In 1933, the NSDAP became the government of Germany: the following are some of the key changes implemented by the Nazis that affected the Jewish community of Themar.
- January 30: Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany.
Max Bachmann was arrested and charged with “something like insulting the Nazi Party by coughing and spitting in front of the Der Stürmer display case.” He was released because enough people testified that Max always coughed and spit without thinking. “For people to do this,” Manfred Rosengarten remembered in his memoir, Themar, Thüringen: My Hometown, “was rare in those days.“
- March 5: Reichstag Elections. Nazis gain 44% of the vote nationally. The pro-NSDAP vote in Thüringen is 37%.
- April 1: Boycott of Jewish businesses throughout Germany.
- April 7: The Nazi government passes the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, which excludes Jews and political opponents from university and governmental positions. In the following weeks, similar laws affect Jewish lawyers, judges, doctors, and teachers.
- The first victim of this law in Themar was Moritz Levinstein who taught at the Themar public school as well as being the religious leader of the Themar Jewish community. He received his letter of dismissal in July 1933.
- September 15: The Nazi government decree the Reich Citizenship Lawand the Law for the Protection of the German Blood and Honor. These Nuremberg “racial laws” make Jews second-class citizens. They prohibit sexual relations and intermarriage between Jews and “persons of German or related blood.
- By the end of 1935, the number of Jews living in Themar has dropped by about 25%, to 71. Young men such as Albert Wolf, son of Heinrich (1882-1915) and Frieda Wolf (née Mayer) and his cousin, Heinrich Levinstein, son of Moritz and Nanett Levinstein (née Mayer), had left Germany by 1935. Albert would return as an American soldier.
- May 5: A site near Weimar is chosen for a new concentration camp.
- July 16: The first 300 prisoners arrive in “Konzentrationslager Ettersberg.” Soon, there were 1,000 inmates in the camp. Many were transfers from the Lichtenburg camp, 215 km. to the northeast of Leipzig.
- August 6: The name of the camp is changed to “Konzentrationslager Buchenwald” (Buchenwald Concentration Camp). Buchenwald lies 125 km. northeast of Themar. The prisoners were used as forced labour to build the camp.
- September 13: Himmler issues an administrative order allowing Jews to be released from detention on the condition that they emigrate from Germany.
- October 21: Himmler issues an order stipulating the arrest and confinement in a concentration camp of any German emigre who re-immigrated. Emigres were defined as persons who left Germany after the Nazi accession on January 30, 1933.
- March 3: A ‘census’ of the Jewish community of Themar counts 48 members; the leader is Ernst Gassenheimer.
- June 14: The German Ministry of the Interior requires registration of all Jewish-owned enterprises.
In Themar this applied to the Gassenheimers, Moritz Sachs, S.J. Baer (Selma Stern), the Grünbaums, and the family of Max Müller I.
- June 15: German Criminal Police officials arrest around 9,000 so-called asocials and convicted criminals in the so-called “Operation Work Shy, Reich” (Aktion “Arbeitsscheue Reich”), and send them to concentration camps. Among those arrested are approximately 1,000 Jews. This is the first mass arrest of Jews in Nazi Germany.
In Themar, two men, Louis Sander and Max Steindler, were rounded up and sent from Themar. Louis was not released until October 1938 and was almost immediately rearrested in the November Pogrom. Paul Rosengarten, who had moved from Themar to Meiningen in 1936, was arrested and sent from there to Buchenwald. He was released in August and sent home on a stretcher. He and Max Steindler were both rearrested in the November Pogrom.
- October 5 — Law requires Jewish passports to be stamped with a large red “J.”
- November 9/10 — “Reichspogromnacht,” called “Kristallnacht” [Night of Crystal] by the Nazis.
There were twenty-one (21) Jewish men in Themar in November 1938; eighteen (18) were rounded up in the Kristallnacht pogrom. Ernst Gassenheimer (b. 1870) was in hospital recovering from surgery and he was allowed to remain there; Adalbert Stern (b. 1917) was hiding out, as it were, by riding the bus, not the train, and hiding with the parents of friends in the region; we do not know where Arthur Neuhaus (b. 1879) was. No women were apprehended.
Among those arrested were Max Müller II (b. 1884) and his oldest son, Herbert, 24 years old, who lived on the northern part of the city on Meininger Strasse 17. Fifty years later, in 1988, Herbert Müller recalled his experience in a speech to his synagogue in Jamaica, New York:
“On or about Nov. 7th 1938, a member of the German Foreign service, Ernst von Rath, was shot by a young Jewish man. We knew instantly that there would be major repercussions and we were warned to act quickly. So on November 7th we removed the Sifre Torahs and books from the Synagogue and buried them in the backyard of the Synagogue.
During the night of Nov. 9-10 at about 2.30 a.m., we awoke from the noise of broken doors and windows. Half a dozen Stormtroopers entered and told me: ‘You are arrested, get dressed and come along.’ On Nov. 10 1938, trucks carried us to Buchenwald with no food or water. There was no communication to our families. Flora [Herbert's wife] did not know till the following day [November 11, 1938] if only I was arrested or all males in the community. I was Schutzhaeftling #20974/Block 50.”
The intent behind the Kristallnachtpogrom was to increase the pressure on German and Austrian Jews to emigrate although they would make the process as difficult and expensive as possible. Thus, with the help of Dr. Ernst Ledermann, who wrote letters on their behalf to the Gestapo, nine of the Themar Jews were released from Buchenwald by the beginning of December. Sadly, those still in Buchenwald on December 1, 1938 were four WWI veterans, including Max Müller II. The final Themarens were released late in January; Moritz Levinstein, the beloved Lehrer of Themar, did not return alive from the brutal ordeal.
Much clearer now about Nazi intentions, many of these men made plans to leave Germany. Herbert Müller, his wife, Flora Wolf Müller, and his mother-in-law, Frieda Mayer Wolf, escaped, travelling from Berlin in May 1941 in a sealed train to Lisbon and then on to the United States. They were the last of the Müller family to leave; Herbert’s younger brothers had left for Sweden and Palestine earlier. Their mother and father, Klara Nussbaum Müller and Max Müller II, were deported to Belzyce Ghetto in May 1942.
Of the 21 Jewish men in Themar considered to be in November 1938, eight (8) emigrated, one was rearrested and sent to Buchenwald where he died soon thereafter. Twelve (12) were deported and murdered.
Ancestry.com. California Passenger and Crew Lists, 1893-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008.
Ancestry.com. New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Das Bundesarchiv, Gedenkbuch: Opfer der Verfolgung der Juden unter der nationalsozialistischen Gewaltherrschaft in Deutschland 1933-1945.
The M. Müller Collection
The Stern Collection
Themar City Archives