Josephina Bähr's Last Letter
"My darling children, With a heavy heart, I have to part from you… Darling children, don't cry… I cannot cope with all this. It hurts me terribly to cause you pain, we are all suffering. God will forgive me. Stay together, and if our beloved Father comes back, give him all the love that you saved for me… Forever your mother"
Leopold and Josephina (née Roberg) Bähr lived in Bassum, in Lower Saxony, Germany. Leopold, a beef trader, received the Iron Cross for his military service in World War I, an award he was very proud of. They had two children, Kurt (b. 1910) and Ilse (b. 1911).
In 1933, approximately 30 Jews lived in Bassum.
In 1935, Ilse understood that her future did not lie in Germany. Influenced by her Zionist brother, she joined the Hachsharah (pioneer training scheme) in Westerbeck, Osnabrück. In August 1936, Ilse returned to Bassum and bade her parents farewell before immigrating to Eretz Israel (Mandatory Palestine). Kurt followed, but their parents remained in Bassum. In 1937, Ilse married Hans-Josef, from Solingen, Germany, who had immigrated a year before her. They settled in Pardes Hannah, and later moved to Kfar Warburg, where they worked in agriculture.
A document from 1937 cites Leopold Bähr as head of the Bassum Jewish community. In November 1938, only six Jews were left in Bassum.
On 9-10 November 1938, during the Kristallnacht pogrom, the windows and doors of the few Jewish houses remaining were smashed. Locals threw stones and wreaked havoc. SA men dragged two Jewish women through the streets and sang antisemitic songs. Leopold Bähr and two other Jewish men were arrested that night and sent from the Hanover prison to Buchenwald. Leopold was 65 at the time. Left alone, Josephina couldn't bear the humiliation and hatred. The false imprisonment, looting and destruction that raged in the city were more than she could stand, and she ended her life on 11 November 1938, aged 56. Before she committed suicide, she wrote to her son and daughter in Eretz Israel:
"Darling children, don't cry. God has decided that this should be our fate…. My last thoughts are of you, and above all, my beloved husband."
Josephina's letter to her children is displayed in this exhibition.
Several weeks after his arrest, Leopold was released from Buchenwald and returned to Bassum. In the census of 17 May 1939, three Jews were listed as living in Bassum. One of them was Leopold. In October, Leopold was transferred to Bremen, and in November 1941, he was deported to Minsk, where he was murdered.
In 1999 Ilse's daughter, Ruth Leshem submitted Pages of Testimony to Yad Vashem in memory of her grandmother Josephina and her grandfather Leopold. In 2002, she donated her grandmother's last letter to the Yad Vashem Archives for posterity.