Frieda and Sigmund Marx
Authors: Clara Aumüller, Victoria Thiel
Frieda Oppenheimer nee Marx (1908-1958) was one of four children of Nathan and Betty Oppenheimer from Königshofen/Grabfeld, who took over the Stern family (Betty's grandparents) clothing store at the Unteres Tor in Lichtenfels in 1908. After Nathan's death in 1920, the eldest son Alfred ran the store.
Sigmund Marx (1899-1980) was born on March 19, 1899 in Oberlangenstadt near Küps as the oldest son of Salomon and Johanna (called Hantchen) Marx.
Since 1869 the family had been trading with hides and furs as well as butcher's supplies. Sigmund learned the trade from his father. They also had an active social life; Sigmund played soccer in the Oberlangenstadt club.
The Jewish community of Oberlangenstadt slowly decreased due to residents moving to larger cities or emigrating. Consequently, the Jewish Community Center was ultimately dissolved in the 1920s. It was Sigmund’s responsibility to sell the properties of the community.
Happy years in Lichtenfels
After the death of his father in 1928, Sigmund and his younger brother Alfred moved the family business "Marx & Bäumel GmbH" to Lichtenfels, where Alfred had married the merchant’s daughter Ellen Bamberger in 1927. After the death of his father-in-law Joseph Bamberger in 1930, the Marx family acquired his prestigious villa in Bamberger Strasse.
Anfang der dreißiger Jahre lernte Sigmund die hübsche Frieda Oppenheimer kennen und heiratete sie 1935. Am 2. Februar 1936 kam Tochter Marion zur Welt. Die Familie lebte im Wohlstand und trotz der zunehmenden Diskriminierung im NS-System ging es ihnen gut. „Hier ist es so schön wie in Lichtenfels“ – dieser Ausspruch von Frieda wurde in der Gemeinschaftsunterkunft in London eine stehende Wendung.
Escape to England in 1939
During the November pogroms of 1938, hordes of Nazis destroyed the house of the Marx families, took Sigmund's car and imprisoned him. Shortly thereafter, the Marx & Bäuml (GmbH) company was dissolved under duress, and the two brothers were forced to sell their real estate below market value.
Sigmund received the guarantee for the USA ("Affidavit") necessary for emigration from a relative of one of his clients, whom he did not even know personally.
In April 1939, the family first emigrated to England, UK. There were quotas for the admission of Jews to the USA, therefore, Sigmund, Frieda, and Marion had to wait eleven months in England, where they had toleration status. During this time, Sigmund Marx desperately tried to save the family of his friend and business partner Chaim Rodoff, but only three of the family's eight children received the necessary visas and were able to leave Germany. The mother, father and the five youngest children were murdered in the Holocaust.
Building a new life in the USA
On February 16, 1940, the family was finally allowed to travel to Boston on the "H.M.S. Newfoundland". The Marx family had exactly twelve dollars in starting capital with them. From Boston they traveled to Baltimore, Maryland where they stayed with relatives for a year and a half. Eventually they found work as unskilled laborers for 15 dollars a week. Their employers were a university professor and his wife (a sculptor), in whose house they lived in a one room, one-bathroom accommodation. In return they kept the house in order and took care of the cars.
Only after a year or two did things become easier for the Marx family. A cousin opened a factory in Newark, NJ, to dye skins. Sigmund had experience in this field and became the managing director of this new company. The family relocated from Baltimore to Newark, NJ. At the same time, Frieda took a sewing machine course and soon found employment. Through hard work, the family built a new life for themselves and America gradually became their new home. Throughout his life Sigmund was very grateful for his acceptance in America. In an interview with his granddaughter, he described America as "the best country in the world “.
Frieda died in 1958 at the age of 50, Sigmund spent the rest of his life in the household of his daughter Marion in Verona, NJ, where he died on January 23, 1980 at the age of 81.