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Weimar Germany Reichsbanknote, 2 million marks, owned by an Austrian Jewish refugee

Object | Accession Number: 2004.709.9

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    Brief Narrative
    Emergency currency, valued at 2 million marks, likely acquired by Dr. Erich Maier. The note was issued in 1923 by the German government during the hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic. The oak leaf garland watermark indicates a private firm printer. It features an image of the Hanse merchant, Georg Giese. After Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany in March 1938, Erich’s law practice in Vienna was confiscated because he was Jewish. In November, he decided to leave the country for the United States with his wife, Ella, and two step-daughters, Amelia and Gerda. After the war ended in May 1945, Erich worked as a censor for the United States War Department in the American zone of occupation in Germany. He also worked with the World Jewish Congress in Germany to provide aid for those in displaced persons camps.
    issue:  1923 July 23
    issue: Berlin (Germany)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Robert Jonas Gross
    face, watermark : oak leaf garland
    face, center, black ink : REICHSBANKNOTE / Zwei Millionen / Mark E A / ZAHLT DIE REICHSBANKHAUPT / KASSE IN BERLIN GEGEN DIESE / BANKNOTE DEM EINLIEFERE / BERLIN DEN 23. JULI 1923 [Reich banknote / 2 Million Mark / will be paid by the Reich’s main bank cashier in Berlin / Berlin July 23rd 1923]
    face, banner : REICHSBANKDIREKTORIUM [Governing body of the Empire’s bank]
    face, upper left and right, circle, black ink : RBD
    face, lower right and left, printed in a circle, black ink : REICHSBANKDIREKTORIUM * [Governing body of the Empire’s bank]
    face, right border, gray ink : 2000000
    face, right border, serial number, red ink : 286395
    back, upper center, green ink : REICHSBANKNOTE [Bank note of the Reich]
    back, center, printed in an oval, green ink : WER BANKNOTEN NACHMACHT ODER VERFÄLSCHT ODER NACHGEMACHTE ODER VERFÄLSCHTE SICH VERSCHAFT UND IN VERKEHR BRINGT WIRD MIT ZUCHTHAUS NITCHT UNTER ZWEI JAHREN BESTRAFT [Those who imitate or counterfeit banknotes or distorts or falsifies, procures and markets it, is punishable with imprisonment of not less than two years]
    back, lower center, green ink : 2 MILLIONEN MARK [2 Million Mark]
    Issuer: Reichsbankdirektorium
    Subject: Erich Maier
    Erich Maier was born on August 25, 1889, to Max and Julia Kohn Maier in Neunkirchen, Austria, where his father (d. 1929) was born. The family was descended from the revered Talmudic scholar, Rabbi Eisenstadt (d. 1744, Hungary.) Erich’s mother was born on August 6, 1854, in Lajtaszentmiklos, Hungary (now Neudorfl, Austria.) Erich had five brothers: a twin Ernst, Otto, b. 1877, Leo, b. 1882, Benno, b. 1884, and Arthur, b. 1886, and three sisters: Flora, b. 1878, Helena, b. 1880, and Minna, (approximately 1892-1932.) Erich had a law degree from the University of Vienna and was active in the Jewish community. He became an associate in a law firm with Leo Hermann Gruber. Gruber, a well-known criminal defense attorney and outspoken opponent of the Nazi Party, died of cancer at age 41 on December 29, 1934. His widow, Ella (Elisabeth), who handled the firm’s business records, agreed to let Erich take over the practice. Erich and Ella married on December 15, 1935. Ella, the only daughter of wealthy parents, Jonas and Jetti Tannenblatt Hochstadt, was born in Vienna on January 16, 1908. She had married Leo Gruber on August 2, 1925, and they had two daughters, Amelia, born September 24, 1929, and Gerda, born April 25, 1931. Erich and Ella were a well-to-do Jewish family.

    Nazi Germany merged Austria into the German Reich in March 1938. They enacted anti-Jewish laws to disenfranchise Jews as citizens and Jews were no longer permitted to take part in many activities and professions. Erich’s law practice was forced to close in June because he was Jewish. The family’s home was often searched by the Gestapo. On one visit, they demanded to see Leo Gruber and Ella had to give them directions to his gravesite as proof that he was dead. They confiscated and stole personal belongings, including a doll carriage.

    The family decided to leave Austria. Ella found a cousin, Nathan Rennert, in America, who provided an affidavit of support for the family to obtain US visas. The Austrian exit fees were extremely costly, but on November 8, 1938, they fled Vienna for Le Havre, France. They were not allowed to take anything of value. When the train was searched by German authorities, Ella hid her jewelry in her soup. The family fled on the SS Normandie and arrived on November 24 in New York, where they remained. Erich’s brother, Ernst, his wife, Margit, nee Fleischmann, and 7 year old son Thomas escaped to the US in 1939 with his help. Erich and Ernst's brother Arthur joined them in 1941. Their mother, Julia Maier, 85, had died in Vienna in approximately 1939. Her mother Jetti was born in Usciebiskupie, Galicia, Austro-Hungary, (now Usti︠a (Ternopilʹsʹka oblastʹ, Ukraine) on November 8, 1874, and her father Jonas was born in Rostoki, Romania, on December 20, 1875. They were on the Romanian quota for the US, which was very small. Ella arranged exit visas to England, which were so expensive they had to sell properties in Vienna, but the visas expired by the time the properties were sold. Ella then obtained transit visas for Bolivia via the US and her parents arrived in New York in August 1940. They were allowed to remain and moved in with Ella and her family. Erich got a position with the World Jewish Congress and, by 1942, Ella worked there as well.

    Both Erich and Ella became naturalized citizens in 1944. Ella and Erich submitted 24 affidavits of support for relatives, and 15 family members reached the US. The others perished. After the war ended in May 1945, they learned that Erich’s other five siblings were killed in concentration camps: Benno in Jasenovac in Croatia in 1941; Leo in Gyor, Hungary, presumably during forced labor service; Leo's wife Sarika in Auschwitz in 1944; Otto in Theresienstadt in February 1944; Flora Frankl and Helena Salz in Auschwitz on October 12, 1944; and Helena’s husband Moritz in Theresienstadt in 1943. Ella’s first husband Leo had two brothers, Erich, (1895-1942), and Fritz, (1900-1939.) The three brothers were born in Vienna to Simon and Amalie Herzstadt Gruber (d. 1900.) Fritz was married to Sofia Selinger (1894-1942) and had a son Siegfried (Fred) (1922-2014.) Fred, 16, received a space on the Kindertransport, a rescue operation that sent Jewish children to safety in Great Britain, and fled Vienna on December 16, 1938. Fritz died due to illness on April 21, 1939. Sofia was deported on November 27, 1941, to Riga, Latvia, and then to Maly Trostenic killing site near Minsk, Belarus, where she was killed on June 15, 1942. Erich Gruber was deported in February 1941 to Kielce, Poland. Ella received a postcard from him dated July 29, 1941, asking for food packages. The ghetto was liquidated in spring 1942, and residents were shipped to Treblinka killing center. Erich Gruber did not survive.

    Erich Maier, who was fluent in German, English, French, and Yiddish, had been working as a censor for the US War Department since 1943. After the war ended, he was sent to work in the American zone of occupation in Germany. While there, he acted as the unofficial representative of the World Jewish Congress. He visited displaced persons camps in Germany to gather information and provide aid for Jewish refugees. He collected the names of all the children at Foehrenwald, Mittelbau, and Beth Bialik DP camps, so that the WJC could send letters and care packages. The WJC tried to arrange for Erich to remain as their official representative after his contract with the US War Department ended in 1946, but they could not get the permits. He continued to work for the WJC until 1948. He then took a position with the law firm of Rosenman, Colin, et al. Erich’s law license was not valid in the US, and he worked as librarian and researcher until his retirement. He also continued to volunteer with the WJC, coordinating shipments of books, clothes, and supplies, and searching for relatives of displaced refugees. Ella worked for the World Jewish Congress for over 25 years, retiring as chief archivist. Ella’s father Jonas, 75, died in 1950. Her mother Jetti, 78, passed away in 1952. Amelia married and had two daughters. She passed away in 1967 while working on her PhD. Gerda married Morton Gross and had three sons. She was a special education teacher, with a graduate degree in the subject. Erich, 71, passed away on April 22, 1963. Ella, 79, passed away in May 1987.

    Physical Details

    Exchange Media
    Physical Description
    Offwhite paper currency with a graphic design on the face in black and blue ink and a watermark of small circles. On the left and right is an image within an irregular rectangle of a man wearing a cap and a black coat, Georg Giese. Above the image is a circle with an acronym and 2 stars and below the image is a Reichsadler seal with German text and a dexter facing eagle. On the center are a German word and the numerical denomination ZWEI MILLIONEN MARK in German fraktur text; below are 4 lines of German text, a black banner with a German word and then 3 lines of signatures. On the center background is a dexter facing eagle. The left side has a wide, offwhite border with a gray geometric design with the numerical denomination 2000000 and the serial number in red ink. The back has a graphic design in green and orange ink. The center has an oval with the numerical denomination 2000000 and German text around the edges. Near the upper and lower edge is a rectangle with German text. It is discolored, stained, and very worn along the center crease, with slight tears.
    overall: Height: 3.375 inches (8.573 cm) | Width: 6.375 inches (16.192 cm)
    overall : paper, ink

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The paper currency was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2004 by Robert J. Gross, the step-grandson of Dr. Erich Maier.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2023-06-21 11:48:41
    This page:

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