Searching for the Natzlers

Do any of you happen to remember the fabulous pottery designs by the husband-and-wife team of Otto & Gertrude NATZLER? They were the artistic couple who achieved their fame in the 1940s to ’50s. And now their creations are selling for thousands of dollars. One of their vases actually sold for nearly $94,000 at an auction in 2011.

Natzler ceramic vase sold for $94,000.
Natzler ceramic vase sold for nearly $94,000.

 

I won’t rehash their bios since they’re readily available with a Google search. But Otto’s relatives played an important role in my early childhood. And I also want to describe to you how they and they rest of their family were able to get to America as refugees. But we’ll get to that later. However, if you’re into genealogy, read on. And if you’re only interested in Otto and Trude and their art, read on anyway.

 

The Natzlers at work in their Los Angeles studio.
The Natzlers at work in their Los Angeles studio.

But let me start at a rather serendipitous beginning.

While I was watching “The Antique Road Show”, a few years ago, one particular episode really got my attention because it featured some of the NATZLER’s ceramics. NATZLER was a name I grew up with.  From my early childhood in Los Angeles, I remembered that Otto was a close relative of Dr Adolf NATZLER, who was a highly regarded orthopedic surgeon from Germany. He and his wife Hedwig, had been very dear friends of my parents ever since they all arrived here as German/Jewish refugees in 1933.

My parents and the NATZLERs spent almost every weekend together until I was five, when Adolf died. That was in 1939. While my parents continued to see Hedwig and their daughter, Marlies, the relationship changed markedly and then ended abruptly five years later when my mother was hospitalized. But that’s another story for another blog.

I was heavily into genealogy, researching my own family, by the time I saw that particular Antique Road Show. Hearing the NATZLER name again, after so many years, piqued my curiosity about Otto and Adolph. Suddenly I needed to find out how the two NATZLERs were actually related.

To get started, I did a simple search for the surname “NATZLER” on the Jewish Genealogy site, JewishGen.org. Within hours I received information from a wonderful Austrian reasearcher by the name of Celia Male, whose interest proved to be vital, and whose help was  absolutely awesome.  Among other details, she found that Adolf and Hedwig NATZLER’s daughter, Marlies  was still alive and living in a retirement community an hour’s drive away.

Marlies Natzler
Marlies Natzler

I hadn’t seen Marlies in over 60 years! After two long phone calls just catching up, I spent a delightful day with her in her Laguna Hills, CA  home, and came away with two hours worth of her memories on video tape, along with some vital information about the NATZLER family:

Otto and Adolf were first cousins. Otto was born in Vienna in 1908, son of Siegmund NATZLER, who was a Viennese physician. Otto had two older siblings: Paul, born in 1901 and Nellie, who was born sometime in between. She later became an artist in her own right, and would play in important role in getting the entire Natzler family to America.

Siegmund had a brother, Alois NATZLER, and Alois had a son, Adolf. Adolph NATZLER was born in 1882, in a small town in Hungary, which later became Czechoslovakia. Adolf also had two sisters, Ilka & Betty.

Although the NATZLERS were essentially an enclave living in Vienna, Alois had a second house just across the border in Hungary, where Adolph was born.

Adolf  NATZLER fled from Mullheim, Germany in 1933 with his wife, Hedwig, nee VOSS, and daughter Marlies, who was then 17 and still a school girl.

Hedwig and Dr. Adolph Natzler
Hedwig and Dr. Adolph Natzler

But Otto NATZLER didn’t get out of  Vienna until after the “Anschluss” in 1938, when he fled with his wife Trude, nee Gertrude AMON.

Otto was a musical child and studied the violin. But his father wouldn’t allow him to become a professional musician, demanding that he find a more substantial profession. So, Otto chose to study chemistry, and the rest is history.

While Otto’s father remained in Austria, Adolf’s father left Vienna and moved to Bavaria when Adolph was still a small child.

Adolf went to medical school in Munich where he received his facial scar, which I vividly remembered as a very young boy. It was known as a “Heidelberg Scar”, an aristocratic mark that was sought after by many, and purposely inflicted as a wound from the sport of fencing.

But Adolf received his aristocratic scar in Munich, where he studied, not Heidelberg. Nevertheless he was able to prove that although a Jew, he was from a fighting fraternity. Then Marlies told me the next part, which I loved when I learned that his scar was was on the wrong side of his face. Somehow it had been inflicted by a left-handed swordsman.

Adolf met his wife, Hedwig, in Heidelberg, where she was a private nurse, and he was a physician in the German Army during WWI. Hedwig, was born a Protestant in Hildesheim in 1884. Their only child was daughter Marlies (Maria Luisa), who was born in Heidelberg in 1916. After WW1 they moved  to Mullheim, where Marlies was raised a Protestant.

When the NATZLERS fled from Mullheim in 1933, Adolph had been working in a Catholic hospital. His decision came after he had been warned by a friend that the Gestapo wanted him.* Fearing Nazi deportation and the loss of their renowned surgeon, the Catholic nuns, in the hospital hid him and his family within the sprawling facility. This allowed Adolf to safely complete his orthopedic schedule before fleeing the country. It was the same year that my parents got out of Germany and met the NATZLERs.

Adolf’s two sisters, Ilka & Betty had very different fates. Ilke perished in Theresienstadt. But Betty was more fortunate. Having married a Protestant in Munich, she survived the war in Germany. But she also cut all ties with her Jewish family, and never divulged her heritage to her children.

Meanwhile, Otto’s sister, Nellie, the artist, had won a $5,000 prize in a Paris art show. But instead of spending it frivolously, she sent the money to her cousin, Adolf in America, stipulating that the account was to be used as the required proof of financial independence to get each of the Natzlers into the U.S., beginning with Adolph as their sponsor.

As a result, it was first used to get Otto and Trude out of Austria.

Then Otto turned around and used it to get his older brother Paul and wife Cora out.

Then Paul in turn used the money to get their parents, Siegmund and Frieda — and ultimately sister Nellie — out of Austria, all of whom arrived safely in America.

The elder NATZLERS lived out the remainder of their lives in Trenton, N.J., . . . on that SAME $5,000.

Meanwhile, Adolph and Otto NATZLER and their families all remained in Southern California.

Although I had hoped to meet Otto, when I found Marlies, he was already 96, and passed away before I could do so. Marlies and I continued to stay in touch sporadically until I got the sad news a few months ago that she had passed away in October 2012.

*A dear friend of Adolph and Hedwig and been murdered by the Gestapo shortly before they fled.

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12 thoughts on “Searching for the Natzlers”

  1. I grew up in Trenton, New Jersey and my brother and I sat for oil portraits done by Nellie Natzler in 1951. She was already widely known as an accomplished portraitist at that time.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your reply, Sallee. I loved the it was her talent with oils that enabled her entire family to enter the U.S. before the war.

      Reply
    • Thanks Charles, Marlies gave me pictures of her and her parents, but I had to go to the internet for Otto and Trude pics. Once again, hail to the Google search.

      Reply
    • Thanks Bud, but after more than a decade of researching my family, stuff just piles up. Of course, trying to find specific stuff is another issue.

      Reply
    • I’m very thankful that Marlies was so forthcoming, and so comfortable in front of the camera. While we also spoke on the phone a number of times, and over a couple of lunches, I was fortunate in being able to get her to repeat most of her recollections for the record, and posterity. There’ll be more of her recollections in future blogs.

      Reply
  2. I had the pleasure of knowing Otto in the late ninties. I met him walking his two beautiful German shepherds in a park in LA.
    We often walked together with our dogs. I was not aware of his importance in the art world at the time. Although I am a painter I was not very familiar with pottery. I remember he did tell me that Beatrice Wood And her glazes were not that unique or in his mind that special. When I moved to a new house we had built in the mountains above Topanga he came to our housewarming and brought me a catalog of his and Gertrude’s work with his signature. He was a cool guy.

    Reply

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