Righteous Gentiles

von Peter Witting


Louise, Elisabeth & Wilhelm Teske in May 1955 in their apartment in Rosenheimerstrasse

I feel impelled to write this article in order to honour the memory of the Teske and Hiller families who had helped our family and many others in Berlin during the Nazi period.

Teske Family
In 2008, by an amazing coincidence, I received a memoir written by Elisabeth Teske from a friend of mine, Professor Ralph Hirsch, who had also been a Jewish refugee in Shanghai. Ralph, in his capacity as Director of the Council on the Jewish Experience in Shanghai (CJES), had received that document as part of many documents sent to him over the years because the content had a connection to Shanghai. There may have been a covering note with the memoir, but if so it must have got detached and is now lost. As there were references to our family in the memoir, Ralph very kindly sent it to me.

The memoir covered in great detail Elisabeth’s experiences during the Nazi period and in particular her parents’ and her involvement in helping anti-Nazi elements, Jews and some prisoners of war.


Wedding photo of Elisabeth and Paul-Karl Hofacker 1970

Elisabeth Hofacker nee Teske was born on 28 March 1928 in Berlin and died on 1 August 1988 in Berlin. She was the only daughter of Wilhelm and Louise Teske nee Schiebold, who were devout Baptists. She married Paul-Karl Hofacker in 1970 in Berlin, where they lived at Hausstockweg 1, 1000 Berlin 42. Elisabeth worked as a social worker at the Berlin Social Department, Badenschestrasse 52.

The apartment building in which our family and the Teske family lived and had their shoe workshop, at 5 Rosenheimerstrasse, Schoeneberg, had been owned by my grandfather Louis Wilhelm. The building survived the bombardments during World War II and was only slightly damaged.

My sister Marion and I had been childhood friends of Elisabeth and we used to play together in Rosenheimerstrasse during our last years in Berlin prior to our emigration to Shanghai in May 1939.


Teske Memorial Plaque at 5 Rosenheimerstrasse

In the memoir there were references to my grandmother Margarethe Wilhelm and her sister Elisabeth Schwarz. They had lived underground and were also partly supported by the Teske family. My grandmother eventually committed suicide; according to Elisabeth, in the loft of an apartment building; according to other reports which I have, under a staircase. Her sister was caught eventually and perished in Auschwitz. There were also various references to other Jewish people, including photographs, who had lived in the building at Rosenheimerstrasse and the vicinity, particularly Freisingerstrasse.

One thing Elisabeth did not mention was that her father, Louis Teske, prayed with my grandfather Louis Wilhelm (who was a religious orthodox Jew) at the latter’s deathbed in their apartment in that building. He fortunately died in his own bed in 1941 in his mid-seventies.

I had met Elisabeth and her parents in May 1955 during a visit to Berlin. My wife, Lesley, and I met Elisabeth and her husband Paul-Karl Hofacker in Berlin in 1981 and we maintained a regular correspondence with both of them until they passed away. They had no children.


Teske Memorial Plaque

In 1993 a memorial plaque was affixed to the house at 5 Rosenheimerstrasse in memory of Louise and Wilhelm Teske and their good deeds in helping Jewish people during the Nazi period. This plaque had been financed by a Mr. Ortmann in association with the Bezirksamt Schoeneberg. Mr. Ortmann was of Jewish descent and married to a Christian lady.

On 3 December 1998 a high school at Tempelhofer Weg in Schoeneberg was also renamed after the Teskes – “Louise und Wilhelm Teske Oberschule (Realschule)”– in memory of their good deeds.

My previous attempt to have the Teskes recognized as “Righteous Gentiles” by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem had been unsuccessful as there was not enough evidence. However, as a result of the Teske memoir, a CD copy of which I had forwarded to Yad Vashem, they reconsidered their previous decision and recognized the Teskes as “Righteous Gentiles” in January 2010.


Dr. Gerd Joachim Hiller, Peter & Lesley Witting, Sydney February 1994

I felt that this memoir is a valuable and unique historical document that should be deposited in a museum. I considered the Berlin Jewish Museum, which already has a few memorabilia relating to our family, as the logical repository and they had accepted it. I have scanned the memoir and also made copies available to the Jewish Museum in Melbourne and Yad Vashem, as well as some other family members and Ralph Hirsch.

Hiller family
I was told by my parents and aunt in Israel that Fritz and Eliese Hiller and their son Dr. Gerd Joachim Hiller had been very helpful to my grandparents Louis and Margarethe Wilhelm during the Nazi period. Fritz Hiller was a business friend of my grandfather’s, both having been involved in the grain trade. Whilst my grandmother and her sister Liese Schwarz were living underground, the family and in particular their son Dr. Gerd Joachim Hiller, Regensburgerstrasse 4, 10777 Berlin, had been very helpful in providing food, medications, etc. at great risk to themselves. They had also hidden family documents and valuables. These were buried in their garden with their own valuables and were eventually found by the Russians when they occupied Berlin. When I visited the Hiller family in 1955 they gave me a bronze statue of a Roman soldier which had belonged to my grandparents – the only memento I have from my grandparents’ home and which I remembered seeing when I was a small boy on the sideboard in their dining room.


My grandmother Margarethe Wilhelm’s Judenstern, October 1995

More importantly, in October 1995 when Lesley, my wife, and eldest daughter Jenni visited Dr. Hiller in Berlin, he gave me the yellow “Judenstern” which my grandmother had worn on her coat and which he had removed when she went underground. He had framed it and kept it all those years as he did not know whether he should give it to me or not. It was a very moving moment!

I endeavoured to have the Hiller family recognized as “Righteous Gentiles” by Yad Vashem but this had not been granted as there was no independent evidence to support my application.

We met Dr. Hiller on a number of occasions in Australia and Berlin and corresponded with him until his death in August 2004 at the age of 85.

Peter Witting
Chiffre 210102