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)

 

4 thoughts on “POST 17: SURVIVING IN BERLIN IN THE TIME OF HITLER: MY UNCLE FEDOR’S STORY”

  1. Hi Richard,
    I particularly enjoyed this post. So many sights jumped into my mind about your Uncle and his life. My TWA flying days took me into Berlin just after the wall came down. A giant ugly scar dividing Berlin. The pockmarks of bullets still on the buildings. The East German soldiers selling their uniforms. Your Uncles’ story reminded me of a favorite book about Berlin of his period..
    “Berlin Wild” by Elly Welt …. a great read if you haven’t already.
    Great research as usual!!!
    Phil

    1. Thanks Phil for your nice comments! You must have landed at Tempelhof. Several years ago, Ann and I toured this now-abandoned airport, which, as you no doubt know, was designed in the shape of the flying Prussian eagle. Really interesting place. This last Blog post was my favorite one to write so far, although the one after the next one will also be interesting.

  2. Great story. While I knew bits and pieces of the story, your uncle’s journey was certainly fascinating. He truly lived history. One special insight into his character and temperament was the coin collecting at the Tappen Zee bridge–he was a person who made lemonade out of lemons. This is a fine tribute to his memory as well as an fascinating tale of a Holocaust survivor. He was a lucky man

    1. Thanks, Ellen! There are two “wings” of the Bruck family, the optimists and the pessimists, and it’s not necessarily passed down from parent to child. My second cousin from Germany and I both had fathers who were of the “half-glass empty” type, yet both of us are happy, contented and fulfilled people. Still, both of our fathers lived through much more difficult times than we did, and suffered family loss, so it’s not a simple equation.

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