Else Behrend-Rosenfeld (1891 - 1970)

Else Behrend was born in Berlin in 1891 to a Jewish physician and his Christian wife; she was baptized Protestant. After completing her training as a nursery school teacher, she studied German studies, history, and philosophy; she received her Ph.D. in history in 1919. In 1920 she married Siegfried Rosenfeld, a Jewish jurist from Berlin who was a representative for the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the Prussian Landtag from 1921 to 1933 and a high ministerial officer in the Prussian Ministry of Justice. When their three children reached school age, Else Behrend-Rosenfeld did volunteer work with prisoners.

Siegfried Rosenfeld was forced to retire in 1933, and the family moved to Bavaria. After he was temporarily arrested in 1934, they tried to emigrate. In 1937 their daughter emigrated to Argentina; and the two sons went to England in 1939. Siegfried Rosenfeld followed them in August 1939. Else’s plan to join her husband and sons in England failed when the war started.

Having converted to Judaism in 1937, she started working in Munich as a social worker for the Jewish community. In June 1941 she was conscripted to work as a housekeeper in the Berg am Laim internment camp, one of two “home camps” in Munich where the Jewish population was forced to live. This is where she was when the deportations began. Caring for the prisoners before they were deported was a great burden for her, especially when she received reliable information in July 1942 about the mass murders in the German-occupied territories. When she herself was threatened with deportation, she went into hiding on August 15, 1942, and escaped to Berlin with the help of a girlfriend.

She was able to hide for almost three months with her relatives Eva and Georg Fischer. Afraid of being discovered, she never left the small house. Through a friend she got to know Hans Kollmorgen, owner of a company for optical instruments. He took her and four other Jews into his apartment in Berlin-Schöneberg and cared for them. Again after about three months she was hidden by a friend, Magdalena Heilmann, and her children Peter and Eva. Peter Heilmann procured a forged postal ID card for her under the name Martha Schröder, enabling her to move about more freely. In May 1943 she traveled to friends of the Heilmanns, Edmund and Lotte Goldschagg in Freiburg, where she stayed for almost a year. A nosy neighbor made it too dangerous for her to stay there any longer.

Peter Heilmann’s friend Hella Gorn, a young Quaker, asked Luise Meier in Berlin for help. Together with locals who knew the area near the Swiss border, Meier had already helped a number of Jews cross into Switzerland. Hella Gorn traveled to Freiburg in April 1944 to prepare Else Behrend-Rosenfeld’s escape. Behrend-Rosenfeld’s “Aryan” friends gave her the 3000 reichsmarks to cover the escape helpers’ fee. She was led to the border zone by Meier’s contacts. While crossing the border on April 20, 1944, she broke her leg—luckily already on Swiss soil.

After the war, she worked as a social worker in Zurich. That is where her diary of her experiences was published in 1945, one of the first publications of this kind. In 1946 she finally joined her husband in England. After his death in 1952 she returned to Bavaria and resumed her work assisting prisoners. She was with her family in Birmingham, England, when she died in 1970.

Bibliography:
Behrend, Rahel. Verfemt und verfolgt. Erlebnisse einer Jüdin in Nazi-Deutschland 1933–1944. Zurich: Büchergilde Gutenberg, 1945; reprinted many times as:
Behrend-Rosenfeld, Else R. Ich stand nicht allein. Erlebnisse einer Jüdin in Deutschland 1933–1944. Most recently Munich: C. H. Beck, 1988.
Behrend-Rosenfeld, Else, and Siegfried Rosenfeld. Leben in zwei Welten. Tagebücher eines jüdischen Paares in Deutschland und im Exil, edited by Erich Kasberger and Marita Krauss. Munich: Volk, 2011.

Else Behrend-Rosenfeld
Photo: Bavarian Main State Archive