February 3, 1889 to June 9, 1962
Written by her son, Peter Wolfgang Schaper
In order to fully appreciate the extraordinary person Elsbeth Yvonne Schaper was during her lifetime it is necessary to understand a few facts about the world into which she was born and which influenced her development as a human being. At the end of the 19th Century a map of Germany included a Province of Posen in Prussia and in that province a town of Gross Zalesie. Located in that town was a “Rittergut” [Knight Estate] which in the year 1889 was under the management of Georg Bieber. Georg was not a good manager and soon was forced to find another way to earn a livelihood for his wife, Alberta Bieber, née Rashkow, and their family. This presented some problems because George was considered to be Jewish and even at this early time that was a handicap in obtaining solid positions in any government work particularly as an officer in the military, which was George’s ambition. As a consequence the family wound up moving a lot. All this is described in much detail in Hilde Schramm’s book: “Meine Lehrerin Dr. Dora Lux”, which unfortunately has not yet been translated into English. She dedicates much of early part of the book detailing how Anti Semitism was not invented in 1933, but even before the beginning of World War I, affected the lives of many people with a Jewish background, whether they were baptized in a Christian Church or not.
Brief Biography of “Elsbeth”
On February 3, 1889 Alberta Bieber/Raschkow gave birth to her fourth child in Gross Zalesie, Posen, Germany. The baby girl was named Elsbeth, which the family – Wilhelm, Dora and Anna-Marie – quickly reduced to Else. The family grew by one more, Friedrich “Friedel” Bieber, born in 1891. By then the family had moved to another location in the province Posen, Lissa. The family had moved several times before this and continued in that state for a few more years until George found a more permanent position in Berlin. Not much is known about Elsbeth’s early childhood, except that her older two sisters always challenged her to great achievements. They displayed an unusual, for that time, determination for academic achievement. Both not only finished high school, but also eventually earned doctor degrees: Dora in Philosophy and Mieze in Medicine, both significant achievements for that time when women were rarely professionals. Elsbeth also finished high school, but then, in about 1908 started to work in a publishing house, Ascher, in Berlin presumably for financial reasons.
A fellow employee was Monsieur Jean Schwab, hired specifically to establish a French oriented section of the publishing house. Elsbeth had always been interested in Romance languages and for this reason created a rapport between the two. According to her, it took some of her fellow workers to point out to her that Jean’s “rapport” quickly took a more serious turn which eventually resulted in a marriage, followed by the birth of three boys: Fernand in 1910, Pierre in 1912 and Henri in 1914. Thus Elsbeth’s ambitions for higher education and a possible career in the humanities, turned into being the traditional housewife and mother. Of course the marriage also resulted in her and her children becoming French citizens. This was out of the ordinary, as exemplified by the following episode at the occasion of Henri’s birth. Elsbeth’s brother, Friedel, had just become a German officer in the infantry and visited his sister in the hospital as he was on his way to the Western Front. His words to her: “That’s a fine thing; here I am going to kill Frenchmen and there you are lying in bed giving birth to new ones!”
The marriage of Jean and Elsbeth had become quite stressful. They argued a lot, according to tales from the Bieber family, and they had developed different interests in life. As it turned out, Jean had been assigned to a job in Switzerland just before the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and found himself interned there. Elsbeth’s interest had turned to music and the theater, but she was kept extremely busy with raising her three sons, especially since the war made financial support from Jean difficult to arrange. Elsbeth relied much on the support of her two older sisters; it took her about two years to arrange a move to Switzerland to at least unite the boys with their father and to improve the financial situation, but – alas – not to reunite with Jean.
At some time before 1916, Elsbeth had met Wolfgang Schaper, a young aspiring artist and wounded World War I veteran, and her life took on a major change. Where, when and under what circumstances Wolfgang and Elsbeth met is still a mystery. Wolfgang disliked Elsbeth’s name and eventually talked her into adopting Yvonne as his favorite. His life style was literally shattered during the first battle of World War I, when he lost his leg. He underwent years of painful rehabilitation. He had always loved music and the arts, and so it is a reasonable assumption that they met at an artistic event, possibly a concert. He was a gifted writer of letters and so, when Yvonne moved to Switzerland, he began to write to her almost weekly long love letters. Fortunately Yvonne saved these in a silver box and they exist to this date. Since all letters were saved with addressed envelopes, one can still see today that Yvonne moved around Switzerland a lot. We also know from the records of the University of Zurich, that in 1918 Yvonne finally matriculated in humanities. We see from these letters that Yvonne had fallen in love with Wolfgang in the course of their correspondence. However there was the difficulty that Wolfgang was not allowed to travel to Switzerland and Yvonne could not leave without giving up her children to the custody of Jean, whose French Chauvinism, was not shared by the mother of the boys. Finally, in 1920 she asked for a divorce, to which Jean agreed, letting Yvonne have custody of the boys and allowed her to return to Germany. The agreement to let Yvonne have custody of the children was solely a concession on Jean’s part and counter to the decision of the French court. It founded a more friendly relationship between the two, a relationship based on “shaking each other’s hand” in the words of Jean.
Upon her return to Germany and while living with her sister Annemarie (Mieze) Bieber, Wolfgang and Yvonne set about finding a place where Wolfgang could work on his newly energized love of painting and where he and Yvonne could make a home for them and the three boys, now totally in the trust of Yvonne. With the help of some of the Schaper family members, they purchased a house in Starnberg, near Munich, an artist colony near the large Lake Starnberg. They moved there in 1921.
Yvonne’s life was completely dedicated to taking care of her family. She is being the daily support of Wolfgang and it is not until May 5, 1923 that they manage to get married in Starnberg. She furnishes the house to make a home for her three boys and became more accepted by the Schaper family; indeed she develops a close friendship with Wolfgang’s sister Dorothea. Yvonne and Wolfgang enjoyed summer vacations at the Baltic Sea, something that eventually grew into a routine for the warm summer vacation days for her entire family on the Bieber side. She manages to find houses close to the beach in different resorts to house not only family members but also other visitors who also double as “baby sitters” at the beach while getting their own sun tans.
By 1926 Wolfgang’s success as an artist caused them to move to an apartment in Berlin, in the Luitpold Strasse, near the Schaper family house. Berlin offers Wolfgang more of opportunity to start working on statues, especially of sports figures. Again Yvonne has to adapt to life in the big city in a small apartment. In 1928 Helene Schaper died and the heirs of the Schaper house decided that it should be converted to a “Pension” with a separate apartment and some comfortable extra bedrooms. They accepted boarders, to create an income to maintain the house. That same year Yvonne and Wolfgang welcomed their son, “Wölf”, into the world. In 1929, after modifications to the house are completed, the family of three moves into the Schaper family home and Yvonne took on the task of running the large household. It was quite a challenging task, overseeing a staff of a cook, two maids, at least one gardener and two to three boarders, while raising a son who is becoming quite spoiled being the only child in the large mansion with its large yard.
In addition she resumed the activity of “chaperoning” the summer vacations for family children at the Baltic Sea. 1928 was of course arranged without Yvonne’s presence, but in 1929 she was back in charge. While the summer of 1930 was to include Wolfgang, tragically he fell ill with blood poisoning cause by a piece of shrapnel which had been left in his body in 1914 during the amputation of his leg. In August of that year he died as a result of the infection. It is a true testimony to Yvonne’s character that she managed to continue her running of the house at Buchenstrasse 4, albeit to some extent with financial help from a patent Wolfgang had left her and with some extra help of members from both the Bieber and Schaper family. In particular her brother Friedrich (Friedel) Bieber and his wife Gertrude resided for some time in the small “concierge apartment” near the entrance to the house. Friedel took on some of the responsibilities of being a father to Wölf, while Yvonne’s sister, Annemarie (Mieze) Bieber was the, much in demand, family doctor. As arranged from the time of Helene Schaper’s death, her daughter, Dorothea, was always handling the financial affairs, especially after the death of Wolfgang.
As the 1930’s progressed and the National Socialists in Germany started their persecution of Jews – by their own definition not having anything to do with religion, but race – Yvonne started to feel the effects of the anti Semitism. Slowly, at first, her life was made more difficult and she saw her future in Germany become very bleak. The fact that she had been baptized in the Lutheran Church and that her husband had given his life for Germany, spared her for a while but by 1939 it became clear that her management of the Schaper house was a losing proposition. The family agreed that the house had to be sold to a commercial outfit – the Kupfer Kunst Seide concern – and Yvonne and Wölf had to move to the Bieber house at the Kaiser Wilhelm Strasse in the old part of Berlin. They shared an apartment with Mieze Bieber, who was in the last stages of emigration to the USA. The money from the sale of the Schaper house helped Yvonne to survive in the new environment. At the time of the sale she had intended to emigrate to France with Wölf, but that project –fortunately – ended at the beginning of World War II. Throughout this period Yvonne’s spirits overcame the looming threats, she managed to lead a life of hope for her remaining family – Mieze and her children left for the USA in 1942, Friedel and Gertrude were found to be hiding Jews in their apartment and Gertrude was arrested and sent to Auschwitz to be murdered, while Friedel attempted to cross to Switzerland, unsuccessfully, and wound up to be murdered in Auschwitz in 1944. Trips to the Baltic Sea in the summer were still scheduled with shrinking participation by other family members. On February 23, 1944 Yvonne was arrested by the Gestapo and transported to the concentration camp in Theresienstadt.
From notes she managed to save from that time, the worst part of her incarceration was, in her words, the fact that there was no contact with the rest of the world. Characteristically she found work in the camp taking care of children in the camp. While she cared for the welfare of others, she had no idea what happened to her family. She endured the horrors of watching Adolf Eichmann deciding the fate of inmates on a whim by selecting people to be sent to the gas chambers or being spared temporarily for a future line up of inmates. Her liberation in 1945 at the end of the war by her son Fernand Eric Schwab is well documented in two books, one by Meyer Levin, “In Search” the other (in French) by Annette Wieviorka, “1945 La Dėcouverte”; it is a rather unusual story, again showing Yvonne’s characteristic ability to survive under horrible circumstances without losing hope. Not unusual for her reaction to “being liberated” is her comment, upon seeing her son standing in the doorway of the child care facility to take her to freedom, her comment is: “But what these children sitting on the potties? Who will take care of them if I leave?” As Yvonne was received in Wiesbaden upon her liberation, she characteristically gratefully accepted the hot bath provided by the US Air Force Headquarters and the champagne as she finally relaxed, but she disliked being treated with special service at local merchants offering her clothing desperately needed as Eric, in his US uniform, takes her to local shops.
After her liberation in 1945, Yvonne joined her sister-in-law, Dorothea and her family first in Bad Ems where Dorothea’s Parents in law are sheltering her family from air raids in Bremen, and then in Bremen. Yvonne typically was a great help in the turbulent events involved in the resettlement if the Barthels family. Upon getting settled in Bremen, she was reunited with her son, Wölf, who had survived incarceration in a forced labor camp. Their first conversation starts with the words: “We are going to America” and they are first in line when the American Consulate opens in Bremen in 1946. The remaining time in Bremen is spent preparing by filling out endless paperwork and taking intensive lessons in English from a British private tutor.
As the departure to the USA becomes more imminent, Yvonne organizes a family round trip of West Germany to visit, possibly for the last time, family members and, possibly meet up with her son, Henri, who is in the French army. On the first stop in Heidelberg, Yvonne and Wölf meet up with the daughters of Dora and Hinz Lux, quite by accident. From Heidelberg they travel to Tübingen, where they get reacquainted with the Noelle family – Elisabeth, Gisela, and Dieter, children of Eva Noelle/Schaper – and they meet Erich-Peter Neumann. The latter is preparing to travel to Allensbach with Elisabeth where they both will be the founders of the now famous Institute for Demoskopie. They offer Yvonne and Wölf the transportation via automobile to Rottweil in the French Zone, where Henri Schwab is supposedly stationed. To their dismay they find upon arrival that he has left for home several days earlier after being promoted to Captain. The new village commander is of help in providing transportation for the pair to Niederstaufen at Lake Constance, where Yvonne’s sister, Dora, is living. The return trip to Bremen via railroad along the Rhine river leaves Yvonne somewhat saddened but, as isd her nature, prepared to, once more, start a new life in a far away country.
Finally in June 1946 she and Wölf sail on the Marine Perch to New York where they are welcomed by Hanna Bieber, Mieze’s daughter, and Fernand, Both immigrants are overwhelmed by the city and the country, and filled with new hope and enthusiasm for the future.
After the newness of this great country wears off, the two stay with Mieze, who has established a practice as a country doctor in Phoenicia, New York, the reality of life sets in: Yvonne has to find a job to enable Wölf to continue his education as an aeronautical engineer. The old connections to Switzerland and the University of Zurich came to Yvonne’s aid: it turns out that her close friend, Hella Weyl, from Zurich days knows that Professor Albert Einstein in Princeton, New Jersey, is looking for a companion for his aging sister Maja. Yvonne knew Einstein from her time in Zurich and she perfectly fills his needs. For the next five years Yvonne becomes a daily member of the Einstein household, while Wölf obtains his BS degree at Purdue. Yvonne’s plan is to join him after his graduation. Life is good, again.
One of the remarkable facets of personality Yvonne’s is that no matter what fate deals her, she manages to survive disappointments with grace and the determination to make the best of it and apply her abilities to fit the situation in which she finds herself. 1951 is a case in point: Wölf in his senior year meets the love of his life, Mary, and is determined that she is the one person who he wants to share the rest of life with and she is the one to start a family with. It is a natural phenomenon that mothers never see their children’s choice of mates in the way the children do and so it is clear from the beginning that Yvonne’s future with her son is in jeopardy. Fortunately there develops a need in her sister’s, Mieze’s, daughter, Hanna, is having difficulties raising her family of three children while trying to further her education and while her husband, Hans, is building a career in the newspaper field. So, after Wölf’s wedding in 1952, Yvonne moves to Lewistown, Montana, re-starting her life in a different home. In her new environment of a family of low income, Yvonne relies of support from her four sons. She remembers well a saying of the “head of the Bieber family, Uncle Richard Bieber, Mieze’s deceased husband: “A mother may be able to raise four children, but four children cannot support one mother”. Financial worries, among other problems, lead to the breakup of Hanna’s and Hans’ marriage, and in matter of four years Yvonne faces, again, the need to move, especially since Mieze now has to retire as the country doctor in Phoenicia, New York, suffering from lung cancer.
Wölf and Mary make a valiant effort to provide Yvonne with a home in Pasadena, California in their house along with the four young children they are raising. Here the major difficulty arises that Yvonne is not needed to help in the bringing up of the children – Mary has chosen to be a non-working mother and feels comfortable in that role. Yvonne tries to find a paying job to maintain her independence, but there is nothing available that matches Yvonne’s intellect or her abilities to maintain a household. She feels that she is a burden to her near family and it affects her daily life in a bad way.
Fernand Eric Schwab, Yvonne’s oldest son, in the meantime has married, in 1947, Ruth Marcuson and they have a child, Corinne. Yvonne had a good relationship with Ruth. Unfortunately the marriage broke up and Ruth re-married Field Horine and moved to Mexico. When Ruth realized that things in Pasadena were not working out, she offered Yvonne a home in Mexico City, to help raise Corinne and help out in the household. Again, with the minimal financial support Yvonne’s sons could provide, Yvonne found another new home. She enjoyed the more European style of life in Mexico City and the resort town of Cuernavaca where the Horine family was always welcome. Her letters from that area reflected a much happier person than her family had known for several years. In 1962 the Horine family presented Yvonne with a ticket for a sea voyage to Europe on a freighter as a special passenger.
This sea voyage seemed to be an ideal present. Her letters describe superb treatment at the ship’s captain’s table, a private cabin with a great view and pleasant weather throughout. One letter in particular talked about the impressive passage through the Straits of Gibraltar and the subsequent debarkation in Italy. From there Yvonne embarked on a tour of the remaining family members of the Schaper and Bieber families. Near the end of the trip, Yvonne Bieber Schaper unexpectedly died at the home of her nephew, Hans Otto Bieber, in Hannover Germany. Her ashes were reposed, after a brief ceremony, in Volksdorf near Hamburg in a gravesite with her Sister Dora and Dora’s husband Hinz Lux. The gravesite no longer exists, but Yvonne is remembered in the Schaper family Honor Grave for Fritz Schaper at the Jerusalem cemetery in Berlin, Germany.
This biography of Elsbeth Yvonne Bieber Schaper has been presented as a tribute to a very special woman living in the turbulent times of the 20th Century who displayed a remarkable love for Family and a very special nature of loving children, not just in the family, but whoever needed extra love and guidance. As the writer is very well aware, especially where this love resulted in difficulties with family relationships, Yvonne was always ready to offer her help wherever it was need and whenever it was sought. Yet, in spite of the turmoil of life around her, she always faced life optimistically. Her intelligence was always on display, seldom appreciated, but evident in her lifelong friendships witnessed by her relationships with, for example the Albert Einstein family and the Herman Weyl family. The writer regrets that this deeper understanding of Yvonne’s character waited for almost 50 years to develop. He hopes that this biography will be read with this understanding by future members of the Schaper and Bieber families in the USA and abroad.Share