Arthur Abraham Rosenthal was born on 20 November 1875 in Koschentin, Upper Silesia, the first child of Salomon Rosenthal, a merchant, and his wife Dorothea, née Pick. Arthur had three younger siblings: Mathilde (born 1877), Moritz (born 1879) and Hedwig (born 1880). Later, the Rosenthal family moved to the rising city of Berlin. Salomon Rosenthal is first listed in the Berlin directory of 1888 as resident in today’s Friedrichshain. Just a few years later, in 1891, he died.
Arthur trained to become a tailor; according to records, his occupation soon changed from ‘cutter’ to ‘garment-maker’ and his address also frequently changed. In 1907 he settled at Rungestraße 18 in what is now Mitte, in a large building complex arranged in the typical Berlin way: The street-facing building was residential while the courtyard building behind, with its glazed façade and high ceilings, was used for manufacturing.
In October 1907 Arthur married Hedwig Kessel, whom he had met in a bowling club. The fact that the religious ceremony was held in the liberal synagogue on Lindenstraße indicates that both the Kessel and the Rosenthal families saw themselves principally as Germans who held the Jewish faith.
Hedwig Kessel was born on 7 December 1887 in Berlin, the daughter of Bernhard Kessel, owner of a shop selling ornamental trimmings, and his wife Zerlina Zipora (known as Lina), née Alexander. Her parents came from the province of Posen; her father died in 1902 aged just 48. Hedwig was the youngest of the family. Her brother Alfred was born in 1881, Erich in 1884, and Felix in 1885.
All the couple’s siblings, apart from Hedwig’s brother Felix who became a clock-seller, and Arthur’s brother Moritz, who – ahead of his time – ran an offset printing office, worked in branches of the clothing industry, or as the Berlin Jews themselves called it, Confection (‘garment-making’). They sold fabrics, like Mathilde and her husband Martin Wolfsohn, or manufactured ladies’ coats, like Hedwig’s husband Louis Cahn, or ran wholesale finery and feather businesses, like Erich and Alfred Kessel.
On 14 May 1910, the Rosenthals’ son Kurt was born in their home on Rungestraße. Soon afterwards, they moved away from the lower-class area of Mitte to the recently built Bayerisches Viertel quarter in Schöneberg, which was especially popular among affluent Jews. They now lived at Schwäbische Straße 25. Their second son Herbert was born here on 15 April 1914.
In 1912, Arthur Rosenthal co-founded the coat-making company Markwald, Rosenthal und Kosterlitz Damenmäntel-Konfektion with his partners Markus Kosterlitz and Willy Markwald, at the prestigious fashion-industry address Hausvogteiplatz 3-4. The business thrived and by 1920 the Rosenthals could afford to move into an elegant seven-room apartment at Barbarossaplatz 1.
In the very first year of Nazi rule, Arthur had to move his company to premises on a neighbouring side-street, at Kronenstraße 41. In 1934 he was forced to move out of his very large apartment to a slightly smaller one, with five rooms, at Helmstedter Straße 22 in Wilmersdorf. The following year Arthur and his partners gave up the Kosterlitz, Rosenthal und Markwald ladies’ coat-making business as the continuing boycott of Jewish businesses and everyday harassment had ruined it.
Despite having grown up in a liberal, German-Jewish environment, Arthur’s and Hedwig’s sons Herbert and Kurt Rosenthal joined the Zionist youth group Habonim Noar Chaluzi (roughly translating as ‘builders of the pioneer youth’), whose goal was to enable young pioneers (the chaluzim) to emigrate – to make aliyah – to the British Mandate of Palestine. Here, the umbrella organization
Kibbutz Meuchad (‘united kibbutz’), to which the ‘builders’ answered, assigned them to a kibbutz or settlement. Prior to this, all pioneers had to spend months preparing for the tough agricultural work and socialist life ahead of them. This hachschara (‘preparation’) took place on remote estates or farms in eleven European countries. Herbert completed his hachschara in Yugoslavia while Kurt prepared for emigration to Palestine in Denmark. In mid-1936, Herbert sailed for Palestine with a ‘worker’s certificate’ financed by the WZO (World Zionist Organisation), for which only young people aged between 18 and 35 were eligible. Kurt followed in August 1937. Herbert lived in the Gedera kibbutz and worked at the docks in Tel Aviv; Kurt lived and worked in Kfar Saba before moving with his unit to Atarot, situated between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
When the Rosenthal brothers emigrated to Palestine, the ‘Arab revolt’ was raging and Jewish settlements were subject to frequent attacks and bombings. Hedwig and Arthur Rosenthal were very concerned for the well-being of their children and sent them packets and parcels, money and crates of books each month. Hedwig and Arthur, meanwhile, continued their busy social life in Berlin, albeit under restrictions. They wrote to their sons telling them about their “very cosy Oneg Schabbat”, birthday celebrations with “the uncles” Erich, Alfred, Martin and Moritz and aunts Mieze and Gina and “cousin Heinz” (Cahn), as well as their regular attendance at events organized by the Cultural Federation of German Jews (“Kulturbund Deutscher Juden“).
It was not until mid-1938 that Hedwig and Arthur Rosenthal started to consider emigrating, when Arthur was forced to hand in his permit to travel (which meant he could not sell remaining stock from his collection – albeit below its actual value – as a travelling salesman), and they were ordered to vacate their apartment by 1 May 1939. The Rosenthals had hitherto been able to secure an income from the sale of their furniture and books and from letting one of their rooms. On 22 May 1939, Arthur Rosenthal applied to the British Consulate in Jerusalem for special permission for him and Hedwig to join their sons, as by 1939 they did not have the minimum £1000 sterling to pay the so-called ‘capitalist certificate’, officially required to emigrate to Palestine. But to appease the Arabs (who also attacked British facilities), the British government had further tightened the already existing restrictions on immigration. Thus, the prospect of emigration receded into the remote distance for Hedwig and Arthur. In July 1940 they were forced to move with the meagre remains of their home furnishings – they were not even allowed to take beds – into a small room at Freisinger Straße 8, as subtenants in a “Jew house”. Hedwig and Arthur Rosenthal never gave up hope of emigrating to Palestine. The last message their sons received from them via the German Red Cross was dated 26.12.1941.
On 25 January 1942, Hedwig and Arthur Rosenthal were deported with the 10th transport to the east to Riga, where they were killed at 15th February 1942.