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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, living with his wife Helene in Berlin. Fleeing Nazism, their son Otto had emigrated to the United States. Like other Jews in Germany in the aftermath of the Kristallnacht, and especially after the beginning of the war in 1939, the Guttentags situation was deteriorating and gradually becoming untenable. The disgrace of being publicly marked as Jews and the petty humiliations in everyday situations were augmented by murderous official antisemitic rhetoric that permeated every sphere of public life. Then in October 1941, the Nazi authorities started deporting Berlin Jews to ghettos in Eastern Europe, later to Theresienstadt, and to the killing centers in occupied Poland, and the threat to the Guttentags became palpable and immediate.

Adolf Guttentag kept a diary, recording his thoughts during this fateful period. He wrote the diary in the second person singular, addressing his son Otto, and hoping that the diary would ultimately reach Otto in San Francisco. The diary is a poignant example of the impact the Nazi measures had on many German Jews in this period. The Nazi "Final Solution" that had been underway at the time of Guttentag's writing was still a secret to most ordinary people, and Jews saw deportations largely as cruel and possibly life-threatening measures that would bring them to overcrowded and unhygienic ghettos and force them into back-breaking labor. While unable to foresee a genocidal program, the possibility of deportation to an unknown place in "Poland" or "Bohemia" that the Guttentags now faced was nevertheless an urgent concern that they could not stop obsessing about: they were anticipating the inevitable, and the hope that they might somehow be exempted from deportations faded with time. Guttentag speculated about transport and work conditions, thought about possible scenarios of their postwar life, and listed real-life deportation experiences that his Jewish friends and family had gone through.

In the end, however, the long-term psychological pressure and a visit from the Gestapo on October 12, 1942 finally broke the Guttentags. Faced with imminent deportation, Adolf and Helene decided to take control of their own deaths. On October 16, they committed suicide. Adolf noted in the diary, either already having taken poison or just before taking it—the almost illegible handwriting at the end of the diary hints at emotional or physical distress—that "the physician Dr. A. Guttentag died. He had a good and happy life."1

For an overview of Jewish responses to the 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
Guttentag, Adolf
Language(s)
German
Location
Berlin, Germany
Document Type Diary
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