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Ellen Otten Collection

Identifier: AR 25106 / MF 698

Scope and Contents

The Ellen Otten Family Collection is divided into seven series. The first half of the collection is concerned with Ellen Otten and her husband, writer Karl Otten. Their records are contained in Series I to Series III. Due to Ellen's interest in genealogy, the second half of the collection focuses on the family histories of the Kroner, Kastan, and Senger families. Since the histories of these families are intertwined, records regarding specific individuals are found in more than one series, in particular those materials referring to Jenny Kroner (née Kastan) and Hedwig Kastan (née Senger).

Series I contains personal and professional documents belonging to Karl and Ellen Otten, including birth certificates, academic records, marriage records, and citizenship documents.

Series II, which constitutes one of the larger series in the collection, holds Ellen Otten's correspondence from her childhood up to her inheritance of Karl's literary oeuvre in 1963. There is also correspondence with Ellen Kroner's family members as well as legal correspondence concerning the multiple relocations conducted by Ellen and Karl.

Karl and Ellen Otten's memorabilia may be found in Series III, such as newspaper clippings and cards announcing Karl's death, duplicates from the photograph collection and recipes.

Series IV consists of genealogical material about the Kroner and Frenckel families. The files document the lives of Ellen's paternal grandparents, Moritz and Emilie Kroner (née Frenckel), through marriage records, medical records, photo albums, and genealogical charts. The remainder of the series contains records referring to Heinrich Kroner, Ellen's father, including correspondence to his wife, Jenny (née Kastan). Please note that more material about Jenny Kroner may be found in Series V.

Records of the Kastan family are held in Series V. Some examples are mourning books, correspondence, a photo of the Kastan, Kroner and Senger families and Jenny Kroner's birth certificate.

Series VI contains material concerning the history of the Senger family. In addition to the family chart and a file related to Michaelis and Amalie Senger (née Solmsen), there is a folder for each child: Louis Senger, Louis and Doris Aschkinass (née Senger), Fanny Senger, Hermann Senger, Ferdinand and Hedwig Kastan (née Senger), and Elise (Lieschen) Senger. The largest folder is that of Ferdinand and Hedwig Kastan, Ellen Otten's maternal grandparents. This file holds birth and other certificates, marriage records, citizenship and immigration records.

The last series, Series VII, consists of one folder containing miscelleanous items that refer to the entire collection. There are several pieces of correspondence from unidentified authors as well as photographs of an unidentified man.


  • Creation: 1787-1998


Language of Materials

The collection is in German, English and Italian.

Access Restrictions

Open to researchers.

Access Information

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

Collection is microfilmed (MF 698).

Readers may access the collection by visiting the Lillian Goldman Reading Room at the Center for Jewish History. We recommend reserving the collection in advance; please visit the LBI Online Catalog and click on the "Request" button.

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

Ellen Emilie Hedwig Otten (née Kroner) was born on June 28th 1909 to Jenny Kroner (née Kastan) and her husband, lawyer Heinrich Kroner. Ellen grew up in an upper-class household with her older brother Lux Ludwig (born on June 14th 1906). After the early death of her parents in 1928 and 1929, Ellen gave up her academic studies in the field of law and never completed any other professional training. Instead, she was always committed to the work of her business partner, and later husband, Karl Otten (1889-1963) who she met in 1930.

Karl Otten was an expressionist author who had been held in custody during World War I due to his anti-military activities. Throughout the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), he was a co-worker for democratic journals and supported the idea of a revolutionary reorganization of society in the sense of a messianic communism. He had foreseen the political development in Germany as early as 1932 and convinced Ellen to cancel the lease for her Berlin apartment. Karl Otten left Berlin on March 12th 1933 for Paris, a few days before his apartment got searched and all male residents present at the site were arrested. Ellen followed him five days later. Eventually they both moved to the island of Mallorca, Spain.

According to the documents included in this collection, Karl Otten and Ellen Kroner were planning to establish a weaving business. They had already purchased a handloom in anticipation of their potential business. This prospect was shattered, however, by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Ellen and Karl were forced to flee to England in the fall of that year.

On April 8th 1939, Karl Otten and Ellen Kroner married. In England, Karl worked for the Propaganda Department of the BBC. After he went blind, in 1944, Ellen began working for the BBC instead. She was responsible for selecting possible articles and reports that were then translated and offered to foreign radio stations as part of a British propagandist movement.

Both Karl and Ellen were interested in researching and preserving German-Jewish culture, in particular German avante-garde literature, which was effectively eliminated with the rise of Nationalist Socialism. Once Karl had lost his sight, Ellen assisted him in writing his prose and prepared and edited his anthologies of this lost literary genre. The need to save the works of German-Jewish authors drove Ellen to conduct extensive research in second-hand bookstores. She typed, edited and researched biographies of the many forgotten and missing Jewish writers. In addition, she traced their addresses or those of their heirs.

In 1958, Ellen and Karl Otten moved to Locarno at Lago Maggiore in Tessin, Switzerland in order to be closer to a German-speaking community. This move was intended to make communication with German publishers and broadcasting stations easier. Karl Otten died soon after the move on April 4th 1963; however Ellen continued working. In 1965, she edited writings of the author and philosopher Salomo Friedlander (also known as Mynona), while the following year she edited the correspondence of publisher Kurt Wolf, in cooperation with Bernhard Zeller. Other notable publications include a bibliography of Karl Otten's expressionist prose and translations of seven books by writer Isaac Bashevi Singer. She died in Locarno on December 9th, 1999.


1 Linear Feet


This collection details the life of Ellen Otten (1909-1999) and her husband, author Karl Otten (1889-1963). The records span from their childhoods, to their move to Spain at the onset of World War II, and their subsequent moves to both England and, finally, Switzerland. Although the majority of the files narrate the professional and personal life of Karl and Ellen, there is also a fair amount of documentation concerning the lives of Ellen's relatives, including the Kroner, Frenckel, Kastan, and Senger families. Some salient topics covered by this collection include German-Jewish daily life, immigration, and genealogical research.


The collection is arranged in six series.

  1. Series I: Professional and Personal Documents, 1929-1997
  2. Series II: Correspondence, 1916-1967
  3. Series III: Memorabilia, 1960-1963 and 1998
  4. Series IV: Kroner and Frenckel Families, 1787-1997
  5. Series V: Kastan Family, 1796-1990
  6. Series VI: Senger Family, 1837-1925
  7. Series VII: Miscellaneous, undated


Collection is available on 2 reels of microfilm (MF 698).

  1. Reel 1: 1/1-1/29
  2. Reel 2: 1/30-1/55

Separated Material

Several pieces of realia have also been removed from the collection. These consist of an iron chain, an iron bracelet of a patriotic nature, and an engraved, silver cigarette case.

Guide to the Papers of the Ellen Otten Family (1909-1999) , 1787-1998   AR 25106 / MF 698
Processed by Iris Homann
© 2006
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.

Revision Statements

  • May 2011: Links to digital objects added in Container List.

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States