After Meyer Goldschmidt’s wife Lea died in 1839 in Grebenstein, Germany, Meyer and his children worked together to support each other. At that time the oldest daughter Ella was about seventeen and the youngest child Falk was only three. The two sons, Selig and Jacob, were still young boys, but went to work to help the family, and Ella ran a millinery business from their home.1
But Ella eventually decided that she had to leave Grebenstein and seek a better life in the United States. In remembering her decision to leave, her brother Selig wrote that “Ella, who had received many compliments for her beauty while she was learning her trade in Cassel had, perhaps, become a little more selfish.”2
After she had run her own little business for about a year, during which time she probably encountered many difficulties, she realized that she would have no future in Grebenstein. Conditions were bad indeed for all of us; so she quickly decided, I believe even against our father’s wishes, to emigrate to America, together with several cousins. For me it was a great shock at that time. I borrowed as much money as I could from school friends in order to help her with her travel expenses. I think it only amounted to two and a half Groschen. After she had been gone for about one hour, I told myself I had to see her just once more. I ran after for two hours, weeping softly, but did not meet her again.
Selig’s description of his emotions about her leaving moved me and brought home the reality of the impact these departures had on a family.
Ella Goldschmidt was the only one of Meyer Goldschmidt’s six surviving children to leave Germany and settle permanently in the US. According to the 1900 US census, Ella immigrated in 1849, but that cannot be right because she married Albert Sigmund, another German immigrant, on April 26, 1846, in Baltimore, Maryland:
I will be devoting many posts to Ella and her life in the US, but for now let’s return to Grebenstein and the rest of Meyer’s children.
Selig wrote that once Ella left, times were challenging for the rest of the family.4
Our dear father was very weak and sickly. His constant prayer was “G-d Almighty do not let me die before I have repaid my debts.” This constant prayer gave us an added incentive to work day and night with all our energy. The just and noble man did not realise how the future prosperity of his children would spring forth from hidden roots.
But Meyer’s financial burdens were reduced as the children became adults and married and moved away. Sarah, or Sarchen, whom Selig described as “our angel of a sister,” married Salomon Stern on August 1, 1849. Salomon was born on May 24, 1815, in Ziegenhain, Germany, to Abraham Stern and Keile Maier.
In 1852, Falk Goldschmidt, Meyer’s youngest son, who was only sixteen at the time, traveled to the US5 and in 1860 was living with his older sister Ella and her family.6 Falk did return to Germany, however, by 1870, as we will see in a later post.
Meyer’s youngest daughter Malchen married in June, 1853, according to David Baron’s research. Malchen married Juda Callman Katzenstein of Eschwege, Germany. He was born there in 1824, the son of Callman Katzenstein and Jettchen Katzenstein. As Selig wrote in the Selig Goldschmidt book, after marrying Juda, Malchen moved to live with him in Eschwege.5
Her brother Jacob married Jettchen Cahn one month later in Frankfurt. She was the daughter of Aaron Simon Cahn and Minna Gamburg, and Jettchen was born on April 13, 1830, in Frankfurt.
Selig wrote that after Malchen married and moved to Eschwege, the family sold everything they had in Grebenstein, and Meyer moved to Eschwege to live with Malchen and Juda. Selig noted that they did this because Selig and his brother Jacob were traveling often for business and not able to be in Grebenstein to care for their father. Selig described the outpouring of love Meyer received when he moved away from his long-time home in Grebenstein:6
Poor and rich came to the station to see him off, and when the train departed, the sound of sobbing and weeping could be heard. Wealthy neighbours had offered to give him whatever he wanted if he would stay there. However, we did not wish him to stay in Grebenstein all by himself.
Selig was the next child to marry. On May 27, 1857, he married Clementine Fuld in Frankfurt. She was born in Frankfurt on January 8, 1837, to Herz Fuld and Caroline Schuster.
After marrying, Selig and Clementine settled in Frankfurt and soon moved Meyer to Frankfurt to live with them. Selig wrote:6
I was determined to let him live with me as soon as I married, in order to brighten the days of his old age and give him joy, with G-d’s help, and in order to compensate him for all the suffering he had endured. I was enabled to do this, thanks to my good and noble wife who loved and admired by dearest father so sincerely. Clementine arranged a beautiful and comfortable room for him. He moved in with us in Frankfurt and we, as well as he, were extremely happy together.
Meyer was not destined to stay in Frankfurt for very long. Selig told the heartwarming story of why his father returned to Eschwege. Meyer had befriended and taken care of a blind man while living in that town, and the man wrote to Meyer, asking him to return to Eschwege. The man said that Meyer had given him comfort and restored his spirit and that without him, he was lost. Meyer was determined to move back to Eschwege so that he could help this man who needed him and asked for his help. He felt it was the most important thing he could do at that point in his life.7
But sadly Meyer did not live much longer himself. He died on November 5, 1868, in Eschwege. He was 74 years old, according to his death certificate, and was deeply mourned.
His children set up a foundation to honor their parents, Meyer and Lea, and his congregation in Eschwege wrote this about Meyer in their obituary for him:8
The deceased had gained the love, respect and admiration of all members of the congregation through his exemplary way of life, his generosity and his sincere Jewish religious dedication. Hence, all of us endeavored to bring him relief on his sickbed, to cheer him up with friendly advice and, finally, to provide the last rites.
The editors of the Selig Goldschmidt book, Meyer’s descendants, wrote this about their ancestor:9
Pure was the soul of Meyer Goldschmdit when he passed away to follow the soul of his departed wife. In spite of adverse circumstances his mind had managed to attain the tranquil and unshakable repose of genuine Jewish wisdom. He realized that the pursuit of earthly comforts and physical pleasures are not the main content and aim of life. Only the acquisition of the goods which G-d desires, namely the fulfillment of the Mitzvos can bring lasting peace of mind. Thus, the existence of the village dweller had gradually become enriched and ennobled, until his life drew to a worthy end with an almost heroic act of Jewish humane love.
UPDATE: One reader asked for a translation of the headstone, and Leah of the Tracing the Tribe group kindly provided this translation:
“An upright man who enlightened/educated the poor
“He left behind him a legacy of blessings (?)
“He established a good thing for the poor, H”H (HaRav HaGaon)
“K”H Meir, son of K”H Yaakov
”When his days were full
“He returned to his palace? at a ripe old age
“On the even of Shabbat, the 25th, and he was buried
“In an ‘auspicious hour’/with a good name on Day 1 (Sunday), the 30th
“Of MarChesvan, on the first day of Rosh Chodesh
“[Kislev?] . . .”
Meyer Goldschmidt was clearly a good and well-loved man by his family and his community. His children and descendants carried on this legacy in Germany and in the United States, as we will see as I now examine the lives of each of them, starting with Meyer and Lea’s oldest child, Ella Goldschmidt Sigmund.
- “The Story of A Ring,” Selig Goldschmidt: Picture of A Life (1996, Elmar Printers Ltd. and Bezalel Bookbinders, Jerusalem, Israel)(limited edition of 300 copies), p.19-21 ↩
- “The Story of A Ring,” Selig Goldschmidt: Picture of A Life (1996, Elmar Printers Ltd. and Bezalel Bookbinders, Jerusalem, Israel)(limited edition of 300 copies), p. 21 ↩
- “The Story of A Ring,” Selig Goldschmidt: Picture of A Life (1996, Elmar Printers Ltd. and Bezalel Bookbinders, Jerusalem, Israel)(limited edition of 300 copies), pp.21-22. ↩
- “The Story of A Ring,” Selig Goldschmidt: Picture of A Life (1996, Elmar Printers Ltd. and Bezalel Bookbinders, Jerusalem, Israel)(limited edition of 300 copies), p.22. ↩
- Juda Callman Katzenstein death record, Certificate Number: 175, Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 923; Laufende Nummer: 1941, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Deaths, 1851-1958. Selig Goldschmidt: Picture of A Life,(1996, Elmar Printers Ltd. and Bezalel Bookbinders, Jerusalem, Israel)(limited edition of 300 copies) p, 22. ↩ ↩
- “The Story of A Ring,” Selig Goldschmidt: Picture of A Life (1996, Elmar Printers Ltd. and Bezalel Bookbinders, Jerusalem, Israel)(limited edition of 300 copies), p.23. ↩ ↩ ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- “Obituary,” Selig Goldschmidt: Picture of A Life (1996, Elmar Printers Ltd. and Bezalel Bookbinders, Jerusalem, Israel)(limited edition of 300 copies), p.15. The use of the term “last rites” should not be confused with the Catholic tradition of giving last rites; under Jewish law there are certain rules and practices for the treatment of the deceased’s body between the time of death and burial. That must be what the obituary meant by “last rites.” ↩
- “Of Noble Origins,” Selig Goldschmidt: Picture of A Life (1996, Elmar Printers Ltd. and Bezalel Bookbinders, Jerusalem, Israel)(limited edition of 300 copies), p.10. ↩