January 27, 2020

A tale of two cousins – The Natzlers

The artists, Otto & Gertrude Natzler, were the husband and wife team whose fabulous pottery designs made them famous throughout the 1940s, '50s and '60s. And now their creations are selling for thousands of dollars. One vase of theirs actually sold for nearly $94,000 at an auction in 2011.

Although they became famous in Southern California, first they had to get out of Nazi occupied Austria.

Meanwhile Otto's relatives were playing an important role in my childhood.

But let me start at the beginning.

A few years ago, while watching a particular episode of “The Antique Road Show”, one guest brought some pottery by the Natzlers to be evaluated. And that caught my attention since NATZLER was a name I grew up with.

Dr. Adolf Natzler and his wife, Hedwig, had been very dear friends of my parents ever since they all arrived together in Los Angeles in 1933, as German/Jewish refugees.  Adolph had been a renowned orthopedic surgeon in Germany.

Hedwig & Dr. Adolph Natzler. Photo courtesy P. Vanlaw

But we lost track of them by the time I was ten or eleven.

So, hearing the Natzler name again after so many years, piqued my curiosity. Suddenly I needed to find out if Otto and Adolph were actually related.

A simple search for the surname “Natzler” on the internet linked me to a woman who found that Adolf and Hedwig's daughter, Marlies, was still alive and living in a retirement community an hour's drive away.

Marlies Natzler. Photo courtesy of P. Vanlaw  

I hadn't seen Marlies in over 60 years. So we spent a lot of time catching up. I was able to videotape part of our meeting, which provided much vital information about her family:

Marlies's father, Adolph, was actually Otto's first cousin, although he was 26 years older. They were the sons of two Natzler brothers, Alois and Siegmund, both part of a large enclave of Viennese Natzlers.

But Adolf's family moved to Bavaria when he was still a small child. So, he grew up there and went to medical school in Munich.

As a student, he received a facial scar, which fascinated me as a very young boy. Marlies told me the humorous side of it.

Known as a “Heidelberg Scar”, it was a wound, purposely inflicted during the sport of fencing. Because it was considered a mark of the aristocracy, it was sought after by many students

But Adolf studied in Munich, not Heidelberg. Nevertheless, by acquiring a “Heidelberg Scar” he could prove that, although a Jew, he was from a fighting fraternity. But unfortunately his had been inflicted by a left-handed swordsman. And much to his chagrin, the scar was on the wrong side of his face.

Ironically, he was later assigned to a military hospital in Heidelberg, after becoming a physician in the German Army during WWI, 

Adolph also met his wife, Hedwig, in Heidelberg. She was a Protestant, and a private nurse at the time. Their only child was daughter Marlies, who was born in Heidelberg during the war.

After hostilities ended, the Natzlers moved to Mulheim, where Adolph became a physician in a Catholic hospital. But shortly after Hitler came to power, he learned that the Gestapo wanted him – A frightening prospect since the Natzlers had recently lost a dear friend who'd been murdered by the Gestapo.*

But the hospital nuns took action and hid him and his family within the sprawling hospital facility, allowing Adolf to safely complete his orthopedic schedule before fleeing the country.

However, cousin Otto didn't get out of Vienna until after the “Anschluss” in 1938, when he and his wife, Trude, fled to America.

As a child Otto loved music and studied the violin. But his father wouldn't allow him to become a professional, demanding that he find a profession with SUBSTANCE. So, Otto chose to study chemistry, and the rest is history.

Otto had two older siblings: Paul, born in 1901 and Nellie, who was born sometime in between the two brothers.

Nellie became the true heroine of this saga because of the role she played in getting her entire family to America.

As a very talented artist, she won a $5,000 prize in a Paris art show. But she was prescient enough to send the money to her cousin, Adolf in America, insisting that its sole purpose was to remain in the bank as required proof of financial independence.

That would ultimately allow each member of her family into the U.S.

With cousin Adolph as their sponsor, Otto and Trude were the first to use it to get out of Austria.

Then Otto became the sponsor, using it to get his older brother Paul and wife Cora out.

Finally Paul became the sponsor, and, in turn, used the money to get their parents, Siegmund and Frieda, and ultimately sister Nellie out of Austria.

All arriving safely in America, the elder Natzler lived out the remainder of their lives in Trenton, N.J….on that SAME $5,000.

Meanwhile, Adolph and Otto and their families all settled in Southern California.

Although I had hoped to meet Otto after I found Marlies, he was already 96, and passed away before I could do so. But Marlies and I continued to stay in touch until I got the sad news that she had passed away in October 2012…also at the age of 96.

*For more information on this astounding story read my blog “Conrad Veidt and the Natzlers”- http://forthelifeofme-film.com/2013/11/12/conrad-veidt-natzlers/.