Margarete Israelzik was born on 11 December 1881 in Berlin. Her parents were Abraham Israelzik (1843–1907), a typesetter, and his wife Erna Amalie, née Olschki (1853–1933). Margarete grew up with at least two siblings: Her elder brother Leopold was born in 1880 and her younger sister Erna was born in 1887. Unfortunately, no further records have survived of Margarete’s family home, childhood, and youth in imperial Berlin. But it is most likely that her parents belonged to Berlin’s Jewish Community.
After completing her schooling, Margarete embarked on an artistic career, becoming a pianist and a music teacher. In 1906 she married Georg Mannes Feige, a teacher and school inspector in Cologne from Rawitsch (now Rawicz), in Berlin. On 22 September 1909 their son Heinz was born in Darmstadt. A year later their daughter Hilda arrived. After the outbreak of World War 1 the Feige family moved to Berlin, where they settled in Moabit around 1915/16. Georg Feige is first listed in the Berlin directory of 1916 as a middle school teacher resident at Spenerstraße 19. The family’s home was right on the riverbank, opposite Bellevue Palace. In 1923 the Feige family moved to Spenerstraße 20. In 1913, Margarete’s sister Erna had married Paul Franz Oehmichen in Berlin before emigrating with him to the United States. Their children Herbert Karl and Eleonore Anita Oehmichen were born in New York in 1915 and 1917. Until the 1930s, Margarete’s brother Dr Leopold Israelzik worked as a dentist in Berlin, where he lived with his wife Else, née Gusowski, and their children at Dortmunder Straße 5 in Moabit. Unfortunately, no records have survived to tell of the family’s life during the Weimar Republic.
The mechanisms gradually introduced from 1933 on to persecute Jews – or all those considered to be Jews under the Nazi state’s Nuremberg Laws – soon hit Margarete Feige and her family. They included numerous measures designed to discriminate against and exclude Jews from society, to deprive them of their civil rights and oust them from the nation’s business and economic life. While Berlin had seen anti-Semitic riots during the Weimar Republic, by the early 1930s, open violence had massively increased, with street fights, assembly hall brawls, and SA marches becoming regular occurrences. The Nazi state ensured that racism became institutionalized, issuing various decrees and special laws that increasingly stripped the Jewish population, including the Feige family, of their rights.
Margarete’s husband Georg taught at the Jewish Community middle school (now Jüdisches Gymnasium Moses Mendelssohn) at Große Hamburger Straße 27. Margarete is known to have worked as a music teacher – possibly at the same school at which her husband taught – but no record of the precise time and place of her professional activity has survived. In line with the Nazi state’s racist education policy, not only Jewish teachers were ousted from the state school system (under the “Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” of 7 April 1933), but also Jewish students. In 1935 a decree was issued, aiming to ensure “as complete racial segregation as possible” in schools; after the pogroms of November 1938, Jewish children were strictly prohibited from attending state schools. Private schools and Jewish Community institutions became places of refuge, where Jewish students could still gain access to education. And as well as offering shelter, they increasingly prepared students for emigration and life abroad. It is not known whether Margarete and Georg Feige also made plans to leave Germany in the 1930s. If they did, they came to nothing. Their son Heinz Feige, who had worked as a printer in Berlin, managed to escape with his wife Susi Rosalia, née Urbach, via Antwerpen to the United States in 1939. Their daughter Hilda Feige, later divorcée DiRocco, and remarriée Sabatini, also survived the Nazi regime in exile in the United States. Margarete’s sister Erna Oehmichen and her husband Paul Franz, who had lived for a time in Gera, Germany, returned to the United States in 1938. Margarete’s brother Leopold Israelzik also managed to leave the country with his family in the late 1930s. He survived the Nazi regime in exile in Australia.
Margarete and Georg Feige moved into a new apartment at Bundesratsufer 12 in Moabit in 1936. In the late 1930s Georg Feige became vice principal of the Jewish Community middle school and eventually its last principal, after Heinemann Stern (1878–1957), who held the post until 1938. By the 1940s, Georg and Margarete Feige’s life in Berlin had become a struggle to survive. A police decree of 1 September 1941 “concerning the identification of Jews” was just one of many measures that had drastic repercussions. It meant they could not leave their home without wearing the “yellow star” branding them Jews. In April 1942 the Jewish Community was instructed to vacate the property at Große Hamburger Straße 27. After the school’s closure the premises were used for some months as an assembly camp for deportees from Berlin. In June 1942 Margarete and Georg Feige moved into an apartment at Flotowstraße 10. Georg Feige was employed here for some weeks as an ‘investigator’ with the Jewish cultural association Jüdische Kultusvereinigung zu Berlin.
Having been stripped of their rights, Margarete and Georg Feige faced deportation. On 1 October 1941 the Gestapo informed the Berlin Jewish Community of the imminent “resettlement” of Berlin’s Jews. Georg and Margarete Feige received a deportation notice in autumn 1942. They were interned in the assembly camp in the former Jewish Community old people’s home at Große Hamburger Straße 26 and deported from there with the “72nd transport of the elderly” on 5 November 1942 to the Theresienstadt ghetto. Georg Feige endured the inhumane conditions in Theresienstadt for roughly half a year before being directly or indirectly murdered, aged 65, on 14 May 1943 – by deliberate malnourishment, the withholding of medication, exposure to cold and physical abuse. Margarete Feige was deported from Theresienstadt on 16 May 1944, aged 62, to Auschwitz extermination camp and murdered there.