Rosalie Baendel was born on 8 January 1870 to Jewish parents in Upper Silesia. Her place of birth is recorded in some sources as Piosniki (Piaśniki) and in others as the neighbouring town of Hindenburg (as the Polish town Zabrze was named from 1915 to 1946). It is likely that until around 1895 she lived in Gleiwitz (Polish: Gliwice), where her parents Johanna (née Bartenstein) and Nathan Baendel lived.
On 4 August 1894 she married Ernst Emil Zscherp, a garment-maker and a Protestant. They had three children who were all baptized in the Protestant faith. Their eldest daughter Erna Käthe was born on 25 September 1894 in Gleiwitz. One year later, on 31 October 1895, their son Ernst Herbert was born in Chemnitz. Their youngest child Gertrud Else was born on 3 December 1897 in Lichtenstein-Callnberg in the district of Zwickau.
In 1901 the Zscherp family moved to Berlin, where they lived at Schmid Straße 2 in Mitte. Rosalie Zscherp owned a supplier’s workshop, producing garments for retail companies. Her son Herbert, who trained to become a garment-maker after completing middle school, and who served in the First World War, took over the management.
In 1923 Rosalie Zscherp left her husband. According to her son, she was driven to do so because of her husband’s insults against her Jewish faith and her general aversion to him. They were legally divorced on 28 April 1928. After leaving her husband in 1923, Rosalie Zscherp moved in with her son Herbert, who had entered self-employment the previous year with his own ladies’ wear wholesale company. She gave up her business and started working for her son as a workshop manageress. The business was initially based at Michaelkirch Straße 30 but moved to Insel Straße 1a in 1926. It flourished and by late 1933 was employing some 25 to 30 seamstresses.
After the Nazis assumed power, the Zscherps’ financial situation steadily worsened. Herbert Zscherp described the events as follows: “Due to the persecution of Jews beginning in 1933, my large business steadily shrank, year by year. Sales dropped as my Jewish clients gradually disappeared and the few Aryanised firms that existed were reluctant to give contracts to a half-Jew. Moreover, I suffered further losses because many women refused to work for me.” In early February 1935 the business was relocated to Märkische Ufer 12. Herbert Zscherp rented an apartment on the second floor of the building, and Rosalie Zscherp moved in with him.
During the November pogrom in 1938, the business was looted, and the furnishings and machines smashed and ruined. From this point on, Rosalie Zscherp could no longer appear in the firm as workshop manager, her daughter Käthe later said, and had to conduct her work – separated from the staff and operations – from her son’s home. “On 3 March 1939 she was issued a Jewish identity card, [after which] her health deteriorated, and she started to consider suicide; because of the persecution, she had problems with her heart, nerves, stomach and gall bladder for which she needed constant treatment.”
In late January 1942, Rosalie Zscherp was denounced and summoned to the Gestapo. She decided not to obey but to go underground. Her good friend Frieda Falk (née Wulff) let her hide in her apartment on the fourth floor of the same building as her son’s home. On 1 February 1942, Rosalie Zscherp moved into the maid’s chamber, where she slept on a suspended ceiling installed especially for her. Soon after she went into hiding, her son Herbert was arrested by the Gestapo and detained for five days, during which time he was questioned and brutally beaten. Despite the physical abuse he suffered, he insisted he did not know his mother’s whereabouts and was released for the time being.
After about a year in which Rosalie Zscherp lived illegally in her neighbour’s home, under the constant threat of discovery, her daughter Käthe decided she should live with her in Frankfurt. On Christmas Eve 1942, Rosalie Zscherp accompanied Käthe (whose married name was Koch) to Frankfurt, where she lived in hiding in her daughter’s home for over a year. Her son later described her situation, living illegally in almost total isolation, as degrading and akin to imprisonment.
In Berlin, Herbert Zscherp continued to be harassed by the Gestapo and was imprisoned from February to September 1943 on Große Hamburger Straße. Rosalie Zscherp’s health deteriorated further and in spring 1944 she decided to travel to Berlin – despite the high risk involved – to consult her doctor, Dr. Johann Weser. Alex Cichocki, a friend of the family who lived in Berlin, drove Rosalie Zscherp from Frankfurt to Berlin on 3 February 1944. Her daughter Käthe accompanied her, disguised as a nurse. In Berlin, Herbert Zscherp took his mother to Dr. Weser’s practice at Schützen Straße 75. Subsequently, she returned to her old hiding place in Frieda Falk’s home on Märkische Ufer. Here, she collapsed and suffered a severe heart attack and a nervous breakdown. She died two days later, on 5 February 1944, after administration of a high dose of morphine. According to her children, it was an act of suicide; Rosalie Zscherp could no longer bear the horrors of ongoing persecution.