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The Story of Lilli Jahn

This is a story of a devoted, independent mother of five.  During her lifetime, she experienced many things that would not seem out of the ordinary for any typical woman.  She cared for her children, experienced marital troubles, and attended a university. However, Lilli Jahn’s life was anything but ordinary.  She was a Jewish woman living under the Third Reich, and in the eyes of the Nazis, she did not deserve to live.  Ultimately, she perished in Auschwitz.

Lilli Jahn was born on March 5, 1900, to two Jewish parents named Josef and Paula Schluchterer. Lilli and her younger sister, Elsa, were raised in a middle-class comfortable home, with a childhood dotted with musical soirees and trips to the mountains.  Her parents instilled in Lilli a great appreciation for the value of education, sending both her and her sister to prestigious schools and encouraging them to pursue a profession. These academic values would follow Lilli throughout her life. She eventually attended Cologne University, obtaining her doctorate as a general practitioner in 1924.

While Lilli attended school, she was not completely focused on her studies. A young man by the name of Ernst Jahn who served during the First World War had caught her eye.  Ernst, a Protestant, was a doctor searching for a permanent place of employment.  The relationship between Lilli and Ernst blossomed.  However, Ernst was continuously troubled by melancholy thoughts, probably stemming from both his experiences during World War I and his difficulty making a secure living (Doerry 9). Sometimes these emotions would affect the pair’s relationship as Ernst searched for solace with past girlfriends and brooded about his relationship with Lilli.  In many of Lilli’s letters, she took on the role of a concerned friend, attempting to cheer up her lover.

My Amade, my dear little Amade,

    . . .I wish I had you here and could dispel your gloomy thoughts a little. . .I hereby forbid you, once and for all, to brood about your attitude towards me in any way or reproach yourself for it. . .stop making things so terribly hard for yourself and the two of us! I love you so much!!

Letter from Lilli to Ernst, April 11, 1924 (Doerry 12)

The couple was married on August 12, 1926. At first Lilli’s parents had been strongly opposed to the marriage, worrying about their daughter marrying outside of the Jewish community and the potential dangers of such a marriage (Doerry 31). However, Lilli tried time and time again to convince her father to bless their marriage, and her persistence paid off. Ernst and Lilli Jahn were free to build a household together. By Nazi standards, their relationship was classified as a “privileged mixed marriage,” comprised of mixed couples that did not raise their children in the Jewish faith.

The Jahns settled down in Immenhausen, and displayed two nameplates beside the front door of their apartment reading “Dr. Ernst Jahn, General Practitioner,” and “Dr. Lilli Jahn, General Practitioner.” Their family grew quickly. By 1933, Lilli had given birth to four children: Gerhard, Ilse, Johanna, and Eva. Her fifth and final child, Dorothea, was born in 1940.


The picture on the left shows the front of the Jahn's house before Lili was required to remove her nameplate. The absense of the nameplate can be seen on the second picture.

However, dark clouds soon settled upon the couple. Growing political pressures placed upon Lilli by the officials of Immenhausen forced her to remove her nameplate and discontinue practicing medicine in 1933. She also had to endure anti-Jewish demonstrations such as the Judenboykott on April 1, 1933 and disapproving stares from the Aryan townspeople (Doerry 62). Ernst was continually subjected to slander because of his marriage to a Jew. By 1935, Lilli Jahn was the only Jew left in Immenhausen. At this point, her very existence hinged on her marriage to Ernst, a Protestant.

Meanwhile, Ernst’s depression had returned, and he sought comfort in the form of an affair with a colleague by the name of Rita Schmidt. In 1942, Lilli helped deliver Rita’s child, which was fathered by Ernst. Soon Rita and her baby moved into a nearby apartment, and Ernst spent many days and nights there.

The Jahn’s marriage was drawing to a close. Ernst could not hold up under the continual pressure to divorce his Jewish wife, the constant harm to his practice and his self-esteem, and the complications of his affair with Rita. He was also under the mistaken impression that the Nazis would exempt Lilli from persecution because of the number of children she was caring for. Ernst divorced Lilli on October 8, 1942.

The Nazis moved swiftly as soon as Lilli’s only form of protection was dissolved. She was arrested on August 30, 1943 and eventually taken to the Breitenau corrective labor camp. She stayed at this camp for six months.

During this time, her children led a frail existence. Ilse, as one of the oldest children, assumed the role of mother, and helped the younger ones survive the constant air raids and lonely lifestyle. The children constantly attempted to send care packages to their mother who was continually subjected to harsh labor and cold temperatures. A steady stream of letters between Lilli and her children existed up until the early months of 1944.

Lilli was taken from Breitenau to Auschwitz on March 17, 1944.  Her last letter to her children, written during the journey to Auschwitz, reads:

And now goodbye again, all of you—Gerhard, Ilse Mouse, Hannele Child, little Eva, and my precious Dorle! May God protect you! The bonds between us are indissoluable. Heartfelt good wishes and kisses from your devoted


Letter from Lilli to her children, March 21, 1944 (Doerry 248)

Lilli died in Auschwitz on June 17 or 19, 1944.  Because her Aryan husband broke her only bond of protection, Lilli Jahn will always be remembered as a victim of the Holocaust.

For more information on Lilli Jahn's life, see My Wounded Heart: The Life of Lilli Jahn, 1900-1944 by Martin Doerry

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