An Heroic Mother Saves Her Family From Nazi Germany


Just before our DDFR Dartmouth Roadshow on May 9th, I was invited by Lecturer Martin Roberts to present on DDFR in his Digital Arts & Culture course. The topic of the class that day was pretty broad – “Afro-Futurist Histories” – looking at a range of African and African-American digital arts projects. I screened a bit of Through A Lens Darkly,  some of the DDFR modules and gave an overview of the larger transmedia project which was followed by a lively Q&A with students.

As I was leaving the class, a young woman ran after me with cell phone containing a black & white image of two elegant people and told me that these were images of her great grandparents who somehow were able to get themselves and these images out of Nazi Germany. Her name was Amanda Herz and she had been looking at these images of family members including her great grandmother Ellen, who Amanda knew while growing up and died at the grand age of 96. Amanda was longing to do something of consequence with the images and stories of her great grandmother as well as other relatives. I looked at the images while she shared her story and then invited her to be a special guest at the Dartmouth DDFR Roadshow the following week which she accepted and promised to reach out to her great uncle Frank and his wife Ruth to get more images and clarify the story. Here are her text and photos.


Kurt and Ellen in Germany in the 20s

Kurt Gustav Herz (my great grandfather) was born on February 2, 1903 in Offenbach A.M and Ellen Marie Wolff (my great grandmother) was born on February 23, 1906 in Bad Kreutznach. 

Kurt & Ellen married in Bad Kreuznach (Ellen's birthplace), 1932

Kurt & Ellen married in Bad Kreuznach (Ellen’s birthplace), 1932

Kurt and Ellen were married on January 8, 1932 in Bad Kreutznach, then Stefan Peter Herz (my grandfather) was born on December 18, 1932 in Berlin and Frank Herz (my great uncle) was born on June 20, 1936 in Dusseldorf. 

My father with his father before he left, 1964

My father with his father before he left, 1964

Their last place of residence in Germany was 44 Bilker St. in Dusseldorf, which they left in 1939. Shortly after Kristallnacht (in 1939), Kurt was arrested and sent to Dachau concentration camp. Ellen had the children smuggled out of Germany (as part of the Kinder transport, which she helped to start) with my grandfather Steve going to London, my great uncle Frank going to Stockholm. I don’t know the whole story of Ellen getting Kurt out of Dachau, but it required quite a bit of savvy on her part. It started by her convincing the commendant overseeing Dusseldorf that without Kurt they would need to close the school (that he started and ran) and that this could create a public incident.

My father (Michael when he was young), 1959

My father (Michael when he was young), 1959

My grandfather (Steve) with my father’s brother (Erik) on his birthday, 1978

My grandfather (Steve) with my father’s brother (Erik) on his birthday, 1978

At the time Hitler was focused on trying to convince the rest of the world that everything was “OK” (WWII had not really started yet). Anyway, the commendant didn’t want to be the source of something that might anger the Furher so he wrote her a letter requesting release of Kurt. Ellen used this for passage to Dachau, retrieval of Kurt, and return (I think to Dusseldorf).

Along the journey she certainly had to bribe officials and guards… the details of which I do not know (I don’t think anybody alive does either). Anyway somewhere shortly thereafter she and Kurt secreted out of Germany, and eventually the entire family was reunited in London. In 1941 the entire family emigrated to the US, I believe in part sponsored by Kurt’s sister Else who had come earlier.


Amanda Herz holding photo of her great grandparents

After the DDFR Roadshow Amanda wrote:

Hi Thomas!

Thank YOU so much for having me! It was an awesome experience and it’s a really wonderful project! Recovering and collecting all these pictures and memories that are close to being lost or thrown out is incredibly important and also very special. I only wish I could have stayed for the whole thing 🙁 I’ll join on Facebook and hopefully we’ll be in the same state again some day!
Thank you for letting my tell my (and my family’s) story.

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2 Responses to An Heroic Mother Saves Her Family From Nazi Germany

  1. Elizabeth Levy October 8, 2016 at 12:22 pm #

    What a wonderful surprise to find Ellen and Kurt’s story on the Internet. They were remarkable people. Kudos to Amanda for sharing the photos and story.

  2. Greg Herz October 27, 2016 at 5:09 am #

    Wonderful story, thanks for sharing! I found this story on google searching my fiance’s future full name.

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