Autobiographical Essays

Beate Caspari-Rosen, MD (1910 - 1995)

Tante [Aunt] Paula

At every birthday party in my father’s family [the Caspari family] Aunt Paula was one of the guests. I did not know where she came from or where she went after leaving the party, and as a child I never questioned her relationship. As I grew older, however, I started to ask questions about her but always received evasive answers. Her story was cloaked in mystery, but slowly I pieced together her history from brief stories I heard and from what she told me as she lay dying in a hospital. I got a glimpse of the tragic heroine Victorian novels are made of.

She was probably a second or third cousin of my father, from a branch of that convoluted Caspari family tree. My grandfather's first wife died while giving birth to her twelfth child, and my grandfather married soon after, again to a young girl not much older than his oldest child so that the generation gap as shifted between siblings and their future children. Also, my father's brother married a niece, which is allowed according in Jewish law, though an aunt cannot marry a nephew. I never knew my aunt Paula's maiden name, and where she belonged in the jigsaw puzzle of the family.       

When she was dying of cancer, I visited her quite often. I had just been married and she had given us as a wedding present, a lovely old pair of  silver candlesticks, and a miniature portrait of her painted on ivory, which I treasure very much. She told me that she married when she was sixteen years old to a very rich elderly banker whom she had hardly known. At the wedding night when he got undressed "he was as hairy as an ape" (her own words). Never having seen a naked man before, she ran away, but the family insisted that she return to him. They lived in a large house in Berlin with many servants, and ultimately had one son. Her great love, however, was a cousin, my father's older brother, a very successful physician; he was a very handsome man, and when I knew him, still looked like an Italian opera star and always wore a theatrical cape instead of a coat. I, as well as everybody in the family adored him, and so did his women patients. He was married to a woman from a wealthy and educated family, which, as it was customary at that time, had been an arranged union. But he had been in love with Paula and Paula in love with him, and they eloped together. What a scandal that must have been in the family. Naturally, the love affair was broken up. He returned to his wife and Aunt Paula to her unloved husband, who took her back. This all happened before I was born, but she was still a very good looking woman when became aware of her. Then came the

First World War, and, after the collapse of Germany, inflation. Paula’s husband had died and her young son took over the family business. He speculated on the stock exchange with his own money and other’s, and when the day of reckoning came, lost it all, and was imprisoned. The family took over and everybody helped to support Paula throughout her life. I learned to love her as I grew older, and I often think about what those Victorian women’s lives must have been like.


Susan Koslow - Homepage

Publications | Biography | Art | Snyders | Resources | Family History