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Lenneberg and Brünell families papers

Document | Digitized | Accession Number: 2004.566.4

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    Lenneberg and Brünell families papers

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    The Lenneberg and Brünell families papers consists of a diary, photographs, and documents relating to Ursula Lenneberg and Siegmund Brünell’s families' pre-war life in Germany and their wartime and post-war experiences in various concentration camps and DP camps. The diary was written by Ursula while in the Deggendorf DP camp. In the diary she describes her experiences interned in several camps including Theresienstadt, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Kudowa, and Merzdorf. The diary also includes post-war images of Ursula and her mother, Caroline “Lina” Lenneberg, as well as a note inscribed by her friend "Buschi" (Hilde Freudenberg) and a pre-war photograph of her younger brother Walter. The collection also includes two wartime letters from Olga and Emil Pawel, Ursula’s future in-laws.

    Lenneberg family papers include a postcard sent from Walter Lenneberg while in Theresienstadt to his uncle Erich in Düsseldorf, Germany as well as Walter’s birth certificate, report cards for Ursula and Walter, testimony and work references for Lina, ration coupons, and a vaccination card.

    Brünell family papers include an immigration visa, work papers, and a marriage certificate for Siegmund Brünell as well as pre-war photographs of Siegmund, his wife Hertha, and their children Herbert and Hannelore in Germany.
    inclusive:  1926-1947
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Ursula Lenneberg Pawel
    Collection Creator
    Ursula L. Pawel
    Ursula Lenneberg was born on April 24, 1926, in Dortmund, Germany, but raised in Aplerbeck. Her father, Otto, was Jewish and her mother, Caroline (Lina) Schneider, was originally Protestant. Caroline was born in Dortmund and had two sisters and a brother Konrad. Otto was born in Dusseldorf to an assimilated Jewish couple, Adolf and Amalie Lenneberg, with an older brother Erich, and a sister Else. Otto was general manager of Karstadt department store and Lina was the buyer for women and children’s clothing. They married in 1925 and Lina converted to Judaism. Her family was much more accepting of the marriage than Otto’s. Ursula’s brother Walter was born in September 1930. The family was well off, and had a live-in maid.
    In 1933, the Nazi dictatorship assumed power and policies to persecute Jews were instituted in Germany. Her father lost his job because the store was Aryanized and purged of all Jewish employees. He purchased a store from a Jewish man who was leaving the country. Some of Ursula’s playmates at school told her they could no longer play with her. In 1934, she had to leave public school to attend a Jewish school. In September 1935, the Nuremberg Race laws made it illegal for Jews and non-Jews to marry or to have intimate relations. In 1936, Ursula’s family moved from Aplerbeck, which was very antisemitic, to Dusseldorf. Her father opened a dry goods business and her mother became forelady at the Schreyeck’s belt factory. Ursula attended a private Jewish school. The family got an affidavit from a relative in Chicago and was placed on waiting list for US visas. Around 1937-38, her father’s business was confiscated and he was sent to do compulsory labor service in Tiefbau. The Protestant minister at her grandmother’s church was taken away by the Gestapo during a Sunday sermon for preaching tolerance. In 1938, a US consulate employee invalidated their affidavit. They tried to get visas for Uruguay and lost a great deal of money to a swindler. During the Kristallnacht pogrom on November 9-10, 1938, Ursula’s school and synagogue were burned. By 1941-42, all their valuable possessions had been confiscated by the Gestapo. Their identification was marked with a red J and they had to wear Star of David badges. Ursula was taunted on the streets by League of German Girls members. Her mother was ordered to the police station several times by the head of the local Gestapo, Herr Puetz, who harangued her to divorce Otto, but she refused.
    In July 1942, Ursula received a notice of deportation to a labor camp. Her family insisted on going with her. Her father and brother were added to the transport, but the Germans refused to allow her mother to go. They were taken to Theresienstadt ghetto/labor camp in Czechoslovakia. Otto said he was a carpenter when they arrived and he was able to steal wood from work to trade to the cooks for more food. Ursula, 16, volunteered to work, and was assigned as a caretaker to the youth barracks, first L410, then 414. Her father talked to her about her mother every day. Her paternal grandmother died in the camp the first year. There were clandestine classes and concerts and Walter was in the choir and was bar mitzvahed. Her mother sent packages which Ursula shared with the children in her care. She gave the vitamins and extra food to Herbert Blau, brother of Trude, who was ill with TB. One day in October 1943, everyone was herded out of the barracks to the Bauschowtiz basin. They were told they were being punished because the elders had given the wrong inmate count. They had to stand at attention for hours in the rain guarded by SS with machine guns as other guards beat and screamed at them. Then they were returned to the barracks which had been torn apart and searched. Transports left the camp continuously. Otto was transferred out of Terezin for several weeks in 1943 to build bunkers in Berlin. He was a changed man when he returned and Ursula later thought this was because he had learned of the death camps. Ursula witnessed the preparation for the Red Cross visit of May 1944 and the children she cared for were featured in the film made by Kurt Gerron. Afterwards, the transports left in even larger numbers.
    In summer 1944, Ursula was with Otto when he was given a notice of deportation to a labor camp near Dresden, Germany. She convinced him that she and Walter must accompany him. On September 30, 1944, they left by train but were taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Ursula was separated from her father and brother. As she marched along a road, a woman came outside the nearby barracks and yelled a name toward the line and was shot by a guard. Ursula was taken to a sauna, stripped and shaved all over, as a line of SS men along the wall jeered. She was given clogs and a dirty dress, prison number 67269, and placed in Camp C. The next day, a prisoner, Hirschfeld from Theresienstadt, who was in the detail picking up dead bodies, told his wife to tell Ursula that her father and brother were dead. The adjacent barracks housed Hungarian women, longtime inmates referred to as Musselman, inmates near death who resembled living skeletons. During one selection, one of the Hungarians ran into their barracks. She told the newcomers details of how those too weak to work were sent to the gas chambers. Ursula survived by living inward, so that what happened outside her, somehow didn’t touch her inside.
    Around January 1945, Ursula had to strip for a work selection and was chosen for a factory detail. She was taken to another camp, with mostly non-Jewish Polish women, and shared a bunk with two girls, Zdena from Prague and Buschi (Hilde Freudenberg), from Amsterdam. The women then were transported west by cattle car to Kudowa-Sackisch to work in an airplane factory. They were able to take hot showers with soap and had blankets and edible food. At roll call the next day, the factory manager announced that no one with glasses could work in the factory; they would be returned to Auschwitz. Ursula and Zdena wore glasses, as did three others, and, for some reason, Buschi, who did not, was told to go with them. They were taken to a rail trestle lined with sick prisoners. Two young SS guards put the six girls alone in the last car. When the train stopped at Merzdorf, the soldiers told them to jump off and took them to the Kamste, Mettner, and Frahne linen factory. The guards got the commandant, Ann Rinke, who screamed to take the girls back to Auschwitz, but the soldiers saluted her and left. Ursula and her friends worked outdoors in transport. The closeknit group supported each other. Those in the factory stole flax used to make chest, feet, and hand warmers and the outside girls scavenged for food.
    One day in late spring 1945, there was a lot of commotion at night. The next morning their door was unlocked by a German soldier who told them they were free. The Soviet Army arrived that afternoon. A soldier gave them bicycles and they decided to bike to Prague. At the Czech border, only Buschi and Ursula were able to continue. They headed to Lippborg where Ursula’s aunt lived and where she and her parents had agreed to meet if they were separated. They bicycled over 500 miles through bombed out Europe in 6 weeks and upon arrival in Lippborg, Ursula saw her mother Lina in the street.
    Lina had moved to Lippborg to escape the Gestapo. After her family was deported, Herr Puetz came nearly weekly to interview Caroline and her employers, the Schreyeck’s. Mr. Schreyeck arranged with his brother in Vienna to shield her from the police. One day when Caroline was ill and not at work, the Gestapo came to the Vienna factory looking for her. Schreyeck called and told her to leave immediately for Kleve, where a third brother had a tannery. When Kleve was under heavy allied bombing, the Schreyeck’s told her she would be safer with her sister in Lippborg. Soon after she left, their house was hit by a bomb. Lina’s youngest sister had been sent to a labor camp for criticizing the Nazi regime. Most of Otto’s family perished in the Holocaust. His sister Else died in Stuffhof in December 1944 and her daughter Ilsa perished in Łódź Ghetto.
    In 1947, after settling at Deggendorf displaced persons camp, Ursula and Lina were assisted by UNRRA, AJDC, and HIAS to emigrate to the US on the SS Ernie Pyle. The American Joint Distribution Committee helped them settle in Boston. In 1948, Ursula met Hans Pawel, a survivor from Germany whose parents, Dr. Emil and Olga Neman Pawel, were killed in the camps. After six weeks, the couple married. They had two sons. Two weeks after Ursula married, Lina wed Siegmund Bruenell, a fellow survivor who was also deported from Dusseldorf to Theresienstadt. Prior to the war Siegmund was married to Hertha and they had two children, Hannelore and Herbert, who perished during the war. Ursula wrote a memoir of her experiences and has participated in many programs to educate people about the Holocaust.

    Physical Details

    German English
    4 folders
    1 book enclosure
    System of Arrangement
    The Lenneberg and Brünell families papers are arranged as a single series:
    BE 1: Diary, 1945
    Folder 1: Diary, 1945
    Folder 2: Brünell family, 1926-1944
    Folder 3: Lenneberg family, 1938-1947
    Folder 4: Pawel family, 1942

    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

    Ursula Lenneberg Pawel donated the Lenneberg and Brünell families papers to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2004 and 2007. The accessions previously numbered 2004.566.1, 2004.652.1, and 2007.264.1 have been incorperated into this collection.
    Funding Note
    The accessibility of this collection was made possible by the generous donors to our crowdfunded Save Their Stories campaign.
    Special Collection
    Save Their Stories
    Primary Number
    Record last modified:
    2024-04-11 13:19:06
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