Series AK - Willy Rosenstein Collection

Adolf Jorger, Stuttgart to Willy Rosenstein, Rustenburg Adolf Jorger, Stuttgart to Willy Rosenstein, Rustenburg Brown leather bookmark Zweite Bergprifingsfahrt Kriens-Eigenthal Luzen Portrait of Willy Rosenstein, Stuttgart, Germany Portrait of Willy Rosenstein as a young boy, Stuttgart, Germany Willy Rosenstein lying in a hospital bed wearing his Iron Cross Portrait of Ernst Rosenstein as a young boy, Germany Willy Rosenstein walking up the side of a hill, Germany Willy Rosenstein standing with arms resting on his Piper Club Special, Johannesburg
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Willy Rosenstein Collection


  • 1890-1949 (Creation)

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81 items

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Willy Rosenstein was a German Jew who fought in WWI as a fighter pilot under the command of Hermann Goering. He later transferred to a different unit after Goering made an anti-Semitic remark he refused to apologize for. While serving in a different unit Willy thrived, shooting down several enemy aircraft and was later made Squadron leader. He also received three medals for his efforts namely The Iron Cross (First Class), the Order of the Zaringer Lion, and the Württemburg Service Medal in Gold.
In 1923 his wife Hedwig (Hede) gave birth to their only child, Ernest. Hedwig died from kidney disease a mere three years later in 1926. After her death, Willy became an avid race car driver and won numerous competitions throughout Europe from 1928-1930 which earned him the nickname of “best gentleman driver of Germany” (Willy Rosenstein, autobiographical notes, circa 1940s).
In 1934 Willy met a young divorcee name Paula Blume at his cousin’s dinner party; they developed a relationship and were married in December 1934. In 1936 Willy decided to move his family out of Germany because of the rise of anti-Semitism in the country. Through the intervention of a former squadron member Lt. Siebel who was also a close friend of Herman Goering. Goering instructed his adjutant to send a letter to various government ministries. The letter, Willy later admitted in his memoirs “made things easier in some ways, because I was allowed to leave the country and take three planes and their spare parts with me,” something that was unheard of for Jews in Germany at that time (Willy Rosenstein, autobiographical notes, circa 1940).
When he arrived in Johannesburg he worked as a distributor for the Buecker Aircraft Company while simultaneously operating a flying school with his partner Kurt Katzenstein at Randburg Airport named Union Aviation Co (Pty) Ltd. In 1939 Paula (or Flower as Willy called her) suddenly filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences. A year later he was detained by the state along with all other German men in the Union. He was also branded as a potential enemy of the state because of his connection to Hermann Goering. He was later released when his son Ernest joined the South African Air Force. On 2 April 1945, Lieutenant Ernest Willy Rosenstein was shot down in Turin, Italy. He was later buried in the Milan War Cemetery. Willy later met and married his third wife, Ursula Rosenstein nee Kohler. After the war, Willy continued to operate his flying school while living on his farm with his wife in Rustenburg until he was killed in a plane accident in 1949. After Willy’s death, Ursula suffered a nervous breakdown and was committed to TARA, a mental health hospital in Johannesburg. She was tragically killed in car accident in 1956.

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The Centre for Jewish History based at the Leo Baeck Institute in New York City published a digital copy of Willy Rosenstein's memoirs which he wrote while he was imprisoned at Ganspan Internment Camp.

For more background information and to download a copy of the memoirs, please visit this link:

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