Just over a year ago, I wrote a post about the family of Moritz Blumenfeld, my second cousin, three times removed, and concluded at the end that none of his five children had had any children and that therefore there were no descendants. But I concluded that post by saying, “there is always the possibility that I just haven’t found those descendants yet.”
Well, a year later I heard from one of those descendants. A woman named Ellen Mandelberg contacted me and told me that she was the granddaughter of Moritz’s Blumenfeld’s daughter Flora Blumenfeld Vorchheimer. You can imagine my delight. Moritz did have descendants. And Ellen shared with me several stories about Flora. I’ve invited her to tell those stories in her own voice as well as to share some of her photos. So today’s post is by my newly found fifth cousin Ellen.
Through the Google galaxy, and a spur-of-the-moment decision to see if there was anything out there written about my paternal grandmother, Flora Blumenfeld Vorchheimer, I found Amy’s blog earlier this year. I saw that she did not know that Flora had descendants and contacted her to share the good news. I am one of those descendants.
Flora Blumenfeld did have family; by marrying recent immigrant Felix Viktor Vorchheimer in late 1940 and raising his motherless son Umberto (who became Bert in Vineland, NJ, in the 40s), Flora became a wife, mother, constant helpmate on a chicken farm in Vineland, NJ, and, later, a deeply kind and loving grandmother to two little girls, my sister and me.
Here is a photograph of young Bert with his father Felix and maternal grandmother before Felix and Bert left for America in 1940; it was the last time he saw her. Flora’s father, Moritz, had suffered early maternal loss, as had Flora, and this must have made her especially sensitive as she raised young Bert.
Flora became a loving Oma in 1958 and 1960, when Bert and his wife had two daughters, my sister and me.
Flora cooked wonderful German-Jewish dishes, kept a candy dish of dark chocolates on the table for all guests, and was observant in a quiet and accepting way. Each time her family came to visit, before they left, she would bless us girls, placing her hands on our heads, whispering quietly in Hebrew a prayer that she never shared in English with us. At 4’10”, she would place her hands on our heads and murmur the blessing, making us feel protected and loved.
After Felix died, at age 69, in 1965, Flora lived with her older sister Gerda in an apartment in Washington Heights until her death in 1974 at age 75. Flora continued to be the epitome of chesed, or lovingkindness. Her memory is always a blessing.
Years later, in 1996, a surprising encounter brought connections to my extended Blumenfeld family and much joy into my life. That year, my husband and I, after living in West Hartford, CT, for 14 years, and having belonged to a chavurah, decided we needed to join a synagogue that would provide a Hebrew school for our kids, who were 11 and 7 at that time. We decided to join Congregation Tikvoh Chadoshoh in Bloomfield, CT, which had been founded by German-Jewish refugees.
On Simchat Torah, with the music and everyone swirling about in small circles, I asked an “older” woman to dance; pulling people into the circle is something I’ve always done. The woman hesitated and asked me if I was Israeli.
Something possessed me to blurt out, “No, I’m not Israeli; I’m half-German, and my maiden name is Vorchheimer.”
The woman blurted out, “Vorchheimer, I know that name….I made the shidduch!”
I asked her, “Really? Tell me!”
So she continued, “Well, there was a widower with a little boy who had just come to America, and I matched up my cousin with him! I was at the wedding! In 1940!”
It felt like time stood still, and I said, “Was your cousin’s name Flora Blumenfeld?”
She said, “Well, yes, how do you know?!”
I pointed to my son, then 7, born on 2/4, my father’s birthday, and said, “Look, my son is the same exact age my father was when you last saw him in 1940! And that widower was my Opa Felix. Your cousin was my beloved Oma Flora, whom my daughter is named after!”
That woman, Grete Simon Spanier, was my grandmother Flora’s second cousin, as I later learned from Amy. They were both great-granddaughters of Isaak Blumenfeld and Gelle Strauss.
It was a remarkable and life-affirming moment. What are the odds? What if I’d just pulled Grete into the circle, and said, no, I’m not Israeli!?
Grete had been lost to my family for 56 years until that moment. Grete told me how Julius Vorchheimer, my grandfather’s brother, part of the Washington Heights community, had asked her if she had a relative who might be a suitable match for his recently-arrived brother Felix, and she’d thought of her cousin Flora.
Grete married Erwin Spanier shortly after attending my grandfather’s wedding to Flora and moved to West Hartford. She lost touch with Flora; Flora was very busy working on a chicken farm and raising a little boy who had been through much loss, and she was married to a man who had also seen too much loss, in both his native Germany and the place he moved to after he fought in WWI for the Germans, Milan, Italy, before emigrating to America in 1940.
The only part of this story I knew all my life was that my grandfather Felix had gotten his older brother Julius out of Dachau in 1934/35, going to the Nazis with some line (and probably money) about “How dare you imprison the brother of an Italian citizen?”
Felix freed his brother in 1934/5; Julius returned the favor by being a matchmaker in 1940. It was that chance Simchat Torah dance that brought Grete back to my family.
It felt like a curtain was pulled back on mystery, allowing me to see the invisible hand of fate in life.
Getting to know Grete and her daughters was an unexpected and wonderful gift. Grete’s memory is always a blessing.
I am so grateful to Ellen for finding me and sharing her story and photographs on my blog. The magic of family connections continues to inspire me to keep searching for all my long lost relatives.