Letter by Isaac L. Asofsky to the American Guild

Otto Bernstein and his wife Jenny Schaffer-Bernstein both need financial support in order to flee Germany. In this letter the Hebrew Sheltering And Immigrant Aid Society of America is reaching out to the American Guild for German Cultural Freedom, to find out whether it will be financially supporting the travel of Otto Bernstein.




Telephone Algonquin 4-2900

January 11, 1940


American Guild of Cultural Freedom

20 Vesey Street

New York City


Re: Otto Bersntein


Joachimstr. 43


We have received a letter from our Amsterdam office stating that you are interested in the above and are willing to assist him to emigrate to the United States. Our Amsterdam office now asks that you furnish the sum of $300 for his visa and transportation expenses.

Will you therefore kindly advise us as to your intentions as soon as possible.

Very sincerely yours,


For Isaac L. Asofsky,

Jenny Schaffer Bernstein (1888-1943) born in Vienna was a Jewish Austrian actress in Germany. She first appeared professionally on stage in 1911 at the Deutsches Theater, under the direction of Max Reinhardt. In 1913 she worked at the Royal Court Theater in Dresden, and from 1919 she worked at the Dresden Schauspielhaus. After the Nazis came to power, her career was greatly affected, and she decided to move to Berlin with her husband, Otto Bernstein. There she became a member of the Jewish Cultural Association, where she often performed.

Otto Bernstein (1887-1943) was a German actor and director. He worked at the Hildesheim City Theater after training in Berlin. In 1919 he worked in Berlin again and then in Dresden, where he worked as a director for the first time. In 1933, like his wife, his career was severely affected by the Nazis, as they were both excluded from the German cultural scene. He then also became a member of the Jewish Cultural League. In the spring of 1943, Jenny Schaffer Bernstein and Otto Bernstein were deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and murdered. It can be assumed that the couple never received the money from the American Guild for German Cultural Freedom.

HIAS (founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) is a Jewish American nonprofit organization that provides humanitarian aid and assistance to refugees. It was originally founded in 1881 to help Jewish refugees, and Executive Director Isaac L. Asofsky approached the American Guild for German Cultural Freedom on behalf of Jenny Schaffer and Otto Bernstein. The latter was an organization that helped German artists, writers, and intellectuals in exile whose opportunities for work were impaired by the fascist government in Germany. The goal of the organization was to keep German culture alive outside of Germany, as it could not survive and thrive within German borders. The American Guild for German Cultural Freedom helped these people by providing financial support. The refugee experience of the German exiles was different for each individual. One of the main difficulties in fleeing is adjusting to a completely new place and finding a support system. The American Guild for German Cultural Freedom tried to help the German exiles with this adjustment so that they could also focus on their work at the same time.

Letter from Isaac L. Asofsky to the American Guild for German Cultural Freedom, January 1940 © Deutsches Exilarchiv 1933–1945 der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek –  German Exile Archive 1933-1945 from the German National Library.