayed in a hotel in the town of Horv-Winkel. Helene and her family were to travel to the United States via Cuba where they would have to wait for entry permits for the US. Fritz did not want Nellie to make that journey, so she was placed in a children’s home in Lucerne until the arrangements for her journey to New York were finalized. During the trip to Cuba, Ernestine’s granddaughter Angelika fell ill and died during the journey. The remaining family members eventually made it to Florida in March 1939, and later settled in New Jersey. In late 1938, a family friend, Frau Kehrli, arrived at the children’s home to take 8-year-old Nellie to Paris, France, and then on to Cherbourg. Nellie boarded the SS Deutschland, along with a governess hired by her family. The ship arrived in January 1939, and Nellie was reunited with her father in New York. In March, Ernestine’s daughter-in-law, Gertrude, arrived.

    Ernestine emigrated from Berlin to London, England, in late 1939. While waiting for immigration papers for the US, Ernestine lived in a rented room and spent her time knitting supplies for the Red Cross. In 1942, Ernestine finally received her immigration papers, and was one of seven female passengers in a convoy of Greek freighters travelling across the Atlantic Ocean. During the voyage, an oil lamp fell on Ernestine’s head, and the oil dyed her hair yellow. The trip took three weeks, and the ship landed in Newfoundland, Canada, before making its way to New York. There, Ernestine was reunited with her family and taken to her daughter Helene’s house in New Jersey. Fritz passed the medical exams that year and established a private ophthalmological practice. Soon the family was living comfortably and in the same home for the first time in years, in the apartment above Fritz’s office. However, Gertrude continued to live apart from the family and Ernestine cared for the children and ran the household. On August 15, 1942, Ernestine’s sister, Emma Goldschmidt (1877-1942), who had lived next door to her in Berlin, was deported to Riga, Latvia, aboard transport 18, train Da 40, and likely murdered upon arrival.
    Nellie Wiesenthal (b. 1930, later Fink) was born in Berlin, Germany, to father, Fritz (1893-?) and Gertrude Loewenberg (1898-1986) Wiesenthal. Both sides of her family were assimilated and had lived in Berlin for several generations. Her father was a medical doctor, like his father, Otto (1859-1930), and grandfather, and specialized in Ophthalmology. His mother, Ernestine (1873-1947, née Unger) stayed at home. The family had an estate, Cartlow, several hours from Berlin where they often went for vacations. Gertrude’s father, Caesar, had been in the import-export business. He died young, and Gertrude’s mother, Anna, later married Josef Lehman. Nellie had one older sister, Illa (b. 1921, later Ilse). Their mother, Gertrude, suffered from an obsessive compulsive neurosis that made her fear she might get her children sick because she thought that she was carrying diseases like polio, meningitis, and scarlet fever. This condition controlled much of her life, and she often spent her days washing and cleaning items repetitively. She was often away in sanatoriums due to her condition, and when Nellie was very young, her mother began living apart from the family.

    In 1933, Hitler was appointed Chancellor, and by that spring, anti-Jewish legislation was in effect. The Nuremburg laws were enacted in 1935, and life for Jews in Germany became extremely difficult and dangerous. That year, Nellie’s father, Fritz, and grandmother, Ernestine, took a trip to Palestine in search of a safe place to live. Eventually, Fritz decided that it would be better to resettle in the United States because they had family there. In 1935, Illa was sent to boarding school in England. In 1936, Nellie was forced out of public school and enrolled in the Goldschmidt School near her grandmother’s house, so she went to live with her. German insurance and social security payments to Jews were no longer authorized, which sent her father’s medical practice into decline. Eventually, Jews were no longer able to practice medicine, and Fritz made plans to go to the US. In the spring of 1938, Fritz visited Illa in Brussels, Belgium, on his way to the US. After finishing school in England, Illa had moved there to study at a convent school, St. Dorothe. She focused on learning French, as well as secretarial and domestic skills, because her father felt that she would need to be able to make her own living once they got to the United States.

    Fritz arrived in New York on April 14, and lived with Gertrude’s brother Walter Loewenberg, and his wife, Annemarie, both physicians, who had left Germany at the end of 1935. At that time, German doctors could practice medicine in New York without taking the medical board exams. That was changed in 1937, due to the large influx of refugees and concerns regarding competition. This meant that Fritz had to study and retrain for the exams. Several months later, Fritz sent for Illa who arrived in the US on August 12. In September, Nellie, who was still living with her grandmother in Berlin, was sent to Switzerland with her aunt, Helene Meyer (1892-?, née Wiesenthal), and her three cousins, Eva, Peter, and Angelika. Ernestine could not leave because she was unable to acquire the necessary papers. Helene and the children stayed in a hotel in the town of Horv-Winkel. One day, Helene’s husband, Edgar (1893-1963), who had been in the US, returned to take his wife and children to Cuba, where they would wait to get US entry visas. Nellie’s father did not want her to take that roundabout journey, so she was placed in a children’s home in Lucerne until arrangements for her journey were finalized. During the trip to Cuba, Nellie’s cousin Angelika fell ill and died. The remaining family members eventually made it to Florida, and later settled in New Jersey.

    In late 1938, a family friend, Frau Kehrli, arrived at the children’s home to take 8-year-old Nellie to Paris, France, and then on to Cherbourg. Nellie boarded the SS Deutschland, along with a governess hired by her family. The ship arrived on January 28, 1939, and Nellie was reunited with her family in New York. Nellie’s arrival was covered by the newspapers, which wrote about how brave it was for a little girl to travel so far without her parents. At first, Nellie stayed with her uncle Walter and aunt Annemarie. Nellie’s father, Fritz, worked as an ambulance doctor, and lived at St. John’s Hospital in Brooklyn while he studied for the board exams. In March, Nellie’s mother, Gertrude, immigrated to the US. Later on, Nellie went to live with several different family friends and acquaintances throughout New York City and on Long Island, and briefly in Florida with Helene. Her sister, Illa, lived with an American family as an au pair and had a day job as a secretary.

    Nellie’s grandmother, Ernestine, emigrated from Berlin to London, England, in late 1939. While waiting for US immigration papers, Ernestine lived in a rented room and spent her time knitting supplies for the Red Cross. In 1942, Ernestine received her immigration papers, and was one of seven female passengers in a three-week-long convoy of Greek freighters travelling across the Atlantic Ocean. In New York, Ernestine was reunited with her family and taken to her daughter Helene’s house in New Jersey. Nellie had not known that she was on her way, and when she went to visit her aunt that weekend, she was incredibly surprised to see her grandmother. Fritz passed the medical exams that year, and established a private ophthalmological practice. Soon the family was living comfortably, and in the same home for the first time in years. Nellie’s mother continued to live apart from the family, and Ernestine cared for them and kept house. After graduating from high school, Nellie attended Queens College, CUNY. In the summer of 1950, Nellie attended summer school at the University of Wisconsin, and she met Sheldon Fink. In 1952, Nellie graduated from college, and in August, she married Sheldon. The couple settled in Chicago, and had two sons.

    Physical Details

    Language
    German
    Classification
    Dress Accessories
    Object Type
    Billfolds (aat)
    Genre/Form
    Wallets.
    Physical Description
    Rectangular, textured brown leather, bifold wallet with four, full-width interior pockets and machine stitched, brown thread finished edges. On one side of the interior, there is a narrow accordion pocket with a slot pocket on top, and on the other there are two slot pockets. The slot pockets are all lined with lightweight, woven, light brown cloth, and the upper slots pockets have a curved edge to make it easier to remove items from within. On the side with two slot pockets, a rectangular, tan paper label is adhered to the center and identifying personal information is printed in black ink and Fraktur font. The wallet is worn from use, with several loose threads and some fraying along the edges. There are losses to the upper left corner of the paper label and is beginning to pull away from the leather.
    Dimensions
    overall: Height: 4.250 inches (10.795 cm) | Width: 6.250 inches (15.875 cm) | Depth: 0.250 inches (0.635 cm)
    Materials
    overall : leather, paper, thread, ink, adhesive
    Inscription
    interior, on paper label, printed in black ink : Dr. O. Wiesenthal / Geh. San. - Rat / Berlin W. 9 / Königin-Augusta-Str.12 [Geheim Sanitätsrat Privy Medical Consultant]

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Provenance
    The billfold was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2008 by Nellie Fink, the granddaughter of Otto and Ernestine Wiesenthal.
    Record last modified:
    2022-07-28 21:51:04
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/irn36231

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