Today is the first day of Hanukkah, a holiday that reminds us to find the light and hope even in the darkest of times. And in that spirit, this is a story of three children who lost their mother as children and then their father as young adults. Yet they found the strength to go on and survive the Holocaust. They looked for the light and hope despite the darkness.
Selig and Clementine Goldschmidt’s third daughter Hedwig Goldschmidt Cramer had five children with her husband Hermann Hirsch Cramer. Their oldest daughter Rosa Cramer married Arthur Abraham Oppenheimer on May 16, 1904, in Frankfurt. Arthur was born August 25, 1879, to William Oppenheimer and Ida Jettchen Cramer.
I have had the great pleasure this week of talking with Arthur and Rosa’s grandson, my fifth cousin Arthur, who told me that Rosa and Arthur were first cousins, Ida Jettchen Cramer being the sister of Hirsch Hermann Cramer. Their parents were at first opposed to them marrying because they were first cousins. But they were deeply in love and insisted on being together.
Rosa and Arthur had four children. Twins were born on March 3, 1905, in Frankfurt, William1 and Gertrud.2 Then Arnold Selig Oppenheimer was born on June 15, 1907,3 and finally Edith was born on June 13, 1911.4
Arnold Selig Oppenheimer wrote a wonderful book, The Story of My Life,5 which his son Arthur shared with me. It is filled with memories of his childhood and adult life as well as many photographs of the family. I wish I could add more of the rich details of his life described in the book, but for now I will include just some of those details as well as a few of his childhood pictures, including these two of the three older Oppenheimer children and, in the one on the right, their mother Rosa.
And here is a fabulous photograph of Hedwig Goldschmidt Cramer with her husband Hermann Cramer, their daughter Rosa, and her husband Arthur, and their four children:
Here is one of all four children taken in 1916:
Those children were still quite young when their mother Rosa Cramer Oppenheimer died on December 24, 1918, just two years after this photograph was taken; she was only 37 years old. According to her grandson Arthur, she died from the flu during the terrible epidemic of 1918.
Arnold wrote this about his mother’s death:6
When she became ill with influenza in December 1918, she knew that her life would soon come to an end. I remember her on her last morning when she called us in, one after the other and talked a little and bensched [blessed] us.
It’s just heartbreaking to imagine how those children must have felt, saying goodbye to their mother.
Rosa’s widower Arthur Oppenheimer was left to raise the four young children on his own, though there was plenty of support from the extended family and from the nannies and housekeepers, as described in Arnold’s book. Arnold wrote that his father never fully recovered after Rosa’s death—that he became more serious and rarely laughed. But that he was a loving and caring father who tried to be both father and mother to his four children.7
Then three years later, sixteen-year-old William Oppenheimer died from meningitis on December 31, 1921; family lore is that he had a bad headache, but it was Shabbat, and the family was told that it would be safe to wait another day. Unfortunately, William died later that day, although it would seem that especially back then before antiobiotics, little could have been done even if he’d gotten medical attention sooner. Arnold described his brother William as an excellent student and a gifted artist.8
The remaining three children were left orphans when their father Arthur died on March 22, 1925, just seven years after Rosa and four years after William. According to his son Arnold, Arthur died from misdiagnosed appendicitis. Arthur had been a banker and stockbroker as well as a synagogue leader and treasurer, who, according to his son Arnold, was “highly esteemed…and known for his just attitude.”9
It’s hard to fathom how the three remaining children—Gertrud, Arnold, and Edith—coped with so much loss. They were twenty, eighteen, and fourteen, and had lost their mother, their brother, and their father.
But Arnold’s son Arthur said that his father in fact was able to live quite a good life in the 1920s—traveling around the world, owning two horses and a sports car, studying in Frankfurt and Berlin, and generally enjoying the life of a wealthy young man in his twenties. Photographs of the extended Goldschmidt family in Arnold Oppenheimer’s book demonstrate that the children had a very large network of relatives who must have provided a sense of comfort and safety.
Those children then lost their grandmother Hedwig. Hedwig died on November 19, 1934. She was 73 and was survived by her four sons and her grandchildren.
And then the Oppenheimer siblings had to face the rise of the Nazis.
Rosa’s two daughters both ended up in Palestine. Gertrud Oppenheimer had decided to become a teacher against the resistance of her family, who believed that women should not work. But Gertrud persisted and ended up teaching in the Jewish elementary school in Frankfurt. Gertrud married Rabbi Bernhard Joel in 1928. As her brother Arnold wrote in his autobiography, Bernhard was the brother of Edith Joel, the housekeeper for the children who was like a surrogate mother to them. Bernhard had immigrated to Palestine in 1924 and was then a librarian at the Jewish National and University Library. After he and Gertrud married in Frankfurt, they returned to Palestine, where they had four children.10
Gertrude (Ruth in Israel) died on November 15, 1979; her husband Bernhard (Issachar in Israel) died April 14, 1977. They were survived by their children and grandchildren.11
Gertrud’s younger sister Edith also immigrated to Palestine. Like her sister Gertrud, she also pursued a career and went to Stuttgart to become a nurse. There she met a second cousin of her brother-in-law Bernhard Joel and his sister Edith Joel, a doctor named Ernst Joel. They were married in 1932 and settled in Stuttgart.12
I was able to find the Palestinian immigration records for Edith and Ernst, and according to those records, they arrived in Palestine on April 24, 1933, just a few months after Hitler had been elected Chancellor of Germany. My cousin Arthur told me that after Ernst was told by a patient that he could no longer be his doctor because he was Jewish, Ernst told Edith they had to get out of Germany as soon as possible. They must have been among the earliest Jews to see the horrific handwriting on the wall.
Edith and Ernst had three children born in Palestine/Israel in the 1930s. Ernst died in Israel in 1980 and Edith in 2002.13
Rosa’s son Arnold Oppenheimer escaped to England, where he had better business prospects and which he liked better than other countries he’d visited. After clearing numerous bureaucratic hurdles, he was able to immigrate in the spring of 1936, but made several trips back to Germany to help family members emigrate, including one time that he narrowly escaped being arrested by the Gestapo. On August 1, 1939 he married Dorothy Duschinsky, whom he met at a Hanukkah party of a mutual friend in 1937. She was born in London on March 27, 1911, to Charles Duschinsky, a rabbi and scholar from Hungary, and Blanche Barnett. By marrying Arnold, who was considered an “enemy alien,” Dorothy forfeited her British citizenship.14
But Arnold and Dorothy soon found themselves separated when Arnold was sent to a British internment camp for being an enemy alien soon after World War II started in September, 1939. Arnold, then working as a wool merchant, was first sent to an internment camp in southern England; he was released from that camp six months later, but then in May 1941, he was sent to the internment camp on the Isle of Man. Meanwhile, Dorothy was living with her brother Arthur in Hendon, working as a psychologist.15 Arnold wrote in detail about both the hardships and the more positive aspects of his internship in his book.16
Arnold was finally released in 1942. Arnold and Dorothy continued to live in England after the war. They had two children, one of whom is my fifth cousin Arthur. Arnold worked in the antique jewelry business for many years before retiring at the age of 82 in 1989. Dorothy died November 1, 1976, in London; she was 65.17 Arnold outlived her by 35 years. After having heart surgery at the age of 92, he moved to Israel to be closer to his daughter.18 He died at 104 in Israel on September 25, 2011.19
Thus, Rosa Cramer’s three orphaned children all managed to survive not only the tragedy of losing their parents and brother when they were still young, but also the Holocaust. They found lives for themselves in their new homelands and are today survived by their children and grandchildren all over the world.
So when we are all feeling down and discouraged by COVID and quarantining, it’s important to remember that others have endured terrible ordeals and found light in the darkness. As we light the Hanukkah candles or celebrate whatever holiday traditions we observe that bring light to the darkness this time of year, let’s keep our eyes on the light at the end of the tunnel.
William Oppenheimer, Gender: männlich (Male), Age: 16, Birth Date: abt 1905
Death Date: 31 Dez 1921 (31 Dec 1921), Death Place: Frankfurt, Hessen (Hesse), Deutschland (Germany), Civil Registration Office: Frankfurt , Certificate Number: 7
Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 903; Signatur: 10857, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Deaths, 1851-1958 ↩
Gertrud Karoline Oppenheimer, Gender: weiblich (Female), Age: 23, Birth Date: 3 Mrz 1905 (3 Mar 1905), Marriage Date: 22 Mrz 1928 (22 Mar 1928)
Marriage Place: Frankfurt am Main, Hessen (Hesse), Deutschland (Germany)
Civil Registration Office: Frankfurt am Main, Spouse: Bernhard Joel, Certificate Number: 218, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 903, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Marriages, 1849-1930 ↩
- Arnold S Oppenheimer, Gender: Male, Nationality: German, Birth Date: 15 Jun 1907, Birth Place: Frankfurt, Germany, Internment Place: Isle of Man, Discharge Date: 15 May 1941, The National Archives; Kew, London, England; HO 396 WW2 Internees (Aliens) Index Cards 1939-1947; Reference Number: HO 396/189, Ancestry.com. UK, World War II Alien Internees, 1939-1945 ↩
- Edith Oppenheimer Joel, Palestinian Immigration File, Israel Archives, found at https://www.archives.gov.il/en/archives/Archive/0b07170680034dc1/File/0b07170680ebc8ca ↩
- Arnold S. Oppenheimer, The Story of My Life (2007, Jerusalem). ↩
- Oppenheimer, note 5, at p. 1. ↩
- Oppenheimer, note 5, at p. 2. ↩
- Oppenheimer, note 5, at p. 3 ↩
- Oppenheimer, note 5, pp. 1-2, 61. ↩
- Oppenheimer, note 5, at p. 2. ↩
- Oppenheimer, note 5, at p.3. ↩
- Oppenheimer, note 5, at p. 3. ↩
- Oppenheimer, note 5, at p.4. ↩
- Oppenheimer, note 5, at pp. 69-70. Arnold S Oppenheimer, Registration Quarter: Jul-Aug-Sep, Registration District: Marylebone, Inferred County: Middlesex, Spouse: Dorothy Duschinsky, Volume Number: 1a, Page Number: 2673, General Register Office; United Kingdom; Volume: 1a; Page: 2673, Ancestry.com. England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1916-2005 ↩
Dorothy Oppenheimer, Gender: Female, Marital Status: Married, Birth Date: 27 Mar 1911, Residence Year: 1939, Address: 11 Residence Place: Hendon, Middlesex, England, Occupation: Psychologist Intelligence Tests, Line Number: 27, Schedule Number: 76, Sub Schedule Number: 1, Enumeration District: BKCV, Borough: Hendon
Registration district: 130/3, Household Members Age, Dorothy Oppenheimer 28, Arthur Dusckinskyh 27, The National Archives; Kew, London, England; 1939 Register; Reference: RG 101/822C, Ancestry.com. 1939 England and Wales Register ↩
- Oppenheimer, note 4, at pp. 73-75. See also The National Archives; Kew, London, England; HO 396 WW2 Internees (Aliens) Index Cards 1939-1947; Reference Number: HO 396/236, Description Piece Number Description: 236: Dead Index (Wives of Germans etc) 1941-1947: Nicht-Plunn, Ancestry.com. UK, World War II Alien Internees, 1939-1945. Duschinsky Family, Class: RG14; Piece: 32, Enumeration District: 32, Ancestry.com. 1911 England Census. Dorothy Duschinsky, Registration Year: 1911, Registration Quarter: Apr-May-Jun, Registration District: Paddington, Inferred County: London, Volume: 1a, Page: 14, FreeBMD. England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915 ↩
Dorothy Oppenheimer, Death Age: 65, Birth Date: 27 Mar 1911, Registration Quarter: Oct-Nov-Dec, Registration District: Hendon, Inferred County: Greater London
Volume: 13, Page: 0495, General Register Office; United Kingdom; Volume: 13; Page: 0495, Ancestry.com. England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1916-2007. Dorothy Oppenheimer, Death Date: 1 Nov 1976, Death Place: London, Probate Date: 15 Aug 1977, Probate Registry: London, Ancestry.com. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995 ↩
- Oppenheimer, note 5, at pp. 85-86. ↩
- MyHeritage at https://www.myheritage.com/research/record-1-317197441-7-501665/arnold-selig-oppenheimer-in-myheritage-family-trees ↩