Guide to the Papers of the Ilse and Fritz Michel Family

AR 25502

Processed by Florian Siedlarek and Marianne Salinger

Leo Baeck Institute

Center for Jewish History

15 West 16th Street

New York, N.Y. 10011

Phone: (212) 744-6400

Fax: (212) 988-1305



© 2012 Leo Baeck Institute. All rights reserved.
Center for Jewish History, Publisher.
Electronic finding aid was encoded in EAD 2002 by Dianne Ritchey in August 2012. Description is in English.
October 24, 2014  Links to digital objects added in Container List.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Michel, Suzanne
Title: Ilse and Fritz Michel Family Collection
Dates:bulk 1938-1942
Abstract: This collection contains personal and official documents pertaining to the family’s immigration to the United States and their situation in Germany as the political climate deteriorated. Included are a large amount of personal letters, supplemented by various other documents from government and military offices, some genealogical and tracing certificates, as well as other various material.
Languages: The collection is in German and some English.
Quantity: 0.5 linear feet.
Identification: AR 25502
Repository: Leo Baeck Institute
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Biographical Note
Portrait of Ilse Michel

Portrait of Ilse Michel

Fritz (Fred) Michel (1902-1992) was born in Bingen am Rhein, Germany, the son of Adolf Michel and Franziska Michel, née Seligmann. Fred Michel's wife, Ilse Hess (1911-2003), was born in Leipzig, daughter of Hermann Hess and Helene Hess, née Hirschfeld (1866-1943). Hermann Hess died in 1922 in Frankfurt am Main. After having been denied immigration to the U.S., Ilse's mother Helene was deported to Theresienstadt in 1942, where she died in 1943.

Fritz (Fred) Michel emigrated from Frankfurt am Main to the U.S. via Antwerp, Belgium, in 1937. In the U.S. he changed his name to Fred. Ilse emigrated a year after that, via Hamburg, in 1938. Upon immigration Fred and Ilse remained separated for about two years, working in various areas in the state of New York, before they eventually settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1939, where they were married in 1940. There, Ilse started up a millinery business, while Fred maintained a position as bartender. They became naturalized citizens in 1943. The same year Fritz joined the U.S. army and served until 1945. They remained in Scranton for the rest of their lives.

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Scope and Content Note

The Ilse and Fritz Michel family collection comprises both personal and official papers documenting, on the one hand, the developing lives of Fred and Ilse Michel as immigrants to the United States between 1937 and 1942, as well as indicating the political climate of that time impending on those remaining in Germany, on the other. The bulk of this family collection contains correspondence documents, including mostly personal letters and some emigration papers. A number of various official documents, such as birth and death certificates, photographs and passports, complements the collection.

The bulk of the correspondence, a corpus of letters by Helena Hess to Ilse Michel, pertains to the dialogue mother and daughter sustained after Ilse had immigrated to the U.S. These letters provide insight into the relationships held between family members across the Atlantic as their situation in Germany deteriorated. In addition, a smaller collection of letters by Fred Michel to Ilse illustrates the couple's pre-marital relationship in the United States, before they settled in Scranton.

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The collection is divided into 2 series.

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Access and Use

Access Restrictions

Open to researchers.

Access Information

Collection is digitized. Follow the links in the Container List to access the digitized materials.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:
Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011

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Access Points

Click on a subject to search that term in the Center's catalog. Return to the Top of Page

Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:

Identification of item, date (if known); Ilse and Fritz Michel Family Collection; AR 25502; box number; folder number; Leo Baeck Institute.

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Processing Information

The prior arrangement has not been changed. Some minor preservation work was applied, including flattening letters and placing photographs in envelopes.

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Container List

The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.

Follow the links to access the digitized materials.


Series I: Correspondence, 1929-1942

This series is in German and some English.
0.25 linear feet.


Scope and Content:

Papers in Series I relate mostly to the correspondence between Ilse Michel's mother, Helene Hess, and her daughter after Ilse had immigrated to the U.S., dating between June 1938 and December 1939. Also included are letters by Helene to her niece, Gertrud, in 1942, the same year Helene was deported to Theresienstadt. In addition, letters by Fred Michel to Ilse illustrate various obstacles the newly-arrived couple had to face in the U.S. Some official correspondence bears witness to the organization of the family's emigration.

Folder 1 contains letters, and some postcards, by Helene Hess to Ilse, dating from June to December 1938. Of particular interest may be the letters of November 1938 in which Helene Hess describes the political events of this month in Germany, the many men who were suddenly "absent", the destruction of the synagogue and the burning of her prayer book, as well as the reactions by tenants in the house.

Folder 2 contains letters by Helene Hess to Ilse, 1939, as well as letters by Helene to her niece, Gertrud, dating from 1942. Also in this folder is a letter by Helene, written shortly before she was deported to Theresienstadt. Addressed to all her children, she expresses her hope to see them again, but at the same time is aware that this may be the last time "that they see [her] handwriting".

Folder 3 contains letters by Fred Michel to Ilse in 1939, the year between their immigration and their marriage in Scranton, Pennsylvania, 1940, in which they discuss the status of their relationship and future living arrangements. Topics of this conversation range from emotional affairs and social obligations to financial problems and their future home planning. Of some curiosity in this folder is a letter by Fred, in which he imagines a wedding blessing by his deceased mother.

Folder 4 comprises official emigration papers relating to Ilse Hess, including visa applications, letters by the American consulate, confirmation letters by family members, tax papers, receipts, and a relative abundance of reference letters by former employers. Also included is an affidavit submitted by Ilse Hess on behalf of her mother Helene Hess, which remained without effect.

11Helena Hess to Ilse Michel1938
12Helena Hess to Ilse Michel and others1939, 1942
13Fred Michel to Ilse Michel1939
14Correspondence - Emigration1929-1939
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Series II: Other Material, 1901-2003

This series is in English and German.
0.25 linear feet.


Scope and Content:

Series II is composed of a variety of official documents pertaining to the family’s legal status in the U.S. as well as to the tracing of family members and relatives in Germany, some of which were deported or remained missing. A few photographs and handwritten notes complement this series.

Folder 5 contains mostly certificates related to Ilse and Fred Michel, such as their marriage certificate, naturalization papers, U.S. army documents, birth and death certificates, and their social security cards.

Folder 6 documents Ilse's and Fred Michel's attempts to trace missing family members in Germany through international tracing services. The tracing certificates included herein provide information on Helene Hess, whose deportation to Theresienstadt and death is certified, as well as on Heinz, Grete, Anna and Ruth Goldmann, Moritz Seligmann, Max Michel and Sophie Michel, née Mendel.

Folder 7 contains a few photographs of Fred and Ilse Michel and some postcards, as well as some handwritten notes and copies of sports certificates. Of interest may be a postcard documenting a visit to Theresienstadt in 1963.

Folder 8 contains German passports of Ilse Michel, Fred Michel and Franziska Michel, Fred's mother.

16Tracing and Death Certificates1950-1958, 1974
17Photographs and Other Material1901, 1932, 1937, 1963
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