In summer 1945, only a few weeks after liberation from the Nazi dictatorship, Georg Marcuse filed a missing person inquiry at the Berlin Jewish Community. He had not heard anything from his younger brother Erich and his family since the fall of the previous year. The mother of the two brothers had returned to Berlin from Theresienstadt feeling weak, but safe and sound. Meanwhile there was still no trace of Erich Marcuse, his wife Johanna and their six-year-old son Peter.
Missing person notice Missing person notice (1945-05/1945-09) by Georg MarcuseJewish Museum Berlin
Georg Marcuse had only a single lead: the family’s deportation from Theresienstadt ghetto in the fall of 1944. Were they still alive? Who had seen them? The missing person notice was posted to find answers to these questions. People were still returning from the concentration camps “in the East.” Georg Marcuse still cherished hope.
The Marcuse Family
Erich and Johanna Marcuse had been married for eight years. They probably met while they were working for the social welfare service. Erich’s brother Georg Marcuse and a colleague of Johanna’s acted as witnesses at their wedding in May 1937 at Berlin Registration Office. Johanna herself had no close family: she was born out of wedlock and her mother stayed single all her life.
Erich and Johanna Marcuse with their son Peter (1938) by unknownJewish Museum Berlin
Trusting in the future, Erich and Johanna Marcuse started a family in 1938 with the birth of their son Peter.
Birth certificate of Peter Marcuse (1938-08-05) by Berlin-Wedding Register OfficeJewish Museum Berlin
The Marcuses were still free to choose the name they wanted for their son. The law on changing family names and first names was passed two weeks after Peter’s birth. From then on, Jewish parents were obliged to name their newborn Jewish babies from a compulsory list of first names that stigmatized them as Jews.
For all their intense efforts, the Marcuse family was unable to leave Germany in time. Georg Marcuse was at least able to avoid deportation to a concentration camp because he was married to a non-Jewish woman. He had to do forced labor and was arrested during the so-called Factory Action on 27 February 1943, but was released shortly afterward. But his mother Rebecka was deported to Theresienstadt ghetto in March 1943. Erich Marcuse and his family arrived there just three months later.
Last Link With Home
After the family had been torn apart, the members kept in contact by sending postcards. The first card from the relatives back home arrived in December 1943. It helped that Erich Marcuse was assigned to work in the ghetto’s mailroom. Georg also regularly sent parcels from Berlin to Theresienstadt containing urgently needed items.
Erich Marcuse still had hopes of getting out of the camp somehow. After all, his wife Johanna was the illegitimate daughter of a non-Jewish man. Her status under Nazi racial law as a person of “mixed race, first degree” should have protected her from deportation. Hoping to save at least his wife and their son, Erich asked his brother to obtain the missing papers needed for verification. Georg Marcuse actually sent the documents of parentage to Theresienstadt by registered mail.
It took weeks for another message to arrive from Theresienstadt. Meanwhile the Marcuses tried to preserve the last vestiges of normality in the ghetto. But the documents they were desperately waiting for never arrived.
Postcard to Georg and Margarete Marcuse Postcard to Georg and Margarete Marcuse (1944-11-06) by Rebecka MarcuseJewish Museum Berlin
After a long interval, Georg Marcuse in Berlin received a card from his mother in November 1944. Her careful phrasing concealed the hidden message that Erich and his family had been deported to an unknown destination. “Regretfully no news of Erich and his family,” she wrote.
Liberation and Return
The Theresienstadt ghetto was liberated in May 1945. 67-year-old Rebecka Marcuse was among the survivors. It took several months, however, until she could return home to her family in Berlin.
The cards Rebecka Marcuse wrote to her family back home always expressed hope that she would find Erich’s family safe and well when she returned to Berlin. But as there was no trace and no news of her missing relatives, her joyful anticipation gradually became mingled with worry.
When she finally returned to Berlin, Rebecka Marcuse could embrace only her son Georg and his wife Margarete. The few survivors who returned from the concentration camps had no news of Erich, Johanna, and Peter. Georg Marcuse began actively to look for them. He started with the missing persons notice in the Jewish Community but it brought no results. In April 1945, the International Red Cross set up a tracing service and other organizations soon followed suit. In the subsequent years, the Marcuses focused all their hopes on the work of these services.
By summer 1946 the Jewish Community still had no information about the fate of Erich Marcuse and his family. By then various tracing services existed for them to consult.
Four years after the end of the war the authorities were finally able to discover, first of all, the fate of Erich Marcuse. He had perished in Dachau concentration camp shortly before the liberation. The date of death was later revised again.
The family finally established the fate of Erich Marcuse with absolute certainty in 1972. The Red Cross International Tracing Service reported that Erich Marcuse was separated from his wife and child and deported to Auschwitz in September 1944. Around the same time that Johanna and Peter also arrived in Auschwitz, he was deported again, this time to Dachau. He spent the last months of his life in Kaufering, a network of subsidiary concentration camps of Dachau. The exact circumstances of his death remain obscure.
That same year the family finally learned what had happened to Johanna and Peter Marcuse. After their deportation from Theresienstadt, they were murdered in Auschwitz—probably directly after they arrived.
Georg Marcuse died in 1994 at the great age of 93, and was buried in the cemetery in Berlin-Weissensee. No grave exists for his brother Erich and Erich’s wife and child. Today, however, they are commemorated by three stumbling stones placed on the street at their last home address, Gipsstrasse 3 in Berlin.
All documents and photographs:
Jüdisches Museum Berlin, Georg Marcuse Collection
Text and exhibit selection: Ulrike Neuwirth
Editor: Henriette Kolb, Jörg Waßmer, assistance: Lisa Schank
Translation: Karen Margolis
Proofreading: Julia Bosson
Photo reproduction: Jens Ziehe
We would like to express our sincere gratitude to the donor, Heike Kalz.