Mark, Steven and Trevor Novins
‟It’s so emotional”
By Till Lieberz-Groß
The two brothers, Mark and Steve Novins, visit the hometown of their grandparents, Emil and Else Stelzer for the first time in 2016 as participants of the visiting programme of the City of Frankfurt. They never had a chance to get to know their grandparents: both of them had been murdered by the Nazis. Their mother, Marian Novins and their aunt, Ilse Appel, had left Germany after World War II; as orphans they emigrated together with their grandfather, Ernst Stelzer, to the USA. There they were adopted by members of the Stelzer family who had left Germany in the early 1930s; after the adoption their names were changed to Ilse and Marian Wells.
During their stay in Frankfurt as guests of the City of Frankfurt in 2011, Ilse and Marian get to know about the ‟Stolpersteine” for their parents, organized by Eintracht Frankfurt as a commemoration for its former club member, the Eintracht athlete Emil Stelzer and his wife Else. And they are overwhelmed by this memorial as Marian’s sons Mark and Steven will be some years later: Their parents and grandparents are not forgotten in their hometown Frankfurt.
Else and Emil Stelzer
Else/Elsa Setta Stelzer dies on the first birthday of her daughter Marianne, on January 7th, 1944 in Auschwitz – allegedly from typhoid. Else Stelzer is only forty years old then; she dies that early – only because she is Jewish. She is imprisoned on August 12th, 1943 and deported on November 22nd, 1943 by ‟Sondertransport” (special transport) from the police custody in Frankfurt to Auschwitz. Her youngest daughter Marianne is only six months old, her older daughter Ilse is six years old when Else is arrested.
Else was born on September 3rd, 1903 in Frankfurt, as one of three daughters of the Jewish couple Max and Mathilde Wolf; her father is a businessman. She works in the office of ‟Heimann und Söhne-Eisenwaren” in Frankfurt when she meets Emil Gustav Heinrich Stelzer. They fall in love and get married. They have two daughters: Ilse Edith, born on November 29th, 1936 and Marianne Hilde, born on January 7th, 1943. In December 1931 the couple moves to Emil’s parental home in Finkenhofstr. 23, Frankfurt, where they live with Emil’s father, Ernst Stelzer.
Else’s husband, Emil Stelzer, born on June 9th, 1897, works as an architect and technical draftsman with his father-in-law. But he becomes subject to persecution when the Nazis come into power and he has to work in different jobs to support his family – for example as a gym teacher, a job he has been doing on an honorary base before. He works for different Jewish sports clubs and as a beloved gym teacher at the Philantropin, a Jewish High School in Frankfurt where he was highly regarded.
Emil was a very talented and respected athlete and manager of sports events – a jewel of the ‟Eintracht” sports club – and according to his daughter Ilse an artist like his father Ernst.
Emil was born into a Christian family. His parents, Ernst Carl Friedrich Stelzer and Marie Catherine Stelzer, née Lynker are respected citizens of Frankfurt. His father Ernst is a well known sculptor, famous for his bronze sculptures.
Getting married to a Jewish lady Emil accepts the Jewish faith of his wife. And he stands by her even when the Nazis try to force him to divorce his wife. According to the Nazis the marriage between Emil and Else is a so called ‟Mischehe” (mixed marriage) and Emil comes more and more under severe pressure.
Emil’s attempts to avoid the increasing pressure fail: On August 8th,1941 Emil requests to lift the special restrictions for Jews concerning foreign exchange accounts in his case (‟Aufhebung meines beschränkt verfügbaren Sicherungskontos”) as he won’t be able to emigrate in the near future because all American consulates in Germany have been closed down. The situation of his family becomes desperate. Emil tries everything you can think of to protect his family, his wife and his two little daughters. He fights for his rights, pursuing legal measures to defend his rights as being born an ‟Aryan” – with the intention to save his family. In spite of that Emil is forced to wear the ‟star of David” in 1941 – as a so called ‟Aktionsjude”.
Emil’s bank, the Stadtsparkasse, plays an ignominious role in denouncing him. This denunciation is foiled by the responsible tax office in Kassel in their response of February 24th, 1942. They confirm that the restriction concerning Emil’s account has been lifted ‟because he is no longer [in the original underlined in red] listed as Jewish’. But the restriction still applies to his wife Elsa Sara Stelzer”.
According to Emil he receives an “Aryan” card (“Kennkarte”) in 1942 but he is nevertheless imprisoned being accused of having organized non-Jewish ration coupons (“Lebensmittelkarten”) for his wife and his daughter Ilse. He is taken into custody and is deported to Buchenwald for the second time.
Emil is targeted by the Nazis from the very beginning and relentlessly persecuted. The first time in 1938 he is deported to Buchenwald as an ‟Aktionsjude” for being married to a Jew (November 11th – December 12th, 1938) and the second time on June 14th, 1943 being accused of the ‟political crime” of having organized ration coupons. Emil dies in Buchenwald on March 3rd, 1944 (March 5th?).
In 1961 the regional council in Wiesbaden confirm in a decision concerning his legacy: ‟The testator was Aryan. He was married to the racially persecuted Else Stelzer, née Wolf.” ‟True, he was a Christian but he had committed the unpardonable sin of marrying a Jew”, says Robert St. John, an American journalist in 1946.
Orphaned – Ilse and Marianne Stelzer
At the age of one and of seven years Emil and Else Stelzer’s daughters have lost both their parents. Their grandfather Ernst Stelzer takes care of them. Both girls live with him after the deportation of their parents. As his wife had passed away years ago he sees himself confronted with the task of raising and educating two young girls, one still a baby-girl. His daughter-in-law Else tries to give him the necessary advice for taking care of the girls but is soon stopped doing so by the Nazis.
The children live together with their grandfather in a partially destroyed house; because of the bombing they are forced to live in the basement of the house in Finkenhofstr. 23. According to the family only two neighbours, Ms Euler and Ms Ball, help Ernst Stelzer. Other neighbours obviously give them away to the Nazis.
Trying to save the children
Emil and Else desperately try to save their daughters by baptizing both after Marianne was born – in vain. Even young Ilse is forced to wear the ‟star of David” and – presumably because of the denunciation by neighbours – she is even deported to Theresienstadt (February 18th until May 5th, 1945) which traumatizes the eight-year-old girl for the rest of her life. Only much later in life Ilse is able to cope with this trauma. In an interview she says that she did not want to be gassed by any means and therefore thought of ways of killing herself before that could happen.
Even after her liberation in Theresienstadt she cannot see herself as a ‟survivor” because the nightmare continues. For a long time she has been hoping that her parents have not perished. And after she finally has to face the fact that they won’t come back she withdraws for a long time into a cocoon of silence feeling guilty for being alive (‟Überlebensschuld”) whereas her parents are dead.
Harold and Alice Wells adopt the children
On July 2nd, 1946 the International Tracing Services (ITS) give evidence of emigration plans: Ernst Stelzer is going to emigrate to the USA together with his grandchildren Ilse and Marianne. They want to live with their relatives in the USA who have emigrated earlier: Grandparents Stein (Else’s mother Mathilde is married to Jakob Stein in a second marriage) and Else’s sister and brother-in-law Alice and Hans Wohlfahrt, renamed as Alice and Harold Wells.
Harold Wells adopts Ilse and Marianne, who is renamed Marian. Both children receive the surname Wells after the adoption. Only due to research at the Hessische Hauptstaatsarchiv in Wiesbaden (Main State Archive of Hesse) the birth certificates and the adoption certificate of 1947 could be found and handed over to Marian in 2016.
Emigration to the USA – Ernst Stelzer and his two granddaughters, Ilse and Marianne.
Grandfather Stelzer, called Opi Ernest, passes away only two years after the emigration. Ernst Stelzer, born in August 3rd, 1868 in Dresden, was brought up in an orphanage after both his parents had died. After a long time, travelling around and improving his skills, he settles in Frankfurt and becomes a well- known sculptor. At the age of about 75 he becomes both father and mother for his grandchildren, also orphans – because of the Nazi-terror. Ernst Stelzer passes away in 1948 in New York.
Ilse Appel, née Stelzer-Wells is called ‟Elli” for a long time till she goes back to the familiar ‟Ilse”. She passes away on February, 1st, 2016 in New York. She leaves behind her husband Joel and three adult sons, two of them with special needs.
Marian Novins, née Stelzer-Wells, mother of Mark and Steven Novins, has been living in California since 1967 with her husband Louis. She has worked as a broker, a teller in a bank, at a beauty parlor and in a boutique; she is now working as a travel agent.
The second and third generation
Two sons and one grandson of Marian Novins, née Stelzer-Wells, represented the Stelzer family in the visiting programme of the City of Frankfurt:* Mark Novins*, born on November 20th, 1963 in Boston, Steven Novins, born December 22nd, 1966 in New York and Mark’s son, Trevor Novins, born June 14th, 1999 in California. Mark Novins is an electrician and handyman and Steven Novins is a smog technician. They are living in California. Mark’s son Trevor obviously has inherited the talent of Emil as an athlete: He too is a talented and enthusiastic athlete. Trevor is a senior in High School.
Mark and Steven Novins, Marian’s sons, were surprised when they realized that their beloved grandparents, Alice and Harold, were actually their grand-aunt and grand-uncle: They were about twenty years old then.
The Stelzer-offspring was deeply moved by the ‟Stolpersteine” (‟stumbling stones”) for their grandparents Else and Emil in front of Finkenhofstr. 23 , initiated by Emil’s former club, the Eintracht Frankfurt. And equally emotional for them was a visit to the Eintracht-Gym where Emil had trained very often: ‟Each day in Frankfurt we feel closer to our grandparents Emil and Else”, admit both Mark and Steven.
After a visit at the Lichtigfeld-Schule/Philantropin, where their grandfather Emil had worked as a gym-teacher during the Nazi era Mark characterizes the week in Frankfurt as an ‟emotional ride on a roller-coaster” – a week that made them ‟feel their German roots very intensely”. The students of Lichtigfeld-Schule could understand their feelings very well because ‟some of our grandparents perished in the holocaust as well”.
‟It’s so emotional” – Mark and Steven assure themselves more than once. Especially touching the “Stolpersteine” made them feel closer to their grandparents they never had the chance to get to know. Being assured of their roots gave them a strong feeling for Frankfurt as the hometown of their ancestors – and also a sense of belonging…
‟Stolperstein” for Ernst Stelzer
Ilse and Marian suffered from the fact that their faithful grandfather, Opi Ernest, did not get an adequate recognition for their rescue; an acknowledgement he deserves by all means. Ernst Stelzer devoted the last years of his life to his two granddaughters. After his death in 1948 he was buried in a Christian cemetry in New York; meanwhile his grave doesn’t exist any more. Especially Ilse would have liked him to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. But at least there should be a memorial – like a Stolperstein in front of his Frankfurt home in Finkenhofstr. 23, beside the stumbling stones for his son Emil and his daughter-in-law, Else Stelzer.
Second and third generation – participants of the visiting programme of the City of Frankfurt 2016
- Mark Novins, grandson of Emil and Else Stelzer, born on November 20th, 1963 in Boston, today living in California, USA
- with his son Trevor Novins, born on June 14th, 1999 – great-grandson of Emil and Else
- Steven/Steve Novins, grandson of Emil and Else Stelzer, born on December 22nd, 1966 in New York, today living in California/USA
Grandparents of Mark and Steven Novins:
- Emil Gustav Heinrich Stelzer, born on July 9th , 1897 in Frankfurt
architect and PE teacher
athlete at Eintracht Frankfurt Gym Club
died on March 3rd (5th ?), 1944 in Buchenwald concentration camp
- Else Setta Stelzer, née Wolf
born on September 3rd ,1903 in Frankfurt
died on January 7th, 1944 in Auschwitz concentration camp
Daughters of Emil und Else Stelzer:
- Ilse/Elli Edith Appel, née Stelzer
born on November 29th , 1936 in Frankfurt
died on February 1st , 2016 in New York/USA
married to Joel Appel
deportation to Theresienstadt concentration camp
in 1945 (February 18th until May 5th, 1945)
- Marianne (Marian) Novins, née Stelzer
born on January 7th, 1943 in Frankfurt
today living in California / USA
married to Louis Novins,
two sons: Mark und Steven
Emigration to the USA in 1946: Both daughters of Emil and Else Stelzer Ilse/Elli Stelzer und Marianne/Marian Stelzer together with their grandfather Ernst/Ernest Stelzer
Marianne/ Marian and Ilse/ Elli were adopted by Else’s sister Alice and her husband in 1947 Alice und Hans/Harold Wohlfahrt/Wells.
Parents of Emil Stelzer (= Grandparents of Ilse/Elli and Marianne/Marian):
- Ernst Carl Friedrich Stelzer,
born on August 3rd , 1868 in Dresden
died in 1948 in New York/ USA
- Marie Catherine Stelzer, née Lynker
Parents of Else Stelzer (= Grandparents of Ilse/Elli und Marianne/Marian):
- Max and Mathilde Wolf, Frankfurt
Mathilde was married to Jakob Stein in a second marriage
Frankfurt – New York/USA
- Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Wiesbaden – Main State Archive of Hesse
- Institut für Stadtgeschichte Frankfurt – Institute for the history of Frankfurt
- Marian Novins, née Stelzer-Wells
- Ilse Appel, née Stelzer-Wells (Film-Interview 1997)
- Robert St. John (Radio Feature 1946)
- Eintracht Museum Frankfurt (Club Museum)
- Recording at Lichtigfeld-Schule Frankfurt, May 2016
Research and Text: