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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.