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A Most Remarkable Letter!


Peter Crane and his lovely family

by Peter Crane

I was extremely interested to learn of the founding of your association, through the chance of an Internet search.  My grandmother and step-grandfather knew Max Ehrlich through the Kulturbund, and they got together with him on two occasions in the summer of 1937, when he visited New York.

My grandmother described this in a letter to my mother of 3 August 1937 that I think you should know about.  On the first occasion, they spent the evening together (I'm not sure who else was there); on the second, they were part of a group that went to an amusement park in New Jersey (editor: Palisades Amusement Park).


I should first explain that my grandmother's name was Eva Ortmann, born Loewenfeld.  (Her father founded the Schiller-Theater in Berlin.)  She was a singer who, before Hitler, had sung in Max Reinhardt's production of Hoffmanns Erzaehlungen, as the mother of Antonia, and in Francesco von Mendelssohn's production (the first) of Kasimir und Karoline, in which she originated the role of Juanita das Gorillamaedchen.  After Hitler came to power, she was employed by the Juedische Gemeinde as a choir singer, at the Fasanenstrasse Synagogue and elsewhere. Her second husband was Fritz Lechner, who was Count Almaviva in the first operatic production of the Kulturbund, Figaros Hochzeit, and sang in numerous other Kulturbund operas.  They came to the U.S. in late 1936.

In this letter, she reports that Max Ehrlich wants to open a cabaret in New York the next year, believing that there is a sufficient audience for one.  But he is there just to familiarise himself with the situation ("Orientierung"), my grandmother reports, and will be going back in the winter, because he directs the whole cabaret over there and does not want to leave them in the lurch ("im Stich lassen").  It seems quite clear to me from this that Max Ehrlich could easily have stayed in New York, in safety and probably with an income, but instead went back to Europe, and to his fate there, because he was unwilling to abandon the members of his troupe.

                                                     Eva Ortmann who wrote the letter
                                            and her daughter Sibylle the recipient (r. to l.),
 Peter Crane's grandmother and mother in 1936            

This letter is one of hundreds that will go into a book that I have been working on for many years and that will be published by Weidle Verlag in Germany -- if all goes well, sometime next year.  I am particularly happy to be able to tell the story of Max Ehrlich, through my grandmother's letter, just because somewhere I read some disparaging comment about him by a survivor of Westerbork -- something to the effect that he made efforts to avoid being sent to the East (which, even if true, would be perfectly understandable).  I think it is important for people to know that if it were not for his conscience toward others, he never would have been in Westerbork to begin with.

Peter Crane



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                                 Last modified: January 5th 2012