Page 155ff: Rejected for “Reasons Due to Foreign Influences” (???): The long struggle to the Hilb family to find a new home.
A bundle of letters carefully kept in the family archive reveals a special accomplishment by the young man fighting persistently for his future. He was faced with serious difficulties himself, having to leave his hometown and worrying about continuing to be “tolerated” in Switzerland. Despite all of his own worries Ernst Hilb tried to help his family members who were in much greater danger than he: Living in Gőppingen, his uncle Emil Hilb as well as his daughter Elsbeth and her second husband Ludwig Oberdorfer with their daughters Lise and Doris and son Franzl who was born in 1938 (Datum?). Ludwig Oberdorfer was a shareholder and eventually owner of his father-in-law’s company which manufactured fillings for mattresses, upholstered furniture and beds. After the pogrom in November 1938 Ludwig Oberdorfer was imprisoned in Dachau concentration camp with other Jewish men from Gőppingen. Upon his return he was forced to sell his company at an unfair low price to the local Nazi group leader. After that time the correspondence between the Gőppingen Hilb-Oberdorfers and the Kreuzlingen Hilbs intensified.
Ernst tried to find emigration opportunities and cope with consulates, travel agencies, shipping companies, as well as often shady emigration agents. While doing all this he used resources available in Switzerland to find a way for his Gőppingen relatives to emigrate to a safe third country. Inquiries to Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, South Africa, Argentina, Haiti, Peru and the Dominican Republic were channeled through his address. Since Jews were no longer allowed to have telephones in the German Reich, and since long-distance calls were much too expensive for his relatives who were now in serious financial difficulties, Ernst maintained a frequent mail correspondence with Ludwig, his cousin by marriage. In the beginning Ludwig, a native of Regensburg, tried to keep a cheerful tone in his letters and to sound optimistic and confident in his hope that a country somewhere in the world would eventually accept him and his family: “And when the time is right, we will have to put our heads together and try everything, even if it means traveling on a cargo steamer,” he wrote in the summer of 1939. But then Ernst Hilb became ill and needed an operation, and he warned Ludwig that a decision would have to be made quickly because Santa Domingo, Chile and Cuba were still open. However, Ludwig hesitated because at that time he was considering Haiti.
Just then, the war began and many countries closed their borders. Ludwig’s letters soon sounded hopeless, his family was terribly afraid. At the beginning of 1940 he found out that it was now a requirement that $5,000 in U.S. currency had to be deposited as a guarantee to be accepted in Haiti. Ludwig Oberdorfer’s monthly salary that he now earned at his own firm amounted to only RM400. Oberdorfer asked in his letters if anyone else besides his American cousin who was sponsoring the family for immigration could assist Ernst Hilb in obtaining the necessary immigration permits, raise funds and somehow get them to safety. A cousin in New York, the owner of a necktie store, had already made a considerable deposit. These funds now appeared to have been lost because of unscrupulous agents and political developments.
In March 1940 Ludwig Oberdorfer wrote the following bitter lines about the beautiful but remote idea of a reunion with Ernst:
“But because everything is at point zero except our USA-number, those prospects are more than just bad. Please let us hear from you soon; we anxiously await every letter and hope and hope and hope.”
In addition to the uncertain prospects for emigration, there were now also financial concerns because Ludwig Oberdorfer no longer had any income. More and more frequently Ernst announced in his letters that once again food items were being sent: Swiss chocolate, cheese and Ovaltine were enjoyed by his relatives. In December 1940 Ernst Hilb reported cautiously that the Jews from Baden had just been deported to Camp Gurs: “You probably have heard that many of our former acquaintances have been taken to southern France. They are in need of good warm clothing, boots, pillows, etc.” Would the Gőppingers who already were in dire straights themselves still have been able to assist their family members in Gurs? The letters say nothing about it.
In December 1940 the hopes for going to the United States sank once again: “We are extremely depressed,” wrote Ludwig to cousin Ernst. Several months later, when the attack on the Soviet Union had just begun, the American consulate in Stuttgart closed its doors. This was particularly bitter news because the Oberdorfers’ visas had been approved at the last minute, only the arrangements for ship passage still needed to be made. “I really don’t know what to do any more, can you advise me?” Ludwig asked the relatives in Kreuzlingen in June 1941. Once more there was some hope after Ernst Hilb resumed his attempts to help. But now it would be necessary to raise US$ 2,000 for the ship passage tickets – which was more than it had been before. Another relative in the USA had donated half of that amount. “We would be happy to travel in a third-class cabin on the ship,” Ludwig assured his cousin Ernst, but the relatives in Kreuzlingen were not able to raise the rest of the money.
When things still had not progressed any further by September, Ludwig wrote: “As you can easily imagine, we are mentally totally exhausted, and I can no longer hope to make emigration a reality.”
His last lengthy hand-written letter is dated October 17, 1941. It gives shocking testimony to their hopelessness and feelings of being lost. Ludwig Oberdorfer sums it up bitterly: “Our emigration failed because of our own helplessness.” Cuba and Chile, the last hopes for salvation suggested by Ernst Hilb, were unreachable due to lack of money. Ludwig’s last lines to his relatives who had tried so hard to help were: “So we must always hope and wish that soon there will be peace again and that the Lord will have pity on us.”
Six days later Reichfűhrer Heinrich Himmler issued a general ban on Jewish emigration. The policy of the Nazi regime regarding the Jews now started its most radical phase, the extermination of Jewish life in Germany and the occupied territories. On November 27, 1941, the first Jewish citizens of Gőppingen were deported, carrying only small luggage, via Stuttgart to the “Reichskommissariat Ost”, the Riga ghetto. Among them were Ludwig and Elsbeth Oberdorfer and their children Lise, Doris, and three-year-old Franzl. Elsbeth’s father Emil Hilb remained behind by himself in Gőppingen for now.
“Mr. Hilb visits us frequently, he seems quite distraught,” reported an acquaintance after the deportation of the Oberdorfer family. In December Emil Hilb wrote to the Kreuzlingen relatives himself in the hope that they might be able to give him some news on the whereabouts of his family. But there were no news. In the following summer, Emil Hilb was deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp and from there to Treblinka extermination camp where he was murdered. The Hilbs in Kreuzlingen were able to give some last assistance to Ricka, Ludwig Oberdorfer’s mother. She also had been deported to Theresienstadt. At least she was allowed to write to Kreuzlingen and once in a while receive a food package from there. On her last postcard to the Hilbs, written on October 13, 1943, in Theresienstadt, she thanked them for their greetings and wrote:
“It worries me greatly that neither you nor I have heard anything from Ludwig, but I hope good news will soon arrive through the Red Cross.”
This hope would not be fulfilled. According to later findings, the whole Oberdorfer family lost their lives in a massacre in March 943. Ricka Oberdorfer died at Theresienstadt concentration camp in January 1944.