Friday, June 5, 2015

Spotlight: Erich Ursell

      The final refugee in this week of refugee spotlights is a little different. When Opa was writing to Gisela on April 5,1939 from Holland, he mentioned how many people would stop through on their way to emigrating to other places. One who had just visited at that point was Erich Ursell. He was a member of the Quaker youth group with Opa. Of all the refugees this week, Erich is someone who Opa knew, although am not sure if they kept in touch much after they got to the United States. Below is some of Erich’s story from the files and much thanks to his son Philip for sharing some about Erich’s life as well.

       Erich was born January 10, 1915 in Attendorn, Westphalia. His family and he were Jewish and his father owned a factory for tin goods and zinkification. They lost ownership of the factory after the advent of the new regime in 1933 and shortly after that, Erich’s father died. Erich had planned to own and manage the factory and so he apprenticed and worked at various management positions while also getting technical training in machine and tool making. 

      Some of the Quaker Friends in the States had been talking to Hertha Kraus and others about getting Erich over. In 1938-39, there was an effort to get an affidavit, but was unsuccessful. In March of 1939, a group of ten young couples in Washington D.C. wanted to help a refugee and one of them offered to be the affiant for Erich. This process took a little time and finalized in January of 1940. In the meantime, Erich accepted an offer to go to Woodbrooke Quaker College in Birmingham, England for their second term ending in January of 1940. His mother and sisters remained in Berlin. 

     Unlike the other refugees, Erich was not brought over through a school, but as an adult seeking a trade. He found work as a helper in the workshop of the Capital Transit. During the 1940s he was an active member of the Young Friends of the Friends Meeting of Washington. During and after the war, Erich worked to get his mother and sisters to the States. His sisters made it to England. His mother and her sister died in concentration camps. 

    Under the auspices of the Meeting in 1946, he married Lucile Christman, an economist working at the Labor Department of the federal government. In 1948 in Georgetown, the Ursells opened a store specializing in fine gifts, gradually expanding into contemporary home furnishings. Over the years the store became well known in the DC area. It was sold in 1983 and no longer exists. Erich and his wife had two children, a boy and a girl. Erich Ursell died in 1995.


  1. I just found an envelope (empty and no stamp) addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Erich A. J. Ursell, 4125 Garrison St NW, Washington DC from 1953. When I googled him this is what came up.

  2. I worked for Erich as his assistant in 1980-1982 at their store on Q Street. He was a fine man.

  3. Ursells was one of my favorite places to shop. The kitchenware and such things were quite and exquisite with a European flair. The old building has been replaced with a new mixed use architecture. This is a wonderful story - I never knew. Thank you for sharing. Cheers, Rick Wilson

  4. I frequently shopped at Ursell's. I bought my first pair of pierced earrings there and I still have them.


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