The Heartbreaking Story of Berthold Goldschmidt

As seen in my last post, as far as I’ve been able to determine, of the eight children born to Jacob Goldschmidt and Betty Goldschmidt, only their son Berthold survived to adulthood.

Berthold married Mathilde Freudenstein, and they had seven children: Paul (1893),1 Leopold (1895),2 Siegfried (1896),3 Hedwig (1898),4 Ida (1899),5 Hilda Johanna (1903),6 and Rosa (1906).7

Hilda, Rosa and Ida all died before their first birthdays.8  Thus, of the seven children born to Berthold and Mathilde, it appears that only Paul, Leopold, Siegfried, and Hedwig lived past infancy. It must have been devastating for Berthold and Martha to lose three babies like that. Between 1895 and 1909, Berthold also lost his parents Jacob and Betty. Thus, he suffered five losses in a very short period of time.

Then Berthold suffered four more tragic losses in the 1910s. First his wife Mathilde Freudenstein Goldschmidt died at age 43 in Marburg, Germany, on December 29, 1911. She left Berthold with four teenagers to raise alone. Paul was 18, Leopold was 16, Siegfried was 15, and Hedwig was 13.

Mathilde Freudenstein Goldschmidt death record, Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 915; Laufende Nummer: 5700, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Deaths, 1851-1958

But Berthold’s heartbreak was far from over. His daughter Hedwig died on August 5, 1915 in the Elisabeth hospital in Volkmarsen, as attested to by a nurse at that facility; she was only seventeen. Matthias Steinke generously translated Hedwig’s death record, which reports that Hedwig had been residing in Oberlistingen at the time of her death. I have tried to find some document showing the cause of death, but have had no success.

Hedwig Goldschmidt death record, Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 922; Signatur: 11405, 1915, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Deaths, 1851-1958

Less than a year after Hedwig’s death, Paul Goldschmidt, Berthold and Mathilde’s first child, died in the state hospital in Haina, Germany, on July 20, 1916, at age 22.  The death record did not reveal a cause of death or the duration of Paul’s time at the state hospital, and I wondered whether, given his age and the year, he had died as a result of injuries suffered fighting for Germany in World War I.

Paul Goldschmidt death record, Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Signatur: 4613
Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Deaths, 1851-1958

I was able to determine that the hospital in Haina was a psychiatric hospital and also that it cared for some soldiers during World War I, but I needed more information to determine why Paul died there. I wrote to the authorities in Haina to learn more, and I received the following response based on the hospital’s records  from Dr. Horst Hecker of the Haina branch of the Landeswohlfahrtsverband Hessen :

At the age of four, Paul Goldschmidt fell ill with hydrocephalus. He was first treated at the “Idiotenanstalt” (idiot asylum) [in] Idstein. In November 1900 Paul was admitted to the “Hessisches Brüderhaus (Anstalten Hephata”) near Treysa. On September 23, 1914, he was transferred to Haina Hospital. There he died on July 20, 1916, of “Marasmus bei Idiotie”.

Dr. Hecker sent me the entire file, and although I have not been able to translate much of it that is hand-written, I was able to translate one type-written entry that revealed that Paul was developing normally until he was four.  His parents attributed the hydrocephalus to a fall; Paul had hit his head on the corner of their stove and received four to five stitches. Whether that could cause hydrocephalus is beyond my area of expertise. But apparently soon thereafter his behavior and his development regressed, and he was institutionalized. How very sad that this boy spent eighteen years institutionalized before dying at age 22.

UPDATE: My medical consultant tells me that it is extremely unlikely that hydrocephalus would have been caused by a fall.  More likely it had been progressing. Perhaps the fall was caused by the hydrocephalus, not the other way around. On the other hand, one reader told me that her son had hydrocephalus caused when he was elbowed in the head, moving an undetected tumor in such a way as to cause hydrocephalus. Fortunately her son recovered after surgery removed the tumor.  Thank goodness for modern medicine.

But Berthold’s heartbreak was still not over. One of his two remaining children, his son Leopold, was killed just a few months after Paul’s death while fighting for Germany in World War I. He was only 21 years old. With the help of those in the Jekke group on Facebook, especially the incredibly generous help of Andre Gunther and Doris Benter of that group, I believe I have been able to piece together some of what happened to Leopold.

Leopold was injured in the fall of 1915 while serving in the 12th Company of the Reserve Infantry Regiment, No. 256.9 He returned to active duty after recovering from these injuries, and in December 1916 he was listed as missing.10 As seen below, it was reported that he had been missing since the end of October in the West. At that time he had been serving with the 8th Company of Infantry Regiment No. 364, to which he must have been transferred when he returned to duty.

Leopold Goldschmidt, listed as missing, https://grandeguerre.icrc.org/en/File/Details/900539/1/2/

In a book published in 1932 that compiled the names of all the Jewish soldiers who died fighting for Germany in World War I, Leopold Goldschmidt is listed with Company 8 of the 364th Infantry Regiment. His date of death is given as October 25, 1916, and the list categorized his death as judicially determined, indicating that his body was not found but that he was declared dead in a legal proceeding. 11

I am not sure how they determined the date when he died, but on the assumption that that is accurate, I checked to see what battles on Germany’s western front occurred in late October, 1916, and whether the 364th Infantry Regiment participated in those battles. Although I have no conclusive evidence, my best guess is that Leopold was killed or taken prisoner during the Battle of Verdun. Encyclopedia Britannica, for example, provided this information:

In September, Gen. Charles Mangin, who had held command of a section of the French defensive line from Fleury to the right bank of the Meuse from June 22, proposed a scheme to liberate the Verdun region. Nivelle approved, and that offensive was initiated on October 21 with an artillery barrage across a broad front. An infantry assault followed on October 24, with three divisions advancing behind a creeping artillery barrage. By that evening the French had retaken Douaumont along with 6,000 German prisoners, and by November 2 the fort at Vaux was once again in French hands.

According to other sources, the 364th Infantry Regiment was among those participating in the October 24 battle for Fort Douamont. Thus, Leopold likely participated in that action and was among the many German soldiers who were either killed or taken prisoner by the French during that battle.

Leopold Goldschmidt died serving his German homeland in 1916. He was survived by his father Berthold and his only remaining sibling, Siegfried Goldschmidt. This fall his hometown of Oberlistigen honored his memory and his service to his country. More on that in the next post.

Thus, by 1916, Berthold Goldschmidt had outlived his wife and seven of his eight children. It’s hard to fathom how someone endures so many losses. Berthold died in Oberlistingen on November 8, 1927, eleven years after his sons Paul and Leopold; he was 69 years old.

Berthold Goldschmidt death record, Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Signatur: 8196
Description
Year Range: 1927
Source Information
Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Deaths, 1851-1958

Siegfried Goldschmidt, the only child of Berthold and Mathilde still living, attested to his father’s death. As we will see, Siegfried’s life ended in tragedy as well.


  1. Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 909; Signatur: 8076, 1893, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901 
  2. Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 909; Signatur: 8078, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901 
  3. Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 909; Signatur: 8079, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901 
  4. Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 909; Signatur: 8081, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901 
  5.  Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 909; Signatur: 8082, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901 
  6. Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Signatur: 8172, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Deaths, 1851-1958 
  7. Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Signatur: 8175, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Deaths, 1851-1958 
  8.  Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Signatur: 8169, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Deaths, 1851-1958; also, see footnotes 6 and 7. 
  9.  Verlustlisten 1. Weltkrieg, page 10082: Goldschmidt Leopold (Oberlistingen, Wolfhagen), found at http://des.genealogy.net/search/show/3324952 
  10.  Verlustlisten 1. Weltkrieg, page 16803: Goldschmidt Leopold (Oberlistingen, Wolfhagen), found at http://des.genealogy.net/search/show/5035892 
  11.  [^9]:Die Judischen Gefallenen Des Deustchen Heeres, Der Deutschen Marine und Der Deutschen Schutztruppen 1914-1918 (Herausgegeben vom Reichsbund Judischer Frontsoldaten, 1932), pp. 38, 309. 

27 thoughts on “The Heartbreaking Story of Berthold Goldschmidt

  1. What a horror story we read about poor Berthold Goldschmidt’s life! From the deaths of his children in early infancy to the deaths on the battle fields on the Western front his suffering must have been so severe. Great research, Amy! It is truly amazing what you were able to dig up with the help of some friends. Oh, the horrors of war, will they ever end!?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I know I have missed many of your latest posts. When I get around to reading them I hope they will not be as sad as this one. I was reminded of my visit to Verdun this summer and the horrors of the battles fought there. So many are buried in the area while the remains of the unidentified are kept in the ossuary in Douaumont. Had I known, I could have spoken Leopold’s name.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So Siegfried was left alone? What was his life like? This post looks like a plot sketch for a novel. I worried about Hedwig, the youngest and only girl left motherless. Then I saw I was right to be worried! What happened with her?

    Like

  4. Pingback: Berthold Goldschmidt’s Surviving Child, Siegfried | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

  5. Pingback: Max Goldschmidt: A Survivor | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

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