By: Lauren Leiderman
March 29, 2023
When people come to visit me in Görlitz, one of the first things they tend to notice is the majestic and grand view of the Görlitz Postplatz. It is one of these truly special places in Görlitz where one can see within the same view five completely different epochs of architecture. And incredibly, this view has changed very little over the last 100 years. Over the last three years, as I have worked with reconnecting Görlitz’s former Jewish residents and their families with the city, I have learned that this square also holds particularly difficult memories for some. These memories largely center around the rather stately red brick Prussian courthouse located on the square. It was on a Wednesday exactly 90 years ago today that something both unique and horrifying happened in the city of Görlitz. Let’s start with some background leading up to this fateful day.
March 1933 was a huge month of turning points in Germany. On March 5, 1933, the Nazis secured 43.9% of the vote, an improvement of almost 10% on the previous November’s election. Despite this improvement, however, the Nazis still did not command a majority in the Reichstag. On March 23, 1933, Hitler proposed the Enabling Law to the Reichstag. This new law gave Hitler the power to rule by decree rather than passing laws through the Reichstag and the president. On March 24, 1933, the Bill passed overwhelmingly by 444 votes for compared to the 94 against. Although President Hindenburg and the Reichstag continued to exist, Adolph Hitler could now govern by decree. This series of events was the kindle for the fire that was about to ensue.
On Wednesday, at 10:30AM on March 29, 1933, during a fresh spring day (not unlike today) a large mob of armed SA men sieged the Görlitz courthouse on Postplatz. The mob was led by lawyer Dr. Herbert Fritzsche. The mob ravenoulsy went through all of the rooms of the judge’s chambers, the lawyers’ chambers, and the courtrooms while screaming „Jews out“ as they swung rubber batons. The mob arrested all of the non-Aryan judges and lawyers who were in the building. Other Jewish lawyers were siezed from their private homes and offices.
Moritz Sommer was a practicing lawyer in Görlitz at this time. He lived at today’s James-von-Moltkestraße with his wife Margrete and their three daughters. Moritz was leaving for a business trip to Berlin on March 29, 1933. He only made it so far as Weißwasser when he was arrested and sent back to Görlitz. According to Moritz’s grandson Yoram, once in Görlitz, Moritz Sommer was forced to take of his shoes and walk barefoot from the Görlitz Bahnhof to the courthouse. He was then forced to wear a sign with the inscription: „We all read the Volkszeitung“.
The most often cited voice to talk about this day is that of novelist and lawyer Paul Mühsam- for whom Görlitz was home for many years. Paul Mühsam was understandably horrified by what was happening in his home. Paul later recalled: „After everyone had formed up, the procession started moving in single file…After we had been sufficiently led through the city, the procession landed in front of the city hall. There, a particularly large number of Nazis had gathered at the entrance, and before we marched in, everyone quickly gave out their memorized proverb. The last thing I heard echoing after entering the building was: “Off to Palestine! Free ticket!” (Source: Ich bin ein Mensch gewesen, Paul Mühsam, Bleicher Verlag, 1989)
Paul Mühsam was not alone. He was arrested alongside fellow members of the Jewish Community of Görlitz including: lawyers Dr. Hans Karger, Max Cronheim, Moritz Sommer, Andreas Meyer, Dr. Alfred Kunz, Dr. Benno Arnade, Heinrich Getzel, Ludwig Arndt, judge Dr. Eric Schwenk, dentist Dr. Fritz Warschawski, Carl Wallach owner of the Wallach shoe store in the Strassburg Passage, Fritz Rauch owner of the Rauch shoe store at Berlinerstraße 61, and Franz Schalscha a manager at the Karstadt department store. These men (among others) were arrested and imprisoned in the basement of the Görlitz City Hall, for no reason other than the crime of being Jewish. According to contemporary news sources from the time, a total of 37 Jewish men were arrested on this day. Görlitz‘s Jewish doctors were spared this defamatory march. Rumors must have been spreading thorughout the city of Görlitz, because these Jewish doctors were saved from this violent, vulgar and humilating day due to action from their non-Jewish Union Representative who warned the doctors ahead of what was to happen.
There are a few other unique accounts of this day that have not been recorded by the Görlitz‘s archivist and historians. One of these accounts comes from the Shoah Foundation’s testimonial video with Ernst Reich. Ernst Karl Adolf Reich was born in Löbau on May 30, 1922. He and his family relocated to Görlitz in the early 1930s when Ernst was still a child. Ernst lived at Emmerichstraße 78 on the first floor. Ernst first attended the Reichenbacher School, an elementary school in Görlitz. Ernst said that these first years were wonderful because he had equal rights and no one called him ugly names. Ernst recalls that he first noticed “being Jewish” from his neighbors in the building at Emmerichstraße 78. Ernst said that when the persecution of Jews officially began in early 1933, that his neighbors behaved terribly toward him and his parents. One New Year’s Eve 1932, one family stuffed the Reich’s letter box with goose feathers and hung a big sign on their door that said: “Guten Rutsch ins Konzentrationslager” (“Happy New Year in the concentration camp”). Ernst says: “They harassed my parents on the street and threw my father off the street into the gutter. He was already 80 years old. And they said: Jews have no business on the sidewalk. It was different in Görlitz than in Löbau.” In 1933, Ernst was admitted to secondary school at the school on Seydewitzstraße in Görlitz- and this is where the harassment really started. Ernst remembers that around the time he started secondary school, all of the teachers were wearing the Nazi arm band, and more and more of his classmates were coming to school in the Hitler Youth uniform. Here, Ernst was not allowed anymore to attend religious classes. He was forced to wait outside the classroom while the other pupils received their lesson. Ernst was walking through the city center on March 29, 1933, when he saw something that would stay with him for the rest of his life.
Ernst says: “They paraded them through the whole city. A large train of people: right and left SA and in the middle always a Jew. At first I think the local Görlitz citizens were a bit frightened. But the SA made sure that the right climate was created, and soon our non-Jewish neighbors were insulting the Jews from all sides.” The historian Roland Otto said that SA mob could be heard yelling in a rehearsed chorus: “The Jew was, the evil spirit; greedy, greasy, cheeky, and brazen. The snake that we raised and that constantly cheated on us”. The Reich family could not believe what was happening in their city.
The growing spread of hatred against German Jewish citizens was not unique to Görlitz. Court houses were occupied and Jewish judges and lawyers were arrested on March 9, 1933 in Chemnitz, on March 11, 1933 in Breslau (today Wrocław, Poland); on March 18, 1933 in Oels (today Oleśnica, Poland); on March 24, 1933 in Gleiwitz (today Gliwice, Poland) ; on March 28 in Frankfurt/Main, Duisburg, Dortmund and Hagen; and on March 29 in Görlitz and Münster. However, what has stunned me about what happened in Görlitz on March 29, 1933, was the international media attention it garnered. I was able to find mentions of what had happened in Görlitz in international newspaper archives from America, Great Britain, Australia and Canada! Think about that: international media attention about what had happened in a relatively small German city. Görlitz was not the very first time something like this had happened, but it horrific/infamous enough to receive international news coverage while other cities were not mentioned.
The events of March 29, 1933, would prove to be a personal turning point in the lives of many of Görlitz’s Jewish citizens. The Lord Mayor of Göritz, Wilhelm Duhmer, who had been in office since October 9, 1931, was no friend of the Nazi party. When he returned from a business trip on the evening of March 30, 1933, he discovered that many Görlitz Jewish citizens had been locked up in the basement of the town hall. He managed to get the majority of those arrested released again by telephone calls to the regional government in Liegnitz (today Legnica, Poland) and also “on his own account”. Historian Roland Otto said: “One can imagine how badly the Nazis blamed OB Duhmer for courageously intervening in favor of the disciplined Jewish citizens. Finally, in the spring of 1934, he was put on leave and forced to take early retirement with effect from June 1, 1934.” Another non-Jewish Görlitz citizen who helped Görlitz’s Jewish citizens during this time was the lawyer Dr. Walter Schade. Walter campaigned for the release of the his persecuted Jewish colleagues on March 29, 1933. During the third Reich, he continued to advocate for Görlitz’s Jewish citizens as a lawyer, even though this was technically illegal. When his Jewish colleague, Heinrich Getzel and Heinrich’s non jewish-wife Anna-Liesbeth were kicked out of their apartment in 1944, Heinrich Getzel took them in. We also have a letter from Dr. Benno Arnade testifying to the help and support that Dr. Schade gave to him and others. This is the first time I have come across Dr. Walter Schade in my research into Görlitz’s Jewish story, and I am very interested to learn more about this non-Jewish man who never-the-less supported Görlitz’s Jewish citizens in a time when it was both dangerous and un-pouplar for him to do so.
Many Görlitz Jewish citizens fled Görlitz following the maccabre events of March 29,1933. According to Shoshana Karger her mother Liese quickly went to an Aryan judge who was a family friend and pleaded with him to help secure Hans Karger’s release from prison. Shoshana said that one week after Hans‘ release, she and her parents fled Görlitz for safety in British Mandate Palestine. Paul Mühsam, Andreas Meyer, and Dr. Fritz Warschawski also fled Görlitz for British Mandate Palestine before 1933 came to an end. The Cronheim family left Görlitz for safety in the larger city of Berlin. Franz Schalscha fled Görlitz for Italy. Dr. Heinrich Getzel was able to survive the 1941 deportation of all of Görlitz’s remaining Jewish citizens to Tormersdorf due to his marriage to a non-jewish woman. He died near Görlitz in 1944. Dr. Benno Arnade (a Jewish man who had converted to Christianity) survived the Holocaust and is today buried in the municipal cemetery.
Carl Wallach died much too soon the following year on Christmas Eve 1934. We can only assume that the stress of events such as what happened on March 29, 1933, and being forced to give up his life work, his shoe store in the Strassburg Passage contributed to his early death. He is buried in the Görlitz Jewish Cemetery.
Though this event happened 90 years ago today, its reverberations are still felt by the Jewish families around the world whom were affected by it. What this one day has reminded me as an individual, is how fragile our societies and institutions are: the same ones that are supposed to protect the security and rights of all people. March 29, 1933, shows how these institutions can be turned against a segment of society, and emphasizes the need for all, especially those in leadership positions, to reinforce humanistic values that protect and preserve free and just societies. I think especially of young Ernst Reich: how he describes the crowd of local Görlitzers, and their reaction going from one of horror to to one of active and eager participation. How the memories of this day were embedded in his memory even as an 80-year-old man. I hope that when put to the test, we might all be able to be brave like the example of Dr. Walter Schade.
Beautifully written, Lauren. You are always so great at shining a spotlight on unknown, but impactful moments in history.
Lauren you so eloquently bring to light a portion of Gorlitz’s Jewish history that very few people are aware of.
Dearest Lauren. This is truly an amazing piece of Gorlitz history that you have shared with us. Your ability to uncover and bring to light these unknown/forgotten pieces of history is remarkable.
so sad to read about what happened to innocent people and especially one’s neighbors participating in this hatred.
Thank you Lauren for this excellent and important piece of research. I remember sitting out in the sunshine in that square, oblivious to the sinister events that you have now recounted. Very heartening that there were people like Duhmer and Schade who didn’t stand by.