Transcript excerpt FZH / WdE 298, pp. 100-104, based on the slightly shortened audio excerpt from the interview with Steffi and Kurt Wittenberg, Part II, 8.1.1995, 3A, 00:24:00, interviewer: Sybille Baumbach.

English Translation

    Sybille Baumbach (SB): I would like to come to one more point, because um, it concerns the position of the mothers, women in the families, and the change that often went along with it after the family emigrated. Um, what you two say about the mothers, I've also heard from many other contemporary witnesses, namely that they said that the mothers were actually the more resilient on the whole ...
    Kurt Wittenberg (KW): You've heard that from others, too?
    Steffi Wittenberg (SW): Yes.
    SB: Yes. Yes. And eh, I, can you imagine, eh, with what eh, that eh, ...
    SW: Yes.
    SB: ... Is related to?
    SW: Yes, so women are already brought up to or were brought up to adapt. They are much more adaptable, a woman than a man. From the upbringing.
    SB: Yes.
    SW: Right.
    SB: Yes.
    SW: They were, I think, from childhood on, actually somehow brought up to somehow adapt to the man, because they can also adapt better to the circumstances. Much more than the man. And the man, he learned his profession and usually did nothing in the household.
    SB: Mh.
    SW: And the woman always did work around the house, she had to do the whole household, that was already her problem, that the household functioned.
    SB: [] Yes.
    SW: And eh, so, and the man, he had this one profession, like your father had, you had the leather goods business, you were both in it, but he was wedded to it, he did that for years. And now suddenly it was no longer there, this business, and now I think ...
    KW: Yes...
    SW: ... it was very difficult for him to start something new again.
    SB: Yes.
    SW: Well, besides, what was the age difference between the two of them? It wasn't so little, was it? Your mother was also younger?
    KW: She's 89, 9 and ... Yes, she was 12 years younger, my mother was.
    SW: Right, that's 12 years difference. She was 12 years younger.
    KW:  at the same time, unintelligible SW: at the same time That plays a big, that still plays ...
    SB: Yeah.
    SW: My mother was 8 years younger. That plays a big part, too.
    SB: You would confirm that for your mother too, Mrs. Wittenberg, wouldn't you?
    SW: Yes, but this, from the character point of view, it's not quite like that. My father was actually a communicative person. Eh, I know, I can only say that my mother was eh, ...
     Ringing can be heard in the background
    KW: He was more fun-loving, your father.
    SW: Yeah. But now, ...
    KW: ... than mine, he was friendlier.
    SW: Yes, he was a very friendly, communicative, funny man.
    KW:  at the same time a friendly man he was.
    SB: Yes.
    SW: So even with friends, both of them were actually, my mother was actually more reserved than he was. But if she decided to make friends, then she also became lively. But nevertheless she managed the everyday life better than my father. So she was the one who had initiative. He, his initiative was somehow also quite broken after eh, here eh, after his persecution, so after he left Germany.
    SB: Yes, yes.
    SW: Somehow he was torn out of this profession, and he was also inhibited eh, linguistically. He um, just couldn't adapt that way. That was difficult for him.
    SB: Yes. Yes.
    SW: So then they had this joint business, and they both did it together. My mother was the one, but eh, she was the one who was able to realize the sale better and certainly organized it better, the thing, the whole little business, that was their livelihood until later. They lived on it until the compensation came later. That was, of course, these pensions ... and so on, that was of course an important story afterwards, ...
    SB: A support.
    SW: ... economic, yes, that was an economic basis, as it was for many Jews there. It took care of a lot of their worries. Um, but at the time when it was really important to survive, my mother had more initiative and could manage better.
    SB: Yes.
    SW: She was better able to organize things
    SB: Did this lead to ...
    SW: She had more ideas.
    SB: ... changes within the family? So that the role of the mother was, so to speak, upgraded or became a different one, while that of the ...
    SW: Well, actually, I don't know, it actually stayed about the same.

    Source Description

    The source presented is an excerpt from a life history interview given by Steffi Wittenberg (1926-2015) on January, 5 and 8 and 19 July 1995 for the Workshop of Memory Werkstatt der Erinnerung, the oral history archive of the Research Centre for Contemporary History Forschungsstelle für Zeitgeschichte in Hamburg. The 68 or 69 year old talks about how her mother Margot Hammerschlag coped with the situation in emigration in Uruguay. Steffi Wittenberg’s husband Kurt Wittenberg, who knew the Hammerschlag family from his youth in the German-Jewish community in Montevideo, was also present at the interview. Since their joint return to Germany in 1951, the couple lived in Hamburg.

    The interview, conducted by Sybille Baumbach, has a total length of 245 minutes and is available as audio and transcript. It is preserved in the Workshop of Memory Werkstatt der Erinnerung with other documents such as the booklet from which the poem “Familie Hammerschlag [Family Hammerschlag] comes.

    Steffi Wittenberg grew up in the Hamburg district of Harvestehude as the child of a liberal Jewish family. Her brother Gerd was two and a half years older. It was only when the National Socialists came to power that belonging to Judaism became more important for the family. Steffi Wittenberg herself experienced early discrimination in 1934 at the Jahnschule (now Ida Ehre Schule), which she attended. Probably in reaction to the “Nuremberg Race Laws”, her parents transferred her to the Israelite Girls’ School Israelitische Töchterschule in autumn 1935. Here she experienced the so-called Polish Action of October 1938, the horrors of the November Pogrom and the subsequent mass flight from Germany. Her father and brother were already in Uruguay at the time. Steffi Wittenberg was in the 8th grade in school when she followed them with her mother in December 1939.

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    Recommended Citation

    Transcript excerpt FZH / WdE 298, pp. 100-104, based on the slightly shortened audio excerpt from the interview with Steffi and Kurt Wittenberg, Part II, 8.1.1995, 3A, 00:24:00, interviewer: Sybille Baumbach. (translated by Insa Kummer), edited in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, <> [May 20, 2024].