Appenzeller and Dukes families papers

Language of Description
Alt. Identifiers
  • 2017.517.1
Level of Description
EHRI Partner

Extent and Medium


oversize folder




Biographical History

Erna Appenzeller (later Ernie Kent, b. 1929) was born in Vienna, Austria, to William (1883-1961) and Irma Dukes Appenzeller (1892-1985). William, the second of three boys, was born in Dolina, Austria-Hungary, to Max (Mordko) and Rische Sindler Appenzeller. William’s older brother, Samuel, moved to Vienna and established a successful ladies’ wear business. At 14, William joined Samuel and established himself as a successful businessman, importing and exporting buttons. In 1914 he was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army and fought on the Russian Front. After the war, William returned to Vienna and continued his button business. In 1926, he married Irma Dukes. Irma, the youngest of five children, was born in the Floridsdorf district of Vienna to Gabriel and Ernestine Neuwirth Dukes. Gabriel owned a successful coal and wood business and provided his family with a comfortable life. Gabriel was president of the synagogue for many years and the Dukes were an integral part of the local Jewish community. Erna had a happy childhood and as the youngest child in her extended family, she was spoiled by her relatives. She had a younger brother, Max, who was born disabled and died as a baby. The family were conscious Jews but not overly observant, had a large apartment, and enjoyed a comfortable middle class life. Erna belonged to a gymnastics club and was close with her cousin Ernstl. On March 13, 1938 Austria was annexed into Germany, in what became known as the Anschluss. German authorities quickly created new legislation that restricted Jewish life. Jews were arrested, required to report their assets, and segregated in public places. The Appenzeller’s gentile maid could no longer work for them, and the Montessori school that Erna attended was shut down. During the Kristallnacht pogrom on November 10, Jews in the Floridsdorf district were arrested and held for 48 hours and her father’s business was taken and Aryanized. Erna and her parents hid at a friend’s house for 24 hours to stay safe from the violence. Many relatives lost their homes and some came to live at the apartment. After Kristallnacht Erna’s family began seeking ways to leave Austria, but visas were difficult to acquire. Both of William’s brothers, their wives, and two of their children were able to immigrate to Palestine before the war. Samuel’s daughter immigrated to the United States. Erna’s cousin Ernstl, the son of her father’s youngest brother, was sent to France on a children’s transport in 1938, and was housed in a mansion the Rothschilds’ entrusted for that purpose. After the fall of France, he was transported to the unoccupied French zone and joined the French Resistance. Irma’s sister and brother, along with their spouses, were deported to German occupied Poland in 1941 and 1942 where they were murdered. Frieda and Rudolf’s daughter, Gerty, went to England and worked as a maid. Their son Ernstl was arrested after the Anschluss. He was released and went to Hungary and then England in 1939. He joined the British army and changed his name to Peter Graham to protect him from Germans during the war. For six weeks in the summer of 1939, Italy allowed anyone with a valid passport into the country. In August, Erna and her family hid their personal items in a lift van, left Austria and went to Milan, Italy, where they rented a room from an elderly couple. The Nazis later found the van and took its contents. On June 10, 1940, Italy entered World War II as a German ally and the Nazis demanded that Italy intern or deport its Jewish refugees to Germany. Erna’s father secured a travel visa to Panama which allowed him to get a visa for Spain and Portugal. The family went to Rome, flew to Barcelona, and then took a train to Lisbon. They arrived on November 3, 1940 and found Lisbon full of refugees fleeing German occupied Europe. With financial support from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the family rented a room for a month. They were able to move to another room, where Erna got a small storage room to sleep in, her first room separate from her parents in 18 months. While in Lisbon, Erna went to refugee school with classes taught by refugee teachers. When the teacher emigrated their class ended. Everyday Erna went to the soup kitchen and brought meals home for her parents. On June 6, 1941 Erna and her family received American visas. On June 12, they boarded the SS Serpa Pinto and left for the United States. The ship was designed for 100 passengers but was crowded with 600 people. On June 22, the family arrived in New York City. They stayed at the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society (HIAS) building for six weeks, and then rented a room. Erna’s father got a job as a clerk, her mother was a cleaning woman, and Erna attended a real school for the first time in three years. Later, Erna married John Honig, a fellow Viennese refugee, and they had two children. In 1975 Erna and John divorced and in 1978 she married Jack Kent. Erna worked as a lobbyist and as a policy analyst for the Maryland Department of Economic Development until her retirement in 2001.

Archival History

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum


United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Ernie A. Kent

Donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2017 by Ernie A. Kent.

Scope and Content

The Dukes and Appenzeller families papers include a 1945 autobiographical essay by Erna Appenzeller; birth certificates, a marriage certificate, a tax document, passports, and naturalization papers for William, Irma, and Erna Appenzeller; photographs of the Dukes and Appenzeller families and their friends; a 1940 postcard from Irma’s sister Frieda Grün and her husband Rudolf; and restitution files documenting William Appenzeller, Irma Dukes Appenzeller, and Erna Appenzeller (Ernie Kent) from Vienna, their immigration to the United States, and their efforts to receive restitution for losses suffered during the Holocaust.

System of Arrangement

The Dukes and Appenzeller families papers are arranged as six folders: 1) Autobiographical essay by Erna Appenzeller, 1945, 2) Biographical material, 1937-1946, 3) Photographs, approximately 1893-1940, 4) Postcard from Frieda and Rudolf Grün, 1940, 5) Restitution, 1956-1968, 1990-1998, OS 1) Ketubah.




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.