University of Minnesota
Digitizing Immigrant Letters

Letters from the collection of Emilie Wehle Papers

As part of a collaborative project with the Sammlung Frauennachlässe (Collection of Women's Personal Papers) housed at the Department of History at the University of Vienna in Austria, six letters selected by Li Gerhalter have been included in the Digitizing Immigrant Letters digital archive. While the originals remain in Vienna, the DIL project uses digital copies of the letters accompanied by their German transcriptions as well as introductions and contextual information, also by Li Gerhalter. The letters were translated from German into English by Birgitt Wagner of the Sammlung Frauennachlässe. Thanks also to Professor Christina Hammerle for granting permission to use the content in the project. The work in Vienna was funded by the City of Vienna (Magistrat der Stadt Wien, Magistratsabteilung 7 - Kultur).

 

Fragmentary Correspondences of Flight and Migration, taking Vienna as point of reference

This selection presents the correspondences of an upper middle class family from Vienna, whose history in the 19th and 20th centuries has been characterized by mobility in the form of migration and flight. The disparate positions of the respective family members become obvious in their letters, which were preserved in the estate of Emilie Wehle (born Sch., 1873-1955).

Emilie Wehle was born as oldest child of a factory owner in Budapest; in the 1880ies her family moved to the imperial city of Vienna. There she married a businessman who in turn originally came from Prague. Six of her seven siblings left Austria as early as the beginning of the 20th century: three of them went to Germany, two to South America, and one brother for a couple of years to Africa. During National Socialism, the family was persecuted for being considered Jewish and was finally scattered across several continents. Emilie Wehle herself was deported to the Terezín concentration camp.

The letters of Emilie Wehle’s estate contain fragments of correspondences that were written to her as the one who had remained in Vienna. They were written by her siblings, who had emigrated for economic or adventurous reasons, and by their descendants in Argentina or Germany. Other authors were for example a Viennese woman who had emigrated to the US after her liberation from Terezín. Individual family members - all of them women - continued their transatlantic correspondences even after their aunt’s death with her daughter, children’s writer Lilli Wehle-Weber (1894-1987).
The subject of these correspondences were amongst other things reminiscences of - and later visits at - their common point of reference, Vienna. For the emigrated letter writers, the city was embodied by the respective positions of a sister, sister-in-law, aunt or friend.

Read letters received by Emilie Wehle between 1904 and 1953:

Letter to Emilie Wehle (in Vienna, Austria) from her younger brother Oskar and his wife Lola written on November 25, 1904, in New York. Wehle Letter In 1904, Oskar Sch. emigrated from Vienna to New York, where he married Lola F. The couple had met in Vienna. Their relationship was initially rejected by the family, because Lola F. was already married and was the mother of two children. Emilie Wehle apparently acted as mediator in this. Oskar Sch. was operating as a businessman in the United States, in a “business” that was not clearly defined, and his wife gave piano lessons. After their return to Vienna, Lola and Oskar Sch. emigrated with their family in 1912 to Buenos Aires, where Oskar’s brother Arthur Sch. already lived (see Wehle letter No. 3 and 6).
Letter to Emilie Wehle (in Vienna, Austria) from her younger brother Walter Sch. written on June 9, 1907, in Dar es Salaam in „Deutsch-Ostafrika“ (German colony until 1918), today Tanzania. Wehle Letter Walter Sch. was hired as a 21-year-old in 1906 as Office Assistant for the “Imperial Gov-ernment” of German East Africa (German colony until 1918, today Tanzania). After the death of their father Jacob Sch. (1906), Lajos, referred to in the letter as the oldest brother, is the guardian of the younger ones. After the First World War, which, among other places, Walter Sch. spent in a British POW camp near Cairo, he went back to Eu-rope, where he initially stayed with his brother Fritz in Nuremberg (Germany). Walter Sch. later lived with his family in Berlin.
Letter to Emilie Wehle (in Vienna, Austria) written by her younger brother Arthur Sch. on August 14, 1914 in Buenos Aires, Argentine. Wehle Letter Arthur Sch. was living in Buenos Aires from 1907. From 1912 he was employed as a sec-retary at the local branch of a German company. At the beginning of the First World War he was drafted from there for military service in the Austro-Hungarian army.
Letter to Emilie Wehle (in Vienna, Austria) written by her friend Malvine R. on November 28, 1946, in Champaign, Illinois. Wehle Letter Malvine R. (née K., 1877-1951) was married to the internist Dr. Oskar R. (1869-1943) and was a mother of three sons. The married couple was also active in the art trade. Like Emilie Wehle (who had converted in 1913 to the Protestant faith), Malvine R. was perse-cuted during the “Third Reich” as a Jew. From 1943 to 1945 the two women were impris-oned together in Thersienstadt/Terezín concentration camp. After her release Malvine R. lived first with Emilie Wehle and her family in Vienna. Her husband had died here in 1943, and her eldest son Max R. was murdered in Lodz concentration camp. Their sons Hans and Raimund R. had successfully escaped to the USA and to Paraguay. In 1946, Malvine R. emigrated to her son Hans R. in Illinois. Initially her letters were characterized by the impression of the amenities, already during the adventurous journey, but especially of the US consumer society, which was in stark contrast to her life as an older woman in post-war Austria, completely impoverished through Nazi persecution.
Letter to Emilie Wehle (in Vienna, Austria) written by her friend Malvine R. on December 23, 1946, in Champaign, Illinois. Wehle Letter
Letter to Emilie Wehle (in Vienna, Austria) written by her younger brother Arthur Sch. and his wife Lisa Sch. on July 26, 1953, in Buenos Aires, Argentine. Wehle Letter Arthur Sch. lived from 1907 in Buenos Aires, where he worked as a businessman. His wife Lisa Sch. had migrated with her family from Silesia (Poland). After Lisa Sch.’s sister had visited Emilie Wehle in 1953 during a stay in Vienna, the married couple, after an evidently long break with the family in Vienna, together took up the correspondence again, which then lasted well into the 1970s.

 

 

 


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