Adolf Guttentag

Adolf Guttentag

Adolf woke up on a snowy evening in 1940 to the sounds of men yelling at children playing ball in the apartment building courtyard. He felt his wife, Helene, stir beside him. Since theristallnacht two years ago, the Guttentags–like most Jews still living in Berlin–were light sleepers. They both peered over the side of the bed to see their son Otto curled on his mat on the other side of the room, covered by two thick wool blankets and breathing the steady breaths of the deeply slumbering. Tomorrow he would be off on a ship to America. All that mattered in the world was getting their sweet, beautiful boy out of this country. Adolf slid his arm around his wife’s waist to squeeze Helene’s hand, and she squeezed back, settling more deeply in the curve of his body. The shouts outside continued, but neither dared rise to see what the commotion was. After a while the courtyard fell silent, and both drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

Dawn came too soon. Helene slipped out of the bed to start making breakfast. Adolf swung his legs over the side of the bed, rubbed his face with both hands. Seeing his son still in the throes of a dream, Adolf made his way to the bathroom to wash up. Though it was perhaps the most important day of their lives — seeing Otto off on a steamship to the United States — it was a day like any other. Adolf would have to start early to make the walk to work as Hitler had banned all German Jews from using public transportation which included buses, and trains. As one of the few doctors who hadn’t fled the city or been called up to support the war effort, Adolf had long hours at the hospital ahead of him.  Before heading to the kitchen, he paused once more to look lovingly at his son. Otto, following in his father’s footsteps, would attend medical school in San Francisco. It was truly everything Adolf could have hoped for. And now his son would be out of danger. With the increasing restrictions on the movements of Jews in Germany, and the random raiding of Jewish houses, Adolf and Helene were in constant fear of what the future would bring. Once Otto was settled in San Fransisco, perhaps they could join him there, be reunited, and all away from the horrors of war and an overtly anti-Semitic government.

Adolf kissed his wife, taking the coffee gratefully with a corned beef fritter.“Let him sleep a while more. I will meet you on the dock at noon to say goodbye.” She kissed him again, shoving a hunk of bread leftover from the night before into his hand. “Be safe today, my love,” she murmured, helping him into his coat, and then standing in the doorway to watch him make his way down the hallway to the winding staircase beyond.

This article announces a Nazi meeting in Berlin on the 23rd of February, less than a month after Hitler took power. The title of the article was “Let Hitler Work!”.



On Adolfs way to work he grabbed a newspaper. The headline read, “Let Hitler work!”[1] That night, the Guttentags sat in their comfortable chairs by the stove, Helene knitting, Adolf smoking. They listened to the local radio. Chancellor Hitler giving a speech in Berlin. “Today I will once more be a prophet: If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the bolshevization of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!”[2]. “He is scum! How could he be doing this to an entire race..” Adolf screamed at Helene. He shut the radio off and went to bed.

SS troops gathering up Jews and sending them off to the camp-ghettos.

Adolf locked the doors and windows before he went to bed because he heard rumors of SS soldiers coming by in their neighborhood[3]. As the Guttentags went to bed that night, Adolf was suddenly awakened by the sounds of loud bangs on their door. “Who is it?” Adolf yelled. There was no answer. Adolf looked over Helene and told her to stay in the bed. He got up and slowly walked over to the door, looked through the peephole and saw no one. His heart pounding, he fumbled his way back to the bed in the dark. “There is no one. Perhaps just a drunk knocking on the wrong door.” he reassured his wife. Helene’s eyes were shining, the bedclothes clutched to her chest, and she released an audible gasp of relief was sitting there with such relief and joy. They both startled at the sound of knocking, this time further down the hallway, but reverberating through their apartment nonetheless. There were shouts, the sounds of struggle, someone screamed. Adolf and Helene clutched at one another. “Our neighbors, honey, they are going to get the Snitzer family…” Adolf and Helene continued to watch. They could hear someone shouting “Get up! Get up, old man!” Then a crash, glass shattering, and from their position on the bed they watched something fly out the neighbor’s window into the night. A child’s wailing filled the darkness, and someone else screaming “Papa! Papa, no!”


“God help us,” Adolf moaned. “Grandfather Snitzer! They’ve thrown him out the window. He is dead! Those bastards killed him!”.  As the screams of women and children faded down the hallway, Adolf pulled his wife out of bed. It was almost 2:15 in the morning. Before they’d even pulled on their warmest clothes, their front door shook under the heavy fist of the intruders. The door burst inward, its flimsy lock broken. Soldiers filled the small apartment.

“Get out! Do not grab anything”. As they took Adolf and Helene, Adolf still grabbed a journal from his old wooden desk and a blanket for Helene off the bed. “We are going to be okay Helene, I promise..” he murmured, holding her to him as she sobbed. Before they got onto the trucks the soldiers had seen Adolf with a blanket. One soldier had noticed it and nearly killed Adolf. “They took one last look at their apartment and allowed themselves to be herded into the back of cargo trucks.

Jews from all over entering Bergen-Belson.

They were taken to a train depot, where hundreds of other people–Jews, Adolf knew, because of the defining yellow stars and triangles sewn onto all of their jackets–in line waiting to board the trains. When they were finally loaded onto the train, shivering in the freezing twilight, the blanket he’d grabbed wrapped around the both of them, they were packed into the cramped car nose-to-elbow. The train pulled out of the station, and the sounds of moans and wails surrounded them. Most crouched or leaned against their neighbor, some merely lay on the ground, the will to stay on their feet beaten out of them. After some time of silently weeping, Helene fell asleep in Adolf’s arms.

The train finally stopped after what seemed like hours. “Where are they taking us?” a man next two Adolf started frantically asking people. Everyone was scared and confused to what was going on. When the train stopped Adolf grabbed Helene’s hand. The Guttentags didn’t know what was going to happen next.They arrived at the camp around 8:45 pm.[4]

It was cold and snow was continuing to fall. As they exited the trains they were quickly organized into different groups. They did not split Adolf and Helene up. They were lucky, very lucky. Helene continued to ask Adolf “Where are they taking us?” But Adolf did not know anything. As the group approached the bunkers, they could smell an awful stench. The bunkers were very small and smelled terrible, like death and sickness. The camp guards directed them into the buildings.[5] The Guttentags didn’t have the appropriate clothing nor warmth for the the winter storm. Adolf had been thinking of taking his life for the last few days but didn’t want to tell Helene. He wanted to be strong for her, but she was delirious from the lack of food and the sickness she acquired living in the conditions they were living in the last couple months. With all her energy, Helene told Adolf “I love you.” She then kissed him on the cheek.

[1]This poster announces a Nazi meeting in Berlin on 23 February 1933, less than a month after Hitler took power (Bytwerk, Randall. “Adolf Hitler Propaganda.” Randall Bytwerk. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.)

[2] Adolf Hitler’s message to the people of Germany- Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals (“Statements by Leading Nazis on the “Jewish Question “.” Statements by Leading Nazis on the “Jewish Question “. Florida Center for Instructional Technology, College of Education, University of South Florida, n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.)

[3]Nazis arrest 17,000 Jews living in Germany, then expel them back to Poland which refuses them entry, leaving them in ‘No-Man’s Land’ near the Polish border for several months. Many Jews were sent back to Poland, many others were sen to local ghettos or camps. (“The History Place – Holocaust Timeline.” The History Place – Holocaust Timeline. N.p., 1. Web. 22 Mar. 2017″)

[4] The Nazi state established 365 ghettos in Germany, Poland, the Soviet Union, the Baltic States, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Hungary between 1939 and 1945. (“Holocaust Timeline: The Ghettos.” Holocaust Timeline: The Ghettos. The Florida Center, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2017)

[5]  This camp was known as Bergen Belson and was also known for their brutal harassment on Jews. “When we arrived I was worrying about Helene and I being split up. But again, we were placed together in the same bunker. I could see that Helene couldn’t even remember our son Otto’s name and she didn’t know where we were until I explained it to her. I lost 46 pounds in almost 4-5 months. I am getting very nervous for our lives.” (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.) In the conclusion, however, the long-term psychological pressure and a visit from the Gestapo on October 12, 1942 finally broke the Guttentags. Faced with imminent deportation, Adolf and Helene decided to take control of their own deaths. On October 16, they committed suicide.


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