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The Goebbels Connection: Romantic Mystery Behind the Arlosoroff Assassination

They were both unusual characters. He – head of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency, a bright young star in the Zionist movement during the 1930’s; she – a Third Reich celebrity and the renowned wife of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda. Were they romantically involved? Can Joseph Goebbels be standing behind the most famous unsolved crime in the history of Zionism? Is he the answer to the most repeatedly asked question in Zionist mythology: who was responsible for the assassination of Haim Arlosoroff?

Magda Goebbels and Haim Arlosoroff were almost the same age. She was born in 1901 and he was two years older. Both had quite unusual life. Magda was born in Berlin to the Ritschel family, her parents separated when she was a child. Her mother, Augusta, remarried to a wealthy Belgian Jew by the name of Richard Friedlander. Rumors, never neither verified nor refuted, had it that he was in fact Magda’s biological father, one way or the other it was Friedlander who raised Magda and she even carried his family name for several years. Augusta and Richard separated after a few years, and during the holocaust Richard asked for Magda’s help in fleeing from the Nazis, however no attempt by her to help him is recorded, and he was perished in the holocaust. When Magda was 20 years old she married Günther Quandt, who was 17 years older than her, and they had one son, whose daughter, who grew up knowing who her grandmother was, decided to convert to Judaism.

Haim Arlosoroff. From Beit Hatfutsot photo exhibition: "A Century of Zionist Immigration to Eretz Israel",1981. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center

Haim Arlosoroff. From Beit Hatfutsot photo exhibition: “A Century of Zionist Immigration to Eretz Israel”,1981. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center

Haim Arlosoroff was born in the Russian Empire; his family moved to Germany after the Kishinev pogroms and settled in Berlin. The young Arlosoroff, who came from a dynasty of rabbis, stood out in various schools, and by the age of 21, after the end of World War I, he already had Doctorate in economics. He married Gerda Goldberg and they had a child. Haim was a prominent member in the Zionist leadership, standing out for his young age, sharp analytic skills, and broad education. He was also extremely charismatic and popular among women.

Their first encounter was during the First World War. Magda lived with her parents in Belgium, from which they were deported and had to return to Germany. She was only 13, anxious for new contacts, thus became close friend with Liza Arlosoroff, Haim’s sister. She often visited his home and it was told that she had a warm close relationship with the family, including attending Jewish festivals held at their home.

Magda and Haim knew each other well and were close friends. After the war each of them married, yet they maintained a close friendship, especially through Liza. It all changed when Arlosoroff received his doctorate, and decided to execute his Zionist ideology and immigrate to Israel, where he soon joined the local politics.

Sitting on the left: Sima Rubin (Arlosoroff), with friends from at a Trip to Berlin, 1922. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Shmuel Levitin

Sitting on the left: Sima Rubin (Arlosoroff), with friends from at a Trip to Berlin, 1922. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Shmuel Levitin

Back in Germany, Magda’s marriage to Quandt was falling apart. People said she had many lovers, and was feeling choked living with an older man who did not understand her needs and wished. They eventually split in 1929. Two years earlier Haim too divorced his wife and remarried Sima – his second wife, who would be the only eyewitness to his murder.

Arlosorff was a rising star in Zionist politics. His extraordinary literacy in many languages, his charisma and wisdom made him the perfect man for missions around the world, raising supporters and funds. During the 1920’s he visited Germany many times, which was a fine opportunity to reattach with Magda, who was by now a wealthy divorcee. There are stories indicating that she was very fond of him, and that he tried to persuade her to acknowledge the just causes of the Zionist concept, and the significance of Aliyah. Some said she even considered converting and coming to Palestine, being already accustomed to replacing identities and faiths, having a Jewish foster father and then after her marriage, removing the Jewish name and converting from Catholic to Protestant.

Their relationship ceased, probably in 1930, after Magda met Joseph Goebbels, whom she married the following year. We learn about the events from a letter Haim wrote to his wife Sima in May 1933, regarding Magda’s new relationship with Goebbels: “Dr. Joseph Goebbels, minister of propaganda of the German Reich, of all the women, needs to marry my old friend Magda Friedlander, later Maria Magdalena Quandt. If you are interested, Liza can tell you about the whole adventurous life tale of this school mate of hers.”

The wedding of Magda and Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler in the back. December 1931. (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R32860 Creative Commons)

The wedding of Magda and Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler in the back. December 1931. (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R32860 Creative Commons)

Interestingly Arlosoroff used Magda’s youth surname. It is also interesting that he was well aware of Magda’s uncommon lifestyle. Whether they had a love affair while he was married to Sima is unclear, for he certainly did not avoid discussing Magda with his wife and even encourage Sima to talk with Liza about Magda, therefore it seems more likely they were merely friends rather than lovers.

A month after this letter was sent, Arlosoroff was murdered – a traumatic shock resulting in a split within the Jewish “Yishuv”. Just before his death, Arlosoroff was appointed head of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency, causing a conflict for trying to form an agreement with Nazi Germany regarding saving German Jews and their property. As far as we know he did not try to make use of his long acquaintance with Magda, now happily married to Hitler’s close consultant and senior minister.

Magda committed suicide along with her husband Joseph and their six children using cyanide, a day after Hitler’s suicide in the Berlin bunker in May 1945. After Arlosoroff’s assassination, assumptions were made about the possibility that Goebbels, furious and jealous, sent German Templers, supporters of the Nazis, to kill Arlosoroff after he found out about his wife’s affair with the Jewish public figure. These assumptions were never proven. It seems that the exceptional characters of both Haim and Magda, as well as the historical turbulence of that time – produced this historical mystery that might never be fully resolved.

“Davar” headline on June 17, 1933, a day after the assassination

“DAVAR” headline on June 17, 1933, a day after the assassination

(Translated from Hebrew by Danna Paz Prins)

Dor Saar-Man