Martha Mosse

by Anna Pingen

As the eldest daughter of five, Martha Mosse was born in Berlin on May 29, 1884.1 When she was 2 years old, the family moved to Japan, where her father worked as a council member of the drafting of the constitution and on questions of internal administration. In 1890, the family returned to Germany and lived in Königsberg. There, Martha Mosse attended secondary school, but she dropped out in 1902 without graduating. She developed an interested in social work and attended the Social Women’s School, a place where women were trained to work in the welfare care sector, in Berlin and volunteered in youth welfare. 

In 1916, as an auditor, Mosse had started studying law and was allowed to earn her doctorate in law on the subject of the “Erziehungsanspruch des Kindes” – even without a high school diploma.1 Between 1920 and 1922, Mosse was a legal trainee at the district court in Berlin-Schöneberg.2 She subsequently worked as a legal assistant at the Prussian Ministry of Welfare. In 1922, she was appointed to the Berlin police headquarters where she worked in child and youth protection (a field that is considered a perfect fit for women’s profession during these years).2 4 years later, Martha Mosse was promoted to a police councillor, making her the first Jewish women to be a police officer working as a senior civil servant in Prussia.

From the mid-1920s, Mosse lived in Berlin together with her partner, the librarian Erna Stock. When the Nazis seized power, Martha Mosse was suspended from work because she was Jewish and by 1933 she was finally dismissed from her position. Being asked why so many Jews did not leave Germany when they still could, Mosse responded:

“Für die überwiegende Mehrzahl derjenigen, die, als die Verhältnisse immer schlimmer wurden, nicht auswandern konnten, lagen wirtschaftliche Hindernisse vor (…). Es gab auch eine nicht kleine Schicht, besonders in den Kreisen, die enge freundschaftliche oder verwandtschaftliche Beziehungen zu Nichtjuden hatten, die nicht glaubten, daß dieses Regiment lange andauern würde, und die von Monat zu Monat die Hoffnung hatten, daß es nun nicht mehr schlimmer werden würde.”3

From 1935, she worked in the Jewish Community of Berlin and became head of the housing counseling office – and thus directly subordinate to the instructions of the Gestapo. In 1939, the new law mandated Jews to leave their households to non-Jewish families.

“Der Vorstand der Gemeinde war zur Mitarbeit [mit der Gestapo] bereit in der berechtigten Annahme, daß man viele Härten würde abmildern können.”4

In October 1941, the members of the Board of the Jewish Community, Mosse included, were informed by the Gestapo that a “resettlement” of the Berlin Jews was to be enforced. The Jewish Community was ordered to summon several thousand Jews at a given time and to fill in questionnaires for the Gestapo. While the operation was officially described as a “resettlement” it was, in fact, a deportation of thousands of Jews to the Łódź Ghetto. Martha Mosses stated:

“Am Gleichen Abend fand eine Beratung zwischen den Vorständen der Reichvereinigung der Juden und der Jüdischen Gemeinden statt, bei der auch ich zugegen war. Trotz erheblicher Bedenken entschloß man sich dann doch, dem Wunsch der Gestapo, bei der Umsiedlung mitzuwirken, zu entsprechen, weil man hoffte, auf diese Weise so viel Gutes wie möglich im Interesse der Betroffenen tun zu können.”5

In 1943, Martha Mosse was due to be deported to Auschwitz. Alas, due to her father’s old connections and the intervention of the Japanese embassy, she was eventually sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp as a “prominent person”.1 She survived and returned to her partner Erna Stock in Berlin in July 1945. When the question of emigration to the U.S. arose, Mosse refused because Erna Stock, as a German and a non-Jew, would not have received permission to enter the territory. Mosse wrote to her sister: 

„Aber ich kann und will nicht kommen, wenn dasselbe nicht auch für Frau Stock zu erreichen ist. Sie hat so unerhört viel all diese Jahre unter grösstem persönlichen Einsatz und Gefährdung für mich getan, und ich habe die Jahre in Theresienstadt nur unter der Hoffnung gelebt, dass wir wieder einmal zusammensein würden wie früher…“6

Because her work for the Berlin Jewish Community had meant a close connection with the Gestapo, Martha Mosse was accused of collaboration after the war. However, the Allied Authorities eventually determined that she had been a victim of fascism and thus exonerated her. Mosse faced accusations again in a Ehrengerichtsverfahren of the Jewish Community. She was found not guilty of collaboration due to testimonies that proved that she had been actually helping victims by using her knowledge of impending resettlements to warn people.2

After her employment as an advisor and translator for the American Military Government in preparation for the Nuremberg trials, Martha Mosse returned to the Berlin police force as a legal advisor. Mosse also testified as a witness for the prosecution against Gottlob Berger – a senior German Nazi official who held the rank of SS-Obergruppenführer and General der Waffen-SS during WWII – at the Nuremberg Trials in February 1948.7

She retired in 1953 at the age of 69. She lived another 10 years with Erna Stock, who died in 1963. Mosse reached the advanced age of 93. 

United States Army Office of the Chief of Counsel for War Crimes (n.d.), photographer – USHMM, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park. Copyright: Public Domain. Source Record ID: 111-SC-298746 (Album 5584).

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  3. Eyewitness account by Martha Mosse of the ‘resettlement’ of the Berlin Jews, recorded by Dr. Wolfgang Scheffler, Berlin, July 1958, The Wiener Holocaust Library (WHL), 1656/3/3/962, by the WHL: “For the overwhelming majority of those who could not emigrate when the circumstances were much worse, economic obstacles were given. […] But there was also a layer of people, which was not that small, especially in the circles which had close friendships or economic relationships to non-Jews, who did not believe that this government would last long, and month upon month had the hope that it would not get much worse.” []
  4. Eyewitness account by Martha Mosse of the ‘resettlement’ of the Berlin Jews, recorded by Dr. Wolfgang Scheffler, Berlin, July 1958, The Wiener Holocaust Library (WHL), 1656/3/3/962, Transl. by the WHL: “The chairman of the Community was ready to cooperate giving the reasoned argument that many hardships could be mitigated.” []
  5. Eyewitness account by Martha Mosse of the ‘resettlement’ of the Berlin Jews, recorded by Dr. Wolfgang Scheffler, Berlin, July 1958, The Wiener Holocaust Library (WHL), 1656/3/3/962, Transl. by the WHL: “On the same evening, a consultation took place between the directors of the National Reich Association of Jews and the Jewish Community at which I was also present. Despite significant misgivings, it was decided then to meet the wish of the Gestapo cooperate with the resettlement because it was hoped as a result of this to be able to do as much good as possible in the interests of those affected.” []
  6. Citated by Jens Dobler, []
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