By the end of 1918, World War I had ended, and Frieda Bensew and Emanuel Loewenherz had married in Chicago. Soon thereafter there were troubles at KW, the battery company where they had met in 1913:
The man who was heading the company, supposedly an old friend of Manek whom we trusted, in fact idolized, turned out to be an embezzler. Not alone did he cheat the firm out of huge sums, but also my hard earned savings which I had given him, believing his promises of a speedy return. Besides Manek had signed notes for him and it took a long time to pay these off. But it was not the money but the great disappointment in a man, a close associate for years who took such an advantage of us, his true friends.
Manek had a heart to heart talk with Mr. Paepcke, in case this gentleman should harbor any doubt about him, in which case he would resign. But Mr. Paepcke not only expressed his full confidence but made Manek the head of the company, which he built up to a very successful enterprise -earning the respect of all associates and the community. We worked hard and there were many obstacles to overcome, but Manek met the challenge with perseverance. His kindness and generosity knew no bounds as well as his understanding, from the lowest laborer to the chairman of the Board.
Thus, as my mother would say, from bad came good. The loss of the money and the betrayal by their friend led to Emanuel’s promotion to president of KW and a long and successful career there.
Frieda and Emanuel’s son Walter was born on August 6, 1920, and when Walter was 20 months old, Frieda took him to Europe to meet her family as well as Emanuel’s family, whom she herself had never met.
Uncle Julius [Mansbach, who had met her at the ship in Hamburg] took me all the way home to my parents in Melsungen. I can’t describe our emotions, they remain unforgettable! As I write this, more than 48 years later, I am reliving those days and weeks. Alas, the end was sad. My dear, gentle mother passed away, quietly and peacefully. My father, sister and everybody else who knew her said that her desire to see me and baby kept her alive and the fact that this wish was granted her alleviated my pain.
Breine Mansbach Bensew died on May 31, 1922, in Melsungen; she was 77 years old.1
After some weeks in Melsungen mourning with her family, Frieda took Walter to Vienna where she met for the first time Emanuel’s mother Charlotte and brothers Henryk and Josef, Henryk’s wife Rosa and their son Richard, and Josef’s wife Sofie and children Ada and Siegmund. After a wonderful visit with them, she and Walter visited her uncle Julius Mansbach and his wife Frieda (her cousin) and their son Alfred. She then returned to Chicago and her happy life with her husband.
In the years that followed, Frieda and Emanuel settled into family life in Chicago, continuing their trips to Europe and to the West to see family. Here they are in Denver in 1926 with Frieda’s brother Julius Bensev:
In 1929, they bought a house in Winnetka, Illinois, that would become the long-time family home.
Two months after moving in, Frieda’s cousin Alfred Mansbach, son of her uncle Julius and her cousin Frieda, came from Germany and moved into their home.
Walter was in 4th grade in Greeley School and we sent Alfred, although he was 19 and had finished the “Gymnasium” (High School) in Germany, to New Trier High school for one semester, to get an idea of our schools and help his English. The following year he entered Northwestern University as freshman.
Then in 1932, Emanuel’s nephew Siegmund, Josef’s son, moved into their home:
In 1932 Siegmund came to us from Vienna. By then Alfred had moved to Chicago and was working and also taking courses in air conditioning – an industry in its infancy. Siegmund went to Northwestern University School of Music and also to English classes.
In 1934, the family made another trip to Europe—to France and Italy as well as Vienna. Here are Frieda and Emanuel in Venice:
But Hitler had taken power in Germany, and there were serious concerns about his intentions.
It was the spring of 1934 and Hitler had been in power in Germany a whole year. Manek was very apprehensive but [his brother] Josef did not think he would ever attack Austria. – How right Manek was – he pleaded then with the folks to get out of the country, to no avail. Grandma Charlotte could not even think of it- at her age. Josef was still convinced that Hitler would leave Austria alone – how the picture changed in a few years.
The family traveled on to Danzig and to Germany:
The next day we were welcomed at the Danzig Station by [Emanuel’s brother] Henryk. There we saw the first Bravo-shirts — I almost felt sick to my stomach. Danzig was already under the influence of Hitler, with Hitler youth, marching and Nazis in the higher echelons – Henryk lived in Oliva which was Polish a short train ride away. We were happy to be together but that cloud of Nazism hung over us like a dark shadow.
Dr. Greg from Cologne came to see us there … to persuade us to come to Cologne and be his guests. I was frank to state that I felt uneasy about it and feared that he might get into difficulties for having Jewish guests. He answered, “Nobody is going to dictate to me whom I can invite.” So we promised to come. -The days passed pleasantly – we did not fathom then that it would be our last visit together– We made a stopover at Berlin and visited my nephew Alfred [Stern, son of Frieda’s sister Roschen] and his wife Rita. It seems all we saw was uniforms and Nazi banners. – We were glad to leave although Cologne was not much better.
Since Frieda mentioned her nephew Alfred but not her sister Roschen, I have to wonder whether Roschen was no longer living by the spring of 1934. It remains the one big unsolved mystery of my Bensew relatives—the fate of Roschen Bensew Stern.
Three years later, Frieda lost her beloved uncle, Julius Mansbach, who had returned with his wife Frieda to the US just a few years before to join their son Alfred in Chicago.
In the spring of 1937 we planned to go to New Orleans for Walter’s Easter vacation. We did sightseeing for 2 days, then a telegram arrived from Alfred that his father had passed away suddenly. The shock was awful – He and Frieda had seen us off at the station and had all kinds of plans for our return. We took the freight train back to Chicago – Frieda [Bensew Mansbach] was numb with grief and I just could not accept the thought never to hear Uncle Julius’ voice again. He was so gay when we left, had all kinds of little packages for me “to open on the train,” he loved surprises – I don’t want to dwell on this sad time.
Meanwhile, things in Europe were getting more and more ominous.
Conditions in Germany were getting worse for the Jews and we made out many affidavits for family members. The first to come was [Emanuel’s nephew] Richard in July 1937 – he had finished his studies at medical school and was interning in Vienna for a short while before.–He-stayed with us until he got an internship at a hospital in Chicago.
In March 1938, catastrophe struck Austria; Hitler marched into Vienna! The persecution of the Jews cannot be described. Josef together with all the leading members of the community was jailed for weeks. It became imperative to get Siegmund out as quickly as possible, perhaps with Ada. [Josef’s children] [Siegmond arrived in] July… Ada arrived in the U.S. in August. ….
In August 1939 Hitler invaded Poland and occupied it. Luckily, Micha [son of Emanuel’s brother Henryk] who was born in Danzig, could get a visa and he left the end of August. While en route, the war in Poland broke out but he was safe and arrived in New York on Sept. 3.- Manek and Walter met him, a 13 year old [boy] … It was a new experience to have another adolescent in the house and under such circumstances. We knew how hard it was for his parents to part with him and we did everything to make him feel at home. Since he did not speak English, it was fortunate that we could make his adjustment easier by speaking German to him and Walter was a real big brother to him.
Emanuel and Frieda had done everything to rescue the Loewenherz relatives in Europe and had largely succeeded. The children of Josef and Henryk were all safe—Siegmund, Ada, Richard, and Micha (who became Michael in the US).
But tragically they could not rescue Emanuel’s brother Henryk and his wife Rosa:
Many people fled without visas in small boats to Denmark which was so close and Denmark was most hospitable to Jews and hid them from the Nazis. But Henryk wanted to have official permission and our efforts, as well as Josef’s from Vienna were without success. And then came their notice that they were leaving for Cracow- From then on news were scarce, a card now and then. Finally, when we received permission from the British Consulate for a transit visa to England, it did not reach them any more – they had left Cracow- destination unknown.
Emanuel’s other brother Josef and his wife Sofie were still in Vienna, trying to get out. Then in December 1941, the US entered World War II.
Our lives were changed. Manek worked harder as war orders had to be filled, and restrictions in the economic appeared soon, although there was no food shortage. We could not communicate with the folks in Vienna. In January or perhaps later (I am not certain about the exact date) we were at war with Germany too) and the gigantic war machine was in full swing with all the heartaches, anxieties and hopes for an early peace– Everybody worked for the Red Cross- I knitted day and night, helmets, gloves with trigger fingers, scarves, sweaters, etc. ….
Walter knew he was going to be drafted. Meanwhile he continued school, hoping to finish. He had become friends with Bea, also at Northwestern U. in the School of Education. It was not too long until the friendship ripened and the outcome was their engagement after Bea graduated in June. Walter graduated in August. We were happy about it, although we knew that Walter would soon be drafted. It happened in Sept. and he was sent for basic training to Fort Lawton, Oklahoma. … We had, in addition the worry about the folks in Vienna.
On top of all this stress, or maybe because of it, Emanuel suffered a serious heart attack in December, 1942. Fortunately he recovered, though he and Frieda could not attend Walter and Bea’s wedding in Oklahoma on March 20, 1943.
One had to accept this too – we were happy and grateful for Manek’s recovery and it was only a short time when Walter was ordered to the Officer’s Training School outside of Washington. Bea rented a room in Washington and did research work on her Master’s thesis. In June Walter was made 2nd Lieut. in G2 (Intelligence) and received a week’s leave which they spent in Winnetka. His first assignment was at the Brooklyn Army Base and they were fortunate to get an apartment there. … As he was specially trained because of his knowledge of German we figured that he would be sent to Europe, but he was sent to the Pacific in October.
The war ended in Europe in April, 1945, and then in the Pacific that August. It was then that they learned the tragic fate of Emanuel’s brother Henryk and his wife Rosa:
What we dreaded was true – they were sent to the extermination camp.
But Frieda was overjoyed to learn that somehow Josef and his wife Sofie had survived the war. (She did not go into details about how they managed to escape from the Nazi death machine.) Josef and Sofie came to the US and were reunited with their children, who were now grown adults.
After the war, life returned to peacetime conditions, and in the years that followed, Frieda and Emanuel were blessed with many grandchildren and a meaningful and joyful life. Walter worked with his father at KW, eventually taking over the company and freeing Emanuel and Frieda with more time to travel in retirement.
Frieda was heartbroken when her beloved Manek died on December 22, 1963.
My world had crumbled and I did not know how to cope with what was left – then I did realize that Manek would want me to go on, as he so often emphasized in our conversations in our happy days. We used to discuss life from every angle and every phase of it and I admired his philosophy and his clear, human outlook. But above all was his deep love which I shared for over 45 years – how many people are that fortunate? And that helps me to go on, it is something precious and all my own.
Frieda did go on and enjoyed her extended family for another twelve years. She died on December 17, 1975, at the age of 89.2 Here is one final photograph of my cousin Frieda, one that I think reflects all her beauty, inside and out:
Reflecting back on her life after reading this memoir several times now, I continue to be moved to tears and feel goosebumps as I do. Frieda and Emanuel lived an incredible life together. Theirs was a true love story.
But they were much more than that. Their love was not limited to love for each other, but for their entire extended family—the Mansbachs, the Bensevs, and the Loewenherzs. They made sure to stay connected to them all despite all the distances and obstacles. And they did what they could to rescue their family members in Europe and opened their home over and over again to those beloved family members. Despite all the evil they saw—the discrimination they personally faced during World War I and the hateful destruction of Jewish life in Europe under the Nazis—they remained positive, life-affirming, and loving.
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.