From several documents and historical references, I know that Bernard Seligman, my great-great-grandfather, and his brothers Adolph and Sigmund were born in a small town close to the Rhine River called Gau-Algesheim in what was then the Hesse Darmstadt region of Germany. Today it is located in the Mainz-Bingen district in the Rheinland-Pfalz state in Germany. Gau-Algesheim is about 15 miles southwest of Mainz and 40 miles southwest of Frankfort, Germany. Its population in 2012 was under seven thousand people, and it is less than five miles square in area. From the photographs posted on the town’s official website, it appears to be a very charming and scenic location. There are wineries nearby, and tourism appears to be an important source of revenue for the town.
What was Gau-Algesheim like almost 200 years ago when my ancestors were living there? How long had my Seligman ancestors been there, and were there any family members who remained behind after Bernard and his brothers left? How long had there been Jews living in Gau-Algesheim, and are there any left today? These were the questions that interested me the most about my great-great-grandfather’s birthplace.
There is a book about the history of Jews in Gau-Algesheim written by Ludwig Hellriegel in 1986, Die Geschichte der Gau-Algesheimer Juden, but unfortunately there is no copy available online, and the closest hard copy is in the New York Public Library. I tried to borrow it through my university’s interlibrary loan program, but was it was not available for lending. Thus, I’ve had to piece together bits of information from Wikipedia, JewishGen.org, the Gau-Algesheim website, and http://www.alemannia-judaica.de to get some answers to my questions, relying on Google Translate in order to read the sources written in German. What follows is a very brief skeletal history of Gau-Algesheim overall and in particular of the history of Jewish life there based on these limited secondary sources.
Gau-Algesheim has ancient roots. There is evidence of graves dating back as far as 1800 BCE, and evidence of a settlement during Roman times as well. In the 700s a church and a monastery were established. Gau-Algesheim was part of the Holy Roman Empire in the Middle Ages, and during that time was under the control of various different officials and jurisdictions within the Empire and often the subject of disputes and battles for control. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gau-Algesheim http://www.gau-algesheim.de/category/stadt-gau-algesheim/geschichte/ It was part of Napoleon’s empire until 1812, and then eventually became part of the nation state of Germany in the mid-19th century.
Its Jewish history dates back to at least the 14th century. By the 14th century, the town had developed into a commercial center. Many merchants and artisans lived in the town, including herring merchants, blacksmiths, bakers, barbers, coopers, tailors, and shopkeepers. The monasteries owned a lot of the land, and there was also a fairly large class of nobility. By 1334, there must have been a Jewish community in Gau-Algesheim because in that year a head tax was imposed upon the Jewish residents. According to Wikipedia, Jews were required to pay this additional tax because they were considered the property of the crown and under its protection. There was also a Jewish cemetery in existence during the 14th century. However, this community must have been a very small minority, and the Jews were certainly considered outsiders by the Catholic majority. In 1348 there was a flu pandemic in the region, and Jews were accused of poisoning the water, such accusations then leading to pogroms across the region.
My sources do not reveal anything about Jewish life in Gau-Algesheim between 1400 and 1800, but the population in 1790 was reportedly only nineteen (it’s not clear whether this refers to people or households, but I assume it refers to total people). In 1808 there were three Jewish families, and in 1819 only six Jewish families. In 1857, the Jewish population was fifty people, and the Jewish population peaked in Gau-Algesheim in 1880 when it reached eighty people or 2.6% of the total population of the town, according to the alemannia-judaica website. (JewishGen puts the 1880 population at only 66.) According to alemannia-judaica, a synagogue is not mentioned as being in the town until 1838. It was described as very old and in poor condition in 1850 and was rebuilt in 1861 and renovated again in 1873-1874. There was also a mikveh and a religious school, although it seems that there was a joint school with the nearby town of Bingen. (Bingen, by comparison, had 542 Jews in 1880, amounting to almost eight percent of its overall population; it was only six miles away from Gau-Algesheim. By further comparison, Mainz had a Jewish population of about 3,000 in 1900, and Frankfurt had almost 12,000 Jews in 1900.)
The tiny size of the Jewish population in Gau-Algesheim in the 19th century in the years when my ancestors were living there surprised me. How did my family end up there? And why did they leave? I don’t know the answers to the first question at all and can only speculate about the second and will write more generally about it in a later post. But what I want to focus on for now is what happened to the Jewish community in Gau-Algesheim after my great-great-grandfather Bernard and his brothers left in the middle of the 19th century.
It appears that my ancestors were not the only Jews to leave Gau-Algesheim. By 1900, the Jewish population had declined to 27 people; in 1931 there were only 31 Jewish residents. Presumably many of these Jews had immigrated to another country, and many may have moved to the larger cities in Germany. In the Reichstag elections of 1933, the Nazi Party only received 26.6% of the vote in Gau-Algesheim with the Center Party carrying almost half the vote. Unfortunately, that did not reflect the overall vote in Germany, and the Nazi Party took control of the country, soon dissolving the Reichstag and all other political parties, ultimately leading to World War II and the Holocaust. Whatever Jews were left in Gau-Algesheim before World War II either left the town or were killed by the Nazis.
There is no Jewish community there today. The Jewish cemetery remains, however, although it was desecrated during the Holocaust and has been vandalized several times since then. In 2006, Walter Nathan, whose father was born in Gau-Algesheim, visited the cemetery and was so disturbed by the condition of the cemetery that he decided to work to have it restored and to create a memorial to those who were buried there and also to those who had been killed in the Holocaust. On November 9, 2008, on the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the memorial was dedicated by Nathan and many members of his extended family. Included in the headstones remaining in the cemetery was this one for a woman named Rosa Gebmann Seligmann who was born in 1853 and died in 1899 and married someone who was probably my relative.
With the help of two members of the Tracing the Tribe Facebook group, I can provide this translation of the German and the Hebrew on the headstone. The German says, “Here rests in peace my unforgettable wife and good mother Rosa Seligman, nee Bergman, born May 11, 1854, died Feb.1 8, 1899. Deeply missed by her husband and children. The Hebrew at the bottom says, “Here is buried Mrs. Roza wife of Alexander Seligman Died (on the) holy Shabbos 8(th day of) Adar 5659 by the small count. May her soul be bound in the bonds of life.”
There is also a plaque in town commemorating the Jewish citizens of Gau-Algesheim who were killed by the Nazis. It says, as translated by Google Translate, “The city of Gau-Algesheim commemorates their Jewish fellow citizens who were victims of Nazi violence and domination.”
There is another plaque hanging on the wall of the cemetery listing the Jews born in Gau-Algesheim who were murdered during the Holocaust according to Memorial Book: Victims of the Persecution of Jews under the National Socialist Tyranny in Germany 1933 – 1945. It says, “Standing in this sacred place our hearts turn to the memory of those who fell victim to the violence of the Nazis, and we vow to keep their memory alive. In solemn testimony of the unbroken faith that connects us with them, their names are referred to in profound awe. We say the Kaddish—the prayer for the dead— and remember the terrible tragedy of the Jewish people.”
Among the names listed on this second plaque were these individuals: Bettina Elisabeth Arnfeld born Seligmann (1875), Johanna Bielefeld born Seligmann (1881), Anna Goldmann born Seligmann (1889), and Moritz Seligmann (1881),.
On the JewishGen.org site, I found two more Seligmanns born in Gau-Algesheim: Jacob Seligmann, born April 8, 1869, who became a resident of Neunkirche and emigrated in 1935 to Luxembourg, and Laura Seligmann Winter, born June 9, 1870, who was also a resident of Neunkirche and immigrated to Luxembourg in 1935. 
These may have been my relatives. Given the small size of the Jewish community that lived in Gau-Algesheim, I have to assume that at least some if not all of those named Seligmann were related to my great-great-grandfather Bernard and were thus related to me. When I saw those names, I was stunned. Because I have not found where my Brotman relatives lived in Galicia, because I have not found any Goldschlagers from Iasi who were killed in the Holocaust, because my Cohen relatives left Europe long before Hitler was even born, I had not ever before seen the names of possible relatives who were victims of the Holocaust. But Bettina, Johanna, Anna, Moritz, Jacob, and Laura Seligmann—they were likely the nieces and nephew or the cousins of Bernard, Sigmund, Adolph and James Seligman. They were likely my family.
Now I need to see what I can learn about them and what happened to them. I need to be sure that their names are not forgotten. This is what I know so far from the Yad Vashem names database:
Bettina Elizabeth Seligmann Arnfeld, born March 17, 1875, was residing in Muelheim Ruhr, Dusseldorf, Rhine Province, and was deported to Theresienstadt on July 21, 1942, and she died there on January 23, 1943.
Johanna Seligmann Bielefeld, born March 13, 1881, was living in Mainz during the war. She died in Auschwitz.
Anna Seligmann Goldmann, born November 30, 1889, was living in Halle der Saale, Merseburg, Saxony Province. She was deported from there May 30, 1942. Her husband Hugo Goldmann, born in 1885, and their daughter Ruth Sara, born in 1924, were also deported that same day. They were all murdered.
Moritz Seligmann, born in 1881, was not listed in the Yad Vashem database. On the memorial plaque placed at the cemetery in Gau-Algesheim the only notation after his name is Verschollen, which means “missing, lost without a trace,” according to one source.
Jacob Seligmann, despite escaping Germany in 1935 and moving to Luxemburg, did not escape the Nazis. He was killed in 1941 in Luxemburg, according to the Yad Vashem website.
Laura Seligmann Winter, who may have been Jacob’s sister, was a widow; on August 28, 1940, she also was killed in Luxemburg.
I will continue to look for more records that will tell something about the lives of these people and their families so that they can be remembered not only for how they died but also for how they lived.