Neither Black Nor White: Intermarried Jews and Mischlinge during the Third Reich


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Rudi and Elsa Holzer


Elsa Holzer, at the young age of 39, risked her own life in order to save her husband’s life at the Rosenstrasse Protest. Her bravery and determination contributed to the release of her beloved husband, Rudi Holzer.

The couple met at a social dance in 1923. Elsa, a young woman who had been brought up in the Protestant faith, had agreed, unenthusiastically, to chaperone her younger sister to the event. Elsa ended up dancing with a charming young man who would eventually become her husband (Stoltzfus 29). Like Charlotte Israel, Elsa didn’t suspect that Rudi was Jewish when she first met him.

In fact, Rudi didn’t consider himself Jewish. His family was technically Jewish when Rudi was born, but his father neglected Jewish holidays, attended Catholic services, and had all of his children baptized in the Catholic faith. Mr. Holzer actually converted to Catholicism himself when he became deathly ill and was told that he could only be buried if he was Catholic. Consequently, Rudi’s family did not have a strong Jewish heritage or commitment to the religion.  Rudi was not circumcised.

Rudi’s upbringing reflected his family’s attitude toward Judaism. He was sent to a Catholic boarding school to receive his education, and he hoped to become a priest when he matured. He volunteered for the Austrian Army at the age of 17.  After World War I, he joined the Communist Party to prove his wish for peace.  Rudi would later take his wife, Elsa, to East Germany in 1946 to follow his Communist ideals. They would live there for forty years.

Rudi and Elsa were married in 1929.  Elsa didn’t consider the marriage to be opposing the government, but rather the church (Catholic vs. Protestant).  Rudi’s parents were opposed to the match because of economic and monetary reasons (Stoltzfus 36).

The couple spent a blissful ten years in Berlin, with Rudi working at a printing press to make a living. However, the annexation of Austria by Germany in 1938 marked the descent of the Holzer’s happiness.

Soon after, in 1939, Rudi was called to Gestapo headquarters to prove his Aryan descent. He was judged before the Berlin District Court and pronounced a Jew. He lost his German citizenship and his job at the printing press. Since Rudi didn’t even realize that he was a Jew, this was very stressful and disturbing to both him and his wife.  A year later, Rudi was ordered to do forced manual labor. Desperate to keep her family intact, Elsa took two jobs.  The couple continually had to endure harassment, including angry jeers and feces spread across their doormat (Stoltzfus 157).

Elsa showed immense amounts of loyalty when she was ordered to appear at the Gestapo offices in Berlin. The SS officer who interviewed her encouraged her to obtain a divorce from her Jewish husband, beginning with flattery and resorting to blatant threats when Elsa refused to comply (Stoltzfus 108). Elsa left the building enraged that such a man would dare to force her to separate from Rudi. This stout attitude would help Elsa in the trials ahead.

On the first evening of the Final Roundup, Rudi was taken by surprise at his labor job and transported to Rosenstrasse 2-4. Through word of mouth, Elsa discovered where her husband was being held and traveled to the street, expecting to be the only protestor there (Stoltzfus 228). She was surprised to see a throng of people marching up and down Rosenstrasse. Desperate to send word to her husband, Elsa approached multiple people seeking someone who would give a sandwich to Rudi.  A prison guard agreed to give him the package. Within the pumpernickel sandwich, Elsa had hidden a hastily-written note, which read:letter

"Dear Rudi, all the best. I love you forever, your Elsa.” (Stoltzfus 228)

Rudi received the note and gained new hope.


                                                                                                                                                                  Elsa's note to Rudi

A few days later, Rudi was released from Rosenstrasse, and returned home on March 8, thanks to the bravery of his wife, Elsa, along with the thousands of other women who stood up to the Nazi regime.

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