The Search for Max Blumenfeld: It Took A Village, Part I

The search for what happened to Max Blumenfeld, son of Moses IIB, was not an easy one. It was a lesson in persistence and in the value of working with other researchers. My cousin Richard Bloomfield contributed a great deal to the research of the life of Max Blumenfeld as did David Lesser, my new research friend from Tracing the Tribe.

Finding Max’s birth and marriage records was easy. As I’ve already written, he was born in Kirchhain on June 13, 1880, and married Johanna Grunwald in Berlin on March 16, 1906.

But finding out what happened next was not as easy. Did they have children? Did Max and Johanna survive the Holocaust? Neither was listed in Yad Vashem, so I felt hopeful that they did. But I couldn’t find them anywhere else either. There were no records in the Arolsen Archives. There were no US immigration records or other records placing them in the US. There were no Palestinian immigration records for them either. Where else could they have gone? Did they die before the Nazi era? If so, I couldn’t find any German death records.

When I looked at other trees on Ancestry and at Geni and MyHeritage, there were similar holes in the information for Max and Johanna—-there was nothing after their marriage in 1906. I only found one tree that had more information, and fortunately for me, it was the tree of my fifth cousin and fellow researcher Richard Bloomfield. According to Richard’s tree, Max had emigrated to Italy in 1933 and died there, Johanna had died in Israel sometime after 1947, and they had a son named Fritz who died in about 1977 in Israel.

I contacted Richard to ask where he’d gotten the information, and he said he’d gotten the information from someone else’s tree. So he and I began to see if we could verify any of that information.

Richard noted that on Max’s marriage record his occupation was given as “Waisenhausinspektor” or orphanage inspector and that he was living in Graudenz at the time of his marriage. But since Max and Johanna were married in Berlin, Richard had a hunch that Max had become the Waisenhausdirektor for the Jewish orphanage in Berlin and decided to search old Berlin directories. He found Max listed as the Waisenhausdirektor in those directories for a number of years, including 1934, 1935, and 1936. Thus, we knew that Max had not immigrated to Italy in 1933, but was still in Berlin at least until the 1936 directory was compiled.1

Max Blumenfeld, Title: Amtliches Fernsprechbuch für Berlin und Umgegend, 1936, German Phone Directories, 1915-1981

On a very recent trip to Berlin, Richard took and shared these photos of the building where the Judische Waisenhaus once stood.

Judische Waisenhause building in Berlin. Photo courtesy of Richard Bloomfield

Photo courtesy of Richard Bloomfield

Richard and I then started to see if we could find any evidence of Fritz Blumenfeld, the supposed son of Max and Johanna. Richard located a record on the IGRA website that indicated that a Fritz Blumenfeld, son of Max, born in 1910,was registered as a voter in Palestine in 1939 and living in En Harod.

Found at the Israel Genealogy Research Association website at

Then I located a Fritz Blumenfeld who had Palestine immigration papers at the Israel Archives website. Fritz was born in Graudenz, Germany, on July 13, 1910, the same town where Max had been living when he married Johanna in 1906. He was married to Dora Salpeter and working as a locksmith. He had first entered Palestine on June 28, 1937.

Fritz Blumenfeld and Dora Salpeter immigration file found at Israel State Archives at

Richard found directories for Graudenz that listed Max as a teacher there in 1905, as a teacher and orphanage inspector in 1907, and as the Waisenhausinspektor there in 1909, 1911, and 1913. Thus, Max and Johanna were living in Graudenz when Fritz Blumenfeld was born. This certainly seemed to be their son.2

And then I found the record that definitely tied Fritz to Max and Johanna. Returning to the IGRA website, I located Fritz Blumenfeld’s marriage record. Fritz married Devorah on August 15, 1940, in Israel, and his marriage record indicated that he was a locksmith, which was consistent with his Palestinian citizenship application. On those Palestinian immigration papers, I learned that Devorah’s name was originally Dora Salpeter.

Most importantly, Fritz’s parents were listed as Max and Hanna, confirming for me that this was the son of Max Blumenfeld and (Jo)hanna Grunwald. Since it appears that Johanna was better known as Hanna or Anna, I will use the name Anna to refer to her going forward.

That marriage record gave me two other critical pieces of information. It said the groom’s parents lived in Italy—although it took help from Tracing the Tribe for me to learn that the Hebrew I was reading as Atelah was in fact Italia in Hebrew. The marriage record also indicated that Anna was at home, but Max was deceased. Thus, we now knew that Max had died sometime before Fritz married on August 15, 1940, and presumably had died in Italy.

Fritz Blumenfeld marriage record, found at the Israel Genealogy Research Association website at

I didn’t think we would get any further than that since I had no idea how to research deaths in Italy. But once again Richard came to the rescue. He found two more sources. One was a German book, Das Jüdische Waisenhaus in Pankow (2001) by Inge Lammel, about the Jewish orphanage in Berlin where Max had been the Waisenhausdirektor. Lammel’s book included this passage, as translated by Richard:3

When Isidor Grunwald [Johanna’s father] died in February 1925, his son-in-law, Max Blumenfeld, took over the directorship of the house. Martin Davidsohn [long-time teacher at the Second Jewish Orphanage] says that he brought a more liberal spirit into the educational process, democratic structures, such as an opportunity to utter grievances and a trainees’ adjudicatory council elected by secret ballot, which gave the trainees more self-confidence.

Richard paraphrased the information about Isidor Grunwald that he found in the book:4

Max’s father-in-law had been an officer in the army and carried the army’s manner of doing things over into his work at the orphanage. He patrolled the large dormitory hall carrying his ring of large keys to enforce discipline. He had the boys line up each night in front of his apartment in the house according to height, shook their hands and wished them good night. In addition to physical education, he had the boys do drills led by a drill sergeant and sometimes accompanied by flute and drum music

Here is a photo from the book showing Max standing with some of the children and staff at the orphanage in about 1933; he is the man in the dark suit in the foreground.

From Inge Lammel, Das Jüdische Waisenhaus in Pankow, 2001

In addition to obtaining a copy of this book, Richard also located Max’s obituary, which not only provided us with the date and place of Max’s death (March 8, 1936, in Merano, Italy), but also more information about his life:

“Max Blumenfeld,” Gemeindeblatt der Jüdischen Gemeinde zu Berlin, March 15, 1936, page 7

Richard translated the obituary as follows:5

Last Sunday the director of the Second Orphanage of the Jewish Congregation in Berlin, Max Blumenfeld, died in Merano [Italy] where he was taking time for rest and recreation. Blumenfeld died young at the age of 56. He was originally a teacher whose excellent teaching abilities drew the attention of leading personalities, and when his father-in-law [Isidor Grunwald] died about ten years ago, Max Blumenfeld became his successor as director of the Jewish Orphanage in Pankow. Blumenfeld dedicated himself to the traditional task of the institution of training its students as craftsmen. Blumenfeld demonstrated a personal interest in each of the youth in his care, each of them could recon with his support and encouragement. He combined with kindness and friendliness decisiveness and consistence in the execution of his task.

These two documents discovered by Richard Bloomfield have given us a much fuller picture of our cousin Max Blumenfeld. He certainly left his mark and obviously was a kind and generous person.

Unfortunately, the obituary did not include information about his survivors. Was Fritz their only child? Did Johanna stay in Italy, as their son Fritz’s 1940 marriage certificate suggests? Did she return to Berlin? Immigrate to Palestine?

Well, the story of Max Blumenfeld doesn’t end here nor does the story of the collaboration it took to find the rest of that story.

More to come.

  1. Amtliches Fernsprechbuch für Berlin und Umgebun, 1934, 1935, 1936. The one depicted I found on Ancestry for 1935. 
  2. I have tried to recreate Richard’s search through the Graudenz directories. He sent me to the GenWiki website section for directories, and although I found the Graudenz directories, I still need more lessons in how to search through those directories to find Max. 
  3. Inge Lammel, Das Jüdische Waisenhaus in Pankow (2001), p. 50. 
  4. Ibid, p. 48, as paraphrased by Richard Bloomfield, attachment to email May 1, 2022. 
  5. “Max Blumenfeld,” Gemeindeblatt der Jüdischen Gemeinde zu Berlin, March 15, 1936, page 7. 

21 thoughts on “The Search for Max Blumenfeld: It Took A Village, Part I

  1. For such a gigantic task as yours, I can see the value of working as a team. Thanks to your friends and relatives, you have been able to tell so much about Max Blumenfeld. I enjoyed reading his obituary in the original German.
    Looking forward to the continuation of his story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Peter! I am always glad to have someone else fluent in German read whatever I post because my German is still so limited that I can’t trust myself to translate anything.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is such an excellent story about your investigation and collaboration. Is Pankow in Berlin?

    I love that photo. The children seem happy and not sullen. I expect his changes at the orphanage were much appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Friday’s Family History Finds | Empty Branches on the Family Tree

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