Preparing to leave Germany

Fred Marcus

Fred Marcus

Following the devastation of the Kristallnacht pogrom, the restrictions limiting Jewish participation are turned into policies of complete exclusion of Jews from economic and civic life in Germany. Semmy Marcus and his brother Martin are forced to sell their business to Germans for next to nothing. At the same time, Jewish children are completely banned from attending public schools.

Because of the poor health of Gertrud Marcus, the Marcuses can not consider leaving Germany. Her death in July 1938 leaves Semmy and Fred bereft, as it becomes increasingly clear that the situation for Jews in Germany is becoming very dangerous. After Gertrud’s death, Semmy and Fred begin to pursue any and all options to leave Germany.


Fred Marcus: When at first Hitler came to power, people who were involved in German life said about him, “Oh, that paper hanger. Give him three months and enough rope, and he’ll hang himself.”

But what happened to the unfortunate people in Poland, for instance, when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, in that they got this whole package of anti-Jewish legislation overnight. In Germany, it happened over a period of five or six years, and it was gradually, gradually, gradually, gradually tightening the screws, until, I mentioned earlier, that economic law came out.

So that people became less and less optimistic, and the smart ones started to leave in ’33 and ’34, but others didn’t. And in our family, my family, there was no serious talk about leaving Germany, because we just knew Mom wouldn’t make it. She could not be transplanted.

So when she died, and my dad got over the shock—and it just devastated him. I have some pictures I looked at here in preparation for our meeting. The man looks just devastated. Gray and old all of a sudden. But, when he got over the shock, he [Semmy Marcus, Fred’s father] decided it was time for us to leave, in conjunction with my uncle and his two sons, who, by the way, still live in San Francisco. And the choices that were available, this fed into the Nazi mill, too. Where could a Jew go in 1938?

It sounds ridiculous, but we talked about Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Madagascar, Chile, and yes, Shanghai. Being an international city, open to the whole world, a haven for gangsters and any people on the lam who wanted to disappear, because you could go there without any papers.

And so I remember going down to Unter den Linden to one of the nice cruise companies. In those days, the cruise companies sold directly to the public, and asking for two one-way—one-way tickets to Shanghai, and being told in late ’38, yes, we could go the end of March 1939, as the clouds of war were already gathering. And there were three berths available. So my dad and I went, and we took one of my uncle’s sons, and he had to come on a later boat because we couldn’t get four berths together.

The household was liquidated. We moved into a furnished room with another nice Jewish family. The Jewish family did that to raise their income a little bit. They rented a room, that extra bedroom was rented to somebody. And we spent the last few—a month in that room, until the time came to leave.

“Where could a Jew go in 1938? It sounds ridiculous, but we talked about Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Madagascar, Chile, and yes, Shanghai.”

USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive, Interview 9214

Once their passage out of Germany is secured, Semmy liquidates their household and he and Fred rent a room in the home of a Jewish family for their last three months in Berlin. This provides the family with some extra income and helps Semmy and Fred to save their resources for the trip. However, they are only permitted to take a few crates of household goods and a limited amount of cash (10 Reichsmark each) out of the country. They select mainly valuable items that could be sold for cash at their destination, but also take personal items, such as a family photo album.

Photos from Fred and Semmy’s last months in Berlin, among the valued items they took with them to China. Fred later assembled them in a photo album with comments in English.

Courtesy of Audrey Friedman Marcus

Fred Marcus’ Timeline

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