Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you had a good holiday season and are safe and healthy. I have been trying to relax and gain some perspective on 2021, a tough year, and prepare for 2022, a year I expect to be just as tough. But genealogy and family history always help me put things in perspective, so I am ready to return and find new meaning and new discoveries in the history of my family.
Let me refresh your memories of where I was back in December 2021. I have been writing about my Blumenfeld branch and more specifically the line that begins with my four-times great-uncle Moses Blumenfeld and goes from his son Abraham Blumenfeld IIA to Abraham’s daughter Caroline Blumenfeld Hoxter. We saw that Caroline’s son Siegmund died fighting for Germany in World War I, that her husband Simon died in 1932, and that her daughter Toni Hoxter Goldschmidt and her family had all escaped from Nazi Germany by 1940.
But what about Caroline herself and her two other daughters, Betty and Gerda? What happened to them and their families?
Again I want to thank the Shoah Foundation for allowing me to have access to the interview done with Arthur Goldschmidt,1 Toni’s son, so that I could learn more about the fate of his family, including that of his aunts Betty and Gerda. I am also deeply grateful to Peter Keibel, grandson of Gerda Hoxter Goldschmidt, for sharing the speech his mother Jane Inge Goldschmidt gave to a middle school in Vermont in early 2020 about her experiences during the Nazi era.
Like Arthur and Miriam, her nephew and niece, Betty Hoxter Oppenheimer and her husband Max and their two children Lotte and Franz Siegmund left Germany not long after Hitler’s rise to power. According to Arthur, Max Oppenheimer was a doctor, and once he was restricted by Nazi law from being able to practice medicine fully, he and his family left for England. But they must not have stayed there long because on November 26, 1934, they arrived in Palestine. Max was a physician, Lotte, their daughter, was an orthopedist, and their son, who became Shimon, was a carpenter. By 1938, they had all obtained citizenship to Palestine.2
The family of Gerda Hoxter Goldschmidt, the youngest child of Caroline Blumenfeld and Simon Hoxter, had a harder time escaping from Germany. Gerda’s daughter Inge Goldschmidt, who became Jane in the US and who is Peter Keibel’s mother, provided this description of her family’s life in Germany before and during the Nazi era in a speech she gave to a middle school in Vermont in early 2020:3
My father owned a department store in that town [Wuppertal]. My sister and I attended public schools. My father was well known because of the store and we were in comfortable circumstances. … In 1933 when Hitler came to power my father’s store was closed to make the population aware that the owner was Jewish and to discourage the people from doing business with a Jewish establishment. Some days later business resumed at a normal rate, but our lives changed. It seems that every year another law was passed that made our lives almost unbearable. We could not attend school any more or use public pools. Park benches were marked where we could sit. [The Nazis] burned books by Jewish authors and … destroyed Jewish businesses. On November 9, 1938, Kristallnacht started, the synagogues, Jewish houses of worship were destroyed. Many Jewish men were sent to concentration camps.
Our parents were well known and liked. Our father was tipped off by an official and was therefore able to leave town and avoid internment. The Gestapo did come to our house to look for him, but we were not molested, and our house was not ransacked. We did not know where he went. Occasionally he called, but those were very tense days for us. His safety was always on our minds. After his return, he was seriously looking to leave the country.
We had received a quota number from the US Embassy, but we were also aware that it was a very high number and there was no way we could leave before a year or two. So my father searched for a country that we could go to while waiting for our quota number. Of course, the store was closed and had to be sold to the Germans for a very minimal amount. He preferred to leave Europe as he did not think it was safe to stay there. America let only a designated number of people to immigrate into their country. My father purchased Visas ($250 for each person which in today’s dollars is $4,362) for Cuba and booked passage on the ocean liner, SS St. Louis that belonged to a German shipping company.
Thus, Gerda and her family were among those who sailed to Cuba on the ill-fated St. Louis in May 1939.
For those who don’t know the story of the St. Louis, it is one example of the shameful and tragic ways the US government failed to respond to the cries for help of those seeking to escape the horrors of the Holocaust. Jane’s telling of the story will continue in my next post.
- Arthur Goldschmidt, Interview 8542, Visual History Archive, USC Shoah Foundation, November 10, 1995. Accessed 15 August 2021, from the archive of the University of California Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, found at https://sfi.usc.edu/what-we-do/collections ↩
- The Palestine citizenship papers can be found at the Israel State Archives by searching for their names. Unfortunately, the site does not provide specific links to those results, but the site can be found at https://www.archives.gov.il/en/ ↩
- Jane Inge Goldschmidt Keibel, Speech to Hazen School, Hardwick, Vermont, 2020, shared by Peter Keibel. ↩