In February 1939, Rosa Katz Adler wrote to to Mrs. Herbert H. Lehman, wife of the New York Governor. She was desperate for assistance in bringing her young daughter Lotte to the United States. Rosa’s letter is one of hundreds addressed to the Lehman family from refugees seeking advice and aid as they attempted to flee Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. Governor Lehman was well known for wielding his political power and personal resources to assist relatives and a few other individuals to leave Europe and settle in their new home.
Rosa had come to New York from Meiningen, Germany on a tourist visa on October 28, 1938, hoping to arrange affidavits so that her husband and daughter could follow her to the U.S. Her husband Lothar had obtained a visa to get to England, but he was unable to procure papers for their daughter. In the fall of 1938, probably on Kristallnacht, Lothar was sent to a concentration camp (or, according to a cousin, he may have been imprisoned locally), but he was released a few weeks later. Rosa was still desperate. Her husband might now have a possibility to flee, but her daughter did not.
Rosa wrote to Edith Lehman:
“Our daughter, Lotte, who is 2 ½ years old, does not have the possibility to leave Germany and I do not know what will happen to the child… Can you advise me or help me in any way to bring her to the United States? She is such a tiny child she surely cannot take a job away from anyone or do anyone any harm… If my child is forced to remain in Germany, I am sure that neither my husband nor I will ever see her again. She is our only child, and we naturally love her very dearly and the thought that any harm might come to her is unbearable for both of us.”
The files at Columbia University that contain Rosa’s desperate appeal give no clue as to whether the Lehmans were able to help Rosa Adler, nor do they hint at the the ultimate fate of this family. However, through online records and by locating and interviewing relatives, I was able to learn what happened to them.
Lothar and Lotte, arrived in New York together by ship in May 1941 – over two years after Rosa’s appeal to Mrs. Lehman. The passenger record shows that they were heading to Lothar’s wife, Rosa Adler. If working on her own, one can only imagine the extent of Rosa’s efforts to obtain their affidavits and passage. And who would have provided an affidavit for them?
Refugees needed to make it clear that they would not require government assistance, and surely Rosa was not in a financial position to provide this assurance to the government. Further investigation into the family’s history was necessary to answer this question.
Rosa’s passenger record from October 1938 provided more information about her family (see below). The U.S. resident to whom Rosa would go was Morris Kohn. So, who was he?
Although Rosa’s last contact in Europe was her husband in Meiningen, I knew that she had been born in Bad Wildungen, a town near Kassel with a small Jewish community (in 1933, a population of about 150).
I knew a bit about Bad Wildungen because in 2014, Johannes Groetecke, a local historian of the Jewish community there, had won an Obermayer German Jewish History Award for his research on the area’s former Jewish community. I wrote to him and inquired about Rosa, and given whom she would be meeting in America, I assumed that her maiden name might have been Kahn or Kohn. But the name did not mean anything to Groetecke.
What was her maiden name, then? This question was answered on a Social Security application I located for Lottie (Lotte) Susan Adler, married name Tannenbaum, from July 1952. She identified herself as the daughter of Rosa Katz and Lothar Adler. Morris Kahn/Kohn’s identity was still unclear. The answer was to come later.
I returned to online research about the Katz family of Bad Wildungen and found rich data thanks to the Groetecke’s work. He had published a booklet on the occasion of installing Stolpersteine, memorial Stumbling Stones, for members of the Katz family who perished in the Holocaust. http://www.bad-wildungen.de/fileadmin/Dateien/Dateien/Stadtverwaltung/Infomaterial/Stolpersteine_Bad_Wildungen.pdf
The online booklet reveals that a David Katz was the father of four children, one of whom, Rosa, immigrated to America. David survived Theresienstadt and immigrated to Israel. However, his wife Sara died in Treblinka.
One of Rosa’s sisters, Lina, died before 1934.
A brother, Rudolf, immigrated to the United States in March 1939, along with his wife Zita and their children Ralph and Renate. I was able to track down Ralph because, in 2007,he filed a claim on behalf of his father for a Swiss Bank account. Ralph and his sister Renate Mooers, received 204,750 Swiss Francs (about $200,000) as restitution.
Rudolf and his family settled in Buffalo, New York, where, according to Ralph, one of the resettlement committees set them up in business upon their arrival. When he first arrived, Rudolf worked in a factory, and he later set up a shoe store, a business he was familiar with from Europe. Zita died in 1967 and Rudolf in 1978.
The fourth sibling, Flora, survived six years of forced labor camps and eventually moved to Buffalo, where she worked for Rudolf in his shoe store. Later she ran her own store in Buffalo. According to her nephew, Ralph Adler, she was a lovely person, kind and even tempered. However, her husband suffered greatly from his experiences in the camps.
And what became of Rosa and Lothar’s daughter Lotte Adler? According to Ralph, Lotte had a difficult life. She was married and divorced, and never had children. Lotte Adler Tannenbaum died in 1995.
As for the identity of Morris Kahn/Kohn, it turns out that his original name had been Katz, and he was Rosa’s uncle, a brother of her father, David Katz. Why did he change his name? Obviously it was not to sound less Jewish! According to Ralph, Morris (originally, Moritz) had left Germany to avoid military conscription around the time of the First World War, and he changed his name in order to avoid being identified by the German government.
Do we think that Rosa Adler might have been assisted by Governor Herbert H. Lehman or his wife Edith? It would seem unlikely because we could find no evidence that the Adlers were related and no further correspondence was to be found in the files, and neither Ralph Adler, nor his sister Renate Mooers, now living in California, was aware of any such connection. Further research will be undertaken to determineif there is additional correspondence with or about the family in other Lehman collections.
Letter from Columbia University, Herbert H. Lehman Collections, Box 1195, A C-17-127
For more information on the Lehman rescue activities see Karen S. Franklin, “Against the Odds: American Jews and the Rescue of Europe’s Refugees, 1933-1941. Researching the Mayer Lehman Charity Fund,” in Michael Berenbaum, ed., Remembering for the Future: Armenia, Auschwitz and Beyond (St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 2016), 107-120.
Figure 1. Katz Family Tree
Figure 2. Lothar Adler Arrival (1938)
Figure 3. Rudolf Katz Arrival (1939)