Searching for Gold….farbs: A Brotman Genealogy Adventure

Today is my grandmother Gussie Brotman Goldschlager’s birthday; she was born on this day in 1895.  And so it is very appropriate that on this day, which also is the third anniversary of this blog, I return to my Brotman family story.  This is the story of the mystery cousins I discovered last fall—the Goldfarbs.

Back on December 7, 2015, I wrote about my aunt’s baby book from 1917, and I mentioned that on the list of those who came to see my aunt as a newborn were a couple named Mr. and Mrs. Julius Goldfarb.  When I asked my mother if she knew who they were, she vaguely recalled that they were somehow cousins of my grandmother, but she wasn’t sure whether the actual cousin was Julius or his wife, whose name she thought might have been Ida.

Aunt Elaine baby book 5

I also wrote back in December about my grandfather’s pocket calendar and notebook and all the wonderful information and insights I found there.  Among those bits of information were addresses for two other people named Goldfarb: S. Goldfarb, who lived at 577 Williams Avenue, and two entries for Joe Goldfarb, one at 464 East 93rd Street and one at 191 Amboy Street.  I assumed these were relatives connected to Julius, but had no idea how.

Grandpa notebook 13 more addresses Joe Goldfarb

Grandpa Notebook page 1 addresses Joe Goldfarb

With those limited hints, I started researching, and I found quite a bit.  In fact, I connected with two of the descendants of Julius and Ida Goldfarb, and I fully intended to write about the Goldfarbs sooner, but somehow the Schoenthals took over my blog, and poor cousin Julius was shelved for over ten months.  Now it’s time to return to this story and reveal what I learned from these tidbits of information.

First, I searched for Julius and Ida Goldfarb because I had two names to work with and because Julius Goldfarb seemed like it would be less common than Joe Goldfarb.  I easily found Julius and Ida and their children on the 1940, 1930, and 1920 census reports; all three reports had them living in Jersey City, New Jersey.  In 1920, Julius was working in a liquor business; in 1930 he was the proprietor of a real estate business, but in 1940 he was again in the liquor business, now working on his own account.

Julius Goldfarb and family 1920 US census lines 70-73 Year: 1920; Census Place: Jersey City Ward 3, Hudson, New Jersey; Roll: T625_1043; Page: 17B; Enumeration District: 135; Image: 1104

Julius Goldfarb and family 1920 US census
lines 70-73
Year: 1920; Census Place: Jersey City Ward 3, Hudson, New Jersey; Roll: T625_1043; Page: 17B; Enumeration District: 135; Image: 1104

The 1920 census said that Julius was born in Austria and was 33 (so born in about 1887); the 1930 census reports his age as 42 and birthplace as Poland.

Julius Goldfarb and family 1930 US census, lines 40-45 Year: 1930; Census Place: Jersey City, Hudson, New Jersey; Roll: 1352; Page: 29A; Enumeration District: 0075; Image: 209.0; FHL microfilm: 2341087

Julius Goldfarb and family 1930 US census, lines 40-45
Year: 1930; Census Place: Jersey City, Hudson, New Jersey; Roll: 1352; Page: 29A; Enumeration District: 0075; Image: 209.0; FHL microfilm: 2341087

On the 1940 census he is 52 and reports his birthplace as Austria.  Julius and Ida had four daughters: Sylvia (1915), Gertrude (1917), Ethel (1923), and Evelyn (1925).

Julius Goldfarb and family 1940 census lines 13-17 Year: 1940; Census Place: Jersey City, Hudson, New Jersey; Roll: T627_2406; Page: 7A; Enumeration District: 24-197

Julius Goldfarb and family 1940 census lines 13-17
Year: 1940; Census Place: Jersey City, Hudson, New Jersey; Roll: T627_2406; Page: 7A; Enumeration District: 24-197

All of this was very interesting, but it didn’t help me figure out if this was the right Julius Goldfarb or how he was related to my grandmother. Or was it Ida who was the relative? So I continued searching.

Julius’ World War I draft registration contained no new information, except the fact that his liquor business in 1917 was a saloon and that he and his family lived at the same address as the saloon: 27 Cole Street.  The draft registration also provided me with a more precise birthdate for Julius, March 18, 1885.

Julius Goldfarb World War I draft registration Registration State: New Jersey; Registration County: Hudson; Roll: 1712213; Draft Board: 10

Julius Goldfarb World War I draft registration
Registration State: New Jersey; Registration County: Hudson; Roll: 1712213; Draft Board: 10

Then things started to get more interesting. I located the World War II draft registration for Julius, and although it had a different birthday, March 12, 1885, instead of March 18, I knew this was the right person, given that the address was the same as the address on the 1940 census for Julius as was the occupation (liquor store) and his wife’s name (Ida).  But the big revelation here was Julius’ birthplace—Grebow, Poland, the same place that my great-uncles Abraham and David Brotman had listed as their residence on the ship manifest when then immigrated to the US.  My heart skipped a beat.  It definitely looked more and more possible that Julius was a cousin.

Julius Goldfarb World War II draft registration The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; Draft Registration Cards for Fourth Registration for New Jersey, 04/27/1942 - 04/27/1942; NAI Number: 2555983; Record Group Title: Records of the Selective Service System; Record Group Number: 147

Julius Goldfarb World War II draft registration
The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; Draft Registration Cards for Fourth Registration for New Jersey, 04/27/1942 – 04/27/1942; NAI Number: 2555983; Record Group Title: Records of the Selective Service System; Record Group Number: 147

So I searched then for a marriage record for Julius and Ida, and on FamilySearch I found the index listing for it, and now I was truly excited.  According to the index on FamilySearch, Julius Goldfarb’s mother was named Sarah Brothman.  I’d seen my great-grandfather’s name spelled that way instead of Brotman (and sometimes Brodman), and it seemed more and more likely that Julius Goldfarb was my relative, probably through my great-grandfather’s side of the family.

The index listing also included Ida’s birth name—Hecht.  I recalled from my aunt’s baby book that there was a visitor named Mrs. Taube Hecht (see the last name listed on the image above).  Now I knew that that was Ida’s mother.

But more importantly, I now knew the names of Julius Goldfarb’s parents, Sam and Sarah, and that enabled me to search for them and find additional records.

On the 1910 census, Sam and Sarah Goldfarb were living on Avenue C in New York City with six children, including Julius, who was then 25.  The others were Morris (23), Bessie (18), Joseph (12), Leo (11), and Rosie (9).  Joe and Leo were born in New Jersey and Rosie in New York, but the rest of the family were listed as born in Austria.  Sam was working as a tailor in a coat factory, Julius as a conductor for a car company (I assume a streetcar company), and Morris as a cutter in a neckwear factory.

From this census record, I now knew that Joe Goldfarb, who was listed twice in my grandfather’s list of addresses, was a brother of Julius and that he was born in about 1898. The 1910 census also revealed when Sam and Sarah had immigrated.  Sam had arrived in 1892, Sarah and the European born children in 1896.

Sam Goldfarb and family 1910 US census, lines 8-17 Year: 1910; Census Place: Manhattan Ward 11, New York, New York; Roll: T624_1012; Page: 17A; Enumeration District: 0259; FHL microfilm: 1375025

Sam Goldfarb and family 1910 US census, lines 8-17
Year: 1910; Census Place: Manhattan Ward 11, New York, New York; Roll: T624_1012; Page: 17A; Enumeration District: 0259; FHL microfilm: 1375025

Knowing the names of the other children of Sam and Sarah Goldfarb helped me locate them on other census records.  The 1915 New York census record proved quite revealing.  Sam and Sarah were still living at 131 Avenue C in New York City with Morris, Bessie, Joseph, Leo, and Rose (Julius was now married), and Sam was still working as a tailor, as was Morris.  When I looked down the page from where Rose Goldfarb is listed at the top of the right hand side of the page, I saw a very familiar name—Hyman Brotman, my grandmother’s brother Hymie.  Hyman and his wife Sophie (spelled Soffie here) and their three sons were living at the same address, in the same building, as the Goldfarbs.

Sam Goldfarb and family 1915 NY census New York State Archives; Albany, New York; State Population Census Schedules, 1915; Election District: 18; Assembly District: 06; City: New York; County: New York; Page: 84

Sam Goldfarb and family 1915 NY census
New York State Archives; Albany, New York; State Population Census Schedules, 1915; Election District: 18; Assembly District: 06; City: New York; County: New York; Page: 84

And then right below the Brotman family was the Hecht family—Jacob and Tillie Hecht and their children.  I assume these were the parents of Ida Hecht Goldfarb, Sam Goldfarb’s wife. (Tillie is often an alternative name for Taube.)  They also were living at 131 Avenue C in the same building as Hyman Brotman and his family and Sarah and Sam Goldfarb.  The coincidences were clearly not just coincidences.

And it only got better.  I found Sam and Sarah Goldfarb on the 1905 New York census, living with seven children—Julius, Morris, Bessie, Joseph, Leo, and Rose, plus another daughter, Gussie, who was seventeen, two years younger than Morris and two years older than Bessie.

Sam Goldfarb and family 1905 NY census New York State Archives; Albany, New York; State Population Census Schedules, 1905; Election District: A.D. 12 E.D. 06; City: Manhattan; County: New York; Page: 32

Sam Goldfarb and family 1905 NY census
New York State Archives; Albany, New York; State Population Census Schedules, 1905; Election District: A.D. 12 E.D. 06; City: Manhattan; County: New York; Page: 32

I assumed that this newly discovered daughter named Gussie had married between the 1905 NY census and the 1910 US census since she was not living with the family in 1910, and my search revealed that she had married Max Katz on April 12, 1910.  I found her marriage on FamilySearch indexed as Josi Gossi Goldfarb, daughter of Sam Goldfarb and “Sarah Brohmen.”  Another piece of the puzzle tying Sarah Goldfarb to my great-grandfather.

But what was even more exciting about the 1905 New York census was what it revealed about where Sam and Sarah Goldfarb and their children were living: 85 Ridge Street in New York City. Why was that exciting? Because my great-grandmother Bessie Brod Brotman was living across the street at 84 Ridge Street in 1905 with my grandmother Gussie and her siblings, Tillie, Frieda, and Sam.  There seemed to be no denying the fact that Sarah Goldfarb was somehow related to my grandmother’s family.

1905-ny-census-for-bessie-brotman-and-family

(My great-grandmother’s name is badly butchered here as Pearl Brauchman, but there’s no question that this is Bessie Brotman and her children, Tilly, Gussie, Frieda, and Sam; when Bessie married Philip Moskowitz, her second husband, in 1908, her address was 84 Ridge Street.)

I also now understood why Julius and Joe Goldfarb would have been listed in the baby book and the address list. In 1905 when she was ten years old, my grandmother was living right across the street from Julius and Joe Goldfarb and their siblings. Joe was just a year or two younger, and like my grandmother, he was the first American born child of his parents.  Of course, Joe Goldfarb would be listed in the address book. Twice, in fact. Of course, Julius and Ida would have come to see my grandparents’ new baby in 1917.

There was still one prior census to find: the 1900 US census.  The Goldfarbs were a little harder to find on this one because Sam was listed as Solomon here, and several of the other names don’t quite match.  Although Sarah is listed as Sarah and Bessie as Bessie, there are two sons listed as Joseph; one, I assume, was Julius, given the approximate age. Morris was listed as Moses, Leo is Lewis, and Gussie as … Kate? Despite these discrepancies, I am quite certain that these are the right Goldfarbs. The immigration years are consistent with the 1910 census; Sam (Solomon) is a tailor.  The parents and older children were born in Austria, and the ages are close if not precisely the same.

Sam Goldfarb and family 1900 US census Year: 1900; Census Place: Pittsgrove, Salem, New Jersey; Roll: 993; Page: 17B; Enumeration District: 0179; FHL microfilm: 1240993

Sam Goldfarb and family 1900 US census
Year: 1900; Census Place: Pittsgrove, Salem, New Jersey; Roll: 993; Page: 17B; Enumeration District: 0179; FHL microfilm: 1240993

Again, what is particularly interesting here is where they were living: in Pittsgrove, New Jersey, where Moses Brotman and his extended family were living in 1900.  In fact, Moses Brotman and his family are listed on the very next page of the census report in 1900. And Moses Brotman was the brother of my great-grandfather Joseph Brotman.  One more piece of evidence that Sarah was a Brotman and related to me through my great-grandfather Joseph Brotman.

Moses Brotman 1900 census

Moses Brotman 1900 census Year: 1900; Census Place: Pittsgrove, Salem, New Jersey; Roll: 993; Page: 18A; Enumeration District: 0179; FHL microfilm: 1240993

I had one more type of document to search for before moving forward and finding more recent records for the Goldfarb family, and those were ship manifests for the Goldfarbs. Although I’ve not yet been able to locate one for Sam Goldfarb, I did find one for Sarah and the children who were born in Europe, Julius, Morris, Gussie, and Bessie.

Sarah Goldfarb and children on ship manifest 1896 The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Series Title: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; NAI Number: 4492386; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85; Series: T840; Roll: 25

Sarah Goldfarb and children on ship manifest 1896
The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Series Title: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; NAI Number: 4492386; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85; Series: T840; Roll: 25

Once again the names don’t match exactly. Sarah is Surah, a Yiddish version of Sarah.  Julius is Joel— Julius must have been the Americanized version of the Hebrew name Joel.  Morris was Moische—again a Yiddish name they changed in America.  Gussie was originally Gitel—as was the case with my grandmother Gussie.  And Bessie was originally Pesie.  The manifest indicates that they were all detained, and I need to find out more about that. It also says that they were going to Surah’s husband, Shlomo Goldfarb.  Shlomo is a Yiddish version of Solomon.  My guess is that Shlomo became “Sam” as the family Americanized their names.  (I also think the enumerator in 1900 heard Gitel as “Kate.”)

And the icing on the cake is that the manifest lists their last residence as Grembow—or more likely, Grebow as Julius listed it on his draft registration almost fifty years later.

So these were my cousins.  I was sure of it.  But was Sarah Brothman/Brohmen Goldfarb my great-grandfather’s sister? How could I determine the answer to that question?  I needed to order some actual records, search more deeply.  More in my next post.

 

 

 

Imprisoned on the Isle of Man

Some of my readers were disturbed, as was I, to learn that England imprisoned Jewish refugees in internment camps on the Isle of Man during World War II; one of those imprisoned was my cousin Ilse Gross, daughter of Karl Gross, as I wrote about here.

By one of those strange incidences of serendipity, someone on the JewishGen listserv and on one of my Facebook groups today posted a link to a recent story on the B’nai Brith International website about these camps.  It gives a much fuller picture of the history of the camps, what conditions were like, and why England did this.  It demonstrates how fear can lead us to do things that are fundamentally unfair and discriminatory, judging people by their race, religion, or national origin.

Here is one excerpt from the article.  You can find the rest here:

On May 27, 1940, Isle of Man residents gathered behind barricades at the docks, witnessing the arrival of the first 823 prisoners. Leaving the boat under armed guard, they included German Nazi sympathizers, mixed in with Jewish men in their 20s and 30s, as well as a few school boys, conspicuous in short pants. They would set the pattern for those coming in the next weeks and months, assigned to camps located in Ramsey, Douglas, Onchan and other seaside spots. Cleared of tourists, ordered to leave behind their sports equipment for the inmates, quaint Victorian rooming houses and private hotels were grouped together and ringed with barbed wire to form compounds. In some, Jews and Nazis shared the same spaces.

Additional information can be found at the following links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hutchinson_Internment_Camp

http://www.manxnationalheritage.im/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/CG4-Internment_Web.pdf

http://timewitnesses.org/english/IsleOfMan.html

Mathilde’s Brothers: Wilhelm, Isidor, and Karl Gross

Mathilde Gross Mayer, my distant cousin and the author of Die Alte und Die Neue Welt, had three younger brothers in addition to her younger sister Anna about whom I wrote in my last post.  In this post, I will tell what happened to the three brothers. In order to learn a little more about them, I decided to use my little bit of German (along with a dictionary and Google Translate) to try and read some of Mathilde’s book myself, in particular Chapter 4, which is entitled “Geschwister,” or siblings.  I also relied on the family biography on the Arbeitskreis Judische Bingen website  in addition to traditional genealogy sources.

Family View Report for Bertha Seligmann-page-001

Wilhelm, the third child of Bertha Seligmann and Bernhard Gross, was born on April 14, 1872, in Bingen.  He married Sophie Hirsch, who was a relative of his sister Anna’s husband, Wilhelm Lichter, and they, like Anna and her family, settled in Stuttgart. They had a son, Bernhard, born in Stuttgart in 1905; he was presumably named for his grandfather Bernhard, who had died from carbon monoxide poisoning in 1901.  According to Mathilde’s book (pp. 48-50), Wilhelm suffered from mental illness and was institutionalized for many years, dying in a sanatorium in Wurttemberg in 1928.

When Hitler came to power in 1933, Wilhelm’s widow Sophie  and son Bernhard Gross immigrated to Rio de Janeiros, Brazil, where Bernhard became a very successful and well-known physicist. He was appointed to the staff of the National Institute of Technology in Rio and eventually became the director.  He also served on various scientific committees of the United Nations and traveled all over the world serving on those committees; later, he was the director of the Brazilian National Commission of Nuclear Energy.  You can read more about his life and career here and here and here.  He died at age 97 in 2002 in Brazil.

Mathilde’s second brother Isidor, whom I’ve mentioned before for his role as a contributor to Mathilde’s book, was born on September 25, 1873, in Bingen.  He married Klara Emrich, and like his sister and her husband, Anna (Gross) and Wilhelm Lichter, Isidor and Klara settled in Stuttgart where Isidor worked as a banker. Isidor and Klara had one child born in 1903 and presumably also named for his grandfather; his name was Hans Bernard Gross.  When Wilhelm’s widow and son, Sophie and Bernard Gross, left for Brazil in 1933, they took Isidor’s son Hans with them as well, according to the Arbeitskreis Judische-Bingen website.  Hans was at that time a law student.

Isidor and Klara were not yet ready to leave Germany in 1933.  As indicated by a September, 1937 ship manifest, Isidor and Klara sailed from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Southampton, England; the manifest shows that their last permanent residence was in Germany and that they were going to stay at a hotel in London, but that their “country of intended future permanent residence” was a foreign country outside of the United Kingdom.  (It looks like the far right column says “..o de Jan,” so I assume that Isidor and Klara had been visiting Hans in Rio.)

Isidor and Klara (Emrich) Gross on 1937 ship manifest The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists.; Class: BT26; Piece: 1138; Item: 48

Isidor and Klara (Emrich) Gross on 1937 ship manifest
The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists.; Class: BT26; Piece: 1138; Item: 48

The immigration cards below indicate that Isidor and Klara moved to Brazil in June 1939:

isidor-gross-brazil-immigration-card-from-famsearch-p-1

Brasil, Cartões de Imigração, 1900-1965,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1951-22436-27549-86?cc=1932363 : 10 November 2014), Group 4 > 004914427 > image 44 of 203; Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (National Archives, Rio de Janeiro).

isidor-gross-brazil-immigration-card-p-2

Brasil, Cartões de Imigração, 1900-1965,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1951-22436-27549-86?cc=1932363 : 10 November 2014), Group 4 > 004914427 > image 44 of 203; Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (National Archives, Rio de Janeiro).

klara-emrich-gross-brazil-immigration-card-from-family-search

Brasil, Cartões de Imigração, 1900-1965,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-267-12579-62878-12?cc=1932363 : 10 November 2014), Group 1 > 004551542 > image 34 of 203; Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (National Archives, Rio de Janeiro)

klara-emrich-gross-brazil-immigration-card-from-family-search-p-2

Brasil, Cartões de Imigração, 1900-1965,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-267-12579-62878-12?cc=1932363 : 10 November 2014), Group 1 > 004551542 > image 34 of 203; Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (National Archives, Rio de Janeiro)

They both lived the rest of their lives in Brazil, as did their son Hans.  Isidor died and is buried in Petropolis in 1950; Klara is also buried there; she died in 1969.  Hans died in Rio de Janeiro in 1979.

(Thank you to Andre Convers of the LatAmSIG on JewishGen.org for finding the information about Klara and Isidor’s deaths and burial for me; they are listed in Egon and Frieda Wolff’s book, Sepulturas de Israelitas Il, p.100; Sophie Gross, widow of Wilhelm Gross, is listed on p. 101 and also buried in Petropolis, but her date of death says “19.5” so I assume it was partially illegible. There are also several people named Emrich on p. 100, presumably relatives of Klara Emrich Gross.)

Egon and Frieda Wolf, Sepulturas de Israelitas II, p. 100 (Petropolis Municipal Cemetery)

Egon and Frieda Wolf, Sepulturas de Israelitas II, p. 100 (Petropolis Municipal Cemetery)

cemetery-information-for-sophie-gross

Egon and Frieda Wolf, Sepulturas de Israelitas II, p. 101 (Petropolis Municipal Cemetery)

Unfortunately, the youngest child and third son of Bertha Seligmann and Bernhard Gross was not as fortunate as his older brother Isidor or his sister Mathilde.  Karl Gross was born on March 6, 1876, in Bingen, Germany.  According to the Arbeitskreis Judische Bingen page dedicated to Karl, he married Agnes Neuberger, and they had two daughters.  Bertha was born in 1906 and presumably named for Karl’s mother, Bertha Seligmann Gross, who had died with her husband in 1901 from carbon monoxide poisoning; sadly, Bertha suffered brain damage at birth and required special care.

A second daughter, Ilse, was born in 1921, after Karl returned from service in the Germany army during World War I. He had served from August, 1914, through the end of the war and was honored several times for his service.

After returning from the war, Karl worked in the Gross family winemaking business.  Two years Hitler’s rise to power, he and Agnes decided to send fourteen year old Ilse to the International School in Geneva, Switzerland in 1935. In 1938, when she was just seventeen, Ilse left Switzerland for England.

Karl and Agnes, however, stayed in Germany to be near their other daughter, Bertha. In December, 1940, the German Reich required that Bertha be admitted to the Israelite Hospital and Sanatorium in Bendorf-Sayn, also known as the Jacoby Institute. It had been founded almost a century before as a mental institution for Jewish patients.  Its role was altered terribly by the Nazis.

According to this website,

During the first years of National Socialism the Jacoby Institute was left in relative peace; probably as an acknowledgement of the fact that it was an important employer for Sayn and the region. ….A circular decree issued by the Ministry of the Interior on 12th December 1940 decreed that “mentally ill Jews” were only to be accommodated in Sayn because “a cohabitation of Germans and Jews is not acceptable in any length of time” (illustr. 7). The option of concentrating all the patients in one location served as preparation of their deportation. In the course of five transports (between March and November 1942) 573 people were taken to the death camps in the East.

Bertha Gross was one of those 573 people; she was deported to a concentration camp in Izbica, Poland, where she died.

Karl and Klara Gross also were killed in the Holocaust. They were sent to Theriesenstadt on July 27, 1942, where Karl worked as a stretcher-bearer until he died on February 1, 1944.  In October, 1944, Klara was deported from Theriesenstadt to Auschwitz where she was murdered.

karl-gross-and-family-stolpersteine-from-judische-bingen

Stolpersteins for Karl Gross, Agnes Gross, and Bertha Gross http://www.juedisches-bingen.de/?id=54

Their younger daughter Ilse, however, survived, and like so many in this family, she ultimately thrived. As described in her obituary, after leaving Switzerland for England in 1938, at first she worked as an unpaid mother’s helper.  After England was at war with Germany, however, Ilse, along with many other Jewish refugees from the Nazis, was imprisoned as an “enemy alien” in an internment camp on the Isle of Man, according to her obituary. 

Ilse, who had been writing poetry in German since she was a teenager, began writing short stories in English while in the camp and continued her writing after she was released in 1941.  In 1948, she married Kit Barker, a British artist.  Ilse began writing under the pseudonym Kathrine Talbot and published a number of well-regarded works, including three novels, many articles, and short stories.  She died in 2006, and her obituary in The Guardian includes an extensive description not only of her life but of her work.  “Ilse Barker,” The Guardian (June 2, 2006), located here.

Thus, Mathilde Gross Mayer lost both her sister Anna and her brother Karl in the Holocaust, as well as their spouses, Wilhelm Richter and Klara Emrich, respectively; her niece Bertha also was a victim of the Nazis.  Her brother Wilhelm had died years before, so Mathilde’s only surviving sibling after 1944 was her brother Isidor, who had immigrated to Brazil along with his wife and son and Wilhelm’s widow and son and thus lived a continent away from where Mathilde was in New Rochelle, New York.

Although Mathilde was fortunate that all of her children and grandchildren and almost all her nieces and nephews had survived the Holocaust, there is no overstating the tragedy she endured—from the loss of her parents in 1901, the loss of her husband in 1934, the uprooting of her children, grandchildren, and herself from their homeland, and the cruel deaths of a number of her family members at the hands of the Nazis.

Perhaps now you can better understand why I want to be able to read her book and get a feel for the real person who endured so much and lived so long.

 

A Family’s Life Destroyed: The Story of Anna Gross

As I wrote last time, Mathilde Gross Mayer and her three children, Wilhelm, Ernst, and Alice, all safely emigrated from Germany in the 1930s after the Nazis had taken over.   Not all of her siblings and other relatives were as fortunate.  Mathilde had four younger siblings, Anna, Wilhelm, Isidor, and Karl.  This post will tell the story of Anna Gross, Mathilde’s younger and only sister.  Anna, like Mathilde, was my second cousin, three times removed.  We are both descendants of Jacob Seligmann.

Family View Report for Bertha Seligmann-page-001

If the birth dates provided by her brother Isidor in Mathilde’s book are accurate, Anna Gross was born September 1, 1870, or a year and a half after Mathilde’s birth on April 14, 1869.[1] Anna married William Lichter of Bruchsal in 1892, whose father Leopold Lichter owned a wine distillery.  Anna and William settled in Stuttgart, where they had a son Paul (1893) and a daughter Irma (1898).

family-group-sheet-for-anna-gross-page-001

According to a biography of William and Anna and their family published on a Stolperstein site about the family, in 1916 Wilhelm Lichter purchased a stately house on a large lot with a terrace, courtyard, garage, and a garden with pergolas and two garden sheds.

Wilhelm and Anna (Gross) Lichter, 1927 passport photos http://www.stolpersteine-stuttgart.de/index.php?docid=749

Wilhelm and Anna (Gross) Lichter, 1927 passport photos
http://www.stolpersteine-stuttgart.de/index.php?docid=749

According to the Stolperstein site, Anna and Wilhelm’s son Paul Lichter married Marie Hirsch on February 17, 1919; they would have two daughters born in the 1920s, Renate and Lore.

Just nine months after her brother married, Irma Lichter married Max Wronker on November 2, 1919.  Max had served as an officer in the German army during World War I and had been awarded the Iron Cross, Second Class.

Irma Lichter Wronker, courtesy of the Wronker family

Irma Lichter Wronker, courtesy of the Wronker family

Max Wronker during World War I, courtesy of the Wronker family

Max Wronker during World War I, courtesy of the Wronker family

Max and Irma would have two children, a daughter Gerda and a son Erich.

Max Wronker and Irma Lichter Wronker and their two children Gerda and Paul, 1927 Courtesy of the Wronker family

Max Wronker and Irma Lichter Wronker and their two children Gerda and Erich, 1927
Courtesy of the Wronker family

According to the introduction to the family papers on file with the Leo Baeck Institute (Guide to the Papers of the Lili Wronker Family 1843-2002 (AR 25255 / MF 737)), Max was the son of Herman Wronker and Ida Friedeberg of Frankfurt; Herman Wronker was an extremely successful merchant with department stores in a number of cities in Germany.  He also was a founder of a successful cinema business in Frankfurt. According to an October 25, 2007 article in Der Spiegel (“Lili und die Kaufhauskönige”), Herman Wronker was invited in the 1920s by Carl Laemmle of Universal Pictures to come to Hollywood, but Wronker was loyal to Germany and did not want to leave. (Thank you to my cousin Wolfgang for find the Der Spiegel article for me.)

The Der Spiegel article also reported that during the 1920s, the Wronker department store business employed over three thousand people with annual sales exceeding 35 million Reich marks.  When the Depression came in 1929, Herman’s son Max, husband of Irma Lichter, took over the management of the business and was forced to sell two of the Wronker department stores.

Max Wronker had a sister Alice, and I was very fortunate to make a connection through Ancestry.com with Trisha, whose husband is Alice Wronker’s grandson.  Trisha has known several members of the extended Lichter and Wronker families, and she has a wonderful collection of photographs of the family, which she generously shared with me.  The family pictures in this post are all courtesy of Trisha and her family, except where otherwise noted.

Alice Wronker Engel, Irma Lichter Wronker, and Ida Friedeberg Wronker

Alice Wronker Engel, Ida Friedeberg Wronker, and  Irma Lichter Wronker, Courtesy of the Wronker family

First cousins: Ruth , daughter of Alice Wronker Engel and Herman Engel, and Gerda, daughter of Max Wronker and Irma Lichter Wronker Courtesy of the Wronker family

First cousins: Ruth , daughter of Alice Wronker Engel and Herman Engel, and Gerda, daughter of Max Wronker and Irma Lichter Wronker
Courtesy of the Wronker family

Both the Wronker and Lichters families were obviously quite wealthy and living a good life in Germany until the Nazis came to power.  Then everything changed.  According to the same 2007 Der Spiegel article, by the end of March, 1933, the Wronkers were no longer allowed on the premises of their businesses, and the entire business was “aryanized” in 1934.

The article also indicated that at that point Max and Irma (Lichter) Wronker decided to leave Germany and move to France, where Max tried unsuccessfully to start a leather goods company.  He then received a tourist visa to go to Cairo to work as an adviser to a department store business there, but was unable to receive an official work permit and earned so little money that he was forced to sell much of the family’s personal property.

sale-of-effects-cairo

Max and Irma did not come to the United States until after the war ended.

Meanwhile, Anna (Gross) and Wilhelm Lichter also were suffering from Nazi persecution.  As reported in the Stolperstein biography, on April 1, 1938, Irma’s father Wilhelm Lichter sold the lovely home he owned in Stuttgart for 125,000 Reich marks, which was far below its value (according to assessors determining reparations after the war).  Wilhelm and Anna were allowed to rent the second floor of the home after they sold it for a one year term.

On April 26, 1938, the Germans enacted the Decree on the Registration of the Property of Jews pursuant to which all Jews were required to assess all their assets and register them if their value exceeded 5,000 Reich marks.  The Nazis also prohibited Jews from owning or operating a business, except for limited exceptions to allow services rendered by Jews to other Jews.  Additional information about these property deprivations can also be found here in a December 25, 1938 article by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (“Nazi Restrictions, Special Taxes Strip Jews of Wealth”).

As a result of these regulations, Wilhelm Lichter was forced to pay substantial amounts of money to the German government in 1938.  After Kristallnacht, the government also passed additional laws, increasing substantially the taxes that Jews were forced to pay under the pretext that they were obligated to pay for the damage caused by Kristallnacht.  Wilhelm again was required to use a great deal of his assets to pay for these taxes.

Then, in the aftermath of Kristallnacht on November 9 and 10, 1938, Wilhelm and Anna’s son Paul Lichter was arrested and sent to the concentration camp at Dachau, where he was imprisoned until December 6, 1938.  After he was released, Paul decided to leave Germany with his wife Marie and their children; his two daughters were no longer allowed to attend school after May, 1938, and he had had to sell his business.

In order to emigrate, Paul had to comply with the Reichsfluchtsteuer, or Reich Flight Tax, a tax imposed on those wishing to leave Germany.  As explained by this Alphahistory site, “this law required Jews fleeing Germany to pay a substantial levy before they were granted permission to leave. The flight tax was not an invention of the Nazis; it was passed by the Weimar Republic in 1931 to prevent Germany from being drained of gold, cash reserves and capital. But the Nazi regime expanded and increased the flight tax considerably, revising the law six times during the 1930s. In 1934 the flight tax was increased to 25 per cent of domestic wealth, payable in cash or gold. Further amendments in 1938 required emigrating Jews to leave most of their cash in a Gestapo-controlled bank.”

Another site about the Holocaust indicated that, “As a result of these levies and others, those Jews fortunate enough to emigrate were able to save only a small portion of their assets.  For Jews remaining in Germany after 1938, whatever assets they had left were kept in blocked accounts in specified financial institutions, from which only a modest amount could be withdrawn for their living expenses.”

In order to pay this tax, Paul and Marie had to sell their personal property, including their jewelry, silverware, coffee service, sugar bowls, and candlesticks to a pawnshop and then pay a tax of 67,000 Reich marks, or the equivalent of about $30,000 in 1938 US dollars.  That would be equivalent to almost $500,000 dollars in 2016.

Paul emigrated first, arriving in New York on March 11, 1938.  According to the ship manifest (line 9), he was a liquor dealer.  He listed the person he was going to as a cousin named Meyer Gross living at 30 Parcot Avenue in New Rochelle, New York.

paul-lichter-ship-manifest-1938

Paul Lichter on 1938 ship manifest to NY Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957. Microfilm Publication T715, 8892 rolls. NAI: 300346. Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; National Archives at Washington, D.C. Supplemental Manifests of Alien Passengers and Crew Members Who Arrived on Vessels at New York, New York, Who Were Inspected for Admission, and Related Index, compiled 1887-1952.

Paul Lichter on 1938 ship manifest to NY, line 9
Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957. Microfilm Publication T715, 8892 rolls. NAI: 300346. Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; National Archives at Washington, D.C. Supplemental Manifests of Alien Passengers and Crew Members Who Arrived on Vessels at New York, New York, Who Were Inspected for Admission, and Related Index, compiled 1887-1952.

That was not a name that was on my tree, but given the surname Gross, I assumed it was a relative of Anna, perhaps on her father’s side.

It also made sense that Paul would be going to New Rochelle since he had family members living in that city.  In fact, 30 Parcot Avenue was only half a mile from where Paul’s cousin Alice Mayer Kann was living in 1940 at 17 Argyle Avenue in New Rochelle as well and just two blocks from where Paul’s cousin Ernst Mayer was living at 94 Hillside Avenue in New Rochelle.

I searched the 1940 census to see if there was a Meyer Gross living at 30 Parcot Road in 1940, and I discovered that Kurt Kornfeld and his family were living at that location in 1940.  Kurt Kornfeld was one of Ernst Mayer;s partners in Black Star Publishing, which they founded after they escaped Nazi Germany, as I discussed here.  And living in the Kornfeld home as a lodger in 1940 was a 72 year old German-born woman named Matilda Mayer, who I believe I am safe in assuming was Mathilde Gross Mayer, Paul’s aunt.

But who then was Meyer Gross? I don’t know.  I checked both the 1938 and 1940 directories for New Rochelle (the 1939 was not available online), and there was no person with that name in either directory.  Since the name was entered by hand on the manifest, perhaps it was written incorrectly by the person entering the name.  Maybe it was “Mathilde Gross,” her birth name?  I don’t know.

On June 8, 1939, Paul and Marie’s eighteen year old daughter Renate sailed to New York alone; she was to be met by another “cousin” Heinz “Anspacher,” who resided at 404 West 116th Street in New York City. (See line 13.)

renate-lichter-1939-ship-manifest-line-13

Renate Lichter on 1939 ship manifest, line 13 Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957. Microfilm Publication T715, 8892 rolls. NAI: 300346. Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; National Archives at Washington, D.C. Supplemental Manifests of Alien Passengers and Crew Members Who Arrived on Vessels at New York, New York, Who Were Inspected for Admission, and Related Index, compiled 1887-1952.

Renate Lichter on 1939 ship manifest, line 13
Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957. Microfilm Publication T715, 8892 rolls. NAI: 300346. Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; National Archives at Washington, D.C. Supplemental Manifests of Alien Passengers and Crew Members Who Arrived on Vessels at New York, New York, Who Were Inspected for Admission, and Related Index, compiled 1887-1952.

That was another name that did not ring any bells for me, so I searched for him.  Although I could not find a Heinz Anspacher, I did find a Heinz Ludwig Ansbacher who had immigrated to the US in 1924 and was born in 1904 in Frankfurt. He was a well-known professor of psychology, and in the 1930s he was studying at Columbia, so living at 404 West 116th Street made sense.

Heinz was the son of Max Ansbacher and Emilia Dinkelspiel, neither of whom appear to have a connection to the Gross or Licther or Hirsch families. Perhaps this was a friend of the family? I don’t know. (I hate paragraphs that end with I don’t know, and that’s the second time in this post.)

But if her father Paul had arrived in 1938, why was Renate going to Heinz Ansbacher in 1939? Had Paul returned to Europe after his trip in 1938? On March 1, 1940, Paul, Marie, and their younger daughter sailed from Liverpool to New York, and although Marie and her daughter listed their last permanent residence as Stuttgart, Paul’s last permanent residence was stated as Birmingham, England.  They all listed Ernst Mayer, Paul’s cousin, as the person they were going to in the United States.

paul-lichter-and-family-on-1940-manifest

Paul, Marie, and Lore Lichter on 1940 ship manifest, lines 13-15 Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957. Microfilm Publication T715, 8892 rolls. NAI: 300346

Paul, Marie, and Lore Lichter on 1940 ship manifest, lines 13-15
Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957. Microfilm Publication T715, 8892 rolls. NAI: 300346

The English ship manifest for their trip leaving from Liverpool is consistent with the New York manifest: Paul is listed as last residing in England, Marie and their daughter in Germany, and Paul is listed with an address in Birmingham, England.  I can only infer that Paul had left the US sometime after his March 1938 arrival and before Renate arrived in June 1939 and was living in England in 1940 when he and the rest of the family joined Renate in New York.

Paul, Marie, and Lore Lichter on the 1940 UK ship manifest Ancestry.com. UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012. Original data: Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Outwards Passenger Lists. BT27. Records of the Commercial, Companies, Labour, Railways and Statistics Departments. Records of the Board of Trade and of successor and related bodies. The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, England.

Paul, Marie, and Lore Lichter on the 1940 UK ship manifest
Ancestry.com. UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.
Original data: Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Outwards Passenger Lists. BT27. Records of the Commercial, Companies, Labour, Railways and Statistics Departments. Records of the Board of Trade and of successor and related bodies. The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, England.

Although Anna and Wilhelm’s two children and their grandchildren were thus all safely out of Germany by the spring of 1940, Anna and Wilhelm were not as fortunate.  On February 28, 1942, they were forced to move to a Jewish home for the elderly.  (Wilhelm was then 77, Anna 72.)  Then in August, 1942, they entered into an “agreement” whereby they transferred their remaining assets (22,815 Reich marks) in exchange for free accommodations for life at the camp at Theriesenstadt.  On August 23, 1942, Anna and Wilhelm were deported to Theriesenstadt.

Anna died less than a month later on September 18, 1942.  Wilhelm lasted five more months, dying on February 6, 1943.

Stolpersteine for Wilhelm Lichter and Anna Gross Lichter http://www.stolpersteine-stuttgart.de/index.php?docid=749

Stolpersteine for Wilhelm Lichter and Anna Gross Lichter
http://www.stolpersteine-stuttgart.de/index.php?docid=749

Their son-in-law’s parents, Hermann and Ida Wronker, were also murdered; according to Der Spiegel, by 1939, almost all of their property had been confiscated by the Nazis.  In 1941, they were living in France and were sent to the internment camp at Gurs, where they were later deported to Auschwitz.  They were killed there in 1942.

Herman and Ida Wronker with their four grandchildren, Eric, Gerda, Ruth, and Marion

Herman and Ida Wronker with their four grandchildren, Erich, Gerda, Ruth, and Marion, courtesy of the Wronker family

But all the children and grandchildren of Herman and Ida (Friedeberg) Wronker and Anna (Gross) and Wilhelm Lichter survived and, like so many of those who escaped from Nazi Germany, they had to start over with almost nothing.

Here are some members of the extended family years later.

From left to right, standing: Max Wronker, Paul Lichter, Marie Hirsch Lichter, Lilli Cassel Wronker, Renate Lichter, Alice Wronker Engel, Irma Lichter Wronker, Erich .Wronker, unknown, Edith Cassel. Seated, left to right, Marion Engel and two unknown women Courtesy of the Wronker family

From left to right, standing: Max Wronker, Paul Lichter, Marie Hirsch Lichter, Lili Cassel Wronker, Renate Lichter, Alice Wronker Engel, Irma Lichter Wronker, Erich .Wronker, unknown, Edith Cassel.
Seated, left to right, Marion Engel and two unknown women
Courtesy of the Wronker family

I don’t know how people coped with the unfathomable cruelty inflicted upon them and their loved ones, but once again I am inspired by the resilience of the human spirit.

 

 

 

[1] Another secondary source reports that Anna was born on November 1, 1870, but I am going to assume that Anna’s own brother knew her birthday.  I’ve no primary source to use to determine for sure.

A Family Uprooted by the Nazis: Mathilde Gross Mayer and Her Family

My last post ended with the tragic deaths in November 1901 of my cousin Bertha Seligmann and her husband Bernhard Gross; they had died from carbon monoxide poisoning while in their own home in Bingen, Germany.  Bertha was the first cousin of my great-great-grandfather, Bernard Seligmann.  We are both descendants of my 4x-great-grandfather, Jacob Seligmann.

Much of what I have learned about the life of Bertha and Bernhard came from the memoir written by their daughter Mathilde, Die Alte und Die Neue Welt (1951). As I mentioned in the last two posts, Mathilde lived a hundred years, from 1869 until 1969, and resided on two continents during her remarkable life, first in Germany, then in the United States.  This post will focus on Mathilde and her family and descendants and their lives after 1901.

Mathilde was the oldest of Bertha and Bernhard’s five children. [1]  As stated above, she was born in 1869, and she married Marx Mayer in 1888. They had three children: Wilhelm (known as Willy) Mayer-Gross (1889), Ernst (1893), and Alice (1896).  All three would live interesting lives.

jpf-family-sheet-for-mathilde-gross-mayer

Although Alice Mayer was the youngest of the children of Mathilde Gross and Marx Mayer, I am going to write about her first because it is her daughter, Ellen Kann Pine, whose book One Life in Two Worlds (self-published, 2009) provided me with insights into the life of the Mayer family in the 1920s and 1930s.  All the facts related in this post came from Ellen Kann Pine’s memoir, except where noted.

20160810_174631600_iOS

According to Ellen’s memoir, her mother Alice Mayer married Arthur Kann, whose father was in the wholesale grain business in the Bingen area.  Their twin daughters Ellen and Hannelore were born in 1921 in Bingen.  Ellen’s description of her childhood growing up in Bingen sounds quite idyllic.  She describes Bingen in those days as the largest town in the area with about 10,000 residents.

Her family shared a house with her father’s brother Julius Kann and his wife.  The house was on the edge of town and was located across the street from Ellen’s grandparents, Mathilde (Gross) and Marx Mayer.  She saw her grandparents every day.  Ellen wrote:

No day passed without a visit from one or both of them.  Our Grandfather (Opapa) was usually the first to come.  He always brought each of us a piece of chocolate wrapped in foil in the shape of a coin. …Our Grandmother (Omama) usually visited in the afternoon and she was always interested in what we had been doing and asked us to tell her.

Pine, p. 7.

Their grandmother Mathilde would take them for walks in the neighborhood every day.  In addition, numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins lived nearby.  The town was small enough that most people knew each other, and the Kann home had a big enough yard for the children to play.

In 1927, the twins started school at the local Volksschule where both Jewish and Christian children attended. At that time, they became more aware of their Jewish background.  As Ellen described, “[i]n Germany, religious instruction was part of the overall curriculum and was taught during regular school hours by clergy of each denomination.”  Pine, p. 20.  Ellen and Hannelore were taught by their cantor and received instruction in Hebrew and Bible stories.

The family had Shabbat dinners with their Mayer grandparents and celebrated the Jewish holidays together.  The Kann family also liked to travel, and Ellen recalled family trips to the Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Switzerland, and Austria during her childhood.

Ellen’s uncles Wilhelm and Ernst, the sons of Mathilde Gross and Marx Mayer, were also living comfortable lives in Germany in the years before Hitler came to power. Wilhelm became a renowned psychiatrist.  According to Edward Shorter’s A Historical Dictionary of Psychiatry (Oxford University Press, Feb 17, 2005), Wilhelm studied medicine at the University of Heidelberg and then further specialized in psychiatry at Heidelberg.  His doctoral thesis was on “the phenomenology of abnormal feelings of happiness,” and by 1929, he was an assistant professor of psychiatry in Heidelberg.

On the personal side, according to Shorter’s book, Wilhelm had married in 1919; his wife was Carola Meyer, and they had one child.  Around the time of his marriage, Wilhelm adopted the surname Mayer-Gross, hyphenating his mother’s maiden name with his father’s surname.

Wilhelm’s younger brother Ernst served in the German military during World War I. Once again Matthias Steinke helped me out and translated the documents reporting Ernst’s military record.  According to Matt’s translation, Ernst served in the military first from October 1907 until September 1909 as a private in the 9th Infantry Regiment in Zabern.  Then when World War I started, he was on active duty from August 1914 until September 1918, again serving in the infantry.  He was a bona fide war hero for Germany.

He fought in over twenty battles all over Europe: in France, in Italy, in Bukovina and Slovenia, and at the border of Greece.  On the 5th of October he was shot in the back during a battle near Lille, France, but returned to the front by June, 1915, where he fought in a battle near Tirol. Beginning in December, 1914, he served as a ski trooper for some of his time in the army. His service ended when he was sent to the hospital in September, 1918, with influenza.  His rank at the end of his service was a reserve lieutenant.  He received several commendations for his service including the Prussian Iron Cross, the Edelweiss medal, and two Hessian orders.

Bavaria, Germany, World War I, Personnel Rosters, 1914-1918, for Ernst Mayer Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Mnchen; Abteilung IV Kriegsarchiv. Kriegstammrollen, 1914-1918; Volume: 11697. Kriegsstammrolle: Bd.1

Bavaria, Germany, World War I, Personnel Rosters, 1914-1918, for Ernst Mayer
Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Mnchen; Abteilung IV Kriegsarchiv. Kriegstammrollen, 1914-1918; Volume: 11697. Kriegsstammrolle: Bd.1

Ernst Mayer WW1 military register 6

Bavaria, Germany, World War I, Personnel Rosters, 1914-1918, for Ernst Mayer Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Mnchen; Abteilung IV Kriegsarchiv. Kriegstammrollen, 1914-1918; Volume: 11697. Kriegsstammrolle: Bd.1

After the war, Ernst became the owner of a successful publishing house in Berlin, Mauritius Verlag.  He married Helene Hirschberg, and they had two daughters and were living in Berlin.

Thus, as of 1933, Mathilde (Gross) and Marx Mayer and their three children were successful citizens of Germany.  The world and lives of all these members of the family changed drastically with the election of Hitler as chancellor in 1933.

Ellen Kann Pine was then twelve years old and remembers well how things changed in Bingen.  She wrote:

As soon as Hitler became chancellor, fierce looking men wearing different colored uniforms appeared everywhere. … Part of the uniform was a red armband with a large black swastika on a white background.  Almost all teenagers of both sexes belonged to the Hitler Youth and wore similar brown uniforms and red armbands.  They all were disturbing and frightening as they marched in the streets day and night carrying Nazi flags and singing Horst-Wessel Lied and other vicious anti-Semitic songs. Swastikas were painted everywhere: on walls, on buildings, on flags, and on women’s brown blouses. …. 

It was soon obvious that the anti-Semitic propaganda and lies that abounded in the streets had their desired effect.  It helped turn our previously friendly and courteous Christian neighbors and their children into hostile anti-Semites.  Now we rarely went for walks, and when we did, we kept strictly to ourselves.  We could not go shopping, or to the movies, or a theater, since most of these activities were out of bounds for Jews.

Pine, pp. 35-36.

Things changed for Ellen and her sister at school as well because they were Jewish. Friends ignored them, as did their teachers.

Adding to the family’s stress and sorrow was the heartbreaking death of Mathilde’s husband and the family patriarch, Marx Mayer. Ellen wrote:

Our beloved Opapa died in 1934.  It was the first family death we experienced and it was wrenching.  I cannot forget the look on our Omama’s face when we came to visit her.  Sitting on the sofa, she looked utterly lonely and sad with grief.

Pine, p. 29

After September, 1935, with the passage of the Nuremberg Laws, Ellen and her siblings could no longer attend school at all. Their father also lost his job as director of a synthetic fertilizer company.  The family made the important but painful decision to send the twins and their younger brother to boarding school in England.  For two years from 1936 until 1938, the children lived away from their parents.  Ellen wrote movingly about the experience and the issues the children had adjusting to life away from home.

Fortunately their uncle, Willy Mayer-Gross, was in England and was a source of comfort and support for the children while they lived there. The Nazi laws prohibiting Jewish doctors from practicing medicine on non-Jewish patients and other restrictions had led Willy to emigrate in 1933.  He was able to obtain funding through a Rockefeller Foundation grant to go to England to work and live.  His niece Ellen Kann Pine wrote this about her uncle Willy:

Learning a new language, a new culture, new ways of treating patients, and having to retake his medica exams made his first years there very difficult.  Although Uncle W. was in his forties he persevered, brought his family to England and was able to continue his research.  … He was our guardian and his support was invaluable when my sister and I entered boarding school in England in 1936.

Pine, p. 32

Willy did in fact have a remarkable career in England; Edward Shorter described him as the “Importer of German scientific rigor and psychopathological thinking to English psychiatry.” A Historical Dictionary of Psychiatry (Oxford University Press, Feb 17, 2005).

According to the Whonamedit website:

In the 1933 Mayer-Gross came to the Bethlem Royal Hospital, London, to work with Edward Mapother, who provided fellowships for German academics who were fleeing Hitler, such as Guttmann and Mayer-Gross. He worked at the hospital from 1933 to 1939, when he became a licentiate of the Royal College pf Physicians and the Royal College of Surgeons. He subsequently became senior fellow with the department of experimental psychiatry, Birmingham Medical School 1958; Director of Research, Uffcalme Clinic. He was a fellow of the British Eugenics Society 1946, 1957. It was Mayer-Gross who first suggested, in about 1955, that tranquilizers converted one psychosis into another. Wilhelm Mayer-Gross was the winner of the Administrative Psychiatry Award for 1958.

Willy’s younger brother Ernst also suffered due to the Nazi persecution of Jews.  Despite his distinguished service to Germany during World War I, like other Jewish business owners he was forced to sell his publishing business in accordance with the Nazi policies requiring “Aryanization” of all businesses.  Like his brother Willy, Ernst decided to leave Germany once he’d lost his business.

He arrived in New York on June 8, 1935, leaving his family behind until he could bring them over as well.

Ernst Mayer passenger manifest 1935

Ernst Mayer passenger manifest 1935 page 2

Ernst Mayer passenger manifest, June 8, 1935, line 8 Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867.

Soon after arriving in New York, he and two other German Jewish refugees, Kurt Safranski (whom Ernst had listed as his contact in NY on the manifest) and Kurt Kornfeld, formed Black Star Publishing Company.  Marvin Hefferman wrote in the New York Times blog “Lens” on July 15, 2013, that Ernst Mayer and his partners were “innovators in Germany’s picture press and publishing world and fled from the Nazis.  Their New York-based company commissioned and brokered the use of photographs that documented important events, the comings and goings of notables, and human interest stories.” Marvin Hefferman, “Black Star Shines Anew,” The New York Times (July 15, 2013), available here.

Among their early clients were the magazines Life, Look, The Saturday Evening Post, and Collier’s, which retained their services for the procurement of photographs. The Black Star company’s website describes Ernst’s important role in the success of Black Star:

It was Mayer who made the decisive step uptown into the Rockefeller Center to Time Inc. He brought with him an enormous pile of essays from photographers including Fritz Goro and Paul Wolff, whom he had brought safely from Berlin to New York.  Soon after, the chief editors of Life Magazine had chosen Black Star as one of their main suppliers of pictures. Emigre photojournalists viewed the agency as their best means of gaining access to the magazine. For the mostly Jewish photographers, Black Star was a piece of Europe in the middle of New York.… According to photo historian Marianne Fulton, Life brought Black Star 30 to 40 per cent of its business. Black Star, in turn, contributed to Life becoming the most popular magazine in America for nearly three decades, with tens of millions of readers.

A little over a year after arriving himself, Ernst was able to bring his wife and daughter to the United States on August 11, 1936.[2]

Ernst Mayer and family August 1936 manifest

Ernst Mayer and family passenger manifest August 11, 1936 Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867.

Ernst Mayer and family passenger manifest August 11, 1936
Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867.

One year after that, on October 11, 1937, he returned once more to Germany to bring his mother Mathilde back to the US.[3]  As you can see, the manifest shows they left from England, not Germany.  Ellen Kann Pine wrote that her grandmother Mathilde came to see her and her sister at boarding school in England before leaving for the US.

Mathilde Mayer passenger manifest October 1 1937

Mathilde Mayer passenger manifest October 1 1937 page 2

Mathilde Mayer and Ernst Mayer on passenger manifest, October 11, 1937 Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867.

Ernst and his family and his mother were all living in New Rochelle, New York, at that time.

In August, 1938, the daughters of Alice Mayer Kann, Ellen and Hannelore, left England to come to the US.  Their parents and brother followed a month later, and the Kann family also settled in New Rochelle, New York.  Thus, by the fall of 1938, just a few months before Kristallnacht and the increased violence against Jews in Europe that followed, all of Mathilde’s children and grandchildren were safely out of Germany, as was she.

I will leave for another day what Mathilde’s life was like once she got to America—that is, until I can read the rest of her memoir.  As for her granddaughter Ellen Kann Pine, like her two uncles Willy and Ernst, she not only survived, she thrived—she worked hard, ultimately obtained a Ph.D. in biochemistry, and became a successful research scientist.  I highly recommend her memoir as another lesson in the resilience of people and their ability to start life over in a new place and find not only security but happiness.  Her book is available on Amazon here.

Sadly, Ernst Mayer’s wife Helene Hirschberg died on July 19, 1945, at age fifty.  Willy Mayer-Gross died in 1961; he was 72.  Mathilda outlived her oldest child, dying at 100 in 1969.  Her other two children also lived long lives.  Ernst died at ninety in 1983, and Alice died in 1993 when she was 97. Her husband Arthur Kann had died many years before in 1966 when he was 83.

My cousin Mathilde had suffered greatly during her life: she had lost her parents in a terrible tragedy, her husband had died too soon, and she had been forced to leave her homeland and the place where her family had lived for hundreds of years.  But she and her three children and all of her grandchildren escaped Nazi Germany in time and survived.  Although all of them suffered from the Nazi treatment of Jews, they all found success. It’s hard to say they were lucky, given what they’d endured, but they at least survived.

Other members of their extended family were not as fortunate.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Later posts will relate what happened to Mathilde’s siblings and their families.

 

[2] Ernst and Helene Mayer had another daughter Dorothea, who had died before the family left Germany.

[3] It appears that Mathilde was listed on an earlier ship manifest to leave Germany in February, 1937. There is a notation “Ext. 9/17/37,” which I assume meant she extended her ticket for an additional seven months. Perhaps she did not want to sail alone, and it was only when Ernst returned to bring her back in October that she came to the US.  Or maybe she did come in February and returned because there is another notation that says “RT.”  Return trip? I am not sure.

Mathilde Mayer-Gross on passenger manifest February 1937

Mathilde Mayer-Gross on passenger manifest Feb 1937 page 2

Mathilde Mayer-Gross listed on February 1937 manifest Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867.

Life in Bingen, Germany 1850-1901: The Family of Martha and Benjamin Seligmann

As I wrote last time, Mathilde Gross Mayer (known sometimes as Mathilde Mayer-Gross) lived a long life—a hundred years that spanned two centuries (1869-1969) and two countries—Germany until she was 68 and then the United States for the last 32 years of her life. Her autobiography, Die Alte and Die Neu Welt, records the story of her remarkable life.  I have read the small portion of her autobiography that I had translated by Ute Brandenburg.[1]  I hope to read the book in its entirety once I know enough German to make that possible.

Mathilde Mayer book cover

But from the excerpt I’ve read in translation along with information I obtained from other sources, I have learned quite a bit about Mathilde’s family and her early life in Germany.

First, a little background. As I wrote last time, Mathilde was my second cousin, three times removed. Her great-grandparents were my four-times great-grandparents, Jacob Seligmann and Martha Mayer.  Jacob and Martha had ten children, including Moritz Seligmann, my three-times great-grandfather, and Martha Seligmann, Mathilde’s grandmother.Relationship_ Amy Cohen to Mathilde Gross part 1

Relationship_ Amy Cohen to Mathilde Gross part 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have written about Moritz and his family in several places.  His son Bernhard (later Bernard), my great-great-grandfather, was one of the Seligmann brothers who came to the United States and settled in Santa Fe where they established the important trading business known as Seligman Brothers.

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Moritz Seligmann, Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Bernard Seligman

Bernard Seligman

I have also written about Martha and how I discovered, thanks to the family tree discovered by my cousin Wolfgang, that in 1824 she married her first cousin (and also my cousin) Benjamin Seligmann, son of Hirsch Seligmann, who was Jacob Seligmann’s brother.  Martha and Benjamin lived in Bingen, Germany, where they had seven children: Siegfried (1824), Emilia (1826), Hermann (1828), Karolina (1831), Ferdinand (1836), Lambert (1838), and Bertha (1841).

tree 2 pages 2 and 3

Emil Seligmann’s handwritten tree courtesy of Wolfgang Seligmann

The facts below are all based on Mathilde’s book, except where noted.  All quotations are from the translation by Ute Brandeburg of Chapter 2 of Mathilde’s book.

Benjamin Seligmann was initially in the scrap metal business and then later in the money changing business, but according to his grandson Isidor Gross (who contributed to his sister Mathilde’s book), Benjamin was actually more academically inclined by nature.  It was his wife Martha and their sons Lambert and Ferdinand who really ran the business. Benjamin and two of his sons, Lambert and Hermann, also served as accountants for the Jewish congregation in Bingen.

Isidor wrote about his uncle Ferdinand that he had traveled to Paris and when he returned, he brought home a top hat.  “He would promenade around Bingen, wearing this hat and using a skinny walking stick, just as he had in Paris.” (DADNW, p. 10).  As a result, he earned the nickname “Hat,” and Isidor and Mathilde referred to Ferdinand as “Uncle Hat.”

After their father Benjamin died in 1862, his sons Ferdinand and Lambert took over the business, which was eventually renamed “Ferdinand Seligmann.”  Neither Ferdinand nor Lambert ever married, and they lived together in Bingen and were known as Die Herren, or The Gentlemen.  A third brother, Hermann, also never married; he was for a time involved in the business, but ran into some financial troubles and was bought out by Ferdinand.

The oldest child of Martha and Benjamin, Siegfried, married his first cousin, Carolina, who was a daughter of Moritz Seligmann, my three-times great-grandfather.  Siegfried and Carolina had seven children together, including Emil, the one presumed to have recorded the family tree I discussed here.  Emilia, the second child of Benjamin and Martha Seligmann, married Salomon Lorch and had four children. Karolina Seligmann (Benjamin and Martha’s daughter, not the one who married Siegfried) married Sigmund Marx; I don’t have any record of children born to that couple.

Bertha Seligmann, the youngest child of Benjamin and Martha and the mother of Mathilde and Isidor, married Bernhard Gross on June 30, 1868.  Bernhard was the son of Wolfgang Gross and Fanny Nathan, who lived in Gau-Bickelheim where Wolfgang was in the wine business, working with his sons Bernhard, Moses, and Julius.

The marriage contract between Bertha Seligmann and Bernhard Gross is included in Mathilde’s book and reveals the contributions that each side made to the marriage. It is quite apparent that this couple came from families of some means.

Bertha brought clothing and personal items worth 850 gulden and house furnishings worth 350 gulden to the marriage as well as 2000 gulden in cash.  Her mother also made a gift of 3500 gulden to the couple (to be deducted from Bertha’s inheritance). Bertha’s brother Siegfried promised to pay the rent on the couple’s home in Bingen for two years, or a total of 260 gulden.

Bernhard also contributed to the marriage.  He brought 300 guldens’ worth of personal items and clothing and 418 gulden’s worth of home furnishings.  His parents provided a gift of 2000 gulden to the couple (also to be deducted from their son’s inheritance).

Thus, Bertha’s contribution amounted to 6,960 gulden, and Bernhard’s was 2,718 gulden.  As converted by Isidor Gross in 1938 as described in his sister’s book, that combined amount would have been equivalent to about 16,000 goldmarks in 1938.  According to one source, in 1938 there were 2.49 marks to a dollar, so that would mean that 16,000 marks was equivalent to $6425 in 1938.  Using an inflation calculator, I calculated that $6425 in 1938 would be worth about $108,000 today.  Not a bad start for a young couple.

When they married, Bertha and Bernhard moved to an apartment in Bingen where less than a year later their first child, Mathilde, was born on April 14, 1869.  She was followed by her sister Anna a year later, her brother Wilhelm in 1872, and then her brother Isidor in 1873.  By the time Isidor was born, the family had moved to a house of their own.  The prior owner, a baker, continued to occupy the first floor, which he used for his business, and a police officer lived on the third floor.  Isidor described the house as “a large building with a passageway to Eselgasse, where the driveway was located.  The courtyard and back buildings offered us children much space to play.” DADNW, p. 16  A sixth child was born to Bertha and Bernhard in March 1876, a son Karl.

Mathilde described her father Bernhard as “a highly respected citizen who had no enemies, did much for the common good, and helped however and wherever he could.  He supported the congregation in word and deed, and whenever possible he went to Saturday services.” DADNW, p.18  She continued:

Father was a hardworking, ambitious businessman.  He was well liked with the customers.  Nearly every morning, he would head out early to the train station, his bags heavy with wine samples.  But he never left the house without first bringing a little sample of his breakfast, bread rolls with egg, a “morsel.” As he called it, to the children’s bed….. Although he was often serious and judicious, he did have a cheerful disposition and was always in a good and light-hearted mood when attending social and family events….Despite his occupation, which had him taste alcohol on a daily basis, he always sought moderation in drinking.  He could not tolerate more than two or three glasses of good wine; then he would become exceedingly merry, climb onto chairs and tables, stretch out his arms, and exclaim: “My dear friends, this is the world!”

DADNW, p. 18

Mathilde’s portrait of her mother Bertha Seligmann Gross, is quite different:

She was serious and strict, with herself as well as others.  She rarely participated in fun and laughter. … Mother strove to manage the household with as much frugality as possible.  The boys often came home with holes in the bottoms of their pants and the knees of their socks.  [Heels?] Sometimes there would be a pat on the backside.  Then [I] would have to spend [my] Saturday evenings and Sundays mending the work day clothes and darning the socks instead of reading or going to visit [my] girlfriends. ….  There would many weeks where I had to polish the metal stove pipes with scouring paper until they shone before I could return to school at 2 o’clock.  Mother was a heavy-handed person who did not know how to make life easier for herself and others.

DADNW, pp.19-20

Mathilde also wrote about her brothers that they were “wild and spunky.  They were always up for pranks, didn’t spend much time in the books, and went outside the moment Mother looked the other way.”  DADNW, p. 18.

Obviously as the oldest child and daughter, Mathilde had a lot of responsibilities, but she did have some happy childhood memories.  She enjoyed ballroom dancing lessons, and she and her sister Anna spent school holidays with her mother’s brother Siegfried Seligmann and his family in nearby Mainz.  She also spent some time in 1885 when she was sixteen living with her Uncle Hat (Ferdinand) in Nancy in Alsace, but was not happy going to school there and returned to her family in Bingen.

The family of Bertha and Bernhard Gross moved a few times in Bingen to accommodate their growing family.  The second home was bigger, but needed work. Isidor wrote, “There was no gas, no plumbing, no electric light, and the toilets were very primitive.  They were outside the apartment, which was quite unpleasant in the winter and in bad weather.” DADNW, p. 17  Mathilde also described the house’s shortcomings: “only kerosene lamps that needed to be cleaned every morning, no warm water, and only much later running water—before that one had to fetch water in pails from the pump in the courtyard.  It was a lot of work to keep three or four stoves going in the wintertime.” DADNW, p. 20

 

On April 11, 1888, Mathilde married Marx Mayer, a man one of her aunts had introduced to her.  On the Judische-Bingen site I found Mathilde’s description of her husband:

My husband Marx was a cheerful person, a life-affirming character, who knew how to make friends everywhere.  He was a good dancer, loved to dance, and we seldom missed seeing the New Year begin at the New Year’s ball in Caecilienverein. 

Mathilde went on to describe the yearly three-day carnival celebration in Bingen, which Marx enjoyed greatly, often staying out until four in the morning.[2]

Mathilde and Marx had three children between 1889 and 1896: Wilhelm, Ernst, and Anna. Mathilde’s siblings also married in these years.  Her sister Anna married Willhelm Lichter; her brother Wilhelm married Sophie Hirsch.  Isidor married Clara Emmerich, and Karl married Agnes Neuberger.  They all would have at least one child.

With their children all grown, Bertha and Bernhard decided to purchase another home at Mainzer Strasse 16 in Bingen, though it needed substantial renovations.  Bertha and Bernard moved into the house in late 1898.  Sadly, they only lived in the house for a few years because on November 1, 1901, both Bernhard and Bertha were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning that had resulted from some faulty renovations being made on the house.  Bernhard was only 61, Bertha just 60 when they died.

Headstones for Bertha Seligmann Gross and Bernhard Gross in the Jewish cemetery in Bingen http://www.juedisches-bingen.de/43.0.html

Headstones for Bertha Seligmann Gross and Bernhard Gross in the Jewish cemetery in Bingen
http://www.juedisches-bingen.de/43.0.html

Mathilde wrote of how she learned the news of her parents’ awful death:

On that fateful Thursday morning when Emil Seligmann [son of Siegfried and Caroline Seligmann and Mathilde’s first cousin] came to get me and then told me, as we were walking, of the accident, he lead me over Schlossberg rather than through town where people already knew and would have stared at me.  I could not immediately comprehend the scale of the tragedy that had befallen us.  DADNW, p. 19.

Understandably, Mathilde was devastated.  She wrote that her father’s death “was a heavy blow that left a big void.”  DADNW, p. 19.

Thus, the new century did not begin well for the family of Bertha Seligmann and Bernhard Gross.  In fact, it was a century marked by a great deal of tragedy for the family.  Although I cannot yet read enough of Mathilde’s book to provide a reliable translation of her own words for the years that followed her parents’ deaths, I have been able to learn more about the fate of her family from other sources and will reveal what happened to them all in posts to follow.

Family View Report for Bertha Seligmann-page-001

 

 

 

 

[1] Ute Brandenburg provides professional translation services for German texts, including texts written in the old German script.  You can see her website at  https://germanscriptexperts.com/   References to translated quotes from the German version of Mathilde’s book are indicated by “DADNW” and the appropriate page numbers.  All translations of the book were done by Ute Brandenburg.

[2] Unfortunately, Google Translate’s translation of these pages is quite awful, so I am hoping to obtain a better translation.

Why I Am Studying German

Along with researching, blogging, working on my novel, and doing other ordinary things with my days, I have started studying German.  I took French in high school and college, and I learned some Italian from a travel experience I had after college, but I knew no German.  Well, other than a word here and there like Danke and Gesundheit.

So why, you might ask, did I decide to learn German? It certainly is a challenge.  Although I’ve been delighted to see how many words are similar to English (like wein/wine and bier/beer) or Yiddish (like schön/shayne and schmutzig/schmutzy), German grammar is tough.  The sentence structure is hard.  The various cases are confusing; the articles and pronouns are a constant source of bewilderment.  But I am enjoying the challenge.

But that doesn’t address the question of why German.  Sure, I have many ancestors with German roots, and yes, it would be helpful to read the birth, marriage, and death records without depending on the generosity of people like Matthias Steinke, Ute Brandenburg, Ralph Baer, Dorothee Lottmann-Kaeseler. and others.  But I had already figured out the words for birth, death, marriage, mother, father, and even the months of the year.  So why struggle to learn ordinary vocabulary and grammar?

Yes, I am planning a trip to Germany for next year, and I do want to be able to get by as much as possible without expecting people to know English.  But I also know that I won’t be fluent enough really to do that, and I know that most people in Germany involved in the tourist industry will speak English, just as they did in Prague, Budapest, Vienna, and Krakow.

So why bother trying to learn German? It all started with Mathilde Mayer-Gross.  Who was she? She was my second cousin, three times removed:

Relationship_ Amy Cohen to Mathilde Gross part 1

Relationship_ Amy Cohen to Mathilde Gross part 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That is, Mathilde’s grandmother Martha Seligmann and my three-time great-grandfather Moritz Seligmann were sister and brother.  We are both direct descendants of Jacob Seligmann

Mathilde is also related to me through her grandfather Benjamin Seligmann since he was his wife Martha’s first cousin; Martha’s grandfather Jacob Seligmann and Benjamin’s grandfather Hirsch Seligmann were brothers.

But I digress.

 

Mathilde was born in Bingen, Germany, in April 1869. She left in 1937 to escape from Nazi persecution when she was almost 68 years old and a grandmother; she lived over thirty years in the United States, dying in September, 1969, when she was a hundred years old.  She wrote a book about her remarkable life called Die Alte und Die Neu Welt.  [The Old and The New World] (1951).

Mathilde Mayer book cover

And I want to read her book.  But I can only find it in German. Ute Brandenburg did a wonderful job of translating one of the chapters, but I can’t afford to pay what it would cost to translate the rest of the book.

I used Google Translate to read some other excerpts from Mathilde’s book that appear on the Arbeitskreis Judische- Bingen website. I also read the memoir written by Mathilde’s granddaughter Ellen Kann Pine, One Life in Two Worlds (2009). But I still want to read Mathilde’s book itself.

20160810_174631600_iOS

So I decided to learn German.  After about four months of using the Duolingo program online, I can write a simple sentence or two to my cousin Wolfgang and his young daughter Milena, and I can understand enough to read simple sentences.  The Duolingo program is wonderful; I study every day about 30 minutes a day, and I am having a lot of fun. But so far my ten year old fourth cousin Milena knows a lot more English than I know German.

duolingo icon

Will I ever be able to read Mathilde’s book? I don’t know.  I may never be fluent enough to read it without a dictionary in hand (and Google Translate), but perhaps I will be able to read and understand enough to satisfy my curiosity about her life.

In the meantime, in my next few posts, I will take a break from the Schoenthal clan, and I will share some of what I learned about Mathilde and her family from the other sources I mentioned, including Arbeitskreis Judische-Bingen, Ellen Kann Pine’s book, and Chapter 2 of Mathilde’s own book as translated by Ute Brandenburg.  Maybe someday I will be able to fill in the rest of the stories of her life.

 

Letters from Frank: A Soldier in World War I

In my last post I posted and transcribed three letters written to Francis Oestreicher aka Frank Striker by various relatives between 1907 and 1939.  In this post I want to share the letters that Frank wrote home while he was serving in World War I.  These letters were all written in the fall of 1918, beginning before Frank was sent overseas and ending with one in December, 1918, a month or so after the war had ended.

Frank Striker WW1

Francis Oestreicher in World War I

As with the last post, I have tried to keep the transcriptions true to the text of the letters, only making some punctuation changes and some spelling changes and adding paragraphing to make them more easily read.

The first letter was written from Camp Meritt, New Jersey, on September 20, 1918.

IMG_1847 IMG_1848

 

Camp Meritt, NJ September 20, 1918

Dear Mother, Father & Sister,

As you can see by the heading, I am now located at Camp Merrit. This accounts for my not having written yesterday. We left Camp Holabird yesterday morning and arrived here to[o] late last night to write.  We are located about 15 miles from New York and the camp is more like a park than anything else. It is layed out beautifully and is made to accomidate 70,000 men, all of whom sleep in barracks. There are no tents here.

Am going to try to get a pass to go to New York Sunday, but I doubt it if they will give me one, as they are very anxious to keep us together.

I suppose it will not come as a surprise when I tell you that we are prepairing to go across, we do not know just what day, but it may be to-morrow and it may not be for 2 weeks or more, so please do not worry if you do not hear from me for 3 or 4 weeks.  It often takes this long or longer for mail to come across. Our trucks are already in France.

Please do not let this worry you as I know I will be safe. It is not worrying me in the least and I am feeling fine and getting along nicely.

We will go through a good bit of schooling when we get to the other side so that we will not be assigned to our regular duty for 2 months or more. We will have to learn to understand French road signs and a great many other things.

Will close now as I want this letter to go out in the next mail.

I remain, with love to you all,

Your son & brother,

Francis

I love the tone of this letter—a young man trying to reassure his parents that he is and will be fine.  How can he possibly say he knows he will be safe? I had to laugh at the idea that his parents would not worry when their child was going off to fight in a war that had already seen a tremendous number of fatalities. But so far Frank hadn’t seen anything but American army camps.

The second letter was written while Frank was sailing to Europe with the army:

IMG_1821

 

Aboard ship October 6, 1918

Dear Mother, Father, & Sister,

We expect to land in [place name torn off] tomorrow so I am writing aboard ship in order that my mail will lose no time.  I trust that you have received the postal mailed from New York advising you of my safe arrival.

Our trip has been delightful in every respect and although some of our company suffered some from sea-sickness, I came through feeling fine all the way. We saw no submarines and everything went along nicely.  Of course we were protected, but the censor would not permit my writing anything on this subject.  The trip took us considerably longer than they do in peace times, but since we had plenty of entertainment the time passed quickly and pleasantly.  You know I’ve traveled considerably around the U.S.A. but this has it beat, we are in sight of shore.

[Letter ends there; not sure if there was more as there is no signature.]

Once again, Frank is being reassuring.  He writes as if he’s on a cruise, traveling to Europe, except for the hints about censorship and submarines.  Was he really feeling as calm as his letter claims?

There are no letters between this one and the end of the war on November 11, 1918.  I don’t know whether that means Frank didn’t write any letters during that time or just that they have not been preserved or located.

The next letter was written two days after the armistice:

Frank November 13 letter 1

Frank November 13 1918 letter 2

 

 

France  November 13, 1918

Dear Mother, Father & Sister,

The official notice of an armistice came to-day and of course I was more than happy to hear the good news.  We had been expecting it for sometime as the Allies have been having things their own way for some time. Now that the firing is over and there is no more need of your worring, I might as well tell you that I have been to the front a number of times and that our position here has been shelled every night since we came, with the exception of the last 4 nights.  The Germans are now retreating and not a single shot is being fired.

The only subject the boys talk about now is coming home and I do hope that it will not be long until we are homeward bound.

We are using some English trucks and our routine is the same every day.  I believe I have the softest snap on this side of the pond. The hardest job I have is to entertain myself.  I believe I told you in my last letter that I was in charge of the detail located here and I live a gentleman’s life.

Trusting you are all enjoying the best of health, I am

Lovingly

Your son and brother

Francis

PS I am going to send you a camouflaged German helmet as a souvenir.

The tone of this letter is markedly different from the first two.  One would expect a soldier to be excited and upbeat that the war had ended.  But this letter seems more somber.  Although Frank says he now living a gentleman’s life and just waiting to come home, his brief allusions to the war—being shelled every night—make it clear that he has seen more than he is mentioning.  Somehow he seems to have changed from that young man excited to be traveling overseas to a young man eager to get home and away from the war.

The next letter came four days later.

Frank November 13 1918 letter 1 Frank November 18 letter 2

November 17, 1918

Dear Mother, Father, and Sister,

Was very much surprised to-day to receive a letter addressed to Camp Lee and dated July 28th.  Although a bit stale I was very glad to receive it.

There is not much new to write.  Our duties are the same as they have been and we are getting along nicely.  Instead of war talk now the principal discussion these days are when are we going home.  There are many rumors as to what our company will do.  Some say we are to go to Germany, others say we will soon be homeward bound, but the truth is yet to be learned.

The cold weather is beginning to set in, but you never need worry as I have clothing gelore.  I have a heavy overcoat, sweater and gum boots that I have never worn also heavy wollen socks.

Yesterday I saw the first lot of prisoners to be returned from Germany.  They were a lot of Italians who had been in Germany 2 years.  Believe me they were glad to have there freedom

I can imagine the celebrations that took place in the states when peace was signed, but at the front all was silent.  In the night some bright lights flashed.

I trust that it will not be long now until I will be siting around the table with you as we used too.

Please give my love to dear Aunt Jennie and family, Uncle Morris, and Mr Lebenwalter.

Must close now with love to you all,

I remain

Lovingly

Francis B. Oestreicher

Frank obviously was longing to be home.  And again the tone is more somber.  His line contrasting what he expects the celebrations were like back home to the silence at the front is telling.  There was no celebrating by those who had fought in the war.  They just wanted to go home.

Eleven days later he wrote this letter:

Frank November 28 1918 letter 1

Frank November 28 letter 1918 2

Frank November 28 1918 letter 3

 

France, November 28, 1918

Dear Mother, Father & Sister,

These last few days we have not had a thing to do so I spent most of my time roaming around the country.  The YMCA gave me several hundred Christmas cards and I distributed some of them among the members of our Co. and I sent more than 50 to my customers.

Last week I was called back and joined the rest of my company.  I believe I wrote to you shortly after my arrival in France that was away from the Co. on detached service.

The part of France which I am in was full of soldiers and the roads were jammed with traffic a few weeks ago, but now there are very few soldiers around here and the only trucks we see are our own water tanks.  A few civilians are now coming back.  I was speaking to an old Frenchman this morning.  He is about 60 years old.  He pointed to a few standing walls and said it was his home.  His fields are turn [torn?] up with shell holes and trenches.

There are some German prisoners around here. One of them told me they have not had soap in Germany for 2 years and that they could not even buy a handkerchief without a note from a city official.

The censorship regulations are the same as they have been, but I think that within a short time the censorship will be lifted and I will be able to tell you where I am located.  At present I can only state that I am in the most notable line of defence the Germans ever built. Am also within 20 miles of the strongest fortified city in France, a city which the Germans have tried to take since the beginning of the war but never succeeded.

We are living in barracks which the Germans built and our meals are very good.  There is a YMCA located a very short distance from here and we can buy candy and chocolate.  We can also get newspapers and writing paper.

So far the weather has been fine.  It has been warm and fairly dry.

Have not received mail from you since I wrote to you last, but the mail comes in bunches, and I am expecting mail from you within a few days.

Knowing of nothing else that would interest you, will close, hoping you are all enjoying the best of health, I remain,

Lovingly

Your son and brother

Francis

Two images stand out for me here: the Frenchman surveying his destroyed home and fields and the German soldier revealing the desperate economic situation in Germany. How interesting that Frank conversed with someone who just weeks before had been the enemy.  And he sounds somewhat sympathetic to the conditions endured by that enemy.

It’s also interesting that Frank was now allowed to reveal more details about his location. That location was made much more clear in the letter that follows.

Frank December 8 1918 letter 1 Frank December 8 1918 letter 2 Frank December 8 1918 letter 3

 

France December 8, 1918

Dear Mother, Father, & Sister,

The censor is partly lifted now and I am able to write things that would not have passed a week ago.  We are now permitted to relate our experiences and to mention the names of the towns and cities.   We arrived in Liverpool, England on October 8th and traveled through England by rail to South-hampton.  From there we took a boat to Cherbourg, France, where we arrived on October 11th.  On October 13th we boarded a train on which we remained 4 days and finally we landed at Clermont which is located about 15 miles west of Verdun. At the time of our arrival here the front was 15 miles north.  On October 25 was sent on detatched service with some others in our Co. and we located at Montfucon which is about 22 miles north of Clairmont.  At the time of our arrival at Montfucon the trenches were a very short distance and we were able to get a fair idea of what modern war really is.

The day before yesterday we came back to Clairmont where the battalion headquarters are located and from all appearances I will remain with the Co. until we land in America.

Have not received any mail from you for about 2 weeks, but I know it is because of poor mail service.  I am not worried about you and you need not worry about me.  I also will ask you not to send me anything, either money, eatables or clothes, as I have everything I need.

Our chief thought these days is the thought of going home, but we receive very little information on this subject.  We are not doing any work and we have a good chance of being in the U.S.A. in Feb or possibly even in January.  However I cannot kick as we have it very good here.  There is an excellent band occupying an adjurning building so we have lots of music.  We also can buy candy and cakes at the Salvation Army.

Regarding the weather must say it is just like spring. We have not had one cold day yet.

Trusting you are all enjoying the best of health and wishing you dear father a very prosperous Chrismas business, I remain

Lovingly

Your son and brother,

Francis

PS Dear Mother, It seems a bit early to congratulate you for your birthday, but considering the slowness of the mail this letter may reach you after your birthday.  I wish to extend my heartiest wishes for a very happy birthday and trust that you will enjoy many more birthdays in good health and happiness. [Sarah’s birthday was January 8.]

Francis

I looked on a map to try and determine where Frank was located based on this letter.  I knew he had been involved in the Meuse Argonne offensive, so that also helped.  I believe “Clairmont” is Clermont-en-Argonne and “Montfuscon” is Montfaucon-d’Argonne.  On this map you can see Verdun, the “most fortified city in France,” as Frank described it in his earlier letter, and the cemetery at Meuse-Argonne where those killed in that offensive are buried.

 

Even though the censorship was reduced and Frank could reveal where he had been, he still does not discuss what he saw during the fighting or how he felt.  He makes reference to “getting a fair idea of what modern war is,” but he doesn’t share what that was like.  I wonder if he ever did. But it is clear that he is anxious to get home and hopes to be there by January or February, at the latest.

Frank’s military dates as revealed on this postcard, however, indicate that he did not in fact get back to the US until July.  I wonder what they had him doing for the next six months.

Frank postcard with military service dates

That is the last of the letters written by Frank that I received from Steve. I don’t know whether Frank wrote more.  I imagine he did.   Perhaps more letters will show up.  But even these six letters written over a short period of time reveal in subtle ways the experiences Frank lived through between September 20, 1918, and December 8, 1918.

Frank Striker WW1 medal

 

 

 

Letters to Frank: A Close Family Revealed

As I mentioned here, included with all the photographs that my cousin Steve scanned and sent to me were a number of letters.  I posted the letter written by Gerald Oestreicher to his family during World War II, and I mentioned that there were also letters written by Gerald’s uncle, Francis Oestreicher, when he was serving during World War I.  Frank was my father’s second cousin, both being the great-grandchildren of Levi Schoenthal and Henriette Hamberg. Thus, he was my second cousin, once removed:

Frank Striker to me relationship chart

 

There were also some letters written to Frank, as he was known after the war.  In this post I will share the letters written to Frank. The next post will contain the letters written by Frank during World War I.  I’ve transcribed all the letters as close to their original spelling and punctuation as I could, but made some changes just for purposes of readability.  No words were deleted or changed; nothing was added, except where I’ve put my own comments in brackets.

What struck me as meaningful about these letters is what they reveal about the close connections among the Schoenthal siblings—the ten children of my great-great-grandparents Levi Schoenthal and Henriette Hamberg.  These three letters date from 1907 to 1939, and each one shows that this large and extended family knew and cared about each other.

The oldest letter was a letter written by Frank’s great-aunt Helen Lilienfeld Schoenthal, the wife of my great-great-uncle, Henry Schoenthal.  Helen wrote this letter from Washington, Pennsylvania in 1907, to Frank, grandson of her sister-in-law Hannah Schoenthal.

Letter from Helen Lilienfeld Schoenthal dated December 12, 1907 from Washington, PA

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My dear Francis,

Years roll by, and children grow up to man and womenhood before we know it. And so it is with you my dear boy.  I can hardly realize that you have reached your 14th birthday, and it seems to me only a little while that dear Hilda was our representative at your Bris mihle.  With a hearty birthday kiss accompanied by the best wishes I send you many congratulations.  May our heavenly Father always protect and bless you, so that with every birthday your young life may be brighter and happier.  May the best of health and a long life free of care and worry be yours that your dear parents will have a great deal of pleasure on you.  Again I send you a little gift which help a little to swell your Bank account and which I hope will bring you the best luck in business.

Wishing you a very happy birthday with lots of fun.  I am

Lovingly

Your affectionate Aunt Helen

Uncle Henry, Hilda and Therese send their congratulations and love to everybody.

There is also a message written by Helen in German along the margin that I could not read, but with the help of my friend Matthias Steinke in transcribing and translating the old German script, I now know what it says:

My dear all! I am sending you this time only the heartiest greetings and kisses because my eyes close already automatically, because this evening I wrote already a couple of letters. In Love, your aunt, Helen 

Isn’t it interesting that in 1907 after being in the US for 35 years and clearly fluent in English,  Helen reverted to German (and German script) to write to Frank’s parents, Gustav and Sarah Stern Oestreicher? Both Sarah and Gustav were native German speakers, but both also had been in the US for a very long time. I wonder if Frank could read German or was as puzzled as I was by the German script scrawled on the margin of his birthday letter.

Aunt Helen--maybe Lilienfeld Schoenthal

The second letter was written a little over ten years later in July, 1918 when Frank had joined the army, but before he was shipped overseas.  It is also from his great-aunt Helen, with a short addendum by his great-uncle Henry Schoenthal.

Once again, it is evident that Helen and Henry were closely connected to Frank, a child of their niece Sarah Stern, grandson of Henry’s sister Hannah.  I was touched by how much affection there was for this young man, their great-grandnephew.  The letter is also interesting because it talks about Henry and Helen’s own children, their daughter Hilda, their son Lee (born Lionel) and his wife Irma, and Henry and Helen’s granddaughter Florence, who was only thirteen when this letter was written.  Helen did not use any paragraph breaks, but I’ve added some to make the text more easily read.

Letter from Helen Lilienfeld Schoenthal and Henry Schoenthal dated July 30 1918 written from NYC

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My dear Francis,

I was just thinking to write to your dear parents and ask for your address, when we were agreeably surprised on last Sunday, when your dear brother Sidney came to see us, stayed for supper and until late in the evening.  And so we are able to write to you, as Sidney was glad to give us your ad: for every soldier likes to get letters from some one, and if it is not from a sweetheart, this letter comes from your old Uncle and Aunt, who always loved you. 

I suppose your ears were ringing last Sunday, for Sidney and we talked about you a great deal, and we were glad to hear that you liked soldiers life and also the camp.  Are any boys with you from Pittsburg who you know? And how is the weather in your section?

We have terrible hot spell here since over a week, and I feel the heat very much.  But I am so thankful that we live on such nice open place near the Hudson and get all the fresh air that is going.  There is a good deal of suffering on the East side I know. 

Uncle and I are alone since the 19th of July. Irma & Lee went to the Adirondex Mountains to stay two weeks, as Lee had not been feeling well and needed a rest badly.  They choose this place so that they could be near Florence who is at a girls camp named camp Woodmere.  It is owned by Misses Goldsmith and Kuhn from Philadelphia.  They have 54 girls there and it an ideal place.  Florence is crazy about and Irma & Lee are also very much taken with the place and how beautiful it is managed.  They have all sorts of sports there.  Florence is a good swimmer and also can now [?] and take long hikes. 

We expect Irma and Lee back next Saturday and the following Saturday Hilda will arrive here and spend her vacation with us. I am looking forward to her coming with great joy, and we will try and make her stay very pleasant.  She can take many nice boat trips which she likes so much.  Sidney will come up again next week when Irma & Lee is here. 

I am making a nice lunch cloth for Helen’s engagement present, but I am taking my time making it as I have to be very careful with my eyes. [I assume Helen was Frank’s sister Helen, who married in 1920.] We also had a long letter from dear Meyer [their younger son] last week. 

Now dear Francis, be bright and cheerful and take good care of yourself.  Our good God will be with you wherever you are, and He will bring peace to every heart and all the countrys before long. 

With loads of love and a hearty and write soon to your affectionate Aunt Helen.

 My dear Francis

Your aunt has left me a little space and I gladly add a few words to tell you that we often think and speak of you.  I have no doubt that you like the life in the camp, as most of the boys do and that you will make such a fine soldier that all your friends will be proud of you.  Should the time come when you have to be on your way for “Over There” we may have a chance to bid you God’s speed in person. God be with you and bless you.

Affectionately yours,

Uncle Henry

I read this letter as an attempt by his aunt and uncle to give him their blessing before he went off to war without making him too nervous about what he was about to face.  Frank’s own letters, as we will see, reflect a similar impulse, only he is reassuring those at home that he is and will be okay.

The last letter for this post was written many years later by Frank’s father, Gustav Oestreicher.  It was written in 1939 after Gustav and Sarah had moved to California, as had their daughter Helen.  I am not certain whether Frank was living in Minneapolis or just visiting; the letter is addressed to him at a hotel, and from the content of the letter, I can infer that Frank had recently been to Chicago. I assume he was on the road in his capacity as a traveling salesman.

A little background to help identify the people named in the letter:  First, Gustav mentions the Good family.  He must be referring to Edith Stern and Leo Good and their son Bernard; Edith was Sarah Stern Oestreicher’s younger sister, thus Gustav’s sister-in-law.  In 1939, the Good family was living in Chicago.

Gustav then mentions a Lionel and his brothers and sister and another sister Hilda. At first I thought this referred to the children of Henry and Helen Schoenthal, as they had a son named Lionel, a son Meyer, and a daughter Hilda. But after reading through the letter more carefully, I realized that he was referring to Lionel Heymann, the oldest child of Rosalie Schoenthal and Willy Heymann, about whom I wrote here.  Rosalie was the youngest Schoenthal sibling, sister of Hannah Schoenthal, who was Gustave’s mother-in-law. So Rosalie was Sarah Stern’s aunt.

Here’s why I think Gustav is talking about Lionel Heymann, not Lionel Schoenthal. For one thing, Henry and Helen Schoenthal’s son Lionel was called Lee at this point, not Lionel.  And at the time this letter was written, Lionel Heymann (the photographer) was living in Chicago as were his brothers Walter and Max, so if Frank had seen the Good family, he must have been in Chicago. (I am not sure why Gustav writes that he hoped Frank might see Lionel’s “bros.& sister” since there was no sister at that time living in the US, but perhaps he was referring to Max’s wife Frieda.)

Also, Gustav mentions a sister Hilda who was still in Germany. Henry Schoenthal’s daughter Hilda was not living in Germany, but in Washington, DC, in 1939.  But Lionel Heymann had a sister Hilda who was still in Germany in 1939.  I have written about what happened to Hilda Heymann as well as her sister Helene, who married Julius Mosbach and had two daughters, Liesel and Gretel.  All were killed in the Holocaust.  That fact makes Gustav’s comment even more chilling.  I put those comments in bold below.

I do not know who the Fannie mentioned towards the end of the letter could be.

Letter from Gustav Oestreicher to his son Frank [edited for readability only]

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September 16, 1939 from Los Angeles

My dear Francis,

Although late, [I] will begin my letter extending to you my best wishes for a healthy, happy and prosperous new year. [Obviously a reference to Rosh Hashanah, given the September date.] You ought to know you enjoy our good wishes at all times so hope you will pardon the expression of it at a rather late date. As usual we were happy to learn the contents of your recent letter.  It pleased us to learn you enjoyed your visit with the Good family as well as that all of them are getting along nicely.  You evidently misinformed them about our anniversary as we rec’d a very nice letter from them congratulating us for our golden wedding anniversary which will not be until next year. [Gustav and Sara were married in 1940.]

We regretted very much you could not see Lionel and his Bros. & Sister again. [You] May be aware dear Mother is very much interested in his family that are still in Germany particular so his Sister Hilda. [We]  presume the anti-semitism in Germany has somewhat diminished since the war as I noticed in the papers they are eager to get the Jewish Doctors, Engineers and other Professional Man back even promising to restore their property.  Conditions regrett to note are not very encouraging for England and France particular so since the uncertain attitude of Russia but let us hope for the best.

You need not fear about me getting into the market further. Am fairly well satisfied with my holdings. Have absolutely no intention to buy anything nor feel inclined at this time to sell any of my stocks with possible exception of Congoleum-Narin and even should I sell that, may apply it to my loan or in other words will not increase my loan if I do not reduce still more.  Have not decided whether or not I will sell same. 

Fannie is at least a weekly visitor by us.  She still has not secured a position but is hopefull some thing will be available before long.  As for ourselves have nothing of interest to offer so will leave it to dear Mother to inform you pertaining herself so will conclude for to day with love and best wishes. 

Your loving Father

As with the earlier letters from Helen Lilienfeld Schoenthal, this letter reveals the close connections among the many Schoenthal siblings and their children.  I’ve often wondered what the family knew about the two siblings who had stayed in Germany: Jakob Schoenthal and Rosalie Schoenthal.  From Gustav’s letter it is apparent that the family was in touch at least to some extent with those family members who had not immigrated.  They knew that the three Heymann brothers were in Chicago, and they knew that some family members were still in Germany.

Gustav’s hope that anti-Semitism was diminishing in Germany once the war started is so terribly painful to read, knowing what was going to happen not only to Hilda, her sister, and her nieces, but to six million other Jews living in Europe.

Realizing how connected the family was to each other as late as 1939 makes me wonder what happened.  Why didn’t my father even know about all his Schoenthal second cousins like Frank and his siblings? Did my grandmother Eva Schoenthal know any of these people? My guess is that because my great-grandparents moved from western Pennsylvania to Denver when my grandmother was just a small child, not even four years old, she did not grow up with the benefit of knowing all those cousins in western Pennsylvania.  Perhaps if she had, I would not have had to search to find my Oestreicher cousins.  Perhaps we would have always known about each other.

More Manna: The Family of Sidney Oestreicher and Esther Siff

In my last post I shared some of the wonderful photographs I received from my cousin Steve of Sarah Stern and Gustav Oestreicher and their three children, Sidney, Frank, and Helen.  This post will focus on the children of Sidney Oestreicher and Esther Siff, Steve’s grandparents.

Their first child Gerald was born in 1916, in Chicago, where Sidney and Esther lived in the early years of their marriage. Their daughter Betty was born three years later in 1919. Sidney was working as a traveling salesman during those years.

Gerald Oestreicher

Gerald Oestreicher, c. 1917

Gerald and Betty Oestreicher, c. 1922

Gerald and Betty Oestreicher, c. 1923

Betty and Gerald Oestreicher

Betty and Gerald Oestreicher, c. 1930

By 1930 Sidney’s father Gustav had retired and moved with Sarah to Atlantic City, and Sidney returned with Esther, Gerald, and Betty to Pittsburgh to help run the family store, The People’s Store.  Sidney and Esther had their third child Elaine in Pittsburgh in 1931.

Elaine Oestreicher

Elaine Oestreicher

This photograph below, probably taken in Pittsburgh in the late 1930s, includes the whole family–from left to right, Betty, Sidney, Elaine, Esther, and Gerald.

Betty, Sidney, Elaine, Esther, and Gerald

Betty, Sidney, Elaine, Esther, and Gerald

After The People’s Store went bankrupt during the Depression, Sidney had a hard time finding work.  Steve told me that Gerald would sell apples on the street after school to earn money.  Steve also shared this story about his grandmother Esther:

Grandma, Esther Oestreicher, was a homemaker to her three children, but also a very good pinochle player.  Twice a week she would sit down at night with friends and earn a living. 

Once a week or month, there was a raffle at the local theater after the matinee movie.  On one occasion as Gerald and Esther were walking to the theater, she repeatedly announced to neighbors sitting on their stoups, “My son and I are going to the movie where I will win the raffle today.”  This terribly embarrassed my Dad, who said he wanted to tuck his head under his shirt.  Sure enough after the movie ended, Esther won the raffle.  On the way home passing many of those same neighbors on their stoup, she waved the money at them joyfully yelling, ” I told you I would win the raffle.”

Elaine, Gerald, and Esther Oestreicher

Elaine, Gerald, and Esther Oestreicher

Gerald played saxophone in high school.  In 1937 and 1938, Gerald was a student at Northeastern University in Boston, where he continued to play the saxophone in the university band.

Gerald Oestreicher playing saxophone

Gerald Oestreicher playing saxophone

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On October 1, 1941, Gerald enlisted in the US Army Air Corps. Here is his draft registration card and his Army identification card. (Note that his name change to Striker is dated December 5, 1945, while he was in the service.)

Gerald Oestreicher draft registration for World Wa II

Gerald Oestreicher draft registration for World Wa II

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Steve shared with me the following story about his father’s decision to enlist.  Gerald could see that war was coming, and without consulting with his parents, he decided to enlist in the Army Air Corps.  He had hammerhead toes so his choice of which service to join was limited.  As told by Steve, Gerald had to break the news to his parents the night before he had to report for duty:

The Oestreicher family dinner that night started with nothing out of the ordinary.  Sidney at the head of the table, Esther next to him, Jerry next to his mother on one side, and sister Elaine on the other.  Sister Betty on the other side of her father.  A roast and potatoes in the middle.

Towards the middle of the meal the war was brought up.  There had been little talk from Jerry about it.  My Dad told me his mother at one time looked up,and then straight at him, and dropped her fork on her plate.  “My God, you’ve enlisted.” Jerry responded.  Esther’s eyes teared.  Sidney said,  “When do you leave?”  Jerry announced early tomorrow morning.Sidney became very angry.  Jerry announced he needed to pack and get some sleep.  Sidney offered to take him to the train station, but Jerry insisted no, “I want to say our goodbyes here”. There was a lot of crying by everyone but Sidney.  Jerry announced they should say their goodbye’s that night.  Shortly later Jerry then went to bed.  He left without saying goodbye in the morning.

The next morning Jerry arrived alone at the train station around 6am.  Waiting for him was Sidney, with a sack of food, and advise “stay alive for your mother”.

They waved to each other as the train departed

As you can see from his service record posted below, he had a distinguished record of service during the war.  He attended Officer Candidate School in Aberdeen, Maryland, and a Naval Mine Warfare training center in Yorktown, Virginia.

Gerald Striker service record during World War II

Gerald Striker service record during World War II

In February, 1944, he shipped out, arriving in North Africa by March 10, 1944, when he wrote the following note to his father Sidney:

Gerald Oestreicher note to Sidney Oestreicher, March 10, 1944

Gerald Oestreicher note to Sidney Oestreicher, March 10, 1944

What a sweet and reassuring note! Can you imagine thinking that fighting in a war could be an experience one could “thoroughly enjoy”? I certainly can’t.

After some time in North Africa, Gerald was shipped out again, this time to Asia.  While at sea, he wrote the following undated long letter to his family. Please read it, especially the last two pages.  It is truly a look into the heart and mind of a young man about to face combat.

Gerald Striker letter home from WW2 p 1

“Somewhere at Sea”

Dear Folks,

It has been sometime since I last wrote a letter of any length to you, and will attempt to do justice to this one.

While I was in Africa I had my first taste of what will be in store for me during the duration.  I can honestly say that it is not too bad.  Militarily there is nothing I may write, however I can tell you that living conditions were most primitive. We slept on the ground and lived out of cans.  And speaking of cans—even the toilet paper was rationed out to us.  We get plenty of cigarettes, but candy is very scarce.

I had the opportunity to visit Oran, North Africa, and found the living conditions most interesting.  I was surprised how much of my high school French held me in good stead.  I also picked up a little Arabic.  My knowledge of the foreign rate of currency exchange

Gerald Striker letter home p2

has been added to my general knowledge.  Among the strange things that I saw were rest stations located in the middle of streets, natives without shoes, and automobiles drawn by horses, and I saw the Kasbah which was built in 1501.  I drank champagne at $2.00 per bottle until it poured out of my ears—cognac at dinner time—and ice cream in the afternoon!

Since I left the states I have been to Italy which I found not as beautiful as the travel booklets make one believe—perhaps that is due to friendly and enemy bombings.  The natives fight for American products.  I could have bought a horse for 2 cases of soap! Of course I had no need of a horse, but it does give you an idea as to what the natives are like in this part of the world.

While on ship I gained back the weight

Gerald Striker letter home p3

I lost while in Africa,  I have felt very well at all times and can not complain of anything.  I had my head shaved and after 5 weeks time I finally have grown about 3/4 of an inch back.  I did notice that on top it is getting “a la Sidny.” Also, it is getting slightly gray.

I suppose by the time I get to my destination there will be plenty of mail for me.  If there is—I’m going to ration myself several letters every day.

I think I did tell you that I got my promotion to “first”while in Africa.

I have an insurance premium due in May or June, so just draw the amount out of my account.  I could use some Bond Street tobacco—so you can send me some when you again see Harold Powell.  We can’t get that kind, and I’d rather not smoke a piple than smoke the stuff they sell us here.

Gerald Striker p4

There is so much more I would like to say—but somehow I do not wish to reveal everything.

No, you did not raise your boy to be a soldier nor did he wish to be a soldier.  But we can not control all factors.

I am not a soldier.  I am merely a chap who is doing as directed, and to some extent doing what I believe in.  The German boys too are doing what they believe in.  It is a game of life—death really has no part. The dead can not play.

Yes, I am going in there fighting—I’m fighting for you and folks like you, I’m fighting for myself, my friends—and I’m fighting for what I know is right!

Thanks to you my life has been almost complete.  I can face the worst of it and still smile for I know there is happiness ahead.

And so I’m saying “I’ll be seeing you”—and it won’t be long.

Just remember—if I can feel that you are all good soldiers at home, I can be the best one abroad.  Well I guess

Gerald Striker p5

there is little else I can think of to write at this time.

I hope you are all well and brave.  Also, if at any time you do not hear from me for even a months time do not get alarmed as the mails may be late or I am in such a position that writing is impossible or of little value.

My love to all,

Jerry

You can see in this letter that Gerald was still struggling with his parents’ reaction to his enlistment, and despite his brave words, his statement that his “life has been almost complete” seems to suggest that he did worry about being killed in the war.

As his service record indicates, after leaving Africa Gerald served as an ordnance officer in the China Burma India theater of the war and received several commendations for his service.  Here are a few photographs of Gerald while serving in World War II.  Steve told me that his father considered his time in the service the best and most exciting time of his life.

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Steve also shared this story of his father’s return home from the war:

Four plus years after leaving the U.S, Jerry sailed into New York.  He did not tell anyone when  he would return.  He got to his parents’ apartment and entered a phone booth to call his mother Esther with the intention of announcing he would be home “shortly”. But his little sister Elaine arbitrarily came bounding down the stairs.  But he said she was not his little sister, but a grown young woman.  Then Elaine also spotted him.  Yelling Jerry! Jerry!  she leaped at him.  They both went upstairs to see their mother.

Shortly after the war, Gerald was invited by his Uncle Frank to the Scaroon Manor resort in upstate New York.  There he met a woman who was singing at the resort, Faye Karol, whose real name was Faye Krakower. Her career as a singer was described in my earlier post.  According to Steve, his father Gerald proposed to Faye six days later, and they were married in November, 1946.

Here are some pictures of Faye.

Faye Krakower and her mother Freida

Faye Krakower and her mother Freida

Faye Striker

Gerald and Faye (Krakower) Striker

Gerald and Faye (Krakower) Striker

Gerald and Faye and their son moved to California in 1948 where Gerald worked as a salesman for a number of different clothing lines and other businesses.

Meanwhile, Gerald’s younger sister Betty had married Julius Jacob in 1942.  I wrote about Betty and Julius here.

Betty Oestreicher and Julius Jacob

Betty Oestreicher and Julius Jacob

Betty Oestreicher Jacob

Betty Oestreicher Jacob

This is Betty and Gerald’s little sister, Elaine, the one who stayed and lived with Maxine Schulherr Stein in PIttsburgh and started me on the journey that led to all these amazing photographs.

Elaine Oestreicher

Elaine Oestreicher

Although Steve shared many more photos of the family, I will end with this one of my cousin Sidney Oestreicher, later in life, with his three adult children, my cousins Gerald, Betty, and Elaine.

Standing: Betty, Gerald, and Elaine Seated: Sidney Oestreicher Striker

Standing: Betty, Gerald, and Elaine
Seated: Sidney Oestreicher Striker

There are a few more posts to come based on the materials Steve shared with me including the letters written by his uncle Frank Striker during his service in World War I and some letters that were written to Frank by various family members.