A Network of Helpers 

In July 1942, Elisabeth Abegg could do nothing to prevent her long-time close friend Anna Hirschberg, a Christian woman of Jewish descent, from being deported from Berlin. Over sixty years of age, Hirschberg did not think she could cope with living “illegally,” and did not accept Abegg’s offers to hide her. Years later Elisabeth Abegg learned that Hirschberg had been murdered in Auschwitz in 1944. After her friend was deported, Abegg decided to urge as many Jews as possible to flee and offered them the necessary support.

This was not the first time that Elisabeth Abegg, a left-wing liberal democrat, resisted the regime. In 1933 she was a teacher at the Berlin Luisen-Oberlyzeum, a girls’ secondary school with social-democrat leanings. Along with some fellow teachers and older students, she opposed the Nazi measures at the school and the discrimination against Jewish students. Consequently, she was transferred in 1935 to another school in Berlin on disciplinary grounds, where she was denounced for making remarks critical of the regime and forced into early retirement in 1941. Around that time she joined the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), which professes nonviolence and active charity.

Abegg’s oppositional group remained active even after their time together at the school. At the home of Richard Linde, the father of one of the dissident students, Abegg and others listened to BBC radio programs, from which they learned beginning in 1942 about the German crimes in the occupied territories. This knowledge reinforced their resolve to save at least individual people suffering persecution.

One of the first to find protection at Abegg’s home was Liselotte Pereles, a Jewish nursery school teacher who together with her foster daughter Susanne Manasse escaped deportation in February 1943. Abegg and her sister Julie secretly took them into their three-room apartment in Berlin-Tempelhof. Others who helped the two in hiding were Abegg’s former coworker Elisabeth Schmitz, Hildegard Knies and Lydia Forsström, former students of Abegg, as well as Bertha Becker, a Gentile relative of Manasse. At the same time, Knies and her aunt Christine Engler attempted to save the Jewish couple Herta and Ernst Goldstein and their daughter Evelyn. Abegg’s friends also helped Steffy and Ludwig Collm and their six-year-old daughter Susanne. Richard Linde took several people into his large house. The number of those seeking assistance continued to grow. Everyone involved tried to recruit additional helpers. Quarters were also found outside Berlin, such as with Frieda and Adolf Bunke in East Prussia and the seamstress Margrit Dobbeck in Alsace.

By 1945 the Abeggs had taken in twelve people who had gone underground. Some children in hiding were secretly given school instruction. All told, Elisabeth Abegg and her friends helped far more people. Through this network, an estimated eighty people were given illegal lodgings and were supported with food, money, clothing, and forged documents. Most of them survived.

Elisabeth Abegg, Hildegard Arnold-Knies, and Lydia Forsström were later honored by the Israeli Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

Pereles, Liselotte. “Die Retterin in der Not.” In Die unbesungenen Helden: Menschen in Deutschlands dunklen Tagen, edited by Kurt R. Grossmann, 85–93. 2nd rev. ed. Frankfurt am Main, etc: Ullstein, 1984.
Voigt, Martina. “Grüße von ‘Ferdinand’: Elisabeth Abeggs vielfältige Hilfe für Verfolgte.” In Sie blieben unsichtbar: Zeugnisse aus den Jahren 1941 bis 1945, edited by Beate Kosmala and Claudia Schoppmann, 104–116. Berlin: Förderverein Blindes Vertrauen, 2006.


  • Confessing Church

    Confessing Church

    This church opposition to the Protestant Church’s forced conformity with the Nazi regime was founded in 1934. It rejected having Christians of Jewish descent excluded from the church. In all state churches except in Württemberg, Bavaria, and Hanover, there was a schism between “German Christians” who were loyal to the regime and supporters of the Confessing Church. Many Confessing Church pastors were imprisoned.



  • Quakers


    The Religious Society of Friends, the Quakers, is a Christian-based lay community first founded in England in 1746. Its doctrine of the “inner light,” or divine presence in all humanity, includes a commitment to nonviolence, universal compassion, and aid for the needy. The German branch founded in 1925, with almost three hundred members, was monitored from 1933 to 1945 and some of its property was confiscated.