By Beate Kosmala
The previous account seemed to trace Ruth and Gitti’s fate as precisely as possible from the available documentation. However, during the preparation for the permanent exhibition for the Silent Heroes Memorial Center in summer 2009, which was to include Alice Löwenthal's fate and that of her daughters, Eva Nickel found an inconspicuous little pocket diary 1), previously undiscovered, among her mother’s papers. Between 27 February 1943 and 15 April 1944, Alice Löwenthal had made brief notes in the diary about her worries and fears in her life in hiding. She also daily noted the names of her helpers – often just first names or initials 2). With Eva Nickel's assistance, it was possible to decipher some of the names which were previously unknown. The diary also contains remarks expressing the mother’s desperate struggle as she constantly tried to find safe places for the children and reveals many more details about Ruth and Gitti’s lives.
Soon after going into hiding, the girls were first hidden in Lübars in the Berlin district of Reinickendorf. The helpers’ names are not given. On 14 April 1943, Alice's diary entry reads: “The children must go. My request to let them stay till Monday was granted”. Four days later, she picked the children up in Lübars and took them to Luise Nickel in Strausberg (north of Berlin), where she was also staying. But obviously the situation with the children soon became too dangerous there too, as one of the entries shows. Two months later, Alice had to look for a new hiding place.
Alice made a phone call to Weimar on 21 June and then sent a express letter to the friend she had not reached by phone. On 24 June, she and her children took an early train to Weimar from Anhalter railway station, arriving at 7 pm. They spent the first night, as already described, at “Herr Schmidt’s”, who has now been identified because his address was noted in the diary. He was a retired police constable; his name really was Walter Schmidt. The refugees spent the first nights in Weimar in his flat in Rittergasse 2. Alice made a note on 28 June about the acquaintance who did not take them in : “Talked to Fräulein Spangenberg on the phone. No use. Fiancé refuses meeting!”.
Alice Löwenthal went back to Berlin at the end of June, leaving the children with Elly Möller, as already described. Almost as soon as she was back, she started sending ration cards, food and money to Weimar. “Letter to Frau Möller apologising that the ration cards are not there yet”, she wrote on 1 July and two days later: “Suitcase and registered letter to Möller, Weimar (ration cards, food and things for the children)”. There are many entries like this, for example on 17 July: “Registered parcel to Möller with butter”, or on the 18th: “Cheese to Möller”. The entry for 31 July states: “Letter with ration cards to Moller. Money order for 200.- Reichsmark to Möller”.
Alice Löwenthal herself frequently had to move during these weeks from one acquaintance to another. She tried to earn a little money for herself and the children by knitting, sewing and doing housework for several people, so as not to be a financial burden on her helpers. To pay for the children’s stay in Weimar, she gradually sold her last few possessions which were stored with friends.
On 20 September 1943 Alice had to go to Weimar again, because it was uncertain whether the children could stay where they were. “No question of the children staying. Found the children well. Ruthy has recently lost two teeth. Kept one of them to give me!”, she wrote when she arrived. The next day she went round the area to find a new place for the children, and the following day she took the children to Hopfgarten near Weimar, while she worked for several families in Weimar. She also worked in Elly Möller's house and harvested fruit. After visiting the children several times in Hopfgarten, she returned to Berlin on 5 October, hoping they were now safe.
However, on 21 October she had to return because the children had to move again. They were taken in by a family named Gierth in Weimar, while Alice lived at Elly Möller's, continuing to work hard.
On 7 November, the situation became very dangerous. A Herr Beck was living in Elly Möller’s household at this time; no details about him are given. Alice recorded in her diary “Big row between Möller-Beck this morning (…) Herr Beck is leaving!”, and the entry for 12 November reads: “Frau M(öller) is afraid Beck has betrayed her because of me. Frau Gierth and I very worried about this”.
On 22 November, Frau Gierth took the children to Apolda where a Frau Hartmann was willing to take them. Alice visited her daughters there on 29 November: “Ruth is learning to write numbers on the blackboard and to knit! Long talk with Frau Hartmann in the evening,” she wrote. The entry for the next day reads: “Children playing while I make a skirt. Ruth wrote numbers 1-10 on the blackboard and can cast on knitting! Had Ruth on my lap before bedtime, talking about when Papa comes home. Favourite subject!”. The entry for 2 December also reads: “Lovely cuddle before bedtime again; both girls on my lap in turns. Gitti’s toe infected; washed in hot soapy water and squeezed out pus. Loud screams! Cut out three blouses for Frau H(artmann) in the evening”.
The last entry about the children in Alice’s diary was made on 9 December 1943: “Möller…(…) When I got back, Frau Gierth said the children would be coming to her on 11 December, because Frau Hartmann can’t have them any more. Talk with Frau Möller that evening”.
After this, Elly Möller seems to have taken the children again. Whether the Beck mentioned is the person who betrayed the girls in 1944 and what his relationship to Elly Möller was is not known. However, it is now clear that Elly Möller not only received ration cards for the children, but that their mother also had to provide money and to work for their keep. It is also clear that the children did not stay with Frau Möller for nearly as long as she later claimed, because they also stayed elsewhere during the time.
We do not know why Alice Löwenthal did not refer to the children’s stay in Weimar any more in the following entries up to 15 April 1944. Perhaps she was simply sure that Ruth and Gitti could now stay permanently with Elly Möller. There are no details about the last “talk” with Frau Möller.