Biographical / Historical
Fritz Solmitz (1893-1933) was an early and outspoken leader in the opposition to Nazism, an editor of a Social Democratic newspaper in Lübeck and a member of the City council. Because of his active opposition to the Nazis, and probably because he was a Jew, he died of mistreatment in a German prison shortly after Hitler came to power.
Karoline Somitz (1893-1966) was, like her husband, active in civic affairs. After her emigration, with her children, to the United States in 1938, she earned a Masters degree in social work at Bryn Mawr College. She was a Quaker and one of the many refugees from Nazi Germany who had ties to Bryn Mawr College. Her career was marked especially by posts as chief psychiatric social worker of the Child Study Center of Philadelphia, and as Director of the Center’s Community Mental Health Education Program.
The Fritz and Karoline Solmitz Collection has 4 principal themes:
The course of the life of Fritz Solmitz, an early opponent to Nazism.
- The challenges of the emigration of his widow, Karoline and four children to the USA.
The role of the Philadelphia Quakers and Bryn Mawr College in facilitating emigration and re-settlement of German refugees in the 1930s.
The life of a prominent wealthy Jewish family in Germany.
The Solmitz collection is divided into 5 parts.
Part I. (a) 1921-1933; papers relating to Fritz’s political activity, imprisonment and death; (b) 1933-1938 Karoline’s experience in Germany after Fritz’s death, preparing for her eventual emigration to the United States; (c) 1962 trial of Willie Dusenschön, Commandant of Fuhlsbüttel at the time of Fritz’s death.
When Hitler came to power in 1933 Fritz was among the many political activists who were imprisoned, he first in Lübeck, then in Hamburg’s Fuhlsbüttel. Photocopies of newspaper arcticles document anti-Nazi activity in Lübeck. There is a collection of 40 letters Fritz wrote from prison to his wife and children, and 10 in return from Karoline. There are individual letters to each child, one long document to be given to all of them when they are older, and seven unidentified letters and writings.
Karoline arranged a large ransom for the release of her husband from prison, to no avail. During the last five days of his life, a time when Fritz was tortured, he wrote of his experience on 15 small cigarette papers. His wife found these rolled into his gold pocket watch after his death. In them he entreated her to leave Germany with the children. The Berlin Quaker Meeting, of which she was a member, put her in touch with the Philadelpha Foreign Service Section of the American Friends Service Committee. Hertha Kraus, a Bryn Mawr College professor and counselor of the AFSC facilitated Karoline’s emigration in 1938. A 220-page AFSC file (1937-1948) documents Karoline’s friendship with Hertha Kraus and the years of encouragement and material help the Quakers provided to Caroline and her children. Included are documents Karoline had to amass to prove her non-Jewish ancestry.
The cigarette papers were among the evidence in the 1962 trial of Willie Dusenschön. Karoline’s 43 letters document her cooperation with the prosecution in Germany. Newspaper clippings from the German press follow the trial and acquital of Dusenschön. The original cigarette papers are now in Neuengamme, a large national memorial site near Hamburg; copies, with translation, are in this collection.
Fritz earned a Ph.D in Nationalokonomie at Freiburg University in 1921. His thesis and diploma are included.
Part II. Books, articles, memorials
Included are Ernst’s account of his father’s life and many notes about materials he sent to Boettcher for the proposed biography. This and Brigitte Solmitz Alexander’s notes when she gave the papers to Bryn Mawr are a good introduction to the collection.
There are writings of family and friends, including published works in which Fritz figures. Of special interest are Christian Jürgens’s 1996 biography of Fritz, and Willie Bredel’s novel Die Prüfung. Bredel was in Fulsbüttel at the same time as Fritz, and the main character is based on him.
Ceremonies and permanent exhibitions in Lübeck and Hamburg are documented. Streets in Lübeck and Hamburg have been named after him, and a plaque in Lübeck’s town hall bears his name. Brochures of the ceremonies and photocopies of the street signs are included. Brigitte’s participation in some of the ceremonies is recorded.
Part III. Karoline Solmitz (a) Biography: Life in Germany 1893-1932; (1933-1938 see Part 1); (b) life in the U. S. 1938-1966.
Karokine Solmitz, née Neuert, was born in Landau, Germany. Her American mother, Kate Stumpf Neuert, died in childbirth. Raised by her father and aunt in comparative luxury, Karoline was orphaned at 19. She studied social work in Berlin, married Fritz in 1919. In 1923 they moved to Lübeck with 3 children, where Fritz became an editor of the Lübecker Volksbote, a socialist newspaper. (See Part I for the years 1933-1938, her husband’s death and her emigration). As stated above, Karoline’s move to the U.S. in 1938 was facilitated by the Quakers, as well as by Bryn Mawr College’s welcome to refugees from Nazi Germany. Included is the 205 page file of the American Friends Service Committee on the Solmitz family, documenting their encouragement and material assistance.
Included are memoirs of Karoline by her daughter Brigitte, birth and marriage certificates, and will. Photographs show Karoline’s birthplace and the large house in which she grew up. One photo of her in a 1926 Lübeck “Friends of Children” parade is also exhibited in the Willie Brandt Haus in Lübeck.There are the childdren’s birth certificates and a genealogy of the family dog, Donar; 2 large collections of financial, immigration and reparations documents, and her Bryn Mawr Social Work thesis. Genealogies of some of Karoline’s ancestors, the Breitlings and Neurt families, are included.
Part IV. Solmitz family: Documentation of the life of a wealthy German Jewish family, with genealogy from 1747.
Fritz’s father, Selmar Solmitz, an investment banke,r was deeply involved in business, civic and community affairs. He was a councilor of the city of Berlin, and had dual citizenship with Britain. Contained are his and his wife Gertrude’s autobiographical memoirs. Selmar’s letters to his mother celebrate the birth of Fritz in 1893; a birth certificate is included. Minutes of the City Council memorialize Selmar’s death on June 10, 1917. There are writings by and about Fritz’s siblings, and Eva Solmitz Cassirer’s remarks on her mother’s 70th birthday and on her mother’s death in 1932.
Otto Solmitz, Selmar’s brother remained in Braunschweig; Included here is a 16-page history of the Branuschweig Solmitz family in the 19th century.
Ernst Solmitz, Selmar’s other brother, moved to Hamburg in the late 19th century.
There is an account of his son Robert’s directorship of the “Oase fur die Juden in Hamburg”, and a separate printed account of the refuge. (The full formal title of the refuge includes the names: Max M. Israel Warburg, Dr. F. M. Israel Warburg.)
Letters from Ursula Osborne, Robert’s daughter, give details of life for Hamburg Jews in the Nazi period and describe the Hertha Elizabeth and Robert Solmitz Archive she established.
In this part are included details of the cemeteries where members of the Solmitz family are buried.
Not present in this collection, but relevant to Fritz’s history is a chapter in Sigrid Bauschinger, Rainer Maria Rilke/Eva Cassirer: Briefwechsel (2009) describing Fritz’s early life and close relationship with his sister Eva
Part V. Photographs
Photographs and 6 albums are chiefly of families and friends. Also included are photos of the elegant houses where the Solmitz and Neuert families lived, and later, Fritz’s more modest house in Lübeck. There are pictures of Fritz in World War I army uniform, and of his grave in Berlin. Pictured is a house on Ellliot Ave., Bryn Mawr, where Karoline, in conjunction with the AFSC, briefly ran a boarding house especially for refugees. A much later photo shows her with her colleagues at the Child Study Center of Pennsylvania Hospital.