Snapshotsof German-Jewish History and Culture
‘Heimat’ in a Suitcase: Flight and Exile of the Herzberg Family
Today we would like to invite you to have a glimpse into the private rooms of Haus Herzberg. The photographs you see here are an extract from an album that contains images of the Herzberg family home in 22 Richard-Wagner-Straße, in the German town of Hanover. The pictures were taken in the 1930s, before the Herzbergs had to flee Germany to escape the Nazi Regime.
The beautifully bound red leather album contains an array of photographs showing spacious rooms and images of the impressive villa from various angles. We can discover the family’s sitting room, wander into a study with tightly packed bookshelves next to a heavy, respectable desk with a charming bust of a child facing the comfortable chair. There is also a view into a dressing room and into the private setting of a bedroom. To the spectator, these rooms appear to be empty. We see images of period furniture, paintings and decorative items that represent the lifestyle of affluent German-Jewish members of the German bourgeoisie in the early 20th Century. The pictures also display values of this social class, such as having a tidy, respectable home, a high regard for education as well as a discerning reverence for the arts, represented in the tasteful paintings and delicate china displayed across the rooms. However, for the Herzberg family, these rooms were not empty. For them, they were filled with memories which explains why they took such a cumbersome item along on a journey into the unknown. They kept it for decades, moving across three continents, until they finally settled in the United Kingdom.
The Herzberg family was an affluent family of leather merchants who were highly regarded members of Hanover’s Jewish community. Rudolf Wolf Herzberg (*1884), head of the family business, was imprisoned by the Nazis in Buchenwald in 1938. He was released in 1941 and he and his wife Lilly (*1886) left Germany. They were forced to sell their estate and most of their belongings to finance their passage to Cuba via Lisbon. In stark contrast to their comfortable lifestyle in Germany prior to persecution by the Nazis, Lilly Herzberg had to work as a cleaner in a retirement home in Havana to make ends meet. The couple eventually relocated to New York where they also lived in poverty until their son, Bernhard Herzberg (*1909), who had settled in South Africa, brought them to Cape Town. Bernhard emigrated much earlier than his parents. In 1933 he secured passage to South Africa, one of the few countries that were accepting Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany at this point in time. When Hitler attacked Paris in 1940, Bernhard joined the South African army. As an artilleryman of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Rifles, he fought in North Africa and Italy. In 1985 he emigrated from South Africa and settled in the United Kingdom.
During all these years, the images of their home in 22 Richard-Wagner-Straße were always with the family. They were a constant reminder of the place they had come from, of a life that was brutally stolen from them by the Nazis. Throughout their lives, they kept this set of images in testimony to once having called Germany their Heimat, their home.
The final photo in today’s post shows members of the Herzberg family in the urban woods of Eilenriede, right behind the house Rudolf Herzberg commissioned to be built in the 1920s: Rudolf Herzberg with the 12-year old twins Ruth and Bernhard, daughter Nanny and little Fritz.
Today a set of Stolpersteine outside 22 Richard- Wagner-Straße in Hanover poses a public reminder to the Herzberg family’s life in Germany.
The Herzberg family estate is part of the collection of historical pamphlets within the Leo Baeck Institute London’s specialist library on German-Jewish history and culture, which can be accessed via the library at Queen Mary University.
All family pictures shown are courtesy of the actor and writer Paul Herzberg and his sister Wendy Lopatin, son and daughter of Bernhard Herzberg. The Stolpersteine picture is subject to the copyright of Tim Rademacher (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/).