Else Katz was born on 15 Juni 1908 in Eschwege, an administrative centre in north Hessen, some 52 kilometres south-east of Kassel. Her parents were the local master-baker Simon Katz (*1880 in Rotenburg an der Fulda) und his wife Nannchen (Nanny), née Heß (*1879 in Birstein). Else had a brother named Max who was one year older. When Else was born, the Katz family’s address was Sedanstraße 21 (now Schillerstraße), where they had lived since 1906. In April 1912 they moved to an apartment at nearby Bahnhofstraße 22. No further records have survived of the home life, childhood, and youth of Else and Max Katz in Eschwege. But it is most likely that their parents belonged to the local Jewish Community, which counted some 500 of the town’s 11,800 inhabitants.
It is likely, but not documented, that Else and Max attended the Jewish primary school at Schulstraße 3, which had opened in 1827 and existed until 1939. Neither is it known whether Else Katz trained in any profession after leaving school. Her brother Max Katz completed a commercial apprenticeship and later worked in trade. On 1 October 1936, 28-year-old Else married Dr. phil. Karl Eisemann, a teacher from Westheim, Bavaria, in Eschwege registry office. A graduate of the Israelite Teachers’ College (ILBA) in Würzburg, Karl Eisemann had worked at the Adass Jisroel Jewish Community primary school in Berlin since 1921. After their marriage, Else and Karl Eisemann took an apartment at Dortmunder Straße 13 in Berlin-Moabit. On 27 Dezember 1937 their daughter was born, whom they named Noemi.
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 Else Eisemann 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. Various decrees and special laws increasingly stripped the Eisemanns of their rights. After the pogroms of November 1938 all the adult male members of Eschwege’s Jewish Community were taken into “protective custody”, interned in the local Jewish school, and deported to Buchenwald concentration camp . Their businesses were “Aryanised”. Else’s father Simon Katz was among them. On his release from Buchenwald, he left Eschwege with his wife and fled to Berlin, where they lived with Karl and Else in their apartment at Dortmunder Straße 13. Else’s brother Max managed to escape to Brazil in early 1939 with his wife Lotte and their daughter Inge, born in 1935 in Eschwege, and from there to the United States in 1940. Karl and Else Eisemann also tried to leave Germany with their daughter in the late 1930s.
Among the documents in the family’s compensation file are two letters from Karl Eisemann to relatives, probably from the late 1930s or early 1940s, which show how far advanced the Eisemanns’ plans to emigrate had been. They had hired forwarding agents, paid emigration tax and “Dego” duty (levied by the Nazi state on credit transferrals abroad) and consigned some of their movable goods to liftvans (transport crates for shipping overseas). They hoped to leave for the British Mandate territory of Palestine, where Karl Eisemann’s brother and sister had been living with their spouses and children since the mid-1930s. But in October 1939 an entry ban came into force in Palestine. Karl Eisemann was presumably referring to this when he wrote: “The news of the ban struck us like a thunderbolt and left us utterly consternated. So, we would be all the happier if it would nevertheless work out.” They were evidently considering entry via Syria as Karl Eisemann continued: “Couldn’t we, if available, take a ticket directly to Haifa when travelling to Syria? [...] You don’t know badly we are longing for some news; it’s like sitting on a powder keg.”
The Eisemanns were also preparing for making a living in exile. Karl Eisemann asked whether the letter’s recipient could contact the boarding school in Pardes Hanna near Haifa: “Perhaps you could put your feelers out concerning the possibility of music lessons or even general instruction, even if it’s only a few lessons. I don’t really think I’ll be able to continue working in my profession as there are already too many in the country waiting for employment. Else is now learning to sew brassieres and plans to either earn money by sewing or to get a job straightaway as a household help. We don’t want to be a burden on anybody […].” But the Eisemanns’ hopes to emigrate were finally shattered by the Nazi regime’s ban on emigration of October 1941.
Until 1937/1938, Else’s husband had been a teacher at the Adass Jisroel Jewish Community primary school, which was closed in 1939. In 1938/1939 he was headmaster of the Rykestraße Jewish Community primary school. When the last remaining Jewish schools closed in spring 1941, Karl Eisemann finally became unemployed. He was made to work as a labourer for the Jewish Community cemetery administration. Else Eisemann was made to perform forced labour in the early 1940s for Martin Michalski – Uniformbetrieb uniform makers, based at Große Frankfurter Straße 137. By the 1940s, life for Else and Karl Eisemann with their little daughter 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.
Having been stripped of their rights, they faced deportation: On 1 October 1941 the Gestapo informed the Berlin Jewish Community of the imminent “resettlement” of Berlin’s Jews. Else, Karl and Noemi Eisemann were deported in autumn 1942. A neighbour of the Eisemanns later wrote to Else’s brother about what had happened: “First Dr. Eisemann was taken away by the Gestapo, that was on Friday, and on Monday Else went voluntarily to join her husband and their child was picked up by Jewish helpers a few hours later because she was still sleeping. That was on 26 October 1942. – It was terrible! I would have written a long time ago, but I didn’t want to think about all the terrible times. […]. Your brother-in-law was a lovely man, a gentleman from head to toe. And your dear sister Else was such an affectionate, kind, and good woman, a rare kind […].”
Else, Karl and Noemi Eisemann were deported on 26 October 1942 with the “22nd transport to the east” from Berlin to the Riga ghetto . Else Eisemann, then aged 34, and her 47-year-old husband were labelled “able to work” in the deportation list. It is likely they were selected to perform forced labour in Riga before they were murdered in the ghetto, in a work crew, or in one of the Nazis’ extermination camps. In any case, neither Karl, nor Else, nor Noemi Eisemann were among the few survivors of the Riga ghetto.
Else Eisemann’s parents, who were officially subtenants of their daughter and son-in-law, initially stayed in their daughter’s apartment at Dortmunder Straße 13. They were arrested in spring 1942, during the Nazis’ “factory campaign” to deport the last Jews officially remaining in the capital, and deported separately, on 3 and 4 March 1943, to Auschwitz extermination camp, where they were murdered. Else’s brother Max Katz survived the Nazi regime with his wife and daughter in exile in the United States. Else’s brother-in-law Dr. Lazarus Eisemann and her sister-in-law Leah (Lina) Birk, née Eisemann, survived with their families in exile in Palestine.
Compiler’s note: All the lines quoted are taken from the compensation file on Karl Eisemann listed below (held in the Landesamt für Bürger- und Ordnungsangelegenheiten Berlin Abt. I).