Wolff family papers

Language of Description
Alt. Identifiers
  • 2004.387.1
1 Jan 1938 - 31 Dec 1947
Level of Description
  • German
  • English
EHRI Partner

Extent and Medium


oversize box




Biographical History

John Wolff was born Hans Bruno Wolff in Berlin, Germany, on May 5, 1925. His younger sister, Marianne, was born in Berlin on July 2, 1928. Their parents, Josef Wolff (b. September 22, 1892) and Hedwig Wolff (b. July 29, 1898), met and married in Berlin after moving there from the western part of Germany. The family resided in the Schöneberg section of Berlin, and Josef Wolff worked as a merchant representative in the office of his brother-in-law, Felix Wolff. Josef fought in the German Army during WWI and was awarded the Iron Cross for his service. He was a member of the RJF – “Reichsbund Jüdischer Frontsoldaten” (Association of Jewish Veterans). The Wolff family was not highly religious but observed Jewish High Holidays. In 1938 Hans celebrated his Bar Mitzvah. Beginning in 1936, Jewish children were not allowed in German public schools. Hans and Marianne were enrolled in the Luise Zickel Jewish private school in Berlin, as were about 250 other Jewish children. Miss Zickel, the owner of the school, had advertised in English newspapers for an English teacher to teach in her school. The Berlin Jewish community, including the educational institutions, was determined to prepare its members for emigration. Kenneth Dobson, a young Cambridge University graduate from Scarborough, England, responded to the advertisement. He wanted to become proficient in the German language and became a faculty member at the Zickel School. The required curriculum did not include English, so students had to pay for these lessons in addition to the regular tuition. All the members of the Wolff family became Kenneth’s students. Josef had already applied for a United States immigration visa and arranged for an affidavit from his older brother, Gus, who lived in Brooklyn, NY. On December 13, 1938, the Wolff family was placed on the visa waiting list by the American Consulate in Berlin. Kenneth became close with the family and inquired about their immigration plans. Josef told him that the children would go to Sweden to stay with his business acquaintance, while the parents would wait in Berlin for their U.S. visas. Kenneth suggested that Hans and Marianne should go to Scarborough, England, to stay with his own family and their parents could go to Sweden rather than stay in Berlin. On June 5, 1939, Hans and Marianne Wolff left Berlin on the Kindertransport for England via Hoek van Holland (Hook of Holland), Netherlands. The next day the children were welcomed by Kenneth’s parents who owned and operated a small hotel in Scarborough, Yorkshire. The Dobsons had two younger children of their own, Margaret (b.1921) and Frank (b. 1923). Kenneth arranged for another Jewish girl from the Zickel School, Gisela Graupe, to stay with the Dobson family. The children helped in the kitchen and in the dining room of the Dobsons’ hotel during the summer months. Hans and Marianne attended local high schools, graduating with certificates. The Dobsons also made sure that Hans could continue to receive private violin lessons. Josef and Hedwig arrived in Malmö, Sweden, on June 28, 1939, received their U.S. visas, and nine months later traveled to the United States. They were employed to work on an estate in Westchester County, NY. In January 1945, Hans and Marianne joined their parents, then living in the Washington Heights section of New York City. In August 1945, Hans was drafted in the U.S. Army and assigned to the Air Force. He soon changed his first name to John. In December 1945, John’s unit was sent to Germany to serve with the Army of Occupation. He was stationed in Erlangen, Germany, near Nuremberg. During his military service, he became an American citizen in a naturalization ceremony in Paris, France. He returned to America in December 1946 to be honorably discharged. In February 1947, taking advantage of the GI bill, he enrolled in Hunter College in New York City where Marianne was already a student. In early 1945, John’s school friend from Berlin, Marion Freyer, located him through the Jewish-German newspaper, Aufbau. Soon after John received his B.S. in chemistry from Hunter College, he and Marion were married in Baltimore, MD, on June 25, 1950. The young couple settled in Baltimore where John enrolled in the Johns Hopkins University graduate program. In 1955 he received a Ph.D. in Biology (Biochemistry). Marianne lived with her parents in New York City and graduated from Hunter College with a B.A. in physiology. In 1948 she was accepted at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. She received her M.D. there in 1952, married, and became a pathologist. As of July 2004 Dr. Marianne Wolff is retired from her medical practice. She has two sons. In 1958, John and Marion adopted a baby girl in Germany whom they named Rebecca. John has had a long and successful career as a scientist at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, and retired in 1990. He is an accomplished musician and plays the viola in a symphony orchestra as well as in chamber groups. His wife, Marion, a retired math teacher, has written two books describing her family history and the process of adopting their daughter.

Archival History

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum


United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of John B. Wolff

The collection was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2004 by John B. and Marianne Wolff.

Scope and Content

The collection documents the childhoods of siblings John and Marianne Wolff in Berlin, Germany, their immigration to England via Kindertransport in 1939, and eventual immigration to the United States in 1945. Included are documents and photographs.

System of Arrangement

The collection is arranged as aingle series.



This description is derived directly from structured data provided to EHRI by a partner institution. This collection holding institution considers this description as an accurate reflection of the archival holdings to which it refers at the moment of data transfer.