My grandmother, Johanna Rachel Alexandra Emma Goldman-Heimers-Baumann, Baroness de Bridoire, was of French German-Jewish origin, born in Moscow on September 27, 1880, and died of a heart attack on May 25, 1974, in Paris , at the end of a ceremonial award at the Sorbonne.
My grandmother’s forefathers, six generations earlier, were Jewish French-German bankers from Paris and Frankfurt who came to Russia at Elizabeth Petrovna’s invitation (1709 –1762). She was the daughter of Peter the Great, who was the Russian Empress Elisabeth, ruling from 1741 until she died in 1762.
One of the significant diplomats at the time, Jacques-Joachim Trotti, Marquis de La Chétardie (1705-1759), was a French diplomat appointed as ambassador to Russia in 1739. After he arrived at the Russian court, he noted that the Russian senior civil service and most ministers and advisors at the Russian court under the ruling monarch, Empress Anna (1730-1740), were of ethnic German origin. That was clearly against French interests. Marquis La Chétardie suggested during frequent conversations with court officials who complained to him about the poor performance of the Russian financial system, that they might employ the son of a French banker, Jacques David Goldman-Heimers, Comte de Bridoire, whose family had been elevated to the title of Count in 1701 by King Louis XIV. Goldman-Heimers had successfully helped with the French State finances. The Goldman-Heimers family members were Ashkenazi Crypto-Jews, who outwardly practiced Catholicism but remained Jewish and married inside the Jewish community. That way, they could act as bankers, diamond, and money lenders while having access and stay inside the French ruling elite.
After the death of Empress Anna in 1740, there was a vacuum in the Romanov dynasty, when the mother of the child and future ruler Ivan VI, Anna Leopoldovna (1718-1746), born Elisabeth Katharina Christine von Mecklenburg-Schwerin, also known as Anna Carlovna, attempted to manage the complicated politics of the Russian Empire. She was Empress Anna’s sister and the daughter of Peter the Great’s incompetent co-ruler, Ivan V (1666-1696). Marquis de La Chétardie, with the help of some Russian and anti-German allies, used that political vacuum and planned a coup d’ état that brought Empress Elizabeth, Peter the Great’s daughter to power.
My grandmother’s forefather, the 4th Count de Bridoire, Maximilian Benjamin Goldman-Heimers (1711-1796), continued his father’s work at the Russian court under Empress Elizabeth. He helped her finance the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), the first global conflict between Great Britain and its Prussian-German allies on the one hand, and France, Sweden, and the Habsburg led Holy Roman Empire and its allies, including Empress Elizabeth’s Russia on the other side. Besides financing wars, Count de Bridoire also helped fund the extensive cultural and building projects Elizabeth initiated, such as the Winter Palace construction in St. Petersburg and the large monastery of Smolny on the river Neva.
During the reign of Empress Elizabeth, Maximilian Benjamin’s daughter Sarah Elizabeth, Baroness de Bridoire (1733-1817) had become friends with Countess Catherine Vorontsova (1743-1810), a young well-educated intellectual woman who had recently married Prince Mikhail Ivanovich Dashkov (1736–1764) a wealthy Russian nobleman and became Princess Ekaterina Romanova Vorontsova-Dashkova. The two women studied mathematics together under teachers from the University of Moscow. At the time, women were not allowed to study at the University itself.
They shared some teachers with a German girl from, at the time, a minor German noble family who had been sent to relatives in Moscow. Sarah and Ekaterina became friends with the girl very quickly. She was Princess Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg, (1729-1796) who was groomed to become the future wife of Charles Peter Ulrich of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp (1728-1762) whom Empress Elizabeth selected to be her successor, thus assuring the Romanov rule, as Czar Peter III.
As part of her education, Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst had changed from being a Lutheran to becoming Russian Orthodox and changed her name to Catherina. The three women had formed their deep friendship when they were all in their late teens and early twenties and had just finished their private studies. They had in common their love of literature, their interest in politics, and the enlightened and liberal political predominantly French writing of the time and their German and French language. They all spoke Russian, and, very importantly, they shared their love for sex and men!
A fourth female who had joined their tight circle almost at the end of their studies was Baroness Lyudmila Alexandra Stroganov Ushakova, of Nizhniy Novgorod. She was the 23-year-old daughter of Alexander Sergeyevich Stroganov (1733–1811), an early Russian industrialist and an important member of the local and national government. He was an assistant to the Russian Ministry of the Interior, operating a pervasive domestic and international secret service. The Stroganov family members were prominent in the Arts and Sciences during the reign of Empress Elizabeth and the future Empress Catherine the Great. They contributed significantly to the extensive collection of paintings and sculptures accumulated by the Russian state during that period.
The public building projects and the wars during Elizabeth’s reign had, despite creative money manipulations, resulted in a financial crisis. Elizabeth had squandered most of Russia’s immense wealth, amassed by Peter the Great on the seven-year war (1754-1763) against Prussia. When Empress Elizabeth died, Peter III inherited the empire. He had to deal with a significant political and financial crisis. Peter spoke rather poorly Russian and had a problem with his legitimacy His German origin was being challenged by the local Russian aristocracy. Even though he was Anna Petrovna’s, the elder surviving daughter of Peter the Great’s son, his German ancestry was held against him.
Towards the end of her reign, Empress Elizabeth gave the estate of Ropsha, located about 30 miles from St. Petersburg, to her nephew and heir, the future Peter III. It was a huge estate that had been sequestered by Empress Elizabeth from Prince Romodanovsky and her Chancellor Golovkin. Both former owners were involved in a slander conspiracy at the beginning of Empress Elizabeth’s reign and had as a consequence, lost their properties.
Sarah Elizabeth, Countess Bridoire, wrote many letters secretly smuggled to her former Bernese nanny, Roberta von Alleman, and relatives in France, where she described the Russian court situation under Empress Elizabeth and after her death, about Peter III. She explained how the newly installed Empress Catherina disliked her husband and thought that Peter III was unfit to rule, a useless, stupid and constantly drunk man.
Besides his drinking, Peter III had quite liberal views about the modern state that included progressive reforms. During his short reign, he proclaimed religious freedom, unheard of at the time. He also encouraged education, sought to modernize the Russian army, and abolished the powerful secret police which was infamous for its extreme violence. He also made it illegal for landowners to kill their serfs without going to court. Tampering with the secret police brought about the Russian aristocracy’s animosity, especially Count Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov’s (1734–1783), a favorite of Empress Catherine and possibly one of her early lovers.
The increasing financial instability of Russia was aggravated through Peter III’s political strategies. Peter III’s eccentricities and policies was governed by a great admiration for the Prussian King Frederik II. This alienated the Russian nobility groups that Catherine had cultivated. In July 1762, barely six months after becoming emperor, Catherine and her conspirators decided the time had come to remove her estranged husband Peter III from the throne. On July 11, 1762, she had herself crowned by the clergy under the protection of her Ismailovsky regiment at the Semenovsky Barracks as the sole occupant of the Russian throne and then proceeded to arrest her husband, forcing him to sign a document of abdication. She then sent Peter III to the Ropsha palace, where Alexei Orlov, the younger brother to Grigory Orlov, killed him.
Sarah Elizabeth, Countess Bridoire, heard of Peter III’s death and the elevation of Catherine the Great to the throne through her friend Countess Catherine Vorontsova Dashkova, in a letter she received from her, dated July 20, 1762.
Sarah Elizabeth’s father’s position was improved with Catherine becoming the ruling monarch since Russia, more than anything, had to recover from the financial problems caused by the seven-year war and by the change of alliances that Peter III’s short rule had brought about.
On October 23, 1762, Baroness Lyudmila Alexandra Stroganov Ushakova, of Nizhniy Novgorod, the 23-year-old daughter of Alexander Sergeyevich Stroganov, married David Frederic Rudolph Jacques Goldman-Heimers, Baron de Bridoire (1731-1815). From all records, it appeared to be a happy marriage that produced three surviving children.
A few generations later, my aunt, Nadia Ludmilla Ophelia, Stroganov-Ushakova, lives in Cognac, in a château which her forefathers acquired at the end of the 30 year’s war in 1648. Her family bought the house as a European summer residence. Besides the family’s extensive Russian interests, they became a large producer of eaux-de-vie spirits, wine, and Cognac.
My aunty Nadia, whose full name is Nadia Ludmilla Ophelia, Stroganov-Ushakova, the Grand Duchess of Nizhniy Novgorod, is now, in 2017, 106 years old. She was born on August 10th, 1911, in Yekaterinburg in Russia. The town used to be known as Sverdlovsk until 1990.
The town where the aristocratic title is based was for a considerable time, during the Soviet era, also known as Gorky. Nadia came to France in 1925, and she is the last surviving member of her direct family. Nadia’s older sister Veronica, Aleksandra, Livia, Catherina Stroganov-Ushakova, the Grand Duchess of Nizhniy Novgorod, (1882-1971), died in a car crash near Paris. Veronica, Aleksandra was 30 years older than Nadia. The older sister Veronica was born when her mother was 16, while Nadia was born when her German-born mother, Princess Amalia Augusta of Saxony, was 45. Veronica-Aleksandra and Nadia came from an immensely wealthy family, the Stroganov-Ushakov’s, that can be followed back to the 15th century. The mother of the two girls, Veronica and Nadia, Princess Catherina-Amelia, died in July 1915 in Moscow, aged 49, of diphtheria.
My grandmother Johanna and Nadia’s older sister Veronica-Aleksandra grew up together, living mostly in Moscow and St. Petersburg. As children during the summer, they spent much time in Cognac, where the family had the Château as one of their central European summer residences. They also spent time on Lake Constance in Switzerland, where my grandmother’s family had a large house. Besides being related, they were close friends. They had the same private teachers from France, Germany, and Switzerland until their university entrance age. The five teachers who taught them were probably responsible for their thinking and social engagements. During their homeschooling, they learned Greek and Latin, fluent French, German, and Russian. Because their parents saw science as an essential element of their education, they had their chemical and biological laboratories specially set up for their science education.
At the time, the end of the 19th century, there were limited possibilities for women to study at universities. Both of their parents were keen to have their daughters receive the highest education they could get. Consequently, they applied and were in 1901 accepted at Somerville College in Oxford. Somerville was at the time a hall of residence for women who wanted to attend university lectures. In 1891, it became the first of the women’s halls to adopt a qualifying exam for candidates. In 1894, it became the first women’s hall to choose the name of College and offer not just residence but also teaching. It was claimed it would “not only improve the educational status of Somerville in the eyes of the public, but it would be understood as implying the desire of the governing body of the institution to raise it as a female institution above the level of a mere hall of residence.”
Both Johanna and Alexandra made Firsts in their final exams in Chemistry and Biology in 1905. But the University of Oxford would not award them a degree because they were women. The University of Zurich, founded in 1833, allowed women to study and since 1866, enabled women to get doctoral degrees. Therefore, Alexandra and Johanna went in 1906 to Switzerland and entered the University of Zurich to pursue medical studies. They both qualified as medical doctors and obtained their MD and Ph.D. in 1912.
Even though they came from two very different religious backgrounds, Johanna was Jewish, Alexandra was Russian Orthodox, they both grew up in a secular environment, where religious teaching was of negligible importance.
The two women’s political believes and convictions were far more ingrained and formative than their religious affiliations, and they were on an increasing slope of radicalism. Their political opinions likely started with their respective fathers. They came from similar social backgrounds and from families who held a deep belief that there had to be significant social change to improve the intellectual middle class’s status and the proletariat for Russia to succeed in the 20th century.
The intellectual seeds were all sown a few decades earlier when Baron Daniel Louis Goldman-Heimers, born in 1855, had supported a movement that gave banking access to independent women and to the less well off. It had been started by Daniel’s father when he began The Mutual Credit Association. In the 1860s, this was much supported by the Russian economist Nikolai Frantsevich Danielson who saw in it Russia’s potential to form a wealthier middle class out of which industrial entrepreneurs would emerge. The Russian aristocratic conservatives looked at the populist Narodnik’s ideas as some Utopian social reformist movement that would ultimately destroy the empire. Goldman-Heimers was a realist, and while he believed in social reform, he knew that it would be difficult to change an agricultural society into the industrial age.
Since Baron Daniel Louis Goldman-Heimers was one of the nation’s leading bankers and an essential adviser in the Russian Finance Ministry, he had considerable support from the ruling elite. The active support came mainly from Count Sergei Yulyevich Witte, who was his close friend. Witte became finance Minister from 1892 to 1903 and then First Minister or, in today’s terms Prime Minister from 1903 to May 1906. Baron Daniel was also a close friend of Baron Roman Romanovich Rosen, a leading Russian Diplomat of Swedish origin, who had negotiated the Peace Treaty of Portsmouth that ended the Russian Japanese war of 1904-1905. Goldman-Heimers and his ideas were supported by his lifelong friend, Veronica Alexandra, Nadia’s father, Grand Duke Michael, Peter Alexander of Nizhniy Novgorod. Mihael himself had initiated reforms on his vast agricultural estates in the European part of Russia, Ukraine, and around Tomsk in Siberia. He had always maintained that without massive social reform, Russian agriculture would eventually not feed its population.
Aleksandra and Johanna studied Socialism and read Karl Marx’s Capital and other socialist literature when aunt Veronica Aleksandra and my grandmother studied in England. They had active and ongoing contacts and friendships with Beatrice and Sidney Webb, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) co-founders, and the socialist Fabian Society, which advocated a gradual change to a socialist society.
The girls had met the Webbs for the first time in 1902 when they came to England to take up their Oxford studies. The Webb’s home in London became their place to stay whenever they made their frequent visits to London. There, they met people like the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, the writer Virginia Woolf, the first British Labour Prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald, the writer George Bernard Shaw, his wife, an Irish activist for woman’s rights, Charlotte Payne-Townshend, and many other prominent socialists and Marxists.
Besides their academic education, they were also involved in more political action through contacts in Russia. From 1903 to 1906, there were continued anti-Semitic pogroms fueled by a small-town newspaper in Kishinev in Bessarabia, today’s Moldavia. The chief financial supporter of these atrocities was Vyacheslav von Plehve, formerly a small-town lawyer, who became Chief of the Russian Police and ultimately, after the incumbent’s Dmitri Sergeyevich Sipyagin, assassination, he became Interior Minister for the Russian Empire. Vyacheslav von Plehve had initiated several trials against people who wanted a social change in Russia. Von Plehve initially came from a lower-middle-class background and was politically leaning towards the ultra-conservative landed gentry who hated reform because industrialization would bankrupt them. The landed aristocracy thought it would deprive the countryside and the gentry of their cheap agricultural labor. Because of that, von Plehve was also a sworn “enemy” of the progressive finance minister Count Sergei Witte who wanted to modernize Russia’s financial system further and speed up its industrialization. Von Plehve hated the Russian urban and Jewish intellectuals who wanted a more egalitarian society.
Both Vladimir, Rudolf, Ernst Alexander, Grand Duke of Nizhniy Novgorod, and my grandmother Johanna’s father, Baron Daniel Louis Goldman-Heimers, were great friends and active supporters of Count Sergei Witte and worked with him and his reform plans. Baron Daniel Louis Goldman-Heimers was a Jewish banker who was owed vast amounts of money by the Imperial government and the ultra-conservative Russian landed aristocracy.
In 1903, Alexandra and Johanna financed and from their base in Oxford helped plan the assassination of Vyacheslav von Plehve. The amateurish attempt failed. But Vyacheslav von Plehve sent an assassin to Oxford “to finish off those two bitches,” as he said to Johanna’s father when he was commanded to see von Plehve in Moscow. Von Plehve’s own assassination attempt failed, and instead of the intended target, it killed a porter in the Bodleian Library in Oxford in January 1904.
Alexandra and Johanna tried again with a fellow student Yegor Sazonov, whom they knew from Moscow. On July 28, 1904, they succeeded when Yegor Sazonov threw a bomb into the open carriage of Vyacheslav von Plehve in St. Petersburg and killed him instantly. Some of their Russian co-conspirators in London were arrested, accused and had in 1905, to stand trial at the Old Bailey. But the English court case was dismissed, as the connection between the group centered around Alexandra, Johanna, and Yegor Sazonov and the others involved in the assassination could not be adequately established. Alexandra and Johanna were never accused of anything in England.
Vyacheslav von Plehve’s assassin, which von Plehve sent to kill Alexandra and Johanna in Oxford, was ultimately apprehended. He was a former Russian Gendarme and worked as a waiter in a London Club. Victor Gurko was accused of the murder of a porter in Oxford and hanged at Pentonville Prison in London in 1906.
At the end of 1909, Alexandra and Johanna were on vacation in Russia while continuing their qualification as medical doctors in Zurich. They had not given up their socialist and Marxist support. Besides their studies, they worked as volunteers in hospitals and charities for the poor in Zurich. Their engagement with many exiled Russian Bolsheviks in Zurich and with militant anarchist socialists continued to be an essential part of their lives.
During their Christmas vacation in 1911, when they visited their parents in Moscow, the Russian legal case that went back to their participation and financing of the assassination of Vyacheslav von Plehve had been taken up again by the Russian prosecutors. The two were several times interrogated but only held for a few days. It was said – and Johanna wrote that later in her diaries – that one of the prosecutors and interrogators, Gustave von Helder was of German origin and had considerable sympathy for young intellectuals attempting to improve the lives of the poor working class. That prosecutor signed their release order, and they could return to Switzerland. Several decades later, my mother and aunt, Nadia, found out that Gustave von Helder’s uncle had been tortured and hanged by von Plehve’s secret police.
At the end of the summer in 1911, the two women were again in Moscow and partially financed an uprising at Lomonosov Moscow State University. They were interrogated and spent some days in prison. Though once again, they were released, and no charges were pursued. That was quite surprising because hundreds of professors resigned or were forced to leave the employment at the University, and several hundred students were expelled. It appeared that the two women had a high-level protector in the government.
By 1912, the case against them had been dropped and was no longer pursued. No reason was ever given. The Okhranka likely dropped the case under pressure from Pyotr Arkadyevich Stolypin, the reform-friendly Prime minister of the Imperial Government between 1906 and 1911 and a close friend of the women’s families. Stolypin’s successor as Prime minister Count Vladimir Nikolaevich Kokovtsov was also a close friend of Alexandra’s and Johanna’s fathers.
In March 1911, Stolypin resigned as Chairman of the Council of Ministers because he could not find any consensus in the Russian Parliament, the Duma. Stolypin himself became the victim of an assassination at the Opera in Kyiv in September of 1911. The assassin, the 24-year-old socialist Jewish student Dmitry Grigoriyevich Bogrov, was captured and hanged. It was later said that extreme right-wing elements had opposed Stolypin’s agrarian reforms and had planned and financed the assassination. That argument was supported by the fact that Czar Nicholas II, who was present in the theater during the murder, stopped all further investigations.
Almost 80 years later, in 1984, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn made extensive investigations and concluded that Stolypin was indeed assassinated on the behest of extreme right-wingers in Imperial Russia. Bogrov hat not only been a left-wing anarchist, but he was also an informant to the Imperial Okhranka Secret Police and had been forced to go ahead with the assassination.
1912 was the year in which Aleksandra and Johanna returned from Switzerland to Russia as qualified medical doctors. Their qualification was still not accepted in Russia, and they could only work in two hospitals for the poor in St. Petersburg and in Moscow, which their parents financed. Besides their work, they became very active in the anarchist underground, carrying messages, money, and weapons between St. Petersburg and Moscow. During 1914 and 1915, there were many bombings and assassinations in both cities as well as in Odesa and Kyiv.
Besides the continuous internal social upheaval, Imperial Russia was since 1914 at war against Germany, and the inefficient Russian Army Leadership mishandled the war effort. Consequently, large numbers of soldiers were lost. There were demonstrations in major Russian cities initiated by the government’s ultra-conservative and anti-Semitic parts against Jewish and socialist activists who, in their minds, hindered and sabotaged the war effort and contributed to Russia’s defeat at the battlefront.
In September 1915, a new Interior Minister, Aleksey Nikolayevich Khvostov, an outspoken anti-Semitic conservative, instructed the Okhranka secret police to arrest Aleksandra and Johanna. A few weeks earlier, there had been an assassination where he narrowly escaped, but in which some high officials of the Interior Ministry, a relative of the Czar, and members of the Gendarmerie had lost their lives.
After brutal interrogation, Aleksandra and Johanna admitted having been part of the organizing group. In February 1916, they were in court and, on February 22, 1916, condemned to death by hanging.
A new Prime Minister, Baron Boris Vladimirovich Stürmer, an incompetent Lakai of the Czar, had come into the office at the beginning of February 1916. Because Aleksandra and Johanna were members of the upper class and because both had, like Baron Boris Vladimirovich Stürmer, German ancestry, he recommended to the Czar that their death sentence should be commuted to life imprisonment and forced labor. Czar Nicolas II agreed, and the two women were sent to a labor camp in what is now the settlement of Kozhim in the Komi Republic near today’s city of Vorkuta. There the new prisoners had to work in a coal mine until January 1918 when the Bolsheviks freed them.
Aleksandra and Johanna came back to Moscow at the beginning of February 1918. They naturally went to where their parents had their houses. Aleksandra’s father had fled, and the staff told Aleksandra that he was on the way to Tomsk in Siberia, where the family had another large house and a modern agricultural estate, which was supposed to be a showpiece for the new Russia. An elderly aunt, Alina Bushkova, had remained behind because she was too infirm and could no longer travel long distances. She lived in a small house on Sadovnicheskaya Ulitsa, just a hundred yards from the Nizhniy Novgorod’s large house. Because travel was hazardous in revolutionary Russia at the time, Aleksandra’s father had left the four-year-old Nadia with Alina Bushkova and Ellie Svenson. Their 30-year-old Swedish-French nanny had moved in with Alina Bushkova.
Today this sounds quite grotesque because it was almost as if the Grand Duke had abandoned his child. But at the time and in the environment in which Russian, French and upper-class English children grew up, being entirely removed from their parents and their lives and usually very well cared for by amahs and nannies, this was almost normal.
Aleksandra and Johanna started to work again in their clinic in Moscow. Within a few days, they were drafted into a military unit, given the rank of majors, managed by the Bolsheviks that ultimately became part of the Red Army. They were also told not to go back to their former homes since they had already been looted and were largely destroyed. Johanna’s father had been arrested in his house on Kosmodamianskaya Naberezhnaya and put into jail. Johanna and Aleksandra visited him there several time and tried to obtain his release. The jail conditions were terrible, and a few weeks after his detention, he had caught typhoid. He died in a Moscow prison on March 25, 1918. Aleksandra and Nadia’s father was taken off the Trans-Siberian train near Omsk by some renegade left-wing socialists. This was at the beginning of April 1918. He was on his way to Tomsk, and he was never seen again.
Johanna’s 25-year-old brother David, a musician without any political ambitions, was accidentally shot dead as a passer-by by some guards on April 18, 1918, in a scuffle outside the Bolshoi Theatre when he left his place of work and study and wanted to walk to his home.
In the summer of 1918, Johanna and Aleksandra met some young socialists from Switzerland who had come to help in Russia. Ernst Anton Baumann (1985-1922), a young student from Appenzell, fell in love with Johanna and married her at the Swiss Legation in Moscow. She became quickly pregnant and had twins, Otto David Maximilian and Ella Anna, my mother, both born on March 26, 1919. Aleksandra also married Anton’s friend, another revolutionary, a French-Swiss from Basel, Ulrich Wegner (1892-1923). They did not have any children. The two young Swiss communists had come to Russia with Fritz Platten (1883–1942), who had organized Lenin’s secret trip from Zurich back to Russia through Germany, Sweden, and Finland.
Aleksandra and Johanna continued to work and manage their clinic in Moscow, looking after Aleksandra’s very young sister Nadia and the two children until 1920. They both had become, in 1920, Colonels in the Red Army Medical Section. In October 1920, they were ordered to travel to Odesa in the Crimean where the British supported counter-revolutionary White Russian Units under General Wrangel had finally been defeated and had fled to Turkey.
Within weeks, a new war was brewing between the Anarchist Black Army, who had helped to defeat General Wrangel’s Army and some of the renegade Bolsheviks. There was also widespread typhoid and famine aggravated by the poor harvests in 1920. The CHEKA, the Bolshevik organized new Russian Security Service, led the fight against the Anarchist Black Army, and extended the cleaning up operations by terrorizing and executing members of groups associated with anarchists before 1917. From 1921 to the beginning of 1923, there was constant terror. Aleksandra and Johanna had continued to work in hospitals. They had protected Aleksandra’s sister Nadia and Johanna’s two children, Otto Maximilian and Ella Anna, who continued to be looked after by a German nanny, Gerlinde Moser. She had worked for Aleksandra’s family back in Moscow.
In January 1923, Johanna was shortly arrested and interrogated by the CHEKA but released. Aleksandra also feared to be detained, and at the beginning of March 1923, the two decided that they would desert the Red Army and flee with their children towards the Romanian border.
Six weeks later, they reached Romania but were almost immediately arrested as anarchists and revolutionaries by the Romanian police. They spent some four months with their children in prison in Tulcea in the Danube delta region but were later released to some farmers to help them with their harvest. The farmers regularly beat them and often raped them. They were usually locked up in the pigpen. Nadia and the two children were sick, but the two women kept them alive by stealing milk from the farmer.
In September 1924, they decided that they would escape. They broke out of the pigsty and then started walking towards the Carpathian Mountains. Aleksandra, her younger sister Nadia, Johanna, their nanny Gerlinde walked with the children for several months in the ice cold winter of 1924 through Romania and Hungary until they reached the Austrian border. There they got in touch with someone from the Esterhazy family, to whom Johann was remotely related. Some family members of the Esterhazy’s took them in, and finally, after a period of recovery, they could travel by train to Switzerland, where they arrived in the middle of September of 1925.
Both Aleksandra, Johanna, and her two children had now Swiss Passports because of Johanna’s marriage to a Swiss husband. Aleksandra also had a French Passport because her husband had been Swiss and French. Their marriages automatically gave them their husband’s nationality. Both their husbands had been lost. Almost 70 years later, we found out that Ernst Anton Baumann (1985-1922) had been executed by the CHEKA as an anarchist in 1922 somewhere in Moscow while Ulrich Wegner (1892-1923) lost his life in a purge in 1925 in Kyiv.
The only person in the group of refugees who had a problem was Nadia because she did not have any travel documents. She was eleven when they came to Austria, and after lengthy negotiations with the French, Count Esterhazy could obtain a French provisional travel document. Nadia received French citizenship in 1931, six years after she had settled with Aleksandra in her parent’s large summer château in Cognac.
The group went first to Kreuzlingen, a town on the Swiss-German border where Johanna’s parents had since the 1820s a large house and some land. The house was right on the border with Germany but still in Switzerland. In Kreuzlingen, Johanna had a household with two employees where she could keep her two children and Nadia, Otto, and Ella could get an excellent classical education given by a German Jewish Studienrat, a doctor of philosophy and literature who had graduated in Jena and who had come to Switzerland in 1926, looking for a job. The German nanny Gerlinde also stayed with the family until her death, aged 58, in 1938.
After they had arrived and settled in Switzerland, Johanna and Aleksandra went in October 1925 to the University of Zurich to study Psychiatry under Eugen Bleuler and Franz Riklin. Because they were well educated medical doctors, they were also offered jobs at the Burghoezli, Zürich’s psychiatric clinic, associated with the University of Zürich. It was the place where Eugen Bleuler worked on Schizophrenia and Autism, and where Carl Gustav Jung did his work on analytical psychology. In 1930 Johanna and Aleksandra obtained a doctorate in psychiatry, and Johanna was offered a job at a clinic in a small town near Kreuzlingen. Veronica Aleksandra continued work with Carl Jung in Zurich and then moved in 1931 to Epernay, near Reims in France, where her family owned a large house and champagne vinery, her late grandfather had purchased back in the 1850s.
The psychiatric clinic Johanna started working with had an international collection of wealthy elderly patients who could not cope with their life stage any longer and wanted to retire in the comfortable and cultured surroundings. The patience and retirees all lived in a series of villas located in the large park. The facility also had its theater and Opera house within the park, where they had performances from groups from the Scala in Milan, the Burg Theater in Vienna, the Deutsche Oper, and the Paris Opera. The income from the wealthy retirees financed the work done with other psychiatrists.
Besides caring for the retirees, the doctors did much work with people who had various mental problems such as schizophrenia, manic depressives, autistic children, and drug use. Opium was particularly popular then amongst adults. They also treated .problematic teenagers who had all sorts of psychological issues. The group of psychiatrists were pioneers in the field and introduced existential psychology to Europe and the USA. In 1938 Johanna offered Sigmund Freud a place of refuge in her house, where Freud stayed for several months.
Johanna worked hard as a psychiatrist, and besides professional friends and collaborators, she made a lot of European musical and literary friends who stayed in her house and became part of lively discussion groups. The rise of the Nazi party and Hitler in 1933 in Germany led to several artists and writers from Germany and later refugees from the Civil war In Spain as well as from Austria and France seeking refuge in her house. Sometimes they stayed for months before arranging a permanent stay somewhere else, often emigrating to Britain and the USA.
Johanna continued to write under various names for left-wing journals in French, Russian and German. She had remained a Trotskyist-Marxist and had an extensive letter exchange with Leon Trotsky and other communists that disagreed with Stalin in Europe.
At the beginning of 1932, Johanna, with the help of some friends in Lisbon, Portugal, had bought a property in Konstanz together with two small empty pieces of land between the house and the border fence separating it from Switzerland. The land and property were, at the closest point, 200 feet from her own home in Switzerland, and the area she had bought bordered her private estate on the German side of the fence. The properties were only divided by the German-Swiss Border. Her own house was a hundred yards from the German border fence in Switzerland, and one could see the place she had bought in Konstanz. To hide the actual ownership, the properties were purchased in the name of a company registered in Portugal with a guest apartment for the imaginary Portuguese owner on the house’s top floor. The ground floor was rented to a young German-Swiss engineer, Hans Auer, who worked as the local representative for a small Swiss civil engineering construction support company in Konstanz. His Swiss-born mother, Bernadette Auer-von Hanau, a war widow whose German husband had died during the First World War, was with a manic-depressive condition a patient at the clinic in which Johanna was the psychiatrist.
Johanna had another patient in her care that would become important in her daughter Ella’s life. The girl from Berlin, Elsa von Halderstett (1918-1945), had been treated from 1932 to 1934 at Johanna’s clinic for depressions. She became a good friend of my mother, Ella. Elsa’s father, Ernst von Halderstett, was a high-ranking civil servant in the German foreign ministry living in Berlin.
On February 6, 1933, Johanna received a visitor who said he was a remote relative of Johanna’s family branch, living in Koenigsberg, in Easter Prussia. His name was Andreas Weber-Klein (1905-1943). His father was a jeweler with a shop in Koenigsberg, and the family connection to my grandmother went back to the late 1820s. Andreas Weber-Klein was a mechanical and electrical engineer working for the Danish company of IRON Pump A/S in its subsidiary in Koenigsberg. They were suppliers of pumps for ocean-going vessels. After a few days at Johanna’s house, Andreas told Johanna that he was a member of the Deutsche Kommunistische Partei (the DKP, German Communist Party). He mentioned that the Nazis had already taken charge of the workers in the company he worked for and that he, with a Jewish mother, would not have a job in Koenigsberg much longer. His mother and two of his sisters had gone across the Baltic to Sweden. Andreas explained that he had been in touch with other communist groups and advised to set up a network so that resistance against German Nazis and fellow groups in other countries could be structured correctly in the forms of small independent secret underground organizations.
Johanna had extensive links to Jewish socialist and other left-wing groups and some Jewish organizations that had started help for emigrants to be settled in the British administered territory of Palestine.
Johanna soon found out that being a Trotskyist was not something that endeared her to other communists associated with the Soviet based Third International Comintern. Some communists, especially the Germans, thought an alliance against Hitler and the rising NSDAP was more critical than Marxists’ orthodoxy. Between 1933 and 1939, Johanna had useful contacts with Wilhelm Münzenberg (1889-1940). At the time, he was the chief of propaganda of the KPD. Münzenberg fled in 1937 to France and was later murdered by the Russian NKVD. The origins of Johanna’s activity against the rise of Hitler and the NSDAP was in the numerous links she established in the period after 1932.
In 1931, Veronica Aleksandra and Nadia had gone to France, living in their properties in Epernay, Cognac, and living and working in Paris where they had a lovely large Villa near the Arc de Triumph in the 16th, which their parents had acquired in 1875. Veronica Aleksandra had started work with Eugène Minkowski, who had introduced new ideas in psychiatry to France. She continued to work with Eugène Minkowski until her death in a car crash in March 1961.
Nadia grew up in Paris and the house in Cognac, surrounded by vineyards, and went initially to the Lycée in Cognac. After she passed “le bac,” the baccalauréat at the Lycée in Cognac, she went to the Lycée Henri-IV in Paris to do her two years classes préparatoires for the Grande Ecole. When Nadia was 19, she presented herself, passed the entrance exams, and entered Frances élite school, the 1881 founded École normale supérieure de Jeunes Filles in Sevres, near Paris, where she studied Mathematics, Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. In 1939, aged 25, she completed her doctorate in philosophy and literature. After getting her degree, she took on some low-level job at the Sorbonne, teaching philosophy. At the beginning of 1940, Nadia started to get involved in the wine and Cognac business Cognac.
©2005/2019 ajs Bert Berger
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