Yona and Tova Dreifuss
“… neither to Jews nor to any other people in the world” The Mayer family escapes to Palestine
By Till Lieberz-Groß
Yona Dreifuss’ family can look back on centuries of family tradition in Germany. His grandfather, Joseph Mayer was a decidedly German patriot and combat veteran, an officer in the First World War. His wife Edith, née Loeb, was born into a long- established Orthodox Jewish family in Frankfurt.
Nevertheless the Nazis harass, persecute and drive them out of their home country – because they are Jews. Luckily the Mayer family is able to escape to Palestine: Yona’s grandparents Joseph and Edith Mayer and their four children – Siegfried/Shmuel, Netty, Hanni (who later became Yona’s mother) and Max. Edith’s parents (Yona’s great-grandparents), Nachum and Deborah Loeb, née Stern, perish in Theresienstadt in 1942. Joseph’s parents, Max and Berta Mayer, née Goldschmid die before the war in 1924, resp. 1926.
Yona was born in Haifa in 1947, then Palestine, as a son of Hanni Dreifuss, née Mayer and Emil Dreifuss. Yona and his wife Tova were participants of the visiting program of the City of Frankfurt in 2017.
Start of a new family in Palestine in 1946
Yona Dreifuss, was born on March 21st, 1947 in Haifa (then Palestine/ Israel since 1948). His parents, Hanni Dreifuss, née Mayer and Emil Dreifuss meet and get married in Israel in 1946 and move to Haifa. Hanni’s parents are from Frankfurt/Main and Emil’s parents from Königsbach near Pforzheim (in the South of Germany).
After the emigration Hanni lives with her parents in Tel Aviv and Emil lives with his parents Ludwig/ Louis and Helena Dreifuss, née Daube in Haifa.
Hometown Frankfurt am Main
Yona’s grandparents, Joseph and Edith Mayer, live with Edith’s parents Nachum and Deborah Loeb, in Hölderlinstr. 10 in the east end of Frankfurt (Ostend), close to the zoo. The huge house was part of Edith’s dowry who was the only child of the Loebs. The young couple had been neighbours since childhood, living in Uhlandstr. 34 and 36.
Edith’s father, Nachum Loeb, works as a sworn-in stockbroker at the Frankfurt stock market; his son-in-law Joseph Mayer works as an exchange broker. Joseph and Hanni become parents of four children: the first-born son Siegfried/Shmuel, the two daughters Netty and Johanna/Hanni (later Chana) and Max (later Meir).
Hanni, born in 1924 in Frankfurt, attends Samson-Raphael-Hirsch-School from 1930 to 1938 – until her education is abruptly broken off by her forced emigration. Hanni was a member of the “Israelitischer Turnerbund” (Jewish Athletic Association).
The Mayer family was part of the Orthodox Jewish community which had been founded by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808 – 1888) in Frankfurt in 1853. The gorgeous New Synagogue in the Friedberger Anlage (Eastend) had been inaugurated in 1907.
Joseph Mayer is an active member – and sometimes even a cantor of the community. (After the demolition by the Nazis the synagogue was replaced by a high bunker, today used as a commemoration site and museum).
The residential building in Hölderlinstr. 10 becomes a boarding house
Due to the Nazi regime and their new discriminating laws Hanni’s father, Joseph Mayer, gets unemployed. As a Jew he is no longer allowed to work at the stock market.
The Jewish community asks him to establish a boarding house for students in his family home. On behalf of the community he buys 25 double beds for the Beith Neorim (Beth Nearim) in 1934. During the period starting in 1934 until the November pogrom in 1938 there will be about 70 to 100 young boys living there and studying at S.R.Hirsch-School, students who come from all of over Germany.
Alfred Zuckermann, later Yaakov Zur, born in Rostock, writes about his time in the Beith Neorim: (translated): “My father wanted to spare us sitting in a school class as the only Jewish students. And he found a solution: At the end of 1935 I changed to the recently founded Beith Neorim in 10, Hölderlin St. in Frankfurt – together with my brother Max; my brother Louis joined us one year later. I became a student of S.R.Hirsch-Realschule. For me as the eldest brother, not yet 12 years old … everything was exciting and new – the boarding house, the big city, the large Jewish community, the big and gorgeous synagogue and especially the Jewish school and the Jewish classmates and the Jewish teachers. For our parents, who were left behind with my four-year-old sister, it was very hard and a sacrifice (also speaking in terms of money). Under normal circumstances that would have never happened. Twelve hours by train lay between us…”
Joseph Mayer is in charge of the boarding house. According to Yaakov Zur, even before the November pogrom, in October 1938, some students with an east European background are taken from the boarding house in the middle of the night and deported to the Polish border – without their parents.
In the course of the November pogrom 1938 Joseph Mayer and his oldest son Shmuel are arrested – Joseph Mayer is interned in Buchenwald and Shmuel in Dachau. Beith Naorim has to be closed. The remaining students are taken to other institutions in Frankfurt or are fortunate enough to leave Germany – Arthur e.g. with an Alijah-group for children.
Emigration plans – leaving for Palestine
Since 1936 the Mayer family has been thinking about leaving Germany because they know that they cannot live there safely any more. According to Max/ Meir the family decides unanimously – after many discussions and a visit of Joseph and Edith Mayer to Palestine – to make Alijah as soon as possible. But they have to wait for their visa until the summer of 1938 – just in time to grant the family a future abroad.
In December 1938 the 14-year-old Hanni and her younger brother Max (12) are sent to Hamburg and are able to leave from there by Kindertransport to England – supported by a sister and a niece of their grandmother Deborah. They cannot take very much with them but one very precious gift of Grandmother Deborah: a sidur (a praying book). For the first two weeks Hanni and Max live with a German-Jewish family in Leeds but then they change to the Orthodox family Horovitz in Leeds.
After the release of Joseph and Shmuel from Buchenwald and Dachau – Joseph because of being a combat veteran and Shmuel because he is an adolescent – the family immediately gets ready for leaving: They are told to get out within 48 hours. This is only possible because of their certificates for Palestine. Joseph, Edith, Shmuel and Netty are able to take a train to Switzerland. The children’s grandparents Loeb are not allowed to leave because they have no visa.
According to Max the family crosses the Swiss border with 42 suitcases and 10 Reichsmark and waits in a refugee pension in Basel for the two youngest children, Hanni and Max, who had already arrived safely in England/UK. An about 80-year-old relative of the family living in London, Elkan Adler, accompanies Hanni and Max on their train ride via France to Switzerland. The reunited family now starts their journey to Palestine: crossing the Gotthard via train to Triest and from there by a boat called “Galileo” to Haifa. With them is a Thora which is still in family ownership in Israel.
New beginning in Tel Aviv 1938
The start in their new home country is difficult. While having sufficient funds including some foreign currency helps the family of the former exchange broker Joseph Mayer to get visa to Palestine it does not help him to get a decent job in Palestine: He ends up delivering food for a grocery. For the older family members it is very difficult to cope – not least because they cannot speak Hebrew.
For the younger children it is easier to adapt and keep going: They attend school, learn the new language Ivrit in a school recently founded by German emigrants. But even the youngest soon have to earn some money to support the family. Edith Mayer, born 1896 in Frankfurt, dies in 1969; her husband Joseph Mayer, born 1893 in Frankfurt, dies in 1974 in Tel Aviv.
Deportation to Theresienstadt 1942
In Frankfurt Yona’s great-grandparents Loeb have to vacate their flat in Hölderlinstr. 10 and are forced to move first to a house in Pfingstweidstraße and then to Uhlandstr. 46. From there they are deported to Theresienstadt on September 15th, 1942. Only a little later Deborah dies there at the age of 70 on November 21st, 1942. Her 81-year-old husband sits shiwa for her and dies after the seven-days-mourning period on November 29th, 1942.
During an encounter with students at Anne-Frank-School in Frankfurt Yona and Tova Dreifuss speak about their family history. While Yona’s roots are in Frankfurt, Tova’s family history starts in Romania. In contrast to Yona she lost almost her whole family in the Shoa. Her mother had to struggle along, left entirely on her own in a bitter cold winter and with all the dangers of war and persecution. But – contrary to Yona’s mother – she was able to talk about her experience to her children.
Tova, born in Israel in August 1948, becomes a teacher and founds a new family with Yona, who has become an engineer. Many descendants of the family are named after the perished family members – so there are for example some Nachums and Deborahs in the Dreifuss family.
Under great applause of the Anne-Frank-students Tova says: „I have got a message for you. We are all human beings. We have to love each other, care for each other – and not to let this thing happen again, never ever – neither to the Jews nor to any other people in the world”.
And she tells the students that the Anne-Frank –Diary was her first book dealing with the Shoa she read as a young girl and which had a lasting impression on her. One student expresses her deep thanks to the eye witnesses, Yona and Tova Dreifuss from Israel and Lilian and Andrew Levy from England/UK for their great openness. This motivates some students to talk about their family history which has brought their families to Frankfurt and made Frankfurt a home for them.
born on March, 21st, 1947 in Haifa, then Palästina, today Israel
Visiting Program: 2017, together with his wife
Tova Dreifuss, née Minster
born on August 7th, 1948 in Haifa
Yona und Tova live in Haifa/ Israel
Ariel, born on May 7th, 1974
Merav, born on September 4th, 1976
Elhanan, born on August 7th, 1985
Parents of Yona Dreifuss:
Johanna/Hanni Dreifuss, née Mayer
born on August 15th, 1924 in Frankfurt am Main
died on February 20th, 1996 in Haifa
Kindertransport in December 1938 via Hamburg to England/UK,
together with her younger brother Max/Meir
born on July 30th, 1913 in Königsbach
died on November 27th, 2005 in Haifa
emigration in 1938
Yona’s parents met in Israel;
Hanni lived in Tel Aviv; Emil lived in Haifa.
Siblings of Hanni Dreifuss, née Mayer
Siegfried/Shmuel, born in 1920
Netty, born in 1922
Max/Meir, born in 1926
Parents of Hanni Dreifuss, née Mayer
born in 1893 in Frankfurt am Main
died on April 26 th, 1974 in Tel Aviv
Edith Mayer, née Loeb (Löb)
born in 1896 in Frankfurt am Main
died on May 17 th, 1969 in Tel Aviv
- Joseph Mayer was an exchange broker
- since 1934 in charge of the boarding house/Beith Neorim in Hölderlinstr. 10 (house of the Mayer family)
- the family belonged to the orthodox Jewish community (S.R.H. Synagogue)
Parents of Edith Mayer, née Loeb:
born on September, 30th, 1861 in Frankfurt am Main
died on November 29th, 1942 in Theresienstadt
Deborah Loeb, née Stern
born on July 11th, 1872 in Hamburg
died on November 21st , 1942 in Theresienstadt
Last address of Nachum and Deborah Loeb in Frankfurt: Uhlandstr. 46 (East End)
Parents of Joseph Mayer:
born in 1854 in Frankfurt
died in 1924 in Frankfurt
Berta Mayer, née Goldschmid
born in 1862
died in 1926 in Frankfurt
Parents of Emil Dreifuss
born on December 17th, 1879 in Königsbach
died on May 20th , 1968 in Haifa
Helena Dreifuss, née Daube
born on September 2nd , 1884 in Königsbach
died on July 2nd, 1969 in Haifa
- Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Wiesbaden / Main State Archive of Hesse, Wiesbaden (HHStAW)
- Institut für Stadtgeschichte Frankfurt am Main (FFM)/ Institute of Town History, FFM
- Jüdisches Museum Frankfurt, Datenbank „Deportierte Juden aus Frankfurt am Main“, Gedenkstätte Neuer Börneplatz
- Bundesarchiv Gedenkbuch / Federal Archive, Remembrance Book
- Ostend, Blick in ein jüdisches Viertel, Ausstellungskatalog des Jüdischen Museums Frankfurt, 2000, hier insbes. Yaakov Zur, Jüdische Jugend im Dritten Reich
- Erinnerung braucht Zukunft, Der Ort der zerstörten Synagoge an der Friedberger Anlage in Frankfurt am Main, hrsg. von der Initiative 9. November, hier insbes.: Dies waren gute deutsche Bürger, Interview von Petra Bonavita mit Max Mayer, 2002
- Yona Dreifuss, PJLF –Fragebogen / PJLF-Questionnaire, 2017
- Yona Dreifuss, Hanni Mayer, Kristallnacht, Script 2017
- • Recording: Yona und Tova Dreifuss in der Anne-Frank-Schule am 15. Mai 2017 (Moderation Till Lieberz-Groß)
Family of Yona Dreifuss
Michael Maynard aus: Katalog des Jüdischen Museums Frankfurt, 2000
Research and Text: