Born in Lautenberg, East Prussia in 1912, Theodor’s family moved with him to Berlin after 1919 because their province became part of the new state of Poland. His mother died soon after and his father remarried. At fifteen he became an apprentice in a department store, but lost his job when Hitler came to power and Jewish businesses were forced to close. His father’s shop also went out of business and, with his brother, he sold neckties on the streets. Theodor met his wife Rosa at a spa where she was employed. They were married in 1937 and not long afterwards, Theodor took his wife and her two sisters to Hamburg where they boarded a ship for America. Rosa was already pregnant with her daughter Barbara, who was born in Louisville and is now a retired teacher in Dayton and a member of the Holocaust Education Committee. The sisters settled with relatives in Louisville, Kentucky. Joseph returned to Rosa’s hometown near the French border to prepare the rest of her family for emigration. Rosa’s parents were able to leave as well, arriving in the States in September 1938.
Theodor was still in Germany at the time of Kristallnacht, working at a moving and packing firm in Berlin. With help from his employer and others, he was able to avoid arrest for two and a half years.
He was granted an emigration visa in March 1941 because he had relatives in the United States, and travelled here by way of Lisbon. Later he learned that all of his family had died in concentration camps in Poland. In Louisville, he and his wife, apart for seven years, were unable to resume their marriage and soon separated. But they later reunited and became parents of a second daughter in 1948. Barbara was raised by relatives and after graduating from college took her younger sister in. Theodor returned to Berlin in 1961 to seek reparations. The family did not hear from him again until 1984, when he was reunited with Barbara. He died in 1987, and Rosa died in Dayton in 1998.
Berlin was the old capital of Prussia and, after 1871, of united Germany. During the Nazi era it was home to thousands of high-ranking military and civil officials, the headquarters of the SS and SA, and for a time, the real nerve center of Europe. Berlin suffered hundreds of Allied bombing raids between 1940 and 1945 – some 76,000 tons of explosives, five times the power of the first atom bomb. Berlin was largely rubble when the Soviet army marched in on May 1, 1945.