Born just one year after Simon, the next sibling was Jakob Schoenthal. (I am using the German spelling for two reasons. First, Jakob stayed in Germany and thus that is how he spelled his name. Second, it helps to distinguish him from his nephew, Simon’s son Jacob.) Finding Jakob’s story was quite a lesson in genealogy research. It took some lucky breaks and the help of others, and in the end it led to a story of both tragedy and triumph.
First, some background. I’ve already written about eight of the ten children of Levi Schoenthal and Henriette Hamberg, my great-great-grandparents. They were the eight children who came to America between 1866 and 1881 and settled here permanently, including my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal. All of them lived relatively long and seemingly satisfying lives. They started in western Pennsylvania, but eventually they and/or their children moved far afield across the United States—to California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and elsewhere. They thrived in America, and they have many descendants still living in this country.
But there were two siblings who did not end up in America. One, the youngest child, Rosalie, had in fact immigrated to the US in 1881 with her mother Henriette and her brother Isidore, my great-grandfather. But Rosalie returned to Germany to marry Willy Heymann in 1884, and that decision was in the end one with devastating consequences for her family. I will write more about Rosalie in a subsequent post.
The only sibling who never left Germany was the sixth child of Levi and Henriette, Jakob, who was born in Sielen in 1850. I will always wonder why Jakob stayed when almost all of his siblings had emigrated from Germany by 1874. Jakob was 24 by then, only a year younger than Simon, who had left in 1867. Why did he stay? I don’t know, but my theory is that Jakob stayed to take care of his mother and youngest siblings. By 1874 when his father Levi died, Jakob was the oldest son still in Germany, and there were still some younger siblings at home, including my great-grandfather. So perhaps Jakob stayed out of a sense of family obligation. As with his sister Rosalie, that decision to stay had tragic consequences.
On September 1, 1879, Jakob married Charlotte Lilienfeld, the younger half-sister of Helen Lilienfeld, who had married Jakob’s brother Henry in 1872 and moved with him to Washington, Pennsylvania. Charlotte and Helen were both the daughters of Meyer Lilienfeld of Gudensberg, where Henry Schoenthal had once been a teacher before immigrating to the US.
For a long time I could not find much more information about Jakob. I knew from the 1893 Beers biography of Henry Schoenthal that Jakob had then been living in Cologne, Germany in 1893, but I didn’t know if he and Charlotte had had children or if they had ever left Germany or when they had died.
Then while I was researching Henry Schoenthal and his family, I kept coming across two men living in Washingon, Pennsylvania, with the same names as two of Henry’s sons: Meyer and Lee Schoenthal. At first I thought they were Henry’s sons, but soon it became clear that there were in fact two Meyers and two Lees. When I found the death certificates for the Meyer and the Lee who were not the sons of Henry Schoenthal, I saw that their parents were Jakob Schoenthal and Charlotte Lilienfeld.
I knew then that Jakob and Charlotte had had at least two sons, both of whom had lived in Washington, Pennsylvania, where their Schoenthal uncles Henry and Isidore as well as their aunt Helen Lilienfeld Schoenthal were living. And, of course, the identical names made sense. Both Meyers were named for their maternal grandfather, Meyer Lilienfeld, and both Lees were named for their paternal grandfather, Levi Schoenthal.
And then I was stuck. What else could I learn about Jakob and Charlotte? I asked in the German Genealogy group on Facebook whether there were records available online for Cologne, or Köln, as it is spelled in German, and I learned that there were in fact archives online with birth, marriage, and death records. Unfortunately, the archives are divided into geographic areas in and around Köln, and I had no idea where in the city Jakob had lived. In addition, I had no idea what years to search for births or deaths for his family, and the number of records was too overwhelming to search without some parameters.
But then another member of the Genealogy Group suggested I look in city directories to see if I could narrow down where in Köln Jakob and his family had lived. I learned that there were city directories online that dated as early as 1797 all the way through to the 1960s. I started searching year by year, and I eventually found many listings for him, starting with one in 1901 and going as late as 1935, and then he disappeared. Here are a few examples:
So I thought Jakob must have died or moved or emigrated around 1935, but not knowing German had once again proven to be a problem. I posted the 1935 listing on the German Genealogy Facebook page, and my friend Matthias translated it and pointed out that the listing was not for Jakob, but rather for his widow. He explained that the abbreviation Ww meant “widow,” and when I went back to look at the earlier directories, I saw that the Ww was included in almost all of the listings I had thought were for Jakob Schoenthal.
I worked all the way back to 1905, seeing that Ww. There were no directories on the website for 1902-1904, but in 1901, there was no Ww, so I assumed that meant that Jakob was still alive in 1900. Thus, it seemed likely that Jakob had died sometime between 1901 and 1905.
From the address on Breite Strasse in the directories, my friends in the Germany Genealogy group thought that Jakob had lived in the central part of Köln. Having narrowed down the years and the section of the city where he lived, I now combed through the relevant records until I found a death record for Jakob. He had died on November 19, 1903. He was only 53 years old when he died. He was the first of his siblings to die.
Since 1935 was the last year Jakob’s widow Charlotte was listed, I assumed that she must have died around 1935. I wrote to the synagogue in Köln to see if they had information about Jakob and Charlotte, and the secretary there informed me that Jakob and Charlotte were both buried in their cemetery and that Charlotte had died on June 17, 1935. She also confirmed Jakob’s date of death. So I now knew when both Jakob and Charlotte had died and where they were buried.
But the 1935 Köln directory listing, along with a number of others, also revealed something else. Notice that right above Jakob’s widow’s listing it says, “Schonthal & Co, Jul. Levi and Frau Jul. Levi,” and some additional text following, including the same address as that listed for Jakob’s widow.
My friends in the German Genealogy group explained that the first listing was for a Julius Levi and his wife, Henny nee Schoenthal. Obviously Henny was Jakob and Charlotte’s daughter, living at the same address as her parents with her husband Julius Levi.
Julius Levi and Henny nee Schoenthal were listed again in 1936 (without a listing for Charlotte), but after that they disappeared. By then, of course, Jewish-owned businesses were being restricted or closed by the Nazis. What had happened to Julius and Henny? Had they left Germany, I hoped? Or had they been killed in the Holocaust?
Unfortunately, a search on Yad Vashem revealed that they were both victims of the Nazi atrocities.
I learned more details from a researcher in Köln named Barbara Becker, who informed me that Julius and Henriette Levi had been first moved to the ghetto in Köln in 1940 and then were deported to Lodz, Poland, on October 30, 1941. From there they were sent to the death camp in Chelmno on September 10, 1942, where they were murdered by the Nazis.
Two more names to add to the growing list of my relatives who were killed during the Holocaust: Henriette Schoenthal and her husband Julius Levi. Henriette was probably named for her grandmother, Jakob’s mother Henriette Hamberg, my great-great-grandmother. Henriette Schoenthal Levi was my first cousin, twice removed. She was my grandmother Eva Schoenthal Cohen’s first cousin.
When I looked at the Pages of Testimony filed on behalf of Henriette (Schoenthal) and Julius Levi more closely, I saw that they were filed in 1977 by their son, Henry Lyons. There was even an address for Henry: 99-30 59th Avenue, Rego Park, New York. My next step had to be locating Henry Lyons, my father’s second cousin.
To be continued….