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Gold engraved pocket watch owned by a German Jewish refugee

Object | Accession Number: 2005.546.2

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    Gold engraved pocket watch owned by a German Jewish refugee


    Brief Narrative
    Pocket watch that belonged to Heinrich Schawbacher. As part of his preparation to leave Frankfurt, Germany, following the rise of the Nazi dictatorship in 1933, the watch and his and his wife's weddings rings were sent to Christian friends in Amsterdam for safekeeping. Jewish refugees were not allowed to take valuable property or currency with them when they left the country. The watch was later sent by registered mail to England after the emigration of the Schawbacher's and their daughter, Nelly Rossmann, and her son, Michael, in 1939.
    received:  approximately 1895
    use: Frankfurt am Main (Germany)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Michael G. Rossmann
    Subject: Heinrich Schwabacher
    Subject: Michael G. Rossmann
    Heinrich Schwabacher was born in Frankfurt, Germany, to a prominent, wealthy Jewish family that had lived in Frankfurt for many generations. Heinrich and his family were wealthy, assimilated Jews. Heinrich was a merchant and also a dealer in rare coins. He married Anna Cahn and they had 2 children, Wilhelm (Willie), born in 1897, and Cornelia (Nelly), born in 1899. After Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933, increasingly severe sanctions were enacted against Jews. In the late 1930s, as they were preparing to flee Nazi Germany, Heinrich and Anna sent some of their valuables to the Netherlands with Christian friends for safe keeping, as they were not permitted to take any valuables with them on their journey out of the country. They were later sent by mail to Anna’s sister, who had emigrated to England earlier in the decade. After the Kristallnacht pogrom on November 9-10, 1938, Anna left for England. It is not clear whether Heinrich passed away in England or in Germany prior to emigration. Their daughter, Nelly, and her son, Michael, joined Anna in London in the summer of 1939. Willy eventually found refuge in Sweden and survived the war there.
    Michael G. Rossmann was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, on July 30, 1930, to Alexander Rossmann and Nelly Schwabacher. His mother came from a wealthy family that had lived in Frankfurt for several generations where they were part of a sizable Jewish community. They were reform minded and assimilated and considered themselves Germans. His maternal grandfather, Heinrich Schwabacher, was a merchant and a dealer in rare coins. His father’s family was also wealthy, but he was not Jewish and was from Wiesbaden. His paternal grandfather was a professor and principal of the local Gymnasium. His paternal grandmother was extremely antisemitic and refused to speak with Michael’s mother. His father’s brother, Bruno, was a dedicated Nazi Party member. But Michael regularly had pleasant visits with his father’s family, even after his parents divorced in 1933. He lived with his mother and her parents and was cared for by his maternal grandmother, Anna Cahn Schwabacher, when his mother went to her job at Der Frankfurter Zeitung. She was a graphic artist for the newspaper, which was a well established publication with a reputation for being democratic and intellectually progressive. Around this time, Nelly, a pacifist, became a member of the Society of Quakers.

    On January 30, 1933, Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany. By summer, the Nazi dictatorship was established and the civil rights of all Germans were eliminated and anti-Jewish laws were enacted. In 1935, Nelly was fired from the Frankfurter Zeitung due to a government decree that Jews could not work in the publishing industry. To support her family, she opened a crafts studio where she gave lessons to Jewish children. Michael began school in 1935, attending a Jewish school his first year and then transferring to a public school. As a Mischling [mixed race] boy, Michael was horribly mistreated in school. He had a teacher who hit him with rulers and denigrated him in front of the class. He was often chased and teased with antisemitic taunts and received daily beatings.

    In December 1938, not long after the violent anti-Jewish pogrom on Kristallnacht on September 9-10, Michael was sent to a Quaker school in the Netherlands. The Palestine Trusteeship Corporation helped to transfer the tuition money from his mother in Germany. He returned to his mother in the summer of 1939 to learn that her parents had left for England. Nelly had stayed behind because she still had very strong pro-German feelings and di not want to abandon her country. But that July, Michael helped his mother bury the family silverware in a friend’s backyard and they left for England where they joined Nelly’s mother and her aunt, who had emigrated there in 1935. Michael was going to return to the Quaker school in Holland but in September 1939, Germany invaded Poland and World War II began. The first months in England were very difficult. They had to evacuate London because of the Blitz with its frequent, intensive bombing raids by the Germans. Michael had to begin school without knowing any English. However, his mother was able to get him a scholarship to a Quaker boarding school where he would thrive for the next six years. His family remained in England after the war ended in May 1945. That year, Michael and his mother became British citizens.
    Michael received a doctorate in Chemical Crystallography in 1956 and pursued an academic career in the United States and Great Britain before settling in the US and becoming an American citizen. Michael and his wife, Audrey, have three children. His mother died in London in 1957. His father passed away in the 1990s.

    Physical Details

    Object Type
    Pocket watches (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    Circular, gold colored, metal watch case with an engraved floral design on the front and a turned design on both sides. It has small dents.
    overall: Height: 3.000 inches (7.62 cm) | Width: 3.000 inches (7.62 cm)
    overall : metal, glass

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The pocket watch was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2005 by Michael G. Rossmann, the grandson of Heinrich Schwabacher.
    Record last modified:
    2023-03-17 11:41:07
    This page:

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