Dr Ernst Neustadt: Researching a Stolperstein

By Charlie Knight

After completing his BA in 2019, Charlie began an MA at the University of Exeter writing his thesis on Jewish refugees in Britain and their concern for the family left behind, supervised by Dr Nicholas Terry. His work looks at the various channels of correspondence between refugees and occupied Europe focusing on the work of the Red Cross and RELICO. Charlie has also worked with the Imperial War Museum as a Research Volunteer for the Holocaust Galleries regeneration team and has led seminars for the University of Exeter’s annual HMD Conference.

Dr Ernst Neustadt: Researching a Stolperstein

On 30th November 1938, Wolfgang von Tirpitz, the son of the Admiral, wrote a letter to Leonard K. Elmhirst, the owner of Dartington Hall in Devon, England. Within the letter he pleaded to Elmhirst to help his friend:

A famous teacher and friend of mine wishes to leave Germany on account of his Jewish origin. This man, who has none whatsoever of the disagreeable qualities of his race […] is an excellent philologist (Latin and Greek) and was director of a famous college in Frankfurt a.m., where he was held in highest esteem by his colleagues […] His character is perfect and his ability of getting on with young people is marvellous […] Please do not mention in your answer race or name of my friend, Dr Ernst Neustadt.[1]

After this letter was discovered personal intrigue took over and a research project began aimed at unpicking Neustadt’s life. The research led me into contact with staff from the Goethe-Gymnasium in Frankfurt and their plan to create a stolperstein in memory of Neustadt. His story represents both the importance of humanising remembrance in the Holocaust and paying credence to the plight of refugees forced to flee.


                               Ernst Moritz Neustadt (1883-1942), unknown date/location

Early Life and Education

Ernst Moritz Neustadt was born 21st March 1883 in Charlottenburg, Berlin, Germany to David Neustadt (1838-1915) and Clara Joseph (1842-1919).[2] In 1889, Neustadt enrolled at Königliches Wilhelms-Gymnasium in Tiergarten, Berlin; also at Königliches at the same time was Kurt Hahn who would later go on to found Schule Schloss Salem, Gordonstoun in Elgin and Outward Bound amongst others. In 1901 Ernst began his studies at the Friedrich Wilhelm University (now called Humbolt University of Berlin) under the tutelage of Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff and Hermann Diels gaining his PhD in 1906.[3] Shortly after graduating, Ernst took the state exam for the appointment of secondary school teachers and quickly began employment at Askanische Gymnasium. Neustadt eventually moved on to Mommsen-Gymnasium in the second half of 1909 and gradually worked up the ranks to Assistant Master.[4] It is around this time that Neustadt started to publish work both in Latin and German such as Des Anaxagoras Lehre vom Geist in 1914 and Die religiös-philosophische Bewegung des Hellenismus und der Kaiserzeit the same year.[5] As was the case across Europe, marriage rates rocketed in Germany after WWI and Neustadt was no exception, marrying Gertrud Sara Stadthagen, daughter of Max Stadthagen and Clara Schneider (1866-1941), in April 1919.[6]

The rise of the Nazis and emigration

In 1929, Ernst and Gertrud Neustadt moved to Frankfurt with Ernst taking the post of Headmaster at Goethe-Gymnasium. Whilst it is unsure exactly why Neustadt decided to leave Berlin it is possible he was lured to the city by fellow philologist Karl Reinhardt, previous headmaster of Goethe. Neustadt quickly went on to publish two more articles in the journal Hermes although things began to deteriorate not long after this. For unknown reasons Neustadt left Goethe-Gymnasium in 1934 taking up the post of Director of Studies at Lessing-Gymnasium and on 31st December 1935 was forcibly retired under the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service.[7] The staff of Goethe-Gymnasium in Frankfurt managed to visit the city’s archive and discover various files related to Neustadt including a personal description of him by Dr Huth and Dr Kern who recommended:

Neustadt is unsuitable for a leadership post in the National Socialist state. It is impossible that his humanitarian, democratic, cosmopolitan, pacifist attitude as a teacher for German-national education can be used.[8]

Our records for Neustadt disappear until November 1938 when von Tirpitz wrote to Leonard Elmhirst. The November Pogroms elicited a sharp rise in the number of families wishing to flee Germany, and we can presume from the dates, Neustadt felt the same.[9] The connections between these individuals exhibits the importance of personal connections in escaping Nazi Germany.[10] Accompanying the Tirpitz/Elmhirst letter in the Devon Archives was a letter from Elmhirst to the German Jewish Aid Committee dated 22nd February 1939 stating he had no provisions for Neustadt but had passed his request onto Sir Henry Bunbury.[11] Although one can find the letter from Elmhirst to Bunbury the trail goes cold and it is unclear if Bunbury had anything to do with Neustadt’s eventual emmigration.[12] From the documents scanned from the Institut für Stadtgeschichte Frankfurt we know that Ernst (and presumably Gertrud) emigrated on the 20th July 1939 to Gordonstoun School in Elgin, Scotland.[13] Since Neustadt went straight to Scotland, we can assume his sponsor was Kurt Hahn, his old school friend from Königliches and thus the attempts of Tirpitz, Elmhirst and Bunbury were unsuccessful.


Ernst Neustadt’s internment record showing his release under ‘Category 18: Extreme Hardship’


Internment and suicide

The Gordonstoun School archive contains a letter from Kurt Hahn to William Fyfe, the Principal of the University of Aberdeen sent on 3rd September 1939 after Fyfe offered his son, Christopher, to come to Gordonstoun’s junior school, Wester Elchies, where Neustadt was residing. According to the deal:

If Christopher goes to Wester Elchies we have a brilliant historian and classical scholar, a refugee, living there […] he was headmaster of […] the German Westminster […] Christopher would instruct the boys in all sorts of subjects, instruct Neustadt in English and be instructed by him in Greek and Roman History.[14]

From this moment on there appeared growing concern among locals in Elgin over the large number of German-Jewish Refugees at Gordonstoun.[15] Indeed a letter sent to the Secretary of State for Scotland read:

The fact that these enemy aliens are still in our midst is calling for a good deal of public comment. After all, their true natural allegiance is to their ‘Vaterland’. It is the general opinion of the community here that if these German aliens were interned there would be a greater degree of security.[16]

In late 1939, the majority of the refugees employed at Gordonstoun were interned and sent to a camp built at Lingfield Park, Surrey. From his internment release record, accessed through Ancestry.co.uk, we know both Ernst and Gertrud were interned and through the memoir of one Martin Ostwald, we know where. Ostwald was interned on the Isle of Man at Douglas and wrote:

We did have a lively intellectual life with many interesting people in the camp giving lectures. Professor Ernst Neustadt, who had been teaching at a Gymnasium in Berlin, had brought with him a volume of Greek lyric poetry, and a small circle of us enjoyed it and his commentary on the poems.[17] 

In August 1940, Ernst was released under Category 18 of the 6217 Command Paper – special cases of extreme hardship.[18] Unfortunately the currently available records don’t shed light on Neustadt’s financial affairs but we can assume he was struggling by this point. We know from the lack of records in the Gordonstoun archive that Neustadt didn’t return to the school after his internment and for a year we lost him completely until he began a period of probation employment at Wakefield Grammar School in September 1941.[19] A few months previous, Ernst had sent a report on his financial situation through the Red Cross to Clara Stadthagen, his mother-in-law.[20] From the note, we can assume that Neustadt had been financially supporting Clara but could no longer do so. Clara died destitute in Berlin on 22nd October 1941 four days after deportations began.[21]

Ronald Chapman, the author of A History of Queen Elizabeth Grammar School wrote this regarding Neustadt’s employment at Wakefield:

Dr. Neustadt, a former headmaster and a classicist, was a disastrous appointment. He bitterly resented his situation and his relationship with the boys was raw. The desperately unhappy man committed suicide.[22] 

On 30th March 1942, Ernst’s wife Gertrud passed away from illness.[23] Shortly after this Neustadt’s position at the Grammar School was terminated. The loss of his wife, his inlaws, his job and with unstable finances, Ernst committed suicide on 25th April 1942.[24] A recollection of Neustadt in these final weeks differs greatly from the man described by Tirpitz not four years earlier:

He was a very unhappy man, very much feared and hated by the boys, and there will be few now who remember him.[25] 

Why does Neustadt matter?

Holocaust refugee studies are often sidelined as they are viewed as ‘those that escaped’ and thus not ‘proper’ victims of the Holocaust. Furthermore, within discourses surrounding refugees, it is often the success stories that catch the eye; those that integrated well into society.

Ernst Neustadt was a victim of the Holocaust.

The experience of forced emigration, internment and the struggle to find work reduced the once revered academic to suicide. Tirpitz had previously described Neustadt’s character as ‘perfect’, but by 1942 he was ‘feared and hated’. The aim of stolpersteine is to provide individuality to victims of the Holocaust – Neustadt’s individual story and experience can therefore not be understated. He was not a success story and despite having many contacts failed to adapt to his new circumstances. It is important to recognise that escape from Nazi Germany did not mean safety.

[1] Letter from Wolfgang von Tirpitz to Leonard K. Elmhirst, 30th November 1938, DHC T/AA/1/J/7.

[2] Taken from the Marriage Register of Ernst Moritz Neustadt and Gertrud Sara Stadthagen, 14th April 1919, [Berlin, Germany, Marriages, 1874-1920, Ancestry.co.uk].

[3] Ernst M. Neustadt, De Jove Cretico (Berlin: Mayer & Müller, 1906).

[4] Biographical information of Neustadt can also be found in Rudolf Bonnet, Das Lessing-Gymnasium zu Frankfurt am Main: Lehrer und Schüler 1897 – 1947 (Frankfurt A.M: Kramer, 1954). Bonnet was a former student of Neustadt’s and a Nazi supporter during and after the war.

[5] Ernst M. Neustadt, Des Anaxagoras Lehre vom Geist (Berlin: Bonn, 1914); Ernst M. Neustadt, Die religiös-philosophische Bewegung des Hellenismus und der Kaiserzeit (Leipzig: Teubner, 1914).

[6] Guillaume Vandenbroucke, ‘How World War I Changed Marriage Patterns in Europe’, On the Economy Blog, Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis, 9th March 2015, Accessed via: https://www.stlouisfed.org/on-the-economy/2015/march/how-world-war-i-changed-marriage-patterns-in-europe, Last Accessed: 25th May 2020. See [2].

[7] Note informing Neustadt of his Retirement, December 1935,  Stadtarchiv, Institut für Stadtgeschichte Frankfurt, ISG 207.038

[8] Personal File Neustadt 125/126, ISG 207.038.

[9] Tony Kushner and Katherine Knox, Refugees in an Age of Genocide: Global, National and Local Perspectives during the Twentieth Century (London: Routeledge, 1999), pp.138-45.

[10] In his letter to Sir Henry Bunbury [12], Leonard Elmhirst notes he knew Tirpitz’s wife’s family very well. Wolfgang von Tirpitz was married to Elisabeth Sering, the daughter of Professor Max Sering, a noted Agricultural Economist. Elmhirst and Professor Sering jointly gave the opening remarks at the Third International Conference of Agricultural Economists (1934).

[11] Letter from Leonard K. Elmhirst to The Secretary of the German Jewish Aid Committee, 22nd February 1939, DHC T/AA/1/J/7.

[12] Letter from Leonard K. Elmhirst to Sir Henry Bunbury, 9th February 1939, DHC LKE/PEP/1/A/1.

[13] Note on Retirement Conditions of Dr Ernst Neustadt, ISG 207.038

[14] Letter from Kurt Hahn to William Fyfe, 3rd September 1939, GSA 0009/0074. William’s son, Christopher Fyfe, became a leading historian on Sierra Leone, see https://www.theguardian.com/education/2008/oct/28/sierraleone, Last accessed: 27/05/2020

[15] Stephen Roberts, Migration to Scotland in the age of total war (MLitt(R) thesis, University of Glasgow, 1995), pp.129-31.

[16] Ibid, p.130. Original held at Scottish Record Office HH 55/649.

[17] Martin Ostwald, Memoirs of Martin Ostwald (n.p.: Martin Ostwald, 2010), p.63, Accessed via: https://archive.org/details/bib268016_001_001/page/n151/mode/2up, Last accessed: 27/05/2020

[18] Ernst Neustadt Alien Internee Index Card, TNA HO 396/189 [UK, WWII Alien Internees, 1939-1945, Ancestry.co.uk].

[19] WGS Staff Register, Accessed through WGS Archivist.

[20] Record of Red Cross Correspondence, ISG 207.038.

[21] Klara Stadthagen Death Certificate, Landesarchiv Berlin, Bestand P Rep. 559, Standesamt Charlottenburg, Nr. 27.

[22] Ronald B. Chapman, A History of Queen Elizabeth Grammar School (Huddersfield: The Charlesworth Group, 1992).

[23] Gertrud Neustadt Burial Register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, WDP20/1/4/7 [West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985, Ancestry.co.uk]

[24] ‘German Teacher’s Fate’, Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 28th April 1942.

[25] WGS Recollection Letter, 2002, Accessed through WGS Archivist.