Each Child Is My Only One

Lotte Carlebach-Preuss, the Portrait of a Mother and Rabbi’s Wife

by Miriam Gillis-Carlebach (Author)
©2014 Monographs 296 Pages


In Each Child Is My Only One: Lotte Carlebach-Preuss, the Portrait of a Mother and Rabbi’s Wife, Miriam Gillis-Carlebach, the daughter of Rabbi Dr. Joseph Zvi Carlebach (1883–1942), last Chief Rabbi of Hamburg and its surroundings, describes her childhood in the lively household of a rabbi’s family with nine children, focusing on the special personality of her mother, Lotte Carlebach, née Preuss (1900–1942). The book starts with the history of the Preuss family, goes on to describe the marriage of Lotte to Joseph Carlebach, and portrays in detail their dynamic family life – until their deportation with their four youngest children to a Latvian concentration camp in 1942.
The book is composed of two main parts. In the first section the reader learns about the events up to 1938, both inside and outside the Carlebach home; the second section covers the years 1938–1941, in which there was a lively correspondence mainly between the mother and those of her children who succeeded in emigrating from Nazi Germany. This part concludes with several testimonies portraying the special personalities of Rabbi Carlebach and his wife and their devotion to the unfortunate who benefited from their unbounded assistance and altruism during the Holocaust.
Many photographs are included in the book, several of them taken by Lotte Carlebach herself. The book is a unique and personal testimony about Jewish life in Germany during the years of persecution that relentlessly led to the conflagration of the Holocaust.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • ADVANCE PRAISE FOR Each Child Is My Only One
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Part One
  • Beginnings
  • Beginnings in Hamburg
  • The Preuss Family, Berlin
  • Between Berlin and Kovno
  • In Lübeck
  • Hamburg: 2 Bieber Street
  • Ten Years in Altona on the Elbe
  • Moving to Altona
  • Carlebach Food
  • The Jewish Community School
  • Little Incidents and Illnesses
  • Do You Know the House in Werder Street?
  • ‘My Uncle, the Rambam’
  • Friday Nights
  • 39 Behn Street and the ‘Caro’
  • The Events of 1933
  • In Donner Park
  • From the Cellar-Kitchen
  • A Journey to the Land of Israel
  • The Children’s Letters to Daddy in Israel
  • 25 Klopstock Street
  • Text and Poems on the Occasion of Buli’s Bar-Mitzva
  • For Grandma’s 60th Birthday
  • Friends, Ladies, and Acquaintances
  • The Free ? and Hanseatic City of Hamburg
  • Transfers and Changes
  • Fast Days
  • Three Letters from Hamburg
  • Thunderclouds over Hamburg
  • Between Two Worlds
  • The Events of 1938
  • A Parting with no Farewell
  • Part Two
  • Between the Lines
  • Introduction
  • Letters, 1938
  • Letters, 1939
  • Letters, 1940
  • Letters, 1941
  • Each Child is my Only One
  • Preliminary Remarks
  • The Three Little Ones
  • Letters from Sara-Baby
  • Letters from Noemi
  • Letters from Ruth
  • Letters from Shlomo-Peter
  • Judith’s Recollections
  • Correspondence between Lotte Carlebach and Mrs. H.
  • Letters from Judith
  • Buli’s Recollections
  • Letters from Buli
  • Letters to Buli
  • Letters from Esther
  • Letters to Esther
  • Eva’s Recollections
  • Letters from Eva
  • Letters to Eva
  • A Father Also Writes to His Children
  • Gloomy Echoes
  • Introduction
  • Fragments of Letters and Accounts
  • Rumors in 1942-1945
  • Extracts from letters from the Goldschmidt-Halberstadt family
  • Letters from Shlomo (Peter)
  • A Letter from Jerusalem
  • Bibliography and Source Material

| 11 →


Today I began quite simply to write. It lay like a stone on my heart — I am in a kind of panic, not knowing how to finish what I alone can and should do.

In view of my experiences up to the present time and the oppressive likelihood of forgetting, I take myself back into the gray mist of the past in order to write how it was, as far as I can remember, and research and, as far as possible, utilize sources and statements.

For many years I have been involved in researching the subject of Jewish mothers in Germany during the Holocaust, how at that time they performed their daily tasks both inside and outside the home in as normal a fashion as possible and as they felt they should, despite everything. But this book focuses exclusively on my mother, Mrs. Charlotte-Helene, known as Lotte, Carlebach, née Preuss. She is not just one of the mothers, she is the mother who represents all those whose fate is not recorded elsewhere.

It is legitimate to ask what my sources are. They consist of official documents and matter-of-fact yet deliberately tormenting regulations; chronological and random documents such as announcements and cuttings from contemporary newspapers as well as papers of a personal nature, e.g. poems, speeches and the like. A few testimonies that help to give a better idea of the real picture, are added; some of them were provided by people who lived in the house of the Carlebachs and were helped by them — in both good and bad times. Many of those people were not able either physically or mentally to recollect, as their reminiscences were clouded by the shadows of the events — and with regard to Lotte Carlebach – they were often outweighed by the recollection of the imposing and charismatic phenomenon that was my father, Chief Rabbi Dr. Joseph Carlebach.

But there are some statements all the same; there are a few people who were nonetheless willing to relate something of what they could recall, while others recounted events entirely in passing; at the time we did not realize that these statements would at a later date fulfill a more specific purpose.

There are also letters about Lotte Carlebach, although these are few and far between. And the approximately sixty letters from Lotte Carlebach herself which are in my possession I have begged and borrowed, wherever possible. Most of the letters were written to her mother, Mrs. Martha-Rachel Preuss, née Halberstadt, as well as to friends and relations. Some letters to the various Carlebach children in England have survived, but none that were sent to me personally. A hurricane ← 11 | 12 → in Herzliya (Israel) in 1944 blew all my written and pictorial material out of my home-tent and scattered them to the four winds. Nevertheless, I have managed by a concerted effort to track down a considerable number of photographs, some of them taken by Lotte Carlebach herself. In them Lotte gives her view of events both great and small. They illustrate an entire epoch “that was carried to its grave” (H. Cohn, 1945).

Other important documents have equally been lost: a postcard from the place of deportation in Hamburg, another from the train heading ‘towards the east,’ and another postcard, probably from a concentration camp near Riga.

No-one can be reproached. The only legitimate critical question in this respect is the one I must ask myself: why did more than fifty years have to pass before I began amassing sources and statements, and decided to undertake the task of writing this record - in words overshadowed by events I have never forgotten and imbued with the pain for which there is no consolation. That is the only way to write about Lotte Carlebach. Her great example - unknown and unrecognized - is a symbol for the many nameless heroines, for every mother and her children in the Holocaust “whose blessing of inheritance is recorded throughout the generations” (Joseph Carlebach, 1930). May it be to Lotte Carlebach’s merit that in her name all the others are brought back to memory.

Despite the determination and repeated attempts, this work has proceeded very slowly. A great deal of good and well-meant advice, both private and academic, was impracticable. The collection of sources involved greater difficulties than I had imagined, while determining the book's nature and choosing the language was accompanied by many doubts. The final decision was to regard the ‘mother-tongue’ of the letters as having the greatest weight, as this was the principal component of the book as well as the language of the events; at any rate, I also felt a slight need to try working once again with the words of a language in which I had grown up but which had lain fallow within me for many years. I had neither used it to speak nor to read and write, and my children had never learned it. On the other hand, I was gripped by my inner anxiety that the work of translation would take me into a time- and emotion-consuming tunnel of words that were saturated with pain. It seemed to me that I would struggle to find the right wording which would eventually be disappointing in its artificiality.

The biographical evidence and recollections were arranged according to various standpoints: those of historical or at least of general interest; reminiscences concerning Lotte Carlebach, which characterize her to some extent; memories which emerged from her own letters and those sent to her; and finally recollections which had made such a deep impression on me that against my will I had been unable to suppress them and they had surfaced once more. Most of these ← 12 | 13 → remain steadfast when it comes to confronting memories of other people – and yet they keep their personal touch.

This book has two main sections which are not really separate from one another. On the basis of various sources, the first part recounts the events up to 1938, and the second part contains Lotte Carlebach’s letters, mainly those from 1938 to 1941, to which have been added the letters of her children to her and those from Lotte Carlebach to them – supplemented by letters from their father and witnesses’ statements. For those readers who are interested, the third part contains glossaries and references.

The individual sections in the first part are only loosely connected and are not in strict chronological order. The headings should be considered as general indications that evoke recollections and lines of thought – as in the course of writing things seemed to get mixed up in my mind – traditions, my own experiences, personal recollections, things I heard at a later stage, and information I found through research. With the section containing the letters a gradual change begins – developing from something that was once naïve and happy into something dreadful and unimaginable.

| 15 →



Beginnings in Hamburg

My mother, Lotte Carlebach-Preuss, was born in Berlin, but her fate took her to other cities and countries, too. Nevertheless, her story is a Hamburg story; all paths and tracks lead to Hamburg, and the unbearable, so to speak, lead-heavy zenith of her life is indelibly engraved there.

My Hamburg memories start with Lotte Carlebach’s grandmother, my great-grandmother, Michele Mathilde Halberstadt, née Wolff. She was born in Hamburg on 25th December 1856, and until her death she remained a ‘child of Hamburg’ and was described and praised as such: “… She was always happy and cheerful; she regarded the flowers as her soulmates, and the high cultural standard of life on the Alster gave her endless delight… She embodied a piece of old Hamburg and incorporated in herself the joy of living and nobility of bourgeois life…” (Joseph Carlebach, 1932).

“Providence imposed great trials and tribulations on our great-grandmother Halberstadt, whom we always called Great-Granny (Urgrossmutti) and allowed her to experience every kind of bitterness. As a young girl, surrounded by so many siblings that it seems unimaginable to us today (there were sixteen children in the family), she had to endure the hard school of a very strict father, and as the oldest sister was required to be responsible for the younger children…” (Joseph Carlebach, 1932). She was married at the young age of 18, as was customary in Jewish circles at that time. Her husband, Wolf Halberstadt, owned a kosher butcher’s shop that sold meat and sausages, and was managed in strict accordance with the ritual precepts of the Jewish religion; he made a good living.

But Mathilde Halberstadt brought up her five children (one daughter and four sons) on her own, as already in 1884, at the age of twenty-eight, she was a widow. The brother of her deceased husband, Dr. Joseph Halberstadt, a physician at the Jewish hospital who also had a practice in the Jungfernstieg, supported her and served as the guardian of her children; but just one year later, he died from a heart disease. And if all that wasn't enough, in the postwar years she lost all her money and the basis of her existence. ← 15 | 16 →

In her brief memoir Great-Granny’s eldest daughter, Martha-Rachel Halberstadt-Preuss, paints a vivid picture of her: a wonderful educator, who sought to give her children a carefree childhood, who was ready to rejoice with them, even for a short time being prepared to accede their request to keep a young goat in the house — until the animal began to gnaw at the wallpaper.

The woman who was later to become our ‘Grandma Preuss’ described herself as a “dark Jewish girl with blue eyes.” As a pupil she was a talented musician at the Wandsbek secondary school, spoke several languages, and also, as was customary among the daughters of better-off Jewish families, studied piano and dancing. In reminiscing about her childhood she recalled how her brothers envied her as the eldest child, and sought to annoy her, because our great-grandmother evidently preferred her as she was the only girl in the immediate family. And if, in order to remain slim, she ventured to eat an egg instead of her portion of rice, it was sanctioned - of course, because she was a girl.

When Great-Granny died at the age of seventy-six, only two of the four Halberstadt sons and Martha, the eldest daughter, accompanied her to her grave. Siegfried, the elder of the two, after serving as a soldier in the First World War and spending almost four years as a prisoner of war, had become a businessman in order to support his widowed mother. Because of his devout Judaism, he was also the one who “brightened the Sabbath and the festivals for her” in the company of his family, his wife Rebecca, née Ettlinger, and their four sons, Hermann, Walter, Manfred and Julius.

The other surviving son was Max, the youngest. He was an art photographer by trade, one of the first who also photographed landscapes; in 1927 the Photofreund magazine devoted a special issue to him and his work. His studio was in Hamburg, and many of our later ‘nine children’s photos’ were taken by him there. The distinguished, chivalrous Max married Sophie Freud, the daughter of Sigmund Freud. She was a renowned beauty and even the restrained and correct Grandpa Preuss abandoned his usual moderate tone to declare that she was “the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

Great-Granny had a nice room in Max and Sophie Halberstadt’s house at 18 Park Avenue, with large windows and a beautiful view. Max was already a widower when his mother died, and his eldest son Ernstel grew up motherless: Sophie died in 1920, probably as a result of influenza, and three years later, in 1923, their younger son, Heinz, known as Heinerle, died too. Uncle Max later married Aunt Bertha Katzenstein, Ernstel’s first teacher, and her only daughter, Eva, often visited us in our house, which was full of children, in order to play and romp with us.

Siegfried and Max, the oldest and the youngest of the Halberstadt boys, lived in Hamburg, a fact that comforted Great-Granny. The two other sons had died in her lifetime, but very little is known about the elder of the two, Julius. ← 16 | 17 →

Grandma Preuss told us that he had been a premature baby, born after only seven months pregnancy, and in the first few weeks of his life he was kept alive “in a padded shoe-box in a warm oven.” He was a delicate child and attended the same class as his younger brother, Rudolph. At first he seemed to have some difficulties at school; Great-Granny would go over all his lessons with him, preparing with him what he needed to read, e.g. a story about a potato, repeating it so many times, “until the potato came out of her ears.” Thanks to the tireless help of his mother he succeeded in completing his commercial studies, but already in 1926, soon after his marriage, he died childless.

Great-Granny also outlived her second youngest son, Rudolph, who had studied to become a pediatrician. He had served as a military doctor on the front in the First World War and died at the age of thirty-five as a result of wounds received in France. He had no grave on which Great-Granny could weep, only his name in gold letters on a high memorial slab among 365 other fallen Jewish soldiers who had fought for their German fatherland ‘as a natural matter of course.’ Every time Great-Granny went to the Ohlsdorf cemetery on the anniversary of the death of one of her dear ones she went past his name. We children knew him only by hearsay. I discovered later that our mother had remained a good friend to his widow, our Aunt Betty Braunschweig, from Mailand.

And now we come to the oldest of the five children, Martha Preuss, my grandmother. She lived in Berlin and rarely came to Hamburg, but she gave touching expression to her feelings of maternal reverence. For Great-Granny’s seventieth birthday she made a ‘secret pact’ with the daily delivery-persons and they all came and congratulated Great-Granny with appropriate gifts for which her daughter Martha had thoughtfully paid in advance. Great-Granny was as happy as a child with all the surprises, whose origins were discovered even by the closest family only years later.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (August)
childhood family concentration camp Holocaust
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 296 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Miriam Gillis-Carlebach (Author)

Miriam Gillis-Carlebach was born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1922. At age sixteen she was expelled from Nazi Germany after a nerve-racking Gestapo interrogation, and arrived in British-controlled Palestine in 1938. She worked as a teacher and lecturer for many years, received her PhD in special education, and founded a Center for Hebrew-language dyslexia and reading disorders in Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel, in 1986. Today she is Professor of Jewish History as well as the Director of the Joseph Carlebach Institute at Bar-Ilan, which she founded in 1992. Her main research interests include German Jewry (especially concerning Jewish life in Hamburg and the writings of her father, Joseph Carlebach), children during the Holocaust and Hebrew Letters. She has published many books and articles in German, English, and Hebrew, including Jewish Everyday Life as Human Resistance 1939–1941, The Three Great Prophets (Hebrew) by Rabbi Dr. Joseph Carlebach, and has been the recipient of honorary degrees, such as, Senator h.c. of Hamburg University, as well as several awards, including the esteemed German Federal Cross of Merit. Miriam Gillis-Carlebach lives in Petach Tikva, Israel, and has four children, 14 grandchildren, and a growing number of great-grandchildren.


Title: Each Child Is My Only One
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300 pages