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Letter from Amalie Malsch to Wilhelm Malsch

The Nazi Party's rise to power in 1933 began a dramatic change in the situation of German Jews.1 The new regime's project to reshape society to fit Nazi ideas about race and national unity excluded many people from the so-called "national community" ("Volksgemeinschaft"). Antisemitism in Germany was not new, but Jews were increasingly marginalized from German society under radical Nazi anti-Jewish policies.2 In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws legally defined Jews in terms of race and ancestry and stripped them of German citizenship.3 While Jews were increasing marginalized, there remained for some time a separate social realm in which it was possible to exist with some kind of normalcy. Although German Jews faced legal and social discrimination, they did not yet face systematic anti-Jewish violence.

This changed in November 1938 when the first nationwide, state-sponsored anti-Jewish violence occurred under Nazi rule. These pogroms have since become known as Kristallnacht. More than 100 Jews were murdered in acts of mob violence during Kristallnacht, many more died in its aftermath, and others were driven to suicide.4 Jewish property was destroyed in practically every town and village in the Reich. Kristallnacht also dispelled Jewish hopes that life in Germany was possible under Nazi rule. After the pogrom, most Jews remaining in Germany started thinking seriously about emigration. Visas, affidavits of support, passports, consulates, travel agencies, cargo, and other words and concepts related to emigration became part of everyday Jewish vocabulary.5

Paul and Amalie Malsch from Düsseldorf were among many Jews in the Reich who were looking for a chance to leave the country after Kristallnacht. A sales manager for a leather goods manufacturer, Paul had been arrested along with tens of thousands of other Jewish men in the aftermath of the pogrom. He was sent to the Dachau concentration camp, but he was released after some time. Their son, Wilhelm (or, as he was known in the United States, William), had immigrated to the US and was living with his uncle in New York. In a series of letters to Wilhelm, the Malsches wrote about their life in Düsseldorf and the daily struggles they confronted, including frustrations with bureaucratic obstacles, emotional strains, and grave uncertainties about the future.

Unfortunately, the Malsches' efforts to emigrate failed. In the fall of 1941, they were deported to the Łódź ghetto. They were murdered in Chełmno in 1942.6 They were both in their fifties.

Jews represented about 600,000 of 65 million citizens in Germany in 1933, hailed mostly from the middle class, and were well integrated in German society. For a history of Jewish life in Nazi Germany, see Marion Kaplan, Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).

To learn more about policies targeting Jews during the first several years of Nazi rule, see the Experiencing History collection, Exclusion of Jews in Nazi Germany.

"Race science" was a phenomenon of the late 19th century, and racial antisemitism (as opposed to longstanding, religiously based anti-Jewish prejudices) was a relatively new and dangerous concept that became easily mobilized for political purposes. For more detail on concepts of "the science of race," see the USHMM Holocaust Enyclopedia. For more on how Jews themselves understood race and identity in the period, see Mitchell B. Hart, ed., Jews & Race: Writings on Identity & Difference, 1880-1940 (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2011).

For a detailed history of Kristallnacht and its aftermath, see Alan Steinweis, Kristallnacht 1938 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009).

In the fall of 1941, the legal channel of Jewish emigration from the Reich was abolished, largely eliminating this as a potential path of survival for German Jews.


For a history of the Chełmno camp, see Shmuel Krakowski, Chełmno, A Small Village in Europe: The First Nazi Mass Extermination Camp (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2009).

Hilfsverein der Deutschen Juden: the Aid Association of German Jews.

"Summons" refers to invitations for an interview at the U.S. Consulate in Stuttgart.

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Düsseldorf, April 4, 1939

My dear Willy! To date, I still haven't received any mail from you, although the Bremen came in yesterday. In the meantime, you’ve surely gotten our last, detailed letter of March 30, sent via the Europa. This morning we already got a reply from the Hilfsverein in Stuttgart.1 You have copies of what we sent there, of course. Once again, the letter from the Hilfsverein is very sad for us. They write, among other things, that ["]Sponsorships No. 3 and 4 were filled out not by relatives but by friends. In that case, your sponsors, who are not related to you, are required to send the consulate a sworn statement, made before a notary, in which they state that they know you are hard of hearing and that they make their pledge in full awareness of that fact, and are prepared to vouch for you in times of health and illness, and also during times of unemployment or inability to work. Moreover (see attachment), they also would have to make a detailed explanation of why—as they are not related to you—they are taking on the obligation of sponsorship. We do not advise you to inform the consulate of your work-related plans, unless you can provide some evidence that it is your own independent venture. It is very regrettable that your case is being delayed, but we see no possibility of altering this in any way. The quota for the 1938/39 quota year is exhausted in April, and no more quota numbers are available, so that in the last two months of the old quota year, May and June, no letters of summons for the German quota can be sent out.2 Your reservation, of course, will continue in force [and] once your paperwork is complete and approved by the consulate, nothing stands in the way of the issuance of a visa, presumably in July. We assume that your relatives and friends in the States will see to it that you are not in need during the period of the delay. Respectfully["] Now you know the main content of the letter.

What are we going to do here, and what are we going to keep living on, we certainly don't have any idea what will happen now. Soon we'll be completely ruined, absolutely everything is going wrong for us, you know. Will we ever see each other again? Darling child, that's my greatest sorrow, there’s no longer any ray of sunlight for us. Only the hope of seeing you again soon has kept us going thus far. Then there's also the concern that you write so little. We can't perish here, after all. Can you tell me, please, just what should we do and what is supposed to happen? Don't let us down, dear child. Papa doesn't know anything about this letter, I have to keep his spirits up, and my own heart is about to break from grief. I feel very sorry for poor, good Papa, with his ear. But you must continue to help us, whatever happens.

Wednesday, [April] 5. No mail came today either, yesterday I talked to Artur's mother, A. has already written again, you probably can't imagine how I feel whenever I hear how often other children write home. Papa has gone to Vryna [?], so I’m taking the opportunity to write more again. Papa said just yesterday, if our only child doesn't even take time to write every Sunday, then I don't know what I still have to say, then I don't have any confidence either. Instead of him writing us clearly and plainly what's going on with the sponsorships, we have to make guesses about everything here and month after month goes by, and on top of it all we're getting sick from sheer worry. Dear fellow, I've certainly written you enough about your failure to write, I'm completely tired out in general, soon I won't be able to go on anymore, I also have to cheer Papa up, and inside I'm on the point of collapse, not letting any of all this show outwardly is intolerable. What is to become of us, that's what I ask myself a hundred times a day. Once I start thinking about it, it's all over, sometimes I try to totally blank out my thoughts, but I simply can't manage to do so, and I keep on wondering what is to become of us, sometimes I imagine the worst. The rent also has to be paid on time, and we have to live too. Dear fellow, I beg you with all my heart as your mother, write and tell us what's going on with you, I've often written that something must not be right with you. Why do you always beat around the bush in your letters, I read a lot between the lines, you don't come out and say it. After all, you wrote regularly before you went to Chicago. You're 26 years old now, and you certainly know what you want. Papa will write you on his own about the Stuttgart letter on the other side of the page. So, now you know more or less everything that's going on with us here. I have to have at least one person in the world, after all, to whom I can pour out my heart at times, so don't take my words amiss, I'm too distraught. Sometimes I think you've already half forgotten us, I simply can't account for how you're acting. Up to now you haven't even asked us what we're living on.

Friday, April 7. Dear Papa has just sent you the original letter from the Hilfsverein. Yesterday he wrote to your work address. Today, again, there's no mail from you. I won't say another word about it now, enough certainly has been written on this topic. If you just don't have any time for us, then I have nothing more to say. I've reached the end, and I've complained to you long enough now. Let us know whether you've gotten all the letters. Later on, after this letter is mailed, I'll tell Papa that I wrote you on my own.

So for today, 1,000 hugs and kisses, stay well and healthy, your ever-loving


Also let us know whether you got the letter sent to you at work.


Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Accession Number 1994.A.0027.1
Date Created
April 4, 1939
Author / Creator
Amalie Malsch
Düsseldorf, Germany
Reference Location
Stuttgart, Germany
Chicago, IL, USA
Long Island, NY, USA
Document Type Letter
How to Cite Museum Materials

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