Special Tributes

Dr. Martha Wertheimer - Rescuer of Children
By Charlotte Guthmann Opfermann
Published Here with the permission of the author.

Dr. Martha Wertheimer (Dr. Phil., nickname 'MaWe'), born in 1890.
Died - presumably-in June 1942.
Journalist, educator, social worker.
Last known address: Frankfurt, Furstenbergstrasse 167.

MaWe had been a practicing journalist with the Offenbacher Zeitung until the discriminatory Nazi laws forced her dismissal in the mid 1930s. She became director of the youth concerns center (Jugendfursorge) at the Frankfurt Jewish Congregation (Judische Gemeinde) office and in this capacity helped hundreds of children escape to England during the 1938-1939 Kindertransports.

These children transports in total saved approximately 10,000 children - albeit in the case of those who were sent to Holland and other countries, later overrun by the Wehrmacht, this rescue was only temporary.

In 1938-39 this little known (late) rescue effort, referred to as Kinderstransport, snatched German Jewish Children from the jaws of death. Dr. Martha Wertheimer, in her capacity as director of the center for Jewish children's affairs, organized and prepared the exodus of hundreds of pre-teen children from Frankfurt and the surrounding area. By stipulation, these children had to travel alone, without their families and were placed with (mostly) non-Jewish families in the host countries. None saw their parents and siblings again. Martha Wertheimer accompanied several of these transports to England, hoping in vain that she might be able to find a way to save herself and her sister. Her work at the Frankfurt congregation office 'Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutchland , Bezirkstelle Hessen Nassau' concentrated on emotional and practical support of the desperate, captive remaining members. She and her colleagues helped operate a soup kitchen which dispensed 1000 meals a day and helped operate eight local old people's homes which cared for 570 disabled elderly Jews whose children had been able to leave the country in time.

On June 10/11th 1942 a group of 1,042 Jews from Frankfurt and 450 from Wiesbaden were sent to their death in the extermination camps in Poland. Initially Kurt Weinberg , a Wiesbaden law student , had been assigned to lead this group. Kurt Weinberg's studies had been interrupted by the eliminationist German Nazi laws. In the mid-1930s he had escaped to Austria, but when Hitler annexed his native country, Weinberg returned to Germany to stay with his widowed mother in Wiesbaden.

During the pre-transport assembly and mistreatments at the Frankfurt Grossmarkthalle, he broke down under the beatings and cruelties administered by the Frankfurt Gestapo officials -notably Herr Heinrich Baab-prior to the victims' boarding the trains. Weinberg suffered a nervous breakdown.

The Frankfurt Gestapo Judenreferent (Jew Specialist) Henrich Baab (himself a killer of 11,000 Jews) assigned Martha Wertheimer -- whom he knew from her work as an administrator at the Jewish Congregation office - to head this transport 'East' in Weinberg's place.

Not a trace remains of this courageous woman, except for an encouraging postcard sent to a friend . already deported to the Lodz ghetto earlier.

The Frankfurt banking institution Lobbeke Bank is now occupying the former Gestapo headquarters on Lindenstrasse. Together with the Fritz Bauer Institute, the bank organized a lecture series in October 1996 in order to record and communicate details of Jewish life in this town between Kristallnacht, November 1938, and June 1943 when the congregation was officially dissolved with the deportation of its last members and the official, elected Jewish leadership. Frankfurt became judenrein, purged of Jews, and the Gauleiter awarded the industrious members of the Gestapo a special award for their diligence.

About the author

Charlotte Guthmann Opfermann

I was born in Wiesbaden, Germany. My father was a prominent Jewish attorney in this town of then 260,000 (Jewish pop. in 1933: 3500-plus). Our family was ultimately sent to Buchenwald, Mauthausen, Theresienstadt, Lodz and others. I survived this imprisonment and escaped to the United States in 1946, as soon as I could obtain a visa, and traveled from Bremerhaven to New York.

A few years later, I returned briefly to Germany to marry a half-Jewish childhood friend. Heinz Rudolf Alphons Oskar Opfermann who was the oldest son of a prominent German family (famous architects and -also- founders of Henkell Sekt, champagne firm 1803). His Jewish mother and his 'ethnic German-Aryan'father had committed suicide in the Gestapo jail in February 1945.

I speak French, German and English with equal native fluency. I taught at the American College in Paris (affiliated with the American Church on Quai d'Orsay) English and German and I also pursued my own studies -earlier- while living in Chicago: Northwestern University, University of Chicago, LaSalle University. I have assisted with Holocaust education for adults and students since 1987, in this country and during annual trips in Germany, the Czech Republic and in Poland, have written a play 'Lambs at Play...for Time', a book 'Stationen', and many articles and lectures. Participated with the publication of other books ('Education under the Swastika' which I am busy translating into English). I have done Holocaust education related radio and TV shows in Germany and the Czech Republic, many documentary videos and audio tapes (some of which are distributed by the official German government's Amt für Politische Bildung i.e. dept. for political education) and presented papers at several scholarly conferences in this country and abroad.

I taught World History, French, German, Western Civ, World War II, Holocaust and related subjects in AOL's Academic Assistance Center tutoring rooms and supplied Holocaust related information for their encyclopediac data base. Teach English as Second Language (Beginners and Intermediate and Pre-GED at the College of the Mainland, Dept. of Continuing Education, Texas City-Houston TX and an internet Holocaust education course (8 hrs. grad.credits) at Nicolas Copernicus University, Torun, Poland, "Hitler, Heydrich, Himmler, Eichmann and Co. on the Holodeck".


  • Zwischen Geheimnis und Gebot -- chapter about the famous Berlin Rabbi Dr Leo Baeck in Theresienstadt; Bertelsmann Verlag 1998
  • Problems Unique to the Holocaust, ed. Harry James Cargas, chapter: Suicide or Murder? , March 1999 University Press of Kentucky
  • Stationen, 1993, Fournier Verlag Wiesbaden
  • I have been working with a colleague on 'Surviving Survival' for several years. This book will be published by the International Holocaust Scholars' publishing branch, Stockton and Temple University.
  • 'Beware of Answered Prayers' (abt the Intl Red Cross 'Inspection' of the Theresienstadt Ghetto/Concentration Camp in June 1944, a paper presented at the March 1995 Holocaust Scholars' Conference at Brigham Young University. This paper is available on CDRom from International Scholars' Conference at Stockton and Temple University.
  • Holocaust Education in Germany (1945-1997), Holocaust Scholars' Conference University of South Florida, Tampa FL, March 1997,
  • The Holocaust and the Book (Drew University) 1996; published 1999 by University Press of Massachusetts
  • Won't someone please bell Dr Joseph Goebbels' Cat? lecture about Allied propaganda during WWII, at Haifa University ISSEI Conference, August 1998
  • Nazi Justice et al, (a series of five lectures) given annually at Purdue University, Spring 1998 and Spring 1999. I am an annual lecturer at the Purdue Tolerance Program.
  • The last Six Months of the 1000-yrs-old Frankfurt Jewish Community's Life, Fritz Bauer Institut, Frankfurt, October 1996, being published July 1999
  • Radio programs (Berlin, Koeln and Prague) about the composer Gideon Klein (his girlfriend Irma Semecka and I hid and preserved this composer's manuscripts), 1993
  • TV Program: Menschen im Abseits, Südwest Funk, aired nationwide May 1995 several Movies and educational videos:
  • 'Ashes to Water', commemorative service at Theresienstadt 1997 (this video was a runner up for the 1998 Amnesty International prize in Nuernberg1998)
  • I can't shake the Ghosts, Theresienstadt 1993
  • Lotte Guthmann in Wiesbaden, 1995

I am preparing a seminar for Stockholm University for this Fall and also several lectures for the Swedish government's Levande Historia-Living History Project, Stockholm and Upsala next January 2000.

© Copyright Judy Cohen, 2001.
All rights reserved.