The Lost Oppenheimers

My Seligman-Schoenfeld family tree continues to grow, and it continues to break my heart.  Thanks to my cousin Wolfgang, I now know more about another line in the family.  I already knew that my great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman, who left Germany in the late 1850s and settled in Santa Fe, had a younger sister Paulina.  She was born in Gau-Algesheim in 1847, the daughter of Babetta Schoenfeld and Moritz Seligman.  I had received her birth records several months ago:

paulina seligmann birth record better

I had no record for Paulina aside from this one until I connected with Wolfgang.  It seems that Wolfgang’s family, like my cousin Pete’s family, had been contacted back in the 1980s by the National Westminster Bank in England, the bank handling the estate of James Seligman and looking for his heirs in order to distribute his estate after his wife died.  Just as they had provided Pete’s family with a family tree showing how they were related to James, the bank also provided Wolfgang’s family with a similar tree.  (I still don’t know why my father and his sister were not contacted, but that’s water under the bridge.)  James was, of course, a brother of Paulina and of Wolfgang’s great-grandfather August  just as he was a brother of Bernard.

You can see a PDF of Paulina’s section of the family tree provided to Wolfgang’s family by clicking here:

Pauline Seligmann Oppenheimer family tree

As you can see, it identifies the husband and descendants of Paulina Seligmann (here called Pauline).[1]  Paulina had married Maier Oppenheimer, and they had had five children:  Joseph (November 22, 1874), Martha (March 1, 1876), Anna (March 14, 1877), Ella (June 24, 1878), and Moritz James (June 10, 1879).  Her husband Maier died on June 8, 1900; he was 51 years old.  Although it is hard to read clearly, it looks like their daughter Anna died when she was only 31 years old in 1908.  She had married Max Kaufman, but did not have any children.  Paulina died April 10, 1926 when she was 79 years old.

Fortunately, Paulina did not live to see what happened to her children.  Although the other four children survived into the Nazi era, only one of the four was alive after the war had ended.  Ella, who never married, died in an “unknown concentration camp,” according to the bank’s tree.  Joseph died on October 21, 1940; one record on shows that a Joseph Oppenheimer with the same birth and death dates shown on the bank’s family tree died as a prisoner at the Dachau concentration camp.  Joseph was married to Marie Johanna, but they had not had any children, according to the bank’s tree.  Martha, who did survive the war and died in 1967 when she was 91 years old according to the tree, lost two children in the Holocaust: Trude and Paul.  The bank’s tree did not include a name of a husband.

English: View of prisoners' barracks soon afte...

English: View of prisoners’ barracks soon after the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp Deutsch: Blick auf die Gefangenen Baracken kurz nach der Befreifung des KZs-Dachau. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wolfgang was able to provide me with a little more information about the youngest child, Moritz James Oppenheimer, as gleaned from these two sources: a 1952 article from Der Spiegel and a website for a German company that supplies horse dressage and other equipment.   (Although both articles are in German, Wolfgang translated them for me.)  Moritz had owned a paper factory in Frankfort before the war as well as a successful horse stud farm where thoroughbred horses were raised and sold. I found this website about the stud farm as it exists today.  Obviously, Moritz Oppenheimer was quite well-to-do. In fact, Wolfgang’s grandfather Julius had written to his cousin Moritz for financial help after he lost his store in Gau-Algesheim.

The horse farm once owned by MJ Oppenheimer as it looks today

The horse farm once owned by MJ Oppenheimer as it looks today

After the Nazis came to power, Moritz had his marriage dissolved in 1936 because his wife, Emma Katherine Neuhoff, was not Jewish.  Wolfgang explained that this was often done under Nazi rule to those in interfaith marriages.  Then Moritz had his factory seized by the Nazis under the Nuremberg Laws, forcing him into bankruptcy.  As a result, he had to sell his horse farm in order to raise money.  The horse farm was sold to Baron Dr. Heinrich von Thyssen-Bornemisza, who was able to purchase the land, many valuable stallions and mares, and much more for just a few hundred thousand Deutsche marks.[2]  On May 9, 1941, the Gestapo visited Moritz in his apartment in Wiesbaden; shortly thereafter he was found dead in the apartment.  It was ruled a suicide.

Moritz had two children who survived him: a son Jur Georg Emil Walter Oppenheimer (born July 10, 1904) and Paula Herta Oppenheimer (April 11, 1902). The son married Elsa Lina, and they had one child, Angelika Emma Sybille, born in 1946.  Paula married someone named Spiegler and was still alive at the time that the bank prepared the family tree in the 1980s.

A stolpersteine was placed in front of Moritz’s residence in Frankfort at Schumannstrasse 15, depicted below.

By Karsten Ratzke (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Karsten Ratzke (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Moritz, Ella, Joseph, Anna, and Martha: These were my great-grandmother Eva Seligman Cohen’s first cousins.  I wonder if she knew of them and her other German cousins.   Did her sons know of them? Did they know that Hitler had murdered many of these cousins?  Certainly my father didn’t know of them, nor did I.  Until now.




[1] I have not yet been able to find records to verify most of the facts on this family tree, but am trying to locate sources.


[2] According to one source, a US dollar in 1940 was worth about 2.5 deutsche marks, so 200,000 DM would have been equivalent to $80,000.  That would be worth about $1.3 million dollars today.   One prize thoroughbred horse today can command much more than that.


17 thoughts on “The Lost Oppenheimers

  1. This is such a sad story Amy. Even now after all these years, stories of Nazi attrocity are still being unearthed. It is good that they are also being told as a reminder of how barbaric humans can be.


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