Guide to the Papers of Margarete Susman (1872-1966)

AR 1166

Processed by Dianne Ritchey and LBI Staff

Leo Baeck Institute

Center for Jewish History

15 West 16th Street

New York, N.Y. 10011

Phone: (212) 744-6400

Fax: (212) 988-1305



© 2013 Leo Baeck Institute. All rights reserved.
Center for Jewish History, Publisher.
Electronic finding aid was encoded in EAD 2002 by Dianne Ritchey in July 2013. Description is in English.
June 2015 dao links and digitization information added by Leanora Lange.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Leo Baeck Institute?
Title: Margarete Susman Collection
Dates:bulk 1912-1966
Abstract: This collection holds the papers of the author Margarete Susman, with a focus on the significant events of her life and her relationships with others. In addition to drafts of her memoirs the collection contains extensive correspondence with Gertrud Kantorowicz, Georg Simmel and Karl Wolfskehl. Other items include newspaper clippings, among them many obituaries, other correspondence, a few photographs and other papers.
Languages: The collection is in German.
Quantity: 0.5 linear feet.
Identification: AR 1166
Repository: Leo Baeck Institute
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Biographical Note
Portrait of Margarete Susman (1872-1966)

Portrait of Margarete Susman (1872-1966)

Margarete Susman was born in Hamburg, Germany, on October 14, 1872, the third daughter of Adolph Susman and his wife Jenni (née Katzenstein). She grew up in Zürich, Switzerland. Since her father forbid her to study at the university in Zürich, she turned to writing, drawing and painting. She studied art in ateliers in Paris, Düsseldorf and Munich, where she encountered art historian Gertrud Kantorowicz, who would become a close friend. In 1901 Susman's first book of poetry was published, Mein Land. Gedichte.

In 1905 Margarete Susman married the painter Eduard von Bendemann and the couple moved to Berlin, in whose social circles she would meet individuals such as Georg Simmel and Martin Buber, Ernst Bloch, and Bernard Groetheysen, among many others. The following year they had a son, Erwin. She continued to write and publish books of her own poetry as well as on literature, such as Das Wesen der modernen deutschen Lyrik (1910), which brought her into contact with Stefan George. Susman also began to write essays for the Frankfurter Zeitung. In 1912 the family moved to Rüschlikon, Switzerland and soon after her first philosophical essay "Spinoza und das jüdische Weltgefühl" appeared in the compendium Vom Judentum, together with essays by Martin Buber and many others. Once World War I began, her husband returned to Germany to volunteer for military service and in 1915 Margarete and her son went to Frankfurt am Main. After the war the family resided in Frankfurt and later, Säckingen. She continued to write for the Frankfurter Zeitung, with many essays reflecting on philosophical or religious themes. In 1928 she and her husband divorced. In 1929 her book Die Frauen der Romantik was published.

In summer 1933 she left Germany, returning to Zürich in January 1934. Both her sister Paula and her close friend Gertrud Kantorowicz tried to immigrate to Switzerland, but were both captured at the border; Paula committed suicide and Kantorowicz died in Theresienstadt. Margarete Susman resided in Switzerland for the rest of her life and continued to write books and essays in spite of failing eyesight in her later years. Among these was her book Das Buch Hiob und das Schicksal des jüdischen Volkes, which was published in 1946 and was an attempt to deal with the events of the Holocaust. In 1951 her book on Goethe and Charlotte von Stein, Deutung einer großen Liebe came out. A book of essays, Vom Geheimnis der Freiheit was published in 1964, as did her published memoir Ich habe viele Leben gelebt. Margarete Susman died in Switzerland on January 16, 1966.

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Scope and Content Note

The Margarete Susman Collection centers on the professional and personal life of this author, including documentation of some of her closest friendships. Among the documents in this collection are letters and postcards, drafts of her memoir, newspaper clippings and other articles about her, a few articles by her, and photographs.

The span of Margarete Susman's private and professional life is documented throughout this collection. Series I includes extensive correspondence written to her from her close friends Gertrud Kantorowicz, Georg Simmel, and Karl Wolfskehl and include mentions of literary projects under development by them or by Susman, in addition to more routine conversations such as travel plans or personal news. A few letters from Franz Rosenzweig are also present. Especially notable are the two drafts of her memoirs in Series II, which delve into the biographical details of her life as well as include her ruminations on events and the multitude of individuals she knew, on her connections with them, and on their significance in her life. Shorter biographies from newspapers and other publications are also located in this second series as are a few of her published essays.

Series III includes a list of Margarete Susman's final words on her deathbed, in addition to some photographs and various other papers.

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The collection is arranged in three series:

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Access and Use

Access Restrictions

Open to researchers.

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 includes the book Die Jüdin Pallas Athene by Barbara Hahn [st 1275]. The book contains a chapter ("Seltsame Wesen") on the friendship between Margarete Susman and Gertrud Kantorowicz, which also discusses the relation of Georg Simmel to the two women. The LBI Library also holds the books Der abgerissene Dialog: die intellektuelle Beziehung Gertrud Kantorowicz - Margarete Susman [PT 1155 A24 1999] and Briefe [von] Karl Wolfskehl [und] Margarete Susman eingeleitet und hrsg. von Margot Ruben [PT 2647 O_7 A3]

The LBI Library and Archives include many other books and archival collections related to Margarete Susman, including many of her books. A list of them may be found by searching the Online Catalog.

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Digitization Note

The collection was digitized and made accessible in its entirety.

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Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:

Identification of item, date (if known); Margarete Susman Collection; AR 1166; box number; folder number; Leo Baeck Institute.

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Other Finding Aids

Ten catalog cards list many items in the collection; most documents in the collection include numbers that correspond to the numeration on the cards. Most folders of correspondence include lists of the letters included, with their date, location, format and number of pages. An overview of the contents of the Gertrud Kantorowicz letters is included in the folder of her correspondence.

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Container List


Series I: Correspondence, 1905-1946

This series is in German.
0.2 linear feet.


Scope and Content:

This series holds letters and postcards sent to Margarete Susman from Gertrud Kantorowicz, Georg Simmel, Franz Rosenzweig and Karl Wolfskehl. With all of these individuals aside from Franz Rosenzweig there is extensive correspondence, the majority of it handwritten.

The close friendship between Gertrud Kantorowicz and Margarete Susman is plain to see in Kantorowicz's numerous letters, where she addressed Susman as dearest (Liebste), Susali or Susenkind. Many of the letters discuss travel plans with mention of acquiring accommodations or personnel, but some focus on their literary or translation work. Some letters mention sociologist Georg Simmel, a close friend of both of the women. Many of Kantorowicz's letters are undated and have estimated dates added to them. Georg Simmel's correspondence includes many postcards and some typed letters; some mention World War I and the events of the time. One folder holds his letters to Ignaz and Anna Jastrow. Karl Wolfskehl was another friend, and addressed Susman as "My Sister" (Meine Schwester). His letters, often sent from Geneva or Venice, include several poems as well as frequent discussion of his work, such as the choosing of words or reference to the religious themes in his poetry. A few examples include his letter from May 6, 1936, which describes the development and creation of his piece "Aufbruch, Aufbruch I" along with changes he made to it and his reasoning of them. A letter from December 7, 1936 mentions the importance of symbolism, its use in his work, and the tension between the spiritual and the biological. Other letters mention his health or news.

The few letters from Franz Rosenzweig briefly mention an unspecified book on which he was working and discusses the translation of a Biblical text.

11Kantorowicz, Gertrudundated, 1905-1929, 1933
12Simmel, Georg – to Ignaz and Anna Jastrow1913-1918
13Simmel, Georg – to Margarete Susman von Bendemann ("Susa")1909-1918
14Rosenzweig, Franz1921, 1929
15Wolfskehl, Karl ("Meine Schwester" Letters)1934-1946
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Series II: Manuscripts and Articles, 1937, 1962-1972

This series is in German.
0.25 linear feet.


Scope and Content:

Series II focuses on the life of Margarete Susman. Especially prominent in this series are the two differing drafts of her memoir, titled "Erinnerungen eines langen Lebens." In addition the series contains a number of articles and newspaper clippings about her life, with most written following her death in 1966. Other articles consist of a retrospective on her life for her ninetieth birthday and reviews of her book Die Geheimnis der Freiheit. Another holds a few short articles by her.

Margarete Susman's memoirs describe her life in detail and are reflective in tone, mentioning her most significant experiences, her work, and especially the individuals who influenced her. They begin with her early childhood and family life and continue to her old age and include the events of both world wars. Her friendships with Gertrud Kantorowicz, Georg Simmel and Karl Wolfskehl are also described, in addition to remembrances of discussions with Franz Rosenzweig, Leo Baeck, Martin Buber, and very many others. Both of the drafts include pervasive editing notes and rewritten pages or portions of pages.

16Articles and Newspaper Clippings about Margarete Susman and her work1962-1972
17Articles and Newspaper Clippings by Margarete Susman1937, 1962
18Erinnerungen eines langen Lebens (167 pages, with additions and foreword)1960s?
19Erinnerungen eines langen Lebens (circa 168 pages, with gaps and additions)1960s?, 1966
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Series III: Photographs and Other Material, circa 1912, 1965-1971

This series is in German.
0.05 linear feet.


Scope and Content:

Series III consists of photographs and various other documents. Notable in the folder "Other Material" is a list of Margarete Susman's final words just prior to her death. This folder also holds a letter from the mayor of Frankfurt am Main to her in honor of her birthday in 1965, some letters with the Leo Baeck Institute that provide further information on a few of the documents in this collection, and a list of archival holdings related to Susman at the Deutsches Literaturarchiv in Marbach, Germany. Photographs show Susman around the age of forty and as an older woman, along with a depiction of her death mask.

110Other Material1965-1971
111Photographsundated, circa 1912, 1966?
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