Before exile

Secondary school leaving certificate, Berlin-Wilmersdorf, 1921
Leaving certificate Hans Olschwanger, Realschule Berlin-Wilmersdorf, 1921
German Exile Archive 1933-1945 at the German National Library, estate Robert Hans Olschwanger

Before exile

Early talent for drawing

Man sorgte eifrig und bedacht.
Man plante gut auf weite Sicht.
So dachte man, – man irrte sich.
Zum Glück sah man die Zukunft nicht.

[We laboured prudently and long. We planned with care for far ahead. And so we thought – but we were wrong. We did not see the coming dread. (ed. trans.)]

From Robert Hans Olschwanger’s ballad Die Geschichte eines Verbrechens (The story of a crime)

Robert Hans Olschwanger was born to Jewish parents in Berlin on 21 January 1905. His father, David Olschwanger, came from Lithuania and was a Russian citizen. This meant that rather than being a German citizen, Olschwanger was officially stateless. He grew up in a liberal bourgeois atmosphere and attended the Realschule (secondary school) in Berlin-Wilmersdorf. His talent became evident at an early age. His leaving certificate of March 1921, for example, testifies that he was awarded the top grade of “very good” in gymnastics and freehand drawing. Olschwanger loved sport and drawing. The latter was to determine the course of his life.

Jenny Sonnemann, Olschwanger’s mother, was related to one of the founders of the Frankfurter Zeitung (later the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), for which her son began working as a sales representative and artist in the 1920s. He stayed there until 1935, two years after the handover of power to the National Socialists, when all Jewish persons were banned from practising public professions and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung terminated his contract. Over the next three years, he tried to stay afloat by taking on various jobs, e.g. as a sales rep touting cleaning materials. After the November pogroms of 1938, it became impossible for him to make a living in Germany, and it eventually became clear that emigration was the only way out.