Hertha Nathorff: First thoughts about emigration to the USA, 1934

In this excerpt from the diary, the author described for the first time her thoughts about emigration to the USA.

Ostern 1934

Mein Vetter aus Köln ist zu Besuch bei uns. „Wollen wir zusammen nach Palästina?” frägt er mich. „Nach Palästina? Nein-nach Amerika möchte ich gehen! Aber wie?” Ich habe heute Abend an eine Patientin geschrieben, die drüben verheiratet ist. Wenn ich nur wieder in meinen Beruf zurück kann – er ist es doch, der mich hier hält, nicht das Geld, die Bequemlichkeit. Mein Beruf, den ich liebe, der mir Lebensinhalt ist und den ich drüben nicht mehr ausüben zu können befürchte! […]

20. August 1934

In der Schweiz habe ich mich mit Vaters Vetter aus Amerika getroffen. Ich bat ihn, uns herauszuhelfen. „Aus Deiner guten Praxis willst Du heraus? Amerika will keine Arzte, geh lieber nach Kapstadt, da soll’s besser sein. Wenn Du absolut willst, ein Affidavit 11Mit dem Affidavit ist eine Bürgschaftserklärung gemeint, mit der Bürger*innen und Organisationen in einem Aufnahmeland, zum Beispiel den USA, bei der Beschaffung von Einreiseerlaubnissen für Verfolgte im nationalsozialistischen Deutschland und dem von ihn besetzten Gebieten helfen konnten. kannst Du haben. “Und ich habe von allem nur das „Nein” herausgehört. Vielleicht hat er recht, vielleicht wäre es ein Verbrechen, Mann und Kind in ein so ungewisses Los aus der gediegenen Praxis herauszureißen? Nur, weil ich es seelisch nicht mehr aushalten zu können glaube? Seit ich zurück bin, spüre ich die Unfreiheit und Unwahrhaftigkeit besonders stark. Warum hilft mir denn niemand? Ich bin doch etwas, kann doch etwas. Warum hilft mir niemand, draußen aufzubauen? Ich kann ohne meinen Beruf nicht leben. So werde ich wohl hier an ihm zu Grunde gehen müssen.

    Footnotes

  • 1Mit dem Affidavit ist eine Bürgschaftserklärung gemeint, mit der Bürger*innen und Organisationen in einem Aufnahmeland, zum Beispiel den USA, bei der Beschaffung von Einreiseerlaubnissen für Verfolgte im nationalsozialistischen Deutschland und dem von ihn besetzten Gebieten helfen konnten.

Easter 1934

My cousin from Cologne is visiting us. “Do we want to go to Palestine together?” he asks me. “To Palestine? No-to America I want to go! But how?” I wrote tonight to a patient who is married over there. If only I could go back to my job – it’s what keeps me here, not the money, the convenience. My profession, which I love, which is my purpose in life and which I fear I will no longer be able to practice over there! […]

August 20, 1934

In Switzerland, I met with Father’s cousin from America. I asked him to help us out. “Do you want to get out of your good practice? America doesn’t want any doctors; you’d better go to Cape Town, it’s supposed to be better there. If you absolutely want, you can have an affidavit. 11The affidavit is a declaration of guarantee with which citizens and organizations in a host country, for example the USA, could help in obtaining entry permits for persecuted persons in Nazi Germany and the territories. And I heard only the “no” from everything. Perhaps he is right, perhaps it would be a crime to tear a man and child out of solid practice into such an uncertain lot? Just because I don’t think I can stand it mentally anymore? Since I’ve been back, I feel the lack of freedom and untruthfulness particularly strongly. Why doesn’t anyone help me? I am something, I can do something. Why doesn’t anyone help me to build up outside? I cannot live without my profession. So I will probably have to perish here because of it.

    Footnotes

  • 1The affidavit is a declaration of guarantee with which citizens and organizations in a host country, for example the USA, could help in obtaining entry permits for persecuted persons in Nazi Germany and the territories.

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. 56, 60.

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