Struggling Underground from Day to Day 

Ilse Basch was forced to leave secondary school in 1935; she graduated from a commercial school and worked as a secretary. After 1933, interior designer Werner Rewald was allowed to work only as an upholsterer because he was Jewish. Basch and Rewald were married in 1938 in Berlin. Their plans to emigrate failed when the war started in 1939. Beginning in the fall of 1939, Werner had to do harvesting work and later forced labor for the German state railroad. Fritz Wolzenburg, his foreman, retained him, thus saving him from deportation. Ilse Rewald had to do forced labor in an armaments factory. Throughout 1942 the Rewalds continued to learn more about the camps “in the East,” the destination of the deportations. Their friends Paul and Elli Fromm, who had heard about Jews who went into hiding to avoid the imminent deportations, offered Werner Rewald a place to hide. After a long search, Ilse Rewald found lodgings with Käthe Pickardt, the Christian widow of a Jewish doctor, and her daughter Ursula.

On January 11, 1943, the Rewalds went into hiding in their prearranged lodgings and kept in contact with each other as best they could. As of late February 1943, Werner Rewald could no longer stay with the Fromms. As an apartment manager, however, Paul Fromm was able to refer him to other places to hide, though Werner Rewald couldn’t stay anywhere for very long. Sometimes he rented a room in a guesthouse, sometimes he spent the night in a summerhouse. During the day he did all kinds of jobs in exchange for food or nightly lodgings. Ilse Rewald worked as domestic help or did secretarial work. Ilse and Werner Rewald worried about each other with every air raid.

Elisabeth Litt, a teacher, had good relations with the Jewish Basch family going back to Ilse’s elementary school days. She heard about the Rewalds’ harried lives in hiding. Though suffering from tuberculosis, she helped them by regularly writing letters to an agreed-upon address, sending food, and giving them courage to endure. Elisabeth Litt died in 1944 in a sanatorium for tuberculosis.

Ilse Rewald’s motherly friend Elsa Chotzen and Chotzen’s oldest son Joseph (“Eppi”) could not give the Rewalds lodging because they were at risk themselves, but they took their important documents and photographs for safekeeping. During the day the harried couple was welcome to visit anytime and relax for a few hours. German railroad inspector Fritz Wolzenburg obtained authentic German railroad ID cards for the Rewalds. Werner Rewald, in particular, felt safer with the documents, as men of military age often had their papers checked.

From November 1943 on, Werner Rewald also stayed with the Pickardts, but when the apartment was destroyed in an air raid in late January 1944, they had to find new lodgings. Through someone Ilse Rewald had met while doing forced labor, she heard about the musicians Cornelia and Hanning Schröder. Although they had a mixed marriage they still ventured to take the Rewalds into their home in Berlin-Zehlendorf. After Cornelia Schröder and her ten-year-old daughter Nele moved to Mecklenburg because of the air raids, a Wehrmacht officer was quartered in their home. The Rewalds assumed a made-up, yet believable identity in his presence. Ilse and Werner Rewald survived the war at Hanning Schröder’s, who summarized the motives for his actions by saying, “I wanted to counter the horrors of the concentration camps with my concentrated effort.”

Bibliography:
Köhler, Jochen. Klettern in der Großstadt: Geschichten vom Überleben in Berlin zwischen 1933 und 1945. Berlin: Wagenbach, 1981.
Rewald, Ilse. “Der Preis des Überlebens,” in Jüdische Berliner: Leben nach der Schoa. 14 Gespräche, edited by Ulrich Eckhardt and Andreas Nachama, 189–207. Berlin: Jaron, 2003.
Rewald, Ilse. Berliners Who Helped Us to Survive the Hitler Dictatorship, translated by Hanna Silver. Berlin: German Resistance Memorial Center, 1990.
Schieb, Barbara. Nachricht von Chotzen: “Wer immer hofft, stirbt singend”. Berlin: Hentrich, 2000.

Glossary

  • Mixed marriages

    Mixed marriages

    Marriage between Jews (or non-Aryans according to the Nuremberg Race Laws) and non-Jews was banned through the “Blood Protection Law” of September 15, 1935. Preexisting marriages were tolerated. Depending on the religion of the children, “privileged” mixed marriages were distinguished from “nonprivileged” ones. Initially spared deportation, the situation for Jews in mixed marriages became increasingly uncertain as of 1943. In some areas, spouses in mixed marriages were deported.