Hertha Nathorff between new and old home

Hertha Nathorff, née Einstein (1895-1993) was a German pediatrician, psychotherapist and social worker. Until 1934 she worked as a senior physician at the Red Cross Women’s and Children’s Home in Berlin-Lichtenberg, then in private practice and at the same time at the Charlottenburg Hospital as head of the family and marriage counseling center. In the course of National Socialist racial policies, she lost her medical license in the fall of 1938. She organized emigration to London  with the help of American relatives in November 1938, and in early 1940 to New York. In her diary, she deals with her experiences in Nazi Berlin and later in the New World. Radio was a new important activity for Hertha as an emigrant in New York. Since 1942 she gave radio lectures, which brought her into personal contact with many German-Americans.

Hertha and Erich Nathorff © Gesellschaft für Geschichte und Gedenken e.V., Laupheim

2. Dezember 1942

Neben der häuslichen Arbeit, der Mithilfe in der wachsenden Praxis, den zeitweisen Jobs -augenblicklich ist es wieder eine Nachtwache – gehöre ich nun bereits etlichen Komitees, Vereinsausschüssen, an und man beginnt mehr und mehr auf meine Stimme zu hören – fast wie einst drüben.

Die Radiovorträge gehen auch weiter, und sie bringen mich auch in persönliche Berührung mit vielen Deutsch-Amerikanern. Neulich sagte jemand, wenn Sie, während sie übers Radio sprechen, durch die 86. Straße in Yorkville, dem deutschen Viertel New Yorks, gehen würden, so würden Sie aus fast jeder Etage Ihre Stimme hören können. Ja, man hört mich gerne, ich weiß es aus Zuschriften und auch aus Besuchen von Hörern. Und hier habe ich vielleicht eine Mission, denn immer wieder fragen sie mich:

Warum sind Sie hergekommen? Wie geht es in der alten Heimat zu? Und ich erfahre von so manchem Konflikt des Herzens, sie lieben die alte Heimat und sorgen sich um die Menschen drüben, aber: sie sind seit Jahrzehnten hier verwurzelt, tief verwurzelt, und auch sie fragen sich nun: Heimat, wo?

Hertha and Erich Nathorff © Gesellschaft für Geschichte und Gedenken e.V., Laupheim

December 2, 1942

Besides the work at home, the help in the growing practice, the temporary jobs – at the moment it is again a night watch – I now already belong to several committees, association committees, and one begins to listen more and more to my voice – almost like once over there.

The radio lectures also continue, and they also bring me into personal contact with many German-Americans. Someone said the other day that if you were to walk down 86th Street in Yorkville, New York’s German neighborhood, while talking on the radio, you would be able to hear your voice from almost every floor. Yes, they like to hear me, I know it from letters and also from visits from listeners. And here I may have a mission, because again and again they ask me:

Why did you come here? How are things in the old homeland? And I hear about many a conflict of the heart, they love the old homeland and worry about the people over there, but: they have been rooted here for decades, deeply rooted, and now they too are asking themselves: Homeland, where?

Hertha Nathorff, née Einstein (1895-1993) was a German pediatrician, psychotherapist and social worker, she published several works, including a book of poems. She was born in Laupheim (Baden-Württemberg) into a Jewish family. She was related to the physicist Albert Einstein, the musicologist and music critic Alfred Einstein, and the film producer Carl Laemmle. Nathorff attended high school in Ulm and, interrupted by a temporary job as a nurse during World War I, studied medicine in Munich, Heidelberg, Freiburg (Breisgau) and Berlin from 1914. After receiving her doctorate degree in Heidelberg (1920) and years as an assistant in Freiburg, she was a senior physician at the Red Cross Women’s and Children’s Home in Berlin-Lichtenberg from 1923-28, then worked in private practice and simultaneously at the Charlottenburg Hospital as head of the family and marriage counseling center. In the course of National Socialist racial policies, she lost her medical license in the fall of 1938, while her husband, formerly a senior hospital doctor in Berlin-Moabit, was granted a license for exclusively Jewish patients. During this period she worked as his receptionist.

Threatened with death in Nazi Germany, she organized emigration with the help of American relatives from November 1938, sending her 14-year-old son ahead to England on a Kindertransport. In April 1939 the couple managed to leave the country for London, and in early 1940 they continued their journey to New York. In New York she worked as a nurse, maid, bar pianist and kitchen help to support the family. She remained a physician’s assistant in her husband’s practice, which opened in 1942 – she did not have the time to get her degree recognized.

Hertha Nathorff took a very active part in the social life of the German-speaking exile community: she organized courses for emigrants in nursing and infant care and cultural events, was the founder of the Open House for the elderly, chairwoman of the women’s group, and an honorary member of the presidium of the New World Club. In the excerpts from the diary of Hertha Nathorff Berlin-New York Aufzeichnungen 1933 bis 1945, which we show in our archive, the author deals with her initial problems, disappointments and mortifications in the New World. She reports on the everyday life of emigrants, on the struggle for existence, on poverty and mental destruction. Despite her longing for the places of her childhood and youth, she never visited Germany again. She never really settled in America. The homesickness remained constant.

Excerpt from the diary of Hertha Nathorff, edited and introduced by Wolfgang Benz (1987): Das Tagebuch der Hertha Nathorff. Berlin – New York. Aufzeichnungen 1933 bis 1945. Schriftenreihe der Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, Band 54. R. Oldenbourg Verlag München, pp. 105, 194-195, 203.

Translation from German to English © Minor Kontor / We Refugees Archive.