We know that Erna Twelkemeyer came to Berlin as early as the spring of 1939 because the census took place at that time. When the survey forms and supplementary cards were collected from the Berlin apartments in May 1939, the Jewish couple Lola and Luis Lauter, who lived at 124 Kantstrasse, stated that Erna Twelkemeyer lived with them. The supplementary cards were filled out by the main tenants themselves. Since the Lauters stated that Erna Twelkemeyer, a Jewess, was also part of the household at the time, she was apparently a guest or sub-tenant of her Berlin great-aunt, Lola. Officially, however, she was still married to Hermann Twelkemeyer and registered with the authorities in Nordhausen.
The later fate of her hosts, the great-aunt and the great-uncle, was deportation to Kowno (Kaunas), Fort IX. This was a Nazi-extermination site in Lithuania, where Lithuanian Jews and, after the deportations had begun, Germans– including Berlin Jews– were murdered in mass shootings. The Lauter couple were among the early victims of Nazi extermination. On November 17 1941, the sixth East German transport brought the two of them– 59 and 65 years old– from Berlin to Kowno. Both died there in one of the massacres eight days later, on 25 November.
But back in the spring of 1939, they took their grand-niece from Thuringia into their Charlottenburg apartment. Erna lived there– and a year after the November pogrom, she was divorced from Hermann Twelkemeyer on 12 December 1939.
Also officially Erna now moved from Nordhausen to Berlin. From 14.04.1940 her new address in the files of the authorities was 4 Gervinusstrasse, second floor. There she lived as a sub-tenant with the Singer family. Due to the separation from her Christian husband, Erna Twelkemeyer had lost her financial livelihood; when she was married she had worked in the office of the delicatessen shop in Nordhausen. This was reported by her daughter, who up to the age of seven was brought up more by her nanny and grandmother than by her working mother. Now in Berlin her mother Erna probably had nothing but her savings after the divorce at the end of 1939. She was in precarious circumstances, as were many others at that time.
Between 1940 and 1942 Erna Twelkemeyer seems to have applied for emigration. She wanted to emigrate to Colombia, where a number of her maternal Jewish relatives already lived. The archive of the Jewish aid organization – Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) – contains a document on the subject. Peter Lobbenberg in London found it and sent it to me.
The Transmigration Bureau of JDC in New York notes the “Case 12042” on a file card. This office was responsible for arranging the departure of Jews from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg. Its main task was to accept and administer sums of money that relatives deposited for their Jewish family members persecuted in Europe. The funds mainly served to meet the expected travel costs. According to this document, Dr. Gustave Heilbrunn deposits a guaranteed sum of unknown amount in Cali, Colombia, Apartamento No. 43 as “Depositor” for Erna Twelkemeyer. He was probably a relative or good friend of the family; at home in Nordhausen 2 am Schackenhof lived the brothers Leon and Bruno Heilbrunn, who were both merchants.
Since Erna as a beneficiary was not yet described by her later surname Baruch, but rather as Erna Twelkemeyer, the time of the departure attempt can be narrowed down somewhat more precisely. She probably tried to emigrate in the course of 1940. One thing is certain: the attempt failed. The situation of her second husband Max Baruch seems to have been even more tragic. According to his first wife, he could have left the country:
“My husband and I separated in July 1941. He had an affidavit to emigrate to a safe country and we believed we could save certain things for him and for me if we divorced him before his emigration.“
Many, especially Jewish women in Germany, had been dependent on social welfare since the so called “Reichskristallnacht” (Crystal Night of the Reich). At the same time, the economy of the German Reich was booming. A shortage of workers became apparent. In December 1938, the president of the Reichsanstalt für Arbeitsvermittlung und Arbeitslosenversicherung, Friedrich Syrup, ordered the „“Closed Work Assignment“ for unemployed and welfare-supported Jews:
“The state has no interest in leaving the labour force of the unemployed Jews unused and, under certain circumstances, supporting them from public funds without consideration. The aim should be to accelerate the employment of all unemployed and employable Jews […]. The employment takes place in enterprises, operating departments, with buildings Meliorationen [n.b. drainage works on building areas and foundation soils. Melioration actions such as digging channels would keep the ground dry. It was really hard physical work.] etc. separately from the following.“
What was euphemistically called a “closed work assignment” was nothing other than Jewish forced labour. Erna Baruch also had to do it. The Nazis had noticed in mid-1939 that the proportion of male Jews who could be compulsorily recruited was stagnating. Now the focus shifted increasingly to female Jews. Jewish women were often not registered as unemployed at that time because they had not previously been employed. Before 1933 their husbands had raised the family income on their own. However, the displacement of Jewish men into unemployment meant that women also became dependent on welfare. From 1939, the last rights to social assistance in Germany were withdrawn from Jews who were able to work. Women, too, were now obliged to register at the special employment offices. The office was in Berlin Grunewald, on 15 Fontanepromenade. The street was named after the famous German auther Fontane; however it was not for nothing that the Berlin Jews called it the “Schikanepromenade”. ‘Schikane’ means to bully, to chivvy, to mess with someone. The Nazi authorities in Schikane/Fontane-Promenade 15 determined in which factories the Berlin Jews had to perform forced labour. Those Jews who were particularly disliked by the Nazis were assigned the most strenuous, dangerous or dirty jobs – in other words, the authorities ‘schikaneerd’ them. Other Jews who, for example, paid bribes to the Nazis got better jobs. Jewish women such as Erna Baruch could now be assigned to compulsory work at the discretion of the authorities, not least in factories important for the war with high health risks. And the Siemens AG was desperately and intentionally searching for Jewish women.
-  Chief Finance President Berlin-Brandenburg (II) Vermögensverwertungsstelle Akte Twelkemeyer née Herrmann. Brandenburg State Main Archive. Rep. 36 A II No. 38369
-  File Twelkemeyer in the JDC-Online Archive: http://search.archives.jdc.org/search.asp?lang=ENG&dlang=ENG&module=search&page=criteria&rsvr=4¶m=%3Cuppernav%3Ecomplex%3C/%3E¶m2=&site=ideaalm
-  Letter from Ella Ankermann to family Herrmann in Cali, Colombia from 1.9.1957. In: Darling Mutti. Edited and compiled by Joan Marshall. Jacana Book. Johannesburg 2005 p.78 ff
-  Gruner, Wolf: The Closed Work Deployment of German Jews. Zur Zwangsarbeit als Element der Verfolgung 1938-1943. Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1997 Series Documents, Texts, Materials Published by the Zentrum für Antisemitismusforschung der Technischen Universität Berlin. Volume 20.) S. 45