Robert Eisenstädt (1919 - 1996)

Robert Eisenstädt was born in Frankfurt am Main in 1919, the fourth child in a Jewish family. His older siblings had been born in the Alsatian city of Strasbourg. After the First World War, like other German families, the Eisenstädts had to leave the Alsace, which was ceded back to France in the Treaty of Versailles. Around 1920 the family settled in Hanau, where two more children were born. The father found a job as a commercial clerk. The family of eight lived very modestly. After finishing primary school, Robert Eisenstädt completed a technical apprenticeship in a rubber footwear factory in Hanau. After his father died in late 1936, his mother and the older siblings managed to make ends meet.

The rubber footwear factory was Aryanized in 1938; like all Jewish employees, Eisenstädt lost his job. He attempted to cross the border into Holland by bicycle but failed and was sent back to Hanau. On the day after the November Pogrom in 1938, he visited two friends in Frankfurt. The young people were arrested and transported along with numerous other Jewish men from Frankfurt to the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar. After torturous weeks Robert Eisenstädt was finally released. His mother tried to find a way for him and his oldest sister Herta to escape to relatives in the United States. Herta emigrated, but her brother did not receive a visa.

Robert and his brother Willi, two years his senior, were conscripted to do forced labor in street construction in 1939. From December 1940 to April 1942 Robert worked in a mattress factory in Frankfurt. There he met and fell in love with another Jewish laborer, Eva Müller, and they became engaged.

After his terrible experiences in Buchenwald, Robert Eisenstädt wanted to avoid being sent to another concentration camp at all costs. However, his attempt to go into hiding in spring 1942 failed. On May 30, 1942, hardly 23 years old at the time, he was deported from Hanau together with his mother Henriette, his sister Marta and her 4-year-old son, as well as his other siblings Willi, Rosa, and the youngest, Heinrich, who was still a minor. His mother was happy that her children were accompanying her on their journey into the unknown. First the family was brought to a pre-deportation assembly camp in Kassel and from there they were transported to Majdanek concentration camp near Lublin, in German-occupied Poland. Robert and Willi were separated from the rest of their family in the camp and assigned to a work detail. Despite the strict watch, they decided to flee together as soon as an opportunity arose.

Robert managed to escape during an unguarded moment on July 10, 1942, but without his brother. He made his way via Radom to Breslau, where he received money from the Jewish Relief Committee to continue on to Frankfurt. Seriously battered from the abuse in the concentration camp, he made it to the home of his Jewish fiancée, where he was able to hide in the attic.

Because Eva Müller was also threatened with deportation, she asked her former family doctor Fritz Kahl for help. He secretly visited her and treated Robert Eisenstädt’s injuries. The engaged couple wanted to escape to Switzerland. Eva Müller got pregnant since Dr. Kahl thought they would probably not be sent back to Germany as illegal refugees by the Swiss authorities if she were expecting. Together with his wife Margarete and other helpers, Dr. Kahl planned the couple’s escape. Meanwhile Robert Eisenstädt hid at various locations in Hanau and Frankfurt, finally also with the Kahls.

In February 1943 Eva Müller and Robert Eisenstädt successfully crossed the border into Switzerland. In July 1943 their daughter Maria Adina (whom they called Maja) was born in Basel. The family emigrated to New York in 1947.

Bonavita, Petra. Mit falschem Pass und Zyankali. Retter und Gerettete aus Frankfurt am Main in der NS-Zeit, 11–27. Stuttgart: Schmetterling, 2009.
Kosmala, Beate. "Robert Eisenstädts Flucht aus dem KZ Majdanek: Über Frankfurt am Main in die Schweiz." In Überleben im Dritten Reich: Juden im Untergrund und ihre Helfer, edited by Wolfgang Benz, 287–298. Munich: C. H. Beck, 2003.
Kosmala, Beate, and Revital Ludewig-Kedmi. "Rettung eines Flüchtlings aus Majdanek: Margarete und Fritz Kahl." In Verbotene Hilfe: Deutsche Retterinnen und Retter während des Holocaust, edited by Beate Kosmala and Revital Ludewig-Kedmi, 43–49. Zurich: Verlag Pestalozzianum, and Donauwörth: Auer, 2003.
Robert Eisenstädt
Photo: Swiss Federal Archives



  • Buchenwald concentration camp

    Buchenwald concentration camp

    This concentration camp near Weimar was one of the largest on German soil. Between 1937 and 1945 about 250,000 people from almost all countries in Europe were imprisoned in Buchenwald and the roughly 130 satellite camps. The number of those who were deliberately murdered or who died from the inhuman living and working conditions is estimated at about 56,000, including 11,000 Jews.

  • November pogroms, 1938

    November pogroms, 1938

    After a 17-year-old Polish Jew attempted to assassinate a German diplomat in Paris, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels initiated anti-Jewish pogroms throughout the German Reich. On November 9 and 10, 1938, members of the paramilitary SA and the Nazi Party set hundreds of synagogues on fire and destroyed and plundered Jewish stores and residences. More than a hundred people were killed and about 30,000 Jewish men were imprisoned in concentration camps.