- The Hess and Spier families papers consist of two typescript memoirs: "Refugee's Journey: A Memoir" (365 pages), by Walter Hess, and "An Extraordinary Woman," by Hannah S. Hess (421 pages, undated, circa 2007), as well as pre-war photographs of the family of Hannah Spier Hess, taken in Germany. The memoir of Hannah Hess focuses on the life of her mother, Ruth, describing her childhood in Wolfenbüttel, Germany, the history of her parents, Siegfried and Fanni Steinberg, her marriage to Alfred Spier, the birth and childhood of their two daughters, her immigration to the United States with her daughters following her husband's death, and their life in New York, primarily in Washington Heights, from the 1940s through the end of Ruth's life. The memoir of Walter Hess focuses largely on his childhood in Ruppichteroth, Germany, describing their farming life, his dawning awareness of anti-semitism toward the late 1930s, the imposition of anti-Jewish measures in his town, his family's eventual emigration from Germany by way of Holland, their arrival in Ecuador in 1939, and later immigration to the United States, his childhood and adolescence in New York, and his induction into the U.S. Army, including his deployment to Germany and return to his hometown in 1953.
- Credit Line
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Walter and Hannah Hess
- Collection Creator
- Hannah Hess
Hannah Spier Hess was born on 12 February 1934 in Hannover, Germany, the daughter of Alfred Spier (1900-1937), a teacher, and Ruth (née Steinberg, 1903-1981) Spier. Alfred, who grew up on a farm in Zwesten (Hessen), met Ruth, a native of Wolfenbüttel, while he was studying to be a teacher, and working at the Jewish school where Ruth's father taught. The two married in 1928, settled in Frankfurt am Main, where Alfred found a position as a teacher, but a year later, moved to Hannover, where they had two daughters, Elisabeth (1930-2015) and Hannah. In July 1937, while visiting Alfred's family on their farm, he fell ill with a fever and died. Concerned with the rising anti-Semitism in Germany for some time, Ruth decided the best plan was to leave Germany with her two young daughters. In March 1939, the three of them left Germany for the Netherlands, and from there to Ecuador, where they remained for one year, before being permitted to immigrate to the United States. They settled in New York, where some of their relatives and friends already lived, and Ruth eventually found work in the garment industry. Hannah later studied at Hunter College, and met and married a fellow emigré from Germany, Walter Hess, in the early 1950s. After obtaining a master's degree at the University of California, Los Angeles, Hannah and Walter returned to New York, where she became a teacher.
Walter Hess was born Wolfgang Hess on 26 May 1931 in Siegburg, Germany, but grew up in the village of Ruppichteroth, near Bonn, the son of Oscar and Melitta (nee Krämer) Hess. His father was a cattle dealer, as was his father, Moses Hess. In addition to Walter, there were three other siblings: Karl (born 1932), Peter (born 1937) and Franklin (born 1941). Following Kristallnacht in November 1938, Oskar Hess was arrested and sent to Dachau, where he was imprisoned for a month and then released. After his return home, the family made plans to emigrate, and were able to leave Germany the following year, arriving in Guayaquil, Ecuador on 1 September 1939, the day when Germany invaded Poland. The Hess family settled in Quito, living there until June 1940, when they were able to immigrate to the United States, where they arrived in New York and settled in the neighborhood of Washington Heights. Walter attended George Washington High School, followed by City College (now City University) of New York. Following his graduation in 1952, he was inducted into the U.S. Army, and deployed to Germany, where he was stationed with American forces in Bavaria. During one of his leaves while stationed there, he travelled back to Ruppichteroth, visiting his hometown for the first time since 1939. Following his release from the Army, he studied for a master’s degree in film at the University of California, Los Angeles, but after those studies, returned to New York and pursued a career as a film editor.
Although Walter’s immediate family survived via emigration, his grandparents, Moses and Henrietta Hess, were taken in June 1941 from their home in Ruppichteroth to an internment camp in Much (near Cologne), and in July 1942 were deported to Theresienstadt, where Moses died in October 1942, and Henrietta died in 1944.
- System of Arrangement
- The Hess and Spier families papers are arranged in two series: I. Memoirs, II. Photographs.
Rights & Restrictions
- Conditions on Access
- There are no known restrictions on access to this material.
- Conditions on Use
- Copyright to memoirs remains with Hannah and Walter Hess. Other material 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.
- Copyright Holder
- Hannah Hess
Keywords & Subjects
- Topical Term
- Jews--Germany--Wolfenbüttel. Jews--Germany--Ruppichteroth. Jews--Germany--North Rhine-Westphalia. Jews--Germany--Lower Saxony. Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)--Germany--North Rhine-Westphalia. Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)--Germany--Lower Saxony. Germany--Emigration and immigration. Jewish refugees--Ecuador--Biography. Jewish refugees--New York (State)--New York--Biography.
- Geographic Name
- Wolfenbüttel (Germany) Ruppichteroth (Germany) Ecuador. Washington Heights (New York, N.Y.)
- Holder of Originals
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
- Legal Status
- Permanent Collection
- Hannah S. Hess and Walter Hess donated the Hess and Spier families papers to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2016.
- Record last modified:
- 2023-02-24 14:29:23
- This page:
Also in Hess, Spier and Steinberg family collection
The collection consists of two typescript memoirs, photographs, and Hanukiah relating to the experiences of Walter Hess and Hannah Spier Hess and her family in Germany, Ecuador and the United States before, during, and after the Holocaust.
Hanukiah that belonged to Ruth Spier’s husband Alfred and was carried by his family when they emigrated from Germany in March 1939, to escape persecution. The Hanukiah is lit during the festival of Hanukkah. It has eight candles in line with each other with a ninth candle at a different height that is lit first and then used to light the others. Ruth and her husband Alfred lived in Hannover, Germany, where he taught at a Jewish school. Alfred unexpectedly died of a fever in 1937, leaving behind two young daughters, Elizabeth and Hannah, and Ruth a widow. As part of Kristallnacht, on November 10, 1938, Ruth’s father and brother were arrested by the Gestapo and transported to Buchenwald concentration camp. They were released 6 weeks later. With the increasing violence, Ruth and her brother decided it would be best to leave Germany. In March 1939, they secured passage for their families to Ecuador. By this time, anti-Semitic legislation required Jews to relinquish their valuables to the state. Ruth defied this decree and risked her life by sewing her remaining valuables into the lining of the clothing and linens she was permitted to take with her to Ecuador. Ruth and her daughters spent 1 year in Ecuador and then immigrated to the United States in May 1940, where they settled in New York.