It is a matter for regret that the history of the Cassirers, as has been made available, has not been sensitive to the contribution of the women. They are acknowledged as being, sometimes, paragons of great qualities - beauty, intelligence, and formidable personalities - but there is little detail to accompany that. No doubt this will be able to be rectified over time. Undoubtedly they had much to handle given the demands of their upbringing and responsibilities, and later the terrible challenges posed by the holocaust and the war. But how this was faced remains to be told.
Toni Bondy (daughter of Julie Cassirer), who married her first cousin Ernst, is said to be known to have been a woman of striking intelligence and beauty. No doubt more insight about her is available from her book, even if focused on her life with Ernst.
In addition, living relatives, such as Niels Waller, who as a child would visit New York City to meet his grandparents and during these visits would also visit Toni Cassirer (who lived next door) and Anna Cassirer - Ernst Cassirer's daughter. Peter Cassirer, would also visit his grandmother, Toni Cassirer, although he does not remember it as a pleasant experience. So perhaps more can be filled in here later on these imposing (but perhaps for young children, daunting) women.
Anne (Anna) Cassirer (Ernst Cassirer's daughter) became a Psychotherapist and married the famous pianist Kurt Appelbaum whom she subsequently was divorced from. Kurt was a wonderfully sensitive musician, but comparably difficult to live with.
It must have been a wonderfully stimulating, but also challenging environment, to be brought up with the famously brilliant Ernst Cassirer as father. Children of course are resilient. Anna has recorded that when she was frightened that there were lions under her bed, Ernst came and looked under the bed and reassured her that no lions were there. Anna said she could not understand 'how that man everyone said was so brilliant could be so silly. He could not understand that when he came in, all the lions went back to the zoo.' †
The children were encouraged to talk when people come to dinner, but there was one guest whom she did not like because the children were told to keep quiet when he came. The guest was Albert Einstein.
Anna lived out her days in New York, and not untypically for a Cassirer she lived both to a ripe age (she died on 28 May 1998, six days short of her 90th birthday), but also in that final period of bodily decline, her mind remained sharp and observant. So she decided, with a colleague, to document her experience of her decline. Her colleague, Ruth Cohn Bolletino writes:
Technically the cause of her death was congestive heart failure. Actually she died from erosion. Everything except her fine mind wore out and broke down. During the last few months of her life she became interested in what she noticed about her physical deterioration and its effects. She realised that her experiences were different from accepted assumptions about aging and physical loss, and decided to write a paper. So she became a "participant observer" working to examine her own decline.
"There is, she said to me, "something really nasty in this work. It makes me even more conscious of what is happening to dwell on it. In that sense its a ghastly experience, to know I am disintegrating. I spent my life trying to integrate people, then witness total disintegration. That's not very funny. It's just not very funny..." But she became excited about the work, jotting down ideas in the middle of the night, and persisted.
Anna continued this as her eyesight, sense of touch, taste, smell, and hearing faded. Whilst she did not live to write a rounded conclusion, her insight, that the integrity of self and body are intimately and holistically connected, and her moving observations of how the disintegration of the body distorted and damaged the sense of self, are of enduring interest. Edited by Ruth Bolletino, Anna's account of her last days can be read by clicking here.
Charlotte Betty Cassirer (daughter of Isidor) is better known to me (Jim Falk) because she was my grandmother. Although I knew her primarily through the eyes of a child during her period of residence in Australia, and then for two visits in New York later, it was hard to miss the fact that she had the same formidable Cassirer personality which was by then famous, or notorious, depending on one's perspective. From the point of view of a child it veered towards the latter! She was an excellent cook, and had demonstrated enormous strength during the necessary move out of Germany.
Charlotte Betty Falk (ne Cassirer) with son Werner (David) Falk, 1967
Charlotte Betty Falk (ne Cassirer) in Berlin, circa 1930
Betty broke through the normal pattern by marrying a short local doctor - Fritz Falk - who practiced in Berlin where he was born. His father, Ferdinand Falk, who was a Jewish businessman came from Dessau an old German Principality. In this sense he was not a foreign Jew from Poland, but to an extent protected since the little principalities in Germany mostly tolerated a Jewish community. He lived in Berlin at Kantstrasse 124 until 1912 when he and Betty moved to Charlottenburg in West Berlin - a very beautiful part of Berlin.
Werner (David) Falk, Betty and Fritz's son describes the style of life of even this modest doctor, who had married into the Cassirer clan:
It was the elegant quarters, monied quarters and a very beautiful part of Berlin. It was newer. Then, well I suppose I started to go to school when I was 5 and a half. And I was sent to a private school which had an academically good reputation. And then when I was 6 we moved. We moved to more elegant quarters. And in the light of what happened later it was incredibly luxurious where we lived, and how we lived And my grandfather had insisted on that - my grandfather Isidor . Kantstrasse wasn't good enough and after they had lived there for seven years and my father had proved that he could run a good practice and was a respectable and decent man, my grandfather insisted that they live there in better quarters and so we moved to Kurfürstendamm which was the elite street in Berlin - No. 62 Kurfürstendamm.
62 Kurfürstendamm, Berlin in 2002
It was a 12 roomed apartment. What that apartment had - you can't believe it. Well when you came in, it had my father's consulting room and it had on one side and then on the other side a waiting room. And then there was a big sort of entry. If you had too many patients at once they could wait there too. Then off that part was a huge living room, very well furnished. Next to this was a salon, that was the sort of prestige living room with very good furniture. Actually most of the furniture, the salon furniture, the living room furniture, the dining room furniture, was all specially made. And the dining room was so large that my parents could give dinner parties for 40 people in our dining room without moving the Bechstein Piano.
But it was all very modest because my parents were the least ostentatious people but that was that much belonged to the family style. I mean the others - Bruno Cassirer, the publisher, had a villa in the Grunewald which was the most exclusive district and where you could have your own house with your own garden and that sort of thing. And he kept a stable of trotting horses.
In 1914 Fritz was conscripted but because of some supposed heart condition was confined to[base] duties as a medical doctor in a small town near Berlin, called Furstenwalde. Prior to the war, around 1935 he left Germany at a time that it was possible to take possessions but not money (and hence there are still in the possession of the family some family silver, table linen, crockery, Daumier pictures, etc.). Fritz and Betty Falk, and Else and Helmut Schelesinger , and their daughter Odette, all went to Vichy France (to Nice?) at the fall of France. From there they were smuggled across the border into Switzerland using in part, US dollars taken to the US by Barbara Falk.
After the war they came to Oxford and lived, at first, in the attic of the Crescent School - a school set up by Oxford academics to which Anne, John and later Jim Falk all attended. Betty Falk was School cook. They later moved into a flat. They followed Werner (David) Falk to Melbourne Australia in 1951. There Fritz lived until his death. When Werner Falk left to take up an academic position in North Carolina, America, Betty followed and lived in New York. For a period she shared an apartment with Kurt Goldstein, her first cousin, and then lived by herself until her death.
Käthe Cassirer (one of two daughters of Salomon Cassirer) married Dr. Paul Herrmann, a Berlin chemist. Her photographs showing the striking impression she would have made (see below) has been kept by the Kellerman family which are amongst her descendants (living in Sweden). She died early, in 1909, at the age of 30.
Käthe Herrmann (ne Cassirer)
Susanne Bano (ne Suzanne Cassirer, a daughter of Martin Cassirer) was another remarkable Cassirer daughter, brought up in Breslau. Writes Ben Bano "She was a very liberal, committed person who was not going to conform to any expectations imposed by the Nazis on adolescents of her age. She joined the Young Communists at the age of 18 – a very dangerous thing to do at the time – and later studied in Prague." She became a Chemist and found work in the Austrian Tyrol in 1935 and it was there that she met her husband who she married in London in 1936. She became an adult educator and was still giving classes at the age of 80. She died in London in 1999. Ben Bano, her son, has written a moving account of her life, and that of her grandmother also, who lost her life in the death camps. Ben Bano's account of Susanne's life, and that of her parents, can be read by clicking here.
Edith Johanna Cassirer (a daughter of Max Cassirer) is one of the daughters who was particularly well known. She married Paul Geheeb (1870 - 1961) to become Edith Geheeb (1885 - 1982). They were early leaders in the progressive education movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Geheebs were able to design and build their ideal school in 1910, the Odenwaldschule in what was then southwestern Germany. It was financed by Edith's father, Max Cassirer.
Very radical for its day, this coeducational boarding school involved students in new forms of learning. The Odenwaldenschule was widely recognized as a successful experiment in the progressive education movement and it continued to thrive for more than twenty years under the Geheebs' direction.
As described later, during the Nazi era, the school became
seen as being subversive of Nazi principles. After raids by the
Nazis, Edith and Paul emigrated to Switzerland rather than compromise
their educational principles. The war years were extremely difficult
and the school, consisting mainly of refugee children, was forced
to move several times. Finally, in 1946, it was moved to its present
location on the Hasliberg. Now, known as the Ecole d'Humanite,
the Odenwaldschule is located in the mountain village of Hasliberg-Goldern.
It lies between Lucerne and Interlaken in the heart of the Swiss
Alps. While there is a readiness to examine and adopt new ideas
and methods in the school, there is also a strong sense of its
past. The principles of its founders originating with the educational
reform movement of the beginning of the century have been maintained
in an unbroken tradition. Changes take place there, but within
the stable framework of these basic ideas.