Another Small World Story, Another Twist in the Family Tree

In my last post I described my discovery that Rose Mansbach Schoenthal was not only related to me by her marriage to Simon Schoenthal, the brother of my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal, but that she was also related by marriage to my other great-grandfather Gerson Katzenstein through her Mansbach cousins.   This post is about another discovery of a strange twist in my family tree, but this one involving two living cousins.

Last week I received a comment on an old blog post about Elizabeth Cohen, who was the sister of my other great-grandfather, Emanuel Cohen.  The man who left the comment on my blog, Joel Goldwein, is the great-grandson, through his mother’s side, of Elizabeth Cohen.  He is thus my third cousin.  I was, of course, delighted to make this connection, and I emailed Joel to learn more about him and our mutual family.

In the course of the exchange of emails, Joel shared information not only about his mother’s family, but also about his father, Manfred (Fred) Goldwein, who had escaped from Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport to England.  His father’s parents and other family members, however, were murdered by the Nazis.  Joel sent me a link to a website about his son’s bar mitzvah in Korbach, Germany, the town where his father was born and had lived until he left Germany.  I was very moved by the idea that Joel’s family had returned to this town to honor the memory of his father’s family.

I mentioned that I was going to be in Germany, not far from Korbach, because I had Hamberg ancestors from Breuna.  Joel then mentioned that his paternal great-grandparents are buried in Breuna and that he had visited the cemetery there.  He sent me a link to his photographs of the cemetery, and I looked through them in search of anyone named Hamberg.

Imagine my surprise to find this photograph:

Courtesy of Joel Goldwein

Baruch Hamberg was the second cousin of my great-great-grandmother, Henrietta Hamberg Schoenthal.  More importantly, he was the great-grandfather of my fifth cousin, Rob Meyer.

Some of you may remember the story of Rob.  He and I connected through JewishGen’s Family Finder tool about a year and a half ago, and we learned that not only did Rob live about a mile from where I had once lived in Arlington, Massachusetts, we also had very good mutual friends.  It was one of those true goosebump moments in my genealogy research, standing in a cemetery in Longmeadow and talking to Rob as we realized that we both had the same close friends.

Rob’s mother had, like Joel’s father, escaped from Nazi Germany, and she also, like Joel’s father, had lost most of the rest of her family in the Holocaust. I sent the headstone photograph to Rob, and I asked whether he might be related to Joel.  Rob answered, suggesting that perhaps he was related to Joel not through Baruch Hamberg, but through Baruch’s mother, Breinchen Goldwein.  A little more digging around revealed that in fact Joel was related to Breinchen: her brother Marcus Goldwein was Joel’s paternal great-grandfather.

Thus, Joel and Rob are third cousins, once removed, through Rob’s mother’s side and Joel’s father side. And although they did not know of each other at all, Joel also had a photograph of the street in Breuna named in memory of Rob’s aunt:

Courtesy of Joel Goldwein

.

It gave me great pleasure to introduce Rob and Joel to each other, who soon discovered that not only are they third cousins through their Goldwein family line, they are also both doctors and both graduates of the same medical school.

And they are both my cousins, Rob through his mother’s Hamberg side and Joel through his mother’s Cohen side.

There truly are only six degrees of separation.

My Grandmother’s Cologne Cousins: More New Records

Aaron Knappstein, our Cologne guide, really pulled the rabbit out of the hat when he found the Schopfloch death records for my four-times great-grandparents, Amson Nussbaum and Voegele Welsch, but his magic tricks did not end there.  He also was able to locate birth records for a number of the children of Jakob Schoenthal and Charlotte Lilienfeld.

My great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal had two siblings who did not immigrate to America, and his older brother Jakob was one of them.  Jakob married Charlotte Lilienfeld and was a merchant in Cologne.  He and Charlotte had five children: Johanna, Lee, Meyer, Henriette, and Erna. They were my grandmother Eva’s first cousins.

I’ve told their stories in prior posts.  Four of the children survived the Holocaust.  The two sons, Lee and Meyer, immigrated to the US long before Hitler came to power, and Erna escaped with her son Werner during the 1930s.  Johanna and her husband spent time in the Gurs concentration camp and came to the US after the war.  Tragically, Henriette and her husband were murdered by the Nazis.

Thus far Aaron has located birth records for four of the children: Johanna, Lee, Meyer, and Erna.  I hope that he is able to find the record for Henriette as it would indeed be tragic if her record was the only one that did not survive, just as she was the only sibling who did not survive.

Here are the records that Aaron has thus far located:

Birth record of Johanna Schoenthal (Nr. 3030/1880)

father: Jakob Schönthal (tradesman)
mother: Charlotte Lilienfeld
both jewish religion
Köln, Breitestraße 113

June 5, 1880

 

birth-record-johanna-schoenthal

Birth record of Lee (Leo) Schoenthal (Nr. 5717/1881)

father: Jakob Schönthal (tradesman)
mother: Charlotte Lilienfeld
both jewish religion
Köln, Breitestraße 113

December 6, 1881

 

birth-record-of-lee-schoenthal

Birth record Meier Schönthal (no. 606/1883)

father: Jakob Schönthal (tradesman)
mother: Charlotte Lilienfeld
both jewish religion
Köln, Breitestraße 113
February 7, 1883
05.15 in the morning

 

meyer-schoenthal-birth-recod

Birth Record Erna Schönthal (no. 577/1898)

father: Jakob Schönthal (tradesman)
mother: Charlotte Lilienfeld
both jewish religion
Köln, Breitestraße 85
March 27, 1898
08.15 in the morning

erna-schoenthal-birth-record

Sliding Doors

Back in April, I wrote about the family of Rosalie Schoenthal, my great-grandfather’s sister, the one who stayed in Germany to marry Willy Heymann.  Most of what I knew of their fate I learned from the memoir written by Ernest Lion, the man who married Rosalie and Willy’s granddaughter, Liesel Mosbach.  Liesel, her sister, her parents, and her aunt, were all victims of the Holocaust. Ernest Lion memorialized them all in his heartbreaking memoir, The Fountain at the Crossroad.

As I mentioned in a subsequent post written for Yom Hashoah in May, I was so moved by Ernest’s story that I tracked down his son Tom to ask about getting it published so that it could be more widely read.  Since then, I have been working with Tom to edit and format the memoir for publication.  (We’ve run into a few obstacles, but that’s a story for another day.)  I am hoping that sometime soon the book will be available for distribution. When it is, I will post the relevant information on the blog.

But none of this would be possible without the help of another of my cousins by marriage, Sharon.  Sharon is married to the great-grandson of Simon Schoenthal, who was also my great-grandfather’s brother as well as Rosalie Schoenthal Heymann’s brother.  And Sharon, who writes the blog The Heart and Craft of Life Writing, has a great deal of knowledge not only about writing, but also about getting your writing published.  Sharon and her husband were the ones who shared with me the remarkable memoir written by Hettie Schoenthal Stein.  So when I decided to try and get Ernest Lion’s book into a publishable format, I turned to Sharon for help.

Sharon spent hours through email and Skype instructing me on how to turn a typed manuscript into a format that is not only more readable, but also professional looking.  She has been incredibly patient with me, as all this was new to me, and the old brain isn’t quite as flexible as it once was.  I cannot possibly express how grateful I am to her for her help.

One of the last things we worked on was inserting photographs into the memoir, and as she was doing this, Sharon was struck by the resemblance she saw between Liesel Mosbach Lion, Ernest’s first wife and our mutual cousin, and Sharon’s mother-in-law, Blanche Stein Lippincott.  She sent me a photograph of Blanche and her family that I had not previously seen.

ezzie-blanche-parvin-1940

Blanche Stein Lippincott and her family 1940 Courtesy of the Lippincott family

And here is a photograph of Liesel Mosbach and Ernest Lion that I obtained from Ernest’s son to put into his book:

wedding-ernest-liesel-dec-18-1940-600-dpi

Liesel Mosbach and Ernest Lion Courtesy of the Lion Family

 

The resemblance is striking.  Blanche and Liesel were second cousins, but from these two photographs, they could have been sisters.

jpg-blanche-to-liesel

 

But what different lives and fates they had, and the expressions on their faces in these two photographs reflect those differences. While Blanche looks healthy and happy, Liesel looks drawn and sad, even on her wedding day.

Blanche was born in 1912 in Tucson, Arizona, and grew up living on the American frontier in the 1910s and 1920s.  Her mother Hattie and her aunt Gertrude had ventured out west after growing up in Philadelphia and Atlantic City.  They did later return to the East, as I’ve written, and Blanche spent the rest of her life living in New Jersey.  She married in 1937 and raised two children with her husband Ezra.  Blanche lived a long and happy life, making it to almost 101 years old before dying in 2013.  Her mother Hettie had made it to 103.

Blanche Stein Lippincott with her great-granddaughter 1996

Blanche Stein Lippincott with her great-granddaughter 1996

In contrast, Liesel lived a short and tragic life.  She was born in 1921 in Germany, where her father Julius Mosbach owned a fruit and vegetable stand. The family was probably living a comfortable enough life until Hitler came to power.  When Liesel married Ernest Lion on December 18, 1939, conditions for Jews were terrible in Germany, and the young couple had no idea what the future would bring.

There would, in fact, be no future. As a result of the Nazi oppression and the loss of his business, Julius Mosbach suffered a nervous breakdown; in 1941, he was sent to an institution where instead of being treated, he was murdered by the Nazis. In 1942, Liesel’s mother, sister, and aunt, and Ernest’s father were all deported and eventually killed in a Nazi concentration camp.  In 1943, Liesel and Ernest were deported to Auschwitz, where Liesel was killed.  Ernest survived and eventually escaped; he became the voice for the whole family.

Thus, Blanche and Liesel, second cousins who looked like sisters, had far different lives and fates.  I can’t help but think, what if Rosalie and Willie had come to the US like almost all of Rosalie’s siblings? What if Liesel and her sister Grete had grown up in Pennsylvania or anywhere else in the United States?

As the president of our synagogue reminded us on Rosh Hashanah, we cannot control where we are born, when we are born, or to whom we are born.  Some of us are blessed with good luck in all of those things while others are not.  We should never take that for granted.

Imprisoned on the Isle of Man

Some of my readers were disturbed, as was I, to learn that England imprisoned Jewish refugees in internment camps on the Isle of Man during World War II; one of those imprisoned was my cousin Ilse Gross, daughter of Karl Gross, as I wrote about here.

By one of those strange incidences of serendipity, someone on the JewishGen listserv and on one of my Facebook groups today posted a link to a recent story on the B’nai Brith International website about these camps.  It gives a much fuller picture of the history of the camps, what conditions were like, and why England did this.  It demonstrates how fear can lead us to do things that are fundamentally unfair and discriminatory, judging people by their race, religion, or national origin.

Here is one excerpt from the article.  You can find the rest here:

On May 27, 1940, Isle of Man residents gathered behind barricades at the docks, witnessing the arrival of the first 823 prisoners. Leaving the boat under armed guard, they included German Nazi sympathizers, mixed in with Jewish men in their 20s and 30s, as well as a few school boys, conspicuous in short pants. They would set the pattern for those coming in the next weeks and months, assigned to camps located in Ramsey, Douglas, Onchan and other seaside spots. Cleared of tourists, ordered to leave behind their sports equipment for the inmates, quaint Victorian rooming houses and private hotels were grouped together and ringed with barbed wire to form compounds. In some, Jews and Nazis shared the same spaces.

Additional information can be found at the following links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hutchinson_Internment_Camp

http://www.manxnationalheritage.im/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/CG4-Internment_Web.pdf

http://timewitnesses.org/english/IsleOfMan.html

Mathilde’s Brothers: Wilhelm, Isidor, and Karl Gross

Mathilde Gross Mayer, my distant cousin and the author of Die Alte und Die Neue Welt, had three younger brothers in addition to her younger sister Anna about whom I wrote in my last post.  In this post, I will tell what happened to the three brothers. In order to learn a little more about them, I decided to use my little bit of German (along with a dictionary and Google Translate) to try and read some of Mathilde’s book myself, in particular Chapter 4, which is entitled “Geschwister,” or siblings.  I also relied on the family biography on the Arbeitskreis Judische Bingen website  in addition to traditional genealogy sources.

Family View Report for Bertha Seligmann-page-001

Wilhelm, the third child of Bertha Seligmann and Bernhard Gross, was born on April 14, 1872, in Bingen.  He married Sophie Hirsch, who was a relative of his sister Anna’s husband, Wilhelm Lichter, and they, like Anna and her family, settled in Stuttgart. They had a son, Bernhard, born in Stuttgart in 1905; he was presumably named for his grandfather Bernhard, who had died from carbon monoxide poisoning in 1901.  According to Mathilde’s book (pp. 48-50), Wilhelm suffered from mental illness and was institutionalized for many years, dying in a sanatorium in Wurttemberg in 1928.

When Hitler came to power in 1933, Wilhelm’s widow Sophie  and son Bernhard Gross immigrated to Rio de Janeiros, Brazil, where Bernhard became a very successful and well-known physicist. He was appointed to the staff of the National Institute of Technology in Rio and eventually became the director.  He also served on various scientific committees of the United Nations and traveled all over the world serving on those committees; later, he was the director of the Brazilian National Commission of Nuclear Energy.  You can read more about his life and career here and here and here.  He died at age 97 in 2002 in Brazil.

Mathilde’s second brother Isidor, whom I’ve mentioned before for his role as a contributor to Mathilde’s book, was born on September 25, 1873, in Bingen.  He married Klara Emrich, and like his sister and her husband, Anna (Gross) and Wilhelm Lichter, Isidor and Klara settled in Stuttgart where Isidor worked as a banker. Isidor and Klara had one child born in 1903 and presumably also named for his grandfather; his name was Hans Bernard Gross.  When Wilhelm’s widow and son, Sophie and Bernard Gross, left for Brazil in 1933, they took Isidor’s son Hans with them as well, according to the Arbeitskreis Judische-Bingen website.  Hans was at that time a law student.

Isidor and Klara were not yet ready to leave Germany in 1933.  As indicated by a September, 1937 ship manifest, Isidor and Klara sailed from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Southampton, England; the manifest shows that their last permanent residence was in Germany and that they were going to stay at a hotel in London, but that their “country of intended future permanent residence” was a foreign country outside of the United Kingdom.  (It looks like the far right column says “..o de Jan,” so I assume that Isidor and Klara had been visiting Hans in Rio.)

Isidor and Klara (Emrich) Gross on 1937 ship manifest The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists.; Class: BT26; Piece: 1138; Item: 48

Isidor and Klara (Emrich) Gross on 1937 ship manifest
The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists.; Class: BT26; Piece: 1138; Item: 48

The immigration cards below indicate that Isidor and Klara moved to Brazil in June 1939:

isidor-gross-brazil-immigration-card-from-famsearch-p-1

Brasil, Cartões de Imigração, 1900-1965,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1951-22436-27549-86?cc=1932363 : 10 November 2014), Group 4 > 004914427 > image 44 of 203; Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (National Archives, Rio de Janeiro).

isidor-gross-brazil-immigration-card-p-2

Brasil, Cartões de Imigração, 1900-1965,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1951-22436-27549-86?cc=1932363 : 10 November 2014), Group 4 > 004914427 > image 44 of 203; Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (National Archives, Rio de Janeiro).

klara-emrich-gross-brazil-immigration-card-from-family-search

Brasil, Cartões de Imigração, 1900-1965,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-267-12579-62878-12?cc=1932363 : 10 November 2014), Group 1 > 004551542 > image 34 of 203; Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (National Archives, Rio de Janeiro)

klara-emrich-gross-brazil-immigration-card-from-family-search-p-2

Brasil, Cartões de Imigração, 1900-1965,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-267-12579-62878-12?cc=1932363 : 10 November 2014), Group 1 > 004551542 > image 34 of 203; Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (National Archives, Rio de Janeiro)

They both lived the rest of their lives in Brazil, as did their son Hans.  Isidor died and is buried in Petropolis in 1950; Klara is also buried there; she died in 1969.  Hans died in Rio de Janeiro in 1979.

(Thank you to Andre Convers of the LatAmSIG on JewishGen.org for finding the information about Klara and Isidor’s deaths and burial for me; they are listed in Egon and Frieda Wolff’s book, Sepulturas de Israelitas Il, p.100; Sophie Gross, widow of Wilhelm Gross, is listed on p. 101 and also buried in Petropolis, but her date of death says “19.5” so I assume it was partially illegible. There are also several people named Emrich on p. 100, presumably relatives of Klara Emrich Gross.)

Egon and Frieda Wolf, Sepulturas de Israelitas II, p. 100 (Petropolis Municipal Cemetery)

Egon and Frieda Wolf, Sepulturas de Israelitas II, p. 100 (Petropolis Municipal Cemetery)

cemetery-information-for-sophie-gross

Egon and Frieda Wolf, Sepulturas de Israelitas II, p. 101 (Petropolis Municipal Cemetery)

Unfortunately, the youngest child and third son of Bertha Seligmann and Bernhard Gross was not as fortunate as his older brother Isidor or his sister Mathilde.  Karl Gross was born on March 6, 1876, in Bingen, Germany.  According to the Arbeitskreis Judische Bingen page dedicated to Karl, he married Agnes Neuberger, and they had two daughters.  Bertha was born in 1906 and presumably named for Karl’s mother, Bertha Seligmann Gross, who had died with her husband in 1901 from carbon monoxide poisoning; sadly, Bertha suffered brain damage at birth and required special care.

A second daughter, Ilse, was born in 1921, after Karl returned from service in the Germany army during World War I. He had served from August, 1914, through the end of the war and was honored several times for his service.

After returning from the war, Karl worked in the Gross family winemaking business.  Two years Hitler’s rise to power, he and Agnes decided to send fourteen year old Ilse to the International School in Geneva, Switzerland in 1935. In 1938, when she was just seventeen, Ilse left Switzerland for England.

Karl and Agnes, however, stayed in Germany to be near their other daughter, Bertha. In December, 1940, the German Reich required that Bertha be admitted to the Israelite Hospital and Sanatorium in Bendorf-Sayn, also known as the Jacoby Institute. It had been founded almost a century before as a mental institution for Jewish patients.  Its role was altered terribly by the Nazis.

According to this website,

During the first years of National Socialism the Jacoby Institute was left in relative peace; probably as an acknowledgement of the fact that it was an important employer for Sayn and the region. ….A circular decree issued by the Ministry of the Interior on 12th December 1940 decreed that “mentally ill Jews” were only to be accommodated in Sayn because “a cohabitation of Germans and Jews is not acceptable in any length of time” (illustr. 7). The option of concentrating all the patients in one location served as preparation of their deportation. In the course of five transports (between March and November 1942) 573 people were taken to the death camps in the East.

Bertha Gross was one of those 573 people; she was deported to a concentration camp in Izbica, Poland, where she died.

Karl and Klara Gross also were killed in the Holocaust. They were sent to Theriesenstadt on July 27, 1942, where Karl worked as a stretcher-bearer until he died on February 1, 1944.  In October, 1944, Klara was deported from Theriesenstadt to Auschwitz where she was murdered.

karl-gross-and-family-stolpersteine-from-judische-bingen

Stolpersteins for Karl Gross, Agnes Gross, and Bertha Gross http://www.juedisches-bingen.de/?id=54

Their younger daughter Ilse, however, survived, and like so many in this family, she ultimately thrived. As described in her obituary, after leaving Switzerland for England in 1938, at first she worked as an unpaid mother’s helper.  After England was at war with Germany, however, Ilse, along with many other Jewish refugees from the Nazis, was imprisoned as an “enemy alien” in an internment camp on the Isle of Man, according to her obituary. 

Ilse, who had been writing poetry in German since she was a teenager, began writing short stories in English while in the camp and continued her writing after she was released in 1941.  In 1948, she married Kit Barker, a British artist.  Ilse began writing under the pseudonym Kathrine Talbot and published a number of well-regarded works, including three novels, many articles, and short stories.  She died in 2006, and her obituary in The Guardian includes an extensive description not only of her life but of her work.  “Ilse Barker,” The Guardian (June 2, 2006), located here.

Thus, Mathilde Gross Mayer lost both her sister Anna and her brother Karl in the Holocaust, as well as their spouses, Wilhelm Richter and Klara Emrich, respectively; her niece Bertha also was a victim of the Nazis.  Her brother Wilhelm had died years before, so Mathilde’s only surviving sibling after 1944 was her brother Isidor, who had immigrated to Brazil along with his wife and son and Wilhelm’s widow and son and thus lived a continent away from where Mathilde was in New Rochelle, New York.

Although Mathilde was fortunate that all of her children and grandchildren and almost all her nieces and nephews had survived the Holocaust, there is no overstating the tragedy she endured—from the loss of her parents in 1901, the loss of her husband in 1934, the uprooting of her children, grandchildren, and herself from their homeland, and the cruel deaths of a number of her family members at the hands of the Nazis.

Perhaps now you can better understand why I want to be able to read her book and get a feel for the real person who endured so much and lived so long.

 

A Family’s Life Destroyed: The Story of Anna Gross

As I wrote last time, Mathilde Gross Mayer and her three children, Wilhelm, Ernst, and Alice, all safely emigrated from Germany in the 1930s after the Nazis had taken over.   Not all of her siblings and other relatives were as fortunate.  Mathilde had four younger siblings, Anna, Wilhelm, Isidor, and Karl.  This post will tell the story of Anna Gross, Mathilde’s younger and only sister.  Anna, like Mathilde, was my second cousin, three times removed.  We are both descendants of Jacob Seligmann.

Family View Report for Bertha Seligmann-page-001

If the birth dates provided by her brother Isidor in Mathilde’s book are accurate, Anna Gross was born September 1, 1870, or a year and a half after Mathilde’s birth on April 14, 1869.[1] Anna married William Lichter of Bruchsal in 1892, whose father Leopold Lichter owned a wine distillery.  Anna and William settled in Stuttgart, where they had a son Paul (1893) and a daughter Irma (1898).

family-group-sheet-for-anna-gross-page-001

According to a biography of William and Anna and their family published on a Stolperstein site about the family, in 1916 Wilhelm Lichter purchased a stately house on a large lot with a terrace, courtyard, garage, and a garden with pergolas and two garden sheds.

Wilhelm and Anna (Gross) Lichter, 1927 passport photos http://www.stolpersteine-stuttgart.de/index.php?docid=749

Wilhelm and Anna (Gross) Lichter, 1927 passport photos
http://www.stolpersteine-stuttgart.de/index.php?docid=749

According to the Stolperstein site, Anna and Wilhelm’s son Paul Lichter married Marie Hirsch on February 17, 1919; they would have two daughters born in the 1920s, Renate and Lore.

Just nine months after her brother married, Irma Lichter married Max Wronker on November 2, 1919.  Max had served as an officer in the German army during World War I and had been awarded the Iron Cross, Second Class.

Irma Lichter Wronker, courtesy of the Wronker family

Irma Lichter Wronker, courtesy of the Wronker family

Max Wronker during World War I, courtesy of the Wronker family

Max Wronker during World War I, courtesy of the Wronker family

Max and Irma would have two children, a daughter Gerda and a son Erich.

Max Wronker and Irma Lichter Wronker and their two children Gerda and Paul, 1927 Courtesy of the Wronker family

Max Wronker and Irma Lichter Wronker and their two children Gerda and Erich, 1927
Courtesy of the Wronker family

According to the introduction to the family papers on file with the Leo Baeck Institute (Guide to the Papers of the Lili Wronker Family 1843-2002 (AR 25255 / MF 737)), Max was the son of Herman Wronker and Ida Friedeberg of Frankfurt; Herman Wronker was an extremely successful merchant with department stores in a number of cities in Germany.  He also was a founder of a successful cinema business in Frankfurt. According to an October 25, 2007 article in Der Spiegel (“Lili und die Kaufhauskönige”), Herman Wronker was invited in the 1920s by Carl Laemmle of Universal Pictures to come to Hollywood, but Wronker was loyal to Germany and did not want to leave. (Thank you to my cousin Wolfgang for find the Der Spiegel article for me.)

The Der Spiegel article also reported that during the 1920s, the Wronker department store business employed over three thousand people with annual sales exceeding 35 million Reich marks.  When the Depression came in 1929, Herman’s son Max, husband of Irma Lichter, took over the management of the business and was forced to sell two of the Wronker department stores.

Max Wronker had a sister Alice, and I was very fortunate to make a connection through Ancestry.com with Trisha, whose husband is Alice Wronker’s grandson.  Trisha has known several members of the extended Lichter and Wronker families, and she has a wonderful collection of photographs of the family, which she generously shared with me.  The family pictures in this post are all courtesy of Trisha and her family, except where otherwise noted.

Alice Wronker Engel, Irma Lichter Wronker, and Ida Friedeberg Wronker

Alice Wronker Engel, Ida Friedeberg Wronker, and  Irma Lichter Wronker, Courtesy of the Wronker family

First cousins: Ruth , daughter of Alice Wronker Engel and Herman Engel, and Gerda, daughter of Max Wronker and Irma Lichter Wronker Courtesy of the Wronker family

First cousins: Ruth , daughter of Alice Wronker Engel and Herman Engel, and Gerda, daughter of Max Wronker and Irma Lichter Wronker
Courtesy of the Wronker family

Both the Wronker and Lichters families were obviously quite wealthy and living a good life in Germany until the Nazis came to power.  Then everything changed.  According to the same 2007 Der Spiegel article, by the end of March, 1933, the Wronkers were no longer allowed on the premises of their businesses, and the entire business was “aryanized” in 1934.

The article also indicated that at that point Max and Irma (Lichter) Wronker decided to leave Germany and move to France, where Max tried unsuccessfully to start a leather goods company.  He then received a tourist visa to go to Cairo to work as an adviser to a department store business there, but was unable to receive an official work permit and earned so little money that he was forced to sell much of the family’s personal property.

sale-of-effects-cairo

Max and Irma did not come to the United States until after the war ended.

Meanwhile, Anna (Gross) and Wilhelm Lichter also were suffering from Nazi persecution.  As reported in the Stolperstein biography, on April 1, 1938, Irma’s father Wilhelm Lichter sold the lovely home he owned in Stuttgart for 125,000 Reich marks, which was far below its value (according to assessors determining reparations after the war).  Wilhelm and Anna were allowed to rent the second floor of the home after they sold it for a one year term.

On April 26, 1938, the Germans enacted the Decree on the Registration of the Property of Jews pursuant to which all Jews were required to assess all their assets and register them if their value exceeded 5,000 Reich marks.  The Nazis also prohibited Jews from owning or operating a business, except for limited exceptions to allow services rendered by Jews to other Jews.  Additional information about these property deprivations can also be found here in a December 25, 1938 article by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (“Nazi Restrictions, Special Taxes Strip Jews of Wealth”).

As a result of these regulations, Wilhelm Lichter was forced to pay substantial amounts of money to the German government in 1938.  After Kristallnacht, the government also passed additional laws, increasing substantially the taxes that Jews were forced to pay under the pretext that they were obligated to pay for the damage caused by Kristallnacht.  Wilhelm again was required to use a great deal of his assets to pay for these taxes.

Then, in the aftermath of Kristallnacht on November 9 and 10, 1938, Wilhelm and Anna’s son Paul Lichter was arrested and sent to the concentration camp at Dachau, where he was imprisoned until December 6, 1938.  After he was released, Paul decided to leave Germany with his wife Marie and their children; his two daughters were no longer allowed to attend school after May, 1938, and he had had to sell his business.

In order to emigrate, Paul had to comply with the Reichsfluchtsteuer, or Reich Flight Tax, a tax imposed on those wishing to leave Germany.  As explained by this Alphahistory site, “this law required Jews fleeing Germany to pay a substantial levy before they were granted permission to leave. The flight tax was not an invention of the Nazis; it was passed by the Weimar Republic in 1931 to prevent Germany from being drained of gold, cash reserves and capital. But the Nazi regime expanded and increased the flight tax considerably, revising the law six times during the 1930s. In 1934 the flight tax was increased to 25 per cent of domestic wealth, payable in cash or gold. Further amendments in 1938 required emigrating Jews to leave most of their cash in a Gestapo-controlled bank.”

Another site about the Holocaust indicated that, “As a result of these levies and others, those Jews fortunate enough to emigrate were able to save only a small portion of their assets.  For Jews remaining in Germany after 1938, whatever assets they had left were kept in blocked accounts in specified financial institutions, from which only a modest amount could be withdrawn for their living expenses.”

In order to pay this tax, Paul and Marie had to sell their personal property, including their jewelry, silverware, coffee service, sugar bowls, and candlesticks to a pawnshop and then pay a tax of 67,000 Reich marks, or the equivalent of about $30,000 in 1938 US dollars.  That would be equivalent to almost $500,000 dollars in 2016.

Paul emigrated first, arriving in New York on March 11, 1938.  According to the ship manifest (line 9), he was a liquor dealer.  He listed the person he was going to as a cousin named Meyer Gross living at 30 Parcot Avenue in New Rochelle, New York.

paul-lichter-ship-manifest-1938

Paul Lichter on 1938 ship manifest to NY Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957. Microfilm Publication T715, 8892 rolls. NAI: 300346. Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; National Archives at Washington, D.C. Supplemental Manifests of Alien Passengers and Crew Members Who Arrived on Vessels at New York, New York, Who Were Inspected for Admission, and Related Index, compiled 1887-1952.

Paul Lichter on 1938 ship manifest to NY, line 9
Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957. Microfilm Publication T715, 8892 rolls. NAI: 300346. Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; National Archives at Washington, D.C. Supplemental Manifests of Alien Passengers and Crew Members Who Arrived on Vessels at New York, New York, Who Were Inspected for Admission, and Related Index, compiled 1887-1952.

That was not a name that was on my tree, but given the surname Gross, I assumed it was a relative of Anna, perhaps on her father’s side.

It also made sense that Paul would be going to New Rochelle since he had family members living in that city.  In fact, 30 Parcot Avenue was only half a mile from where Paul’s cousin Alice Mayer Kann was living in 1940 at 17 Argyle Avenue in New Rochelle as well and just two blocks from where Paul’s cousin Ernst Mayer was living at 94 Hillside Avenue in New Rochelle.

I searched the 1940 census to see if there was a Meyer Gross living at 30 Parcot Road in 1940, and I discovered that Kurt Kornfeld and his family were living at that location in 1940.  Kurt Kornfeld was one of Ernst Mayer;s partners in Black Star Publishing, which they founded after they escaped Nazi Germany, as I discussed here.  And living in the Kornfeld home as a lodger in 1940 was a 72 year old German-born woman named Matilda Mayer, who I believe I am safe in assuming was Mathilde Gross Mayer, Paul’s aunt.

But who then was Meyer Gross? I don’t know.  I checked both the 1938 and 1940 directories for New Rochelle (the 1939 was not available online), and there was no person with that name in either directory.  Since the name was entered by hand on the manifest, perhaps it was written incorrectly by the person entering the name.  Maybe it was “Mathilde Gross,” her birth name?  I don’t know.

On June 8, 1939, Paul and Marie’s eighteen year old daughter Renate sailed to New York alone; she was to be met by another “cousin” Heinz “Anspacher,” who resided at 404 West 116th Street in New York City. (See line 13.)

renate-lichter-1939-ship-manifest-line-13

Renate Lichter on 1939 ship manifest, line 13 Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957. Microfilm Publication T715, 8892 rolls. NAI: 300346. Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; National Archives at Washington, D.C. Supplemental Manifests of Alien Passengers and Crew Members Who Arrived on Vessels at New York, New York, Who Were Inspected for Admission, and Related Index, compiled 1887-1952.

Renate Lichter on 1939 ship manifest, line 13
Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957. Microfilm Publication T715, 8892 rolls. NAI: 300346. Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; National Archives at Washington, D.C. Supplemental Manifests of Alien Passengers and Crew Members Who Arrived on Vessels at New York, New York, Who Were Inspected for Admission, and Related Index, compiled 1887-1952.

That was another name that did not ring any bells for me, so I searched for him.  Although I could not find a Heinz Anspacher, I did find a Heinz Ludwig Ansbacher who had immigrated to the US in 1924 and was born in 1904 in Frankfurt. He was a well-known professor of psychology, and in the 1930s he was studying at Columbia, so living at 404 West 116th Street made sense.

Heinz was the son of Max Ansbacher and Emilia Dinkelspiel, neither of whom appear to have a connection to the Gross or Licther or Hirsch families. Perhaps this was a friend of the family? I don’t know. (I hate paragraphs that end with I don’t know, and that’s the second time in this post.)

But if her father Paul had arrived in 1938, why was Renate going to Heinz Ansbacher in 1939? Had Paul returned to Europe after his trip in 1938? On March 1, 1940, Paul, Marie, and their younger daughter sailed from Liverpool to New York, and although Marie and her daughter listed their last permanent residence as Stuttgart, Paul’s last permanent residence was stated as Birmingham, England.  They all listed Ernst Mayer, Paul’s cousin, as the person they were going to in the United States.

paul-lichter-and-family-on-1940-manifest

Paul, Marie, and Lore Lichter on 1940 ship manifest, lines 13-15 Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957. Microfilm Publication T715, 8892 rolls. NAI: 300346

Paul, Marie, and Lore Lichter on 1940 ship manifest, lines 13-15
Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957. Microfilm Publication T715, 8892 rolls. NAI: 300346

The English ship manifest for their trip leaving from Liverpool is consistent with the New York manifest: Paul is listed as last residing in England, Marie and their daughter in Germany, and Paul is listed with an address in Birmingham, England.  I can only infer that Paul had left the US sometime after his March 1938 arrival and before Renate arrived in June 1939 and was living in England in 1940 when he and the rest of the family joined Renate in New York.

Paul, Marie, and Lore Lichter on the 1940 UK ship manifest Ancestry.com. UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012. Original data: Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Outwards Passenger Lists. BT27. Records of the Commercial, Companies, Labour, Railways and Statistics Departments. Records of the Board of Trade and of successor and related bodies. The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, England.

Paul, Marie, and Lore Lichter on the 1940 UK ship manifest
Ancestry.com. UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.
Original data: Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Outwards Passenger Lists. BT27. Records of the Commercial, Companies, Labour, Railways and Statistics Departments. Records of the Board of Trade and of successor and related bodies. The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, England.

Although Anna and Wilhelm’s two children and their grandchildren were thus all safely out of Germany by the spring of 1940, Anna and Wilhelm were not as fortunate.  On February 28, 1942, they were forced to move to a Jewish home for the elderly.  (Wilhelm was then 77, Anna 72.)  Then in August, 1942, they entered into an “agreement” whereby they transferred their remaining assets (22,815 Reich marks) in exchange for free accommodations for life at the camp at Theriesenstadt.  On August 23, 1942, Anna and Wilhelm were deported to Theriesenstadt.

Anna died less than a month later on September 18, 1942.  Wilhelm lasted five more months, dying on February 6, 1943.

Stolpersteine for Wilhelm Lichter and Anna Gross Lichter http://www.stolpersteine-stuttgart.de/index.php?docid=749

Stolpersteine for Wilhelm Lichter and Anna Gross Lichter
http://www.stolpersteine-stuttgart.de/index.php?docid=749

Their son-in-law’s parents, Hermann and Ida Wronker, were also murdered; according to Der Spiegel, by 1939, almost all of their property had been confiscated by the Nazis.  In 1941, they were living in France and were sent to the internment camp at Gurs, where they were later deported to Auschwitz.  They were killed there in 1942.

Herman and Ida Wronker with their four grandchildren, Eric, Gerda, Ruth, and Marion

Herman and Ida Wronker with their four grandchildren, Erich, Gerda, Ruth, and Marion, courtesy of the Wronker family

But all the children and grandchildren of Herman and Ida (Friedeberg) Wronker and Anna (Gross) and Wilhelm Lichter survived and, like so many of those who escaped from Nazi Germany, they had to start over with almost nothing.

Here are some members of the extended family years later.

From left to right, standing: Max Wronker, Paul Lichter, Marie Hirsch Lichter, Lilli Cassel Wronker, Renate Lichter, Alice Wronker Engel, Irma Lichter Wronker, Erich .Wronker, unknown, Edith Cassel. Seated, left to right, Marion Engel and two unknown women Courtesy of the Wronker family

From left to right, standing: Max Wronker, Paul Lichter, Marie Hirsch Lichter, Lili Cassel Wronker, Renate Lichter, Alice Wronker Engel, Irma Lichter Wronker, Erich .Wronker, unknown, Edith Cassel.
Seated, left to right, Marion Engel and two unknown women
Courtesy of the Wronker family

I don’t know how people coped with the unfathomable cruelty inflicted upon them and their loved ones, but once again I am inspired by the resilience of the human spirit.

 

 

 

[1] Another secondary source reports that Anna was born on November 1, 1870, but I am going to assume that Anna’s own brother knew her birthday.  I’ve no primary source to use to determine for sure.

A Family Uprooted by the Nazis: Mathilde Gross Mayer and Her Family

My last post ended with the tragic deaths in November 1901 of my cousin Bertha Seligmann and her husband Bernhard Gross; they had died from carbon monoxide poisoning while in their own home in Bingen, Germany.  Bertha was the first cousin of my great-great-grandfather, Bernard Seligmann.  We are both descendants of my 4x-great-grandfather, Jacob Seligmann.

Much of what I have learned about the life of Bertha and Bernhard came from the memoir written by their daughter Mathilde, Die Alte und Die Neue Welt (1951). As I mentioned in the last two posts, Mathilde lived a hundred years, from 1869 until 1969, and resided on two continents during her remarkable life, first in Germany, then in the United States.  This post will focus on Mathilde and her family and descendants and their lives after 1901.

Mathilde was the oldest of Bertha and Bernhard’s five children. [1]  As stated above, she was born in 1869, and she married Marx Mayer in 1888. They had three children: Wilhelm (known as Willy) Mayer-Gross (1889), Ernst (1893), and Alice (1896).  All three would live interesting lives.

jpf-family-sheet-for-mathilde-gross-mayer

Although Alice Mayer was the youngest of the children of Mathilde Gross and Marx Mayer, I am going to write about her first because it is her daughter, Ellen Kann Pine, whose book One Life in Two Worlds (self-published, 2009) provided me with insights into the life of the Mayer family in the 1920s and 1930s.  All the facts related in this post came from Ellen Kann Pine’s memoir, except where noted.

20160810_174631600_iOS

According to Ellen’s memoir, her mother Alice Mayer married Arthur Kann, whose father was in the wholesale grain business in the Bingen area.  Their twin daughters Ellen and Hannelore were born in 1921 in Bingen.  Ellen’s description of her childhood growing up in Bingen sounds quite idyllic.  She describes Bingen in those days as the largest town in the area with about 10,000 residents.

Her family shared a house with her father’s brother Julius Kann and his wife.  The house was on the edge of town and was located across the street from Ellen’s grandparents, Mathilde (Gross) and Marx Mayer.  She saw her grandparents every day.  Ellen wrote:

No day passed without a visit from one or both of them.  Our Grandfather (Opapa) was usually the first to come.  He always brought each of us a piece of chocolate wrapped in foil in the shape of a coin. …Our Grandmother (Omama) usually visited in the afternoon and she was always interested in what we had been doing and asked us to tell her.

Pine, p. 7.

Their grandmother Mathilde would take them for walks in the neighborhood every day.  In addition, numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins lived nearby.  The town was small enough that most people knew each other, and the Kann home had a big enough yard for the children to play.

In 1927, the twins started school at the local Volksschule where both Jewish and Christian children attended. At that time, they became more aware of their Jewish background.  As Ellen described, “[i]n Germany, religious instruction was part of the overall curriculum and was taught during regular school hours by clergy of each denomination.”  Pine, p. 20.  Ellen and Hannelore were taught by their cantor and received instruction in Hebrew and Bible stories.

The family had Shabbat dinners with their Mayer grandparents and celebrated the Jewish holidays together.  The Kann family also liked to travel, and Ellen recalled family trips to the Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Switzerland, and Austria during her childhood.

Ellen’s uncles Wilhelm and Ernst, the sons of Mathilde Gross and Marx Mayer, were also living comfortable lives in Germany in the years before Hitler came to power. Wilhelm became a renowned psychiatrist.  According to Edward Shorter’s A Historical Dictionary of Psychiatry (Oxford University Press, Feb 17, 2005), Wilhelm studied medicine at the University of Heidelberg and then further specialized in psychiatry at Heidelberg.  His doctoral thesis was on “the phenomenology of abnormal feelings of happiness,” and by 1929, he was an assistant professor of psychiatry in Heidelberg.

On the personal side, according to Shorter’s book, Wilhelm had married in 1919; his wife was Carola Meyer, and they had one child.  Around the time of his marriage, Wilhelm adopted the surname Mayer-Gross, hyphenating his mother’s maiden name with his father’s surname.

Wilhelm’s younger brother Ernst served in the German military during World War I. Once again Matthias Steinke helped me out and translated the documents reporting Ernst’s military record.  According to Matt’s translation, Ernst served in the military first from October 1907 until September 1909 as a private in the 9th Infantry Regiment in Zabern.  Then when World War I started, he was on active duty from August 1914 until September 1918, again serving in the infantry.  He was a bona fide war hero for Germany.

He fought in over twenty battles all over Europe: in France, in Italy, in Bukovina and Slovenia, and at the border of Greece.  On the 5th of October he was shot in the back during a battle near Lille, France, but returned to the front by June, 1915, where he fought in a battle near Tirol. Beginning in December, 1914, he served as a ski trooper for some of his time in the army. His service ended when he was sent to the hospital in September, 1918, with influenza.  His rank at the end of his service was a reserve lieutenant.  He received several commendations for his service including the Prussian Iron Cross, the Edelweiss medal, and two Hessian orders.

Bavaria, Germany, World War I, Personnel Rosters, 1914-1918, for Ernst Mayer Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Mnchen; Abteilung IV Kriegsarchiv. Kriegstammrollen, 1914-1918; Volume: 11697. Kriegsstammrolle: Bd.1

Bavaria, Germany, World War I, Personnel Rosters, 1914-1918, for Ernst Mayer
Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Mnchen; Abteilung IV Kriegsarchiv. Kriegstammrollen, 1914-1918; Volume: 11697. Kriegsstammrolle: Bd.1

Ernst Mayer WW1 military register 6

Bavaria, Germany, World War I, Personnel Rosters, 1914-1918, for Ernst Mayer Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Mnchen; Abteilung IV Kriegsarchiv. Kriegstammrollen, 1914-1918; Volume: 11697. Kriegsstammrolle: Bd.1

After the war, Ernst became the owner of a successful publishing house in Berlin, Mauritius Verlag.  He married Helene Hirschberg, and they had two daughters and were living in Berlin.

Thus, as of 1933, Mathilde (Gross) and Marx Mayer and their three children were successful citizens of Germany.  The world and lives of all these members of the family changed drastically with the election of Hitler as chancellor in 1933.

Ellen Kann Pine was then twelve years old and remembers well how things changed in Bingen.  She wrote:

As soon as Hitler became chancellor, fierce looking men wearing different colored uniforms appeared everywhere. … Part of the uniform was a red armband with a large black swastika on a white background.  Almost all teenagers of both sexes belonged to the Hitler Youth and wore similar brown uniforms and red armbands.  They all were disturbing and frightening as they marched in the streets day and night carrying Nazi flags and singing Horst-Wessel Lied and other vicious anti-Semitic songs. Swastikas were painted everywhere: on walls, on buildings, on flags, and on women’s brown blouses. …. 

It was soon obvious that the anti-Semitic propaganda and lies that abounded in the streets had their desired effect.  It helped turn our previously friendly and courteous Christian neighbors and their children into hostile anti-Semites.  Now we rarely went for walks, and when we did, we kept strictly to ourselves.  We could not go shopping, or to the movies, or a theater, since most of these activities were out of bounds for Jews.

Pine, pp. 35-36.

Things changed for Ellen and her sister at school as well because they were Jewish. Friends ignored them, as did their teachers.

Adding to the family’s stress and sorrow was the heartbreaking death of Mathilde’s husband and the family patriarch, Marx Mayer. Ellen wrote:

Our beloved Opapa died in 1934.  It was the first family death we experienced and it was wrenching.  I cannot forget the look on our Omama’s face when we came to visit her.  Sitting on the sofa, she looked utterly lonely and sad with grief.

Pine, p. 29

After September, 1935, with the passage of the Nuremberg Laws, Ellen and her siblings could no longer attend school at all. Their father also lost his job as director of a synthetic fertilizer company.  The family made the important but painful decision to send the twins and their younger brother to boarding school in England.  For two years from 1936 until 1938, the children lived away from their parents.  Ellen wrote movingly about the experience and the issues the children had adjusting to life away from home.

Fortunately their uncle, Willy Mayer-Gross, was in England and was a source of comfort and support for the children while they lived there. The Nazi laws prohibiting Jewish doctors from practicing medicine on non-Jewish patients and other restrictions had led Willy to emigrate in 1933.  He was able to obtain funding through a Rockefeller Foundation grant to go to England to work and live.  His niece Ellen Kann Pine wrote this about her uncle Willy:

Learning a new language, a new culture, new ways of treating patients, and having to retake his medica exams made his first years there very difficult.  Although Uncle W. was in his forties he persevered, brought his family to England and was able to continue his research.  … He was our guardian and his support was invaluable when my sister and I entered boarding school in England in 1936.

Pine, p. 32

Willy did in fact have a remarkable career in England; Edward Shorter described him as the “Importer of German scientific rigor and psychopathological thinking to English psychiatry.” A Historical Dictionary of Psychiatry (Oxford University Press, Feb 17, 2005).

According to the Whonamedit website:

In the 1933 Mayer-Gross came to the Bethlem Royal Hospital, London, to work with Edward Mapother, who provided fellowships for German academics who were fleeing Hitler, such as Guttmann and Mayer-Gross. He worked at the hospital from 1933 to 1939, when he became a licentiate of the Royal College pf Physicians and the Royal College of Surgeons. He subsequently became senior fellow with the department of experimental psychiatry, Birmingham Medical School 1958; Director of Research, Uffcalme Clinic. He was a fellow of the British Eugenics Society 1946, 1957. It was Mayer-Gross who first suggested, in about 1955, that tranquilizers converted one psychosis into another. Wilhelm Mayer-Gross was the winner of the Administrative Psychiatry Award for 1958.

Willy’s younger brother Ernst also suffered due to the Nazi persecution of Jews.  Despite his distinguished service to Germany during World War I, like other Jewish business owners he was forced to sell his publishing business in accordance with the Nazi policies requiring “Aryanization” of all businesses.  Like his brother Willy, Ernst decided to leave Germany once he’d lost his business.

He arrived in New York on June 8, 1935, leaving his family behind until he could bring them over as well.

Ernst Mayer passenger manifest 1935

Ernst Mayer passenger manifest 1935 page 2

Ernst Mayer passenger manifest, June 8, 1935, line 8 Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867.

Soon after arriving in New York, he and two other German Jewish refugees, Kurt Safranski (whom Ernst had listed as his contact in NY on the manifest) and Kurt Kornfeld, formed Black Star Publishing Company.  Marvin Hefferman wrote in the New York Times blog “Lens” on July 15, 2013, that Ernst Mayer and his partners were “innovators in Germany’s picture press and publishing world and fled from the Nazis.  Their New York-based company commissioned and brokered the use of photographs that documented important events, the comings and goings of notables, and human interest stories.” Marvin Hefferman, “Black Star Shines Anew,” The New York Times (July 15, 2013), available here.

Among their early clients were the magazines Life, Look, The Saturday Evening Post, and Collier’s, which retained their services for the procurement of photographs. The Black Star company’s website describes Ernst’s important role in the success of Black Star:

It was Mayer who made the decisive step uptown into the Rockefeller Center to Time Inc. He brought with him an enormous pile of essays from photographers including Fritz Goro and Paul Wolff, whom he had brought safely from Berlin to New York.  Soon after, the chief editors of Life Magazine had chosen Black Star as one of their main suppliers of pictures. Emigre photojournalists viewed the agency as their best means of gaining access to the magazine. For the mostly Jewish photographers, Black Star was a piece of Europe in the middle of New York.… According to photo historian Marianne Fulton, Life brought Black Star 30 to 40 per cent of its business. Black Star, in turn, contributed to Life becoming the most popular magazine in America for nearly three decades, with tens of millions of readers.

A little over a year after arriving himself, Ernst was able to bring his wife and daughter to the United States on August 11, 1936.[2]

Ernst Mayer and family August 1936 manifest

Ernst Mayer and family passenger manifest August 11, 1936 Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867.

Ernst Mayer and family passenger manifest August 11, 1936
Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867.

One year after that, on October 11, 1937, he returned once more to Germany to bring his mother Mathilde back to the US.[3]  As you can see, the manifest shows they left from England, not Germany.  Ellen Kann Pine wrote that her grandmother Mathilde came to see her and her sister at boarding school in England before leaving for the US.

Mathilde Mayer passenger manifest October 1 1937

Mathilde Mayer passenger manifest October 1 1937 page 2

Mathilde Mayer and Ernst Mayer on passenger manifest, October 11, 1937 Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867.

Ernst and his family and his mother were all living in New Rochelle, New York, at that time.

In August, 1938, the daughters of Alice Mayer Kann, Ellen and Hannelore, left England to come to the US.  Their parents and brother followed a month later, and the Kann family also settled in New Rochelle, New York.  Thus, by the fall of 1938, just a few months before Kristallnacht and the increased violence against Jews in Europe that followed, all of Mathilde’s children and grandchildren were safely out of Germany, as was she.

I will leave for another day what Mathilde’s life was like once she got to America—that is, until I can read the rest of her memoir.  As for her granddaughter Ellen Kann Pine, like her two uncles Willy and Ernst, she not only survived, she thrived—she worked hard, ultimately obtained a Ph.D. in biochemistry, and became a successful research scientist.  I highly recommend her memoir as another lesson in the resilience of people and their ability to start life over in a new place and find not only security but happiness.  Her book is available on Amazon here.

Sadly, Ernst Mayer’s wife Helene Hirschberg died on July 19, 1945, at age fifty.  Willy Mayer-Gross died in 1961; he was 72.  Mathilda outlived her oldest child, dying at 100 in 1969.  Her other two children also lived long lives.  Ernst died at ninety in 1983, and Alice died in 1993 when she was 97. Her husband Arthur Kann had died many years before in 1966 when he was 83.

My cousin Mathilde had suffered greatly during her life: she had lost her parents in a terrible tragedy, her husband had died too soon, and she had been forced to leave her homeland and the place where her family had lived for hundreds of years.  But she and her three children and all of her grandchildren escaped Nazi Germany in time and survived.  Although all of them suffered from the Nazi treatment of Jews, they all found success. It’s hard to say they were lucky, given what they’d endured, but they at least survived.

Other members of their extended family were not as fortunate.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Later posts will relate what happened to Mathilde’s siblings and their families.

 

[2] Ernst and Helene Mayer had another daughter Dorothea, who had died before the family left Germany.

[3] It appears that Mathilde was listed on an earlier ship manifest to leave Germany in February, 1937. There is a notation “Ext. 9/17/37,” which I assume meant she extended her ticket for an additional seven months. Perhaps she did not want to sail alone, and it was only when Ernst returned to bring her back in October that she came to the US.  Or maybe she did come in February and returned because there is another notation that says “RT.”  Return trip? I am not sure.

Mathilde Mayer-Gross on passenger manifest February 1937

Mathilde Mayer-Gross on passenger manifest Feb 1937 page 2

Mathilde Mayer-Gross listed on February 1937 manifest Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867.

Letters to Frank: A Close Family Revealed

As I mentioned here, included with all the photographs that my cousin Steve scanned and sent to me were a number of letters.  I posted the letter written by Gerald Oestreicher to his family during World War II, and I mentioned that there were also letters written by Gerald’s uncle, Francis Oestreicher, when he was serving during World War I.  Frank was my father’s second cousin, both being the great-grandchildren of Levi Schoenthal and Henriette Hamberg. Thus, he was my second cousin, once removed:

Frank Striker to me relationship chart

 

There were also some letters written to Frank, as he was known after the war.  In this post I will share the letters written to Frank. The next post will contain the letters written by Frank during World War I.  I’ve transcribed all the letters as close to their original spelling and punctuation as I could, but made some changes just for purposes of readability.  No words were deleted or changed; nothing was added, except where I’ve put my own comments in brackets.

What struck me as meaningful about these letters is what they reveal about the close connections among the Schoenthal siblings—the ten children of my great-great-grandparents Levi Schoenthal and Henriette Hamberg.  These three letters date from 1907 to 1939, and each one shows that this large and extended family knew and cared about each other.

The oldest letter was a letter written by Frank’s great-aunt Helen Lilienfeld Schoenthal, the wife of my great-great-uncle, Henry Schoenthal.  Helen wrote this letter from Washington, Pennsylvania in 1907, to Frank, grandson of her sister-in-law Hannah Schoenthal.

Letter from Helen Lilienfeld Schoenthal dated December 12, 1907 from Washington, PA

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My dear Francis,

Years roll by, and children grow up to man and womenhood before we know it. And so it is with you my dear boy.  I can hardly realize that you have reached your 14th birthday, and it seems to me only a little while that dear Hilda was our representative at your Bris mihle.  With a hearty birthday kiss accompanied by the best wishes I send you many congratulations.  May our heavenly Father always protect and bless you, so that with every birthday your young life may be brighter and happier.  May the best of health and a long life free of care and worry be yours that your dear parents will have a great deal of pleasure on you.  Again I send you a little gift which help a little to swell your Bank account and which I hope will bring you the best luck in business.

Wishing you a very happy birthday with lots of fun.  I am

Lovingly

Your affectionate Aunt Helen

Uncle Henry, Hilda and Therese send their congratulations and love to everybody.

There is also a message written by Helen in German along the margin that I could not read, but with the help of my friend Matthias Steinke in transcribing and translating the old German script, I now know what it says:

My dear all! I am sending you this time only the heartiest greetings and kisses because my eyes close already automatically, because this evening I wrote already a couple of letters. In Love, your aunt, Helen 

Isn’t it interesting that in 1907 after being in the US for 35 years and clearly fluent in English,  Helen reverted to German (and German script) to write to Frank’s parents, Gustav and Sarah Stern Oestreicher? Both Sarah and Gustav were native German speakers, but both also had been in the US for a very long time. I wonder if Frank could read German or was as puzzled as I was by the German script scrawled on the margin of his birthday letter.

Aunt Helen--maybe Lilienfeld Schoenthal

The second letter was written a little over ten years later in July, 1918 when Frank had joined the army, but before he was shipped overseas.  It is also from his great-aunt Helen, with a short addendum by his great-uncle Henry Schoenthal.

Once again, it is evident that Helen and Henry were closely connected to Frank, a child of their niece Sarah Stern, grandson of Henry’s sister Hannah.  I was touched by how much affection there was for this young man, their great-grandnephew.  The letter is also interesting because it talks about Henry and Helen’s own children, their daughter Hilda, their son Lee (born Lionel) and his wife Irma, and Henry and Helen’s granddaughter Florence, who was only thirteen when this letter was written.  Helen did not use any paragraph breaks, but I’ve added some to make the text more easily read.

Letter from Helen Lilienfeld Schoenthal and Henry Schoenthal dated July 30 1918 written from NYC

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My dear Francis,

I was just thinking to write to your dear parents and ask for your address, when we were agreeably surprised on last Sunday, when your dear brother Sidney came to see us, stayed for supper and until late in the evening.  And so we are able to write to you, as Sidney was glad to give us your ad: for every soldier likes to get letters from some one, and if it is not from a sweetheart, this letter comes from your old Uncle and Aunt, who always loved you. 

I suppose your ears were ringing last Sunday, for Sidney and we talked about you a great deal, and we were glad to hear that you liked soldiers life and also the camp.  Are any boys with you from Pittsburg who you know? And how is the weather in your section?

We have terrible hot spell here since over a week, and I feel the heat very much.  But I am so thankful that we live on such nice open place near the Hudson and get all the fresh air that is going.  There is a good deal of suffering on the East side I know. 

Uncle and I are alone since the 19th of July. Irma & Lee went to the Adirondex Mountains to stay two weeks, as Lee had not been feeling well and needed a rest badly.  They choose this place so that they could be near Florence who is at a girls camp named camp Woodmere.  It is owned by Misses Goldsmith and Kuhn from Philadelphia.  They have 54 girls there and it an ideal place.  Florence is crazy about and Irma & Lee are also very much taken with the place and how beautiful it is managed.  They have all sorts of sports there.  Florence is a good swimmer and also can now [?] and take long hikes. 

We expect Irma and Lee back next Saturday and the following Saturday Hilda will arrive here and spend her vacation with us. I am looking forward to her coming with great joy, and we will try and make her stay very pleasant.  She can take many nice boat trips which she likes so much.  Sidney will come up again next week when Irma & Lee is here. 

I am making a nice lunch cloth for Helen’s engagement present, but I am taking my time making it as I have to be very careful with my eyes. [I assume Helen was Frank’s sister Helen, who married in 1920.] We also had a long letter from dear Meyer [their younger son] last week. 

Now dear Francis, be bright and cheerful and take good care of yourself.  Our good God will be with you wherever you are, and He will bring peace to every heart and all the countrys before long. 

With loads of love and a hearty and write soon to your affectionate Aunt Helen.

 My dear Francis

Your aunt has left me a little space and I gladly add a few words to tell you that we often think and speak of you.  I have no doubt that you like the life in the camp, as most of the boys do and that you will make such a fine soldier that all your friends will be proud of you.  Should the time come when you have to be on your way for “Over There” we may have a chance to bid you God’s speed in person. God be with you and bless you.

Affectionately yours,

Uncle Henry

I read this letter as an attempt by his aunt and uncle to give him their blessing before he went off to war without making him too nervous about what he was about to face.  Frank’s own letters, as we will see, reflect a similar impulse, only he is reassuring those at home that he is and will be okay.

The last letter for this post was written many years later by Frank’s father, Gustav Oestreicher.  It was written in 1939 after Gustav and Sarah had moved to California, as had their daughter Helen.  I am not certain whether Frank was living in Minneapolis or just visiting; the letter is addressed to him at a hotel, and from the content of the letter, I can infer that Frank had recently been to Chicago. I assume he was on the road in his capacity as a traveling salesman.

A little background to help identify the people named in the letter:  First, Gustav mentions the Good family.  He must be referring to Edith Stern and Leo Good and their son Bernard; Edith was Sarah Stern Oestreicher’s younger sister, thus Gustav’s sister-in-law.  In 1939, the Good family was living in Chicago.

Gustav then mentions a Lionel and his brothers and sister and another sister Hilda. At first I thought this referred to the children of Henry and Helen Schoenthal, as they had a son named Lionel, a son Meyer, and a daughter Hilda. But after reading through the letter more carefully, I realized that he was referring to Lionel Heymann, the oldest child of Rosalie Schoenthal and Willy Heymann, about whom I wrote here.  Rosalie was the youngest Schoenthal sibling, sister of Hannah Schoenthal, who was Gustave’s mother-in-law. So Rosalie was Sarah Stern’s aunt.

Here’s why I think Gustav is talking about Lionel Heymann, not Lionel Schoenthal. For one thing, Henry and Helen Schoenthal’s son Lionel was called Lee at this point, not Lionel.  And at the time this letter was written, Lionel Heymann (the photographer) was living in Chicago as were his brothers Walter and Max, so if Frank had seen the Good family, he must have been in Chicago. (I am not sure why Gustav writes that he hoped Frank might see Lionel’s “bros.& sister” since there was no sister at that time living in the US, but perhaps he was referring to Max’s wife Frieda.)

Also, Gustav mentions a sister Hilda who was still in Germany. Henry Schoenthal’s daughter Hilda was not living in Germany, but in Washington, DC, in 1939.  But Lionel Heymann had a sister Hilda who was still in Germany in 1939.  I have written about what happened to Hilda Heymann as well as her sister Helene, who married Julius Mosbach and had two daughters, Liesel and Gretel.  All were killed in the Holocaust.  That fact makes Gustav’s comment even more chilling.  I put those comments in bold below.

I do not know who the Fannie mentioned towards the end of the letter could be.

Letter from Gustav Oestreicher to his son Frank [edited for readability only]

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September 16, 1939 from Los Angeles

My dear Francis,

Although late, [I] will begin my letter extending to you my best wishes for a healthy, happy and prosperous new year. [Obviously a reference to Rosh Hashanah, given the September date.] You ought to know you enjoy our good wishes at all times so hope you will pardon the expression of it at a rather late date. As usual we were happy to learn the contents of your recent letter.  It pleased us to learn you enjoyed your visit with the Good family as well as that all of them are getting along nicely.  You evidently misinformed them about our anniversary as we rec’d a very nice letter from them congratulating us for our golden wedding anniversary which will not be until next year. [Gustav and Sara were married in 1940.]

We regretted very much you could not see Lionel and his Bros. & Sister again. [You] May be aware dear Mother is very much interested in his family that are still in Germany particular so his Sister Hilda. [We]  presume the anti-semitism in Germany has somewhat diminished since the war as I noticed in the papers they are eager to get the Jewish Doctors, Engineers and other Professional Man back even promising to restore their property.  Conditions regrett to note are not very encouraging for England and France particular so since the uncertain attitude of Russia but let us hope for the best.

You need not fear about me getting into the market further. Am fairly well satisfied with my holdings. Have absolutely no intention to buy anything nor feel inclined at this time to sell any of my stocks with possible exception of Congoleum-Narin and even should I sell that, may apply it to my loan or in other words will not increase my loan if I do not reduce still more.  Have not decided whether or not I will sell same. 

Fannie is at least a weekly visitor by us.  She still has not secured a position but is hopefull some thing will be available before long.  As for ourselves have nothing of interest to offer so will leave it to dear Mother to inform you pertaining herself so will conclude for to day with love and best wishes. 

Your loving Father

As with the earlier letters from Helen Lilienfeld Schoenthal, this letter reveals the close connections among the many Schoenthal siblings and their children.  I’ve often wondered what the family knew about the two siblings who had stayed in Germany: Jakob Schoenthal and Rosalie Schoenthal.  From Gustav’s letter it is apparent that the family was in touch at least to some extent with those family members who had not immigrated.  They knew that the three Heymann brothers were in Chicago, and they knew that some family members were still in Germany.

Gustav’s hope that anti-Semitism was diminishing in Germany once the war started is so terribly painful to read, knowing what was going to happen not only to Hilda, her sister, and her nieces, but to six million other Jews living in Europe.

Realizing how connected the family was to each other as late as 1939 makes me wonder what happened.  Why didn’t my father even know about all his Schoenthal second cousins like Frank and his siblings? Did my grandmother Eva Schoenthal know any of these people? My guess is that because my great-grandparents moved from western Pennsylvania to Denver when my grandmother was just a small child, not even four years old, she did not grow up with the benefit of knowing all those cousins in western Pennsylvania.  Perhaps if she had, I would not have had to search to find my Oestreicher cousins.  Perhaps we would have always known about each other.

Yom Hashoah—Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day to remember all those who were killed during the Holocaust.

As a result of my genealogy work, I have learned in the last few years that there were many members of my extended family who were victims of the Nazis.  I had always assumed that all my relatives had left Europe before Hitler came to power—long before he came to power.  So learning about the many members of the Seligmann family who were killed and then more recently about the many members of the Schoenthal and Hamberg families who were killed has been very painful.

The Holocaust touched us all, whether we know it or not, whether we are Jewish or not. Our world lost millions of people.  As each generation learns how cruel and inhumane other people can be, there is once again a loss of innocence.  I dread the day when my grandsons also have to learn this horrible truth.

English: A lit Yom Hashoah candle in a dark ro...

English: A lit Yom Hashoah candle in a dark room on Yom Hashoah (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last spring I visited the camps at Terezin and Auschwitz.  I carried with me a list of the names of my relatives who had died at each of the camps so that I could honor their memories.

That list has grown since last spring.  One of the most recent names I’ve had to add to the list of those who died at Auschwitz was Liesel Mosbach Lion, granddaughter of Rosalie Schoenthal Heymann, my great-grandfather’s sister.  Liesel was my father’s second cousin.

I recently posted about Liesel and her family and what happened to them.  Most of what I knew came from the memoir written by Liesel’s husband Ernst Georg Lion, The Fountain at the Crossroads.  I was so moved by his book that I have decided to see whether there is a way to get it published in a format where it will be accessible to more people.  I am now in touch with Ernst’s son Tom.  He sent me photographs of Ernst and his family, including my cousin Liesel.  With his permission, I am posting a few of them here to honor their memory this Yom Hashoah.

The first three are of Ernst’s parents, Leo and Bertha (Weinberg) Lion.  Bertha died from the stress caused by the Nazi treatment of Jews during the 1930s.  Leo was killed in one of the camps.

Ernst Lion parents 1 Ernst Lion father

Ernst Lion parents 2

This is the last photograph taken of Leo Lion before he was arrested and sent to a concentration camp.

Ernst Lion father 2

On the left below is my cousin Liesel Mosbach Lion; she was killed at Auschwitz.  On the right is the wedding picture of Liesel and Ernst, December 18, 1939.

Liesel, her sister Grete, both of her parents, Helene Heymann Mosbach and Julius Mosbach, and her aunt Hilda Heymann were all killed during the Holocaust. Her grandfather Willy Heymann was arrested and taken to Dachau and died soon after being released.

They were all my cousins.

Liesel Mosbach Lion alone and in wedding picture with Ernst

These are various photographs of Ernst from childhood through the war years and afterwards in the US.  His story of suffering and survival is unforgettable.

pictures of Ernst Lion

We live in a time when once again hatred and fear permeate our world and demagogues are seeking power.  We must be vigilant and remember what happened then.  We must do all we can to ensure that genocide does not occur again anywhere.

We must never forget.  Never again.

More Names to Remember and Never Forget

As I move towards closure on my Schoenthal family history, this post has been the hardest one to write.  It is a tragic chapter in that history.

As I’ve already written, four of the six children of my great-great-aunt Rosalie Schoenthal and her husband Willy Heymann left Germany before they could be killed by the Nazis. The three sons went to Chicago, and the oldest daughter Johanna went to Sao Paulo. They all survived.  The other two daughters were not so lucky.

The second oldest daughter, Helene, was born in Geldern in November 9, 1890, a year after Johanna.  She married Julius Mosbach, who was the younger brother of Johanna’s first husband, Hermann Mosbach.  After marrying, Julius and Helene were living in Iserlohn, a town about 80 miles east of Geldern.  According to an article written in 2000 by the archivist of Iserlohn, Gotz Bettge, Julius and Helene Mosbach owned a fruit and vegetable business in the town square in Iserlohn.  They had two daughters: Liesel, who was born March 8, 1921, and Gretel, born October 26, 1926.

 

Iserlohn By No machine-readable author provided. Asio otus assumed (based on copyright claims). [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Iserlohn
By No machine-readable author provided. Asio otus assumed (based on copyright claims). [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


On December 18, 1939, Liesel married Ernst Georg Lion. From the incredibly moving autobiography written by Ernst Lion entitled The Fountain at the Crossroads and available online here, I was able to learn a great deal about his life and also about the lives of Julius, Helene, and their daughters.  All the information and quotes below are from his book unless otherwise indicated.  (Special thanks to Dorothee Lottmann-Kaeseler for sending me some of the additional links and information.)

Ernst was born December 15, 1915, in Brambauer, the son of Leo Lion and Bertha Weinberg Lion.  When Ernst was a very young child, his father Leo was badly injured while serving in the German army during World War I.   Leo Lion considered himself a German patriot.

Ernst grew up as the only Jewish child in Brambauer during the hard years of the Weimar Republic, but his childhood was overall quite happy. Then Hitler came to power, and his life was forever changed.  The Nazis tried to impose a boycott on his father’s business by having a Gestapo member stand in the doorway and take photographs of those who patronized his store.  Ernst’s father insisted that the man leave, even threatening to beat him up.  He did not think the Nazis would be in power for very long.  But then when the Nuremberg laws were enacted in 1935, the family had to sell their home and their store for less than their value and move to Dortmund.

Many members of the extended Lion/Weinberg family left Germany around that time, but Ernst had difficulty getting the necessary visas and permits to go elsewhere even though he had an affidavit of support from a cousin in New York.  Then on November 9, 1938, Ernst was one of thousands of German Jews who were arrested and sent to Buchenwald in the aftermath of Kristallnacht.  In his autobiography he described in graphic detail his experiences there.  It’s horrifying.

Ernst was released a few weeks later and told to leave the country within three weeks.  All the Jewish businesses were now closed, and he was forced to work on street repairs while waiting to emigrate.

 

Buchenwald Watch Tower undesarchiv, Bild 183-1983-0825-303 / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

Buchenwald Watch Tower
undesarchiv, Bild 183-1983-0825-303 / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


But then he met Liesel Mosbach in Iserlohn.  He was introduced by his Aunt Selma who lived there, and they immediately took a liking for each other.  At that time Liesel’s family was living in the apartment above their former business, which had been confiscated by the Nazis.  Julius Mosbach had suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of the harassment by the Nazis and the loss of his business, and he was doing very poorly.

Ernst moved to Iserlohn in 1939, where his aunt was able to help him get a job at a metal working company owned by a family that was unsympathetic to the Nazi government and its policies; the owners even provided Ernst with extra food to supplement the very restrictive allotments allowed to the Jews by the Nazis.

When the Nazis then imposed travel restrictions and required Jews to wear the yellow Star of David, Ernst was no longer able to get to Dortmund to visit his parents.  His mother died shortly thereafter, having given up on life, according to his father; Ernst was not even allowed to go to her funeral.

Yellow badge Star of David called "Judens...

Yellow badge Star of David called “Judenstern”. Part of the exhibition in the Jewish Museum Westphalia, Dorsten, Germany. The wording is the German word for Jew (Jude), written in mock-Hebrew script. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

On December 18, 1939, Ernst and Liesel were married.  As Ernst wrote, although they had no idea what the future would bring, “The secret of maintaining one’s sanity under those conditions is to live as normal a life as one can.” (p. 18)   Unfortunately, that became more and more difficult to do.  Conditions for the Jews continued to worsen, and there was less food available.  People were beginning to hear about Jews being arrested and sent away.

In January, 1941, Julius Masbach was admitted to a mental hospital and died shortly thereafter.  Ernst wrote (p.15):

We soon discovered that we should have opposed the doctor’s decision [to hospitalize Julius], for the Nazis had decided that all institutionalized, so-called “insane” persons no longer had the right to live and had become a burden to society.  They were led into sheds equipped with gasoline engines, which were installed in reverse fashion: the exhaust escaped to the inside of the building.  After they were asphyxiated, the bodies were burned and the ashes delivered to the surviving families.  No one realized that this activity was the rehearsal for later mass destruction of humans.

On April 28, 1942, Helene Heymann Mosbach, my grandmother’s first cousin, and her daughter Gretel, just sixteen years old, were arrested and sent to Zamosc, near Lublin, Poland.  They were never heard from again.  Ernst’s father Leo Lion was also arrested around this time, and Ernst never heard from him again either.

To add to this heartbreaking account, Helene’s sister Hilda, the youngest of the six children of Rosalie Schoenthal and Willy Heymann, was also killed by the Nazis.  Although she is not mentioned in Ernst Lion’s autobiography or on the website memorializing the Mosbach family, according to Yad Vashem, Hilda also had been living in Iserlohn before being sent Zamosc where her sister Helene and niece Gretel had been deported.   I assume that Hilda had moved to Iserlohn to live with her sister Helene after both her mother Rosalie (1937) and her father Willy (1939) had died.

I had not heard of Zamosc before, and my friend Dorothee Lottmann-Kaeseler sent me this link that reveals the absolutely horrifying story of this place.  There are no records of what happened specifically to Helene, Gretel, and Hilda, but it is possible that they were killed in Zamosc itself or deported to the death camp at Majdanek or Belzec or Sobibor, where they were killed.

 

Crematoria at Majdanek death camp near Lublin, Poland Deutsche Fotothek‎ [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

Crematoria at Majdanek death camp near Lublin, Poland
Deutsche Fotothek‎ [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

On February 26, 1943, Ernst and Liesel received orders to report to a school in Dortmund with just one suitcase each.  There were about a thousand people at the school that night, and everyone was forced to sleep on the floor. Ernst wrote, “They took our wedding bands and watches, telling us that we would not need them where we were going.” (p. 19)

The next morning they were put on a freight train (pp.19-20):

I found myself inside such a freight car among a hundred men, women and children.  The doors were locked; there were no windows to look through.  This precaution would keep us from recognizing our route or destination.  A few buckets for relief, no food or water.  This should be a short ride, I mused.

… Liesel was shoved on this train with me.  At least we were together.  Just twenty-three, she was a thin, wiry lady, strong and energetic.  Her dark eyes expressed the will to endure.  I was twenty-four.  Where was our future?

Although they were told they were being taken to a safe place for resettlement, Ernst was skeptical, as he had good reason to be.  They were being taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  When they arrived, they were told to leave their suitcases on the train; then they stepped onto the platform surrounded by SS guards and prisoners in striped uniforms who were helping with the unloading.

Then the men and women were separated.

Ernst wrote, “All the women were led away.  My wife looked at me for one last time before she disappeared.  It was dark now, and I saw her walk away like a shadow.”

He never saw her again.  Liesel Mosbach Lion, my father’s second cousin, was murdered at Auschwitz.

 

English: Aushwitz I crematoria memorial

English: Aushwitz I crematoria memorial (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I consider the entire family to be victims of the Holocaust: Rosalie, Willy, Helene, Julius, Liesel, Gretel, and Hilda as well as Leo and Bertha Lion.

 

Stolperstein for Julius Mosbach and family

 

Ernst Lion, however, survived.  The story of how he survived is remarkable.  It’s a tale of incredible courage, strength, persistence, and luck. It’s also a horrifying, nightmarish account of how cruel human beings can be to one another.  You should all read it.  I cannot do it justice in a blog post.  You must read it.  Again, you can find it here.  Please read it.

I am so grateful that Ernst, Liesel’s husband, survived and recorded his story and their story for us all to read.  We must never forget.