POST 19: “GAME ON!” GERMANY’S 1929 DAVIS CUP TEAM VS. CZECHOSLOVAKIA

NOTE:  This Blog post discusses what I consider one of the most interesting items found among my father’s surviving personal papers, a postcard dated June 21, 1929 from Prague, then-Czechoslovakia.  It relates to my family only insofar as it is connected to the “Tennis Club E.V.B. Schwarz-Weiß,” of which my father was a member during the late 1920’s when he lived in Berlin while attending dental school there.  The postcard is a unique piece of tennis memorabilia because it is signed by three members of Germany’s 1929 Davis Cup tennis team, as well as six other members of the team’s entourage.  Notwithstanding Otto von Bismarck’s insistence that signatures on formal letters and official documents should be readable without the slightest effort, deciphering some of the signatures on the postcard required the aid of two German tennis history specialists to whom I’m enormously indebted for their persistent and gracious assistance.

Figure 1a-Front of postcard signed by Germany’s 1929 Davis Cup team and its entourage, mailed from the Grand-Hotel Steiner, Prague
Figure 1b-Back of postcard signed by Germany’s 1929 Davis Cup team and its entourage, mailed from the Grand-Hotel Steiner, Prague

 

 

 

 

 

 

Among my father’s surviving personal papers is a card postmarked June 21, 1929, mailed from the Grand-Hotel Steiner in Prague (Figures 1a & 1b) to the “Tennis Club E.V.B. Schwarz-Weiß” in Berlin-Schöneberg. (Figure 2)  I gleaned it was related to Germany’s Davis Cup 1929 team based on what I could partially read and later learned was written: “Der Davis Cup lüft grüßen.  Ich auch.  Micheler,” translated “The Davis Cup sends greetings.  Me too.  Micheler.” (Figure 3)

Figure 2-Members of Berlin’s “Tennis Club E.V.B. Schwarz-Weiß” on 24 August 1930, from l. to r., Rudi Rüster, Otto Bruck, Walter Roedelius, Paul Rüster, Karl Pützer, Otto __, Günther Weyhe
Figure 3-Writing on postcard, “Der Davis Cup lüft grüßen. Ich auch. Micheler,” translated “The Davis Cup sends greetings. Me too. Micheler.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The story told here is not chronological in terms of how I gathered information, but is better suited for explicating things.

On a website that no longer exists, based in England, I found historical data of all Davis Cup matches played since 1900, when the first Davis Cup competition took place between the USA and Great Britain.  The website confirmed that in 1929, Germany’s Davis Cup team traveled to Prague to play then-Czechoslovakia in the European Zone semi-finals, and defeated them by a score of 4 to 1.  The historical website included the names of Germany’s three Davis Cup players that year, Daniel Prenn, Hans Moldenauer, and Heinz Landmann. 

My untrained eye could only decipher David Prenn and Heinz Landmann’s names on the postcard, although the English website administrator also found Hans Moldenauer’s signature.  The administrator suggested I follow-up with two other organizations, the International Tennis Hall of Fame (ITHOF) in Newport, Rhode Island, and the “Deutscher Tennis Bund (DTB)” in Hamburg, Germany, to inquire about the other signatories.  I sent emails with a scan of the postcard to both, but only ITHOF responded.  Ms. Meredith Miller from ITHOF was unable to interpret any additional names, but asked my permission to forward the scan to Dr. Heiner Gillmeister, a world authority on the history of ball games, and author of “Tennis: A Cultural History.”  Anxious to learn about more names on the postcard, I eagerly consented.

Very shortly thereafter, in April 2012, Dr. Gillmeister responded to Ms. Meredith’s request for assistance on my behalf.  He was able to make out three more names, specifically, that of “Hage Lindenstaedt,” and those of “B v. (=Burghard von) Reznicek” and his wife “Paula R. (=Reznicek).”  Dr. Gillmeister told me a little about these individuals, and at the bottom of this post I briefly summarize what I have learned about them.

I would not again be in contact with Dr. Gillmeister until October 2013.  By then, my German first cousin had been able to read another name, that of the “Micheler,” who wrote the greeting on behalf of the German Davis Cup team, quoted above.  In the intervening period, I had also contacted the German “Tennis MAGAZIN,” hoping to entice them into writing a short human-interest article on the postcard given its uniqueness.  While the editor initially expressed some curiosity, ultimately this did not pan out.  Still, this was not for naught.  When I reestablished contact in late 2013 hoping to decipher the last three signatures, Dr. Gillmeister enlisted the aid of a friend and another tennis historian, Mr. Friedrich “Plick” Plickert; this turned out to be the key to ferreting out the remaining names.

Figure 4-My father, Otto Bruck, and his doubles partner, Walter Roedelius, at the Tennis Club E.V.B. Schwarz-Weiß with some of the club’s buildings in the background

Tennis Club E.V.B.,” where the postcard was mailed, refers to the tennis club associated with the Berlin Skating Club, in German “Eislauf -Verein Berlin (EVB).”  The headquarters of the Berlin “Sclittschuh-Klub,” as the Skating Club was known, opened on May 25, 1921, and consisted of some stately mansions seen in the background of my father’s photos. (Figure 4)  The club was originally located in Berlin-Schöneberg, but in 1938, the city asked the club to move so that large government buildings could be constructed on the site.  Thus, “Schwarz-Weiß” relocated to a different Berlin district, Berlin-Schmargendorf, and opened in early 1939.  In the few months before the start of WWII, the club had no opportunity to establish a new tradition, and with the outbreak of hostilities, organized tennis everywhere in the country came to a halt.  After the war, the Allied Military Government closed, as one of its first measures, all clubs in Berlin, which spelled the demise of “Schwarz-Weiß.”  In 1951, a former director of the club had it re-registered in an attempt to revive it, but to no avail.  By 1956, the “Vereinsregister bei dem Amtsgericht,” or the club register at the District Court, permanently closed the file.  Today, nothing remains of “Schwarz-Weiß,” either at Berlin-Schöneberg or at Berlin-Schmargendorf. 

As far as this Blog post is concerned, the important thing is that a file entitled “Tennis Club Schwarz-Weiß” survives at the local court, the “Vereinsregister, Amtsgericht Berlin-Charlottenburg,” as it is called.  Mr. Plickert discovered this and ordered it to conclusively determine the last few names on the postcard dated 1929.  He confirmed the name “MICHELER” was correct, although the club documents do not mention his first name.  Still, the Berlin phone directory for 1930 lists two individuals with this surname in Berlin, and Mr. Plickert is reasonably certain that a “M. FRANZ MICHELER,” a “Sportschriftsteller,” or sports writer, living in Berlin-Schöneberg, was the gentleman in question.  From the club file, it is certain that Micheler was a prominent club member of the “Ehrenrat,” the esteemed group that advised the club executives.

Mr. Plickert also figured out another signatory, a name he had initially misread as “WOLF.”  It turned out to have been a man named “DR. ADOLF LÜPKE,” who for several years belonged to the tennis club’s “Vorstand,” or Board of Directors; Dr. Lüpke’s signature, certified by a Notary Public, survives in the club file.

Earlier, Mr. Plickert had suggested to Dr. Gillmeister that the signature at the very top of the postcard might be that of “DR. W. SCHOMBURGK,” the former President or “Bundesleiter” of the “Deutscher Tennis Bund (DTB),” the German Tennis Federation.  Dr. Gillmeister consulted the following report on Germany’s 1929 match against Czechoslovakia:

C. Weiß, “Deutschland – Tschoslowakei in Prag im Gange,” in Tennis und Golf, Vol. 6, No. 17, 21 June 1929, p. 439 f.

And, sure enough, language on page 439 of this report provides proof that Dr. W. Schomburgk attended the Davis Cup match, but that he did not captain the German team.  That role was taken over by a “C. Weiß,” believed to be Conrad Weiss.  Regrettably, Conrad did not sign the postcard mailed from Prague.

Finally, after a two-year long enterprise and the unflagging efforts of two German tennis history specialists, all nine individuals who signed their names to the postcard my father saved were identified.  Below, I provide brief bios of the people and show pictures of them, where I’ve been able to find them.  In one instance, I provide a hyperlink to an image for sale of the individual discussed.

GERMAN 1929 DAVIS CUP PLAYERS

Figure 5-Daniel Prenn’s signature, signed “D. Prenn”

 

 

 

Figure 6-Daniel Prenn in 1929 (photo courtesy of Dr. Heiner Gillmeister)

Daniel Prenn  (b. 7 September 1904 in Vilna, Russian Empire-d. 3 September 1991 in Dorking, Great Britain). (Figures 5, 6, 7 & 8) Daniel Prenn was a Jewish-born tennis player who played for Poland, German, and Great Britain.  He was at the top of his game when he played for Germany and was a member of the “LTCC (Lawn Tennis Tournament Club) Rot-Weiß Tennis Club of Berlin; Prenn was Germany’s number one ranked player from 1928 to 1932.  When the Nazis came to power in 1933, he was barred from competition.  Despite his success on the court, the Deutscher Tennis Bund passed a series of resolutions in April 1933 barring Jews from the national team and official club positions, and included a specific resolution targeted towards Prenn, stating: “The player Dr. Prenn (a Jew) will not be selected for the Davis Cup team in 1933.”  Shortly thereafter, he moved to England and became a British subject.  He continued to play competitively but never again garnered the same level of success as he had in Germany.

Figure 7-Daniel Prenn, again in 1929 (photo courtesy of Dr. Heiner Gillmeister)

 

 

Figure 8-Tennis card showing Daniel Prenn in action

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 9-Hans Moldenauer’s signature

 

 

 

Hans Moldenauer  (b. 10 April 1901-d. 29 December 1929 in Berlin, Germany). (Figures 9, 10 & 11)  Like Prenn, Moldenauer was a member of the Rot-Weiß Tennis Club of Berlin.  He was Germany’s first major international tennis player, and competed in Wimbledon, Davis Cup, and the French Open.  He died at a young age when his motor car was struck by a tram in Berlin.

Figure 11-Hans Moldenauer, again in 1929 (photo courtesy of Dr. Heiner Gillmeister)
Figure 10-Hans Moldenauer in 1929 (photo courtesy of Dr. Heiner Gillmeister)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 12-Heinz Landmann’s signature

 

 

 

Figure 13-Heinz Landmann in action (photo courtesy of Dr. Heiner Gillmeister)

Heinz Landmann (Figures 12 & 13)  Heinz Landmann was the third member of Germany’s 1929 Davis Cup Team.  He won the German Open Tennis Championship in 1923.

 

 

 

 

 

 

GERMAN 1929 DAVIS CUP TEAM ENTOURAGE

Figure 14-Paula Reznicek’s signature, signed “Paula R.”

 

 

 

Figure 15-Paula von Reznicek in 1929 (photo courtesy of Dr. Heiner Gillmeister)

Freifrau (Baroness) Paula von Reznicek, née Heimann  (b. 17 October 1898 in Breslau, Germany-d. 12 October 1976 in Munich, Germany). (Figures 14, 15, 16 & 17)  Paula von Reznicek was an internationally-ranked tennis player, journalist, and writer.  In 1928, Ms. Reznicek published “Auferstehung der Dame” [Resurrection of a Lady], an illustrated book that was a summary of sorts of contemporary views on feminine identity.  In 1929, she won the German Open Tennis Championship in Berlin, the year she was ranked number 8 in the world.  Paula married Burghard von Reznicek around 1925, although by 1932, she was married to Hans Stuck, the famous German race-car driver, a marriage that lasted until 1948.  Because her grandfather had been Jewish, Paula’s marriage to Hans Stuck probably saved her life since Hans had established a personal relationship with Hitler, whom he had met by chance on a hunting trip in 1925.

 

Figure 17-Tennis card showing Paula von Reznicek in action
Figure 16-Paula von Reznicek in 1932 (photo courtesy of Dr. Heiner Gillmeister)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 18-Burghard von Reznicek’s signature, signed “B v. Reznicek”

 

 

 

Burghard Freiherr (Baron) von Reznicek  (b. 1896 in Mannheim, Germany-d. 1971). (Figure 18)  Burghard von Reznicek was a journalist and author of “Tennis: Das Spiel der Völker (Marburg, 1932),” a book dedicated to his wife, Paula von Reznicek.

Figure 19-Hans-Georg Lindenstaedt’s signature, signed “Hage Lindenstaedt”

 

 

 

Figure 20-Hage Lindenstaedt in action in 1929  (photo courtesy of Dr. Heiner Gillmeister)

Hans-George “Hage” Lindenstaedt  (b. 20 August 1904 in Berlin, Germany-d. 24 December 1975). (Figures 19 & 20) Hage Lindenstaedt was an excellent tennis and table tennis player.  He played with Daniel Prenn on Germany’s Table Tennis team at the first World Cup in 1926.  He was also a sports journalist.  During the 1930’s, he emigrated to Switzerland for political reasons, but returned to Berlin after WWII and ran a printing company.

 

Figure 21-M. Franz Micheler’s signature, signed “Micheler”

 

 

 

Figure 22-Page from Berlin’s 1930 phone directory identifying M. Franz Micheler as a “Sportschriftsteller,” or sports writer, living in Berlin-Schöneberg

M. Franz Micheler (Figures 21 & 22) Little is known about Mr. Micheler, although Mr. Friedrick Plickert is certain that he is the Micheler listed in Berlin’s 1930 phone directory, identified as a “Sportschriftsteller,” or sports writer, living in Berlin-Schöneberg.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 23-Dr. Wilhelm Schomburgk’s signature, signed “Dr. W. Schomburgk”

 

 

 

 

Figure 24-Dr. Wilhelm Schomburgk, President of the Deutscher Tennis Bund, in 1927 (photo courtesy of Dr. Heiner Gillmeister)

Dr. Wilhelm Schomburgk  (b. 1 March 1882 in Leipzig, Germany-d. 15 December 1959 in Leipzig, Germany). (Figures 23, 24 & 25) As a young man, Dr. Schomburgk was an avid athlete, playing football, tennis, field and ice hockey.  In 1902, he co-founded the “Deutscher Tennis Bund (DTB),” the German Tennis Federation, an organization he was President of between 1934 and 1937.  His belief as to the proper role of sports, as voluntary and not as a duty, diverged from that of the National Socialists and caused him to resign from the DTB in October 1937.  During the war, Dr. Schomburgk belonged to the conservative resistance to the Third Reich, some of whose members were famously associated with the failed 20 July 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler.

Figure 25-The Deutscher Tennis Bund in 1927 with Dr. Wilhelm Schomburgk shown circled (photo courtesy of Dr. Heiner Gillmeister)

 

Figure 26-Dr. Adolf Lüpke’s signature

 

 

 

Dr. Adolf Lüpke (Figure 26)  According to what Mr. Friedrich Plickert discovered from reviewing the file entitled “Tennis Club Schwarz-Weiß” at the local court, the “Vereinsregister, Amtsgericht Berlin-Charlottenburg,” for several years, belonged to the tennis club’s “Vorstand,” or Board of Directors. 

Figure 27-The Grand Hotel Bohemia, formerly the Grand-Hotel Steiner, as it looks today

The Grand-Hotel Steiner, where Germany’s 1929 Davis Cup stayed along with their entourage, still exists today and is known as the Grand Hotel Bohemia. (Figure 27)  It opened on February 25, 1927, and was owned and operated by an experienced hotelier, Mr. Josef Steiner.  The hotel offered the highest level of luxury, and the hotel lobby was decorated in English Art Deco style.  After the Communist takeover in 1948, all private properties were nationalized and private ownership of businesses became illegal.  Believing Communist rule would be short-lived and hoping to watch over his property. Mr. Steiner offered the Communist Party his hotel for representation purposes, asking only that he be allowed to remain as an employee.  Unfortunately, Communist rule lasted 40 years, and the hotel was returned to the Steiner family only after the Velvet Revolution in 1989, at which point the family sold it.

POST 18: REMEMBERING MY GREAT-AUNT CHARLOTTE “LOTTE” BERLINER, NÉE ROTHE, VICTIM OF THE HOLOCAUST

“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”—Elie Wiesel

 “To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”—Elie Wiesel

NOTE:  This article tiers off my previous post dealing with my Uncle Fedor, and a postcard he mailed on his 14th birthday from Breslau, Germany.  For most of my readers, I expect this article will be of limited interest, so briefly let me explain why I’ve written it.  With the exception of my Uncle Fedor, I had never heard of the other people whose names appear on the postcard.  I had low expectations when I started gumshoeing, so was pleasantly surprised when I figured out all their identities.  I was even more delighted when I found pictures of the person to whom the card had been mailed.  Sadly, I also felt an obligation to share with readers the fate of my great-aunt Charlotte Berliner, and in a small way remember that she once existed.  And, finally, I wanted to tell about the various databases I checked to uncover the vital events of the named people.

In the previous Blog post dealing with my Uncle Fedor Bruck, readers will recall that on his 14th birthday on August 17, 1909, my uncle went on a hot-air balloon ride in Breslau (today: Wrocław, Poland).  Along with “Alfred & Lotte,” all signed a card postmarked from a mail train, copied here (Figures 1a & 1b), addressed to “Fräulein Helene Rothe” and sent to the attention of “Martin Rothe” in Meseritz in the province of Posen, Prussia (today: Miedzyrzecz, Poland).  This was the first time I came across the surname “Rothe” in my family research.

Figure 1a-Front of postcard dated August 17, 1909 showing Rathaus (Town Hall) in Leipzig

 

Figure 1b-Back of postcard dated August 17, 1909, with names of people discussed in Blog post circled

 

 

 

 

 

I had been told by my parents that members of my grandmother Else Berliner’s (Figure 2) family had immigrated to New York.  While I’d never met them growing up, my parents had occasional contact with them in America.  These included two of my father’s first cousins, Peter Berliner and his sister (Figure 3); Ilse’s husband, Walter Goetzel, was even a witness at my parent’s wedding. (Figure 4)  Gradually, though, our families lost contact.  Still, without too much difficulty I was able to find Peter Berliner’s ancestors, though too late to meet Peter who died in 2000.  It was while researching him in ancestry.com, however, that I learned his parents were Alfred Berliner and Lotte Berliner, née Rothe, thus, the great-uncle and -aunt “Alfred & Lotte,” who, along with my Uncle Fedor, signed the card postmarked in 1909 from Breslau, Germany.  Hence, the Rothe family is related to the Berliner family by marriage.

Figure 2-My grandmother Else Bruck, née Berliner (1873-1957)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 3-My father Otto Bruck with one of his first cousins, Ilse Goetzel, née Berliner
Figure 4-My Uncle Fedor, my mother Paulette Brook, née Bruyere, & Walter Goetzel, husband of Ilse Goetzel, on my parents wedding day on October 22, 1949

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During a visit to the Polish State Archives in Raciborz in 2014, I discovered the certificates for two of Alfred and Lotte Berliner’s three known children, Peter Berliner and his sister, Ilse Goetzel, née Berliner.  Both of these documents confirmed that Lotte Berliner, née Rothe, was their mother. 

I discovered additional information about my great-uncle Alfred Berliner from familysearch.org, the Mormon Church website.  Microfilm roll 1184448, containing Jewish death records from Ratibor, confirmed Alfred died there on February 19, 1921, and that his wife Lotte Berliner was present. (Figure 5)  Readers may remember Alfred Berliner was a brewer and the owner of the “M. Braun Brauerei” in Ratibor.  Alfred was interred in the former Jewish Cemetery in Ratibor, and a photo of his tombstone exists among the photos archived at the Muzeum Raciborzu that I examined in 2015. (Figure 6)

Figure 5-Jewish death register from Ratibor, confirming Alfred Berliner died there on February 19, 1921 (source: LDS Microfilm 1184448)

 

Figure 6-Tombstone of Alfred Berliner (1875-1921) from the former Jewish Cemetery in Ratibor, with birth year incorrectly inscribed as 1876

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While all these documents provided conclusive evidence of when and where Alfred Berliner died, I did not yet know his wife’s fate.  Previously, I’ve made mention of the database: Östliche preußische Provinzen, Polen, Personenstandsregister 1874-1945 (Eastern Prussian Provinces, Germany [Poland], Selected Civil Vitals, 1874-1945).  Not only was I able to locate Alfred and Lotte Berliner’s marriage certificate here (Figures 7a & 7b), but I also was able to find Lotte Berliner’s birth certificate (she was born Charlotte Henriette Rothe) (Figures 8a & 8b), that of two of her siblings, Helene Lina Rothe (Figure 9) and Curt Isidor Rothe (Figure 10), the names of her parents, Martin Rothe and Babette Pinner, and the death certificate of her father Martin. (Figure 11)  Thus, with the historic documents found in the “Eastern Prussian Provinces” database, I was now certain that the 1909 postcard had been sent to Lotte Berliner’s sister, Helene Rothe, to the attention of Lotte and Helene’s father, Martin Rothe.

Figure 7b-Alfred & Lotte Berliner’s marriage certificate (source: Östliche preußische Provinzen, Polen, Personenstandsregister 1874-1945)
Figure 7a-Alfred & Lotte Berliner’s marriage certificate (source: Östliche preußische Provinzen, Polen, Personenstandsregister 1874-1945)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 8a-Lotte Berliner’s (née Charlotte Henriette Rothe) birth certificate #1 (source: Östliche preußische Provinzen, Polen, Personenstandsregister 1874-1945)
Figure 8b-Lotte Berliner’s (née Charlotte Henriette Rothe) birth certificate #2 (source: Östliche preußische Provinzen, Polen, Personenstandsregister 1874-1945)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 9-Helene Schönhöfer, née Rothe, birth certificate (source: Östliche preußische Provinzen, Polen, Personenstandsregister 1874-1945)
Figure 10-Curt Isidor Rothe birth certificate (source: Östliche preußische Provinzen, Polen, Personenstandsregister 1874-1945)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 11-Martin Rothe death certificate (source: Östliche preußische Provinzen, Polen, Personenstandsregister 1874-1945)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 12-March 1964 passport picture of Helene Rothe to whom 1909 postcard was sent by her sister Lotte and brother-in-law Alfred Berliner

I previously mentioned I was able to locate descendants of Peter Berliner and his sister Ilse, in America.  Through them, I even obtained photos of the Helene Rothe to whom the 1909 postcard had been sent. (Figure 12)  I also learned a little about “Tante Lena,” as she was affectionately known; members of the Goetzel and Berliner families visited her a few times in Landau in der Pfalz, Germany, where she then lived.  They learned that her husband, Dr. jur. (lawyer) Johann Alois Schönhöfer, a non-Jew, hid her in a basement and protected her throughout WWII, and that she emerged severely malnourished, with a deformed back.  Knowing where Helene Rothe had lived, I contacted the Rathaus, basically City Hall, in Landau, and obtained a copy of her death certificate and learned she died there on January 17, 1981. (Figure 13)

 

Figure 13-Death certificate of Helene Rothe, who died as Helene Schönhöffer (source: Stadtverwaltung Landau in der Pfalz, Germany)

Lotte Berliner was the last name on the 1909 postcard whose fate I had still to work out.  When researching one’s Jewish relatives during the Nazi era, at some point one must consider they may have been murdered in the Holocaust, and search their names in the database of victims.  Such was the case with my great-aunt Lotte Berliner.  She is listed in Yad Vashem, as having been deported from Berlin, Germany to Auschwitz-Birkenau aboard “Transport 27, Train Da 13 on January 29, 1943,” arriving there a day later (Figure 14); whether Lotte relocated to Berlin after her husband’s death is unknown.  A recently added feature on Yad Vashem allows users to view the route trains took to transport their victims to the extermination camps, in the case of my great-aunt Lotte, Auschwitz-Birkenau. (Figure 15) 

Figure 14-Cattle car on display at Auschwitz-Birkenau of the type used to transport my great-aunt Lotte and many other Jews to their death
Figure 15-The route Transport 27, carrying my great-aunt Lotte Berliner between Berlin and Auschwitz, followed between January 29-20, 1943 (source: Yad Vashem)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below is a summary of the vital events of the five people whose names appear on the postcard mailed on August 17, 1909 from Breslau, Germany:

 

NAME EVENT DATE PLACE
       
Alfred Max Berliner Birth November 6, 1875 Ratibor, Germany (today: Racibórz, Poland)
Death February 19, 1921 Ratibor, Germany (today: Racibórz, Poland)
Charlotte (“Lotte”) Henriette Berliner, née Rothe Birth April 2, 1886 Meseritz, Prussia, Germany (today: Miedzyrzecz, Lubuskie, Poland)
Death January 30, 1943 Auschwitz-Birkenau, Extermination Camp, Poland
Adolf & Charlotte Berliner Marriage January 17, 1909 Meseritz, Prussia, Germany (today: Miedzyrzecz, Lubuskie, Poland)
Fedor Bruck (died as Theodore Brook) Birth August 17, 1895 Leobschütz, Germany (today: Głubczyce, Poland)
Death February 20, 1982 Yonkers, New York
Helene Lina Rothe (died as Helene Lina Schönhöfer) Birth January 4, 1892 Meseritz, Prussia, Germany (today: Miedzyrzecz, Lubuskie, Poland)
Death January 17, 1981 Landau in der Pfalz, Germany
Martin Rothe Birth ~1858  
Death June 20, 1933 Meseritz, Prussia, Germany (today: Miedzyrzecz, Lubuskie, Poland)

 

 

POST 17: SURVIVING IN BERLIN IN THE TIME OF HITLER: MY UNCLE FEDOR’S STORY

NOTE:  The last two Blog posts have dealt with three of my grandfather Felix Bruck’s sisters, two renowned personages and a third who gave birth to a well-known artist.  My grandfather had two additional surviving siblings, both of whom fled Berlin during the Third Reich never to return, and their stories will be the subject of upcoming posts.  However, in this Blog post, I will talk about my father’s oldest brother, Dr. Fedor Bruck, and, tell his life story and relate his compelling tale of survival in Berlin during the era of the National Socialists.  This is a story I’ve looked forward to relating to readers on account of some of the historic figures who played a direct and indirect role in my uncle’s life.

Figure 1-My Uncle Fedor as a child with his two surviving siblings, my Aunt Susanne and my father Otto

Fedor Bruck was the eldest of the four known children of Felix and Else Bruck, well-to-do owners of the Bruck’s “Prinz von Preußen” Hotel in Ratibor (today: Racibórz, Poland). (Figure 1)  He was born on August 17, 1895, in Leobschütz, Upper Silesia, Germany (today: Głubczyce, Poland), unlike his younger siblings all born in Ratibor, 22 miles (35km) to the southeast.  I was eventually able to locate my uncle’s birth certificate in the database: Östliche preußische Provinzen, Polen, Personenstandsregister 1874-1945 (Eastern Prussian Provinces, Germany [Poland], Selected Civil Vitals, 1874-1945), with the assistance of a German archivist.

 

Figure 2a-Front of postcard dated August 17, 1909 showing Rathaus (Town Hall) in Leipzig
Figure 2b-Back of postcard signed by my Uncle Fedor, dated August 17, 1909, with items discussed in text highlighted

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a child, my Uncle Fedor was interested in hot-air balloons.  Among my father’s surviving personal papers, there exists a postcard sent by my uncle to his maternal aunt’s sister on his 14th birthday, that’s to say on August 17, 1909, when his aunt and uncle, Alfred & Charlotte (“Lotte”) Berliner, took him on a hot-air balloon ride in Breslau, Germany (today: Wrocław, Poland). (Figures 2a & 2b)  By researching the names on the postcard, I was able to entirely reconstruct a branch of my family I had previously been unaware using the “Eastern Prussian Provinces” database cited above.

Beyond the names, however, the postcard is interesting for multiple reasons.  It came from an association (“des Artillerie-Vereins 1908, Ratibor und Umgegund”) founded in 1908 by former artillery soldiers from Ratibor and the surrounding area; the club’s stamp appears in the upper right-hand corner of the card.  The artillery association partially supported itself by offering hot-air balloon rides, and the balloon pilots, Ulrich Gaebel and Hans Zynwi (?), signed their names.  The oval cancellation mark, “Breslau-Oderberg,” specifically indicates the postcard was stamped and postmarked aboard a mail train, traveling the 256 miles between these locations; such mail trains were apparently common in Germany until 1945.  The photo was taken from a hot-air balloon at a height of 150 meters, and shows the new Town Hall in Leipzig, a city in Saxony 231 miles to the west of Breslau.  “Luftschiffer,” printed on the backside of the postcard, refers to German airship (balloon) units.

Figure 3-My Uncle Fedor Bruck in his WWI uniform

My Uncle Fedor fought for the German Army in World War I, and was assigned to the 89th Infantry Division as part of their fire brigade. (Figure 3)  For a time in 1916, he was stationed in the Ukraine on the Eastern Front.  A postcard written by my Uncle Fedor during his deployment there also survives among my father’s personal papers.  This one is one dated September 3, 1916, and was written by my uncle to his Aunt Franziska Bruck in Berlin, the famed florist, in which he proudly tells her he has been promoted to the rank of a non-commissioned officer. (Figures 4a & 4b) My uncle’s duties on the Front ended when he was wounded, wounds from which he fully recovered.

Figure 4a-Front of postcard dated September 3, 1916, sent by my Uncle Fedor to his Aunt Franziska Bruck from the Eastern Front
Figure 4b-Back of postcard dated September 3, 1916, sent by my Uncle Fedor from the Eastern Front to his Aunt Franziska Bruck at her flower shop in Berlin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 5-Contemporary map of Poland showing where my Uncle Fedor was born (Ratibor/Raciborz), educated (Breslau/Wroclaw), and practiced dentistry (Liegnitz/Legnica)

By 1921, my Uncle Fedor had obtained a dental license from the University of Breslau.  He owned his practice in Liegnitz (today: Legnica, Poland) (Figure 5) from November 1924 through April 1936 (Figure 6), when he was forced out of business by the National Socialists.  Already, by March 1932, they had relieved my uncle of his responsibilities as municipal school dentist (“Schulzahnarzt”) for schools in small communities surrounding Liegnitz (Figures 7 & 8); a Schulzahnarzt merely examined pupils‘ teeth, advising them on whether a followup with a dentist was required.  There was widespread support among German dentists for the National Socialist ideology, so in expectation of their rise to power many dental organizations displaced their Jewish colleagues as a sign of “anticipatory obedience.“  Since my uncle could no longer practice dentistry in Liegnitz, he left for Berlin in 1936. 

Figure 6-Document indicating that my Uncle Fedor owned his practice in Liegnitz from November 1924 until April 1936

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 7-Document dated March 1932 from Liegnitz’s Magistrate notifying my Uncle Fedor that he was being relieved of his duties as Schulzahnarzt for communities surrounding Liegnitz
Figure 8-Document dated April 1936 from Breslau listing the communities for which my Uncle Fedor had formerly been Schulzahnarzt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 9-My Uncle Fedor with Irmgard Lutze, the married lady with whom he had two children

During his time in Liegnitz, my uncle had an illicit love affair with a married non-Jewish woman (Figure 9) by whom he fathered two children, my first cousins.  As offspring of a Jewish man, this could have been dangerous to the children and their mother, but because the cuckolded husband never betrayed them both children survived into old age.

 

 

 

After leaving for Berlin, for a period of time at least, my uncle could still work there, though under very trying circumstances.  He continued to have his own practice at Fasanenstraße 20 in Berlin-Charlottenburg for a while.  However, as a result of the “Regulation for the Elimination of the Jews from the Economic Life of Germany,” after February 1939, my uncle had his dental license revoked.   Only in November 1939 was he again certified, but then only as a “Zahnbehandler,” which meant he could only treat Jews and relatives. 

Interestingly, the archives at the Centrum Judaicum Berlin show that during this period, specifically on June 11, 1939, he converted from Judaism at the Messiah Chapel in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg, Kastanienallee 22.  My Uncle Fedor must still have believed even at this late date that conversion from Judaism would alter his fate.; my theory is that as a wounded veteran of WWI, it was totally inconceivable to him that the Germans would incarcerate or murder him.

Figure 10-My Uncle Fedor’s “Holocaust Badge” of the specific design that Jews living in Germany, Alsace, Bohemia and Moravia were required to wear during the Nazi era

For several months starting in March 1941, my uncle had the good fortune of managing the practice of a colleague preparing to emigrate, and then, again, in June 1941, he took over a well-equipped practice located in the Kürfurstendamm.  As a result, for a period of time he was better off economically than other Jews still in Germany, although by January 1942, he had been permanently displaced from this last office by a National Socialist colleague. (Figure 10)

 

 

Eventually, in a letter dated October 12, 1942, my uncle was summoned by the Gestapo to present himself to an “age transport.”  Realizing this was a death sentence, he fled to a friend in Berlin-Dahlem and went underground.  Roger Moorhouse, in his book entitled “Berlin at War: Life and Death in Hitler’s Capital 1939-1945,” estimates that of the 11,000 Jews who went underground in Berlin during the war years of 1939-45, only about 1400 survived the war, of which my uncle was one.  Time and again, Uncle Fedor had good fortune.  When his friend, Dr. Sieber, was arrested on February 15, 1943, by the Gestapo in his presence, he miraculously escaped.  In the ensuing months, my uncle found refuge with a cousin or hid in “green belts,” coal cellars, and parks. 

Figure 11-The story at Berlin’s “Silent Heroes Memorial Center” about Dr. Otto Berger, a right-minded German who enabled my uncle to survive in Berlin during the Nazi era

Most helpful to him during his underground odyssey was a dentist by the name of Otto Berger, a right-minded individual who was adamantly opposed to National Socialism. (Figure 11)  Berger somehow was able to illegally procure papers for Fedor in the name of Dr. Friedrich Burkhardt, matching my uncle’s own initials; without these papers, it is certain that Fedor would not have survived the war.  In March 1944, both Berger and Fedor were among nine survivors from a group of 44 people who had sought refuge in a basement destroyed by Allied bombers.  Following this narrow escape, for a short period Fedor again hid with his cousin before returning to live with Berger, first in Berlin-Zehlendorf, then in Berlin-Steglitz.  The last apartment was destroyed by fire on the eve of the Russian capture of Steglitz on April 26, 1945.

Figure 12-My Uncle Fedor in Liegnitz with his dental assistant, Käthe Heusermann, née Reiss, who went on to became Hitler’s dentist’s assistant

The capture of this part of Berlin marked the beginning of the next phase of my uncle’s life.  When Fedor had his own practice in Liegnitz, he trained as one of his dental assistants a woman named Käthe Heusermann, née Reiss. (Figure 12)  After Fedor was forced to close shop in Liegnitz and move to Berlin, she too moved there, and from 1937 on, she was in the employ of Dr. Hugo Blaschke, Hitler’s American-trained dentist. (Figure 13)  Following the Russian capture of Berlin, on May 4, 1945, Fedor visited his former dental assistant Käthe Heusermann in the Pariserstraße in Berlin-Wilmersdorf, and she encouraged him to apply to take over Dr. Blaschke’s dental office, which had only been lightly damaged.  As a victim of National Socialism, he was entitled to such consideration.

Figure 13-Dr. Hugo Johannes Blaschke (1881-1959), Hitler’s American-trained dentist from 1933-1945

 

Figure 14-Entrance as it looks today to the office building where Hitler’s dentist, Dr. Blaschke, once had his practice at Kurfustendamm 213 that my Uncle Fedor took over after WWII

Dr. Blaschke’s dental office was located at Kürfurstendamm 213 (Figure 14), and was at the time situated in the Russian sector of Berlin.  With the approval of the Russian commandant, Fedor Bruck was assigned Blaschke’s office and living quarters.  Post-war Berlin phone directories for both 1946 (Figure 15) and 1948 list Fedor Bruck as a “Zahnarzt” (dentist) occupying these premises, as indeed he did until he left for America in 1947 (his name continues to show up in the 1948 phone directory even though he was no longer in Berlin).

 

 

Figure 15-1946 Berlin Phone Directory listing my uncle Dr. Fedor Bruck, as a zahnarzt (dentist) at Kurfurstendamm 213

My uncle’s former close association with Käthe Heusermann allowed him to become a “witness” to history.  As Dr. Blaschke’s dental assistant, Käthe had always been present when Hitler was undergoing dental treatment.  Because the dental records describing the work performed on Hitler had been lost or destroyed, Käthe Heusermann was questioned by the Russians and asked to give her opinion on the basis of memory whether the parts of the jaw found in the Reich Chancellery garden were those of Hitler.  She recognized the dental work and affirmed they were indeed Hitler’s remains.  Several days later, she conveyed this information to my uncle, which inadvertently placed him at risk.

Eventually, both Käthe Heusermann, and Dr. Blaschke’s dental technician, Fritz Echtmann, were captured by the Russians and imprisoned for some years.  Stalin seemingly did not want any witnesses who could confirm Hitler’s fate, perhaps wishing to perpetuate the myth that Hitler had survived the war and was an ever-present danger.  Since my uncle also knew of Hitler’s death, he too was in jeopardy of being kidnapped by the Russians, so, forewarned by the Americans, he decided to emigrate to the United States in July 1947.

Fedor Bruck never met Dr. Blaschke because he had already fled to the southern part of Germany by the time Fedor was assigned his dental practice.  Blaschke was eventually captured and interrogated by the Americans, and imprisoned for a period of time.  Fedor was able to salvage the abandoned dental records of some Nazis treated by Dr. Blaschke, although the records dealing with more prominent figures such as Himmler, Ley, Göring, Goebbels, and others were taken away by the Russians when they searched the premises.  The salvaged records survive in the estate of Fedor’s grandson. (Figures 16a & 16b)

Figure 16a-Among the records salvaged by my Uncle Fedor from Dr. Blaschke’s office is an invitation for Blaschke & his wife to a social event hosted by Hermann Göring & his wife

 

Figure 16b-The invitation to Dr. Blaschke & his wife to attend a social event hosted by Hermann Göring & his wife salvaged by my Uncle Fedor from Blaschke’s dental office

 

 

 

 

 

 

The events described above, including Fedor Bruck’s knowledge of some of these happenings, are documented in at least three books and one newspaper account.  These include H.R. Trevor-Roper’s “The Last Days of Hitler,” Lev Bezymenski’s “The Death of Adolf Hitler,” and Jelena Rshewskaja’s German-language book “Hitlers Ende Ohne Mythos.” 

Trevor-Roper’s book was initially published in 1947, and this edition makes no mention of Fedor Bruck.  However, in the Third Edition of this book published in 1956, a lengthy introduction was added by the author.  This was made possible by the release, in that year, of Russian prisoners whom Trevor-Roper had been unable to question during his initial inquiries in 1945.  Fedor Bruck’s name and witness to the events described above are discussed on pages 32-33.  In Lev Bezymenski’s book, the events are described on pages 53-57, and my uncle Dr. Bruck’s name is cited on page 53.   Ms. Rshewskaja’s book mentions Dr. Bruck on page 120 and following.  In addition, Fedor Bruck was visited on July 7, 1945, in the former office of Dr. Blaschke by three British correspondents, including William Forrest of the “News Chronicle.”  Relying on the account provided by Fedor Bruck, William Forrest chronicled in an article published on July 9th the positive identification of Hitler’s remains.

Figure 17-My Uncle Fedor and my Aunt Verena Bruck, née Dick, on their wedding day on March 4, 1958

 Like my father, my Uncle Fedor never again practiced dentistry after he arrived in America.  In December 1952, Fedor Bruck became a citizen of the United States, and legally changed his name to Theodore A. Brook.   He married for the first time on March 4, 1958. (Figure 17)

 

Figure 18-My Uncle Fedor, as a toll-collector on the Tappan Zee Bridge, featured in a 1964 advertisement for a Plymouth Savoy

For a period of time after his arrival in American, my uncle worked as a night watchman in a church in the Upper Westside of Manhattan, although he eventually landed a job with the State of New York as a toll-collector on the Tappan Zee Bridge. (Figure 18)  Unlike many Jews who’d been professionals in their countries of origin, my uncle never bemoaned the fact he’d had to change his vocation in America; I remember my uncle as a boundless optimist for whom the glass was always half-full.  He loved his job as a toll-collector because it allowed him to engage in another of his lifelong passions, namely, coin collecting.  His wife, my Aunt Verena, once recounted to me the time my uncle approached her about buying a coin book to identify valuable coins and estimate their worth.  While she initially balked at the “extravagance“ of such an expense, she quickly changed her tune when my uncle regularly came home from his job with valuable coins exchanged for those of lesser value.

 

Figure 19-My Uncle Fedor on September 12, 1981, five months before he passed away

My Uncle Fedor passed away in Bronxville, outside New York City, in February 1982. (Figures 19, 20 & 21)

 

Figure 20-My Uncle Fedor astride a horse in Liegnitz in 1926 dressed as an “English Gentleman”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 21-My Uncle Fedor astride a horse in Liegnitz in 1926 dressed as “Frederick the Great”

 

REFERENCES

Bezymenski, Lev

1968    The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives.  Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. New York.

Brook, Richard

2013    Prinz von Preußen—Hotel rodziny Bruck.  Almanach Prowincjonalny 1/2013 (17) (p. 58-73).

Lutze, Kay

2006    Die Lebensgeschichte des jüdischen Zahnarztes Fedor Bruck (1895-1982) Von Liegnitz nach New York.  Zahnärztliche Mitteilungen 96, Nr. 10, 16.5 (p. 124-127)

Moorhouse, Roger

2010    Berlin at War.  Basic Books. New York

Rshewskaja, Jelena

2005    Hitlers Ende Ohne Mythos.  Neues Leben, Verlag. (120 ff.)

Trevor, Roper, H.R.

1947    The Last Days of Hitler.  The Macmillan Company. New York.

1987    The Last Days of Hitler (Sixth Edition).  The University of Chicago Press. Chicago (p. 32-33)