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Cassirer Anecdote Booklet


18 October 1937

on the occasion of Max Cassirer's 80th birthday

English Translation


Irene Newhouse

(with additional assistance from Adalbert Saurma, pp. 3-5)


Page 3 Preface by Toni Cassirer

Beloved uncle Max!

When some months ago I decided to put together for you a little booklet with anecdotes about the CASSIRER family I had something entirely different in mind from this one. I thought it would be possible to give somehow an idea of what we usually call the 'Cassiereresque' by collecting aphorisms and true stories. However, due to the present unfavourable times there were so many obstacles that I had to give up this first plan. During my preparations in the first weeks I often thought of the well known anecdote of Johann Sebastian Bach which says: When Bach had lost his wife, who he loved so much and who was so valuable for him in managing life's difficulties, he sat deeply inclined in his arm-chair as two men entered the room and asked where the just delivered coffin should stand. As the anecdote goes, Bach looked up with tears in his eyes and said: 'Ask my wife.'

When my plan became noted he had many friends but not as many colaborators as he would have needed. Again and again when I asked for help I got the answer: 'Only uncle Max could help you there.' -- But I thought it was a shame that all of us couldn't achieve anything without the help of uncle Max and so I fought like a lion for my plan. The reason of my final defeat lies not in my lack of stubborness. The difficulties most of us are encountering today,

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the loss of the usual neighborhood and the dispersion over the whole world - all this was heavily impediting any participation.
Collecting anecdotes about you was the biggest difficulty. They all seemed to sound so much similar that I finally scraped them all and decided to replace them by j u s t o n e phrase and that is: --
'Uncle Max did all he could in every situation and for every one, whatever he was able to do.'

The booklet in the present form is all wrong because about the family next to you it contains only items you allready have noted about Thomas. The predominance of my own near relatives in it may be excused when you consider my part in bringing my own plan to a successful end. There's no discussion about the fact that anyway most of them are CASSIRERS to a very high degree.

At the end of the booklet I've added a list of my colaborators and I am thanking of my heart these helpful people for their support.
The big question remains how you will receive this little needlework in which all my love for you is sewed in. How to please you in these times was heavy problem -- in these times where anything joyful is met by animosity. I felt there would be only one solution: To show you in some way that we too stick to that what is the inmost element of your life --- to be true to all that has gone and once was so near to you.

So take this little booklet with the same willingness as you were used to give to others. Please be patient in overlooking the errors which of course have been sneaking in

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and use the empty pages to complete my humble collection with the abundance of your memories. And in another five years when we will again unite on the occasion of your birthday you will return the booklet to us in its primarily conceived form.

Congratulations! T o n i

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I suppose I’m starting off this collection with an error, if I attribute this anecdote to our greatgrandfather Moses.

Moses’ two sons Markus and Siegfried wanted a portrait of their father very badly. He, however, as a devout Jew, strenuously refused to yield to their wish. So they thought of a way around this. They asked an artist friend of theirs to accompany them to their parents’ home, and to sketch their father going about his daily tasks from the next room. They succeeded in this plan only for a short time.  Suddenly their father looked up, noticed the artist, and said, “Boys, I think he’s drawing me”.


Aunt Reiter saw the busts of Goethe and Schiller in a friend’s apparent, and was asked, “Do you know who they are?” “One of them’s Jaule” [I think that’s a dialect pronunciation of Julius], she said, “and the other’s one of the Cassirer boys”.


Markus had a coachman for many years, with whom he trusted completely. Once or twice a week he drove with him to a market, a few kilometers away, to purchase things there, which he needed for business. The coachman was a devout Catholic. He went to church regularly and confessed. He never neglected to tip his hat to the Crucifix set up along the road to the market. One day

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Markus had with him a larger sum of money to market, as he planned to buy for the winter. Tired, he leaned back in the seat, and the coachman let the horse trot slowly and steadily down the familiar road. When the wagon had reached the Crucifix, Markus noticed, to his great surprise, that the coachman didn’t tip his hat, for the very first time in all the times they’d passed by it, but drove by, looking straight ahead. Markus was completely frightened, convinced that this unusual event was due to some very serious reason. He asked the coachman to turn back, as he’d left his wallet at home. Arrived there, he had the horse unhitched and gave up his planned trip. The next day, the coachman came to him, white faced, and asked to be fired. He said he’d confessed a grave crime and had been granted absolution if he admitted it. He had had, on yesterday’s trip to the market, intended to murder his master and rob him. The local priest was well-acquainted with Markus, so he could guarantee the coachman that having the courage to speak the truth would bring him absolution. The priest was not mistaken. Markus forgave the coachman, and told no one about this for many years, when he told it to his youngest daughter Julie, which is how the story came to be preserved.

“Jeanette”, called Markus, “bring me a glass of water, but don’t stand up”.

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“Markus,” said Jeanette to her husband, “Don’t stand in front of the window in your neglige like that”. – “Everyone else can lower their blinds”, her husband said serenely.


Jeanette is the confidante of all her clients. Mrs. Brauner, the wife of a copper smith, brings her all her savings, behind her husband’s back, as he’s a great drunk and she has to hide the money from him. Her savings grew from  year to year, but there was not a word about them on paper – partly in fear her husband might find out about them, and partly because of her unshakeable faith in Jeanette Cassirer. Finally the Cassirers were going to move from Schwientochlowitz to Breslau, and requested Mrs. Brauner to take her money back. “Look”, said Jeanette, “we’re getting old, and might die, and if there’s nothing in writing, how will you ever get your money?” “Write it down for Maxerle”, Mrs. Brauner said. “When he grows up, he’ll pay us”.  Maxerle was two at the time.

“I trust my sister-in-law Jeanette with more than my fortune”, a Glogauer storekeeper said when it was brought to his attention that the credit he’d extended her had reached a sizable sum.

Knowing her cook’s tendency to contradict very well, Jeanette told her one day, when she’d over-salted the soup, “You forgot to add salt to the soup today”, whereupon the cook replied, “But Mrs. Cassirer, today I put so much salt into it!” “We could tell”, said Jeanette.

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“You have to catch up on your sleep and eat well before you have children”, said Jeanette.

When a child was born small, Jeanette would say, “With God’s will, it will grow up to be a dwarf”, and when a child was born large, she’d say, “With God’s will, it will grow up to be a giant”.


During the move from Breslau to Berlin, Julchen wanted to take everything, and with great care handed these things, some of them totally useless, to the packer to pack. Julius tried in vain to convince her it didn’t make sense to move all that junk. But when it was time to pack the china, Julius stood next to him, handed it to him piece by piece, and said, “Mr. Packer, these are very expensive things, you can’t handle them in such a way that they might fall from your hands”. And with these words, he let piece after piece fall to the floor and break, keeping it up until every piece he’d marked for annihilation lay in pieces.

Julius had taken a long trip with his wife, and had been gone from home a long time. Finally, preparations were made for their reception. The whole house was excited, and one waited impatiently for the Juliuses to announce their return. Finally the telephone rang – long distance! Excitedly, one rushes to the telephone, picks up the receiver, and hears Julius’ deep voice, “We’re back.  Make a beef roast—Bye!”

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Julius knows old Rathenau very well, and hopes that this connection will win him wood delivery for AEG. But when this didn’t come through, Julius said to Rathenau one day, “Dear Rathenau, if I don’t get something from you soon, I’ll bribe your doorman”.

Julius and Julchen are still in their robes one morning, when Rudi visits them. During the conversation, Julius suddenly stands up and goes to the wall safe, takes a pearl necklace from it, gives it to Julchen, saying, “Put this on, dear child, or you’ll catch cold”.

Max intended to move from Danzig to Berlin, where his four other brothers have their businesses. He fears, however, that his arrival might disturb the business equilibrium of his siblings, and mentions these considerations to Julius in a letter.  He wrote back immediately, “Come right away.  Where there’s room for four, there’s room for a fifth”.

Julius, over 80, and Isidor, over 70, are conversing about their youth. Isidor, who had, in his early youth, been apprenticed to Julius, is still complaining, after 50 years, that his older brother had been much too strict with him. This made Julius very angry, and he started yelling, just like in the old days, “You lazy bum, who gave you permission to go around in yellow glace gloves?” [Peter Cassirer interprets: It's rather typical for these older Cassirers and means that Isidor behaved over his real status.]

Julius and Julchen, quite aged, want to spend a merry New Year’s Eve and go to the Café des Westens, which has advertised a big party. “I’m sorry”, said the doorman.  “Today, entry is limited to those who are going to be dancing”.  “And what makes you think we won’t be?” Julius growled at him.

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Cassirer the tailor is very honest and reliable, but very poor and intellectually limited. From time to time Salo gives him his old suits, which he reworks and resells. One day, when he’d gotten another old suit, the tailor phoned Salo to say it had had a 20 Mark note in the pocket.  “Return it when you come see me again”, Salo said as a joke. The tailor never visited him again.


When Gregor was director of the Comic Opera, Delius’ opera “Romeo und Julia auf dem Dorfe” [A Village Romeo and Juliet] was staged in Berlin under Fritz’ direction. Delius was a guest at the Julius’. Julchen turned the conversation to the theme of love, married virtue and fidelity. Delius, who loved paradoxes, said, “Why should a wife be virtuous? Tell me why? What’s morality anyway? My wife doesn’t need to be true [to me]”. Whereupon Julie, 60, said, “Now that’s a man!  Why WAS I true to my husband my whole life? I regret it – and now it’s too late”.  “Yes”, said Julius smiling, “now it’s too late”.

“Children”, said Julie to her grandchildren during a summer trip, “Stand over there by the window & make sure the old one doesn’t turn some woman’s head”.  (The old one was 75).


In his youth, Eduard was very boisterous, occasionally even to his mother, after which he was very contrite. Once he ran out after such an outburst, and, calming down soon, bought his mother a number of the loveliest cakes. He went home, unpacked the cakes, set them on the table, and waited, pacing nervously up and down, for his mother to enter.

When this happened after a time, and Eduard reached her the plate, he was dismayed to find it empty. Every time he’d passed the plate, he’d taken a piece and eaten it, without thinking.

Eduard, who was an enthusiastic hiker in his youth, encountered the local postman during one of his hikes in the Riesengebirge. The two of them did the hike to Brotbaude in good time. When they got up there, the postman made his farewell, and expressed his admiration for Eduard’s brisk tempo thus: “You’d have made a good postman”, to which Eduard answered chuckling, “Yes, you see, that career was closed to me”. [Because civil servants could not be Jews. Incidentally, it sounds as if Eduard had ADHD].

Ernst had piano lessons from his Kinderfraeulein [not a nanny, because she wasn’t expected to be as responsible; more like a full-time babysitter.  This was a position often taken by girls between leaving school at 16 & marriage]  When she, whom Ernst loved dearly, was let go, he refused to continue with piano lessons her successor, and said he wanted to quit piano altogether. Eduard agreed, but demanded of the 9-1/2 year-old boy that he sign an agreement stating that he quit piano of his own free will and against his father’s wishes.  And it happened!

During his student years in Berlin, Ernst decided not to live at home, but to rent his own apartment so he could study without interruption. 

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His father raised no objection, although he didn’t seem to grasp the idea. When Ernst got ready to leave after an evening visit home, Eduard would try to get him to stay every time, saying, “Stay ici, Entu, the child belongs in his father’s house”.

“How is it”, his sister Julchen asked Eduard, “That your Gretulein always has that which are too large, while Hedchens are always too small?  Only Clarchen’s sort of fit her”. “Maybe it’s because, whenever the children need hats, I go into town and buy the same hat for all three girls”, said Eduard. “Probably their heads are different sizes.  I never noticed before”.

When the children were small, Eduards had a servant girl whose behavior was such that she was dismissed on the spot. From the police, the girl learned that the conditions for instant dismissal had not been met, and she must either be paid for the duration of notice, or kept on until then. “Good”, said Eduard.  “But after what’s happened, you are not going near my children again”. He took the girl to his office, which was in the same building, had a chair brought for her to sit in, and required  her to sit there all day, with nothing to do. After three days, she disappeared and was never heard from again.

Eduard and Otto are discussing raising children.  Otto’s a modern man. He’s against forcing children to do something they don’t agree with and asserting parental authority too strongly. Eduard’s never worried about this his entire life. He just does what seems right at the moment. Therefore there’s no agreement

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between the brothers-in-law. – 25 years later, they’re talking of the same topic. “So, Otto”, said Eduard, “How did your pedagogic experiments turn out”. “I’m stranded”, said Otto.  “How about you?”  “Ditto”, said Eduard.

Ernst, who had already published several philosophical works, gave some excellent advice during a business discussion of his father’s. “The ox Ludwig should have gone to college, you should have gone into the business!”

When Eduard was once in Crybow, Galicia, to view the forest situation there, a business friend took him aside and said, “Mr. Cassirer, I fear that you are being robbed extensively.  I have no idea how you’re able to break even like this”. To which Eduard replied with a smile, “I’ll tell you – we steal, too”.

One of the young daughters of the family wanted to go to a concert, and there was a big debate whether (it was ca. 1900) a young girl could be permitted to go home at night from such a concert by herself.  Eduard, who detested extended discussions, ended it by saying impatiently, “Go unveiled, my child”.

When Eduard heard that Kurt Goldstein had a third daughter, he said, “By the Dalles! [No idea what this means; may have derived from a Karl May western, though]. All the flies land on a sick horse!”

That Eduard, in spite of severe suffering, kept his original temperament unchanged to the end is illustrated by this little story: While visiting him, Toni

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was called to the telephone. That was Walter. He asked me to greet you nicely. Eduard tried to answer, but couldn’t.  Every time he tried to speak, he started coughing, had to be supported upright, and his incredibly careful nurse, Miss Greiffenhagen tried to guess in every possible way, what he might be trying to say.  Finally, it came out quietly and haltingly.  “How does he do that?”


With your philosophy, you’ll never lure a dog out of the oven.  Better  take a walk, Entu.

Such a woman is amazing.  When I see her, I feel ill. When I don’t, I feel apprehensive.

I will still direct the factory in Wloclawek from Weissensee. [The Jewish cemetery in Berlin].

Who’s calling to me.  Me?  "How very comical." [Actually "Der Kasus macht mich lachen." which is a quote from Goethe's Faust (lines 1323–4).]

Although I  know much, I want everything.

As tu vu? Asked the Latin student. [That’s a mix of Latin & French].

Eduard referred to the portrait painter Ring as “The Ring who never turned out”.

I have 26 illnesses, each of them fatal.  If I don’t die, nobody will.


 Gregarious Eduard has invited guests again. As he gets home from the office, he notices that Jenny hasn’t prepared a thing. Unwillingly, he decides to talk about it. But the only thing she says, with a hopeful expression, is, “Maybe they won’t come after all”.

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Jenny listens for the thirtieth time in her life Mozart’s 'Figaro' in Vienna. It‘s an excellent performance, and particularly the countess of Mrs. Hilgermann makes a big impression on Jenny. "I can‘t understand the count", says Jenny in the first break to Ernst, "how can he care about this stupid Susanne? After all Hilgermann sings much better!"


When Ernst holds a probation lecture at the beginning of his university career, the family is almost completely present. After the rather difficult lecture members of the family talk about what they understood from the lecture. Some confess bluntly they didn‘t understand a word. Isidor joins them and says: "I do not understand you; I understood every single word but of course not the sense of it."


Max accompanies his son Kurt to Freiburg for registration at the office of the univerity janitor for his first term. The formalities settled the janitor turns to Max and says: "Now it‘s your turn, young man, which of the faculties is the one you want to register?"

Martin travels with uncle Max to Ziegenhals [Neisse district, now Glucholazy, where Max owned a cellulose factory] and stays overnight with him in his small apartment. The next morning he will visit the factory with his uncle. Actually he‘s not a friend of early rising, but in this case he didn’t want to be ashamed by his much older uncle, who had to provide in the small dwelling for everything. So he sets the bell at 6 1/2 o'clock. – but waked up and assiduously rubbing his overslept eyes, he discovers a note on the

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 bed-side table saying: "Breakfast is ready and the bath-tub is filled - expect you at the factory. Max."

On his 70th birthday, Max was asked how he managed still to seem so young. “People who are already old at 70 are yesterday’s people”, he replied.

From one of “Gustl’s” letters:

As a 6-year-old boy, I came to sit next to Kurt at the school on Burggrafen St., and on the first day he invited me to visit him to play with him, Edith and Franz.  Since that day, I’ve been a friend of his family.   I will never forget a Sunday morning in the ‘90s, on which I appeared at Ranke St. 5 on my “cart” as we called our bicycles, in order to bike to Gruenheide [Green Heath], a newly discovered Berliner swimming paradise.  I can still see the city councilor at the head of  our cavalcade – green loden suit, knee socks, yellow boots, backpack with endless amounts of buttered bread on his Humber bicycle – the dream of all gymasiasts [students at gymnasium] – and with an unbounded temperament.

Later I got to know the other brothers.  They were completely interchangeable for us boys – but they were all merry and had cheer & mischief for us.

32 hours in the life of an 80-year-old

6AM: depart Berlin for Breslau.  Arrival after 12 o’clock.  First the route to  the cemetery, to the parents’s grave.  Then the young man visits Martha Kannewischer. As he leaves  her, he buys a pineapple and takes it to Selma Steinitz.  Then he gets into the car.  Lunch [the main meal in Germany, still] is taken quickly in a small establishment on the road to Ziegenhals.  The afternoon is spent in continuous running around in

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the factory, and dinner is at 8 with the mayor.  The next morning he’s at the factory promptly at 7, and drive to Hainau right after. After several hours of animated discussions, he drives to Liegnitz and from there takes the train to Berlin, where he arrives at 6PM. That he receives visitors that evening, fully alert and apparently totally fresh, goes without saying.

Julie B.

Julchen Bondy tells her daughter Toni about the first year of her marriage, which was very hard, as she was expecting her first child, came down with hemorrhagic pox, and the baby died at birth. [Hemorrhagic pox is a virulent viral disease, related to small pox and chicken pox, which is, according to web medical sources, “almost invariably fatal”].  “Weren’t you completely distraught?” asked Toni.  “You know”, her mother answered, “shortly before that, Maxl failed the Abitur, and that was so dreadful for me, that nothing else could shatter me further”.

The bridal couple Julie and Otto are crossing the Ring [central plaza in Breslau].  Otto suddenly lovingly clasps Julie around the waist, who says in embarrassment, “Please don’t.  You seem to think people in Breslau have no eyes”.

Julchen is taking 2-year-old Edith through the woods in her pram.  They pass a bench, on which an elderly lady is sitting, whose appearance caused the little one to say, “Look, Mother!  The ugly lady”!  Julchen passes rapidly, hoping that one hasn’t understood the child, whose speech is still unclear.  An hour later, as she returns by the same route, the lady is still sitting at the same spot, as if she’d waited on purpose until Julchen returned. Impetus for, “Look!  The same ugly lady again!”  Thereupon the

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Lady becomes annoyed and says, “In future, discipline the child better”. Julchen excuses herself by mentioning the child is only 2 and a half, which cuts no ice with the lady, whose opinion it is that such a young child can be disciplined better or worse. This tears Julchen’s carefully maintained composure, and she retorts, “If one is so ugly and so sensitive, one should wear a veil!” And quickly takes her leave.

Julchen is eating noodle soup. Suddenly her eyes fill with tears and they fall into the bowl. Startled, one asks what’s wrong, and she says, “Look how uneven the cook has cut the noodles.  That shows she doesn’t like me, and it makes me sad!”

The women’s movement reached its apex in Toni’s youth, and even her attitude toward marriage was totally different.  Julchen often discussed these problems with her young daughter, and she concluded that there could be no freedom in marriage, if it were to be maintained as a protection for the family.  “Don’t believe these modern theories” she told Toni. “Marriage is a prison.  Every step toward freedom is punished.  What we have to strive toward is to remain free in this prison and to love it”.

From a letter which Julchen describes her 50th birthday to her daughter Toni, which she spent in Monte Carlo:  Uncle Julius took over arranging the celebration, as Father was unfortunately ill.  Uncle Max had given him the written assignment to decorate my birthday with flowers, the way he’d always done it in my youth, and

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He described explicitly the table and the flowers he was to buy. Uncle Julius had the table arranged and delivered to my room in the morning.  I can’t tell you how moved I was. – Yes, the “brothers”.  Let no man slight them when I’m around [she uses an idiom which is hard to translate], and at the apex of them Uncle Max, a man whose like are few, very few in this world”.


“If I didn’t have you, Hedela”, Richard said tenderly, “I’d have someone else, and she wouldn’t be any better”, he added twinkling.

“Can you take over responsibility for this?” Richard was asked, “Naturally”, he replied, “I’d like to see the responsibility I didn’t take over!”

When Hede, as she often did, lapsed into wild medical theories, Richard was wont to say, “You’re assuming that the bacteria are altogether too large”.


Julius’ family is moving from Breslau to Berlin.  5-year-old Fritz is tired from the trip and asks, “Father, why is Berlin built so far?”

Lilly reports:

Fritz and I, we hardly knew each other then, when he already told me about Uncle Max.  As a child it had always been a special experience for him, when Uncle Max, whom he loved and admired, took him on his lap and told him stories. It always made a deep impression on him and was even today among his fondest childhood memories.

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It became necessary for Fritz to renew part of his wardrobe during the inflation time, which was going to be a difficult job, as in those days the prices for all clothing items had risen to billions and Fritz, as usual, had little cash. So everyone was all the more surprised when one day he appeared proudly in a new cutaway. Walter Bondy, who was present, took advantage of the suit’s lack of style to say, “You do know a cut is totally out of fashion, and only pigs wear them any more”. At which Fritz raised his hands skyward and said, “You have no idea what this is about.  It’s about the St. Matthew Passion!” After brief astonishment on the part of all those present, Fritz explained why he was so shattered.  Her, in order to finance his new wardrobe, had to sell his beloved edition of Bach, and in memory of this sacrifice, bought this suit in honor of the great Bach work.  So the cut was named The St. Matthew Passion.

Fritz discovered the composer Delius.  Backstage at the Elberfeld Theater one day, he discovered a gigantic forgotten and dusty score, the opera “Koanga”.  He worked through it and was completely enthralled by the beauty, grandeur and originality of this music.  On his insistence, the conductor Gregor undertook to produce the opera.  Delius came to Eberfeld for the practices and opening night. He completely pulled Fritz into the scope of his personality.  “That is the first man in my life” said Fritz, “whom I respect.  Before, people have always only respected me”.

During Fritz’ time as Kapellmeister, he was often asked for money – because of his name.  Then he always said, “You’re mixing me up with the proper cashier:

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I’m the wrong cashier.  I’m an outsider”.

Fritz finds himself, as usual, short of money. One day Uncle Max took pity on him and spoke to Uncle Julius about his situation. “One doesn’t make one’s children anticipate one’s death”, he told his brother.  This made an impression on Julius, and he turned over to Fritz a sum in securities which he’d never in his life seen before. Fritz is in seventh heaven and full of plans to double, triple and quadruple the sum. Naturally soon it’s entirely speculated away, and not a red cent is left. Only the safe which Uncle Julius had rented for Fritz is left when the war broke out and Fritz had to go to the front.  Richard was the only one whom Fritz had informed of the state of things, and who took over “administration” of the safe.  From time to time, Julius asked Lilly about the papers in Fritz’ safe, and Richard never missed a chance on these occasions to look at Lilly with his characteristic smile and say, “So Lilly, how is our safe doing?”

“My entire generation will not understand my book on Beethoven”, said Fritz, “perhaps the generation of my grandchildren, but perhaps only their children”.

Fritz always demanded that Lilly stay in the adjoining room when he worked on his book. “I have to feel through the wall that you’re there”, he’d say, “otherwise I hear the silence”.

When Fritz was invited to a party, he always said, “I’ll only come if my wife is my dinner partner”.

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As a student, Paul owned a small fox terrier named Pitt, his constant companion. Paul laid value on his dog’s not making any improper literary conclusions, so he trained him as follows: at the name Sudemann, Pitt barked loudly, and he wagged his tail on hearing Hauptmann.

Martin often visited the Art Salon Cassirer, but was never greeted by Paul himself. During the time in which his business had undergone a large commercial upswing, he was again viewing an exhibition and astonished to see Paul coming toward him lovingly.  He takes him by the arm and leads him to his office. There he introduces him to a gentleman and says, “You see, this is my cousin Martin, he has money and understands nothing of art. I now have to keep him warm as a customer”.


Paul Stern had been writing a doctoral thesis for years, but not a soul had seen a single line of text. Bruno thus thinks he can safely promise to publish everything Stern might ever produce.  One day Stern had finally completed his work after all, and gave it the title, “The Problem of Actuality”. Bruno had to keep his promise and the book was published to the author’s tremendous excitement. On the day on which the “imprimature” for the title page went to the printer, the two friends meet in a café. “Just think” Bruno said to Stern, “Today I was able to prevent a terrific misfortune. A huge mistake crept in.  The type setter had on your title page “The Problem of

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Actuality [Gegebenheit]”.  I quickly corrected that to “The Problem of Occurrence” [Begebenheit]. Stern turned pale and collapsed in his chair.

From the newspaper, on the 50th anniversary of the Julius-es, March 17, 1918:

Gold spring opened

After many attempts, it has finally been possible to make gold from the silence of Mr. Bruno Cassirer. The gold reserves of the Reichsbank increase hourly.

“At your age, one doesn’t write lyric poetry any more”, Bruno told his brother Fritz.


Claerchen is visiting Vienna for the first time, and a young man is showing her the city.  With great amazement she views the Elephant Tower and marvels at its imposing height.  Her enthusiasm amuses the escort, and he tells her, “You have to see it from inside first, it’s much higher there than from the outside”.  To which Claerchen explains, “Oh how interesting”

Claerchen is not completely happy that her brother Ernst has married Toni: she’s not too sure about the future of this marriage.  After a few years, though, she decides the matter’s going quite well.  “So, Claerchen”, someone asks her in conversation one day, “How do you explain this?”  To which she says, “I think Toni loves him a lot, and he’s gotten used to her”. To which Ernst says laughing, “Claerchen, something’s not right there, because I haven’t gotten used  to her at all!”

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As a small boy, Ernst used to say, “When I grow up, I’m marrying Aunt Selma, She’s so useful”.

On his honeymoon with his young bride, Ernst visits an inn on Lake Starnberg, where he’d often sat during his student days, and proudly introduces her to an old waitress. “Oh dear” says the waitress, “I’m so sorry about that, - you were always such a good gentleman”.

“It’s such a nice thing that at our Marburg School”, said the 75-year-old philosopher Hermann Cohen to his 35 years’ younger student Ernst Cassirer, “that all personality types are represented – boundless youth and enlightened age.  Whereby, naturally, you represent age and I youth”.

As City Councilor of Charlottenburg, Uncle Max often encountered then Stadtschulrat [Superintendant] Neufert, who had been a teacher at the Johannisgymasium in Breslau 25 years before, and had Ernst as a student.  Neufert was always very interested in hearing the particularly of Ernst’s scholarly development, which he had always followed at a distance.  “Remarkable”, he’d say, shaking his head, “and in Geography, he never did better than 2.5”. [Gymnasiums were graded on a scale 1 to 5, where 1 was the best grade & 5 abysmal].

At the Odenwald School, a complaint was submitted to the school council by the younger students:  in the choice of Sunday readings, the older students were taken into consideration, and never the younger, so that the readings were invariably too difficult for them to follow, and they were forced to be bored. Gebeeb is of the opinion that it can only benefit the children if they were to learn something at this opportunity, which is totally necessary for life: to be bored with propriety. This statement

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Does not, however, satisfy the children, and Ernst, who happens to be visiting, is appointed judge. “Look”, he says, “Many of you intend to study at university, and attend university lectures.  How do you intend to do that if you haven’t learned to be bored with propriety?’

After his final doctoral examination, the mathematics professor said to Ernst, “It’s a pity. You should have stuck with mathematics”.

Ernst is sitting working.  It’s the inflation time. Toni enters in shock and says, “Just think! Today a Mandel of eggs costs 500 million marks!”  Astonished, Ernst looks up from his work and asks, “What do you need a Mandel of eggs for?”  [A number like a gross but remains to be translated].

It’s the inflation time in Vienna, and Ernst has to give a lecture there, but, as so often, doesn’t have a single flawless shirt to go with his black suit. After endless discussions, Toni goes to a store, selects fabric, and orders two shirts, so that Ernst can do nothing but go there to be measured, having complained repeatedly that he doesn’t understand why he needs two new shirts at once.  He returns from the store in a good mood. “I’ve just ordered 3 shirts”, he says to the family’s astonishment.  “Why?” he’s asked.  “Because it just happens to work out that way”, he says.  “What does that mean- it works out that way?” asks Toni.  “I don’t know”, Ernst replied, “but while the nice girl was serving me, she said, ‘Herr Professor, take 3 shirts while you’re at it, it just works out that way’, and I didn’t want to ask her what that means, because I didn’t want to embarrass myself”. The solution to this problem was that the 3 shirts together cost exactly 1 million Kronen.

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In no epoch of his life did Ernst enjoy buying new clothing for himself, and invented divers excuses to avoid  having to do so. The most common is lack of money. One day his hat had again become unwearable, and Toni told him that she would not go on their planned trip to Vienna unless he bought himself a new hat.  Ernst stated that it’s nonsense to buy a new hat in Hamburg when the premier hat maker in the whole world is in Vienna, and he swore by all that’s holy to go to Habig in Vienna on their first day there and buy a hat. On their arrival in Vienna he averred that the trip was far more costly than he expected, and that at the moment, he could not afford a new hat.  On the second day Toni told him that she had decided to give him a new hat as a present. Painfully moved, because his excuse had been undercut, Ernst has to give in and goes, escorted by Toni and her sister Edith, to Habig, and actually bought a hat there.  Toni proudly laid the 26 Schillings before the cashier, and as the three of them left the store, Toni asked her husband, “Tell me, Ernstl, where do you think I actually got the money for your hat? You know I haven’t got a heller of my own”.  Ernst looked at her and asked, “Where did you get it” “This morning from your wallet” said Toni.

Ernst and Toni have been living for a few weeks in the home of relatives who are traveling and who put their servants at their disposal.  They take advantage of this opportunity to have guests.  They stay deep into the night and converse pleasantly and animatedly.  “Now I finally know”, Ernst suddenly interrupts the conversation, “what is so disturbing about most parties.  When the hosts aren’t there, it’s actually very pleasant being a guest”.

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While Ernst was Rector, [Head of a university], a request arrived from Berlin, from the Institute for Pedagogy and Education [in German that’s 2 subjects – academics and what was used to be called deportment & character], whether Ernst would give the celebratory address at the giving of the Goethe-Zelter Fest. Ernst is over-extended, and after much discussion with Toni decides to decline the invitation, and to explain his reasons as positively as possible in a letter. The letter is finished and he gives it to Toni to approve, “It’s a very nice letter, but you do realize, it’s an acceptance”.  This Ernst disputes with heat, and the letter is sent.  The next morning a telegram arrives, “Extremely happy, expect you June 5. Kestenberg”.


In Breslau, a man praises, in the presence of 9-year-old twins Paul and Fritz, Uncle Max in the highest language.  Paul, who finds his uncle’s occasional disciplinary intervention  disturbing, tells the man, “If you like him so much, wouldn’t you like to keep him for yourself?”


Max Goldstein is supposed to undertake remodeling of Martin’s office, and the location of the toilet is a bone of contention. After much back and forth, Martin finally tells Max, “You’re the expert. You decide”. “What!” says Max, “How am I the expert? You go as often as I do!”


Paula loved her grandfather Freund particularly,

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And when he died, she wanted very much to attend his funeral, which, due to her young age, was not permitted her. When, after some time, she was finally taken to visit his grave, she became quite beside herself and cried, “Grandfather can’t stay there! It’s much too small for him, he can’t breathe there!”


Grete and Hede are on a train.  Across from them sit 2 men, who discuss the 2 young ladies in Italian, assuming they can’t understand them. “Questa o la piu bella” says one and points at Hede.  “Ma io sono la piu intelligente” replies Grete in excellent Italian. [But I’m the smart one].

When Beate was a few weeks old, Grete really wanted Arthur Meyer to examine her thoroughly, as she greatly valued his medical judgement.  He, however, declined to be medically involved with his own child.  So Grete thought up a way around this.  She took Beate to her husband’s waiting room and gave her to a neat looking woman, who had an appointment for herself, and begged her to pretend to the doctor it’s her own child, and let him examine the baby.  After some time, the woman came out and reported that the doctor had been very satisfied with Beate and recommended no changes to her care & nutrition.  Grete was very happy with this. That evening, Meyer said to her, “You know Grete, am I not right, when I say that all babies look alike? Today one came to my office hours, and I could have sworn, it was our Beatl!”

Grete had a dinner once, to which she wore a simple, worn dress.  When she noticed the guests giving each other looks, she took them to the next room, where was hung an elegant evening dress. “You shouldn’t think”, she said, “that I don’t have anything to wear; it’s just that I don’t want to put it on.  But so that you shouldn’t wonder too much, I’ve hung it here”.


When Ludwig was 6, and had snacked on apples from the tree, he got a flight of blows from Uncle Salo.  Indignant, he turned and growled, “I’ve never heard of beating strange children!”


Martin (7 years old) came home from school radiant.  “Today the teacher praised me once, too”, he said.  “That’s nice” he was told, “What did she tell you?” “A blind hen has found a grain for a change”, Martin reported.

Ernst and Toni wanted their engagement kept secret for the time being. As Ernst was living in Berlin at the time, and Toni in Vienna, Toni decided to make Martin the intermediary for their mail.  She told him that probably there’d be a letter from Ernst to his address every day, and that he should always bring her those letters right away. “Don’t think anything of it”, she told her devoted cousin.  A few weeks later, the engagement was announced.  Martin was very happy, but completely surprised by the news.  “But Martin”, said Toni, “you yourself brought me

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The letters.  What did you think?” “Nothing”, said Martin, “You expressly forbade it”.

On a very hot day in summer 1905, Martin, who is visiting Ernst in Starnberg, takes a day trip to Munich and is supposed to return to Starnberg on the last train. All sort of errands and the heat have made him tired, and he arrives very shortly before the train is to leave. He checks out all the cars, but can’t find a seat.  Finally he discovers that the last car is completely empty and gets in. A few minutes later, the locomotive whistles, and the train leave. Only the car in which Martin is sitting remains standing.  Martin had overlooked a small sign attached to the car, which said, “Don’t enter, this car is staying here”.

Martin’s Lise and her daughter Susanne have a feud.  Susanne will not give up her old shoes, of which she insists they’re still very good, while Lise swears that no beggar would accept them as a gift. Martin is called upon to judge, and decides as follows: he takes Susanne, holding the boots in question, to a spot in Grunewald [a section of Berlin], which members of all levels of society frequent.  There the shoes, tied by the laces, are hung on a garden fence, so that any passerby can see them. After a while Martin and Susanne, who have become somewhat unsure, go home, leaving the boots hanging on the fence.  Three days later, father and daughter return to the same spot

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and find the shoes still there. The 4th day, they’ve vanished. It’s assumed the sanitation crew removed them as trash.  Susanne is almost convinced that her mother’s right.


In May 1908 Lieschen is considering if it would be wise to vacation with her newborn on the Ostsee in July 1909.  [Translator's note: I guess the point of this one is, in May 1908, she’s not even pregnant yet].


Eduard reports how laid back his brother-in-law Otto, usually so energetic, is toward his own children.  “I remember, for example”, he says, “a very interesting chess game, which I played with Otto.  In the middle of the game, Walter came into the room and asked if we could stop and play with him instead, whereupon Otto immediately threw the pieces together and said, ‘So, let’s stop for today’.”

To this, Walter, present by chance, replied, highly skeptically, “Father must have been losing”.

Walter is not feeling well. “Why don’t you go to the doctor?” he’s asked. “To the doctor?

But I’m really sick”.

Walter is driving himself and in genuine chauffeur style swears at all the pedestrians and all the cars which dare cross his path.  “I’m already enjoying the thought of what you’d swear at all the birds you’d encounter should you ever pilot an airplane” a woman accompanying him said.

Walter drove a car through Paris.  “I don’t undertand at all”

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He said, “Why so many people still take the tram.  A car is so much faster”.

Walter reports with great outrage on an argument he had with a friend. When he finished, Ernst said, “The way you tell it, you’re completely in the wrong, but one should always consider both sides”.

“I find it tasteless to defend people who aren’t there” Walter told his sister Toni.

Walter exits the 2nd  class in the Berlin subway; at the same time Julius exits from the 3rd class.  “You bum”, he calls to his nephew, “Can’t you ride 3rd class?”  - “I could”, says Walter, “but I avoid it, so that I don’t run into my rich uncle”.

“Portrait painting would be a very nice thing, “ said Walter, “if it weren’t for that cursed ‘fremder Zug’”. [Translator's note: this is an idiom I don’t know]

Ernst picks Walter up from the train station and notes that he’s exiting a 2nd class car.  “You’ll never pick up the green twig” [must be an idiom for making money] Ernst said regretfully, to which Walter responded, “This time, I took an extra look at the 3rd class passengers. I don’t think traveling 3rd class will make anyone rich”.

“If there had been been even one decent café in Hamburg”, said Walter, “Ernst wouldn’t have written so many books- what else could he have done – at home all day?”


Hans B. has been going to school for a week.  His mother picks

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Him up after school. They’d only gone a few steps when a young, elegantly dressed woman suddenly picked him up from behind and kissed him  heartily on both cheeks. Then she set him down, turned to his mother and said, “Please excuse me, but I’ve been watching this enchanting child for a week and I just couldn’t help myself”.  The little boy said in disgust, “It’s enough to make you hurl”.

“Just think” a friend said to Hans Bondy, “its 35 in the shade”.  “What are you planning to do in the shade?” he asked.

After long exchanges of opinion, Hans Bondy usually says, “In all, I’m completely of my opinion”.


“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Toni was asked when she was 4, to which she said decisively, “Nanny”.

When she was 11, Toni got so sick that Uncle Max left his business and family  to themselves to help Julchen take care of her, which was difficult and exhausting.  After several weeks, she’s out of danger, but she’s very weak, her speech is impaired, she’s eating minimally, and nothing can coax the slightest smile from her. The young deaconess hired to continue caring for her tried everything imaginable, trying to find a food that would appeal to Toni. Finally the child said she’d like some applesauce.  The happy news traveled through the household like lightning, and all the residents bustled about trying to find apples.  Because – at the time it was June 1894 – in Austria there were no imported apples and it would be a long time before the local ones ripened. The apple hunt was unsuccessful, except that Otto managed to get, at Hotel Sacher, through the intervention of Mme. Sacher herself, two French Caville [must be a variety of apple] at monstrous expense. He rushed home, took the apples to the kitchen, and the applesauce was produced just in time for the child’s noon meal. When the child’s meal was taken to the sick room, Toni had fallen asleep.  Good Sister Cathrine soundlessly ate her own lunch, and a short time later, Toni woke up. Father and mother had been hanging about the door, and entered immediately to observe the eating of the applesauce.  But look, they discovered that Sister Catherine, lost in her own thoughts, had absentmindedly eaten the applesauce herself.  The disappointment on the father’s face, the tears in the mother’s eyes and the distraught expression on the Sister’s face livened Toni up, so that her expression suddenly changed and she burst out laughing for the first time in many weeks.

“Ernstl is actually a drinker and gamer”, said Toni about her husband, “only he does neither”.


“Oh”, sighed Edith’s long-tie cook Anna, “Being a cook is the worst occupation on earth!  If  I ever come back, I’ll be something totally different!”  “And what would you like to be instead?”  “Mrs. Waller’s dog”, she said without any hesitation.


Rudi is 3.  He stands at the window and looks

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out at the first electric street car going by.  He calls out excitedly, “A horse tram without horses!  Got words?”


As a small child, Hans was so often asked whether Mama or Papa was his favorite that he finally took to answering, “Don’t much care for either of them”.

“If you want to die in beauty, you’ll need to be quick about it”, he told his Aunt Toni.


Writes us:

The Uncles Cassirer were for us 16 to 18-year-olds (that is, shortly before the war), always figures of great respect, whom we approached with the greatest awe.  But I only truly feared Uncle Julius, because of his sarcasm, which seemed excessive to me. I have to admit, that I had thoughts of revenge. The occasion offered itself during a large party at our house. Even before he’d entered the other open rooms, Uncle Julius went into the not quite prepared dining room, which annoyed me no end. I met Uncle there and he asked, “What am I having as dinner partner?”  I retorted, “She’s not pretty, but she’s rich”.  It was his own wife, Aunt Julie, whom he partnered to dinner.  My mother, who overheard this reply, cringed visibly. I must have been pale from my cheek myself, but I  had apparently struck a sympathetic chord.  Uncle Julius took me to his heart from this moment on, and our relationship became much closer than any I had with the other Cassirers.

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Evchen was a real child of music. She loved her violin and her animals above all. When asked her name as a child, her answer was “Evchen Kapellmeister”.


It’s Heinz’s second birthday.  The door to the room with the presents is opened. A small mechanical toy, depicting Red Riding Hood and the wolf, is wound up & set in motion toward him, to which he responded, “Look!  A Red Riding Hood auto”.

Grandfather Bondy says to a visitor, meaning 2-year-old Hans, “You see, this child has never yet said a single dumb word”.  At which very movement Heinz mutters to himself, “Gampa’s a crook”.

Ernst’s family has a summer house in the colony Grunewald, with a tiny yard, in which the boys play trains all day. Diagonally across from their lot is a marvelous private park, in which children of the same age usually play.  One day Heinz (5 years old) said to Ernst: “The poor kids over there in the park, I feel so sorry for them”. “Oh, why?” Ernst asked in surprise.  “Look, Father, how large the yard is”, said Ernst.  “If the boys over there go around the park once playing trains, they’re already tired, but I can go around our yard 100 times without getting tired”.

Heinz (five years old) is going to Grunewald with his mother by electric street car. As they turn into Roseneck, there’s suddenly a terrible bang.  A beer truck has collided with the tram. The disks fall clashing

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Into the car – everyone jumped up in fright – except Heinz, who asked, unmoved, “Who on earth paid that?”

Heinz (6 years old) had talked back to his mother. “If I were your mother, I’d punish you now”.  “Wrong”, said Heinz, “If you became Mother, you’d turn as nice as Mother”.

Heinz, who’s just entered Gymnasium and had his first Latin lesson, is doing his homework for the next class with Ernst.  In his Latin book is the sentence: “Ubi erimus si in mundo fuerimus”.  He translates it correctly and word perfectly: “Where would we be, if we had been in the world? –“Quite right”, says Ernst, “But do you know what this sentence is supposed to mean?” To which Heinz responds, “Don’t worry about it, Father, it’s surely only to show the future exact tense”.

Heinz is in Tertia. At home he reported indignantly, that the first in his class had made lots of mistakes in his Latin homework.  “I don’t understand your problem”, said Ernst, “you usually make lots of mistakes”.  “But I’m not the first in the class”, Heinz answered.

Heinz was sent to Halensee three summers in a row, for swimming instruction.  Completely without effect, he’s still on the line [apparently beginning swimmers were attached to a rope in those days]. In the meantime, he’s turned 11, and as he went to his first lesson this fourth year, he was told that this would be the last try.  If he can’t make it off the line this year, there would be no more swimming lessons ever.

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In the evening, Heinz came home much too late for dinner. The family’s already very concerned that something might have happened to him.  Finally he came home, radiant, carrying a certificate saying that in one hour and ten minutes he’d swum well enough to leave the line.

“Everyone and Cassirer quiet”, the teacher used to say as he entered the classroom.

Heinz, Georg, and Anne were on a train in 1917. The electric train was packed. All 3 children were standing. Soon they had this loud conversation:  Anne (9) “Now we have to take our goat to the billy, or next year we won’t have any milk!” Heinz (14) “That’s another one of missy’s crazy ideas, that you need a billy for that”. Georg, flustered, says nothing.  The entire car laughed loudly.

“I don’t know”, Heinz told his mother, “my friends never die. It must have something to do with you, that all of yours are dying off”.

“My mother”, said Heinz, “Gets more & more jolly, the worse things get”.


Ernst’s children had just gotten a piously Catholic nanny.  [Actually, “Kinderfraeulein” is not a nanny.  There’s not really a word for it in English.  A Kinderfraeulein was a girl who was between school & marriage, sent to friends or relatives to watch the children.  She wasn’t expected to be as responsible as a nanny].  It was Good Friday.  “Do you know, Mother, who died today?” Georg (4-1/3)  asked during a walk  “God died today. But don’t get excited”, he added with great concern, “Sunday he’s rising again”.

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Heinz and Georg (5 and 6) were in the habit of playing trains in the long hallway of the family home. One day a lady living downstairs requested that the children be forbidden to run back and forth in this area, as her husband was seriously ill and the noise disturbed him. Thereupon the children were forbidden to play in the corridor. Georg obeyed the order immediately and often warned Heinz not to play trains, but with little success. After a while, the sick man died, and Heinz went to his mother and said, “Mother, come and make Heinz stop playing trains.  The man’s dead already and he’s still making a horrible racket”.

Heinz and Georg (4 and 5) are trying to think of all the things God created.  “He made water, too”, said Georg.  “Not a bit of it!” Heinz said.  “The porter does that”.  “You donkey”, Georg retorted, “he only makes the warm water”.

After Heinz’s head operation Georg is asked whether his brother had retained anything from before the serious intervention.  “Only what he had before”, Georg said.


Franz and Eva have had a fight, but were forced to make up, as they’d both been invited to a children’s party that day.  Eva explained that she was embarrassed to be seen with such a fresh brat, and that Franz should walk on the other side of the street from her.  Franz did it.  But during the entire walk, at regular intervals he pointed to her and called loudly,

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“That’s my sister over there!  That’s my sister over there!”

Franz (4) said one day, “My stomach’s like a trash can.  Sometimes you put something in, sometimes something comes out”.


Anne doesn’t want to eat, and to try to encourage her 2-year-old granddaughter, Grandmother tells her how much better Peter Pollak, 4 months younger, had eaten when she visited him in Trieste a few weeks ago.  To which Anna answered energeticall, “Dod be danked, I’m Anne”.

When Anne was 2 and heard someone singing, she usually called out, “No singing! Quiet!”

In winter 1917, Anne was out for a walk with her mother.  “You know”, she said, “What Heinz tried to talk me into? He says that before the war you could simply walk into a store and buy 10 eggs just like that!  But of course I don’t believe a word of nonsense like that!”

Hermann Cohen was very happy when he heard that 7-year-old Anne expressed an interest in Jewish religious instruction.  He just happened to be Ernst’s guest, when Anne retold the story of the Maccabees, which she had heard in school that morning.  Anne was very excited, as she reported how the last son led his Mother to death, because he, like his 6 brothers before him, had refused to bow down before idols.  Cohens eyes beamed, and the following conversation ensued between him and little Anne:

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Cohen:  What would you do if you were required to bow down before idols?

Anne: I’d rather die 100 times than bow down to a single idol.

Cohen:  Tell me, Anne, what’s an ol’ idol anyway?

Anne: Who knows?

When Anne (9) first heard the term “cremation”, she asked what it was. After hearing the definition, she said, “No, that’s not for me.  It must be awful, even if you’re dead already”.

12-year-old Anne came home from school and reported, that the teacher had discussed with the class if it’s better to execute serial killers or to keep them in jail. “And what do you think?” she was asked.  “I’d have him executed”, Anne, usually tenderhearted, said to the astonishment of all. “It has to be horrible, to feel compelled to murder all the time, and to be in jail and not be able to do anything about it”, she said in explanation.

Anne’s great love of animals always engendered an equally great love in return. On her way to school she was usually accompanied by many neighborhood dogs, to whom she usually gave her entire lunch.  A small dachshund had become used to going with her right to the door of the classroom.  During classes, he lay by the door and howled pitifully.  The teacher asked angrily several times whose dog this was, and Anne, remained silent with a clear conscience along with the other children. She had no idea whose dog this was.

Once when she took an excursion train through Ruegen, she saw

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a white goat in a meadow through the wagon window. She called a greeting to the goat by baaing authentically.  The goat immediately looked up and ran after the train as long as her breath held out.

In Engadin Anne and her parents climbed Muotas Muraigl, a mountain 2400 meters in altitude, thus 600 m above Pontresina, the starting point. On the peak, Anne occupied herself with a mare which carried the milk up to the mountain hotel.  As Anne began the descent, the mare also started off, and followed Anne a long way down. Anne tried many times to get her to go back. In vain!  Only when Anne herself started back up, the mare followed her and together they climbed the steep trail to the hotel again, where Anne turned her companion over to the owner.

“Why”, Toni said to her children, “are you always so naughty, when I tell you in advance what will happen if you are?  “Cassandra wasn’t popular either”, Anne replied.

From the newspaper on the occasion of the golden anniversary of Julius and Julie, 17 March 1918.

Letter from


To her friend Lotte

How we spend our Sundays:

Dear Lotte, Sundays were spend mostly with our dear grandparents.  My father says, he’d rather stay home, he can’t really sleep at the villa, there aren’t enough sofas, but we still have to go.  Around half-past three

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Everyone has gathered; usually one of the children is missing due to a cold or such. Uncle Bruno is usually late. Everyone yells at him, but he stays calm and silently reaches for the paper.  Now we go to the dining room. Aunt Else is called to the phone. Mutti serves the soup. Father always wants two bowls, grandfather tells him not to be so greedy, we’re not in Pomerania. Then comes the roast. It’s usually hen; Father says he’s sick of it already. Grandfather is always served last. Grandmother says he can wait, the guests come first. Aunt Else is called to the phone. There’s always compote, 4 kinds, they taste great. [Kompotte is like apple sauce, only Germans don’t make it just from apples]. Grandfather says, “I’ve already forbidden you a hundred times to put so much Kompott on the table, what will we do with it all”. Grandmother says, he should mind his own business, as it has nothing to do with him. The others say almost nothing.  Fritz and Robert kick each other under the table.  Aunt Else whispers about the Liebermanns and so on with Uncle Bruno.  Now comes dessert, always warm, there used to be such lovely ices, which we much preferred, but that’s all confiscated now.  Fritz eats two helpings.  Grandmother urges him to a third.  Grandfather says, “The kid will explode now”.  Grandmother says, “Just let him eat, the boy looks so miserable”. Father is called to the phone, a patient needs to talk to him. He’s very angry: Not even on Sundays will that gang leave him in peace. Now everyone gets up.  Grandfather is very tired.  Grandmother says, “It’s not polite to go sleep when one has company”.  But Grandfather goes anyway.  The other guests’ heads are nodding, too, by now: they lean on each other. Father takes his coat off.  Mother says, “That’s ugly!” Father takes his tie off as well and lies down.  Grandmother stays lively and asks me, “Well, Miekchen, and what are you up to?” I say “I’ll go for a walk with my Anni, it’s too boring here for me!”

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And I go. Dear Lotte! I must close for today, as I must still practice for the Golden Anniversary.  More next time.

Your, Mariechen


Peter Pollak is 2 and a half years old, and is traveling with his mother in Italy, through a village most of whose inhabitants are barefoot. He came back from his first walk crying, “Mama! You must go right away and buy shoes for all the children!  They don’t have any!”

Peter Pollak’s goat has a baby, baptized Mitzko, which is the object of his entire love. Later it became necessary to slaughter the kid, and it was cooked for dinner. Great pains are taken to keep it a secret from him, that Mitzko is going to be on the menu. But when he got up from the table, he wiped his face and said happily, “Mitzko did taste good!”


As a small child, she said to her mother, “Too bad you’re not my age.  We could have such fun playing together if you were!”


Hani (age 6) had been naughty again. No threats were effective. Finally, one gives her a coin and sets her on the front step with an allegedly packed suitcase. Horrible howls. Suddenly, total silence. 10 minutes go by, a half hour, an hour.  Hani sits on the suitcase, swinging her legs.

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There’s nothing for it but asking her why she stopped crying. “Hm” she said, shrugging. “I looked in the suitcase and there’s only one pair of pants and no handkerchief in it.  My mother doesn’t send me to Vienna like that”.

Hanna (8) is being punished by her mother.  Angrily she shouts, “Mama thinks I’ll put up with anything, but I’ll just get married!”


Susanne (7) came home from school and told Martin, “Father, today I learned something in religion class that can’t be right, you have to explain it to me”. “Well, what is it?” asked Martin.  “Do you know the story of Joseph and his brothers?” “Yes, but what’s so hard about it?”  “It has to be wrong.  It says there that the brothers lied to their own father”.


“Klaus”, Aunt Toni said, “tell me again what was wrong.  The Fraeulein tells me that you were naughty again”. “First Fraeulein has to explain to me what she means by naughty”, 5-year-old Klaus said.

Klaus was visiting in Hamburg, as Einstein’s theory of relativity was a hot topic in Ernst’s house.  He was 5.  One day he asked what this theory of relativity is anyway.  Uncle Ernst did it as best he could.  And Klaus listened with great interest.  After a few weeks, Klaus traveled back to Vienna.  At the depot Uncle Ernst warns him  urgently

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to explain relativity to his father as soon as he gets home, to which Klaus retorted, “That has nothing to do with him.  What does a leather dealer need relativity for?”

Klaus spent his 5th to his 6th years under the impression that he owned a leather factory in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, and he’s so thoroughly into the fantasy that no one succeeds in leading him to say something absurd about it, although everybody tried.

One time his grandfather asked him how his factory produced chevreau leather. After a short think, Klaus said, “Next week I’m going to the factory. Come with me; I can explain it to you better on the spot”. 

Another time Uncle Ernst asked him, “Tell me, Klaus, I drove by your factory yesterday, but it was closed.  How was that?”  Klaus answered quickly, “What day was that?”  “Wednesday”, answered Ernst. “That’s right”, said Klaus, “My workers had a lot of overtime last week, so I promised them this week they could have a day off, and that happened to be Wednesday”.

During gym class, Klaus suddenly stopped taking part, and went to stand in a corner of the gym. “What’s the matter, Klaus?” asked the teacher. “I’ve got worries at the factory”, said Klaus, “and I can’t do gym at the same time”.

Klaus Waller’s grades at age 11 were pretty bad, and as he was quite smart, it was hard to explain the situation.  After many futile pedagogic experiments, one becomes convinced that there might be a temporary nervous disturbance, and Dr. Adler is consulted, as he has become famous for his successful treatment of so-called “inferiority complexes”.  The boy was naturally not told what kind of medical treatment

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He was going to be getting.  Adler was about to go on a long trip to America, so could only do the first treatment himself.  When Klaus came home, he said the professor had been very nice. He’d even told him his own school stories, and that at Klaus’ age, he’d done very poorly in school because he’d lost  his self-confidence, but having gotten a grade of  1 on a mathematics assignment, he’d regained it and had done well in school thereafter.  The next treatment was done, in Dr. Adler’s place, by his sister. Unfortunately there appeared to have been no communication between the siblings before Klaus’ second session.  When the boy came home from this session, he told Edith, “Mother, I’ve figured Adler out.  He told me that whole story about the math grade because he wanted to convince me to think the same would happen to me – his sister told me the same lie today”. Thus his psychological treatment came to a premature end.

In the Waller household there’s disagreement whether Klaus should go to school on Jewish holidays or not. Edith decides he has to go. When Klaus came home for lunch that day,  he told his mother, “The kids all wondered why I was in school today”.  “What did you tell them?”  “I asked them if they were wondering why I was in school today, and they said, ‘Yes’”.


Annemarie (3) sees lightning for the first time in her life.

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She calls out, astonished, “Short circuit in  Heaven!”

THOMAS (Kurt’s son)

Thomas loves his grandfather greatly and treats him like a friend and confidante.  One day he told him (age 3), “Opapa, I can steal already, and I’ve lied, too”.

“Opapa, you’re handsome”, Thomas told his grandfather out of the clear blue sky.  “So,” his grandfather answered, “And Omama?”  “Not very”.

Thomas, age 4, for the first time hears adults using the word “swindler” in conversation. “What are swindlers?” he asked.  “Oh, many strangers are swindlers”,  was the evasive answer. “They’re businessmen, then?”

Thomas, (4) is allowed to stay up a little later for the first time, and watches darkness descend. “But Grandfather”, he called out suddenly, “Take the chairs in from the veranda, they’re getting totally dark”.

Thomas likes to play with dolls.  His grandfather suggests that the other boys will laugh at him at school if they know this.  “Then I just won’t tell them”.  “And if they ask you outright?” “Then I’ll say no”.  “But then you’ll be lying”.  “Sure, but I like to lie”.

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When Thomas (4) doesn’t want to drink his afternoon cocoa, it’s put out on the stairway and Thomas sent out to it. Shortly thereafter, he returns with an empty cup.  “Very nice”, says his mother, “Now you can have cake”.  “Dear Mutti, please let me my cake out on the stairs, too”.

Thomas (1-1/2) asks Eva how old she is. “I’m 7”, she says, “When you’re 10, then I’ll be 7, when you’re 13 I’ll be 10,  when you’re 19, I’ll be 16, just like my brother is now”.

“Why do children always have to do what grownups tell them?” asked Thomas (4).  “I’d love it if grownups had to do something if children told them to”.

A lady asked Thomas (4) if he could name the nicest day in December, expecting Christmas in response.  She was very surprised when he said, “December 9”. “But why?” asked the lady. “Because it’s a Sunday and because 9 is such a nice fat lady”.

As Thomas (5) had been much occupied with death, and become anxious as a result, his mother told him that children never die, only grownups.  A short time later the cleaning lady told him both her children were dead.  He ran to his mother anxiously to ask her how this was possible. She told him her children had already been grownup.  “Anyway, they were run over by a street car”.  “What was the car’s number?” asked Thomas.

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“Opapa, you have to explain this to me”, Thomas (5) said.  “Trees and flowers die in fall and wake up again in spring.  How is it that people don’t”.

“Opapa, I love you more than anyone in the world, more than Mutti and Vati”, said Thomas (after his grandmother’s death).  Grandfather thinks you should love your parents most of all, and asked him why. “Because you’re so sad”, said Thomas.

“I can’t save all the love I had for Grandmother for you”, Thomas told his grandfather after his grandmother’s death.

Thomas’ grandfather punished him at t he table for some naughtiness. Thomas goes howling to his room and tells his Anna, “Annchen, that man will not come into this room any more. I am not calling that man “Opa” any more, but “Herr Stadtrat”.


Kurt (3) hears his mother recite, “He lies buried in Padua, next to St. Anthony”.

Kurt: “What does that mean?”

Martha: “His body’s in Padua, his soul in Heaven”

Kurt: “Oh, then he was a person”.

Kurt, 4, longs for a guinea pig. One grants his wish, and obtains a guinea pig, of which the dealer swore it’s a male. But in the first night, the animal has three little ones.  When Kurt notices this multiplication in the morning,

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He calls out in dismay, “And they sell such things as toys for children!”


Hans (5) was visiting Ernst’s family in Hamburg and is going to be watching fireworks that night for the first time in his life. Before the event,  he asks his cousin Heinz in great detail about the heights the rockets climb to, and finally whether they can get to the moon. Indignant at such ignorance, the future principal asks  harshly, “The moon is 50,000 miles above the earth.  What are you thinking, asking such a stupid question?”  The little one is intimidated into silence.  But later, as they’re in a great crowd, and he sees the first rocket appear to climb higher than the moon, he calls out, “Heinz, you’re a great liar! It’s gone much higher than the moon!”

Hans (5) is in bed, and as usual, calls several times.  Anna, the cook for many years, spoils him terribly, and comes quickly,  “Anna”, says Hans,  “you’re an idiot (Trottel)”.  “You brat!” she says, “You called me extra, just to tell me that?”  “Wait a bit”, he says ruefully, “I mean a foxtrottel”. [Which is a totally untranslatable pun,  Foxtrot is used for the dance in German, the –el ending makes it a diminutive, but that’s meaningless – it’s an attempt at a save].


As Eva gave a beggar an orange, Guenter (5) said to her, “Mother, you’d better give him a banana – those are easier to eat”.

Guenter (5) sees workers in the street

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Pounding stones [in Berlin they still have sidewalks made from rough cubes of rock about 2” on a side, laid in swirls. The ground is dug up, the resulting hole filled level with sand & workers with small sledge hammers pound the cubes into the sand ‘til they’re at the right level]. Interested, he walked up to the workers and told them, “When I’m grown up, I’m not going to work in an office like my father.  I’m going to have a real job, like you!”


Irene is 2 years and 2 months old when, on an excursion along the Elbe she sees a child cross the street barefoot for the first time. Astonished, she stopped walking and said to herself, “No sneakers, no rubbers, no patent leather shoes.  No shoes at all!”

Ernst’s and Heinz’ families have been in England for a short time. None of them know much English, particularly Grandmother. Irene (3-3/4) doesn’t know a single word of English, which in no way prevents her playing with their landlady’s children. She’s very interested in the new language. One day she was crying heart-rendingly because her grandmother had scolded her for something.  “If it happens again”, Grandmother said, “I’ll go tell your new friends about it”. Lightning-quick the tears vanished from her eyes, and with the greatest interest, she asked, “How are you going to say that in English?”

“You have ugly hair”, Irene (4) said to her grandmother Toni. “Do you think gray is that ugly a   color?” Toni asked her. “Not for a coat”, Irene opined,  “but for hair”.

As Irene sees her grandfather put on a tux for the first time, she says, “My father can’t wear such a suit.  He doesn’t have such a stone shirt”.

Irene (4) complained that her grandfather

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Travels to London so often, leaving her behind in Oxford. He explained that they don’t have all the books he needs for his work in Oxford. “Ah ha!” Irene called out, “I know. They won’t have Goethe here!”

Irene (4) lay on her little bed, sick, moaning softly.  “Where does it hurt, Irenchen?” her grandmother asked. “The whole child is pain”, Irene said.

4-year-old Irene has a picture book drawn by her grandmother, in which, among  other things, an Egyptian bronze of a cat is reproduced. She shows the book to a visitor, who asked her, “Do you feed the cat regularly, so it doesn’t starve?” – “But”, said Irene, “that’s not a real cat, that’s a cat for show”.

Irene, 4-1/2, asked Heinz, “Father, how did I talk when I was small?”  -- If you wanted to go out, you said, “Coat. Hat. When you were hungry, you said, Bread. Milk. Cake.” – Heinz replied. “That’s not talking.  That’s noise”, said Irene.  “Talking is when you mean something!”

Irene (5) is sleeping over with a friend the same age in London.  At evening prayer it occurs to them that God must speak a language, too, and they cogitate whether it’s German or English. After a while, Irene says, “I think he speaks neither German nor English – he speaks  Heavenish”.

Irene is 5-1/4 as her grandfather visited her in Glasgow. He’s about to leave, and both are downcast.  “You know”, Ernst says to Irene, “You could

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Come with me”.  Irene agrees to the plan immediately.  – “But first we have to ask your parents”, says Ernst. – “You know, Grandfather”, Irene replied, “Let’s better sneak off”.


Agnes is taking her children on an excursion to Monte Cavo near Rome, whose peak is hidden by clouds. When they descended, Thomas said, “Too bad.  I thought we’d see God”.


Peter (3-1/2), not exactly a model child, is visiting his grandparents in Goeteborg and behaving excellently. Before he left, his grandmother said to him, “Now, Peterchen, you’ll always behave yourself in Berlin, too”.  “Oh, no”, said Peter.  “But why not?” he’s asked. Whereupon he replied with conviction, “Because I’m a badly brought up child”.

“I’d like to have so much money, “ said Peter (4), “That I’ll still have a lot, even after I’ve been dead a long time”.

The pharmacy in Goeteborg sent over the results of a blood test while Peter was visiting his grandparents there. Toni takes the message, reads it, and sends Peter to tell Ernst the result.  “Tell him ‘no sugar’ – Grandfather will know right away what that means”, she said to Peter.  Peter goes to Ernst’s room and delivers his message. “That’s good”, Ernst said. Peter looks at him in astonishment and declares, “How can NO SUGAR be good?”

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Peter is visiting his grandparents in Goeteborg and is crying forlornely for his mother. Ernst went into his room and asked, “You, boy, you’re already three and still so dumb. Aren’t you ever going to be grown up and smart?” – “Oh, yes,” said Peter, “I’ll be very grown up and very smart, but in the great smartness, there’ll always be a little dumbness, and it will call for Mommy”.

Georg gives his son Peter (4) a new toy. Peter, who likes it very much, says, “That’s going to have to stay whole ‘til the day after tomorrow”. – “Not just ‘til the day after tomorrow”, says Georg,  “but always” . Peter looks at him questioningly. “Always?” he asked, “Even when there are no days left? I mean when we all, all who are alive today, are dead?”

To read the Appendix to this Anecdote Booklet click here.

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