Lee Edwards, née Lina Liese (Liesel) Carlebach
By Angelika Rieber
“It has nine pearls and 26 diamonds.” Every once in a while Lee (Liesel) Edwards takes a look at this necklace, which brings back sad, bitter-sweet, even happy memories.
Liesel Carlebach was born in Frankfurt in 1923. After the November Pogroms in 1938 she was able to flee Germany on a Kindertransport train. Her father died shortly afterwards as a result of his internment at Buchenwald. In May 1942 her mother was deported to Izbica and murdered. Liesel’s brother Emil Carlebach survived Buchenwald and returned to Frankfurt, while she lives in the USA today.
Liesel Carlebach was born in Frankfurt on December 13, 1923. Her family first lived at Obermainanlage 21, later at Gaußstraße 16. She has happy childhood memories. Like her older brother Emil, she attended Samson-Raphael-Hirsch-Schule near the Zoo.
Her father Moritz Carlebach originated from Stuttgart. Together with his brother Emanuel, he owned the company Gebrüder Carlebach (Carlebach Brothers), located at Hans-Handwerkstraße 63, today Lange Straße. His wife, Sophie Carlebach, née Runkel, came from Neidenstein in the Kraichgau region of the state of Württemberg.
“The next elections will change everything”
The Nazis affected each family member differently. Lee’s father felt at home in Germany. He had fought in World War I, earned an Iron Cross and identified as a German citizen of Jewish faith. Moritz Carlebach could not imagine anything happening to him and thought that the next elections would reverse everything.
His son Emil was less optimistic. His father intended him to take over the family business, but the boy joined the socialist youth movement in the late 1920s. Emil Carlebach continued his activism after Hitler’s election, until he was arrested in January 1934 and sentenced to correctional prison (Zuchthaus). In 1937, he was not released, but transferred to the Dachau concentration camp and in 1938 to Buchenwald. After eleven years of captivity, Emil Carlebach experienced Germany’s liberation in April 1945.
In November 1938, father and son had a memorable encounter in Buchenwald. Moritz Carlebach had been arrested after the November Pogroms and deported to Buchenwald with around 2,600 other Jews from Frankfurt. “Do you know how often your mother has cried for you?” Emil Carlebach was deeply hurt by this reproach, as he later told his daughter and grand-daughter. After four weeks of internment, Moritz Carlebach was released on December 9, 1938, physically and mentally devastated. Emil had entreated his father to send Liesel out of the country.
“…and is leaving the school in December 1938 to emigrate”“
At first Liesel hardly noticed the changes setting in after 1938. She went to a Jewish school and her friends were Jewish, too. The restrictions crept in slowly. First she was banned from all swimming pools except for the Jewish one in Niederrad. Year after year life became more unbearable for the family.
The November Pogroms traumatized the family. Nazi gangs smashed their apartment and arrested the father. Liesel could no longer attend school after the pogroms, because Samson-Raphael-Hirsch-Schule was closed. Most teachers were imprisoned or had to flee. So her parents decided to register Liesel for a Kindertransport to England.
On December 20, 1938, the 15-year-old got her leaving certificate, which remarked “is leaving the school in December 1938 to emigrate”. In March 1939 Liesel Carlebach finally escaped to England on a Kindertransport organized by the Bloomsbury Committee, which coordinated support for Jewish refugees in England.
Lee Edwards still remembers her father waving goodbye from their apartment window. She still sees the gloomy, grey central station ¬– children wore placards around their necks with numbers instead of names. And especially the painful farewell from her mother, who kept wiping her eyes with a handkerchief. After the police searched her suitcase, Liesel helped her mother smooth out the wool blanket lying on top and close the suitcase.
The customs officers in Harwich opened the suitcase again. Under the blanket they found a necklace wrapped in a small, wrinkled handkerchief. Fortunately the Germans had not found it, probably because her mother snuck it in while closing the suitcase. Everyone stared at the piece, not knowing the importance it would have as a keepsake of Liesel’s mother – at this time the teenager was unware, like most of the other children, that they would never see their parents again.
“Sofie C. has left us”
A few days after her departure, Moritz Carlebach died as a result of his internment. He was buried at the Jewish cemetery at Eckenheimer Landstraße. Liesel only learned about her father’s tragic death after the war. Sophie Carlebach now lived in Frankfurt alone – her son was at in the concentration camp, her daughter all alone in England.
Sophie fought desperately for Emil’s release and made all preparations for his emigration to Shanghai. The ship tickets were ordered, the “request for removal of household goods” was filed, the clearances confirming payment of the “Reich Flight Tax” and other duties had been submitted. But her efforts were in vain.
When World War II began, it was nearly impossible to contact Liesel in England directly. Sophie Carlebach was able to send one short notice on May 18, 1942 to her daughter through the Red Cross before her deportation: “I’m emigrating; hope to keep writing. Perfectly healthy and calm. You stay the same, be positive… Sincere kisses, Mother.”
Sophie Carlebach’s house at Gaußstraße was proclaimed a Judenhaus, where Jews were forcefully interned. From here Sophie Carlebach was deported to Izbica in May 1942. Her death date remains unknown.
On the evening before the deportation, she was visited by a relative, Thekla Griesheimer. Three days later, Thekla wrote a letter to her sister-in-law in Switzerland. “Sofie C. has left us, just like Cilli B. I was with Sofie last night; she was prepared. I cannot and will not describe all the tears, suffering and pain. All I can tell you is that we are still doing well, provided these tensions don’t break us.” (Rieber 2000, 198)
Thekla and Harry Griesheimer were deported to Izbica three weeks later and murdered.
As a nanny in Coventry
Liesel Carlebach was taken up by a young Jewish couple in Coventry. They had no means, but wanted to help rescue a Jewish child. Working as a nanny for this couple, Liesel witnessed the German bomb raid on Coventry. At the time, Liesel did not appreciate this family’s care for her survival the way she does now, because she wanted to continue her schooling. So when the family moved to the countryside, Liesel stayed in Coventry. She helped out her teacher at home and in return received shorthand lessons. She also learned French and earned a living as a secretary.
Return to Germany with US Army
After the war, the Allies looked for German-speaking émigrés of reliable political credentials to aid Germany’s democratic restoration. So Liesel Carlebach found a job as a US Army civilian worker at the Office of Military Government, United States (OMGUS) in Esslingen near Stuttgart. Here she met Arnold James Edwards, formerly Arnold J. Eckhaus, who also originated from Germany.
Both hoped for better chances of immigrating to the US by working for the occupying forces. Liesel transferred to Frankfurt to reunite with her brother Emil. It was here that she really got to know her brother, because he had been imprisoned when she was only nine.
Arnold and Liesel married in her former and new home town, Frankfurt. “It was the same registry office where my birth had been registered,” remarks Lee, who adopted this short form of her name. She would have wished to wear the necklace her mother had given her, but it was locked away in a safe in England.
While in Frankfurt, Lee Edwards also met her former nanny, who brought her a large overseas trunk. It contained linen and silver, treasures her mother had entrusted to her former employee before being deported. The nanny guarded these belongings without knowing if she would ever see any of the Carlebachs again. Lee Edwards spoke about this woman’s honesty with great respect. Like her brother, she keeps contents of this trunk as a memory of her parents.
After his liberation from Buchenwald, Emil Carlebach became one of the founders and publishers of the newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau. From 1946 until being deposed by the US military authorities in 1948, he was also a member of Hessen’s state parliament for the KPD. The communist Emil Carlebach again faced discrimination and persecution during the Cold War.
Lee and Arnold Edwards first emigrated to England, but the couple soon decided to move to Canada. Four years later, in March 1952, they finally managed to reach the USA, where Lee still lives today.
Lee Edwards keeps coming back to Germany and Europe. She stayed in contact with her brother Emil until his death, despite all political differences. In 1989, she attended a meeting of „Kindertransport children“ in London. Nine years later, she came to Frankfurt as participant of the visiting program for former residents.
She spoke to students of Ernst-Reuter-Schule 1 about her life. Meeting young people is important to her, because it shows that she is not just accepting the city’s generous invitation, but is also sharing her own story.
Remembrance and Commemoration
Lee Edwards sees such encounters as a chance to overcome hate and prejudice. The students appreciated not just her willingness to tell her story, but also her openness towards them. The students’ many curious questions showed that Lee Edwards’ life story touched issues young people today are also dealing with, such as identity, relations to countries of origin or coping with traumatic experiences.
Lee Edwards also speaks about her experiences at schools, synagogues and churches in the USA.
While in Frankfurt, Lee Edwards wanted to visit her father’s grave at the Jewish cemetery together with her brother. After Emil’s death in 2001, she stayed in touch with her niece Amina and her daughter Lena Sarah.
Amina Carlebach placed two Stumbling Stones in 2010 to commemorate her grandparents. Since Amina’s death, Lena Sarah Carlebach and her childless great-aunt Lee have intensified their relationship. They phone each other regularly. Lena Sarah Carlebach takes great care to preserve the memory of her family and in 2016 initiated the placing of two more Stumbling Stones in front of the family’s house at Gaußstraße. These small memorials help reunite Liesel, Emil and their parents.
“These two additional stones reunite the Carlebachs, who lived together at Gaußstraße 16. You could see it as a reconciliation – although the family members had very different opinions, they all shared the same fate of persecution,” said Lena Sarah Carlebach at the Stumbling Stones installation ceremony.
Dorothy Baer, née Griesheimer, is a cousin of Lee Edwards, née Liesel Carlebach. They have been friends since childhood and both left Germany on Kindertransport trains.
Link to Dorothy Baer, geb. Griesheimer’s story:
|Angelika Rieber, Am Schützenbrunnen 13, in: Ostend. Blick in ein jüdisches Viertel, Frankfurt 2000, S. 188-202.||PDF 1,0 MB|
Lee Edwards, née Lina Liese (Liesel) Carlebach
born in Frankfurt 1923
Came to Frankfurt on visitation program in 1998
To England on Kindertransport in March 1939
Return to Germany as civilian employee of the US Army 1946-1948
In Canada from 1949, in USA since 1952
Emil Carlebach, 1914 – 2001
- Attended Schools: Samson-Raphael-Hirsch-Schule, Klingerschule
- Resistance activist against Nazi regime
- Arrested and sentenced in 1934: Prison in Hameln, Dachau in 1937, Buchenwald from 1938-1945
- Return to Frankfurt, co-founder of Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper, member of communist KPD
- Born in Stuttgart in 1878
- Partner in Gebrüder Carlebach company at Hans-Handwerkstraße
- Arrested in November 1938, at Buchenwald concentration camp until December 9, 1938
- Died as result of imprisonment on March 29, 1939
Sophie (Sofie) Carlebach, née Runkel
- Born in 1887 in Neidenstein/Kraichgau
- Deported to Izbica on May 8, 1942
- Date of death unknown
- Central State Archive of Hessen (Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv)
- Recording of a conversation with Lee Edwards at Ernst-Reuter-Schule Frankfurt on June 8, 1998
- Private documents of Carlebach/Edwards families and of Dorothy Baer
- Angelika Rieber: Am Schützenbrunnen 13, in: Ostend. Blick in ein jüdisches Viertel, Frankfurt 2000, pp. 188-202.
- Berta Leverton et al.: I came alone, 1990, p. 79 ff.
Carlebach/Edwards families, Dorothy Baer, Angelika Rieber
Ruth Awner, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv
Lena Carlebach, Angelika Rieber