As of 1947, the four surviving children and two grandchildren of Jakob Schoenthal and Charlotte Lilienfeld were all settled in western Pennsylvania, living close to each other, Johanna and Erna in Pittsburgh and Lee and Meyer nearby in Washington, Pennsylvania. Johanna and Erna had survived the Holocaust, as had Erna’s son Werner Haas and the son of their sister Henriette, Helmut Levi.
The next two decades were, however, not kind to the children of Jakob Schoenthal and Charlotte Lilienfeld. First, on February 7, 1956, Johanna’s husband Heinrich Stern died at age 79; he’d been suffering from arteriosclerosis for years, according to his death certificate, and had been residing in the Jewish Home for the Aged in Pittsburgh. His doctor had been caring for him since 1953, so Heinrich must have been in poor health for much of his time in the US.
Then the following year, the oldest sibling, Lee Schoenthal, died at age 75 on May 11, 1957. He also suffered from arteriosclerosis and died from congestive heart failure. His doctor had been caring for him since 1949, according to the death certificate. Lee appears to have been the backbone of the family, the one who employed and housed his younger brother Meyer for some years and who also helped his two younger sisters Johanna and Erna as well as his nephew Helmut Levi come to and settle in the US.
It was almost three years later that Meyer himself died. He was 76 years old, and the principal cause of death was a coronary occlusion. But looking more closely at the death certificate revealed information that might have explained why Meyer had not appeared in any city directories after 1931 and why his sisters and nephew all listed only Lee as the person they knew in the US and not Meyer. It also explains why Lee had not listed Meyer on his World War II draft registration as the person who would always know his address.
Meyer suffered from manic depression (more commonly referred to as bipolar disorder today), which the doctor described as a contributing factor in his death. Meyer had been living at Torrance State Hospital in Westmoreland, Pennsylvania, for over two and a half years at the time of his death on January 10, 1960. In other words, he had been hospitalized shortly after his brother Lee’s death in May 1957. Lee must have been caring for him up to that point.
Lee and Meyer were buried next to each other in Beth Israel cemetery in Washington, Pennsylvania.
The family’s heartbreak continued two years later when young Werner Haas died from Laennec’s cirrhosis of the liver, a form of cirrhosis associated with alcoholism. According to the death certificate, he had been suffering for months and died after 48 hours in a hepatic coma. He was only 36 years old.
His life had not been an easy one. He had lost his father before he was five years old, and he had been uprooted from his home in Darmstadt, Germany, and brought to the US. Then he had served in the US Navy as a fireman, a skilled technician, during World War II. After the war he had been briefly married to Lillian Angeloff; at the time of his death he was married to Margaret Rusnack, who was more than ten years older than Werner and had a son from a prior marriage. He had worked as a salesman before and after the war, but in 1950 he had changed occupations and was a driver. In 1952 he was a construction worker, and then in 1958 and 1959 he was again a driver. After that he does not appear in the Pittsburgh directories.
It’s hard to imagine what those years between 1953 and 1962 must have been like for the two remaining siblings. Johanna lost a husband, two brothers, and a nephew, and Erna also lost her brothers, her brother-in-law, and her son.
Erna then lost her remaining sibling, Johanna, on February 23, 1967. The only close relative who was left was her nephew Helmut Levi (who by that time was named Henry Lyons). Henry and his wife Pauline continued to live at the same address in Rego Park, New York, until Henry’s death on December 18, 1986. He was only 67 years old when he died.
Erna Schoenthal Haas, the youngest child of Jakob and Charlotte, had outlived her parents, her husband, her siblings, her nieces and nephews, and even her son. Despite all the terrible losses she had suffered including being widowed at a very young age, escaping from Nazi Germany, and losing her only child, she had persevered and even maintained a positive outlook, as this June 14, 1984 article from the Jewish Chronicle of Pittsburgh reveals:
Notice that Erna only mentioned one brother, presumably Lee, and also explained how her family knew Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, the renowned art dealer and collector.
Erna died on January 17, 1989, the only sibling to make it to eighty years old, let alone ninety. She is buried not where her brothers or her sister or even her son is buried, but at Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery near Pittsburgh.
Writing about the lives of Jakob Schoenthal and his children provided a stark contrast to the experience I had writing about Simon Schoenthal and his children. These two brothers, born just a year apart, had such different lives and legacies. Both died too young and also just a year apart, Jakob in 1903, Simon in 1904. But although Simon and his wife Rose had suffered heartbreak when their daughter Ida died at a young age, overall their lives and their legacy were happy ones. Simon’s nine surviving children almost all lived very long and happy lives filled with adventures, long marriages, children, and close relationships with each other.
Jakob’s five children, on the other hand, were not so fortunate. Henriette was killed in the Holocaust along with her husband. Johanna was deported from her home to a camp in France and then somehow survived, probably hiding in France. As far as I know, Johanna never had children. Lee Schoenthal and Meyer Schoenthal never married or had children, and Meyer spent some part of his life struggling with mental illness.
I know of only two grandchildren of Jakob and Charlotte Schoenthal. Erna had one son, Werner, who died from liver disease, presumably caused by alcoholism, when he was only 36. Henriette had a son Helmut, who married but had no children. Thus, neither of Jakob’s two grandsons had children. There are no descendants to carry on that particular family’s line.
I can’t help but wonder how things might have turned out differently for Jakob and Charlotte and their children if they, like their siblings, had chosen to come to the US instead of staying in Germany.