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Elsa Herzfeld

Nashville, Tennessee

Born: 1919 Saarlouis, Germany

Refugee: Saarlouis, Germany

“Everyone was swept away in the hoorah, then everything changed for us.” When reflecting on her time living in Nazi Germany, Elsa May Herzfeld felt her neighbors were caught up in the pageantry of the Nazi movement and were simply not thinking things through, or considering the impact of Nazi policy on their Jewish neighbors.”

Born in Germany in 1919, Elsa lived with her father, mother, younger brother, and her maternal grandmother. Growing up, Elsa enjoyed a happy, secure childhood. Changes were gradual after Hitler came to power in 1933, but when she was 16, a boycott of Jewish businesses closed her father’s business, profoundly impacting her life. Elsa’s parents also owned an apartment house. A Gestapo tenant demanded special privileges, and the family lived in fear. Non-Jewish friends dropped away, and she could no longer attend her beloved opera, enter stores, or swim.

It was Elsa’s mother that spearheaded the decision to leave Germany. Her mother simply couldn’t bear the increasing restrictions Jews faced in Germany. Elsa left first, before her passport expired, arriving in New York City in 1937. Four weeks later the rest of her family joined her, with clothes and furniture, but no cash. She found the reception in New York from other Jews to be devoid of sympathy. She surmised it was due to lack of awareness of the severity of the situation in Germany. Elsa and her family departed for Nashville.

In 1941 Elsa visited Chicago to hear the opera. She moved there, where she met John Herzfeld. When the soldier had leave in 1943, they married. After the war the couple moved to Nashville. Elsa’s father died in 1955 and Elsa cared for her mother until she died in 1980. Elsa and John moved to Montgomery, Alabama in 1997. Elsa died in 2012.