Fighting their Native Country in World War II: Jakob Schoenthal’s Grandsons

As I wrote last time, the two sons of Jakob Schoenthal and Charlotte Lilienfeld had arrived in the US long before Hitler came to power in Germany.  They were working as tailors and living in Washington, Pennsylvania, where their uncles and aunt had lived for many years.  Then Hitler came to power, and their family back home was in danger.

In 1938, Lee and Meyer’s sister Erna arrived from Germany with her son Werner.  I have now learned more about Erna’s husband Arnold Haas.  He was born in Darmstadt, Germany, in 1893, and had served his native country during World War I.  He and Erna Schoenthal had married on February 13, 1925, and their son Werner was born on April 14, 1926.  Then Arnold died at age 38 on January 23, 1931, leaving behind his young widow Erna and his not-yet five year old son Werner.  Fortunately Erna had the good sense to leave Germany in May, 1938, and bring her son and herself to safety in the US.  In 1940, they were living in Pittsburgh.

Darmstadt register for Arnold Haas and family indicating birth, marriage, and death of Haas and birth of son Werner

Darmstadt register for Arnold Haas and family indicating birth, marriage, and death of Arnold Haas and birth of son Werner

Helmut Levi, the son of Julius and Henriette (Schoenthal) Levi, had also arrived by then and was living in New York City.  Both Helmut and Werner soon found themselves fighting their former homeland when the US entered World War II at the end of 1941 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Werner Haas joined the US Navy on March 15, 1944, when he was 18, and served until March 6, 1946.  He spent time at the Naval Air Stations in Norfolk, Virginia, and in Corpus Christi, Texas, before being assigned to the Destroyer Escort USS Wesson in June, 1945.  According to Michael Moskow, who has done extensive research on Jewish military service during World War II, the Wesson had been struck by a kamikazi in April, 1945, two months before Werner was assigned to that vessel.

As seen in the caption on the photo below, the Wesson was “in overhaul” from May to July 1945, so it would seem likely that Werner was working on her repairs when he was first assigned to that ship.  Werner served as a fireman on the destroyer; according to this site about military careers, “The training received as a Fireman or in the related engineering skill specialties is equivalent to that received as an electrician, electrical or power plant/co-generation plant operator or supervisor, diesel mechanic, or electronics repair technician.”  From various military records it appears that Werner was assigned to the Wesson for at least a year and was then assigned to two other naval ships.

 

English: 26 June 1945: Mare Island Naval Shipy...

English: 26 June 1945: Mare Island Naval Shipyard, San Francisco, Cal. – Forward plan view of USS Wesson (DE 184) at Mare Island. She was in overhaul at the yard from 16 May to 1 July 1945. USS Blessman (APD 48) inboard of Wesson and USS Hazelwood (DD 531) is on the opposite side of the pier. (U.S. Navy photo #DE-184-4842-45) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Werner’s older cousin Helmut Levi served in the US Army, enlisting on November 28, 1942.  He served as a private and then a corporal during the course of World War II.   Although I am still looking for more information about Helmut’s service during the war, I was able with the help of Michael Moskow to find this letter that Helmut Levi (presumably the same one) wrote to Yank magazine in September, 1944:

 

Pvt Helmut Levi letter to Yank magazine, September 29, 1944, p 14

Pvt Helmut Levi letter to Yank magazine, September 29, 1944, p 14, found at http://www.unz.org/Pub/Yank-1944sep29-00014

 

 

Not surprisingly, Helmut had strong feelings about the need for Germany (and Japan) to be occupied and supervised carefully after the war.  It appears that he was stationed in Britain in September, 1944, just months after the D-Day invasion and the beginning of the Allies’ advances in France against Germany.  During that time, Helmut’s aunt and uncle, Johanna (Schoenthal) and Heinrich Stern, were living in France, hiding from the Nazis. His parents had already been killed at the Chelmno death camp.

Lee and Meyer both registered for the World War II draft, though being almost in their sixties when the war began, neither served in the military during the war.  Note that Meyer was both working for and living with Lee in April 1942.  (Lee seems to have listed his work address as his residence.)  Although Meyer listed his brother Lee as the person who would always know his address, Lee listed someone named Mary Reinbold, who as listed in the 1940 census, was then a 39 year old single woman living with her father and brothers and working as a telephone operator.

 

Lee Schoenthal World War II draft registration The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; World War II draft cards (Fourth Registration) for the State of Pennsylvania; State Headquarters: Pennsylvania; Microfilm Series: M1951; Microfilm Roll: 278

Lee Schoenthal World War II draft registration
The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; World War II draft cards (Fourth Registration) for the State of Pennsylvania; State Headquarters: Pennsylvania; Microfilm Series: M1951; Microfilm Roll: 278

 

Meyer N Schoenthal World War II draft registration Ancestry.com. U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.

Meyer N Schoenthal World War II draft registration
Ancestry.com. U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.

Why wouldn’t Lee have listed Meyer as his contact just as Meyer had listed him? More on that in a later post.

Once the war ended, the family apparently spent a year trying to learn what had happened to Henriette Schoenthal and Julius Levi.  My heart broke when, with Michael Moskow’s help,  I found this notice in the June 14, 1946 issue of Aufbau, the newspaper published beginning in the 1930s for German Jewish immigrants in the United States:

 

Aufbau June 14, 1946

Aufbau June 14, 1946 found at http://archive.org/stream/aufbau1219461946germ#page/n475/mode/1up

 

Translation: After a one year search in Europe, we today know that our beloved parents and siblings, Julius Levi and Henriette Levi (nee Schoenthal) from Cologne have fallen to the Nazi terror …. [followed by the names of their son and their siblings].

By the time Helmut Levi had enlisted in the US Army in November 1942, his parents had already been murdered by the Nazis.  It must have just been unbearable for him to realize that while he had been fighting to defeat Hitler and the Nazis, it had already been too late to save his parents.

This notice also indicates that as of June 14, 1946, Helmut was still in the Army; although I am not sure what “Liaison Sec” refers to, G-2 is military shorthand for military intelligence staff.  It appears that Helmut was doing some kind of intelligence work in Berlin after the war, which makes sense, given his familiarity with Germany and the German language.  Being in Berlin may have also allowed him to search more quickly for what had happened to his parents.

As for Johanna Schoenthal Stern and her husband Heinrich Stern, they arrived in the US in 1947 from France.  As I mentioned in my prior post, Johanna and Heinrich had listed a friend named Henry Kahnweiler of Paris as their contact person in France.  I was curious as to who he was and how Johanna and Heinrich were connected to him.  I wanted to know more about their story—how and when did they go to France? How did they survive the Nazi occupation of France? Had they had children who had not survived the war?

Although I don’t have all the answers, I now have at least some answers to those questions.  I will address those in my next post.

 

23 thoughts on “Fighting their Native Country in World War II: Jakob Schoenthal’s Grandsons

  1. The WWII draft cards which are available to the public are often called the “old man’s registration” as it was a registration of men between 45 and 64 years and who were not in the military. Conducted in 1942 it is often annoying to find a relative was born before 28 April 1877 or after 16 February 1897 and was “missed.” Only when re-reading the description did I learn that this was the 4th registration and the others are not available due to privacy laws.

    Helmut Levi’s letter to the Yank was a special find. He had very strong feelings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wonder when the draft registrations for the younger men will be made public. That will be an incredible resource when it is. Right now all we have are the index showing their service dates, but not much more than that (although they often confirm birth dates and show occupations before service.) I love the Old Man draft cards for the information they contain, and so I hope someday soon the earlier draft records for World War II will be made public. Thanks, Cathy!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great job once again, Amy. I, too, have been using registration cards for information, and sometimes they are great; other times, they are not so great. I thought I’d solved an unsolvable piece of our puzzle over the spelling of an ancestor’s middle name on one such card; it did the opposite by creating another possibility. Your research is fascinating, and heart-breaking as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Karen. I like to think that since these cards appear to have been filled out by the person registering as opposed to a third party like census records or even death certificates that they will be more accurate. But not necessarily so!

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      • That was my thought, but now I have several possibilities for this middle name which we think (but maybe are not correct in our assumption) was also the first name of his father…hence the mystery. Just gotta keep digging, I guess. But, this is such a fabulous retirement activity. 😉

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  3. Pingback: Cousins Deported to France: The Camp at Gurs « Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

  4. Pingback: My Grandmother’s Cologne Cousins: More New Records | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

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