Poem by Hertha Nathorff “Home-where?”

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. Life in exile was associated with many challenges for Hertha Nathorff: financial as well as psychological. Hertha Nathorff never returned to Germany. Nevertheless, she never really settled in America; homesickness remained constant. This feeling can be seen very vividly in this poem.

Poem “Heimat-wo?” from the German-Jewish exile newspaper Aufbau © JM Jüdische Medien AG / Serenade Verlag AG


Das neue Land- ob es mir wirklich Heimat ist.

Ich frag’s mich oft. Und ob mein Herz

Nicht doch-so mancherlei vermisst?

Ich frage mich. Und lausch‘ in mich hinein.

Und kann mir selber keine Antwort geben

War Heimat dort?- Ist Heimat hier?

Ich weiss es nicht. Und weiss nur dies:

Ein grosser, tiefer Riss geht durch

mein Herz,

Geht durch mein ganzes, wirres Leben:

Und weiss noch mehr: Wo immer ich

auch weilen mag-

Nicht Land, nicht Heim gibt meinem Herzen Ruh.

Nur eine einz’ge Heimstatt hab ich noch,

Darin ich wurzle. Das bist-DU!


Poem “Heimat-wo?” from the German-Jewish exile newspaper Aufbau © JM Jüdische Medien AG / Serenade Verlag AG


The new country – whether it really is home to me.

I often ask myself. And whether my heart

Doesn’t miss-so many things?

I ask myself. And listen into myself.

And can’t give myself an answer

Was home there?- Is home here?

I do not know. And only know this:

A big, deep crack goes through

my heart,

Goes through my whole, confused life:

And I know even more: Wherever I

Wherever I may dwell

No land, no home gives my heart rest.

Only one home I still have,

In which I take root. That is YOU!

Hertha Nathorff, née Einstein (1895-1993) was a German pediatrician, psychotherapist, and social worker; she also published several works, including a volume of poetry. She was born in Laupheim into a Jewish family. 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. Although she was to leave her medical profession, she took a very active part in the social life of the German-speaking exile: 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. As a German-speaking émigré in New York, she often published in “Aufbau”, a German-Jewish newspaper in exile. She wrote articles on various subjects, sometimes poems, and placed advertisements about her courses in nursing and infant care.

Poem from Aufbau, the German Jewish newspaper in exile in New York, Friday, April 7, 1950 p. 20.

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