Silvia Pfeiffer-Belli Tennenbaum is a German-American novelist known for two novels: Rachel, the Rabbi’s Wife (1978) and Yesterday’s Streets (1981). Born in Frankfurt, Germany, she emigrated from Germany to Switzerland and the United States as a child. She was separated from her parents for two years in Switzerland, rejoining them in the United States in 1938.
Her mother, Lotti Clara Stern, married and divorced Erich Pfeiffer-Belli, then remarried William (originally Hans Wilhelm) Steinberg, one of the preeminent conductors in Germany prior to the Nazi accession to power, serving as an assistant to Otto Klemperer at the Cologne Opera in 1920. In 1930, he conducted the first performance of Schoenberg’s Von Heute auf Morgen and was the director of the Jewish Culture League in Germany 1933 – 1936. Maestro Steinberg went to Palestine in 1936 and worked there until 1938, where he led the new Palestine Orchestra in Tel-Aviv, with Arturo Toscanini visiting as guest conductor. William Steinberg settled in the United States in 1938, working as an assistant conductor to Toscanini at the NBC Symphony Orchestra from 1938 to 1941. Maestro Steinberg was the principal conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra from 1945 to 1952 and the principal conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from 1952. He was also the principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra from 1958 to 1960 and the principal conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1969 to 1972.
Silvia Pfeiffer-Tennenbaum’s letters are remarkable and rich biographical primary-source documents that capture vivid moments in the formative years of a precocious and remarkably observant young girl during a tumultuous time in Europe, when she was often separated from her parents. Her ever-longer letters, written in three languages (German, English and French) to her parents record in minute detail the events she and her parents witnessed, heard and participated in from her early childhood through her undergraduate years at Barnard College – events such as her step-father, Maestro Steinberg, being shot at when he met Toscanini’s boat in April 1938 in Palestine.
The archive consists of 61 folders mostly of letters, autograph material signed (long and detailed ALS and TLS) from 1935 – 1956, as well as some signed cards and very early childhood material, as well as a few photographs of Silvia and her half-brother, Arthur Steinberg, and even a few of Arthur Steinberg’s own letters. A full description is available.