Riesser family

“Jew, therefore enemy”

by Angelika Rieber

“My standpoint was then and has always been that I must not allow any emotion or action identifying me as anything but a German.”

Two of the most prominent ancestors of the Riesser family from Oberursel are Gabriel Riesser, a distinguished member of the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848/49 and his nephew Jakob Riesser, member and vice president of the Reichstag from 1921-1928. Although Jakob Riesser identified strongly with his Jewish ancestry, he had his children baptized.

His son Otto was born in Frankfurt in 1882 and studied pharmacology and medicine. After the death of his first wife, Otto Riesser married Elisabeth Kalau von Hofe, née Faelligen in 1919. Both brought children into the marriage: Otto’s daughter Marion and Elisabeth’s children Ruth and Heinz. Their son Hajo was born in 1920, their daughter Birgit in 1921. Otto’s family and career seemed to go well.

This dream ended in 1933. Otto Riesser witnessed colleagues from the University of Wroclaw (Breslau) being criminalized and forced to resign – and the fearful, conformist behavior of many non-Jewish colleagues. Otto Riesser’s lectures were boycotted and interrupted. In June 1934, he was removed from his post as head of his institute, one year later he was forced into early retirement. Still, he attended meetings of various organizations to confront his colleagues with the injustice. “But no one knows the emotional cost of all this,” he wrote in his memoirs.

“After a brief arrest on Nov. 11, 1938, I preferred to emigrate”

Otto Riesser moved with his family from Wroclaw to Oberursel. After the November pogrom, he managed to continue his research work for a while.

After a brief arrest in November 1938, Otto Riesser was released again. The physician received several offers from abroad and chose to take a job in Amsterdam to stay close to his family. The decision proved fatal, because the Netherlands were occupied by German troops in 1940.
Otto Riesser survived due to many “coincidents”, possibly also thanks to his non-Jewish brother-in-law. His mother was deported to Theresienstadt in 1944, where she died on April 6, 1945.

Caught in the middle

Otto’s children Birgit and Hajo suffered heavy discrimination. Both were drafted into the Reich Labor Service (Reichsarbeitsdienst). In 1940, Hajo was drafted into the military, but discharged as “unworthy”, a painful experience. Not allowed to continue his medical studies, he found a retail job in Hamburg. Near the end of the war, he was drafted for forced labor by the Todt Organization, but was not interned.

His sister Birgit has no good memories of her teachers in Oberursel, but had good contacts with many schoolmates. Without permission to study, she became an apprentice at an x-ray institute in Frankfurt. Although she faced many restrictions, she was not threatened directly until February 7, 1945, when she received a summons to report for “interned labor duty in Theresienstadt” the next morning.

Desperate, she sought out the local Gestapo chief in Kronberg at night and told him, the summons was a mistake, because she was engaged to a Swiss citizen. She was successful; other Oberursel residents were also spared from forced labor, but they kept a feeling of deadly terror.

“My first official action was to register my marriage at the Standesamt of Blankenese”

The end of the NS regime brought great relief to the family members. Birgit was finally allowed to rejoin her fiancé in Switzerland, to whom she remained married for 67 years. Otto Riesser returned from the Netherlands in August 1945. Hajo Riesser’s first step was to register the marriage, so he could wed his non-Jewish girlfriend. In university, he met Gertrud Kurz. The “Mother of the Refugees” won the young man for her Christian Peace Service (cfd), whose youth office he led for 12 years.
Otto Riesser made sobering experiences when trying to gain official recognition as a victim of Nazi persecution. Yet, he showed great commitment to the “moral and mental reestablishment” of Germany and the education of its youth. Regarding his experiences, he demanded that students set themselves ambitious goals, because “we only learn to climb when we’re up high. By setting sky-high targets, we’ll conquer at least a few meters of the distance.” The Oberursel resident died in December 1949.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

Name:

• Otto Riesser, born 1882 in Frankfurt, baptized in 1904
• Pharmacologist and physician
• 1934 – dismissed as head of his university institute in Wroclaw
• 1935 – relocation of his family to Oberursel
• Temporary employment in Frankfurt and Davos
• 1939 – emigration to the Netherlands; family remains in Germany
• 1945 – return to Oberursel
• Professor at the university of Frankfurt
• 1949 – Otto Riesser dies

Last residence:

Wroclaw and Oberursel

Children:

• Hajo Riesser (1920), “first-degree Mischling”, physician
• 1940 – discharged from the army; barred from medical studies
• 1943 – forced labor in Hamburg
• 1945 – continuation of studies
• Head of youth office of Christian Peace Service (cfd)

• Birgit Riesser (1921)
• 1941 – excluded from university
• 1941-45 – training/work as x-ray assistant
• February 1945 – summons for “interned labor duty in Theresienstadt”
• June 1945 – emigration to Switzerland and marriage


Sources:

• Rieber, Angelika (2004): Wir bleiben hier: Lebenswege Oberurseler Familien jüdischer Herkunft.
• Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Wiesbaden
• Archiv der Christuskirchengemeinde
• Private Dokumente

Text:

Angelika Rieber

Translation:

Emal Ghamsharick