Rudolf Caspary was born on 17 April 1893 in Berlin. His parents were the artist Eugen Caspary and Martha Mathilde Caspary, née Daus. Rudolf had two brothers: Karl (*1891) and Adolf Wolff (*1898). When Rudolf was born the family lived at Lessingstraße 43 in Moabit. Rudolf’s father Eugen Caspary was active in various fields of the arts in late nineteenth-century Berlin. He made a name for himself as a sculptor but was also an actor, among other things, and equally well-known for his involvement in Berlin welfare organizations: In 1891 he joined the Montefiore Lodge; in 1917 he co-founded the Jewish welfare office Zentralwohlfahrtsstelle der deutschen Juden (ZWST) at Rosenstraße 2–4; in 1923 he assumed chairmanship of the Berlin Jewish Community’s general and youth welfare office. He was also editor of the Jewish welfare journal Jüdische Arbeits- und Wanderfürsorge and a member of the Prussian association of Jewish Communities’ welfare committee Preußischer Landesverband jüdischer Gemeinden as well as a board member of the German Jewish organizations’ workers’ welfare office (from 1921 on), the Jewish loan association Jüdische Darlehenskasse GmbH in Berlin, and the Berlin Jewish Community’s hospital welfare association Soziale Krankenhausfürsorge der Jüdischen Gemeinde Berlin.
Eugen Caspary’s artistic work and social commitment no doubt played a major role in the childhood and youth of Rudolf Caspary and his brothers. The Caspary family were pillars of middle-class Berlin society during the imperial era and the Weimar Republic. After gaining his school-leaving diploma in 1912, Rudolf Caspary studied law, first at the University of Berlin (for four semesters), then at the University of Göttingen (for two semesters). His studies were interrupted by the First World War, in which he and his brother Karl served as soldiers. Karl Caspary was killed in action in April 1915 in the Bois-le-Prêtre forest in Lorraine. Rudolf Caspary joined the army on 16 August 1914 as a Prussian officer, last serving as Vizefeldwebel (senior non-commissioned officer) of the 7th company. He was taken prisoner by the British in July 1916, interned in the Netherlands between May and December 1918, and returned in 1919.
After World War I, Rudolf Caspary continued his studies and passed his doctoral viva at the University of Würzburg on 1 December 1920. In 1921 he submitted a dissertation on the “Legal protection of objects brought on to company premises by the employee: a contribution to the doctrine of standard interpretations of civil law” and completed his preparatory service in Berlin. Having passed his major state law examination on 16 December 1922, he started work at the public prosecutor’s office in Landsberg an der Warthe. On 1 October 1924 he transferred to Berlin’s Landgericht I Regional Court where he was assistant judge under Senior Public Prosecutor Dr Franz Linde and involved in investigations into the Barmat and Kutisker cases, dealing with one of the most high-profile political corruption scandals of the Weimar Republic.
As the German nationalist press publicized more and more details of the investigation, and exploited them for political ends, Rudolf Caspary, public prosecutor Erich Kussmann and other of his colleagues came under suspicion of having leaked trial secrets. Caspary was suspended from service by the Prussian Ministry of Justice on 1 July 1925 and requested disciplinary proceedings against himself to settle the matter. Preliminary proceedings were opened against Caspary for violation of official secrets but suspended following a house search in late July 1925 due to a lack of adequate suspicion. The disciplinary proceedings finally ended in 1928 with a note in Caspary’s file. An aspiring judge who also co-authored newspaper articles on the case, Caspary came under considerable fire during this period, especially from the ranks of left-wing observers and reporters. In 1927, Rudolf Caspary fully qualified as a judge with an appointment to the bench at Berlin-Köpenick district court and in 1930 he was appointed judge at Berlin-Mitte district court. In February 1931 his father Eugen Caspary died and was buried in the row of honour at Weißensee Jewish cemetery.
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 Rudolf Caspary and his 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. In 1933, Rudolf Caspary was suspended from his position as a district court judge because of his Jewish background under the Nazis’ “Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service”. But thanks to the many associates who interceded on his behalf, including the later president of the People’s Court, Freisler, who opposed Caspary’s suspension due to the outstanding services he had rendered in the past, he was reinstated as judge at Berlin-Mitte district court. In late 1935, however, he was finally forced to retire under § 3 of the “Reich Citizenship Law”. After the pogroms of November 1938, he was arrested by the Gestapo and held in “protective custody” in Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Again, several former colleagues interceded on his behalf. Following his release from the concentration camp, Rudolf Caspary requested permission to emigrate abroad, which was granted, subject to revocation, by the Reich Ministry of Justice in May 1939.
Another request, to capitalize his pension annuities to enable him to emigrate to Chile, was refused in September 1939.
Rudolf Caspary did not manage to flee to South America. From 1938/1939 on he lived in an apartment at Güntzelstraße 54 in Wilmersdorf, moving to Konstanzer Straße 3 in summer 1943, according to information later given by his mother, and finally at Clausewitzstraße 5 in Charlottenburg as a subtenant of the former departmental official of the Ministry of Justice Dr. Oskar Neumann (1889–1944) in 1944. In the 1940s he used his personal contacts to help several Jewish people living underground, at great personal risk and with ever dwindling means of his own. In May 1943 he obtained blank identification forms from the Reich Ministry for Armaments and Ammunition for Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich (1921–2007) and Herbert A. Strauss (1918 –2005), who later used them to escape to Switzerland. In a letter of July 1943, shortly after his arrival in Switzerland, Herbert A. Strauss wrote that Rudolf Caspary had also tried to help Georg Israel (1921–1944), previously interned at Brandenburg an der Havel, using “all his connections to the judiciary and the Gestapo”. It is likely that Rudolf Caspary tried to use his connections to help more people at risk. Lotte Strauss later wrote that while taking a stroll with Caspary, he casually remarked that he felt “protected” due to his numerous contacts from his time as a district court judge. This was a fatal error of judgement. Rudolf Caspary was arrested by the Gestapo in Berlin on 30 September 1943, aged 51, and held until mid-December 1943 in the police prison at Alexanderplatz. He was then taken to the assembly camp on Große Hamburger Straße. From there he was deported on 9 March 1944, with the “50th transport to the east”, to Auschwitz extermination camp, where he was murdered, probably immediately on arrival.
His brother Adolf Caspary managed to escape in 1941 via Marseille and Lisbon to New York. His divorced wife Anni, née Hirsch, was deported on 1 March 1943 to Auschwitz and murdered there. Their daughter Ruth Caspary (*1929) was deported with her grandmother Martha Mathilde Caspary on 9 February 1944 to the Theresienstadt ghetto, where they were separated. Martha Mathilde Caspary survived and later joined her son Adolf in the United States. 15-year-old Ruth Caspary was deported on 23 October 1944 to Auschwitz and murdered there.
Compiler’s note: The lines from Herbert A. Strauss’ letter are taken from Hartmut Bomhoff: Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich – prägende Jahre. Eine Biographie, Oldenbourg 2015, p. 101 (translated by CHK). The words of Lotte Strauss are taken from Lotte Strauss: Over the Green Hill. A German Jewish Memoir, 1913–1943, New York 1999, S. 126. [The full quote runs: “This assumption might be confirmed by a remark he made to me in passing, sometime during this period, that he ‘felt protected’]