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Rahn Family Collection

 Collection
Identifier: AR 25538

Scope and Content Note

The Rahn Family Collection consists of documents assembled in the creation of Ruth Rahn Budd's family narrative, the book From Generation to Generation: a Family Story. Like the book, the documents center around the lives of Alfred and Lilli (née Bechmann) Rahn, but also contain many documents of their parents, siblings, and even more distant family. The collection also documents the family members' attempts to receive restitution for their losses. The collection includes a large amount of correspondence, official, personal, and legal documents, photographs and photo albums, financial documentation, manuscripts and fragments of creative and academic writing, family trees and genealogical notes, newspaper clippings, poetry, educational certificates and diplomas, texts of lectures, teaching materials, a few recipes, and other papers.

The life of Alfred Rahn is one prominent topic of this collection. The first subseries of Series I opens with a folder of his courtship correspondence with Lilli Bechmann, his later wife, depicting their initial conversations with each other. In the second subseries of Series I will be found extensive documentation of the trial of Alfred Rahn for incorrectly reporting financial information prior to the family's planned emigration, and his eventual imprisonment in a prison in Nuremberg. His letters home to his wife Lilli will be found among the correspondence of the first subseries, with description of his days in incarceration, and a few reflections on his regrets of this time. A small amount of correspondence and personal papers in Series I document his later life in Denver, as well as some of the photographs in Series IV.

Lilli Rahn's experiences will similarly be found primarily in Series I. Several folders of her courtship letters to Alfred Rahn are located there, and in Subseries 2 of Series I are examples of her early creative writing, including poetry for Alfred Rahn, along with short stories and essays. Academic essays and manuscripts of longer papers created during her pursuit of her doctoral degree will also be found in Subseries 2. Series I additionally holds a small amount of her correspondence with friends, an autobiographical essay that includes description of her experiences while Alfred was in prison, and material from her time teaching American soldiers German at the University of Denver during the 1940s. A small amount of papers, especially newspaper clippings, relate to her work with the Denver chapter of Hadassah. Additionally, there is some documentation of the Rahn family's immigration experiences as well as of the Lilli Bechmann-Rahn prize established at the University of Erlangen in the 1990s.

Series II focuses on the Rahn and Bechmann families, and holds the papers of the parents and siblings of Alfred and Lilli Rahn as well as of more distant cousins, grandparents, and other family members. In addition, this series contains documents that relate to the M.S. Farrnbacher firm established by the Farrnbacher family and which passed eventually to the Rahn family, and of the Bechmann family's mirror glass factory. Deaths and marriages of family members are also documented, and Series II also includes several folders of family trees and genealogical research.

The restitution efforts of various family members is located in Series III, especially focusing on restitution for Alfred and Lilli Rahn, Johanna Rahn, and Ida Bechmann, but also including Max Rahn. The copious amount of restitution documentation consists of many letters with lawyers, requesting assistance or clarification, along with related documentation required by German government agencies. This documentation provides further evidence of the family's immigration experiences as well as of the properties and possessions owned by them prior to their emigration. This series also documents the family's finances.

The final series of the collection, Series IV, holds many loose photographs and photo albums in addition to a few glass negatives and some vacation slides. The photographs depict many of the individuals and family groups represented in this collection as well as showing some of their homes, vacations, and trips.

Dates

  • 1809-2010
  • Majority of material found within 1928-1960

Creator

Language of Materials

The collection is primarily in German, English, and Swedish, with small amounts of Hebrew and French.

Access Restrictions

Open to researchers.

Access Information

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 "Reserve" 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

email: lbaeck@lbi.cjh.org

Biographical Note

On January 28, 1901 Alfred Hermann Rahn was born in Fürth, Germany to Sidney and Johanna (née Goldmann) Rahn. Sidney Rahn owned the family metalworks business, M.S. Farrnbacher. The firm had been in the family for generations, originally owned by members of Sidney Rahn's mother's family, the Farrnbachers, and produced iron and metal products. The Rahn family lived upstairs from the metalworks. Alfred had an older brother, James, who was hydrocephalic, and a younger brother, Max. After attending Heinrich Schliemann Gymnasium (high school), and working in a bank and an accounting position, Alfred Rahn joined the family business in 1928. When his father died two years later, Alfred led the firm.

Lilli Bechmann was the daughter of the businessman Hugo Bechmann and his wife Ida Bechmann (née Metzger) and was born in Fürth on February 10, 1911. Hugo Bechmann was the owner of a mirror glass factory, founded in the 1840s as W. Bechmann, but renamed under Hugo Bechmann as the Bayerische Spiegel- und Spiegelglass Fabriken AG (Bavarian Mirror and Mirror Glass Factories AG). After completing the Städtisches Mädchenlyzeum (high school) Lilli Bechmann spent one year in Geneva at a finishing school before returning to Fürth for one year at the Oberrrealschule so she could attend university. Beginning in May 1930, she attended the universities of Freiburg, Berlin, Vienna, and Erlangen, studying philosophy, history of philosophy, theatre, and the history of theatre. In 1934 she received her doctoral diploma in philosophy from the University of Erlangen with the dissertation Der Darmstädter Freundeskreis. Ein Beitrag zum Verständnis der empfindsamen Seelenhaltung des 18. Jahrhunderts (The Darmstadt Circle of Friends. A Contribution to the Comprehension of the Sentimental Conception of Soul of the Eighteenth Century). In addition to her academic interests she often wrote poetry. From 1934-1936 she reorganized the library of the Jewish Community of Fürth.

At some point around 1929 Lilli Bechmann met Alfred Rahn. They both shared a love of the outdoors, and frequently went hiking and skiing in the mountains and wrote each other often when separated. Due to the hereditary illness of Alfred's brother James, who was born hydrocephalic and suffered from schizophrenia, the couple, and especially Alfred, had reservations about marrying and having children. However, on July 3, 1933, they did marry and three years later their first daughter, Ruth Marion, was born.

In 1935 Alfred Rahn travelled with his mother to New York in order to determine if the family ought to leave Germany; his brother Max already was living in the United States and was now an American citizen residing in Puerto Rico, where he worked for a cigar business. However, believing that the difficulties for Jews in Germany wouldn't last and reluctant to sell a family business of generations, they decided against leaving. By the summer of 1937 the Rahns had changed their minds and sold M.S. Farrnbacher to an Aryan business by November. With the help of Max Rahn they received visas for America in November 1937 and planned to leave Germany at the end of December. However, the Nazi approval for the sale of M.S. Farrnbacher never occurred, and on December 25, 1937 Alfred Rahn was arrested for attempting to hide funds. The following month he was sentenced to fourteen months in prison.

While Alfred Rahn remained in prison in Nuremberg, Lilli Rahn began efforts to secure the family's immigration visas, which otherwise would expire in March 1938. Although at first having been informed that their visas would be extended, the consul revoked Alfred Rahn's visa due to a claim of moral turpitude. Max Rahn went to Washington, D.C. to advocate his brother's case and on December 31, 1938, the Attorney General, Homer Cummings, intervened, deciding in favor of Alfred Rahn. Two days after Alfred Rahn was released from prison the family, including Ruth's nurse, Helen Lorz, received new American visas. After a brief stay in Paris, the Rahns left for America, arriving on April 15, 1939 in New York.

After exploring conditions in New York, Alfred and Lilli left Ruth with her grandmother (Johanna Rahn) and her nurse in New York and left to find a location that would suit the family better. They arrived in Denver, Colorado, in July 1939. Although they knew no one in Denver, the location and the mountains reminded them of the mountainous areas of Bavaria they had left behind and they decided to stay. Alfred found a job, and eventually bought the John S. Worthington Company, a firm that produced roofing and steel products. After the war he became sales manager for Continental Steel and Penn Metal Company. From 1942-1944 Lilli Rahn taught at Denver University, giving courses in the history of the theater and in German, teaching the latter as part of the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP). On January 21, 1945 Alfred and Lilli Rahn's second daughter, Evelyn, was born.

In April 1945 Alfred and Lilli Rahn were successful in bringing Ida Bechmann, Lilli's mother, to the United States from Sweden, where she had spent the war and where her husband Hugo Bechmann had died. She later changed her surname to Beckman. After staying with the Rahns for a short while she decided to find a job and live on her own, even though she had spent her life in a well-to-do family with servants and had never worked before. She eventually found a position in the dietary kitchens of the National Jewish Hospital in Denver. Ida Bechmann died in 1978. Alfred Rahn's mother, Johanna Rahn, had arrived in the United States in October 1938. She also lived with the Rahn family in Denver for a time, but later moved to a home for the elderly. Johanna Rahn died in 1965; her husband Sidney had died in 1930 in Fürth.

Shortly after her arrival in Denver, Lilli Rahn joined the Jewish women's organization Hadassah. She became president of the Denver Chapter, and later National Vice-President of the organization. She also was a member of its National Board. She chaired several Hadassah committees and travelled to Israel multiple times between 1954 and 1968 as Hadassah's representative.

Beginning in 1959, Lilli Rahn also began a fight against cancer. Over the next eleven years she had surgeries to combat it, but after a skiing accident in April 1970 it was discovered that the cancer had metastasized. She died on December 27, 1970. The following day Alfred Rahn committed suicide, unable to live without his Lilli.

After their parents' death, Ruth and Evelyn gave funds to Hadassah Hospital in Alfred and Lilli Rahn's honor, with a plaque commemorating them and in 1995 established a scholarship at the Hadassah College of Technology in their names. In 1999 the philosophy department of the University of Erlangen established the Lilli Bechmann-Rahn Prize to be given annually to the best doctoral dissertation. In 2012 Ruth Rahn Budd published the book From Generation to Generation: a Family Story.

Extent

6.75 Linear Feet

Abstract

The Rahn Family Collection centers on the lives of Alfred and Lilli (née Bechmann) Rahn, but also contains many documents of their parents, siblings, and even more distant family members. It also documents the family members' attempts to receive restitution for their losses. The collection includes a large amount of correspondence, official, personal, and legal documents, photographs and photo albums, financial documentation, manuscripts and fragments of creative and academic writing, family trees and genealogical notes, newspaper clippings, poetry, educational certificates and diplomas, texts of lectures, teaching materials, a few recipes, and other papers.

Related Material

The LBI Library contains the book From Generation to Generation: a Family Story by Ruth Rahn Budd (st 6165).

The LBI Archives holds the Tuchmann Family Collection, which includes a memoir by Walter Bierer (AR 1401). The LBI Archives also contain Doris Metzger's memoir "Our Lives" (ME 1044).

Separated Material

A copy of the book From Generation to Generation: a Family Story was removed to the LBI Library. Books of poetry featuring poems by Lilli Rahn were removed to the LBI Library, with copies of the poems and the books' titles retained in the archival collection. Also removed to the LBI Library were two copies of Lilli Rahn's published dissertation, Der Darmstädter Freundeskreis. Ein Beitrag zum Verständnis der empfindsamen Seelenhaltung des 18. Jahrhunderts. A tourist publication on Erlangen and duplicate published illustrations of Fürth were also removed from the archival collection to the LBI Library. Three framed oil paintings and a wooden fan have been removed to the LBI Art and Objects Collection.

Processing Information

Since the archival collection had little original order, series and subseries were established during processing of the collection. Basic preservation actions were also undertaken at this time.
Title
Guide to the Papers of the Rahn Family 1809-2010 AR 25538
Status
In Progress
Author
Processed by Dianne Ritchey
Date
© 2015
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Edition statement
This version was derived from RahnFamily.xml

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

Contact:
15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States