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  • Writer's pictureKaren L

Two Emmas

Updated: May 15

When I heard the name Emma Lazarus at a Holocaust remembrance program in Frankfurt, Germany, I immediately thought of the Jewish/American poet whose sonnet is installed on the Statue of Liberty. But I was incorrect. There was another one and probably thousands more. The Emma Lazarus I heard mentioned in Germany married Henry Budge in the latter part of the 19th century, both Jews.

Henry was born in Frankfurt in 1840. He emigrated to the United States in 1866 and became a successful businessman. He must have returned to Germany to marry Emma. Both moved to the United States and became citizens in 1882. For some reason, they relocated to Hamburg, Germany in 1903, where they were great patrons of the arts and charitable foundations. During World War I, they lived in Switzerland to avoid conflicts of loyalty.

One of the foundations established with their money was named after them--the Frankfurt Henry and Emma Budge Foundation. The purpose of the foundation was the "care of men, women, and children in need of recreation, without distinction of sex, age, and religious confession," a forward thinking mission for the times. The Budges agreed to use capital from their foundation to alleviate a housing shortage in 1928, in Frankfurt, specifically for a "retirement home for the middle class." The residence was built in 10 months and ready for the first inhabitants in 1930. Ernst May, of the Frankfurt building department, selected the Bauhaus style of architecture for the structure. Three avant-garde architects assisted him, most notably Mart Stam.

Example of Bauhaus architecture The result was a masterpiece of an open light-flooded building with 100 apartments. Each had a private balcony or patio with a view of wooded areas. The common rooms had movable walls for flexibility. Meals were taken in a dining room and prepared in a modern kitchen with a dishwasher and other avant-garde appliances. The founders and architects envisioned a "collectively managed pensioner's hotel" for older middle class individuals of Jewish and Christian religion. Innovative, the interfaith aspect and the free atmosphere of men and women interacting socially proved to be without historical role models.

Utimately tragedy occurred when the Nazis took over the foundation and home. The Jewish residents were forced out and moved to various sites in Frankfurt. It is unclear how many Jewish residents lived at the Budge Home, but 23 were murdered by the Nazis. The victims have been memoralized at various sites in Frankfurt. One of those residents was my great grandmother Elise Hofmann. She was deported at age 70 in 1942 to Theresienstadt and murdered at Treblinka, an ungodly end for a respectable, modern woman.

Stolperstein in front of Budge Home, Frankfurt, Germany 2023

Back to our American Emma Lazarus--a Sephardic Jew--who wrote the sonnet "The American Collossus," which was inspired by the Statue of Liberty. At the time, she worked with Eastern European Jewish immigrants. Their plight and the new statue inspired Emma to write her famous lines.

The New Colossus Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

The poem, written with no notion of Nazis but yet a knowledge of antisemitism, rang true in the 1880's, 1940's, and now.

Content from research done by Gudrun Jäger 2023 ©Karen Levi 2023

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