POST 21: MY AUNT SUSANNE, NÉE BRUCK, & HER HUSBAND DR. FRANZ MÜLLER, THE FIESOLE YEARS

Note:  This post is the next chapter in my Aunt Susanne and Uncle Franz’s story, following their departure in late 1935 or early 1936 from Berlin to escape the increasingly repressive National Socialist regime, when they sought refuge in Fiesole, Italy.  There are certain family history stories I look forward to writing and sharing with readers, and this is one such tale, when, albeit briefly, my relatives held out hope they might survive the homicidal madmen threatening Europe in the lead-up to WWII and lead normal lives.  Much about the roughly two-and-a-half years my aunt and uncle spent in Fiesole remains unknown, including why they decided to immigrate here.  Still, some of what I’ve learned as recently as 2016 provides a sound basis to speculate why they may have moved here.

In Post 1, I introduced readers to a quote by the brainy, former executive of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Branch Rickey, who once said that “Luck is the residue of design.”  The story I’m about to relate about my Aunt Susanne and her esteemed husband, Dr. Franz Müller, and the discoveries I made about their years in Fiesole, Italy, speaks volumes to this truth.

Figure 1-Roman amphitheater in Fiesole

I can’t remember exactly when I first learned that my aunt and uncle had lived in Fiesole, a gorgeous Tuscan town, founded by the Etruscans in the 9th-8th centuries B.C., located on the scenic heights to the northeast of Firenze (Florence).  However, I recall when I first visited Fiesole.  It was in the 1990’s, long before I became interested in family history, when I was a mere archaeologist and my aim was simply to visit the Roman ruins that are the town’s main tourist attraction. (Figure 1)  I’ve always imagined the tawny landscape and gently rolling hills of Tuscany as an inviting billowy pillow in which to do a face-plant.  So, it’s easy to comprehend the attraction Tuscany might have held for Jewish immigrants in the face of the malign forces that surrounded them.

The current post organizes chronologically all the information I’ve collected about my aunt and uncle during three visits to Fiesole, in 2014, 2015, and again in 2016.  Before starting my family investigations, I had no idea, for example, when my aunt and uncle departed Berlin, nor when they arrived in Fiesole.  But, as I explained in the previous post, I learned from the Grundbuch, or “real estate register” for the property my uncle owned in Berlin-Charlottenburg, that he sold his house there in November or December 1935, and likely departed with my aunt soon afterwards.  Similarly, in conjunction with what I eventually discovered in Fiesole, I place their arrival there in the first quarter of 1936.

Figure 2-My father with two cousins, Eva Bruck & Eva Goldenring, and his sister Susanne (right) on May 10, 1938 after he arrived in Fiesole

Judging from the dated pictures in my father’s photo albums, he too departed Germany, likely from Berlin, two years later, in early March 1938.  Between March 5th and March 9th, my father spent several days visiting the tourist attractions in Vienna, Austria, seemingly in the company of other Jewish émigrés.  Having lost his profession, and bewildered as to what the future held, he headed for Fiesole.  Along the way, my father stopped to do some skiing and hiking in the Dolomite Mountains and passed through a town in Alto Adige, Italy, named Bolzano or Bozen; this is a place my wife and I have visited on several occasions for reasons having nothing to do with family history, and everything to do with the famed 5,000-year old “Ötzi the Iceman,” discovered in the Tyrolean Alps, who is displayed at the Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano.  Eventually, my father arrived in Fiesole, his pictures never specifying exactly when though I ultimately worked this out. (Figure 2)

Figure 3-1938 Fiesole Emigration Register with my aunt & uncle’s names listed

Knowing of my family’s association with Fiesole, I decided to contact the Municipio,” or City Hall there, and inquire about any documentary evidence they might possess on my aunt and uncle.  When I accessed their website, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a branch of the Municipio called “Archivio Storico Comunale,” the “Municipal Historic Archive.”  I immediately contacted them on March 27, 2014, explained my family’s connection to Fiesole, provided my aunt and uncle’s names, and the street name where they’d lived, Via del Salviatino, and asked for any relevant information.  Amazingly, the very next day the town’s archivist, Ms. Lucia Nadetti, responded by sending me a page from Fiesole’s emigration register from 1938 with my aunt and uncle’s names listed. (Figure 3)  The speed with which I was able to find evidence of my aunt and uncle’s presence in Fiesole left me breathless.

Fiesole’s emigration register placed my aunt and uncle’s arrival in Fiesole as April 30, 1936, and their departure to France as September 16, 1938; the register, among other things, showed they lived at Via del Salviatino 14, a place I only later learned was named the “Villa Primavera” (Figures 4a & 4b), and shared living accommodations with an Austrian woman named Lucia von Jacobi.  For reasons I will get into below, I actually place my aunt and uncle’s arrival in Fiesole a month earlier, on March 31, 1936.  Lucia Nadetti further explained there was no evidence my aunt and uncle paid taxes on their residence, and concluded they were probably renting the house, a question I resolved to answer when I visited Fiesole in 2014. 

Figure 4b-Photo of the Villa Primavera taken in 1938 by my father
Figure 4a-Postcard illustrating the Villa Primavera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After studying the 1938 emigration register (see Figure 3), I followed up with a few questions related to abbreviations and Italian words I could not make out.  Ms. Nadetti explained my aunt was shown as “coniugi,” married to Franz, and identified as “a.c.,” or “Atta a casa,” namely, a housewife.  By contrast, Ms. Jacobi was described as “benestante,” or well-to-do, and registered as a “vedova,” or widow. 

Figure 5-Ms. Lucia Nadetti, our friend and archivist at the “Archivio Storico Comunale”

I told Ms. Nadetti of our plans to vacation in Fiesole later in 2104, and she promised to show me everything she’d found when we came.  My wife and I eventually turned up at the “Archivio Storico Comunale” in Fiesole in June 2014, the year we spent 13 weeks visiting places associated with my family’s diaspora, traveling from Gdansk, Poland to Valencia, Spain.  By the time we showed up, Ms. Nadetti (Figure 5) had collected the registration logs listing all my aunt and uncle’s guests.   During Italy’s Fascist era, all out-of-town visitors were required to appear with their hosts at the Municipio, provide their names, show their identity papers, indicate their anticipated length of stay, and complete what was called a “Soggiorno degli Stranieri in Italia,” or “Stay of Foreigners in Italy.”  I was a bit surprised at the rather large number of guests my aunt and uncle had hosted, but simply attributed this to my relatives offering accommodations to Jews fleeing Germany.

Figure 6- The “Soggiorno degli Stranieri in Italia” for my great-aunt Franziska Bruck who eventually returned to Berlin and committed suicide in January 1942

These registration forms, while highly intrusive, are enormously informative for doing genealogical research, uncovering names of visitors, and establishing timelines for these guests. When completing the “Soggiorno” forms (Figure 6), guests were required to provide the names of both their parents, including the mother’s maiden name, plus their own date and place of birth.  While these forms have not survived for all the guests who stayed with my aunt and uncle, those that remain are particularly useful.  In a future Blog post, I will relate the stories of some guests whose fate I’ve been able to determine.

 

Figure 7-The immigration log showing my father Otto Bruck’s arrival in Italy on May 10, 1938, and his registration in Fiesole on May 26, 1938

The immigration log recorded my father’s arrival in Italy, following his departure from Vienna, as May 10, 1938 (Figure 7), and his registration at the Comunale in Fiesole as May 26th.  Given that my father had been in Vienna as late as May 9th, I surmise he arrived in Italy by an overnight train.  The immigration register records a second visit by my father in September 1938, which I’ll discuss below.

Initially, I didn’t know whether my uncle ever owned Via del Salvaitino 14, so upon our arrival in Fiesole, Ms. Nadetti directed me to the “Conservatorio Dei Registri Immobiliari” in nearby Firenze to check ownership records.  Here, we learned the descendants of a former obstetrician/gynecologist, named Dr. Gino Frascani, own two houses along Via Del Salviatino, numbered 12 and 14; my uncle, it turns out, never owned the Villa Primavera.  Naturally, I assumed Via del Salviatino 14 was the house where my aunt and uncle had once lived, an erroneous supposition as it turned out.

Figure 8-Our Italian friend Ms. Giuditta Melli

The visit to the Conservatorio turned out to be fortuitous, but not simply for what we learned there.  In 2014, my wife and I were staying at a bed-and-breakfast on the outskirts of Fiesole, and rather than deal with the city traffic to get to the Conservatorio, we took the bus there.  By happenstance, while trying to ascertain where to catch the return bus at the end of the day, a delightful English-speaking Italian woman, Ms. Giuditta Melli (Figure 8), noticed our confusion and confirmed we were in the right place.  She was headed on the same bus, so we exchanged pleasantries on the ride, and she invited us to visit the ceramic shop near the Conservatorio where she teaches.  Two days later we dropped by and mentioned in passing the reason for our visit to Fiesole.  Giuditta was moved to tears because she’d recently learned that her great-uncle was Jewish and had been deported to Buchenwald from Firenze by the Fascists and murdered there.  As we prepared to leave, we exchanged emails and promised to stay in touch.  This turned into an exceptionally productive friendship.

Figure 9-The Fiesole immigration log showing my aunt and uncle were guests of Dr. Gino Frascani beginning on March 31, 1936

After our visit to the Conservatorio, my wife and I paid a return visit to Ms. Nadetti at the Archivio Storico Comunale to update her on our findings.  Reminded of Dr. Frascani’s connection to properties along Via del Salviatino, Ms. Nadetti consulted an immigration register from 1936, similar to ones she’d shown us from 1937 and 1938.  In it, she discovered my aunt and uncle initially were guests of Dr. Frascani at Via del Salviatino 14, the house they ultimately leased from him; this document shows my aunt and uncle arrived in Fiesole on March 31, 1936, and registered at the Municipio on April 7th, in other words, a month earlier than the emigration register that placed their arrival there on April 30, 1936. (Figure 9)

Figure 10-The results of Fiesole’s mayoral election of October 17, 1920 showing Dr. Gino Frascani won by two votes

Having definitively linked my Uncle Franz to Dr. Gino Frascani, Ms. Nadetti found and shared a few documents about the doctor, and, eventually even compiled a summary of Dr. Frascani’s activities as a City Councilman for Fiesole through four legislative terms, 1905, 1910, 1914 and 1920.  We also learned Dr. Frascani had been Mayor of Fiesole (Figure 10) for a time but forced to quit after being threatened by the Fascists on account of his socialist leanings.  Interestingly, the roster of mayors listed on a placard in the Municipio does not even include Dr. Frascani.

 

Figure 11-Dr. Gino Frascani, right, on the steps of the Istituto di Cura Chirurgica del Salviatino ca. 1909

One document given to us by Ms. Nadetti showed Dr. Frascani (Figure 11) paid for construction of an “Istituto di Cura Chirurgica del Salviatino,” dedicated to his mother, Ersilia Frascani, built in 1908-09 along Via del Salviatino in Firenze. (Figure 12)  The sanatorium was divided into sections for: general and special surgery; gynecology; obstetrics; and medical services.  Dr. Frascani, a truly remarkable man whose life story begs to be told, even maintained free beds in the institute’s common infirmary for “charity.”  The Istituto still stands today, regrettably no longer as a hospital, but rather as exclusive condominiums.

 

Figure 12-The “Istituto di Cura Chirurgica del Salviatino”

Having for the moment learned as much as we could from the various archives and city offices, my wife and I set out to locate Via del Salviatino 14.  One could almost characterize this search as a comedy of errors.  Prior to visiting Fiesole, I had located the house on Google Earth, so assumed I knew what I was looking for. 

Figure 13-My wife Ann standing in front of Via del Salviatino 14 in Firenze we mistook for the house where my aunt and uncle once lived

Via del Salviatino 14 is situated in an exclusive section of town, and when we finally located the address, the street-facing side of the apartment building did not appear as it had in my father’s pictures. (Figure 13) Coincidentally, the day we first visited, two black SUVs with tinted windows and burly guards, obviously protecting a high-ranking government official, refused to let us access the rear of the building to check.  Confronted with this obstacle, we were forced to strategically retreat.  When we returned the next day, the portly guards were gone, and we were able to access the building’s backside.  Clearly, this was not the house my aunt and uncle had lived in.

Figure 14-Street sign along Via del Salviatino indicating boundary between Fiesole & Firenze

Puzzled, I returned to the street, and discovered my mistake.  Via del Salviatino begins in Firenze (Florence), almost at the point where the “Sanatorio Frascani” is located, BUT, continues into Fiesole; in other words, Via del Salviatino transects both towns, and as fate would have it, the divide between Fiesole and Firenze is directly in front of the Via del Salviatino 14 we were standing at in Firenze. (Figure 14)

Figure 15-Mailboxes along Via del Salviatino, including #14, that also was not the Villa Primavera

Having resolved this issue, we quickly found the Via del Salviatino 14, in Fiesole, a short distance up the street.  On one of three mailboxes at this location with house numbers 12, 14 and 14a (Figure 15), is the name “R. FRASCANI.”  Naturally, we concluded this was a descendant of Dr. Frascani, and that he resides in the house where my aunt and uncle had once lived.  We drove up the dirt road, rang the bell at the gated entrance to his bed-and-breakfast, but no one answered.  However, we ran into a young man riding a Moped, a childhood friend of Mr. Frascani, as it happens; he called Ranieri on his cellphone and we spoke briefly.  However, since neither of us spoke the other’s language well, we agreed I would send him an email with my questions upon my return to the states, which is in fact what I did.  Regardless, it would be another year before we met in person and I got answers to some of my queries.

In the interim, I maintained contact with Giuditta Melli.  One day, she discovered a fleeting reference in a German article saying my Aunt Susanne Müller-Bruck and her housemate, Lucia von Jacobi, had co-managed a pension.  Given the large number of guests that had stayed at the Villa Primavera, this should have been obvious from the start.

Figure 16-Maria Agata Frascani, Giuditta Melli, myself and Ranieri Frascani, October 2016, Fiesole

In anticipation of our 2015 visit to Fiesole, Giuditta invited my wife and I to stay with her and her family at their large villa in Firenze, only a short distance from Via del Salviatino.  Giuditta also arranged and served as translator for our meeting with Ranieri, the grandson of Dr. Gino Frascani, and his mother, Ms. Maria Agata Frascani, née Mannelli, the daughter-in-law of Dr. Frascani. (Figure 16)  It was

Figure 17-Sign for the Villa Primavera, today numbered Via del Salviatino 16

during this get-together that we finally learned the house where Ranieri lives and has his B&B is not the Villa Primavera.  In fact, as we found out at the Conservatorio the year before, his family owns both Via del Salviatino 12 and 14.  However, sometime after 1940, houses along Via del Salviatino were renumbered, and the Villa Primavera (Figure 17) reassigned the number “16.”  Ranieri showed us the adjacent Villa Primavera from his property and told us the house no longer belongs to his family. 

After our get-together with Ranieri Frascani, his mother invited us to her home (Figure 18) and showed us the thick album with photos and articles related to the construction and opening of the Istituto di Cura Chirurgica del Salviatino in 1908-09. (Figure 19)

Figure 18-The former house of Dr. Frascani, Via del Salviatino 18, where his daughter-in-law currently resides
Figure 19-Copy of letter addressed to Doctor Frascani

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having finally resolved that the Villa Primavera where my aunt and uncle had once resided was now numbered Via del Salviatino 16, I’ve tried on several occasions to contact the current owners, to no avail.

Figure 20-Dr. Irene Below, author of a book on Ms. Lucia von Jacobi, at Parco di Monte Ceceri, Firenze, October 2016

Following our visit to Fiesole in 2015, my wife and I had not anticipated returning in 2016.  However, Giuditta made a surprising discovery while researching Lucia von Jacobi, the Austrian lady with whom my aunt ran the Pension Villa Primavera, and our plans changed.  She learned of a professor, Dr. Irene Below (Figure 20), from Werther, Germany, who’d written a full-length book about Ms. Jacobi.  Giuditta immediately contacted Dr. Below, explained her interest in Lucia, told her of my aunt and uncle, and mentioned she was in touch and assisting Dr. Franz Müller’s nephew.

Dr. Below was surprised to hear from Giuditta and learn of her interest in people Irene had studied and knew about.  Dr. Below related a fascinating tale.  She came to Firenze in 1964 as a student intending to write about the history of art.  While researching this topic, however, she came across magazines and diaries of an unknown person who turned out to be Lucia von Jacobi, a woman with very famous friends (e.g., Heinrich and Thomas Mann, Gustaf Gründgens, etc.), and decided instead to write about her.  Then, amazingly, in 1966, Dr. Below walked into an antiquarian shop in Firenze and discovered the bulk of Ms. Jacobi’s personal papers, which she soon purchased with her parents’ financial assistance.  For those aware of events in Firenze in 1966, great floods along the Arno in November resulted in countless treasures being swept away and destroyed; if not for Dr. Below’s fortuitous discovery, the same would likely have happened to Ms. Jacobi’s papers.

Figure 21-Ms. Lucia von Jacobi at the Villa Primavera in 1936 or 1937 (Photo courtesy of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin & Dr. Below)

Dr. Below explained that beginning in 1936, Lucia von Jacobi (Figure 21), together with my aunt and uncle rented the Villa Primavera, and soon after began to take in guests.  Because Ms. Jacobi arrived in Firenze in December 1934, via Vienna, Prague, Meran, and Ascona, it seems likely she first met my aunt and uncle in Firenze.  Perhaps, Dr. Frascani was responsible for introducing them.

 As to the relationship of my uncle to Dr. Frascani, I’ve been unable to discover how they met.  However, since both were doctors, I assume they worked together professionally before my aunt and uncle moved to Fiesole. While it’s likely Dr. Müller worked in Dr. Frascani’s sanatorium, there’s some uncertainty about this as I discuss below.

Dr. Below sent Giuditta a PowerPoint presentation and scientific paper she delivered in 2009 at the “Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz,” entitled “Florenz 1935-1938: Zuflucht – Treffpunkt – Sehnsuchtsort.  Lucy von Jacobi (1887-1956) und ihre Pension Villa Primavera,” translated roughly as “Florence 1935-1938: Refuge – Meeting – Longing.  Lucy von Jacobi (1887-1956) and Her Pension Villa Primavera.”  Seemingly, for a brief period between 1935 and 1938, German refugees, especially those interested in arts and culture, found refuge in Firenze, and gathered with friends and like-minded people at the Villa Primavera for recreation and conversation, brought together by Ms. Jacobi.  Immigrants and guests mingled with locals to discuss Florentine art, Tuscan cuisine, the landscape, architecture from near and far, and more.  I imagine my aunt and uncle may have been attracted to Fiesole for the same reasons other Jewish émigrés were, the intellectual milieu and attractive setting; in the case of my uncle, the ability to continue working as a doctor may also have been a factor.

Figure 22-Ms. Lucia Nadetti & Dr. Irene Below at the at the “Archivio Storico Comunale”

At Giuditta’s invitation, Dr. Below, as well as my wife and me, all gathered in Firenze in October 2016. (Figure 22)  This gave us an opportunity to discuss other things Dr. Below had learned from Lucia’s papers.  Regarding my aunt and uncle, there were several remarkable items found in Lucia’s belongings.  Dr. Below discovered a photograph of Ms. Jacobi with my Uncle Franz seated on the same chairs as a photo I possess showing my aunt and uncle. (Figures 23 & 24) She also found a card written by my Aunt Susanne to Lucia on July 31, 1938, from Champoluc in the Aosta Valley, Italy, where my aunt and uncle had gone to rest.

Figure 23-Ms. Lucia von Jacobi and my Uncle Franz at the Villa Primavera (Photo courtesy of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin & Dr. Below)
Figure 24-In 1938, my Aunt Susanne & Uncle Franz at the Villa Primavera seated on the same chairs shown in Fig. 23

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps, most interesting is the second page of a letter my Aunt Susanne wrote when Lucia traveled to Palestine for three months in the latter half of 1938.  This trip may have been prompted by Hitler and Mussolini’s visit to Firenze on May 9, 1938, soon after resulting in Mussolini’s embrace of the “Manifesto of the Racial Scientists” on July 14, 1938.  Basically, this Manifesto declared the Italian civilization to be of Aryan origin and claimed the existence of a “pure” Italian race to which Jews did not belong.  Between September 2, 1938 and November 17, 1938, Italy enacted a series of racial laws, including one forbidding foreign Jews from settling in Italy.  Ms. Jacobi had just returned to Firenze, but after passage of the racial laws, she escaped in October 1938 to Switzerland, forced to leave all her possessions behind.  Dr. Below surmises that Lucia’s personal papers remained in the Villa Primavera until Dr. Frascani’s descendants sold the house, likely shortly before they wound up in the antiquarian shop.

Dr. Below explained that following Ms. Jacobi’s return from Palestine, she was constantly being watched and her mail monitored.  Curious as to whether the same might have applied to my uncle, I asked Dr. Below about this and she gave me the name of a German researcher, Mr. Klaus Voigt, who has examined the files at the “Archivio centrale dello Stato” (“Central Archives of the State”) in Rome on people who were monitored during Italy’s Fascist era. 

Mr. Voigt explained that monitoring of people like my uncle would have been done by the local Questura, that’s to say, the police in the province of Firenze, and that he never found a file on my uncle in the archives in Rome.  He further revealed all these local files, stored in the basement of the Uffizi, were destroyed in the 1966 inundations in Firenze, previously mentioned.  Seemingly, the only files that survive at the Archivio centrale dello Stato in Rome were for important opponents of Fascism.

Mr. Voigt shared another interesting fact about my uncle.  Dr. Franz Müller’s name was familiar to Mr. Voigt as a teacher at the Landschulheim Florenz, which was directed by two German-Jewish émigrés.  During his stay in Firenze, my Uncle Franz taught a special course there for medical-technical assistants.  For this reason, I’m uncertain whether he also worked in the “Sanatorio Frascani” during his years in Firenze.

 

Figure 25-The Fiesole immigration log showing my father registered a second time on September 15, 1938

I began this post with mention of the 1938 emigration log sent to me by Ms. Nadetti, indicating my aunt and uncle departed Firenze on September 16, 1938.  Previously, I also mentioned that my father’s name, Otto Bruck, was recorded in the immigration log a second time.  He registered on September 15, 1938 (Figure 25), for a stay of two weeks, but I surmise he left with my aunt and uncle, and, as it happens, my grandmother the next day. 

Figure 26-Fiesole’s immigration log for May 1938 listing my uncle, grandmother and Lucia von Jacobi

Within two weeks of Hitler and Mussolini’s visit to Firenze on May 9, 1938, Jewish immigrants who’d not previously registered with the Municipio were required to do so.  This included my Uncle Franz, my grandmother Else Bruck, née Berliner, and Lucia von Jacobi, but, oddly, not my Aunt Susanne. (Figure 26)  Their names all appear in the registration logs in May 1938, their length of stays shown as “per sempre,” that’s to say, forever.  Clearly, forever lasted only a few more months.

 

REFERENCE

Below, Irene and Ruth Oelze

2009  Lucy von Jacobi: Jouranlistin: mit Aufsätzen und Kritaken.  Deutsche Kinemathek (Berlin).  München Ed. Text + Kritik.  Film & Schrift, Band 9.

Figure 27-The Tuscan landscape as seen from the Villa Primavera in 1936 (Photo courtesy of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin & Dr. Below)

POST 20: MY AUNT SUSANNE, NÉE BRUCK, & HER HUSBAND DR. FRANZ MÜLLER, THE BERLIN YEARS

Note:  The next three Blog posts will be about my father’s beloved older sister, Susanne, and her husband, the esteemed Dr. Franz Robert Müller.  I’ll talk about three phases of their lives, their years in Berlin, Germany, followed by their time in Fiesole, Italy, and their final years together in Fayence, France.  In a small way, my aunt and uncle’s story and their movements from one country to another provide a broad perspective on the events that were going on in Europe during the era of the National Socialists, and the aspects of the war they were exposed to, including the ultimate and tragic outcome.  I hope in this manner to tell a more personal story.  For many readers, I expect the discussion of my aunt and uncle’s years in Berlin will be of only passing interest.  Nevertheless, this story lays the groundwork for the years they spent in Fiesole, Italy and Fayence, France, and details the forensic genealogical work that went into partially reconstructing their story in the places they lived.  This analysis may inform readers on how to approach their own family research.

Figure 1-My father Otto with his beloved older sister Susanne, as children in Ratibor

Often, when I begin to investigate my ancestors, I have little to go on except for names, and possibly dates and places of some vital events.  If the individuals were accomplished, which is sometimes the case in my extended family, I can typically learn a little about them by doing a web search.  There are no longer any surviving members of my father’s generation who can fill in the narrative on my aunt and uncle, so their stories are perforce very sketchy and incomplete.  Add to this the fact that my father very rarely spoke to me of his sister, likely because this was a gaping wound in his psyche following her premature death. (Figure 1)  I clearly remember being on a lengthy road-trip with my father in his later years, asking him whether he ever thought about his sister, only to have him burst into tears.  It was heart-rending.

Figure 2-My Aunt Susanne around the time she married Dr. Franz Müller
Figure 3-My Uncle Franz around the time he married my aunt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 4-One version of my aunt and uncle’s “Heiratsurkunde,” or marriage certificate

My Aunt Susanne (Figure 2) was the second wife of Dr. Franz Robert Müller (Figure 3), whom she married on April 18, 1931, in Berlin-Charlottenburg. (Figure 4) According to their marriage certificate, my aunt’s profession at the time was “Geschäftsführer,” or Managing Director (Figure 5), a position she held in her Aunt Franziska’s flower shop, the renowned aunt discussed in Post 15. (Figure 6)  In a separate post, Post 12, I explained how I discovered my aunt and father’s birth certificates at the “Archiwum Państwowe w Katowicach Oddział w Raciborzu” (Polish State Archives in Katowice Branch in Racibórz); this confirmed my Aunt Susanne was born in Ratibor on April 20, 1904.  Beyond this, sadly, I know very little of my aunt’s life in Ratibor or Berlin prior to her marriage, nor when she emigrated to Berlin. 

Figure 5-The second version of my aunt and uncle’s certificate of marriage identifying my aunt’s profession as “Geschäftsführer,” or Managing Director
Figure 6-My great-aunt Franziska Bruck in her flower shop in Berlin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By contrast, I have found numerous traces of Dr. Müller in various Berlin address and telephone directories from 1903 to 1936; in German military registers available online at ancestry.com; at Berlin’s “Centrum Judaicum Archiv”; in the “Humboldt Universität zu Berlin Archiv“; and in the “Grundbuch,” or “real estate register,” on file at the “Dienststelle Lichterfelde Grundbuchamt,” for the property he once owned in Berlin-Charlottenburg. 

Figure 7-1903 Berlin Address Book identifying Dr. Müller as “Dr. rer. nat. [i.e., “Doctor rerum naturalium]”], Priv. Docent”
The 1903 Berlin Adressbuch (Figure 7), identifies Dr. Müller as “Dr. rer. nat. [i.e., “Doctor rerum naturalium]”], Priv. Docent” or a doctor of natural sciences, as well as a private lecturer, while a 1928 document provides a more detailed title, “Professor an der Universität Berlin, Dr. rer. nat. et med. [i.e., “Doctor rerum naturalium and Doctor rerum medicarum”], a doctor of both natural sciences and medicine, as well as a university professor. (Figure 8) Franz Müller studied medicine at Ruprecht-Karls-Universität (Heidelberg University) and the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität (Humboldt University of Berlin).  In 1902, Dr. Müller was appointed a lecturer to the medical faculty of Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, a position that was a stepping-stone to the professorship he eventually attained in 1912 (Figure 9), when he was elevated to a nontenured position of professor of pharmacology.

Figure 8-1928 document further detailing Dr. Franz Müller’s professional titles
Figure 9-Dr. Franz Müller ca. 1912

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 10-Klaus-Peter Wilhelm Müller’s (Dr. Müller’s son) 1904 birth certificate with 1930 notation indicating his surname was changed to Müller-Munk

Dr. Müller, born on December 31, 1871, was 33 years my aunt’s senior, and had two children by his first wife, Gertrud Munk, whom he married on December 14, 1901.  Their son, Klaus-Peter Wilhelm Müller, was born in Berlin on June 25, 1904, and their daughter, Karin Margit Müller, on September 23, 1908.  After Dr. Müller and his wife divorced, the surname of the children was changed to “Müller-Munk,” as footnoted on Peter Müller-Munk’s birth certificate on September 29, 1930 (Figure 10), many years after his birth.  Both of Dr. Müller’s children will be discussed in future Blog posts.  Given the 33-year age difference between my aunt and uncle, my aunt was roughly the same age as her step-children.

Figure 11-German military register with information on Dr. Müller

From the German military registers, we learn that in 1892 Dr. Müller was initially a “Feldwebel,” or Sargeant, in the 14th Regiment of Baden, but by 1893 was promoted to “Unteroffizier,” or non-commissioned officer, and by 1898 was a junior medical doctor in Heidelberg before becoming a reservist in the medical corps. (Figure 11)  After the start of WWI, he re-enlisted as a “Unterarzt,” or junior physician, but was quickly promoted to “Oberarzt,” or senior physician.  By June 1918, he was transferred to Nürnberg, and a month later assigned to the military academy there. 

Figure 12-Email from “Stiftung Neue Synagogue Berlin-Centrum Judaicum Archiv” indicating that Dr. Müller converted from Judaism on November 25, 1901, but that no record of my aunt’s conversion could be found

The “Stiftung Neue Synagoge Berlin-Centrum Judaicum Archiv,” or the archive of the New Synagogue Berlin – Centrum Judaicum Foundation, contains a record indicating that on November 25, 1901, less than a month before his marriage to Gertrud Munk, Dr. Müller converted to Protestantism from Judaism. (Figure 12) Incredibly, this did not prevent his being fired from Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität on September 14, 1933, almost 32 years later!  This happened after the National Socialists enacted the “Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” (“Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums”) on April 7, 1933, which excluded “non-Aryans” from Government employment, and resulted in Jewish civil servants, including university professors and school teachers, being fired. (Figure 13) 

Figure 13-Page from “Humboldt Universität zu Berlin Archiv” showing Dr. Müller was terminated from the University of Berlin on September 14, 1933

 

Figure 14-Architectural plan for house Dr. Müller had built at Kastanienallee 39 in Berlin’s Westend, highlighting entrance and alcove shown in subsequent pictures

In conjunction with the Berlin address and telephone directories, the “Grundbuch,” or “real estate register,” on file at the “Dienststelle Lichterfelde Grundbuchamt,” chronicles the various addresses where Dr. Müller lived between 1903 and 1936.  Interestingly, the Grundbuch contains the original floor plan for the house Dr. Müller had built at Kastanienallee 39 in Berlin’s Westend, Berlin-Charlottenburg, between 1908-09 (Figure 14), a house he probably moved into in late 1909.  Dr. Müller’s mother died in late 1908, and likely Franz’s inheritance paid for the construction of the house which was 844 m2 in size, or more than 9,000 square feet!  Depending on the size of his inheritance, he may not even have had a mortgage.

Figure 15-Document dated December 5, 1935 showing the sale of Kastanienallee 39 to Dr. Ludwig Weber

The Grundbuch contains a few documents from November and December 1935 (Figure 15) showing a contract for sale of the house was entered into on November 29, 1933, to a Dr. Ludwig Weber, a retired “Staatssekretär,” or undersecretary of state in the Prussian Ministry of Finance and commissioner at the Rentenbank.  Dr. Müller formally transferred Kastanienallee 39 to Dr. Weber two years later, on November 29, 1935, for 30,000 Reichmark (RM). 

 

 

One of my German cousins translated a few of the documents found in the Grundbuch and explained their significance within the context of the time period.  As students of European history know, Germany went through a bout of hyperinflation between 1922-23 that eventually resulted around 1924 in the old RM being devalued so that 1 new RM was equivalent to roughly 4,200,000 old RM.  While this devaluation impoverished average Germans, property owners suddenly became wealthy.  The 30,000 RM my uncle realized on the sale of his home in 1935, likely more than it would have been if not for hyperinflation, represented a significant amount of money.  How much of my uncle’s wealth was left behind, as a result of the “exit tax” imposed on Jews departing Germany in the 1930’s, is unknown but was likely at least 25 percent.

As discussed in Post 15, according to family accounts, my aunt and uncle left Germany with the help of Italy’s Ambassador to Germany from 1932-1935, Vittorio Cerruti, who was married to a Hungarian Jew. Possibly, my aunt met the ambassador’s wife, Elisabetta Cerruti, in her Aunt Franziska’s flower shop.  For reasons that remain unclear, my aunt and uncle decided to relocate to Fiesole, Italy, an Etruscan town above Firenze [Florence].  By March 31, 1936, a scant four months after Kastanienallee 39 was sold, my aunt and uncle were the guests of a noted Socialist doctor living in Fiesole, Dr. Gino Frascani, a gentleman who rented them one of his homes and employed my uncle in his medical clinic.  In the following post, I’ll discuss how I was able to unearth information about my aunt and uncle’s years in Fiesole and speculate on why they may have emigrated there.

Figure 16-Co-owner, Dr. Georg-Andreas Finck, left, with his downstairs tenant, Wörner Schütze, standing inside what would have been the “Speise Zimmer,” or dining room, at Kastanienallee 39
Figure 17-Inside Kastanienallee 39 in the 1930’s showing the same view as Figure 16 with the “Speise Zimmer” (dining room) in the foreground and the “Bibliothek” (library) in the background

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Numerous photos of my aunt and uncle’s home in Charlottenburg as it looked in the 1930’s survive in my father’s photo albums. The house still stands today.  With the assistance of a friend who works for the equivalent of Germany’s Internal Revenue Service, I was able to contact and meet the current owners of Kastanienallee 39 (Figures 16 & 17), who gave me a tour of their home and told me a little of its post-WWII history.  The destruction wrought upon Berlin during the war meant housing was at a premium in the immediate post-war era.  Consequently, the large single-family home was converted into numerous small flats that housed upwards of 40 people.  The alterations mean that few original interior structural elements survive today (Figures 18 & 19), although the exterior looks much as it did when my uncle had it constructed between 1908-09, judging from the surviving architectural plans. (Figures 20 & 21)

Figure 19-Inside Kastanienallee 39 in 2014 showing the alcove seen in Figure 18
Figure 18-Inside Kastanienallee 39 in the 1930’s showing alcove

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 20-My Uncle Franz, my Aunt Susanne & my grandmother Else Bruck, née Berliner, Easter 1935, standing in front of Kastanienallee 39
Figure 21-In 2014, me standing in front of Kastanienallee 39 in virtually the same spot as my relatives stood in 1935

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Readers can draw their own conclusions on how the decrees issued by the National Socialists, following Adolf Hitler’s appointment as German Chancellor in 1933, affected my aunt and uncle.  Clearly, however, they resulted in my uncle being dismissed as professor from Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität (Humboldt University of Berlin), then likely compelled my aunt and uncle to sell their home and eventually emigrate after paying an “exit tax.”  As the two subsequent Blog posts will make clear, my aunt and uncle’s nightmare at the hands of the Third Reich did not end with their departure from Berlin.

REFERENCE

Delphia, Rachel and Jewel Stern

2015    Silver to Steel: The Modern Designs of Peter Muller-Munk.  Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh & Prestel Verlag, Munich/London/New York.

 

POST 15: BERLIN & MY GREAT-AUNTS FRANZISKA & ELSBETH BRUCK

NOTE:  This Blog post will mark the beginning of a series of articles dealing with the Bruck family’s indelible connection to Berlin.  My grandfather, his five siblings, along with my father, his two siblings and most of his cousins, as well as many extended family members lived in Berlin during the 19th or 20th centuries.  A good starting point for this conversation begins with two of my great-aunts, their links to Berlin, and their eventual fates.

Figure 1-My great-grandfather, Fedor Bruck

On multiple occasions over the years, I have ordered from the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City, Utah, the three rolls of microfilm records for the town of Ratibor, Germany, where my father, Dr. Otto Bruck, was born in 1907.  These rolls, once only available on temporary loan to local Mormon Family History Centers, are now accessible on-line through familysearch.org.  One microfilm roll includes Jewish birth records covering the period from roughly 1817 through 1874.  Here, I discovered that my paternal great-grandparents, Fedor Bruck (Figure 1) and Friederike Bruck, née Mockrauer (Figure 2), had seven children born in Ratibor, although I was aware of an eighth child whose birth record I eventually located in the Polish State Archives in Raciborz, as discussed in an earlier post.  The oldest child was my grandfather, Felix Bruck, born in 1864, followed by Charlotte (born 1865), Franziska (born 1866), Elise (born 1868), Hedwig (born 1870), Robert Samuel (born 1871), Wilhelm (1872), and, finally, Elsbeth (born 1874). (Figure 3)  Growing up, I rarely heard my father mention any of these great-aunts and-uncles, but I most definitely never heard Elise and Robert mentioned and have found no documentary evidence to suggest they survived into adulthood, so presume they died young.

Figure 2-My great-grandmother, Friederike Bruck, née Mockrauer
Figure 3-My great-aunt Elsbeth with her older brother, Wilhelm “Willy” Bruck

 

 

 

 

 

Many years ago, my now-deceased German cousin told me the personal things, mostly papers, of two of my renowned great-aunts, Franziska and Elsbeth Bruck, are archived at the Stadtmuseum (Figure 4), then located in Berlin.  It wasn’t until 2014 that the museum, by then moved to Spandau on the outskirts of Berlin, had organized my great-aunts’ papers and that I could thoroughly review them. (Figure 5)  Being particularly interested in my paternal grandfather and his five surviving siblings, as well as their respective offspring, my great-aunts’ documents provided an ideal point of departure for learning more about these relatives and beginning to unravel my family’s diaspora.

Figure 4-Stadtmuseum in Spandau, on the outskirts of Berlin
Figure 5-My great-aunts Franziska & Elsbeth’s personal papers

 

 

The family items at the Statdtmuseum include academic papers, diaries, numerous professional and personal letters, family photographs, awards, and miscellaneous belongings.  The articles of primary interest to me were naturally the family letters and photographs, particularly those from and showing people I had encountered growing up or had learned about from my father.  The letters came in several forms: handwritten in Sütterlin; handwritten in standard German; typewritten in standard German; or occasionally hand-or-typewritten in English.  My wife and I took high resolution photographs of all the letters and pictures for future reference, although, to this day, most have not been translated.  However, I have transcribed a few of the typewritten letters written by one of my father’s first cousins using Google Translate, and, while the translations are horrid, I can understand the gist of the letters.  The matters discussed are often mundane in nature, although on occasion I’ve uncovered a real gem, some of which will be the topics of future Blog posts.

It goes without saying that Franziska and Elsbeth’s personal papers are the basis of some of what I learned about them, but as relatively prominent personages, I have been able to supplement, albeit limitedly, their bios from other sources.  Below I provide a succinct summary of their lives, inasmuch as I’ve uncovered, illustrated with items from the Stadtmuseum or places associated with them.

 

Figure 6-Franziska Bruck

Franziska Bruck (1866-1942) (Figure 6)

Franziska, born on December 29, 1866 in Ratibor, Germany, was the second daughter of the owners of Bruck’s “Prinz von Preußen” Hotel, Fedor and Friederike Bruck (the Bruck’s Hotel has been the subject of a previous post).  Little is known of Franziska’s early years in Ratibor.  Her father, Fedor Bruck, passed away in 1892 when she was 26 years old, so as one of the three oldest children, it is likely that along with her mother, and older brother and sister, they together ran the Bruck’s Hotel in Ratibor for a time.

Figure 7-My grandparents, Felix & Else Bruck, on their wedding day in 1894

Regardless, Franziska, along with her mother Friederike and her youngest sister Elsbeth, eventually left for Berlin in 1902, leaving the Bruck’s “Prinz von Preußen” Hotel in Ratibor to be managed by my grandfather and his wife, Felix and Else Bruck. (Figure 7)  A February 1915 article, in a German journal entitled “Die Bindekunst,” featured Franziska and mentioned she had gotten her start in Berlin 10 years earlier, so roughly in 1905.  She introduced into Germany a form of Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement, that was not initially taken seriously.  It wasn’t until her first public show in 1907 at a special flower exhibition that her artistry and excellent taste began to be appreciated.  And, in fact, a 1907 Berlin Address Book shows she was already in the flower business, first at Lützowstraße 27, and, no later than 1914, at nearby Potsdamer Str. 31a, both prestigious locations in central Berlin.  By 1915, the Berlin Address Book shows she had both a “Blumenbinderei,” a flower shop, as well as a “Schule für Blumenschmuck,”

Figure 8-Franziska Bruck in her “Schule für Blumenschmuck”

a school where she taught her unique form of flower decoration. (Figure 8)  By 1929, Franziska appears to have moved her flower shop and school to Charlottenburg in Berlin’s Westend, eventually running her shop from my aunt and uncle’s private home as the Nuremberg Laws took effect.

Family lore says the last German Emperor (Kaiser) and King of Prussia, who ruled until November 1918, was one of my great-aunt’s clients.  There can be no arguing that Franziska had an illustrious cadre of clients.  One of the pictures taken in her flower shop shows the last Crown Princess of Germany and Prussia, Princess Cecilie, touring her school. (Figures 9-10) Lyrical thank you letters (front & back of envelope, Page 1, Page 2, Translation) to Franziska from the renowned German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, also survive indicating he too was an enthusiastic client of my great-aunt.  My great-aunt wrote two beautifully illustrated books, one in 1919, entitled “Blumen and Ranken,” the second in 1927, called “Blumenschmuck,” that eloquently speak to her artistry and skill as a proponent of Ikebana.

 

Figure 9-Last Crown Princess of Germany & Prussia, Princess Cecilie, visiting Franziska’s “Schule für Blumenschmuck”
Figure 10-Princess Cecilie of Germany & Prussia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post 11-Prinzregentenstraße 75, Franziska Bruck’s last domicile in Berlin

The last year in which Franziska’s flower shop is listed in the Berlin Phone Directory is 1936, by which time my aunt Susanne Mueller, nee Bruck, and uncle Dr. Franz Müller had departed Germany.  My great-aunt Franziska last lived at Prinzregentenstraße 75 (Figure 11), also in Berlin’s Westend, where she likely committed suicide on January 2, 1942 only days after turning 76 years of age, no doubt after she was told by Nazi officials to report for deportation.  She is buried in the Weissensee Jewish Cemetery in East Berlin (Figure 12), and a stolpersteine, or a small, cobble-sized memorial (Figure 13), recognizes her as a victim of Nazi oppression at her last known address. 

Figure 12-Franziska Bruck’s grave in the Weissensee Jewish Cemetery in East Berlin
Figure 13-“Stolpersteine” for Franziska Bruck recognizing her as a victim of Nazi oppression

 

 

 

As previously mentioned, my aunt Susanne Mueller, née Bruck, and her husband, Dr. Franz Müller, left Berlin in 1936 in favor of Fiesole, Italy, an Etruscan hill town just above Florence.  My aunt and uncle’s 1931 Marriage License states that my aunt was a Managing Director in her aunt Franziska’s flower shop, suggesting my aunt and great-aunt were close to one another.  According to family accounts, my aunt and uncle were able to emigrate to Italy through the intercession of the Italian Ambassador to Germany (1932-1935), Vittorio Cerruti.  Perhaps, Elisabetta Cerruti (Figure 14), the beautiful Hungarian and Jewish wife of the ambassador, played some role in facilitating Susanne and Franz Müller’s emigration through contact they initiated in Franziska’s flower shop.

Figure 14-Elisabetta Cerruti, wife of Italy’s Ambassador to Germany, Vittorio Cerruti

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following my aunt and uncle’s departure from Berlin, my great-aunt Franziska Bruck went to visit them in Fiesole, Italy in 1937.  I discovered at the “Archivio Comunale Di Fiesole,” that’s to say, the Communal Archive in Fiesole, a document entitled “Soggiorno degli Stranieri in Italia,” or “Stay of Foreigners in Italy,” dated October 11, 1937, granting Franziska a tourist visa good for two months.  Given my great-aunt’s ultimate fate, one can only wonder how events might otherwise have played out had she abandoned her life in Berlin and stayed in Italy or emigrated elsewhere.

 

Figure 15-Elsbeth Bruck

Elsbeth Bruck (1874-1970) (Figure 15)

On the occasion of my great-aunt’s 95th birthday, the “Berliner Zeitung,” a Berlin daily founded in East Germany in 1945 that continued publication after German reunification, did a feature story on Elsbeth; this article provides some of my great-aunt’s own words to describe her life, which she documented in an unpublished autobiography.  By her own admission, Elsbeth was the family’s black sheep, which ultimately lead to her being booted from the house.  As the daughter of the owners of the Bruck’s Hotel, she chafed against their middle-class values and became an actress; by 1904, she was employed by the famous German movie director, Max Reinhardt.  She had an out-of-wedlock child in 1907, a son that sadly passed away after only two-and-a-half months

Elsbeth became a peace activist during WWI and joined the pacifist “Bund Neues Vaterland” (New Fatherland League), leading to her being charged with high treason and spying and jailed in 1916 and 1918.  During the era of the Weimar Republic between 1918 and 1933, she was involved in many social, cultural and pacifist activities, and by 1931 she was a member of the managing committee of the pacifist “Universal League of Mothers and Educators.”  By January 30, 1933, when Adolf Hitler was appointed Germany’s Chancellor, Elsbeth fled first to Heidelberg, then to Stuttgart, and finally in 1934 to Prague.  Here, she was supported by a variety of aid organizations, including the Jewish relief committee and a committee set up exclusively to help pacifist refugees, augmented by a small stipend from the latter organization; by 1938, when it became evident that WWII would not come to a quick end, she was offered refuge by an English Quaker settlement and provided an exit visa from Czechoslovakia to England, where she rode out the war.

Figure 16-Walter Ulbricht, former East German head of state

Elsbeth did not return to Germany until 1946, at which time she settled in East Berlin.  While Elsbeth’s ascent into the upper ranks of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) are unknown to me, there are a few clues as to her influence as a Communist apparatchik.  One of my cousins accompanied her father to visit Elsbeth in East Berlin in 1969, and clearly remembers my great-aunt describing her role as “logopäde” to Walter Ulbricht (Figure 16), a German Communist politician and the East German head of state until his death in 1973.  Having no idea as to the significance of this term, I had to turn to my German relatives to explain it to me.  The literal translation is “speech therapist,” although there is no indication Mr. Ulbricht had a speech impediment, akin to the stutter suffered by King George VI of England, made famous in the movie “The King’s Speech.”   Rather, Mr. Ulbricht was widely derided in West Germany at the time for his use of Saxonian colloquialisms, expressions no modern-day politician wishing to further his political career would today employ.  Possibly, Elsbeth’s role was as advisor on elocution and public speaking.  As an aside, Mr. Ulbricht is infamous for his lie, “Niemand hat die Absicht eine Mauer zu bauen,” or “no one has any intention to build a wall (between the East and West halves of Berlin),” uttered only days before construction of the Berlin Wall began overnight on August 13, 1961.

Figure 17-The “Vaterländischer Verdienstorden in Silber,” or “Patriotic Order of Merit in Silver” given to Elsbeth

There are two other things that attest to the high esteem with which Elsbeth was regarded within the former GDR.  First, she was awarded the “Vaterländischer Verdienstorden in Silber,” the “Patriotic Order of Merit in Silver,” for “special services to the state and to the society.” (Figure 17)  Perhaps, equally impressive, Elsbeth is buried in East Berlin’s “Friedrichsfelde Socialist Cemetery” (Figure 18, 19), only feet away from the central obelisk of the “Memorial to the Socialists” (Figure 20); ten graves surround

Figure 18-Entrance to the “Friedrichsfelde Socialist Cemetery” where Elsbeth is buried

this central obelisk, including that of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg, founders of the German Communist Party, as well as that of the aforementioned Walter Ulbricht.  Clearly, in death, Elsbeth is in lofty company.

 

Figure 19-Elsbeth Bruck’s grave
Figure 20-The central obelisk, “Memorial to the Socialists,” in East Berlin’s “Friedrichsfelde Socialist Cemetery”

 

 

 

In upcoming Blog posts, I will often refer to discoveries emanating from a closer examination of my great-aunts’ personal papers and photographs.  Some stories will provide telling indications as to the circle of friends and acquaintances with whom family members interacted, while others will chronicle the involved path I followed in uncovering more of my family’s history.