Erich Zacharias Wertheimer was born on March 9, 1896 to Ferdinand Wertheimer and Emma Liebenthal Wertheimer. The oldest of three children, he was joined by Else (born in 1897) and Lilly (born in 1900). Erich was fond of playing practical jokes on his sisters.
The Wertheimer family lived in an apartment in front of the building that housed the family business, F. Wertheimer, along with their Doberman, Arko.
Upon graduation from high school in 1914, Erich joined his father’s business and worked to increase its customer base across Europe. He sold steel and heavy construction machinery throughout Europe and traveled a great deal to service customer accounts. Erich drove the company car as he traveled between accounts. A fast and aggressive driver, he frequently drove the car off the road and had to be rescued by tow trucks.
Erich’s sister, Lilly, introduced him to her close friend, Sophie Prager, and that introduction led to courtship and marriage. Lilly married her sweetheart, Ludwig Rosenblatt, in August 1926, and he joined the F. Wertheimer & Co. business, located at Glockenhofstrasse 25A. Else married Ludwig Bergmann, who worked with his brother, Siegfried, in the hops trade. Each of the siblings and their spouses lived in Nuremberg and each had one child.
The city in which these families lived was Hitler’s model city. He staged rallies in public parks, and thousands of Nazi followers marched through Nuremberg’s streets. After Hitler was elected chancellor in 1933, measure after measure was enacted to bar Jews from public and cultural life.
A boycott of Jewish businesses on April 1 1933, removal of Jews from public service and a bar on Jews working as physicians, lawyers and pharmacists made clear to many German Jews that they would face increasing difficulties in earning a living in Germany. In 1935, the Nuremberg race laws deprived German Jews of citizenship; forbade Jews from marrying non-Jews; and prohibited non-Jewish businesses from employing Jews. While F. Wertheimer & Co. continued to do business outside of Germany and brought significant foreign monies into Germany, Ferdinand Wertheimer grew despondent. In his view, Hitler was emboldened by public acceptance of his efforts to rid German society of its Jews and the worst was yet to come. He died at his desk of heart failure in 1933. His wife, Emma, died in June 1936.
Two of the Wertheimer siblings determined to leave Germany, as soon as possible. Ludwig Rosenblatt and his family emigrated to Brazil in 1937, sponsored by Ludwig’s brother who had left Germany earlier. Else and Ludwig Bergmann emigrated to the U.S. with Ludwig’s brother Siegfried and his family, sponsored by a Bergmann cousin, and brought their hops business with them. Erich had no strong desire to leave Germany, the only home he had ever known. He believed that the German people would come to their senses and would reject Hitler’s war on German Jews.
However, he found the atmosphere in Germany increasingly difficult in which to do business. In 1937, he was required to sell stock in F. Wertheimer & Co. to the Dresdner Bank to pay back a credit line. At that time, F. Wertheimer & Co. recorded no profit. After Hitler’s annexation of Austria in March 1938 and the Austrian embrace of Hitler’s efforts to make Austria “judenrein,” Erich recognized that he and his family needed to leave Germany. Jews lived in Austria in considerable numbers for centuries and made important cultural and economic contributions. Hitler’s annexation of Austria caused Austrian Jews to face public humiliation, violence and plundering of their assets. By mid-June, Jews were removed more thoroughly from public life in Austria than during the past five years of Nazi government in Germany.
Erich found a distant relative in the U.S. who would sponsor the family and began the emigration process. He sold the real estate Glockenhofstr. 25a, the building on it, and all office facilities to Ludwig and Mathilde Neubauer, in Nuremberg. In his emigration questionnaire submitted in September 1938 to the Head Tax Office in Nuremberg, he reported that the remaining stored goods of F. Wertheimer & Co. were unsold. He paid both the Punitive Tax and the Reich Emigration Tax and surrendered other assets of value to the Exchange Control Board.
On the night of November 9, 1938, storm troopers entered the family apartment at Wodanstr. 76. L. They bashed Erich in the face with the butt of a rifle, pushed him down to the ground, and rushed through the apartment and destroyed whatever they found. Erich slipped out the balcony doors and hid behind large garden pots. Following destruction of the apartment, the storm troopers left. Erich watched from his hiding spot on the balcony as neighbors and friends were taken from their apartments and arrested. Because Erich was fearful that the storm troopers might return for him, he insisted that his family take the train out of Nuremberg to Berlin, which they had heard was not subject to this destruction. Arriving in Berlin, they encountered the same terrible carnage as in Nuremberg, and they returned to Nuremberg.
The family sailed out of Hamburg to America, arriving on November 26, 1938. Erich got a job scraping cocoa barrels on the New York docks, and the family lived with Else and Ludwig Rosenblatt. After he learned English, Erich obtained a job as a purchasing agent for a company that supplied the U.S. government with radios for the war effort. Later, he worked for a toy manufacturing company until retirement.
Having been uprooted from the familiar, Erich and his family moved to Kew Gardens, an enclave of German Jews, where they felt some sense of belonging. But Erich did not seek to create Germany in America. He had an immigrant’s love of America and became a naturalized citizen in 1943. He delighted in his son’s academic accomplishments and became, in time, a doting grandfather, attending school plays, recitals, sports competitions, and visiting days at camp.
He painstakingly rebuilt the life that the Germans had attempted, to wrest from him.
He died in March 1969.
Laura Wertheimer, March 14, 2021