"Interweaving excerpts from their letters with information he gathered from relatives, ... [Kaiser's] gem of a story provides readers with a fresh, intimate angle from which to view the devastating effects of Hitler's war on the world." from a review in Publisher's Weekly 3/20/2006
When Reinhard Kaiser looked through a box at a stamp auction in Frankfurt, Germany in 1991, he noticed that some of the stamps were on envelopes still stuffed with letters written between 1935 and 1940, all addressed to the same woman, Ingeborg Magnusson in Stockholm, Sweden. Once Kaiser’s curiosity was piqued, his high bid secured the lot, and after he read the letters which were from 26-year-old Rudolf Kaufmann to the love of his life, he started on a journey to fill in the missing pieces. This short volume is the result of that journey.
Kaiser's quotes from the letters, and his subsequent research and interviews give us a wider context to help us understand the insurmountable obstacles standing in the way of a meaningful future for Ingerborg Magnusson and Rudolf Kaufmann. Kaufmann was a native of Konigsberg, Germany. A geologist with a PhD who had serious research ambitions, he had been unable to find employment in his field in Germany because of his Jewish background even though Kaufmann didn’t consider himself Jewish. His physicist father became an Evangelical Christian and had Rudolf baptized. But Rudolf soon realized that no matter what his stated religion, according to Nazi ideology he was a Jew and was to be treated as a Jew.
We don’t learn why Rudolf’s father converted and became an Evangelical Christian, whether his conversion was heart-felt or was meant to serve as much as it could as an inoculation against the rising Nazi threat. Rudolf Kaufmann never wrote in the many letters of any religious or spiritual feelings but at one point when he first learns that he has secured employment as a teacher at Preacher [Rabbi] Hirsch’s Jewish boarding school in Coburg, a position which he ends up enjoying very much, he mentions that he does not want to have to become a Jew and he also says that he does not want to give up being an Evangelical Christian.
But as the years pass, we see through his letters that Kaufmann, whose lot has been thrown in with a group he knew little about, became more interested in Jews and Judaism. Once a Protestant German to the core, he now considered migrating to Palestine based on the advice of one his brothers, and with that goal in mind, started to study Hebrew. He wrote to Ingeborg that it upset him that the parents of his students were having to sell their businesses for pennies and he also wrote that many Jews have been very good to him, hiring him, housing him, and looking out for his welfare.
It is hard not to despair when reading the letters. With the benefit of hindsight we can see that Rudolf was an optimist and naive. Ingeborg and Rudolf met in 1935 in Bologna, Italy where he’d gotten a temporary position in his field. But his love for Ingeborg influenced his next choice: He decided to re-settle in Germany, assuming that the worst was over and that in Germany he would be closer to Ingeborg in Stockholm. Rudolf returned to a sobering reality, and as the years passed it was harder and harder to imagine a normal life as husband and wife, certainly not in Germany. And it got harder and harder for him to get out. He wrote that he sent out inquiries and applied for visas and positions in countries all over the world, from Australia to Persia. His siblings who have already fled try from abroad to do what they can. The last letters to Ingeborg are from Lithuania to where he has escaped and where he has managed at last to get a research position from the Soviets in his field. Now he confronted the reality of the effects of the war as it continued to engulf Europe. Over the course of several letters, five years after they had met, he wrote to tell Ingeborg that at this point they must go their separate ways, stressing that, given his status, a future involving the two of them was doomed.
In the last several pages Reichart takes us through his search to find out as much as he could about Ingeborg and Rudolf, seeking out and interviewing survivors in Sweden, Germany and America. His search, in and of itself, is fascinating and what he discovered certainly illuminates the letters and brings these two lovers to life.
To read an article about the conversion of the prominent German Jewish Mendelssohn family, as a representative example of conversion from Jew to Christian, click here.
Walter Kaufmann – married Frieda Kuttner; second marriage to Else Bath
Albert Kaufmann – son of Walter and Frieda; married Helene
Hans Kaufmann – son of Walter and Frieda; married to Vera
Liese Kaufmann – daughter of Walter and Frieda
Trude Kaufmann – daughter of Walter and Frieda; married to Curt Teichert
Rudolf Kaufmann –son of Walter and Frieda; married to Ilse
Raimund Ludgwig Kaufmann – son of Walter and Else
Friends and Acquaintances
Max and Helene Holzman
Marie Holzman – daughter of Max and Helene
Margarete Holzman – daughter of Max and Helene