Child’s ID card with “J” (for Jew) stamp, issued in Memmingen in 1939.
Child’s ID card with “J” (for Jew) stamp, issued in Memmingen in 1939. ETH Library, Archives of Contemporary History

The “300 Children Campaign” of 1939

In 1939, 300 children arrived in Switzerland. The plan was that they would travel on to other countries after a few months. World War II got in the way and many of the children stayed here for years, as Anneliese Laupheimer’s story shows.

Sabina Bossert

Sabina Bossert

Sabina Bossert is a specialist in contemporary Jewish history at the Archives of Contemporary History at the ETH Zurich.

In 1939, around 250 mostly Jewish children aged between 6 and 16 arrived in Switzerland from southern Germany. In the wake of the November pogroms in 1938, the Federal Department of Justice and Police had approved what was known as the 300-Kinder-Aktion, the 300 Children Campaign; the Schweizer Hilfswerk für Emigrantenkinder (SHEK, the Swiss support organisation for émigré children) made the arrangements. The children were to spend six months in Switzerland before travelling on to a safe country. The outbreak of World War II thwarted these plans. Most of the children stayed in Switzerland for six years, which saved their lives. Among these children was a pair of sisters from Memmingen, Anneliese and Lotte Laupheimer. They came from a middle-class Jewish family. Their father, Julius Laupheimer, co-owned a men’s clothing store with his brothers. At the end of 1938 Julius Laupheimer was arrested and temporarily interned in the Dachau concentration camp. Anneliese was eleven years old at the time, and had an intellectual disability.
Arriving in Switzerland. Group picture at Weinfelden train station, 1939.
Arriving in Switzerland. Group picture at Weinfelden train station, 1939. ETH Library, Archives of Contemporary History
Many of the children from the 300-Kinder-Aktion were housed in institutions. Anneliese and Lotte were lucky enough to have friends in Switzerland: Emma Zuberbühler, who had spent some time in Memmingen working as a maid for the Laupheimer family. Her husband owned a painting business in Uster (Zurich canton). With minimal bureaucratic involvement, Emma Zuberbühler took the sisters and two of their cousins, Ruth and Ilse Laupheimer, into her home. In the summer of 1942, Anneliese and Lotte’s parents were deported to Poland. In a postcard dated 19 June 1942, the Jüdische Soziale Selbsthilfe Lublin (Jewish Social Self-Help Lublin) wrote that the Laupheimers were “in Piaski, Lublin district, and healthy”. From 1940 Piaski, which was part of the German-administered part of Poland after Germany’s occupation, was the site of a ghetto set up initially for Polish Jews who were deported to the Belzec extermination camp in March 1942. The ghetto then became a transit camp for German Jews who were later murdered in the Auschwitz, Belzec, Sobibór and Treblinka extermination camps. No details are known of the fate of Jeanette and Julius Laupheimer; but it is clear that they didn’t survive World War II. A former neighbour from Memmingen, Else Günzburger, wrote to Emma Zuberbühler on 14 March 1946: “Unfortunately, both parents and the bachelor uncle Herr David are no longer alive. Of the Jews in Memmingen, only the gentlemen from the mixed marriages are still alive, Gutman, Grünfeld and my husband[.]”
ID card of Anneliese Laupheimer with “J” (for Jew) stamp.
ID card of Anneliese Laupheimer with “J” (for Jew) stamp. ETH Library, Archives of Contemporary History
The Zuberbühler family probably hadn’t expected their house guests to stay for quite so long. Caring for the girls must have been a big task. So in November 1942, Anneliese Laupheimer was placed in a home for disabled children in Uster. When the war ended, a lot changed for Anneliese. In 1946 her sister emigrated to the USA, where she married Walter Ullmann. Since it was now clear that Anneliese no longer had a family to return to and, due to her disability, emigrating was not an option, SHEK applied for permanent asylum in Switzerland on her behalf. After the end of World War II, most of the refugees – in line with Switzerland’s maxim of being only a transit country – had to travel on to other countries. The few who stayed behind for reasons of health or age lived here in a kind of provisional arrangement; they were granted permanent asylum in 1947. Overall, just under three percent of all refugees admitted during World War II were able to stay in Switzerland permanently, i.e. around 1,600 people. Of these, 1,345 people were granted permanent asylum, including Anneliese Laupheimer “due to incurable illness”.
Anneliese Laupheimer’s child ID card, 1940s.
Anneliese Laupheimer’s child ID card, 1940s. ETH Library, Archives of Contemporary History
The care of the by now 20-year-old passed from SHEK to the Verband Schweizerischer Jüdischer Flüchtlingshilfen (Association of Swiss Jewish Refugee Aid, the VSJF). The VSJF, originally established as a Jewish welfare organisation, was entrusted with the care of Jewish refugees by the federal government during World War II. Together with the federal government and the canton of Zurich, the VSJF took over the home care costs for Anneliese Laupheimer (Lotte Ullmann-Laupheimer made regular transfers of 20 dollars) and supported her in her claims for compensation in Germany. Since the federal government and the canton assumed they would get back a portion of their expenditure if Anneliese’s claim were successful, they took an active role in progressing her compensation claim. In fact, Anneliese and Lotte were not just awarded one-off amounts. As an orphan and unable to work due to her disability, Anneliese also received a lifetime pension from the German state because of the murder of her parents. This not only gave Anneliese a means of subsistence (through her legal guardian), but also enabled her to repay support payments that she had already received.
Anneliese Laupheimer and another resident, photographed in the 1990s.
Anneliese Laupheimer and another resident, photographed in the 1990s. ETH Library, Archives of Contemporary History
A 1960 report – although she was by now over 30, Anneliese was not only examined by a paediatrician, she was also consistently referred to by this doctor as a child and using neuter language – reads: “The child has been infirm since birth. It has severe kyphoscoliosis of the thoracic spine, but has developed physically to the extent that it is able to walk on its own. It can also eat by itself and if it is reminded at the right time it can also attend to its toileting needs. Mentally, it is an imbecile, if not an idiot; in any case, it is intellectually incapable of learning, for which reason it is resident in our institution. The child can only live if it is guided and cared for by a third party at all times. Apart from that, sometimes it has psychological disturbances which manifest themselves in a terrible fear and then the child rolls on the floor until it can be calmed down. For all these reasons, it is necessary that the child will probably have to remain in our institution […] permanently.” Both the infantilisation of an adult woman with a mental handicap and the terms imbecility and idiocy are problematic from today’s perspective, but in contemporary psychiatry they were common scientific terminologies.
Anneliese Laupheimer’s identification tag with name and address in Switzerland. The tag, from the 1940s, was probably worn around the neck.
Anneliese Laupheimer’s identification tag with name and address in Switzerland. The tag, from the 1940s, was probably worn around the neck. ETH Library, Archives of Contemporary History
Further compensation money that Anneliese received in the 1960s was sent on by the VSJF to the family of her sister in the USA, who was seriously ill and now needed support herself. Following Lotte’s death, the VSJF awarded another 5000 Deutsche Mark to her surviving dependents (Walter and Lotte Ullmann had two small children). In an emotional letter, the widower thanked them for the support: “I shall never forget this. The amount that was sent was a great help to us, as my dearest wife’s long-term illness had almost exhausted my funds.” Ilse Wyler-Weil was Anneliese’s guardian for many years. Ilse Wyler, who had also come to Switzerland with the 300-Kinder-Aktion, had married Swiss livestock dealer Max Wyler and lived with him in Uster. She regularly visited Anneliese, whom she described as “very much in need of affection” and “lovely and well-behaved, but wholly unable to occupy herself in any way”, and brought her small gifts for her birthdays and for Jewish holidays. Anneliese Laupheimer died in 2008 and was buried at the Winterthur Jewish Cemetery. As there were no heirs and no will, the remainder of her assets (minus the cost of the funeral and headstone) were awarded to the VSJF, Ilse Wyler-Weil and the Hugo Mendel Foundation.

Anne Frank and Switzerland

22.03.2024 29.09.2024 / Château de Prangins
The diary of Anne Frank is world famous. It’s less well known that the journey to global publication began in Switzerland. Anne, her sister and her mother all died in the Holocaust. Otto Frank was the only family member to survive. After the war, he initially returned to Amsterdam. In the 1950s, he moved in with his sister in Basel. From there, he made it his task to share his daughter’s diary with the world whilst preserving her message on humanity and tolerance for the coming generations.

Further posts