The Life of Frieda Bensew Loewenherz, Part I: 1885-1912

In the last post I published before Thanksgiving, I wrote about the two daughters of Breine Mansbach and Jacob Bensew, Roschen and Frieda. They were my grandmother’s second cousins, my second cousins, twice removed. They were the great-granddaughters of Seligmann Goldschmidt and Hinka Alexander, my three-times great-grandparents.

After publishing that post on November 16, I received a wonderful treasure trove of pictures and documents and information from Frieda Bensew’s great-grandson, Franz Loewenherz, my fourth cousin, once removed. Among those shared items was an almost 60 page memoir written by Frieda in 1970 when she was in her eighties (with an addendum written in 1972).

Reading that memoir moved me to tears—not because Frieda had a hard or sad life. To the contrary. She wrote about a life filled primarily with love and happiness—parents who adored her, a marriage filled with deep love, an adoring son and his family, and an extended family that she cared for and about and who cared for and about her. Of course, there were heartbreaking losses and difficult challenges, but throughout her memoir, Frieda’s love of live and her gratitude for all she was given came shining through.

With the permission of her great-grandson Franz, I want to share some of this memoir and also photographs of Frieda, her husband Emanuel Loewenherz, and their son Walter.  Not only is this a touching life story, it has value not only for what it reveals of family history but for its insights into the times in which Frieda lived.

As noted in my earlier post, Frieda was the youngest child of Breine Mansbach and Jacob Bensew, born February 21, 1886, in Melsungen, Germany.1 Here are two photographs of Frieda as a young child, one with her brothers Max and Heine and one alone:

Heine, Frieda, and Max Bensew, c. 1890. Courtesy of Franz Loewenherz

Frieda Bensew c. 1890. Courtesy of Franz Loewenherz

Her memoir gives a sense of her happy childhood in Melsungen:

[Melsungen] was situated in a valley on the river Fulda, surrounded by beautiful woods. A climb of 15 minutes from my home would take me into the thick of them. Oak, Linden and Pine exuded that spicy fragrance remembered for all time. Of course in the summer when school was out this was my favorite outing. But I had also some duties to perform, not just picnic, and that was berry picking! With my friends I would start out in the morning, provided with sandwiches and a pail. It was blueberry time and our ambition was to come home with a full pail. Sitting under trees in a blueberry patch, with the sun filtering down, bees humming around us, we often had a very extended lunch hour! Our dessert were berries eaten right from the bushes. We had to hurry to finish our work as we had to be home before sundown, picking wild flowers on the way. My mother would be pleased with the crop to be used for cake, preserves and jelly. She was not so pleased with the condition of my white undies, full of squashed blueberry stains!!

Winter’s great recreation was ice skating on the river. The ice was so clear, it looked green and one could see the plant life beneath it, moving according to the current. The surface was like glass and I took many tumbles! In those days there were no snow or skating outfits. I wore woolen petticoats, long knitted black wool stockings, flannel pants. When I got home my petticoats and dress usually would stand out like a ballerina’s lampshade – frozen stiff! My mother would receive me with a warm drink and a piece of black bread after getting into dry clothes and warming myself at the stove. There were many simple pleasures, another sledding down a hill or when my father would take me along in the sleigh drawn by our horse, with hot bricks at our feet. The floor of the sleigh covered thick with straw. When we stopped at a village inn, my father would let me take a sip of his grag!

Frieda Bensew c. 1898
Courtesy of Franz Loewenherz

Frieda seemed to have a special relationship with her uncle, Julius Mansbach, her mother Breine’s brother who had, like all of Breine’s siblings, immigrated to the United States. But Julius returned to Germany and visited Frieda when she was fourteen years old or in about 1900.

My happiest recollections are, from the time I was 14 when my Uncle Julius, my mother’s youngest brother, came to visit us from America. He took me along on so many day trips to historical places, one of them the famous Wartburg, where Martin Luther was imprisoned and where he translated the Bible. And, of course, it is the setting of Wagner’s opera “Tannhaeuser.” I learned history on authentic grounds. With my uncle I saw my first American circus! Barnum and Bailey, with Buffalo Bill and his wild-west show were touring Germany then and we saw the performance in Kassel. The clowns told their jokes in English, naturally, and my uncle would translate them to me. The three ring performances left me breathless, as did the riding skill of the Indians. This was an unforgettable summer. I was so grateful to my uncle, not alone for providing so many pleasures of various kinds for me but he also was the one who taught me quite a few English expressions and the first rudiments of the language.

Frieda’s ongoing relationship with Julius as well as her uncle Louis Mansbach and grandmother Sarah Goldschmidt Mansbach as well as her use of English can be seen in the postcard she sent on September 21, 1902. The photograph is of Frieda and, I believe, her uncle Julius, probably taken while he was visiting the family in Melsungen.

Courtesy of Franz Loewenherz

Some wonderful people in the Jekkes Engaged Worldwide in Social Networking group on Facebook helped me transcribe and translate the German parts of the card:

On the right side: Dated 21-9-02 (September 21, 1902) from Melsungen:

Dearest Grandmama [Sarah Goldschmidt Mansbach] and Uncle Julius [Mansbach],

Unsere Karte von Cassel aus habt Ihr bei dieser Zeit hoffentlich erhalten, morgen ist es wieder ein heisser+ nasser Tag, wo Willi + Heine uns verlassen. Was denkt Ihr vom nebenstehendem Bild? Ist es nicht beautiful? Ende dieser Woche erwarte ich sicher einen grossen Brief von dir, sowie die Ansichtskarte.

(Translated: I hope you have received our card from Cassel by this time. Tomorrow will again be a hot and wet day when Willi + Heine leave us. What do you think of the picture on the other side? Isn’t it beautiful? At the end of the week I expect a long letter from you as well as the picture postcard.)

With best love and kisses, your Fritz

I believe Fritz was Frieda’s nickname.

Underneath Frieda’s message in a different handwriting is this note from her brothers Willi and Heine:

Meine Lieben haltet den Jontef Cholent warm.

Translation: My dears, keep the holiday Cholent warm.

Willi & Heine

I believe that Willi and Heine were sailing to the US, Willi to return having lived in the US since 1885 and Heine coming for the first time: his naturalization card states that he arrived on September 30, 1902.2;I had to smile when I checked and saw that Rosh Hashanah that year started on the next night, October 1. So Willi and Heine must have spent the holidays with the family in Philadelphia. (For those who do not know, cholent is traditional Jewish dish—a stew that usually has meat and vegetables. Here is a typical recipe.)

Along the margin of the right side of the card, Frieda wrote:

Hast du die K. abgeliefert? Wenn nicht, bekommst du keine wieder von mir.

Translation: Did you deliver the K? [card, I assume] If not, you won’t get another from me.

The left side is mostly in English; at the top it says “Best regards to Uncle Louis, Aunt Cora, and Rebecca.” This would be referring to her mother’s brother Louis Mansbach and his family.

Under the picture it says: “Im “Fidelio” war es grossartig [“Fidelio was fabulous]. If you, dear uncle, come again, I will sing the “Arien” [arias] for you. Don’t stay long! Otherwise you are well.” I assume this was directed to her dear uncle Julius Mansbach.

Frieda received a good education at a school in Kassel and had a passion for music and art. And, as she wrote, she wanted to see the world, in particular, America. By the time she was 21 in 1907, all her brothers had immigrated to America, and she also decided to move across the world from her birth place:

It was only natural that I wanted to go to America. Most of our family lived here, from three generations back. My grandparents [Sarah Goldschmidt and Abraham Mansbach] had come to Philadelphia where most of their children lived and some in the west, in Colorado. My mother [Breine] was the only one who remained in Germany as she had a family and my father refused to leave. When the time came for me to investigate, I did so with the promise of my parents that they would follow after I had familiarized myself with my new surroundings. My disappointment was great when my father declared he changed his mind. They did not wish me to return, however, insisting that I had a right to my own life. That is how loving and understanding and unselfish they were.

This paragraph touched me deeply— thinking of Frieda’s courage and determination and her parents’ respect for it. And yet I also could feel how torn both she and they must have been about this separation.

And so, as I wrote before, Frieda left home in 1907 when she was 21 and joined her brothers and other family in the US. First, she settled in Denver where some of her brothers as well other Mansbach cousins were living, and once again she demonstrated her determination and independence:

After a few months of visits with my family in Denver I had acquired quite a vocabulary and felt able to enter an American School of business. There I studied besides English, correspondence, shorthand and light bookkeeping and typing. I knew German shorthand, and the switch was not easy. It required extreme concentration as, in addition, I did not know business language and form either. Well, I made it and kept step with my class, all American born. I finished even ahead of time and got my first job shortly after. And what was the requirement? German shorthand! The irony of it all! 90% of the dictation was in German and 10% in English.

From what I gathered in the memoir and from what I know from the 1910 census, this job was in Chicago, and as we saw, in 1910, Frieda’s brothers Julius, Max, and Heine were also living in Chicago. Frieda wrote about these days as a single young woman in Chicago with great joy—describing activities and trips she took with her friends and also a trip to Philadelphia to see her relatives. This trip probably took place in 1912 because Frieda notes that her cousin Reta Dannenberg was engaged, and Reta was married in December 1912:3

My Aunt Hannah [Mansbach Dannenberg] and Uncle and their three children made our visit of a few days most enjoyable, Rita the oldest was engaged, Arthur a medical student at the U. of Penn. And Katrinka, the youngest, showed us the sights. We had a lot of fun! Then on to New York. My uncle Julius-who was in this country on business from Germany (he had returned there a few years before with his wife, my cousin Frieda on account of her parents’ wishes) entertained us royally.

In this one paragraph I learned three things. First, that Frieda and presumably the other Bensews were very much in touch with their mother’s Mansbach relatives in the US. Secondly, that the Frieda Bensew who married Julius Mansbach was in fact related to this Frieda Bensew and her family (though I still don’t know how). And thirdly, I learned why Julius Mansbach had returned to live in Germany—to satisfy the wishes of his in-laws.

Frieda Bensew as a young woman. Date unknown. Courtesy of Franz Loewenherz

From New York, Frieda and a friend named Rose sailed to Germany where they spent the summer of 1912. Frieda was delighted to be with her parents and sister Roschen, but the separation at the end of that visit was difficult. Frieda wrote:

And then came the time to say good bye again. It was not easy – My parents were so kind and understanding.They realized that I had outgrown my old environment and that my opportunities for a fuller life were so much better in America, the land which I loved and do to this day. Perhaps, being foreign born, gave me even a deeper appreciation of the freedom and privileges so many seem to take for granted. My parents and I were grateful for the time we spent together and kept up a brave front at parting.

She stopped in Philadelphia on her way home and was invited to stay for her cousin Reta’s wedding that coming December. She had a wonderful long visit there, and then after the wedding she received a letter from her brother Julius about a new job opportunity in Chicago, so she left to start her new job. That decision was life-changing, as we will see in the next post.


All excerpts from Frieda Loewenherz’s memoir and all the photographs in this post are published with the permission of Franz Loewenherz, her great-grandson. My deep gratitude to Franz for his generosity.

 

 


  1.  Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 920; Laufende Nummer: 4574, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901 
  2.  “Illinois, Northern District Naturalization Index, 1840-1950,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:939N-FGS7-2?cc=1838804&wc=M6TM-Q6X%3A165129401 : 20 May 2014), B-524 to B-550 Gustov Joseph > image 983 of 6652; citing NARA microfilm publication M1285 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.). 
  3. Ancestry.com. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Marriage Index, 1885-1951, Marriage Year: 1912, Marriage License Number: 289763 

34 thoughts on “The Life of Frieda Bensew Loewenherz, Part I: 1885-1912

  1. Wow – I was totally blown away by this post, the fantastic photo’s, Frieda’s own words carried me into her world. Her words ‘kept up a brave front at parting’ brought me to tears. What a gold mine of true history not only for your families personal story but for us readers too. Great post Amy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not through the blog, but through my research. The Goldsmith cousins seem to have the genealogy bug (or at least a number of them) so they’ve been an amazing group to find!

      Like

  2. Memoirs, old photographs, letters and postcards add so much colour to a family history. It was a pleasure to read about Frieda’s impressions of her new USA homeland. I can’t wait to read the rest of her story. Great post, Amy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought of you when I posted this, knowing that your journey was not so different—you were also about the same age and had a brother in North America. Of course, it was many decades later!

      Liked by 1 person

      • My late Mom would have enjoyed Frieda’s entries about shorthand. It was a very difficult subject in any language. My Mom used to use her shorthand to create grocery lists and to do lists when I was a teen. She was practicing to return to the job force. It looked like squiggles not any written language. For Breine to take steno in German AND English is another proof of her high intelligence.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Amy. For some reason I cannot comment on your reply about steno. No, it is almost a lost skill. I’ve read it’s still taught overseas and used by journalists in India but here I do not think so. Once voice recognition to text becomes a regular feature in our document programs we will be able to dictate a document and the text will appear on screen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s what I figured. Technology made it obsolete. When I started practicing law in 1978, there were still some lawyers who dictated to secretaries. I never did—had a dictaphone that the secretaries then transcribed. Then we moved to personal computers, and now everyone types their own works and edits them as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Life of Frieda Bensew Loewenherz, Part II: 1913-1918 | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

  5. I read this one when you posted it and for some reason I can’t remember why I couldn’t comment. Then it’s been a blur over here! What a fabulous gift to you, your family, and your readers this memoir is!

    Liked by 1 person

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