The lives of Rudi and Elsa Holzer hold fast as a prime example of love, devotion, and resilience. Elsa was one of over a thousand women who protested regularly during the Rosenstrasse event, with much success.
Born in 1904 as Elsa Klose, she remembered an early life with an authoritarian father and an obedient mother. The Klose family lived in Brunnenstrasse, the oldest section of Berlin, and her father was one of Germany’s first electricians. As a child, Elsa attended public school and was just ten years old when World War I hit. Along with her classmates, she was very active in the war effort, often corresponding with the sailors, knitting garments, and collecting money for new submarines. She recalled the liveliness of wearing her family members’ military uniforms, and the dreariness and violence of the war’s aftermath. To help with family costs, Elsa took a job in 1923 at the Berlin Division of the American Firm Kodak. After her sister, Ingrid, received an invitation to the Berlin Printer’s Ball, Elsa was convinced to attend the event as chaperone. There, she met Rudi Holzer, who insisted on dancing with Elsa more than once. From then on, the pair were linked; Elsa, however, ever reluctant on the idea of marriage.
Rudi Holzer was born in 1897 in the Austrian valley, Sankt Johann, just off the Sulzach River. There, his father owned a publishing company. The Holzer family could be described as Secular Jews, but they neglected the holidays in favor of the Catholic services. The Holzer children were baptized as Catholics, and Rudi was sent to a Catholic boarding school for boys. As a result, he was educated on anti-Semitism and was mocked for his Jewish roots. Rudi was active in the Catholic church, serving as choir boy and acolyte. By the age of twelve, he had decided on a career as a Pedagogical monk (this changed as he grew older, “had an eye for the ladies”, and seriously wanted to marry). At the start of World War I, Rudi was 17 years old and had volunteered for the Austrian Army, hoping to prove his “patriotic worth”. By the end of the conflict, Rudi was a member of the Communist Party and had enrolled in a nearby academy for printing and type setting. Overall, he was successful in school and graduated in three years, as opposed to the common four. Rudi was keen to run the growing family printing business but could not agree with his father on how to run the company. As a result, he moved to Berlin to find a job and wife.
When Rudi and Elsa met, he was sure of his affections. Elsa, on the other hand, had witnessed the unbalanced nature of her parent’s marriage and was fairly resolute on not following suit. Her job at Kodak had made her self-sufficient and she was suspicious of Rudi’s intimacy. Rudi remained persistent, however, and proved to be a calming force: level headed and not hot tempered like the Klose family. Elsa had learned from her mother that Jewish people were “nice and polite”, and it was these qualities in Rudi that made Elsa suspect his roots. Rudi’s Jewish background had encouraged Elsa to reconsider her stance on marriage, and the couple wed in 1929. At the time, Elsa did not “perceive any danger” in Rudi’s Jewishness. Rather, her Protestant upbringing and church community were the opposers, as Rudi was perceived as Catholic. Rudi’s father saw Elsa as a “clothes rack” who lured Rudi away from the family business in Austria. Nonetheless, the married couple spent the following decade in blissful happiness, ignorant of politics and the changing nature of Germany.
With the annexation of Austria in 1938, the couple had to seriously consider their future in the area and discussed immigration. Though the Holzer family was not outwardly Jewish, the anti-Semitic town of Sankt Johann proved threatening; two of Rudi’s sisters were abandoned by their “Aryan” husbands and taken in for questioning. Rudi and Elsa were living in Berlin and hoping to remain unseen by the Regime. Unfortunately, a postcard arrived for Rudi in 1939: “Is Anagrette Schwarz, of Sankt Johann, your sister?”. From then on, Rudi was documented as Jewish and labeled a criminal. He was consequently questioned by the police, to which he responded, “I didn’t know I was Jewish… all my documents are Catholic.” From there, he was sent to Berlin District Court for sentencing and was fined 500 marks. By marrying Rudi, Elsa was granted Austrian citizenship. With the Anschluss, both were given German citizenship; with his fine, it was promptly taken away. Rudi had lost his job at Schwarzkopf printers, and the couple was mistreated by their once-friendly neighbors. The tenants of their building would complain about the couple and refused to let them into the basement air raid shelter. Elsa’s family, similarly, shunned the couple and attempted to convince Elsa to divorce Rudi. Within a year, Rudi was required to do forced labor and Elsa took on a second job to make ends meet. Elsa was eventually called to Prinz-Albrecht Strasse No. 9, or the SS House, where she was questioned by Gestapo. In an attempt to win her over, the officer opened with flattery, calling Elsa “very beautiful”. When she refused to renounce her husband, the Gestapo resorted to aggressive scare tactics, asking her “what she liked so much” about her husband. Scare tactic it was, but Elsa was sure of her mind and husband.
When the Final Roundup saw Rudi taken with other Intermarried Jewish men to Rosenstrasse, Elsa learned of the news from her boss, Dr. Marlou Droop. The next day, Elsa informed her supervisor she would be late to work and set off for the building. “I thought I would be alone there the first time I went to Rosenstrasse.”
Hoping to just get an idea of what had happened to her husband, Elsa was met with the large throng of wives who arrived for the same reason she did. “People flowed back and forth. The street was full. This short little street was black with people. They were like a wave, and they moved like a body, a swaying body”. She noticed their doctor, Dr. Cohn leaving the building and learned that he had seen Rudi. In an attempt to send Rudi a message, Elsa asked Dr. Cohn to pass along a sandwich for Rudi- pumpernickel and butter. He refused, so Elsa tried again with an officer who had “spoken to another woman”. When he accepted the favor, Elsa recalled the “real joy” that she felt in realizing Rudi would know she was there. By March 8, Rudi was released; “He looked like a robber, filthy and with a beard so dark it was blue”. Not only had he received the sandwich from Elsa, but he kept the note: “Dear Rudi, all the best. I love you forever, your Elsa.”
After the war, Rudi and Elsa were living in what was considered the American zone of Berlin, Britz. Politically, Rudi was Communist, convinced it was the only party that wholly opposed war. As a result, the couple moved to East Berlin, the Soviet zone. Rudi and Elsa were married for 27 years.
Written by Carmellina Moersch