Trudel Grossman, née Adler
“Young Jewish people have no future in Germany”
By Gretel Ghamsharick
Trudel Adler is the youngest of three sisters who grow up in a respectable family with a large circle of friends in the Westend district of Frankfurt. From 1933, the family is in mortal danger, and Trudel is the first to leave Germany for the United States.
A niece of Trudel, Mari Ann Schwartzenberg, takes part in the Program of the City of Frankfurt am Main in 2015. She mentions a blog about her aunt called “Trudel´s Truth”. This blog contains letters written by Trudel between 1934 and 1938 to her family in Frankfurt. Many years later, Trudel translates these letters into English. After her death, her son, Leonard Grossman, publishes these letters on a blog called Trudel‘s Truth.
Early decision to leave Germany
Trudel Grossman, née Adler, is born on December 5, 1912 at Markgrafenstraße 15. Her parents are Adolph (after 1933 he calls himself Aron) and Maria Adler, née Stern. Adolph Adler is a stockbroker. Trudel has two older sisters: Lotte Adler, born 1908 and Erna Adler, born 1910. Later the family lives at Grüneburgweg 96.
Lotte remembers the big parties they celebrated at their apartment and the family picnics in Ginnheim, a rural part of Frankfurt with a river, meadows and woods. After Trudel graduates from Victoriaschule, she starts an apprenticeship at the Hilda Lorsch millinery at Goethestraße 53.
In 1933 Trudel writes in her diary: “Young Jewish people have no future in Germany. I think I’ll emigrate to Palestine.” A year earlier, she had lost her job as a milliner because of the poor economic situation. In 1933 the National Socialist government is installed. The same year, her father is fired after 53 years of service at the stock exchange. Her mother dies immediately afterwards, on June 23, 1933.
Given the political situation and the family tragedies, Trudel considers emigration early on. Her elder sister Lotte on the other hand, is tied to the family and cannot leave. She still has a job and takes care of the father, who becomes very ill. Her fiancé owns a successful welding equipment company, which he does not want to abandon at that moment. The family supports and encourages the departure plans of the youngest family member, as one can later read in a letter written by Trudel’s future fiancé.
The ship passage
Instead of papers for Palestine, Trudel gets papers from relatives in Chicago. On May 8, 1934 Trudel boards the SS Manhattan in Hamburg. On May 9, she writes her first letter to the family. In her third letter she writes: “Please, collect my letters, and if there is an opportunity later, let me have them, because now I'm too busy to keep a diary.” Shortly after her arrival, she writes: “I am glad you are keeping my letters. It would be very interesting to read them in twenty years. “
Later these letters allow reconstructing Trudel's life from 1934 to 1937. They are unique testimonies of the migration of a young woman, who escapes from Nazi Germany to the United States and illustrate her struggle all alone in a rough city. It is also an exciting field study about life in Chicago of the 1930s.
First impressions – a new beginning
After the ship voyage, accompanied by passengers with a similar fate, she arrives in New York. She lodges with relatives in New York. Shortly afterwards, she moves on to Chicago, where she stays with an aunt and her husband in a small apartment. Trudel makes the most of the city as often as she can. She goes to the theater, the cinema, concerts and receives many dinner invitations. She contacts other relatives and friends who live in Chicago. Overwhelmed by the new impressions, she details them in her letters. For example, she often compares the cost of living and the fashion habits of American women with Germany.
She is not discouraged by the hardships she encounters. Her letters are cheerful, even when she writes about difficult situations. At one point in her letter diary, she briefly mentions feeling sad after speaking to a rabbi after visiting the synagogue: “You can imagine how I felt then.”
All beginnings are difficult – work and life
In Chicago she lives crammed in with her aunt and uncle. They had already separated over a year ago. In order to get him to sign the papers necessary for Trudel’s immigration, the aunt agreed to move back to his place. Daily life with the two is difficult as they continue to quarrel. The uncle still speaks no English after 30 years and cannot adjust to life in America. The aunt hopes Trudel will help her run the household and at the same time keep her company. Trudel is therefore worried that she is not going to learn English quickly enough and improve in this environment. In a letter she criticizes her aunt and uncle’s idea of a good time, when they take her to their German singing society.
Trudel immediately looks for work, although the aunt would prefer her to stay at home. In July 1934 she finds work in a hat factory for 14 dollars a week. One of the owners is a nephew of the uncle and also from Frankfurt. The large circle of family and friends whom Trudel can ask for work is worth mentioning. She considers herself very lucky, because she knows many newcomers who have no work.
She also wants to be as independent as possible from her aunt and uncle. She also needs money to help her family to get out of Germany. But it is not easy to find and keep a job in those times. She changes often. One episode is characteristic for her ingenuity: She loses a job, because her company shuts down over night. She immediately tells her hairdresser, who calls her up a little later with news of a job opening.
Trudel makes interesting comparisons between working habits in the United States and Germany. American managers are more interested in speed than in quality. Trudel is accustomed to pay particular attention to quality and has initial difficulties with her employers. After nearly two years of hard work and changing jobs, she opens a shop in September 1936, which she gives up a little later because of the weak economy.
In September 1934, the aunt decides to get a divorce, and takes Trudel to a lawyer, hoping that Trudel will testify in her favor. The lawyer's name is Leonard Grossman and Trudel writes: “I fell in love with him and his voice, though I understood only half of what he said.” Leonard is 45 years old, divorced a year ago, has a law practice and is a committed local politician. The two start dating and are very happy.
Leonard's family comes also from Europe. Leonard spoke only German until his first day in school. His father is from Hungary, his mother from Germany. With Trudel he speaks German again, and she speaks English to him. In August 1936, they go to a recording studio. On a record they express their love for each other and Leonard proposes marriage.
A Chicago newspaper reports that the record was sent to Frankfurt. A little later a telegram arrives, signed by the father and 70 members of the Adler family in Germany expressing their consent. The title of this article is worth mentioning: “Woos by phonograph and wins – 70 relatives.”
The wedding – Rabbi Dr. Georg Salzberger
On December 5, 1936 Trudel Adler and Leonard Grossman marry. It is also Trudel’s 24th birthday. They decide to have only a civil ceremony, because Trudel’s family is absent. The situation of Trudel and her family is mentioned in a newspaper article about the wedding. It says that “a young refugee from Germany” has recently opened a hat shop to earn enough money to help her family come over. After the wedding she continues working and Leonard is very active in city politics in addition to his law practice.
In 1937 Trudel’s sister, Erna, comes to Chicago. After the death of their father in Frankfurt in 1938, Lotte escapes just before the war to England on a housemaid visa. A year later, she comes to Chicago.
In 1948 Trudel and Leonard celebrate a large Jewish wedding. Rabbi Dr. Georg Salzberger, who happens to be in Chicago, conducts the ceremony. Her son Leonard is five years and Raymon three years old at the time of the wedding. Between 1910 and 1937, Dr. Georg Salzberger was the rabbi of Frankfurt’s West End Synagogue, which the Adler family attended. The Adler sisters stayed in contact with him over the years. In fact, both of Trudel’s sons visited him years later.
“It breaks her heart that she cannot help.”
In February 1936 Leonard writes letters to her family and tells how Trudel worries about their safety: “It breaks Trudel’s heart that she cannot help.” He also writes that she is frightened when she does not receive letters for a long period of time. He describes their limited resources under the bad economy. “I write you because you should know, if we could, we would do something to help some of you come here. But this is impossible now. (…) She does not know what I am writing. She has written nothing to worry you since coming here, but everything is not easy for her and to get started in a strange country is lonesome work and very hard.”
One can assume that Trudel received many letters for help, and she must have felt despair about her inability to help. In her diary Trudel mentions some letters, including an unfriendly one from Mr. Warburg. Presumably, she sent a help request to the American relatives of the Warburg family, a wealthy banking family, who originated from Frankfurt, but probably received a rejection.
No more letters
Trudel wrote about 90 letters, beginning with her voyage on May 9, 1934 until August 27, 1937. The last letter contains a birthday greeting to her father. That same year her sister Erna comes to Chicago. A year later her father dies, her sister Lotte, who had looked after him until his death, comes to Chicago under dire circumstances in 1940.
One can only guess why Trudel ceases writing letters. The family’s situation is more desperate and Lotte’s letters become scarce. It is probable that Erna brought the letters to Chicago because there exist no letters from the time after Erna arrived in the USA. Any letter Trudel sent to Frankfurt would have not been kept because Lotte was too busy taking care of the father (see Mari Ann Schwartzenberg).
Lotte describes their father’s last days in a heartbreaking letter to Erna and Trudel. The father is already ill, but hopeful to see his children. Lotte applies for a number to get a visa to the USA and buys him a suitcase. One day later, his condition deteriorates and Lotte is aware that “traveling across the ocean is no longer possible.” Shortly afterwards he dies.
Ginnheim – life in Chicago
The son, Leonard Grossman, remembers his mother as an amazing, warm and humorous woman who worked hard her whole life and was engaged in her community. The letters give an impression of how hard her life as a young woman must have been, yet their tone is lively and cheerful. A few months after her husband’s death in 1956, Trudel buys a small house in a western district of Chicago.
In front of the house is a garden with many fruit trees. In springtime the trees blossom and smell wonderful; this might have reminded Trudel of the family picnics in Ginnheim. She gives a party for friends and family in the garden on the Sunday between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. On a tree hangs a cardboard sign reading “Gin(!)heim”. She holds these picnics regularly until she is about 80 years old. Trudel dies at 94 and is survived by two sons, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Today there are seven great-grandchildren and her granddaughter Aryn continues in this tradition of celebrating Ginheims.
born in 1945 in Chicago, Illinois
Participation in the Visitors Programme 2016
Trudel Grossman, née Adler
born 1907 in Frankfurt
emigrated to the USA in 1934
born 1891 in Atlanta, Georgia
- Lotte Adler
born 1908 in Frankfurt
emigrated 1939 via England in to the USA
Lottes daughter Mari Ann Schwartzenberg participated in the Visitors Programme 2015
- Erna Adler
born 1910 in Frankfurt
emigrated 1937 to the USA
Last home of the family in Frankfurt:
Questionnaire Raymon Grossman
Blog Trudel‘s Truth: Blog with Trudel´s letters from 1934 to 1939 to her family in Frankfurt
Interview and private documents