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Albersheim family papers

Document | Digitized | Accession Number: 2007.18.1

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    Albersheim family papers

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    The Albersheim family papers consist of biographical, photographic, and printed materials documenting Walter Albersheim from Billerbeck, Germany before World War II, his photography studios in Barcelona and Amsterdam during the Nazi years, his efforts to avoid deportation during the Holocaust, the liberation of Amsterdam, and Albersheim’s immigration to the United States with his wife and daughter after the war.

    Biographical materials include birth, registration, marriage, and business records related to Walter Albersheim, a photocopy of his personal narrative in German and an English translation of it, an English translation of a book chapter about the Albersheim family, and English and German versions of the history of Walter’s nephew and niece, Rolf-Dieter and Eva Eichenwald, during the Holocaust, written by a high school class in Billerbeck. Walter’s narrative details his childhood in Billerbeck, his business ventures and his adventures spying on Nazis for the communists in Münster, his business ventures in Barcelona and meeting his wife there, and their first years in Amsterdam. The book chapter comes from Veronika Meyer-Ravenstein’s Zersplitterte Sterne, which the Museum’s library holds in its collection. The Eichenwald story traces the lives and fates of the Eichenwald children, who were deported to Riga in 1941 and to Auschwitz in 1943, where they perished.

    Photographic materials includes an Albersheim family album, an Eichenwald family album, and two albums documenting the Liberation of Amsterdam. The Albersheim family album includes photographs of the family, Walter’s photo studio, Edith’s visit to her father in the Zand camp, and their postwar life in the Netherlands with the family dog. This series also includes loose photographs documenting the Albersheim family and their immigration to the United States.

    Printed materials include a magazine containing reproductions of 1944 news articles about the Netherlands; four copies of the underground wartime newspaper Metro; and an issue of Het Parool, an issue of Algemeen Handelsblad, bulletins, and proclamations documenting the liberation of Amsterdam.
    inclusive:  1933-2003
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Edith Chutkow
    Collection Creator
    Albersheim family
    Walter Werner Albershiem (1912-1988) was born in Billerbeck, Germany to Josef and Selma Albershiem. Walter had two siblings: Herbert (b. 1908) and Ruth (b. 1915). Josef ran the family’s clothing and textile business in Billerbeck, which had been founded by his father Heimann. The business expanded and was successful, but in 1929 business began to decline, and Walter was the first of the children to leave home in 1933. He moved to Münster to train as a salesman. He joined the Communist Party and would attend Nazi Party meetings to spy on them. As anti-Semitism increased and it became more difficult for him to be in Germany, Walter moved to Barcelona and was joined six months later by his cousin Paul. Walter began a photo business in Barcelona, and met and fell in love with Susanne Elizabeth Wagen (d. 1974), a non-Jewish woman from Switzerland. The couple returned to Switzerland to be married, but were not allowed to remain in the country because Walter was Jewish. The couple moved to Amsterdam, where their daughter Edith was born in 1937. The family was very poor, and Walter started another photo studio, Foto Hejo, where he took portraits and sold cameras. While Walter was not actively practicing Judaism, he would fast on Yom Kippur, and he reported and registered as Jewish. Edith was baptized purely for protection purposes and not raised Jewish. When it became mandatory that all citizens needed passports, Foto Hejo was the only photo studio, so people were lined up around the block to have Walter take their identification photos. In November 1942, Walter was forced to sign the studio over to his wife because he could no longer own the business as a Jewish man. He was able to avoid arrest by Nazis one night be escaping through a window and hiding at a second apartment the couple secretly owned. Walter was forced to wear the mandatory Star of David badge but was able to hide it under the lab coat he wore while processing negatives. He was picked up for forced labor breaking up the runways at Schiphol airport for a time, and Susanne took over running the photo studio. She had assistance from a Jewish woman named Mitzi who was originally from Prague. Another time when Walter was arrested, Susanne called on a German officer she was friendly with named Schellenberg who was able to get Walter released. He was soon arrested again and sent to the Zand camp. Susanne and Edith were able to visit him in the camp, and Walter was given furlough passes to return home and visit his family. During one of these visits, the Dutch underground was able to disrupt rail lines across the country. Walter took advantage of this and did not return to the camp. Instead, he went into hiding. Edith was sent to a children’s home in the country for a year for her protection where Susanne could visit her. Edith remembers watching from the open door to the underground air raid shelter as an airplane plummeted to earth after it was shot down during. During the “Hunger Winter” in 1944, the family survived by trading cameras for food. People all around the vicinity were dying of starvation, and Edith remembers passing a house where a corpse left dead for six weeks was carried out. Susanne had a single potbelly stove in their apartment for heat and to cook food. As the Nazis cut off all electricity in Amsterdam during the winter of 1944 Walter engaged an inventor to build a foot peddled generator that produced light through an automobile head lamp as long as one person was peddling. The family survived due to Walter’s craftiness in bargaining for coal for heating, some sugar, flour for baking bread and many kilos of split pea soup mix that kept the family from starving. Their apartment was at 191 Rozenstraat, which was only 600 meters from where the Frank family was in hiding. Walter and Susanne kept information secret from Edith, such as the second apartment, so that she wouldn’t accidentally tell anyone. Amsterdam was liberated by the First Canadian Army on May 5, 1945. Walter documented the celebrations, parade, and the aftermath. In 1947, the family obtained United States visas under the Swedish quota and sailed from Stockholm aboard the MS Gripsholm to New York, arriving in February. They continued to Baltimore and eventually settled in Silver Spring, Maryland.

    Physical Details

    1 box
    1 oversize folder
    System of Arrangement
    The Albersheim family papers are arranged as three series: I. Biographical materials, 1933-2003, II. Photographs, 1937-1961, III. Printed materials, 1944-1945

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    There are no known restrictions on access to this material.
    Conditions on Use
    Material(s) in this collection may be protected by copyright and/or related rights. You do not require further permission from the Museum to use this material. The user is solely responsible for making a determination as to if and how the material may be used.

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Edith Murray Albersheim Chutkow donated this collection to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2007 and 2016.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this collection has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2023-02-24 14:17:54
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