Helene Hertha Katz
Born 1909 in Offenbach, died 1996, USA
Visit programm 1986
1934 Emigration to Holland with her husband Siegfried Wohlfahrt, born1904 in Bad Homburg, died in Stutthof 5.12.1944
After her liberation emigration to USA
Born 1920 in Frankfurt, died 1993 in St. Louis
Schools: Schwanthalerschule, Holzhausenschule, Musterschule
Education: Lehre bei den Odenwälder Gummiwerken, Anlernwerkstatt
1939 Emigration to USA
Samuel Shmuel Marcus Siegfried Katz
Born 1881 in Schwechsa in Lithuania, since 1890 in Frankfurt
Betty Katz, born Nussbaum
Born 1886 in Zeitlofs/Unterfranken
Börnstraße 49, Goethestraße 2
Business of Siegfried Katz
Jewish Life Project in Frankfurt: Questionnaires by Alfred Katz and Allan Katz
Interview with Helen Waterford in Frankfurt in May 1986, Interview: Christa Köhring and Angelika Rieber
Hessian main state archive Wiesbaden
Helen Waterford: Commitment to the Dead, Frederic / USA 1987
Interview with Alfred Katz at https://hmlc.org/oral-history/fred-katz/
Interview with Helen Waterford at www.collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn504730
Faludia, Christian (ed.): The “June Action” 1938. A documentary on the radicalization of the persecution of Jews, Campus 2013
Researches and Text
Helen Waterford visited her former home in 1986 at the invitation of the City of Frankfurt. While her father, Samuel Katz, came from Lithuania, the mother came from Zeitlofs in the Bavarian Rhön. The couple’s two children, Helene and Alfred, were born in Offenbach and Frankfurt, respectively. After the end of the First World War, Samuel Katz founded the Goethe-Eck cigar store on Goethestrasse, which he had to give up in 1936. Helene and her husband Siegfried Wohlfahrt were already living in the Netherlands at that time, while Samuel Katz did not want to leave Germany. After his arrest as part of the “June Action” in 1938 and weeks of internment in Buchenwald, however, he followed his daughter to the Netherlands in November 1938. The 18 year old son Alfred was arrested on November 10, 1938. After his release he was able to flee to England with the help of his sister and later to emigrate to the USA with his parents. After the German occupied Netherlands and the beginning of the deportations, Helene Wohlfahrt and her husband went underground, but were discovered and deported. Siegfried Wohlfahrt died in Auschwitz, Helene survived in a labor camp and followed her parents and brother to America after the liberation.
Lithuania meets Zeitlofs
Samuel Katz, the father of Alfred and Helene, originally came from Lithuania. Born in Schwecksna in
1881, Samuel Katz and his family moved to Frankfurt in 1890 when he was nine years old. Like many Eastern European Jews, the family fled from the anti-Semitic pogroms and military duties in the Tsarist Empire. However, they were also subjected to various restrictions in Germany.
In Frankfurt, Samuel Katz attended the orthodox Samson Raphael Hirsch school in the east end of the city, and later worked as a businessman.
His wife, Betty Nussbaum, came from a large family in Zeitlofs in the Bavarian Rhön region, “a little kaff”(as described by her daughter Helene). Together, with her older sister, Betty Nussbaum moved to Frankfurt, where she met Samuel Katz.
At the time as was common among German Jews, marriage to an Eastern European Jew was unthinkable for her and her family. Samuel, however, continues to pursue her for five years until she finally agreed. The next hurdle was actually getting married, as marrying a foreigner in Germany was very difficult. However, a civil marriage to a foreigner in England was much easier, only requiring a three day stay to meet the legal requirements for such a marriage. The two traveled to London, where they were married on June 25, 1908. At that time, it was actually an awkward undertaking to travel unattended as an unmarried couple. Betty also found it humiliating to have to stress that her marriage had not been consummated until a religious marriage by a rabbi took place shortly after they were back in Germany.
The couple moved to Offenbach. The following year their daughter Helene was born there. According to the citizenship laws of that time, the wife and children had to assume the husband’s nationality. Therefore, they were seen as Russian citizens, with far-reaching consequences on their lives. In 1913 the family moved to Frankfurt. There they initially lived near the zoo.
The worsening political situation had a massive impact on the family’s life, because during the First World War, Russian citizens became enemy aliens. Russian citizens living in Germany were registered and some were interned. To avoid this, Samuel Katz decided to go into hiding with his family. Fortunately, they were able to stay in the house of a sister of Betty Nussbaum on Börnestrasse. They lived there illegally until the end of the war. Helene remembers that her parents protected her, and she did not feel the precarious political situation and its impact on her family. Little Helene could not attend a public school because the family was not officially registered. However, she was accepted by the Philanthropin, the liberal Jewish school on Hebelstrasse. The family faced another challenge when the daughter became ill with diphtheria, a disease that should have been reported to the government.
Samuel becomes Siegfried Katz
With the end of the war the hide-and-seek game ended. From December 9, 1918 the family was officially registered again. Now there were new challenges due to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire, and with the Versailles Treaty there was the establishment of new states in Eastern Europe. The question became, what citizenship should the family take? Their choices were Russian or Lithuanian.
Because Betty’s family was negative about Eastern European citizenship, they opted for statelessness, a mass phenomenon of the time. The rejection of Eastern Jewry among the Nussbaum family went so far that contact with Samuel Katz’s relatives was reduced to a minimum. The businessman from Lithuania hid his origin, for example by Germanizing his first name. Samuel Marcus now called himself Siegfried Katz.
With the beginning of the new freedom, the merchant became involved in the tobacco trade and founded a “fine specialty shop in cigars, cigarettes and tobacco”, the cigar house Goethe-Eck in Goethstrasse 2. The name was protected and the cigar house was known as “one of the finest shops known in the industry” (hhsstaw) in Frankfurt, and the surrounding area. The family also lived on the 5th floor of the same house from the late 1920s. Betty Nussbaum worked in the business of her husband, who was traveling a lot because he also worked as a representative of the Feisst cigar company in Offenburg.
In 1920 their son Alfred was born in Frankfurt. At that time, as is evident from the birth certificate, the family still lived in Börnestrasse. After attending the Schwanthaler and later the Holzhausenschule, Alfred switched to the Musterschule. He remembered a carefree childhood in Frankfurt. He did not feel anti-Semitism, but he did feel discrimination against Eastern European Jews. In his free time, Alfred became involved in the Jewish youth movement, first among the “Kameraden” and after their division among the “Werkleute”, a socialist-oriented movement that became increasingly Zionist in view of the Nazis’ anti-Semitism.
His sister Helene was also active in the youth movement. After graduating from school, she began to study, to the dismay of her mother, who wanted to see her daughter well married. In addition, Helene initially worked as an office worker and later she founded her own company. During a recreational stay on the North Sea island of Norderney, Helene met her future husband Siegfried Wohlfahrt, who, born in Bad Homburg, came from Frankfurt as well. He came from an orthodox middle-class family, just as her mother had wished. Siegfried immediately fell in love with the young woman. At first she hesitated, but in January 1933 she agreed to marry him.
With her marriage, Helene received German citizenship
As Helene and Siegfried started their life together, they were overwhelmed by the political events of 1933. Siegfried Wohlfahrt lost his position as insolvency administrator in court. In addition, Siegfried’s parents disagreed with the marriage, not only because they could not consider starting a family because of the son’s unemployment, but especially because of the Lithuanian descent of Helene’s father. Despite all attempts by Siegfried’s parents, the two got married in June 1933 in Frankfurt’s Römer. With the marriage Helene became a German citizen. As a stateless person, it would have been much harder to leave Germany. Siegfried and Helene Wohlfahrt could now plan to emigrate from Germany together. Initially, the newlywed couple intended to go to France. However, after a trip in which they wanted to explore their professional prospects, they returned undone.
They were now preparing for a religious wedding. The same rabbi who had married her parents also married Siegfried and Helene Wohlfahrt. The wedding dinner took place on a small scale. The in-laws were not invited. Siegfried Katz commented, “If you don’t want my daughter, you don’t deserve to be invited to dinner.”
Through the assistance of a friend, the young couple emigrated to Holland in 1934. Helene was initially unable to work there, which is why the early years were a difficult time for her, in which she developed many fears. Again, through friends, Helene later became self-employed and founded a design business. In October 1937, the couple’s wish to have a child came true. Her daughter Doris was born.
Apprenticeship instead of studying
For her brother Alfred, life also changed with the beginning of the “Third Reich”. His Bar Mitzvah, which took place a week after the April boycott in 1933, was overshadowed by these events.
Alfred also had disturbing experiences in the Musterschule. A classmate and friend came to school with a swastika bandage one day. This ended in a fight and ultimately influenced his parents’ decision to send their son to a Jewish school. Alfred Katz attended the Philanthropin for a short time. In 1934 he left school to start an apprenticeship because advancing in his studies was not possible under the existing political conditions.
Alfred Katz started working in the office of the Gummiwerke Odenwald, a factory that manufactured bicycle tires and inner tubes. The production took place in Sandbach in the Odenwald, now part of Breuberg, and the administration was in Frankfurt at Mainzer Landstrasse 181. The owners of the successful company, Jacob Strauß and Jakob Hirschberger, were Jewish. Since the company was “Aryanized”, Alfred Katz could no longer stay with the company after completing his apprenticeship. The entrepreneur Jacob Strauß could not cope with the loss of the company he had built. In addition, the company’s buyer, Willy Kaus, subsequently reduced the agreed purchase price several times. Jacob Strauß could no longer freely dispose of his assets, which had already been “secured” in 1938. The disputes with the tax office, which wanted to tax the original but not the actual purchase price, were also nerve-racking. Disappointed and embittered, Jacob Strauss committed suicide and died on April 13, 1939.
Alfred Katz also felt the effects of the Nuremberg racial laws of 1935. He often accompanied an “Aryan” colleague who lived nearby on his way to work on Mainzer Landstrasse. In view of the tightening of anti-Semitic discrimination, Alfred Katz was warned to stop contact with her. As a result, he was increasingly forced to limit his friendships to Jewish circles. During this time Alfred turned into a fiery Zionist. He was determined to go to Palestine and even turned down an offer in 1936 to emigrate to the United States together with a cousin. Alfred spent his free time with his friends from the “Werkleute”. He even wanted to drop out of his apprenticeship shortly before graduation in order to complete an internship as a gardener in a Hachsharah in Munich, to prepare for moving to Palestine. The planned emigration failed, however, because the British refused to allow them to enter the country due to the difficult political situation in Palestine at the time.
So Alfred Katz returned to Frankfurt, where he continued his education in the “Anlernwerkstatt” on Fischerfeldstrasse to become a locksmith.
“Aryanization” of the cigar house Goethe-Eck
Siegfried Katz’s business was also affected by the increasing exclusion of Jews from economic life. In 1936 he had to give up the business founded in 1918 and sell it far below value. After the “Aryanization” of the Goethe-Eck cigar house, Siegfried Katz continued to work as a representative of the Feisst cigar factory and the Glücksmann tobacco factory in Berlin. At the end of 1937, he also had to stop this activity because, as a Jew, he was no longer able work as a salesman. However, Siegfried Katz did not want to leave Germany. “I’m the last one to lock up,” he replied when his daughter tried to persuade the parents to follow them to Holland.
The “June Action” in 1938
Months before the November pogrom in 1938, there were several arrests aimed at criminalizing Jews and forcing them out of Germany. The “June action” against “criminals and anti-socials” is considered a “rehearsal for the November pogrom.” Previously convicted Jews were arrested in a targeted manner. However, since the targeted number of arrests by convicted Jews could not be achieved, the authorities used the action as an opportunity to “get rid of all the unpleasant elements, as far as they are halfway within the scope of the action”. (in: Falludia: 61) 12,000 men were indiscriminately taken up in Germany with falsely constructed crime allegations and taken to the police station (Falludia: 64), including Siegfried Katz. As can be seen from the detention certificate of the Red Cross, Siegfried Katz was imprisoned in Buchenwald from June 14, 1938 to August 25, 1938. As a reason for his arrest there is mentioned: “Arbeitsscheu R. (Reich) Jude, preventive detainee”. On the “Reichsstubenkarte” had been noted “BV”, ie professional criminal, but was deleted and replaced by “ASR” (Arbeitsscheu Reich). Interestingly, the nationality of Siegfried Katz is given in this document as “formerly: German”.
Siegfried Katz did not speak about his traumatizing experiences in Buchenwald. Alfred remembered that his father didn’t tell much about his imprisonment in Buchenwald, only that he survived.
Siegfried Katz was released on the condition that he had to leave the country as quickly as possible. His daughter had managed to get an entry permit for him and her mother for the Netherlands, but not for her brother Alfred. The efforts of the tobacco trader to prepare his departure are shown in the “Application for the removal of moving goods”, which was received by the “Devisenstelle” (i.e. foreign exchange office) on November 1, 1938. Nevertheless, Siegfried Katz hesitated because he did not really want to leave the country in which he had lived for almost 50 years
“… after the Gestapo kindly accompanied me to the train”
Siegfried Katz had prepared all the formalities for the emigration, but this did not spare him the temporary arrest on November 10, 1938. First, his son Alfred, just 18 years old, was arrested, later also Siegfried Katz. A resident of the house, a dentist, had eagerly pointed out to the troops that a Jewish family still lived on the upper floor. Alfred and Siegfried Katz were brought to a police station and then to the Messehalle. Siegfried Katz was able to show a Gestapo guard his passport and prove, that his emigration was already prepared. The man took him aside, accompanied him to the train station, made him buy a ticket for the next train to Holland, checked whether Siegfried Katz actually appeared, and handed him his passport there. Finally, he instructed the conductor not to let Siegfried Katz get out until the Dutch border had been crossed. Siegfried Katz writes slightly ironically in a statement on the events during the November pogrom. “I went to Holland in November 1938 after the Gestapo kindly accompanied me to the train.” This was how Siegfried Katz saved his life because, according to his son Alfred, he would not have survived a second stay in a concentration camp.
Alfred Katz was loaded onto the trucks with the other men and brought to Frankfurt’s Südbahnhof, where they took a police-controlled special train to Weimar. A total of 3,000 men were arrested as part of the November pogrom in Frankfurt and brought to Buchenwald and Dachau. Alfred Katz remembers how degrading they were treated traveling from the Weimar train station to the Buchenwald concentration camp, how they were driven and beaten. In the camp itself, he tried to make himself useful, helped in the hospital or with the delivery of food. He particularly remembered how differently the prisoners dealt with the situation. While some were seeking comfort in prayer, Alfred and his friends were anti-religious and socialist.
Many of the detainees were known to Alfred. One of his uncles, who had served as a soldier in World War I, was released after two weeks, and Alfred remained interned for another six weeks.
Alfred’s sister Helene had in the meantime procured a visa for him to England, because a cousin of her husband lived there. This visa finally caused Alfred Katz’s release from Buchenwald on January 9, 1939. At the end of January, the time had come and he was able to leave Germany. Since he was unsure whether the British Council visa from Frankfurt was also recognized upon entry, Alfred Katz decided to fly. That seemed safer to him. In fact, there were problems when entering the country. However, the cousin’s wife, who was there to pick him up, was persistent and assertive, so that he was finally granted entry.
Betty Katz had stayed in Frankfurt until her son was released from the camp and he had arranged everything for his flight to England. A few days after him, she also left Germany and followed her husband to Holland.
Alfred Katz initially spent some time with relatives and was later sent to a refugee camp. There he waited for an entry permit for the United States, which seemed all the more urgent to him. He feared that after England entered the war, he would not have a secure future in Europe and therefore not in England.
On December 17, 1939, the time had finally come. Siegfried and Betty Katz left the port of Rotterdam on the SS Volendam. Their son Alfred boarded the next day, December 18, in Southampton. Before that, problems had arisen because Siegfried Katz’s German alien passport had expired on November 22, 1939. But he received a new Dutch alien passport, in which his Lithuanian origin was shown. Luckily they had managed to get an entry permit for the USA because of the lower number of Lithuanians seeking entry than Germans. In addition to the German identity documents, the new passport contained the original first names of Siegfried Katz, Markus Schmuel. When he emigrated from Germany, he had resumed his original name of Markus Katz
Arriving in the United States, Betty and Markus Katz moved to Chicago, where relatives already lived, with their son Alfred. After the war, Alfred settled in St. Louis. Markus Samuel Siegfried Katz died in his new home in 1956 at the age of 75.
For Herta, as Helene was called, her newly built life ended with the attack by the German army on Western Europe. Again Helene Wohlfarth became stateless, and her husband Siegfried lost his job. Herta now worked as a translator for an underground newspaper. In 1939 Siegfried Wohlfarth’s parents also emigrated to the Netherlands. There Victor Wohlfarth died a few months after the occupation of Holland on September 27, 1940. After the death of her husband, Betti Wohlfarth moved in with her son’s family. The family desperately tried to escape. Betti Wohlfarth could not withstand this pressure. She committed suicide on December 7, 1941. In her farewell letter, the 63-year-old said that she was too old to start a new life in another country and would rather give her money for visas and the trip to Cuba for her son and his family. Betti and Victor Wohlfarth are buried in the Jewish cemetery in Amsterdam. With the beginning of the deportations and the entry into war of the United States, the hope of being able to flee from Europe ended.
On July 15, 1942, the Wohlfarths received an ordered to be deported. They were told to go to a family camp, which is why they were urged to take their children with them. Herta was suspicious while her husband tried to comply. They decided to see if they could put off the order. Siegfried feigned an appendectomy. His wife started working as a cook in a nursing home. In the meantime, the couple planned to go underground with the help of the Dutch resistance movement. Since they could not take their daughter with them, they placed the child with a Christian childless couple. During his regular visit to the welfare organization, a middleman always picked up toys and clothes from Doris and delivered them to the foster family. To keep the place of hiding secret, Siegfried and Herta Wohlfarth only took their daughter Doris to a tram stop, from where she was taken to her foster parents. To make matters worse, Herta Wohlfarth had to accept the reproach from a neighbor: “What kind of bad mother are you? How can you give away your child?”
The couple had to change hiding places several times until they were discovered and arrested on August 25, 1944. At that time, they believed that the war would soon be over because the Allied troops had conquered Paris on the same day. Herta and Siegfried Wohlfahrt were subjected to an interrogation for two days because the Gestapo hoped that they would provide information about the networks of helpers. Then the couple was brought to Westerbork. The two were deported to Auschwitz four weeks later. Siegfried Wohlfarth died there on December 5, 1944. Herta Wohlfarth survived in a labor camp in Kratzau in Czechoslovakia, where she was liberated by the Russian army on May 9, 1945. Herta returned to the Netherlands because she hoped to find her daughter there. At first Doris did not recognize her emaciated and drawn mother from the camp. “Are you my mother?” she asked the woman, who seemed strange to her. Reunited with Doris, Herta Helene Wohlfarth emigrated to the United States in 1947, where the rest of the family lived. She would have preferred to stay in Holland, but her parents wanted the daughter and granddaughter to come to them. If her husband had survived, they would certainly have returned to Germany, said Helen Waterford when she visited Frankfurt in 1986.
We cannot live with hate
With her future husband, Helen Waterford returned to Europe for the first time in 1961 and visited the Netherlands, Auschwitz and Kratzau with him. Thanks to the suggestion of her brother, she started talking about her experiences during the Nazi era in 1979. A little later she appeared together with Alfons Heck, once an enthusiastic Hitler boy. At the invitation of the city of Frankfurt, Helen Waterford returned to her former home in 1986, a journey that she experienced with bitter but also pleasant feelings. “Somehow I feel at home here,” she said in her interview during the visit to Frankfurt. She said she didn’t feel hate. “We cannot live with hate,” she said.
The same thing happened to her younger brother Alfred. He returned to Germany for the first time as a soldier in the American army. “No, I don’t feel hate,” he said in an interview, “maybe sometimes I did, especially at the beginning”. He returned to Frankfurt several times since 1965 and found new friends there. However, when he met peers or older people, he kept asking himself: What did you do during the Nazi era? In 1993, the city of Frankfurt invited him to visit.
Unfortunately, poor health prevented the trip, and he died on August. 25, 1993. In his adopted home of
St. Louis, he was one of the founders of the Holocaust Museum, which officially opened in 1995.
Today, an installation in the Musterschule commemorates the former Jewish students who had to leave the school in 1933-1938.