Family Friends Friday – The Natzlers

Dr. Adolf Natzler and his wife, Hedwig, were names from my childhood. As dear friends of my parents, they would visit us at least once a week, unless we were visiting them. He was a highly regarded orthopedic surgeon from Germany, who came to America with his family about the same time as my parents. But Adolph Natzler died in 1939, when I was only five, and by 1945 my parents had lost track of his wife and daughter

Hedwig and Adolf Natzler in Nice, 1927. Sent as a postcard.
Hedwig and Adolf Natzler in Nice, 1927. Sent as a postcard.
Otto and Trude Natzler working together in their Los Angeles studio.
Otto and Trude Natzler working together in their Los Angeles studio.

Then just a few years ago, I happened to be watching “The Antiques Road Show”, when they featured some very expensive ceramics created by the well-known husband-and-wife team of Otto & Gertrude Natzler, who achieved their fame in the 1940s, ’50s and 60s.

Hearing the Natzler name again after so many years piqued my curiosity. So, I posed a simple genealogical question on the JewishGen web site to see if I could find some answers.

Barely a month later I had a veritable history of the entire Natzler family from Vienna. A woman by the name of Celia Male took an immediate interest in my search, and her help proved to be a vital bridge to my reconnection with the Natzlers.

Among other details, she found that Adolf and Hedwig Natzler’s daughter, Marlies, who I had not seen for over 60 years, was still alive and living about 60 miles south of my home in Los Angeles. So, I made a phone call to Marlies, who was both shocked and delighted to hear from me.

Then after two long phone conversations just catching up, I spent a delightful day in her Laguna Hills, CA home, and came away with two hours of her memories on video tape, and the following information on the Natzler family:

Otto and Adolf were indeed related. They were first cousins. Otto was born in Vienna in 1908, son of Siegmund Natzler, a Viennese physician. Otto had two older siblings: Paul, born in 1901 and Nellie who later became an artist in her own right, and who would play a significant role in the Natzler family’s escape from the Nazis.

Adolf was born sixteen years earlier in 1882, in a small town in Hungary, which later became Czechoslovakia. Alois Natzler was Adolph’s father, and the brother of Siegmund, Otto’s father. Although living in Vienna with all the other Natzlers, Alois Natzler had another house just across the border in Hungary, which is why Adolf was born in Hungary, and not Vienna. Alois also had two daughers, Ilke and Betty, both younger than Adolf. But more about them shortly.

While Otto’s father remained in Austria with his family, Adolf’s father moved his family to Bavaria, when he was still a small child.

As a young man, Adolf entered medical school in Munich, where he received a facial scar, which I remembered from my early childhood. Known as a “Heidelberg Scar”, it was an aristocratic mark sought after by many students, which was inflicted during the sport of fencing. But Adolf received his in Munich, not Heidelberg, yet still proving that, although a Jew, he was from a fighting fraternity. Curiously his scar was caused by a left-hander, so it was on the wrong side of his face.

Later, after receiving his medical degree, he practiced medicine in Heidelberg under the tutelage of a highly regarded orthopedic surgeon by the name of Professor/Dr. Vulpius. It was while working for Dr. Vulpius that Adolf met his wife, Hedwig, who was also working in Heidelberg as a private nurse.

During WWI Adolf was a physician in the German Army, but often swore, only partially in jest, that he was fighting for the Bavarian King, and would never fight for the Kaiser.

Hedwig Natzler (born Voss), was born into a Protestant family in Hildesheim, Germany, Dec. 13, 1884, but moved to Hamburg at a very early age. Their only daughter, Marlies (Maria Luisa), was born in Heidelberg in 1916. After WW1 they moved to Mullheim, where Marlies was raised like her mother, as a Protestant.

Marlies and Hedwig Natzler circa 1923
Marlies and Hedwig Natzler circa 1923

In 1933 Adolf and his family fled from Mullheim shortly after he received a warning that the Gestapo wanted him. But the Catholic nuns, in the hospital where he worked, feared that he would be deported by the Nazis. So, they hid him and his family somewhere within its confines, allowing Dr. Natzler to finish his work before leaving the country. Their daughter, Marlies, was then only 17, and had not yet completed her schooling. She did finish it in America, however, and chose medical research as her profession.

As a cautionary move, Adolf and Marlies travelled to America, not as part of the German or Austrian immigration quota, but as part of the Czech quota, while Hedwig travelled as a German citizen.

 Adolf’s two sisters, Ilka & Betty had very different fates. Ilke remained in Germany, and was later deported by the Nazis to Theresienstadt where she perished. Meanwhile, Betty married a Protestant in Munich by the name of Schindler, and survived the war. But she cut all ties with her Jewish family, and never divulged her background to her children.

It wasn’t until 1938 that Otto Natzler fled from Vienna with his wife Trude (born Amon).

But before they fled, Otto and Paul’s sister, Nellie Natzler the artist, won a $5,000 prize in a Parisian art show, and immediately sent her winnings to her cousin Adolf in America, who then put it in a U.S. Bank account. The account was to be used by each family as proof of their financial independence and allow them access into the U.S. With Adolph as their sponsor, 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.

Paul in turn used the money to get their parents, Siegmund and Frieda, out of Austria, as well as sister Nellie, the family member who whose winnings allowed them to do this in the first place.

The elder Natzlers were able to live out the remainder of their lives in Trenton, N.J. on that same $5,000.

While I had hoped to meet Otto, I was too late. He passed away shortly after I located Marlies. And, sadly, Marlies, my last connection with the Natzler family, passed away two years ago.


10 thoughts on “Family Friends Friday – The Natzlers”

  1. Really incredible research and very interesting life stories, Pete. Good for you. The information must be quite meaningful and fulfilling. Thank you much for sharing these.

  2. Really incredible research and very interesting life stories, Pete. Good for you. The information must be quite meaningful and fulfilling. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Thanks Phyllis, but I’m amazed you absorbed so much so quickly, since we only discussed it yesterday. Really appreciate your support.

  3. Wow! This is a really extraordinary story. It must have taken a lot of time to research, but it must have been great to reconnect with a family you knew in your youth. Beautifully written and researched, thank you for sharing.

    • Yes it was, Melanie. I’m so fortunate that events happened as they did starting with Antiques Roadshow. Thanks for you interest.


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