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Diary of Adolf Guttentag

Guttentag, Adolf Diary 1942
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

In 1942, Adolf Guttentag was a physician in his early seventies who lived in Berlin with his wife Helene. Their son Otto had already fled Nazi rule and immigrated to the United States. Life had been getting more and more difficult for the Guttentags and other German Jewish families ever since the Nazi Party rose to power in 1933. Many German Jews came to believe that there was little future for them under the Third Reich after the organized anti-Jewish violence of November 1938—often referred to as Kristallnacht—and the beginning of World War II in 1939. In October 1941, German authorities started deporting Jewish residents of Berlin to ghettos in eastern Europe—and ultimately to the killing centers of German-occupied Poland.

As the threat to the Guttentags' survival became more immediate, Adolf Guttentag kept a diary to record his thoughts. He addressed the diary entries to his son Otto with the hope that it would eventually reach him in San Francisco. Adolf's diary is a powerful example of the impact that Nazi anti-Jewish policies had on individuals and families during this period.

The genocidal plans of the Nazi regime were not well known to the general public at the time, but the sudden deportations were clearly cruel, dangerous, and possibly life-threatening—especially for the elderly or those with health concerns. Adolf speculated about the transportation and working conditions, thought about possible scenarios of their postwar life, and listed real-life deportation experiences that his Jewish friends and family experienced.

The Guttentags struggled to accept the difficult realities of deportation, but the situation seemed increasingly hopeless. They dreamed of receiving some type of exemption, and they tried to imagine what life would be like after the war was over and the Nazi regime had been destroyed. But the pressures grew worse, and the Gestapo visited them on October 12, 1942. Faced with imminent deportation, Adolf and Helene decided to take control of their own fates. On October 16, they chose to die by suicide. The final entry in Adolf's diary was likely made as they ingested the poison that ended their lives. The handwriting at the end of the diary is barely legible, but the final passage states calmly that "the physician Dr. A. Guttentag died. He had a good and happy life."1

For an overview of Jewish responses to Nazi anti-Jewish policies in Germany, including suicide, see Marion Kaplan, Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998); for a detailed study of suicide in Nazi Germany, including Jewish suicide, see Christian Goeschel, Suicide in Nazi Germany (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

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August 31, [19]42

On August 23 I told you about the neurologist who expected to be evacuated. He could not face the prospect of being deported to an old people’s home or something else in Poland, and he took his own life yesterday. Like many, many others, he could not decide whether to go on living, because he would have to give up what little freedom we all still have, and he no longer had an opportunity to contribute and dedicate himself to something. This question, too, now faces many, especially older people, to which group we also belong—I at almost 74, Mutti correspondingly younger. One must make this decision: would it be possible to leave Germany after the end of the war, relocate to where you are, live with you, without means, and perhaps also earn a little something that could make life in your home easier[?] If later on that is not permitted here at all, in the best case we would be put in an old people’s home, where, of course, only the most basic necessities of life would be permitted. They [the homes] are different in different areas, some are in the barracks of a former fortress in Bohemia, others in villages in Poland. Because of this uncertainty about their fate, many older people in particular decide to end their lives, especially those who cannot hope to be taken in by members of their families abroad once the war is over. These, then, are the options: During the war, nobody gets out of Germany. If the outcome of the war is favorable for Germany, some of us will have to continue to live in a ghetto—whatever its form. Others can emigrate, at someone else’s expense, should that be permitted at all after the end of the war. 2) [sic] These are the options facing all those who can be given notice to vacate their apartments here at any time, because in that case they have to be prepared for evacuation. If we are given notice, we, too, have to make that decision. 1) [sic] If the war ends unfavorably for Germany, nobody who is considered non-Aryan will stay here, assuming they are still alive [...]



Sunday, September 27, 1942

Our worries mount. The transports are operating steadily, taking the older people to Theresienstadt but the younger ones capable of work, to Poland. There, living conditions are said to be much more unpleasant. I nonetheless go back and forth, wondering whether I should decide to go along to Th[eresienstadt] after all. Even transportation to the local collection point, where one is detained and checked for a few days, is unpleasant. You are driven there, with your hand luggage, in a moving van. There you get food, and there your luggage is examined. Very specific necessities are permitted [...] We will carry the hand luggage, the other suitcase, containing the necessary bed linen and suits, goes by rail. We have to leave the keys on the bags so that they can inspect what we are taking along. Whether everything will be there when we arrive is another question!! Gradually I try to imagine such a life in Theresienstadt [...]


October 1, 1942

[...] Now fate has caught up with Uncle Ernst, too. Yesterday afternoon he was informed that he was to be ready tomorrow morning from 8:00 a.m. on; he would be picked up and evacuated together with his relative, Miss Lise N. (who has kept house for him). It is never divulged where they are going, presumably somewhere in Bohemia. He had always been determined not to go; he wanted to end his life because of his more and more frequent and painful heart troubles, which can only be interpreted as angina pectoris [...] At night, he presumably injected himself and Miss N. with morphine and took Veronal. Since it has now been at least 15 hours since he took the medicines, it can be assumed that the result will be absolutely fatal, and any resuscitation, which everybody fears, is impossible.


October 2, [19]42.

Miss N. had already died last night, but Uncle Ernst had not. He was taken to the hospital (we may be taken only to the Jewish Hospital) and was still alive this morning. Susel had become convinced that her father could not act differently, and she is quite calm about his passing. He was unusually gifted, with a streak of originality, full of ideas and able to pursue them. He was kind, charming, and understanding of the aspirations of others. As his complaints were increasing and his stamina decreasing at the age of 80, he had the right to depart from life. Susel says his favorite activity was to teach young physicians. He died on October 3, [19]42. I will copy the death notice later; I have to wait until the body is released for burial by the police [...]


October 12

On October 12, the Gestapo came. They immediately took our landlady and her family away (without us knowing the reason) and then they demanded to see our identity cards, took them away from us, and ordered us to Burgstrasse, Room 308 (that is the Gestapo). They also asked why we had not been evacuated earlier. Generally no one who is sent there is released [...] We had imagined it all differently, but that was not to be [...]


October 16

On October 16, the physician Dr. A. Guttentag died. He had a good and happy life.

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
RG Number 10.216
Date Created
August 31, 1942 to October 16, 1942
Page(s) 15
Author / Creator
Adolf Guttentag
Berlin, Germany
Document Type Diary
How to Cite Museum Materials

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