The History of the Chotzen Family

The seminar “The History of the Chotzen Family” shows how a Jewish family in Berlin experienced the Nazi persecution. Using original documents from the Chotzen family estate, students learn about and discuss issues related to the exclusion, disenfranchisement, deportation, murder and survival of Berlin Jews. The seminar can be booked in combination with a guided tour of the memorial’s permanent exhibition. The educational material is also available as a download.

Elsa Arndt, who was Protestant, married the Jewish merchant Josef Chotzen in 1914. They lived in Berlin-Wilmersdorf with their four sons. Elsa was defined by the Nazis as “Aryan”; her husband was classified as a Jew and their sons as “half-Jews”. The family was socially ostracised. Josef Chotzen and his sons lost their jobs and had to perform forced labour. Three of the sons and their wives were deported from Berlin to ghettos in Riga and Theresienstadt. They were ultimately murdered in different camps.

Zeichnung des Stammbaums der Mitglieder der Familie Chotzen.
© © Inbar Chotzen
Illustration of the family tree of the Chotzen family, 2019.
© Inbar Chotzen

After her sons and daughters-in-law were deported, Elsa sent parcels containing food and other practical items to Theresienstadt every other day for almost a year. The deportees were able to send postcards with a short message confirming receipt of the parcels. Three hundred and seventy of these impressive postcards have been preserved. They document Elsa's tireless efforts for her family and provide insight into life in Theresienstadt.

Fotografien, Dokumente und Briefe aus dem Nachlass der Familie Chotzen liegen übereinander.
Photographs, documents and letters from the Chotzen family collection.
GHWK Archiv

Elsa kept hundreds of photographs, documents, letters and objects from the time of the Nazi persecution. Eppi Chotzen, the only son to survive, donated this extensive and historically unique collection to the House of the Wannsee Conference Memorial and Educational Site. It provides insights into the history of one family’s persecution and exemplifies the fate of many Jewish families.


The seminar “The History of the Chotzen Family”

The seminar can be booked in combination with a guided tour of the memorial’s permanent exhibition. The educational material is also available as a download and can be used freely under the CC BY NC ND licence.

The material is suitable for students of grade 10 and higher. Students who participate should have a basic grasp of Nazi history.

The seminar begins with students creating a family tree for the Chotzen family and reconstructing the biographies of each family member. Afterwards, the students break down into six working groups to address different topics:

  • “Race law” and its impact
  • Exclusion from the economy and forced labour
  • Reactions to the persecution and threat of deportation
  • Deportation to Riga
  • Deportation to Theresienstadt
  • Deportation to Auschwitz and the post-war period

They do this by working with documents from the family’s estate and archives. Students then compile and discuss their findings. This creates an overall picture of the family history during the Nazi persecution.

Further information on the Chotzen family history can be found in Barbara Schieb: Nachricht von Chotzen „Wer immer hofft, stirbt singend“, Berlin 2000 and Gorch Pieken: Das Haushaltsbuch der Elsa Chotzen. Schicksal einer jüdischen Familie in Berlin 1937-1946, Berlin 2008. Both publications are available in the memorial’s library.

The digitisation of the collection and preparation of the seminar "The History of the Chotzen Family" was funded by the German Federal Agency for Civic Education. They present more materials here: