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Elk-Zernik Family Collection

Identifier: AR 10835

Scope and Content Note

The Elk-Zernik Family Collection consists of papers of several members of the Elk and Zernik families, along with documentation of related families. Most prominent are Julius Elk, Max Elk, Benjamin Elk, Helmut Zernik and Charlotte Elk Zernik. Most prevalent are the personal papers of family members and examples of their unpublished writing.

Personal papers in this collection consist of those of Benjamin and Aenne Elk and Helmut and Charlotte Elk Zernik. Benjamin and Aenne Elk's papers, located in Series II, pertain entirely to their marriage. A larger amount of personal papers is present for Helmut and Charlotte Zernik, in Series III. Most notable among their personal papers are the photo album and scrapbook of Helmut Zernik, in Subseries 1 of Series III. The former primarily documents trips taken by him, often with others, while the scrapbook comprises photographs and clippings on the athletes and activities of the Schild athletic association, an affiliation of the Reichsbund jüdischer Frontsoldaten. In addition to such visual material, Helmut Zernik's papers contain official documents, especially those that focus on his immigration and his years in Shanghai, but also including letters from employers and health statements. Charlotte Zernik's papers, in Subseries 2, cover a broader range of her life. Her papers include some correspondence, identification papers, letters of recommendation and notes. Other documents include musical compositions along with their copyright registrations and copyright registration for her uncle Max Elk's writing.

The writing of several family members is also to be found in this collection. Series I consists entirely of the writing of Julius Elk and Rabbi Max (later Meir) Elk, with the latter forming the bulk of the series. Julius Elk's manuscript describes the spiritual and secular lives of Jews of Russian Poland at the end of the nineteenth century. Max Elk's writing is composed of his 1922 dissertation and many sermons, articles and lectures produced in his role as a liberal (reform) rabbi in Germany and later Palestine/ Israel. These cover not only religious questions but also often speak to the social and cultural interrelationships of Jews with others. Included is a copy of an extensive interview with his niece Charlotte Elk Zernik on his personal philosophy and opinions relating to religion, education and Israel, among many other questions. The medical dissertation of Benjamin Elk is located with his other papers in Series II.

Charlotte Elk Zernik's literary compositions are located in Subseries 2 of Series III. Among these writings are an English version of her own autobiography, a romantic piece based on the life of a friend, and several differing versions of a collection of short stories set in and around New York City. With her typescripts are an assortment of reviews of her published book Im Sturm der Zeit.

The final series of the collection contains general material on the Elk, Zernik and related families, primarily genealogical research or narratives. One folder holds photographs of family members.


  • 1880-1998
  • Majority of material found within 1920-1985


Language of Materials

The collection is in German, English, and Hebrew.

Access Restrictions

Open to researchers.

Access Information

Collection is digitized. Follow the links in the Container List to access the digitized materials.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:

Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011


Biographical Note

The scholar Julius Elk lived in Memel (today Klaipėda, Lithuania). In 1878 he married Hana Egwy; the following year they had a son, Benjamin. Due to a rise in anti-Semitic attacks the Elks left Memel in 1881 and settled in Frankfurt am Main, where in addition to teaching Julius Elk worked with a charity organization and also promoted Volapuek, a forerunner of Esperanto. Eventually he requested and received German citizenship for himself and his family. Julius and Hana had seven other children: Marie (1881), Salo (1885), Rebecca (1887), Rosel (1892), Selma (1894), Max (1898) and Rudolf (1901). In 1906 Julius died, requiring Benjamin, who had studied dentistry at the University of Frankfurt, to support his mother and younger siblings.

In 1906 Benjamin Elk established his own dental practice in the town of Diedenhofen, in Alsace-Lorraine. In the summer of 1914 he took a trip to Belgium, where he met Aenne Ulmann of Elberfeld. Although they became engaged within two weeks of meeting, the outbreak of World War I interrupted their future plans. On April 7, 1918 they married in Elberfeld. Their daughter Charlotte was born in Diedenhofen (by then Thionville, France) in April 1919. Due to their German citizenship they were required to leave Thionville and moved to Frankfurt am Main.

Meanwhile, Benjamin Elk's younger brother Max (later changed to Meir or Meyer) had been studying theology at the Jüdisches-Theologisches Seminar in Breslau, which he attended from 1916-1925. In 1925 he became a rabbi in Munich, the following year he moved to Stettin. In 1934 he immigrated to Palestine, where he settled in Haifa; that same year he founded the Leo Baeck School (later the Leo Baeck Education Center) with just fourteen students. In 1936 he helped to found Congregation Beth Israel.

Due to the political changes in 1933-1934, Benjamin and Aenne Elk decided to send their daughter Charlotte to school in Switzerland. In August 1934 Charlotte Elk began attending a boarding school outside of Lausanne, La Ramée, from which she graduated in 1935. Following her graduation Charlotte began training at the Rothschild Hospital as a medical laboratory assistant and x-ray technician. In 1938 she found a position at a sanatorium in Bad Neuenahr; in September of 1938 she became engaged to a colleague from the sanatorium, Hans Ansbach.

During Kristallnacht Benjamin Elk was arrested and sent to Buchenwald. In order to secure his release the family planned to immigrate to Uruguay but three days before their planned departure, Uruguay closed its borders, so the Elks fled to friends in Antwerp, Belgium. Since Charlotte had been born in Thionville she was able to immigrate to the United States more easily than her parents. With the aid of a distant cousin in New Jersey she left Europe on the S.S. Pennland on September 26, 1939. On board the Pennland she met an American of German ancestry, Ludlow Chester Grosse.

Charlotte Elk lived first with her relatives in Passaic, New Jersey, but soon took a room in Manhattan. In May 1940 Belgium was invaded and Charlotte lost contact with her parents until December, when they cabled her from Spain. With the help of Grosse, who supplied affidavits for Benjamin and Aenne, they arrived in New York via Cuba in May 1941. In December 1941 Charlotte Elk received notification that Hans Ansbach, her fiancé, had been deported and killed in Poland.

In January 1943 Charlotte found a position as a photocopyist with Amitas, a branch of a Belgian firm. That April she and her close friend Ludlow Grosse married. In May 1944 she became an American citizen. At some point during the mid-1940s she and Ludlow Grosse divorced, and in 1947 a friend reintroduced her to salesman Helmut Zernik, whom she had known in Frankfurt.

Helmut Zernik was born September 25, 1911 in Berlin, but grew up in Frankfurt am Main. On Kristallnacht he was sent to the Dachau concentration camp with his father, and remained there for three months until his mother was able to arrange a steamship ticket to Shanghai for him. He arrived in Shanghai on April 25, 1939. From October 1940 through August 1944 he was employed as a bicycle and radio mechanic and salesman; From November 1946 until his departure from Shanghai in May 1947 he worked in the migration department of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. On April 18, 1948 he and Charlotte Elk married. They spent the rest of their lives in New York City, but often spent summers in Connecticut.

During the 1950s, Charlotte Zernik traveled to Europe to visit friends and family and it was on a passage home that she became acquainted with architect Walter Gropius. In 1962 she left her position with Amitas and visited her uncle Max Elk in Israel. Charlotte Elk Zernik died on April 13, 1996 in New York. Helmut Zernik died in Connecticut on June 30, 2003.


1.5 Linear Feet


The Elk-Zernik Family Collection provides documentation on the lives of several family members, especially Rabbi Max (Meir) Elk, dentist Benjamin Elk, Helmut Zernik and Charlotte Elk Zernik. The collection also holds the written compositions of several family members, including the sermons and articles of Max Elk and the autobiographical writing of Charlotte Elk Zernik. Other material includes a photo album and family photographs, a scrapbook, official papers and certificates, letters, some correspondence and clippings.

Related Material

Charlotte E. Zernik's book Im Sturm der Zeit; ein persoenliches Document is available in the LBI Library [DS 135 G5 Z47].

The LBI Library also includes a book by Julius Elk: Die juedischen Kolonien in Russland; Kulturhistorische Studie und Beitrag zur Geschichte der Juden in Russland. Nach den Berichten des russisch-israelitischen Journal's "Woschod" und nach eigenen in den russisch-juedischen Kolonien selbst gemachten Beobachtungen bearbeitet [DS 135 R9 E46].

Separated Material

Superfluous copies of identical material, mostly photocopies of typescripts of Max Elk and Charlotte Elk's writings, were removed from the collection during processing.

Two copies of Julius Elk's 1886 book Die juedischen Kolonien in Russland were removed to the LBI Library. The library already holds a copy of this book [DS 135 R9 E46].

Processing Information

The collection was processed in 2012 to create an online finding aid. With no observable original order, similar materials were brought together to form series. Superfluous copies of identical material, mostly photocopies of typescripts of Max Elk and Charlotte Elk's writings, were removed from the collection.

Guide to the Papers of the Elk-Zernik Family 1880-1998 AR 10835
Processed by Dianne Ritchey and LBI Staff
© 2012
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Edition statement
This version was derived from Elk-ZernikFamily.xml

Revision Statements

  • March 26, 2015 : dao links added by Emily Andresini.

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States