The Kaiser’s Favorite “Carmen”? A Jewish Star from Budapest

After years in the Berlin Royal Opera, an aging Teréz Rothauser was sent to Theresienstadt

A few months ago, I came across a beautiful portrait photograph on the website of an online auction house.

I decided to try my luck and bid a small amount of money for the photo. Fortunately, it seemed that no one else was interested, so I got it for a good price and a few days later the photograph was in my hands.

On the back of the portrait, which was taken at the Lovag Mertens és Társa photography studio in Budapest in 1888, I managed to decipher a name: “Teréz Rothauser”.

After a bit of research, I found out that Teréz Rothauser was a world famous opera singer. She was 23 years old in 1888 when the photograph was taken, 55 years before she was murdered in the Theresienstadt Ghetto.

Born in Budapest to a Jewish family, her father was a trader who encouraged his three children to become artists. She gave her first concert in 1886 in Budapest and performed the same year in Vienna and Berlin. She then spent two years in Leipzig where – among other roles – she played Inez in the premiere of the comic opera “The Three Pintos”, originally composed by Carl Maria von Weber and finished 65 years later by Gustav Mahler.

She later moved to Berlin where she joined the Royal Opera House.

Berlin Royal Opera House, 19th century

With her first name Germanized to “Therese”, the public enjoyed her Mezzo-Soprano voice and she quickly became very popular, even playing the female title role in Berlin’s first production of nineteenth-century composer Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel”.

Richard Strauss liked her voice and Kaiser Wilhelm II told her in 1892 that she “was the best Carmen I have ever seen”. Five years later, the Kaiser personally gave her a sapphire brooch “with diamonds, a small crown and the monograms of the Kaiser”.

Teréz retired from the stage in 1914, staying in Berlin where she gave private lessons.

Over the course of her career, she came back to Budapest a number of times, performing in front of adoring crowds, yet since most of her career was in Germany, the majority of sources about her life and performances are in German, with only a handful in Hungarian and little in English.

Nonetheless, during her lifetime, Hungarian newspapers regularly wrote about Teréz’s performances, revering her as a local hero of sorts. A number of examples of these can be found via the Historical Jewish Press (JPress) project, part of the National Library of Israel’s Digital Collection.

One such article – published a year after the photograph was taken under the headline “Success of a Hungarian Singer Abroad” – provides a summary of Rothauser’s farewell concert in Leipzig before she moved on to Berlin. According to the article, the public loved her so much that “flowers were raining on her” at the end of the concert.

“Success of a Hungarian Singer Abroad” article about Teréz Rothauser, published in the newspaper Egyenlöség on June 9, 1889

After 1933, her life became more and more difficult, but she stayed in Berlin. Her brother Eduard, who had been a famous actor there, emigrated to Spain with his wife.

Teréz apparently didn’t have enough money to follow him there and shortly before her deportation to Theresienstadt, she sent a letter to Hermann Göring asking him to save her by adding her to his list of “protected Jews”. A terse response assured her that there was no reason for someone her age to fear.

Teréz Rothauser was murdered in Theresienstadt in 1943 at the age of 79, followed by her 80 year-old sister Katalin the next year.

Stolpersteine (“stumbling stone” memorial plaques) located in front of their apartment at 11, Konstanzer Straße in Berlin keep their memories alive.

As Teréz was taken away, the Kaiser reportedly gazed down upon the events from a prominently placed portrait on her wall.

Kaiser Wilhelm II. From the National Library of Israel archives

This article has been published as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to share stories and connect with people, institutions and communities in Europe and beyond.

180 Years of Australian Jewish Newspaper History Going Online

Some 200,000 pages of historic press will be fully searchable as part of new global initiative

(Courtesy: National Library of Australia)

A new initiative will digitise and open free digital access to 180 years of Australian Jewish newspapers, including over 200,000 pages from Jewish communities across the continent. The project is a collaboration between the National Library of Australia (NLA), the National Library of Israel (NLI) and the Australian Jewish Historical Society (AJHS).

The new digital collection will be openly accessible and fully searchable from anywhere in the world through Trove, Australia’s free online research portal and the Historical Jewish Press Project (JPress), the world’s leading digital collection of Jewish newspapers and journals. The new digital collection will offer scholars and the wider community the opportunity to understand centuries of Jewish life in Australia as never before.

According to Dr. Marie-Louise Ayres, Director-General of the National Library of Australia, “The project continues the work being done by the National Library to connect culturally and linguistically diverse communities with their history. This global initiative supports international scholarship and enables those interested in the study of Jewry in Australia to freely access this wealth of information. The National Library’s unparalleled digitisation capabilities will once again unlock important sources for researchers and enable generations to connect with the treasured voices, stories and opinions of the people from their collective past.”

Jewish newspapers waiting to be digitised at the National Library of Australia (Courtesy: National Library of Australia)

“The National Library of Israel’s commitment to offer access to historic Jewish press from all communities and in all languages via its JPress platform receives a tremendous boost here with the massive digitisation of Australian Jewish press. We appreciate the close partnership with the National Library of Australia and the Australian Jewish Historical Society toward this shared mission,” said Oren Weinberg, Director of the National Library of Israel.

The history of Jewish press in Australia goes back to 1842, when, despite the very small Jewish population, a local edition of the London-based Voice of Jacob (what would later become The Jewish Chronicle) was published in Sydney. As the local communities grew and established themselves in the twentieth century, the number of publications and their variety grew immensely. Most of the publications were in English, but there were also some in Yiddish and Hebrew.

The Yiddish Australian newspaper “Australier Leben” is one of the titles being digitised as part of the initiative (Courtesy: National Library of Australia)

“Jewish people have been in Australia since 1788 and, while prominent members of our community such as Sir John Monash are well known, the history of those who came before him remains largely unknown. From a Jewish community standpoint, these newspapers represent a rich source of contemporary history and to have access to the information for historians, genealogists and interested members of the public is immense”, according to Peter Philippsohn OAM, President of the Australian Jewish Historical Society. “It’s not just about uncovering genealogical information and family history either, but revealing the arcane and the attitudes of society at a particular moment in time—the insights that can be gleaned from the community’s attitudes towards immigration, the Holocaust, and the World Wars.”

With permission from the Australian Jewish News and their publisher, Polaris Media, all issues of the Australian Jewish News will be digitised, as will all other Australian Jewish newspapers published up to the copyright date of 1954. According to David Redman, Chief Executive Officer of Polaris Media, “With a history that extends over 125 years, the Australian Jewish News has been an important part of not only the Jewish community but also the wider Australian community. Polaris Media, as the publisher of The Australian Jewish News, is very excited to be part of this project to preserve this history as well as make this unique record of our past available digitally to future generations.”

This joint initiative would not have been made possible without financial assistance from philanthropic supporters, including the David Lesnie Foundation, the Embassy of Israel in Australia, the Besen Family Foundation, and Eitan Neishlos and Lee Levi.


Project Partners

The National Library of Australia

The National Library is charged with preserving the nation’s memory for future generations. The NLA is committed to connecting with communities, and connecting communities with their national collections. While the Library’s mission has long been to collect, connect and collaborate, the ways in which we have carried out that mission have changed dramatically. The digital era has seen creative and research practices, knowledge production and community expectations being fundamentally reshaped through the opportunities, new technologies offer. The Library has responded to and anticipated these changes, building an astounding collection, developing world-leading digital platforms, connecting with more Australians than ever before, and collaborating with other agencies to develop digital research infrastructure on which the nation relies. We are committed to continuing this proud record of service to the Australian people.

Trove is a collaboration between the National Library of Australia and hundreds of partner organisations around Australia.


The National Library of Israel

Founded in Jerusalem in 1892, the National Library of Israel (NLI) serves as the vibrant institution of national memory for the Jewish people worldwide and Israelis of all backgrounds and faiths. NLI has recently embarked upon an ambitious journey of renewal and is now opening access and encouraging meaningful engagement with the treasures of Jewish and Israeli culture as never before through a range of innovative educational, cultural and digital initiatives. Its iconic new home is currently under construction adjacent to the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) in Jerusalem, on schedule to open its doors in 2022.

Alongside and in partnership with peer institutions across the globe, NLI is carrying out significant digital initiatives to open access, generate research, enhance user experience and exponentially expand the quantity and quality of materials available for user communities interested in its core subject areas. One such example is the Historical Jewish Press Project (JPress), the world’s leading initiative for preserving and opening digital access to Jewish newspapers and journals across centuries and continents, allowing users to search and browse nearly 3,000,000 pages from over 400 titles in a range of languages from the late 18th through the 20th centuries. JPress is an initiative of the National Library of Israel (NLI) and Tel Aviv University (TAU), in cooperation with institutions and collections around the globe.

JPress is a collaboration between the National Library of Israel and Tel Aviv University.


The Australian Jewish Historical Society

Founded in August 1938 by Rabbi Leib Falk, Sydney Glass, Hirsch Munz and Percy Marks, the Australian Jewish Historical Society is dedicated to promoting the study of Jewry in Australia from 1788. Since its founding the Society has sought to compile and make available unique and authentic records relating to the Jewish people in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands via the acquisition and preservation of historically significant documents and materials. Equally, the Society has pursued the conservation of places of Jewish interest and continues to foster the interchange of information through lectures, discussions and exhibitions of historical interest or value.

The Society is now working to make a range of materials available online.

Sukkot During World War I: Open Roofs and ‘Mysterious’ Ditches

Photo taken by an Austrian soldier provides a rare glimpse

Sukkot in Ivanovo, 1916. From the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection (Publisher: Verlag fur allgemeines Wissen)

Ditches at the entrances to all of the homes. Opened roofs. The year 1916 appears under the photograph featured on an aged postcard.

The setting: Seppl Alley, a Jewish street in Ivanovo – known as “Yanov” in Yiddish – a town then in the Russian Empire, near Pinsk in modern day Belarus.

The photo was taken during the Jewish festival of Sukkot, two years into the Great War.

Two elements stand out in particular: the houses’ opened roofs and rectangular ditches in front of every home.

Sukkot in Ivanovo, 1916. From the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection (Publisher: Verlag fur allgemeines Wissen)

The roofs can be rather clearly understood.

When the Jews of Ivanovo built their homes, they included a distinctly Jewish element found in many communities: roofs that opened up. When the holiday of Sukkot came every year, they would open up the roof, lay the traditional skhakh (covering for the sukkah made of natural materials) and live in their sukkah in accordance with Jewish law without having to fully leave the warmth and protection of their homes.

It was October in Russia, after all.

The ditches in front of the homes seem a bit more mysterious, though given the historical context it becomes clear that they are actually protective trenches, dug to safeguard the town’s residents from gunfire, a clear and present danger during this time of war.

The image is part of a series of photographs taken by the Austrians as they advanced into Russian-held territory during that particular stage of the war. It’s interesting to note that the photographer almost certainly had no idea what he was looking at and was likely confused by the locals opening their roofs in the middle of the chilly Eastern European autumn.

The postcard was published by “Verlag für allgemeines Wissen” (“Publisher of General Knowledge”), which distributed various images of the areas occupied by the Central Powers, particularly in Eastern Europe. It was part of the larger wartime propaganda effort.

This rare photo was captured by an anonymous Austrian soldier, perhaps providing the only surviving evidence of what Sukkot was like in Ivanovo in 1916.

Thousands of other soldiers on both sides carried private cameras into battle with them throughout the First World War. Some of the photos they took were kept in private hands, other were published in unit books or commemorative pamphlets. Some found their way onto the auction block or into public collections, while others – like this one – were featured on postcards, sold for pennies in markets and shops across Europe.

While the experiences of life during that cold Sukkot over a century ago will remain in the realm of the unknown, the residents of Seppl Alley certainly tried – despite the difficult circumstances – to fulfill the ancient commandment to “rejoice in your feasts” during the festival of Sukkot.

This article has been published as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to share stories and connect with people, institutions and communities in Europe and beyond.

A Belated Kaddish for the Unnamed Victims of the Annaberg Transport

They were murdered days after Yom Kippur, yet my father survived

My father was born on Yom Kippur nearly a century ago.

Two days after he “celebrated” his nineteenth birthday in a cattle car, his life was spared.

His name was Fred Bachner and he arrived at Auschwitz on September 30, 1944, one of 1,437 men transported from the Annaberg labor camp. When the doors to the cattle cars opened, those who were still alive saw the smoke from the crematorium billowing up to the sky and grey ashes falling down on them, proof that the stories about Auschwitz were unimaginable, yet true.

They stood at the gates with the infamous words, “Arbeit Mache Frei” – “work sets you free” – and were not fooled. They already knew those three words were deceptive and cruel and that “death”, “crematorium”, and “gas chamber” were more accurate.

The main gate to Auschwitz. From the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; available via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection (Photo: St. Mucha, Publisher: State Museum in Auschwitz)

The selection process “to the left or to the right” was not new to my father who had been in concentration camps for more than 18 months by then.  He knew his life depended on standing straight, looking healthy, and saying he had a skill that was useful to the Germans. My father said he was an auto mechanic, a claim he made at every concentration camp in which he was imprisoned.

According to the meticulous records the Germans kept, only 411 prisoners of the 1,437 from that transport were “admitted” to Auschwitz, branded sequentially beginning with B-10607 and put into Men’s Quarantine Camp B-IIa three days later.

I try to imagine what it was like for my father seeing hundreds of men from his transport forced in the other direction to their deaths. Although he survived that day’s selection, what my father saw was foreboding, a warning of how his life may likely end.

“I was in Auschwitz where we saw the ovens burning 24 hours a day and the transports arriving every day.  I was one step closer to death than before,” he later recalled.

I wonder how my teenaged father was able to control his emotions while standing at the place his beloved mother, Mutti, was murdered, the ominous smoke from the crematorium leaving no doubt that she was gassed and then burned.

“Mutti”, Fred’s mother, Erna Widmann Bachner. Courtesy: Ellen Bachner Greenberg

The last time my father saw his Mutti was February 18, 1943.

When he left for work delivering beer and soda by horse and carriage to labor camps, he saw German soldiers in the streets. He went back to warn his mother and that was the last time he saw her. His Mutti and the remaining Jews in Chrzanow, a small town in southern Poland, were taken on the last transport to Auschwitz where she was sent directly to the gas chamber.

The next day my father was taken to the Faulbruck-Graditz concentration camp and then to Annaberg in the summer of 1944.

Almost five years had passed since my father and his family were forced out of their home in Berlin and there was no end in sight to this unimaginable hell.

Fred Bachner’s parents, Abraham and Erna, at their wedding in Berlin. Courtesy: Ellen Bachner Greenberg

Living was much harder than dying and my father wanted to live.  The answer to what my father was thinking that day and every day during those horrific years comes from his testimonials:

“I wasn’t going to give up.  I used my inner strength and spirit and pulled myself together.  I talked to myself, ‘Fredi, you have to live.  You have to be there.  There’s another day tomorrow. You can’t let yourself down.  This is feasible.’ I needed to use my inner strength to overcome the hard work and mental anguish I knew I would be subjected to.”

That unwavering determination to do whatever is humanly possible was the same way my father lived every day of his life after the Holocaust. His determination, perseverance, and love for life are deep-rooted within me and are sources of strength.

The odds were against my father and the 410 others not murdered that day, just as they were stacked against every prisoner every day.

“I’m always asked the question how did I survive.  My only answer is that I never gave up hope,” he said.

Those admitted to Auschwitz for slave labor had numbers branded on their arms.  Their names and numbers were recorded in perfect German penmanship. My father was branded B-10618 and assigned to work as a slave laborer at IG Farben.

Slave laborers on their way to work in Auschwitz. From the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; available via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection (Photo: St. Mucha, Publisher: State Museum in Auschwitz)

The Germans had no use for the other 1,026 prisoners from the Annaberg transport.

Like Mutti, they were sent en masse directly to the gas chambers, with no record of them by name. Their families might not have known they were murdered at Auschwitz or that their Yahrzeit is the thirteenth of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, three days after Yom Kippur.

In January 1945 my father was sent on a death march from Auschwitz to Gross-Rosen and then got to Dachau a month later. In the middle of April, he was on a transport out of Dachau towards the Alps to be shot. He jumped off the train, hid in a farmhouse for a few days until the bombing stopped. When he came out he saw white flags and American soldiers and was taken to the Feldafing Displaced Persons camp in Germany, which just a few years prior had been a summer camp for the Hitler Youth.

Certificate issued by the US Army indicating that Fred Bachner was deported and kept for “compelsery” labor between Feb 18, 1943 and May 1, 1945 in the Graditz, Annaberg, Auschwitz, Gross-Rosen, and Dachau concentration camps. Courtesy: Ellen Bachner Greenberg

By the following Yom Kippur, all of the concentration camps had been liberated.

Presumably no one said Kaddish on that first Yahrzeit for the 1,026 unnamed prisoners from the “RSHA transport of the Reich” who traveled with my father and were gassed at Auschwitz.

Now, 75 years later, I plan on saying Kaddish for them as a group to honor and remember them.


This article has been published as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to share stories and connect with people, institutions and communities in Europe and beyond.