Guide to the Papers of the Helen and Eva Hesse Family

AR 25327 / MF 979

Processed by Dianne Ritchey

Leo Baeck Institute

Center for Jewish History

15 West 16th Street

New York, N.Y. 10011

Phone: (212) 744-6400

Fax: (212) 988-1305



© 2009 Leo Baeck Institute. All rights reserved.
Center for Jewish History, Publisher.
Electronic finding aid was encoded in EAD 2002 by Dianne Ritchey in February 2009. Description is in English.
October 2009: Microfilm inventory added. July 2010: Links to digital objects added.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Hesse family
Title: Helen and Eva Hesse Family Collection
Dates:bulk 1933-1946
Abstract: The Helen and Eva Hesse Collection holds material on the Hesse family of Hamburg. Most notable in this collection are the diaries of Helen and Eva Hesse, created by Wilhelm Hesse, which document the sisters' childhood. In addition, the collection includes scrapbooks and photograph albums, some of Wilhelm Hesse's educational papers, and correspondence related to immigration.
Languages: The collection is in German and English, with some Hebrew.
Quantity: 1.75 linear feet + 2 oversized folders.
Identification: AR 25327
Repository: Leo Baeck Institute
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Biographical Note

Wilhelm Hesse, the son of the Orthodox Jewish businessman Samuel and Helene Hesse, was born in 1901 in Hamburg. After attending the Talmud Tora Realschule and the Oberrealschule in Eppendorf, he began studying law; in 1924 he received his doctoral diploma in law from the University of Hamburg.

In 1932 Wilhelm Hesse married Ruth Marcus, the daughter of Moritz and Erna Marcus. The following year they had their first daughter, Helen, born on June 30. The couple had a second daughter, Eva, born January 11, 1936. Following the events of Kristallnacht, on December 7, 1938 Helen and Eva Hesse were sent to Holland via Kindertransport. At the end of February 1939 Wilhelm and Ruth went with their daughters to London, where they stayed while awaiting their American visas. On June 16th 1939 the family left England for New York.

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Scope and Content Note

The Helen and Eva Hesse Collection documents the lives of members of the Hesse family, including the childhood of Helen and Eva Hesse as seen by their father Wilhelm. A significant portion of the collection is comprised of diaries; the collection additionally holds many photographs and some photo albums, scrapbooks, educational papers, and some correspondence.

The first two series of this collection hold diaries documenting the lives of Helen and Eva Hesse, made by Wilhelm Hesse, and to a smaller degree, Ruth Hesse. The diaries detail the events of their childhood, with special attention given to their earliest years. In addition to written descriptions, diary entries often include photographs and papers pasted to the pages of the diaries, such as wartime clippings, school report cards, and especially correspondence. They concentrate on the growth of the sisters, their education, and their interactions with each other and others. The earliest entries include comments by Ruth Hesse on her daughters. Mention is also made by Wilhelm Hesse of prominent events in his children's lives; such events include the children's travel to Holland via Kindertransport, their brief stay in London, and the sisters' first years in the United States. Series III includes a folder of translations of diary entries.

Series III contains the remainder of the papers of this collection, many of which pertain to Wilhelm Hesse as well as other members of the family. Among these items are scrapbooks and a photo album, educational papers, documents related to family celebrations, and some immigration correspondence. The majority of papers of Series III relate to the Hesse family's immigration as well as the Second World War. Prominent in Series III are the two scrapbooks possibly made by Wilhelm Hesse; these primarily hold newspaper clippings, but also include excerpts of performance programs and a few postcards. Material included in the scrapbooks dates from the late 1930s and early 1940s and focuses on topics such as American Jews, World War II and the Holocaust, and Israel, as well as material on cultural events and travel to Italy and Israel (then Palestine). A photo album contains photographs depicting numerous Hesse family members and members of related families. Other family papers include a folder of material assembled for family celebrations such as weddings or anniversaries. Immigration papers are largely comprised of correspondence with the Finanzamt (Financial Office) of Hamburg and lists of items the family intended to bring with them during immigration. One folder holds educational certificates of Wilhelm Hesse.

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The collection is organized in three series:

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Access and Use

Access Restrictions

Requires special permission to view original materials.

Access Information

Readers may access the collection by visiting the Lillian Goldman Reading Room at the Center for Jewish History. We recommend reserving the collection in advance; please visit the LBI Online Catalog and click on the "Request" button.

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

Related Material

The LBI Library holds the book Eva Hesse: Sculpture by Elisabeth Sussman and Fred Wasserman, published in conjunction with the exhibition Eva Hesse: Sculpture at the Jewish Museum from May 12-September 11, 2006 (Yale University Press, 2006).

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Custodial History

The collection was donated by Helen Hesse Charash in 2008.

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The collection is on two reels of microfilm:

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Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:

Identification of item, date (if known); Helen and Eva Hesse Family Collection; AR 25327; box number; folder number; Leo Baeck Institute.

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Container List


Series I: Helen Hesse, 1933-1946

This series is in German and English, with a small amount of Hebrew.
0.5 linear foot.


Scope and Content:

Series I contains the diaries of Helen Hesse, the eldest daughter of Wilhelm (William) and Ruth Hesse, beginning with her birth in June 1933 and ending at an unspecified date in 1946. These diaries were predominantly written by Wilhelm Hesse, although Ruth Hesse also contributes to the first diary, which documents Helen Hesse's first year.

The diaries provide details on the life of Helen Hesse as seen by her father. They record significant events, such as birthdays and holidays, as well as describing the immigration experience of Helen and her younger sister Eva. The events of World War II are also mentioned, especially Helen's reactions to the war. However, the main focus of the diaries is Helen herself and the events of her development. Her father often recorded her weight and height, the relationship between Helen and her sister, her progress in school, and her health. The first volume, with its frequent entries, grants a view into the care and raising of very young children during the early 1930s and provides a look at the daily events of a German-Jewish family in Hamburg at this time. Later volumes contain entries made less often, and usually sum up notable events of the past weeks or months. The second volume includes some brief genealogical information, while the third volume focuses on the immigration of the family members, including information on their life in London and passage on the S.S. Manhattan from England to the United States. The final diary mentions the separation of Ruth and Wilhelm Hesse, and Helen Hesse's feelings toward her mother. The death of Ruth Hesse is also briefly addressed.

Wilhelm Hesse, an avid photographer, often dispersed photographs among the text of the diaries. These photos are often of Helen and Eva Hesse. In addition, he pasted relevant documents to the pages of the diaries, especially in the later volumes. These items consist of such documents as her birth certificate, clippings, and texts of prayers for Jewish holidays. In addition, he included many of Helen's school report cards and letters written to him by her. Many clippings from volumes 3-5 feature the events of World War II. In the text accompanying the clippings of these diaries Wilhelm Hesse additionally discussed the persecution of the Jews and the significance of the times in which they lived.

Helen Hesse's early years are also depicted in a photo album available in this series. In addition, there is a typed English translation of the text of the first of Helen Hesse's diaries.

11Diary - Volume 11933
12Diary – Volume 21935-1937
13Diary – Volume 31937-1942
14Diary – Volume 41942-1943
15Diary – Volume 51944-1946
16Photo Album – Volume 21934-1935
17Translation of Diary – Volume 1undated
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Series II: Eva Hesse, 1936-1946

This series is in German and English, with a small amount of Hebrew.
0.5 linear foot.


Scope and Content:

Diaries and a photo album for Eva Hesse comprise Series II. As in Series I, these items were created by Wilhelm Hesse. Although the first diary contains a few entries by Ruth Hesse, after May 1936 entries are made solely by Wilhelm. The diaries begin with Eva Hesse's birth on January 11, 1936 and continue until autumn of 1946, ending on Rosh Hashanah. Eva is very often referred to in the diaries as "Evchen."

Eva Hesse's diaries depict in detail her early life. The initial diary and the photo album show her earliest years, and include notification and congratulations on her birth as well as notations on her weight, height, and nutrition. In addition, the earliest entries in the first diary include Ruth Hesse's observations on Helen Hesse's interactions with her younger sister. Later diaries contain some of her father's observations on World War II, although he includes fewer remarks on the war than in Helen's diaries; he did not feel Eva was as affected by the war as her older sister was, given her age. As in Helen's diaries, much of his descriptions center on Eva herself and the life she led in Germany and then the United States, although there is some description of her time in Holland and England in late 1938 and early 1939. Eva's education is a primary theme in the diaries, as are her interactions with others, especially her sister, but also with friends and adults. As with the diaries of Helen Hesse, there is little mention of the illness and eventual death of Ruth Hesse.

These diaries also include numerous items pasted to their pages. Such items largely encompass letters and notes, especially from Eva Hesse to her father. Other documents include a few drawings, many school report cards, programs, holiday cards, and numerous photographs. Among the papers that document her immigration are two letters to her grandparents and parents, presumable written by her aunt and uncle in Holland.

18Diary – Volume 11936-1938
19Diary – Volume 21939-1944
110Diary – Volume 31944-1946
111Photo Album – Volume 11936-1937
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Series III: Hesse Family, 1882-1956

This series is in German and English, with some Hebrew.
0.75 linear foot.


Scope and Content:

Series III is primarily comprised of papers pertaining to members of the Hesse family other than Helen and Eva Hesse. Such papers include a photo album and material originating from family celebrations. Several folders in this series hold material related to or presumably created by Wilhelm Hesse, including a folder of papers that relate to his and his family's immigration. In addition, a folder of English translations of portions of Helen and Eva Hesse's diaries was found among the family papers during the processing of the collection; these translations have been retained in this series.

Several folders in Series III relate to the Hesse family, especially to their celebrations. The first of these is the initial folder of this series, comprised of programs, poems, and songs pertaining to various family fetes. Among these documents are a skit and a tablesong for Wilhelm and Ruth Hesse's wedding. In addition, there are two photo albums in this series. Box 2 contains a photo album that holds photos of many Hesse family members, including of members related to the Hesses. These encompass members of the Stern, Goldberger, Magnus, Engländer, and Rosen families, among many others. Among the photographs are pictures of Ruth Hesse and Wilhelm Hesse's brother Nathan ("Nathi"), who resided in Holland and visited Helen and Eva Hesse after their trip there via the Kindertransport from Hamburg. Nathan Hesse may have written some of the 1938 letters from the children to Wilhelm and Ruth Hesse that are included in the diaries of Series I and II. Other photos depict trips and Wilhelm Hesse's first semester at the University of Marburg. Pages of photographs from a scrapbook or photo album are also present among the oversized photos of this series. These depict the wedding and honeymoon trip of Wilhelm and Ruth Hesse, as well as some views of their apartment.

Further papers of Wilhelm Hesse consist of copies of documents regarding his immigration, some scrapbooks, and a folder of educational papers. Perhaps most interesting in this series are these scrapbooks, which cover numerous topics but all date from the mid-1930s through the 1940s. The scrapbooks consist of programs, postcards, and especially clippings pasted to their pages. One scrapbook holds items on American Jews, World War II, and Palestine. In addition to announcements and programs for performances and religious services, this folder contains a large amount of clippings. The clippings focus on such topics as American Jews in the military, the establishment of a Jewish state in what was then Palestine, and World War II and the defeat of the Nazis. Additionally, there are many clippings that focus on the Holocaust and the persecution of the Jews in Europe, including Governor Dewey's proclamation of a statewide day of mourning, a memorial event in Madison Square Garden, and calculations on the destruction of Jewish communities in Europe. The second scrapbook in this series contains clippings and programs on German-Jewish culture as well as clippings and a few postcards pertaining to travel. Many of the documents in this scrapbook consist of clippings or excerpts from programs announcing performances; some reviews of performances are also included. Clippings of or about famous individuals will also be found in this second scrapbook, along with one page of stereotypical caricatures. A significant portion of the scrapbook holds material on Palestine and Italy in 1934. Other material found in this scrapbook includes a clipping of the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 and some clippings on emigration. The oversized scrapbook of this series contains pages of clippings on the founding of Israel.

The immigration papers of this series relate to Wilhelm Hesse and his family. Most of these documents are correspondence with the Finanzamt (Financial Office) of Hamburg. Letters exchanged with this institution encompass lists of items the family intended to bring with them during immigration and letters from Wilhelm Hesse to the Finanzamt explaining the necessity of certain items. Other papers include contracts for sold furniture and documentation on the selling of his Hamburg property. The final folder in this series holds educational papers for Wilhelm (William) Hesse, consisting of school reports and certificates. Most of these are from the Oberrealschule in the Eppendorf district of Hamburg and the Talmud Tora Realschule. Notable may be his doctorate in law from the University of Hamburg in 1921, a course certificate from a photography school in Hamburg, and a certificate in insurance from the Brooklyn Academy in 1941.

21Family Celebrations – Festzeitungen, Tischlieder und Theaterstücke (Commemorative Newspapers, Tablesongs and Stage Plays)1882-1956
22Family Photo Albumundated, 1917-1935
23Helen and Eva Hesse – Translations and Transcriptions of Diariesundated
24Immigration – Official Papers and Correspondence – Photocopies1935-1940
25Scrapbook – American Jews, World War II and Israel1942-1943
31Scrapbook – Culture and Travelundated, 1919-1937
Box TitleDate
OS 126 Scrapbook Pages - Clippings - Founding of the State of Israel1933, 1947-1948
OS 126 Scrapbook/ Photo Album - Wilhelm and Ruth Hesse - Wedding and Honeymoon1932
32William (Wilhelm) Hesse – Educational Documents1909-1941
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