Falk Goldschmidt’s Daughter Hedwig: How Did She Survive The Holocaust?

As I mentioned last week in my second post about Falk Goldschmidt, two of his children married their Goldschmidt cousins. Julius Falk Goldschmidt married Leni Goldschmidt, his first cousin, once removed, and Hedwig Goldschmidt married Marcel Goldschmidt, her first cousin. Most of their stories have been thus been covered in the posts about those cousins.

But since writing about Marcel and Hedwig, I’ve had the good fortune of connecting with some of their great-grandchildren, the grandchildren of Marcel and Hedwig’s daughter Grete, the children of Grete’s daughter Gabrielle. In this case, Fran, the wife of one of those great-grandchildren, found me through my blog, and then we scheduled a Zoom for November 16, 2020, with all of Gabrielle’s children (and their spouses) and one of her grandchildren.

It was simply delightful to listen to these siblings tell family stories of growing up in New York, including those about visiting their grandmother Grete in her Manhattan apartment where they had to be on their best behavior, and about their father Erwin Vogel, who although stern in some ways also had a terrific sense of humor. They also shared that their parents Gabrielle and Erwin met on a blind date on December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor Day, that was set up by other German refugees in the jewelry business. The Vogel siblings had such warm and loving memories that it was uplifting to share an hour just talking to them all.

They also were able to answer one question I had about their great-grandmother Hedwig. When I wrote about Hedwig back on May 29, 2020, I noted that she had traveled back and forth to the United States twice during the 1930s, presumably to visit her daughter Grete who was living in New York with her husband Berthold Heimerdinger and their daughter Gabrielle. But both times Hedwig had returned to Europe—in 1935 to Germany and to Switzerland in 1937.  When I first wrote about Hedwig, I could not imagine how or where Hedwig had survived the war.

According to Hedwig’s great-grandchildren, Hedwig was hidden in the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation. One of Hedwig’s great-granddaughters, Susan, met members of the family who had kept Hedwig safe in their home by hiding her in their attic.  They shared with Susan the following story about Hedwig’s experience.

One member of the household had dementia, and they didn’t tell him that Hedwig was upstairs because they were concerned he would inadvertently reveal that she was living there if questioned by others, including the Gestapo. One night after the family had gone to bed, Hedwig came down from the attic and scared the daylights out of this poor man with dementia. He was convinced he’d seen a ghost, and the only way the family could calm him down was to tell him the truth—that they were hiding a Jewish woman in their attic.

Fortunately, he never revealed the secret, and Hedwig was kept safely hidden until after the war ended. Then she was able to come to the US and rejoin her daughter Grete and family until she died at the age of 87 on December 9, 1964.

Ancestry.com. New York, Index to Petitions for Naturalization filed in New York City, 1792-1989 [

I also learned from the Vogel siblings more about their great-uncle Jacob, Hedwig’s son, Grete’s brother. From the records it appeared that Jacob lived in New York while his wife and daughters lived in Paris, but in fact Jacob also lived in Paris, but had an apartment in New York where his mother was living and where he stayed when he came to New York.

Susan shared with me a blog post she wrote after she and her sister Nancy took a trip to Germany and visited Wiesbaden, where their grandmother Grete moved after marrying Berthold Heimerdinger and where their mother Gabrielle grew up. I will share just a portion of that blog post in which Susan made some observations about her grandmother Grete:

We saw the house of our mother Gabrielle and her neighborhood and could picture our grandmother and grandfather and their fine lifestyle in Wiesbaden. We had drinks at a lovely restaurant outside the grand spa of Wiesbaden and could imagine Granny walking the beautiful lawn in fine clothes, ready for a ball or other event. These were the stories we heard over and over from her – her dreams and thoughts were always on this former life.

Now, years later, I have much more understanding of why she was so bitter all her life – she lost the thing that was very precious to her – her status. When she came to the USA with little of her possessions and money she began a new life, but not one of her choice. She treasured the few items that she brought (some furniture, silver, jewelry) but never got over this loss of her identity.

So many of those who survived and escaped from the Nazis, including many of my own relatives, must have felt the same way—a deep and lasting loss of identity. They didn’t only lose their possessions and their homes and many of their family members and friends. They lost their sense of who they were—proud, educated, and successful German Jews. It’s mind-boggling to consider their pain.

Whatever bitterness their grandmother felt certainly was not passed down to her grandchildren. They all seem to be filled with love and gratitude for all that they have. Thank you once again to my Vogel cousins for sharing their stories.

 

18 thoughts on “Falk Goldschmidt’s Daughter Hedwig: How Did She Survive The Holocaust?

  1. The story of Hedwig hiding from the Nazis in the attic and appearing like a ghost to the person suffering from dementia would be a perfect scene for a horror movie. Your last paragraph says it all, Amy. While it is extremely important to know the past to give us guidance for the future, we must not allow it to depress us in our daily living.

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  2. Hi Amy, good that you were able to connect with so many descendants of Hedwig through Zoom. My grandfather used to talk about the grand spa of Wiesbaden too when he visited on holiday as a little boy- it must have been an inspiration for many German Jewish people before their great escape.

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    • Thanks, Shirley. I need to return to Germany and visit Wiesbaden and Frankfurt, not to mention Berlin and Munich. But who knows when that will happen?…

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  3. Amy- I can relate to the ravages of war as you have been able to describe. Many of the Kuhns,Benders,and Hartungs had come over in the 1880s from Germany . Many were left behind so my Grandfather Kuhn -William decided to help his family in Kallstadt. The war had left them in bad straits so he sent necessities to them, including wedding attire for his mother’s nephew to get married. The family never forgot that so when I went to visit them 9 yrs ago they brought out the wine and had a big dinner for me. They own a winery and have for 225 years so they have been very prosperous since after WW2. I have found my great grandmother’s sisters and maybe one brother as they all came over to the states so I am getting in touch with them and hope to plan a reunion here so we can all meet and invite the Bender and Hartung families over.

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  4. I’ll bet that was a fabulous meeting, even if it had to be online. I can see that people who seemed to “have it all” and lost it might be bitter. As an Army brat, I had to go through something similar a few times. All my friends and social connections left behind. Many of my possessions, too. It’s too bad she couldn’t get over that somehow and take pleasure in a new circumstance.

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    • It was a great meeting. As for Grete’s bitterness, I am sure some of it was experiencing the persecution, the reason she lost everything. Although I can feel for what you went through as a child, I think that Grete’s experience in Nazi Germany had to be more traumatic.

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  5. Oh, I just love that you were able to connect with them and how “2020” having a zoom call was. And the story of hiding Hedwig in the attic is priceless, and certainly something you would never have learned otherwise.

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  6. Another touching story – the Dutch people who hid Jewish people, risking their own lives, were truly angels. I’m so glad that Grete survived, even though life after the war was still difficult for her in the US.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Dutch really were remarkable compared to so many other countries in Europe and even the US which did so little to protect the Jews from persecution and death. Thanks, Teresa.

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