Santa Fe Love Song: A Family History Novel

I am delighted to announce that my newest novel, Santa Fe Love Song, has been published and is available in both paperback and e-book format on Amazon here. Like my first novel, Pacific Street, Santa Fe Love Song was inspired by the lives of real people—in this case, my great-great-grandparents Bernard Seligman and Frances Nusbaum—and informed by my family history research. But as with my first book, Santa Fe Love Song is first and foremost a work of fiction.

Bernard Seligman, my great-great-grandfather

Frances Nusbaum Seligman, my great-great-grandmother

It is a double love story—a story of Bernard’s passion for his newly adopted home in New Mexico and of his deep love for a young woman in Philadelphia. How will he resolve the conflict between those two loves? That is the heart of the novel.

But this is also an adventure story because the first part of the book tells of Bernard’s arrival from Gau-Algesheim, Germany, his adjustment to life in Philadelphia, and then his challenging and exciting trip on the Santa Fe Trail when he moves out west to work with his brother Sigmund. On that trip Bernard faces many different obstacles and learns to love the American landscape. He transforms from a German Jewish immigrant into an American pioneer and businessman.

Upper left, Bernard Seligman with other merchants and Indians on the Santa Fe Trail

As with Pacific Street, I wrote Santa Fe Love Song with my children and grandchildren in mind. This time I also decided to get my grandsons involved in the project. Nate, 10, and Remy, 6, became my illustrators. As I told them stories about Bernard and Frances, they created drawings that told those stories visually. I am ever so grateful to my two wonderful grandsons for their work, and I hope that someday their grandchildren will cherish these books and the illustrations and honor the memories of their ancestors Bernard and Frances.

I hope that you also will find Santa Fe Love Song a worthwhile and enjoyable read. If you do, please leave a review on Amazon. Thank you! I appreciate all your support.

Holiday Wishes

I will be taking a short break from blogging until early 2020. So let me wish all of my family, friends, and loyal readers a wonderful holiday season. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, or Christmas, or Kwanzaa, or all of them, or something else, or nothing at all, we all need ways to find light and hope in the darkest time of the year, a year that for many of us has been a dark year. I will not miss 2019. May 2020 bring light, love, and hope around the world and to all of you.

On that note, I will once again share one of my favorite quotations.




Break Time

For the next two weeks I will be busy with family—not the ones I research, but the ones who are still here, eating, breathing, and sleeping. Four generations together.

I will be back by August 1, but in the meantime, I will try and keep up with all the other blogs if I get the chance.  It’s hard to find a quiet moment with this crew around!

I hope all of you are having a wonderful summer.  Here are some photos of my favorite beach. No ancestors lived here, but since 1962, I have spent at least a few days each summer somewhere on this beach. I’ve walked many times along the beach, finding sea glass and shells and heart-shaped stones; I’ve sat on this beach many, many hours with my family—first, as a child, then as a mother, and now as a grandmother. I’ve spent hot days in the warm bay waters, tossed in the waves. I’ve watched storms come in across the horizon, turn the water a dark green, and bring the waves crashing against the sea wall. I’ve watched the tide go in and go out, twice a day, every day. I’ve walked two dogs up and down this beach.  I’ve held my husband’s hand on this beach, my children’s hands, my grandsons’ hands.  I may have more happy family memories from times spent here than I have of any other place on earth.

Through the years….(sadly, I seem to have no pictures on the beach itself before my kids were born).









See you in August!

Come see me!


Next Tuesday I will be giving a presentation at the Springfield JCC about my genealogy research and about my novel, Pacific Street. I will be talking about why I started researching my family’s history, providing some tips and suggestions for others who might want to do the same, describing two of the mysteries I solved through genealogy research, and talking about why I decided to write a novel about my grandparents’ lives.

If you live near Springfield, Massachusetts, I hope you will consider coming.  The presentation is free, and there will be refreshments provided. The program begins at 7 pm and will be over by 8 pm. Please join me if you can. I would love to see any and all of my blog readers and cousins!


Meeting New Cousins

There is one more sibling of my great-great-grandfather Gerson Katzenstein to research and write about—his half-brother Jakob.

But before I move on to the next step in the Katzenstein research, I have several other topics to discuss—updates and items of interest that have accumulated over the months but that were put on the back burner. So the next few posts will be about these varied topics including some interesting discoveries and meetings with cousins. Today I want to talk about two recent meetings with “new” cousins.

On August 4, my cousin Jan and her husband Richard made a trip to Provincetown to meet Harvey and me and spend the day together. We met them at the wharf where the ferry from Boston arrives, walked around Provincetown, and had a wonderful lunch overlooking Cape Cod Bay and Provincetown Harbor. We had a great time together—the conversation flowed naturally, and we all hit it off very easily.

Jan and me and a new friend in Provincetown

Jan is my second cousin, once removed. Her great-grandmother Toba/Tillie/Taube Brotman Hecht was the half-sister of my grandmother Gussie Brotman Goldschlager. I had “discovered” Jan after the amazing breakthrough I had finding my grandmother’s long missing half-sister Toba through the pure serendipity of a list of names in my aunt’s baby book from 1917.

Aunt Elaine’s baby book. Note the last name in the list on the left—Mrs. Taube Hecht; that is my grandmother’s half-sister Toba/Tillie/Taube Brotman Hecht and Jan’s great-grandmother.


While we were together, Jan completed a DNA testing kit, which I mailed the next day.  I am hoping that her DNA results will help me with my Brotman research since Jan is descended  from Joseph Brotman and his first wife and not from Bessie, my great-grandmother. Perhaps her results will help me identify which genes came from Joseph and not Bessie as I search for more answers to the many questions that remain about the Brotmans, for example, about the relationship between Joseph and Bessie.

Then on Tuesday, August 8, we had dinner with another “new” cousin, Mike and his wife Wendy. Mike is my fourth cousin through my Hamberg line. We are both the three-times great-grandchildren of Moses Hamberg of Breuna. Mike’s great-grandmother was Malchen Hamberg, who married Jacob Baer; Mike’s grandmother was Tilda Baer, who married Samuel Einstein/Stone, the co-founder with Maurice Baer (Tilda’s brother, Mike’s great-uncle) of Attleboro Manufacturing Company, the jewelry company now known as Swank.

Samuel Einstein/Stone, Sr., Samuel Stone, Jr. standing Sitting: Harriet, Stephanie (Mike’s mother), Tilda, and Babette (Betty) Stone Courtesy of the family


Mike and I found each other back in March, 2017, as a result of a comment left on my blog by a man named Dr. Rainer Schimpf. Dr. Schimpf wrote then:

I am so excited to read your blog! We are doing research on Samuel Einstein, born in Laupheim, Wuerttemberg. He was connected to Carl Laemmle, founder and president of Universal Pictures, who was also born in Laupheim. Could you please get in contact with me? Thank you so much!

Best, Rainer

I contacted Rainer immediately, excited by this connection to Hollywood since I’ve always been a movie fan and trivia nut. Rainer told me that he was curating an exhibit about Carl Laemmle for the Haus der Geschichte Baden-Wuerttemberg, which is the state museum in Stuttgart for the history of southwest Germany. Laemmle was born in Laupheim, Germany, and had immigrated to the United States in 1884. The story of his career in the United States is quite fascinating (though beyond the scope of my blog). You can read it about it here and here.

Carl Laemmle
From Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Rainer said that in the course of his research about Laemmle, he had found a newspaper article describing a party celebrating Laemmle’s fiftieth birthday in 1917; one of the guests mentioned in the article was Samuel Einstein from Attleboro, Massachusetts. (Einstein had not yet changed his surname to Stone.)

Motion Picture Weekly, January 1917

Rainer had been trying to learn more about Samuel Einstein and had learned quite a bit, including that Einstein was one of the founders of Attleboro Manufacturing, now known as Swank.  He also had learned that Samuel Einstein was “one of four Jewish boys of Laupheim, who made unique careers in the US. All four were meeting at the birthday party of Laemmle in 1917 (Leo Hirschfeld [inventor of the Tootsie Roll] and Isidor Landauer [of International Handkerchief Manufacturing] are the other two boys).” (email from Dr. Rainer Schimpf, March, 2017)

Rainer wanted to learn more about Einstein, his family, and his connection to Laupheim, Germany, and to Laemmle. I shared with Rainer what I knew, and then I searched for and contacted as many of the Baer/Stone family members as I could, and one of them, Faith, a great-granddaughter of Tilda and Samuel Stone, responded with great interest and then connected me to her cousin, Mike. Thanks to that one comment by Rainer on the blog, I now not only know more about Samuel Einstein/Stone, I also am connected to many more of my Hamberg cousins.

Together Rainer, Mike, and I were able to pull together a fuller picture of Samuel Einstein, his family of origin, and his life in Germany and in the United States.  Although I won’t go into complete detail here about the Einstein family, I will point out one interesting bit of information we learned that answered a question I’d had while researching the Baer family: how did Maurice Baer and Samuel Einstein end up as business partners?[1]

The Baers lived in Pittsburgh, and Samuel Einstein lived in Attleboro, Massachusetts. How could they have met each other? Even today, it would take almost ten hours to drive the more than 500 miles between the two cities. It would have taken days to get from one to the other back then.


Well, Rainer discovered that Samuel Einstein had three uncles who lived in Pittsburgh who had been in the US since the mid-19th century. Perhaps Samuel met Maurice Baer when he visited his relatives in Pittsburgh; maybe the Baers and Pittsburgh Einsteins were well-acquainted. If and when I have time, these are questions I’d like to pursue.

When Mike learned that I spend the summer on the Cape where he would be visiting this summer, we arranged to have dinner together. It was a lovely evening with Mike and Wendy with lots of stories and laughs and good food.  We felt an immediate connection to these warm and friendly people. Mike shared some old photographs and even showed me Maurice Baer’s walking stick. It was a lot of fun.

Harvey, me, Mike, and Wendy

It is always such a pleasure to meet new cousins—whether they are as distant as fourth or fifth cousins or as close as a second cousin.  It reinforces the idea that we are all connected in some ways to everyone else, and it inspires me to keep looking and researching and writing.

There are so many more cousins I’d like to meet in person—or as Jan said, IRL FTF. Some live nearby, and I hope to get to see them within the next several months. Others live much further away, making it harder to get together. But I’ve gone as far as Germany to meet a cousin, so eventually I hope I can meet many of those who live in the United States.


[1] Since Samuel is only related to me by his marriage to Tilda Baer, I had not previously researched his background too deeply. For the same reason, I won’t go into detail here on all that we discovered about his family.

Old Friends: Braided Forever

My mother has often spoken about how sad she was when her family decided to move from Brooklyn to the Bronx when she was about twelve years old.  There were many reasons she was upset.  For one, she had to leave her dog Sparky behind.  That broke her heart, and she still can’t talk about it without getting emotional.

Sparky 1934


But also she had to leave her best friend Beatty behind. Beatty lived in the same four-family house at 1010 Rutland Road in Brooklyn; she lived right down the hall from my mother.  They had been close friends all through childhood, and although they tried to stay in touch after my mother moved, back in the 1940s that was not at all easy.  Phone calls were expensive, and the trip from Brooklyn to Parkchester in the Bronx was a long one, especially for two young girls.  So over time, they lost touch.

Beatty and my mother c. 1940

Beatty and my mother c. 1940

Not too long ago my mother asked me if I could find Beatty.  She knew her first and last name from when she’d last seen her over 70 years earlier, but she had no idea where she was living or whom she might have married.  I tried to find her, but with so little information I had no luck.  If Beatty had married, it was after the last year of the publicly available NYC marriage index (1937).  The only information I could find related to her siblings, who had passed away.

So you can imagine how excited I was to receive a message on the blog last week from Beatty herself.  She was looking for my mother after seeing her pictures and childhood name on the blog.  I contacted Beatty, and I called my mother.  And I gave them each other’s contact information, and now they are reconnected after over 70 years.  I get the chills (and a warm feeling) whenever I think about it.

One of the stories my mother shared with me was about Passover at Beatty’s house.  Her father led the seder in a very serious way, and as many of us know, a traditional seder can get quite long and quite boring, especially for young children.  To keep themselves from misbehaving and talking, my mother and Beatty would braid the fringes on the beautiful tablecloth that adorned the seder table.  When my mother shared this memory with Beatty, she said that she also had shared that story with her children.

The tablecloth still exists, and even more remarkable, the braids made by my mother and her best friend Beatty are still there as well.  Here is the photograph to prove it.

Beatty's tablecloth

Beatty’s tablecloth

tablecloth with braids 2

My mother was once my Girl Scout troop leader, and one of the songs we sang had the lyrics, “Make new friends, but keep the old.  One is silver, and the other gold.”  My mother and Beatty certainly know the truth of that message.

Introducing Chloe and Zoe—New Leaves on the Pet Family Tree

Chloe and Zoe 8 21 2015

As many of you know, we lost two pets in the last twelve months.  First, we unexpectedly lost our sweet cat Luna, who died without warning last September.  Then in June we had to put down our fifteen year old dog Cassie.   I knew we would eventually get a new cat, but I really wasn’t ready until after we lost Cassie as well.  So for my birthday, all I really wanted was a kitten.  Um, I mean kittens.

We were very lucky to find an amazing animal shelter in Provincetown called CASAS.  It’s a no-kill shelter where the cats have free run of a house, no cages.  It’s run by volunteers and supported by donations.  It’s the only shelter I’ve been to where I did not leave in tears, worrying about all the cats and dogs left behind.

We first saw our new kittens the first week in August and decided we would adopt one.  Then a few days later, we decided we should get two.  We had to wait until today for them to be ready to go home.  These poor kittens were orphaned at four weeks old when their mother was killed by a car and were bottle-fed by the shelter volunteers.  They are as sweet as they are pretty.

So without further ado…

Here is Chloe.

Chloe in focus 8 21 2015

Here is Zoe.

Zoe 8 21 2015

Here they are on my lap.

zoe chin up

And here’s big brother Smokey checking them out  while they slept.

smokey checking them out

And here are a few more  as they check out their new surroundings.

After they both tried to eat the crystal-type kitty litter, we had to use newspaper until we could get some traditional litter.

After they both tried to eat the crystal-type kitty litter, we had to use newspaper until we could get some traditional litter.

Chloe says not bad testing the quality of the accommodations

We are so excited to have our new babies join our family!


The Case of the Disappearing Twin: Edith and Lucie Cain

In my last post, I wrote about the family of Marx and Sarah Seligman.  One of their daughters, Charlotte, had married Max Schlesinger, who worked in the tie industry, and they had had four children, including a daughter Harriet, born 1875.  Harriet had married George Cain in 1897, and on the 1900 census, George and Harriet had one daughter, Edith, born in May, 1900, just a month before the census was taken in June.  George’s sister Lucie was also living with them.

Cain family 1900 census

Cain family 1900 census Year: 1900; Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; Roll: 1119; Page: 16A; Enumeration District: 0852; FHL microfilm: 1241119

When I found Harriet and George on the 1910 census, I was bewildered.  There were now two daughters, Lucy [sic], aged nine, and Ethel, age eight.

Cain Family 1910 US census Year: 1910; Census Place: Manhattan Ward 12, New York, New York; Roll: T624_1022; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 0533; FHL microfilm: 1375035

Cain Family 1910 US census
Year: 1910; Census Place: Manhattan Ward 12, New York, New York; Roll: T624_1022; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 0533; FHL microfilm: 1375035


What had happened to Edith?  At first I thought the census taker had just listed Edith by the wrong name.  But then the ages didn’t make sense. Then I thought Lucie was born in 1901, a year after Edith, and then Ethel in 1902. But where was Edith?  Had Edith died? Plus on the 1900 census Harriet reported that she had had one child and one alive, and on the 1910 census she reported that she’d had two children, and two were alive.

I searched on both Ancestry and on FamilySearch, and I didn’t find any death certificates for a child named Edith Cain between 1900 and 1910.  But I did turn up something strange.  FamilySearch had two New York City birth records for daughters born to Harriet Schlesinger and George Cain on the same day, May 28, 1900, one named Edith, one named Lucie.

Edith Cain on FS birth

Lucie Cain birth FS

So where was Lucie in 1900? Maybe she had been sick and in a hospital when the census was taken? But then where was Edith in 1910? Had there been twins? Had Edith died? What really puzzled me was that both records had the same certificate number.  Usually if there were twins, there would be two separate certificates each with its own unique number.

But all FamilySearch had were these summaries of the certificates, not images of the actual certificates.  I turned to the New York City Genealogy group on Facebook for some insights.  People there were just as mystified, but one group member, Jim Murray, offered to help.  He was going to the NYC archives two days later and offered to look up and transcribe the two certificates.

What Jim found was that the two certificates were the same as described on FamilySearch, and in addition they had different home addresses for the family.  The one for Edith had 166 W. 122nd St. as the father’s address; the one for Lucie had 202 W. 123rd St. as the father’s address.  I went back to the 1900 census and found that the family was living at 166 W. 122nd Street on June 9, 1900, when the census was taken, just twelve days after the baby or babies were born.

I asked Jim if he had noticed the dates that each certificate was filed, and he said he would go back and check.  In the meantime, I had a brainstorm.  What had happened to Lucie, George’s sister, between 1900 and 1910? Had she married?  She was no longer living with George and Harriet.  A few more clicks on Ancestry, and I found out why.  Lucie had died on June 26, 1900, just a few weeks after the 1900 census and less than a month after Harriet and George’s baby or babies were born.  Had Harriet and George changed their baby’s name in memory of her aunt Lucie?

I waited for Jim’s answer and also waited to receive electronic copies of the actual birth certificates for Edith and Lucie and of the death certificate for George’s sister Lucie.  What I then learned seemed to confirm my theory—that the baby was named Edith at first, but then renamed Lucie after George’s sister died. The first certificate for Edith was filed by the doctor on June 9, 1900; the second certificate with the name Lucie was filed by her mother Harriet on July 6, 1900. I also noticed that the second certificate had both the old address and new address on it with the old address as the place of birth.  I was convinced that the baby born Edith was renamed Lucie after her aunt died.

Somehow the city allowed Harriet to file the second certificate without rescinding the first one so two birth certificates are still on file 115 years later for one baby, born Edith, but then renamed Lucie.

Cain, Edith Pearl

Cain, Lucie F. Birth

Her aunt Lucie, for whom she’d been renamed, had died at age 38 of chronic nephritis. (Notice that the doctor who signed the death certificate is the same one who filled out the first birth certificate for Edith-Lucie.)

Death certificate for Lucie Cain, George Cain's sister

Death certificate for Lucie Cain, George Cain’s sister

It must have been a time of such emotional turmoil for George and his family—the joy (and strain) of having a newborn baby mixed with the heartbreak of losing his sister at such a young age.  Perhaps the bureaucrat at City Hall had acted out of sympathy, not carelessness, in allowing this second certificate to be filed. And by allowing the first to stay on file, the story of how George honored his sister was there to be discovered 115 years later.





Cassie  July 2000-June 2015




We said goodbye to our wonderful dog Cassie this week.  It was a terribly hard and upsetting decision, but she was failing, and her quality of life had deteriorated to the point where we knew we had to make the right decision for her.  We are at peace. She lived a good and  long life for a dog.  But we are also incredibly sad.

Cassie was a pound puppy.  We got her at the Thomas J. O’Connor animal shelter in Springfield, Massachusetts, in the summer of 2001.  The police had picked her up after finding her tied to a tree in a trailer park in Chicopee, and no one would claim her as theirs.  She had been in the pound for only a few days when I saw her on and suggested we go take a look.

She was skinny, dirty, and overly excited.  Harvey and Maddy were skeptical, but I was in love, and I knew right away that she was sweet and gentle and loving.  And I was right.  Cassie never once growled at a person or a cat, and she only growled at dogs if they invaded her space, which wasn’t very often.  She never, ever hurt anyone.  She loved everyone.  When we told family and close friends that she was gone this week, everyone described her as loving and sweet and gentle.

August 2001

August 2001

Our vet estimated that she was about a year old when we adopted her at the end of July, 2001, so we assigned her a birth date of July 31, 2000.  She took almost no time to adapt to living with us.  She was clean and playful and smart.  She could run like the most graceful of animals.  The first time we took her to the beach, she ran all the way up a high dune.  We raced after her, fearful we’d never see her again, but there she was waiting for us at the top.  It took a long time before she was ever let off the leash again.

Cassie was with us during that dreadful fall of 2001 in the aftermath of 9/11.  She was such a positive distraction.  When my family, all shaken still by the events of that September, gathered for Thanksgiving, it was Cassie who made us laugh.  She was still new and puppy-like, and she’d run from one member of the family to another, excited and happy.

My dog and me November 2001

My dog and me November 2001

November 2001

November 2001

Once she settled in, she became calm and unflappable.  No matter where we took her—to the Cape, to a new house, to a temporary apartment before our new house was ready, to our cottage—she adapted almost instantly.  We even once dragged her all the way to Geneva, New York, so she could visit Maddy at college.  She was great in the car, great with children, and great with us.  I often felt badly that she was growing up in a home with no small children since she would get so excited any time she saw a young child.  And children loved her.  She would kiss them, and they would hug her.

So gentle with Nate as a five month old

So gentle with Nate when he was a five month old


And with Nate when he was three

About the only thing she didn’t like were elevators.  Can’t say that I blame her.  She liked going to the groomer, she liked going to the vet.  She liked strangers, she liked anyone.  She didn’t bark at people at the door or those who entered our home. She never jumped on people or pushed them around, despite the collie herding instinct.  She was definitely not a watchdog.  She was a love dog.

Cassie and Maddy


And our cats Smokey and Luna adored her.  From when they were little kittens, they would curl up on her, and to the very end of her long life, Smokey still treated her like his mother, kneading his (clawless) front paws into her belly and nuzzling his nose into her fur.  The only thing that seemed to light up Cassie’s eyes as she declined was Smokey.  She would even chase after him a bit to play.


Look how gently she handled Smokey as a kitten






Cassie and Smokey


Cassie was an incredible companion—on long walks in the neighborhood or the woods or the beach (even though she didn’t love the beach much) and just being with us in our home.  She was always right there with us wherever we went.  I can’t tell you how much we will miss her and how much we agonized over her decline and our final decision to give her peace.  But she had been there for us, and we had to be there for her.

So we are at peace.  She is no longer distressed and confused, and we can look back with deep love and gratitude for the fourteen years we had her with us.  Goodbye, Cassie.  You will always be our dog, and we will always keep you in our hearts.


Prague and Terezin

If our first day or so in Prague felt like a bit of a fairy tale, our second day had nothing magical about, just a lot of ghosts wherever we turned.  We had a new guide that day, Helena from Wittman Tours, a company that specializes in Jewish heritage tours of Prague and the surrounding area, including the concentration camp in Terezin.  We had heard good things about the company from friends at home, so chose to use one of their guides for our second full day in Prague.  Helena was another excellent guide, and she was able to provide us with another person’s perspective on Prague.

Helena, like Andrea, was a Czech native and had lived in Prague for many years.  When she told us that she was Jewish, I asked her about her family’s experience during the Holocaust.  Helena said that although her parents had never discussed the matter in any detail with her, she knew that somehow they had been able to obtain falsified papers giving them a Christian identity.  Like so many survivors, her parents preferred not to discuss those years, and thus Helena knew only those bare facts.

According to Helena, Prague had a Jewish community very early in its history, though many settlers came and left, depending on the economic and political situation.  There was a Jewish community as early as the tenth century, living near the Castle and the marketplace there.  Although that community was wiped out during the Crusades in the 12th century, there was then a new community growing on the other side of the river near what is now called Old Town, where in the 13th century the oldest still-existing synagogue was built, referred to as the Old-New Synagogue.  That synagogue is still providing religious services to this day.  It is claimed to be the oldest surviving synagogue in Europe.

Entrance to prayer hall in Old New Synagogue

Entrance to prayer hall in Old New Synagogue

It was humbling to be in this synagogue, thinking of its long history.  Although it lacked the awesome size and height of the St. Vitus Cathedral and of some of the other synagogues we saw in the Jewish Quarter of Prague, it was moving to think about Jewish men (women prayed behind a thick stone wall with only a small hole to see into the main sanctuary) almost 800 years ago praying in this space.  Jews then lived in a ghetto, separated from the rest of the city by walls, and they faced anti-Semitism and periods of expulsion and then return, but were generally successful merchants and bankers and important contributors to the economy of the city.

At services women sit behind the wall where the opening is shown here

At services women sit behind the wall where the opening is shown here (not where this woman is seated)


The second oldest of the synagogues we saw in Prague was the Pinkas Synagogue, built in the early part of the 16th century.  Today it operates as a museum to educate people about the Jewish religion, its holidays and rituals, and does not operate as a place of religious services.

Pinkas Synagogue, Prague

Pinkas Synagogue, Prague

Immediately outside the synagogue is the oldest Jewish cemetery in Prague, so crowded with the remains of about 200,000 Jewish residents that the headstones are tumbled together and, according to Helena, are buried as many as twelve deep, one on top of the other.

IMG_2549 buried 12 deep IMG_2550 cemetery


There is also a building for the chevra kadisha (burial society) on the cemetery grounds, including a balcony where the Cohanim stood since they were not allowed to enter the cemetery.  (According to Jewish law, the Cohanim, the priestly tribe descended from Aaron, are not to defile themselves by touching or going close to a dead body.)

chevra kadisha building

chevra kadisha building

IMG_2558 cohen symbol

Cohanim symbol

Cohanim balcony

Cohanim balcony

These ancient stones and their placement and inscriptions are evidence of what once was a crowded Jewish neighborhood within the ghetto walls, a community that was observant of Jewish laws and forced to live separately from their Christian neighbors.

In the 1500s Prague had one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe. Other synagogues were built, including a synagogue built by one of the wealthiest residents of Prague, Mordecai Maisel, as his own private synagogue.  According to Helena, Maisel was friendly with the reigning king, Rudolf II, and was an important merchant and property owner in Prague.  Maisel was also very friendly with Rabbi Judah Loew, a leading rabbi as well as a writer, best known for his rendition of the Golem legend.  Both Maisel and Rabbi Loew are buried in the Old Cemetery, their graves marked by large tent-like structures instead of plain headstones.  We were not able to get inside the Maisel synagogue as it is closed for renovations, but we were able to take some photographs of the exterior.

Maisel Synagogue, Prague

Maisel Synagogue, Prague

IMG_2544 Maisel synagogue 2

Maisel's tombstone

Maisel’s tombstone

IMG_2555 Rabbi Loew tombstone

Rabbi Loew’s tombstone

The newest synagogue we saw in the Jewish Quarter was the magnificent Spanish Synagogue.  Despite its name, the synagogue had nothing to do with Spain nor were its congregants Sephardic.  Rather the name refers to the Moorish designs that decorate both the exterior and the interior of the synagogue.  This synagogue was built in the second half of the 19th century and still offers services on Friday nights, attracting many tourists.

Spanish Synagogue, Prague

Spanish Synagogue, Prague

IMG_2535 interior of Spanish synagogue IMG_2536 organ in Spanish synagogue IMG_2537 Spanish synagogue interior IMG_2538 Spanish synagogue from above IMG_2539 women's section Spanish synagogue

Seeing this synagogue made me realize just how prosperous the Jewish community must have been in the 19th century.  The lavish and ornate wall coverings are indicative of the resources available to the Jewish residents.  In fact, Jews were granted equal rights around this time, and the ghetto walls came down, allowing Jews to move out of the Jewish Quarter.

Many moved to the New Town area, where yet another impressive synagogue was built in the early 20th century, the Jerusalem Synagogue.  We later visited this synagogue on our own, and although we did not get inside, we were once again dazzled by the colorful and elaborately designed exterior, which also reflects Moorish influence.

Jerusalem Synagogue, Prague

Jerusalem Synagogue, Prague

IMG_2622 Jerusalem Synagogue Prague

Helena told us that once the Jews were allowed to move out of the ghetto, most left if they could afford to do so, leaving behind only those too poor to move.  Poor Christians then moved into the area where the ghetto had existed, and because of the poverty, conditions deteriorated, leading to severe sanitary and health problems.  Eventually the city tore down the old buildings in an early form of urban renewal, replacing the older homes with the fancy Art Nouveau buildings that line the streets today.  The streets were widened, and the whole character of the former ghetto disappeared.  For the most part, only the synagogues survived.

Newer buildings in what was once the ghetto

Newer buildings in what was once the ghetto

IMG_2568 Prague street 5 22

Wider streets in what was once the ghetto


Then the Nazis arrived in the late 1930s and 1940s, and what had been a large and thriving Jewish community of over 90,000 people, amounting to about 20% of the city’s overall population, was destroyed.  The synagogue buildings survived only because the Nazis found them useful for storing their supplies and horses.  Most of the Jews who had lived in Prague were killed.  Today there are fewer than 2000 Jews living in Prague.

Seeing the Jewish Quarter and learning about its history helped place into context what we saw in the afternoon when we went to Terezin.  As we drove to Terezin, Helena told us about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the SS officer who is considered to have been one of the principal planners of the Final Solution, the Nazi plan for exterminating the world’s Jewish population. He also was appointed as the SS officer responsible for overseeing the occupation of Czechoslovakia during the war and the creation of the Terezin concentration camp.  In May, 1942, two Czech resistance members attacked Heydrich’s car and assassinated him.  As revenge, the Nazis selected the town of Lidice, claiming it was the home of the assassins, and completed erased it from the face of the earth, killing all the men, deporting all the women and children, and razing all the buildings.  As Helena said, when people learned what had happened, they thought it could not get any worse.  But as we now know, it got much worse.

I am not sure how to write about Terezin.  I wanted to go there to pay my respects to the numerous Seligmann cousins who had died there as well as all the other thousands who had died there.  But part of the time I felt very uncomfortable, like I was visiting a museum, not a place where people were tortured, starved, and killed.  I took a few photographs at first and then stopped because I felt it to be disrespectful and trivializing to take pictures as if I were visiting an ordinary tourist attraction.

The last photo I took was one of a cell in the Small Fortress, the part of Terezin where dissidents and “criminals” were sent to be punished as opposed to the Large Fortress where the Jews were sent to await their deaths.  Of course, many Jews were also classified as  dissidents and “criminals” and ended up at the Small Fortress, and the room I photographed was one where such Jewish prisoners were sent, getting no meat and just water and a piece of bread twice a day and sleeping like animals on platforms squeezed into a tiny space where they were crowded on top of each other.  The solitary confinement cells, the yard where guards shot Jews for target practice, the sinks where no water ran but were there merely to fool the International Red Cross.  My brain had a hard time absorbing that these were real places where these horrendous things actually happened.

Jewish prisoners' cell, Terezin

Jewish prisoners’ cell, Terezin


My initial impression of the so-called Large Fortress or ghetto was that, by contrast to the Small Fortress, it was not that bad.  This was the camp that Hitler used as a “model camp” to convince the International Red Cross that Jews were being well-treated.   Children put on performances and created drawings and played soccer, all to impress the visitors.  Food was served for the visit that was never served again.  Children were required to lie to the visitors to create the impression that they were happy.

Some of the children’s drawings are on display at Terezin, and they are just heart-breaking.  The childlike depictions of their happy lives before the war and of their impressions of what was happening around them are so powerful.  I can’t possibly convey in words what these drawings convey.

Although Terezin was not a death camp, many thousands of people died at Terezin either from malnutrition, disease, or murder. When we saw the barracks where people lived and the living conditions they endured, my initial impressions were corrected, and I realized how horrible life must have been for those forced to live there while awaiting death, either at Terezin or later when shipped to Auschwitz.

As I noted above, according to records at Yad Vashem several of my Seligmann cousins died at Terezin, including Moritz Seligmann, Laura Seligmann Winter, Bettina Seligmann Arnfeld, Anna Seligmann Goldmann and her husband Hugo and their three children Ruth, Heinz, and Gretel, and Eugen Seligmann.  Helena was able to catch a researcher at Terezin right before he was leaving for the day, and in a few minutes he was able to provide me with information about one of these relatives, Eugen Seligmann.  He gave me these documents.

Record for Eugen Seligmann at Terezin

Record for Eugen Seligmann at Terezin


Death certificate for Eugen Seligmann at Terezin

Death certificate for Eugen Seligmann at Terezin

From these documents we were able to learn the day Eugen died and from that we were able to identify where in the burial grounds at Terezin Eugen had been buried.  You see, the bodies were buried in mass graves that were identifiable only by date.  Eugen died on September 16, 1942, and thus the archivist at Terezin could determine that he had been buried in a mass grave located at marker 59.

Helena led us to the cemetery where the markers are posted, and after some searching (many markers had numbers missing for reasons that were not clear) we found marker 59.  I placed a stone on the marker and stood in silence, thinking about this cousin I’d never known and what his life and his death at Terezin must have been like.

cemetery at Terezin

cemetery at Terezin

Marker 59

Marker 59

location of mass grave where Eugen Seligmann is buried

location of mass grave where Eugen Seligmann is buried

According to the death certificate, Eugen died from marasmus, or severe malnutrition.  In other words, this 87 year old man starved to death.  It is just horrifying to look at this document and translate the German words; the document records his birth date, his home town, his date, day, and time of death, his parents’ names and whether he was married and had children (none recorded here), the name of the attending physician, and other information—the level of detail is in direct conflict with the dehumanization the Nazis inflicted on these people.  Why create a record that creates an impression that someone cared who this man was and then toss his body into a mass grave?

Eugen, the son of Carolina and Siegfried Seligmann and a nephew of my great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman, was a member of a successful Jewish German family. He was in his late 80s when he was taken to Terezin.  How can anyone possibly grasp what it must have been like for him to have been torn from his home and transported to this camp in Czechoslovakia, deprived of all his rights and property, forced to live in squalor and without any privacy or essentials? How can we grasp what it must have been like for this elderly man to starve to death in such a place? How can anyone understand how human beings can do this to other human beings?

I never knew Eugen or any of the other cousins who died at Terezin.  In fact, a year ago I didn’t know I had any cousins who died in the Holocaust.  Although going to Terezin was a very painful and nightmarish experience, I am glad that I was able to honor their memories by visiting the place where they are buried, the place where they were killed for no reason at all.  Even now I cannot really fathom what happened there.  It just is incomprehensible.