The Magic of Finding Family Connections: Guest Post by My Cousin Ellen Mandelberg

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.

Flora Blumenfeld Vorchhiemer Courtesy of the family

Felix Vorchheimer Courtesy of the family

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. 

Umberto V. on left (age 7); Karolina Schild Kahn, Umberto’s maternal grandmother in middle; Felix V. on right.
Courtesy of the family

Flora became a loving Oma in 1958 and 1960, when Bert and his wife had two daughters, my sister and me.

Flora, Ellen, and Felix Vorchheimer c. 1958
Courtesy of the family

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.

Flora blessing Ellen c 1970
Courtesy of the family

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.

Flora and Felix Vorchheimer in Vineland, New Jersey
Courtesy of the family

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.



Hilde Blumenfeld Meinrath: A Strong and Determined Woman

Once again, a new cousin found my blog and helped me find information that I could not find through traditional research, this time because the family had ended up in Brazil. Not speaking Portuguese and thus not having easy access to any Brazilian sources, I had hit a brick wall when it came to the family of my cousin, Hilde Blumenfeld Meinrath, whom I wrote about here back on May 31, 2022.

On January 30, 2023, I heard from Ana Gabriela Meinrath, my fifth cousin, once removed, who left the a comment on my blog, telling me that she is the granddaughter of Hilde Blumenfeld Meinrath. Here is a chart showing my father’s connection to Hilde:

Hilde was the youngest of the three daughters of Salomon Blumenfeld and Malchen Levi: Gretel (born 1906), Jenny (born 1907), and Hilde (born 1911). Gabriela shared this wonderful photograph of the three sisters:

Jenny, Hilde, and Gretel Blumenfeld c. 1917 Courtesy of the family

Gabriela shared some family stories and many photographs and connected me to her uncle Roberto Meinrath, who added more information and stories about Hilde and her family. Roberto then connected me to Michael Katz, grandson of Gretel Blumenfeld Katz. Michael shared this photograph of Salomon and Malchen with all three of their daughters:

Salomon Blumenfeld and family Courtesy of the family

First, a summary of what I knew before Gabriela found me: I knew from my research that Salomon and Malchen and all three of their daughters survived the Holocaust by leaving Germany in time. Hilde, in fact, had left Germany as a seventeen year old in 1929, years before Hitler came to power. Later, she married Ludwig Meinrath, and eventually they immigrated to Brazil. Her parents followed her there, but later immigrated to the US where their second daughter Gretel and her family were living. The third daughter Jenny ended up in Israel.

But I had many questions left unanswered when I published that post on May 31, 2022, including why Hilde had left Germany in 1929 when she was only seventeen, how Hilde had met Ludwig and when they had married, why they had gone to Brazil, and whether Hilde and Ludwig had had more than one child. I also had questions about Hilde’s sister Jenny: had she married Siegmund Warburg, as many trees reported, and did she have children? And I knew few details about Gretel and her family.

Hilde had been interviewed by the Shoah Foundation, but unfortunately it was in Portuguese, and I couldn’t find anyone to translate it.

Most of my unanswered questions have now been answered, and I’ve learned a great deal more about the family from my cousins Roberto, Gabriela, Michael, and Simeon Spier. In addition, I’ve once again been working with my cousin Richard Bloomfield, and he was able to find someone to translate Hilde’s Shoah Foundation interview.

First, let me share the new information I have about Salomon Blumenfeld and his wife Malchen or Amalie Levi and their youngest daughter Hilde Blumenfeld Meinrath.

I learned from Hilde’s Shoah Foundation interview1 (as translated by Manuel Steccanella from Portuguese to German and then translated by Richard Bloomfield from German into English) that her father Salomon had served in the German military and fought for Germany during World War I, serving in France and Belgium, and leaving behind his wife and three young daughters. According to Hilde, when her father returned to Kirchhain from the war, he brought a hundred prisoners with him. Salomon owned a large hotel in Kirchhain, and the prisoners lived in the hotel and worked in Kirchhain. Hilde said that on Sundays, the prisoners butchered small animals and once made her a doublet from the fur to wear in the cold weather. They also shared with her the cookies and other baked goods they received from their families back in France and Belgium.

Gabriela shared this photograph of her great-grandfather’s hotel in Kirchhain:

Salomon Blumenfeld’s hotel in Kirchhain, Germany Courtesy of the family

Hilde reported that although her father was liberal in his Jewish observances, her mother was more orthodox. They would all go to synagogue on shabbat and on holidays, however. On Sundays, the children had religious instruction. But during the week they went to a non-religious school attended by Jews and non-Jews. Hilde would play with the non-Jewish children next door, and she recalled that their family was the only Jewish family on their street.2

After ten years at the local school in Kirchhain, Hilde went to study at the Elisabethschule in Marburg an der Lahn to study to become a librarian. She then worked at the Jewish library in Kassel for a year. At that time (1929), Hilde’s maternal uncle suggested that she come with him to the US to continue her studies.3 Hilde’s son Roberto had an additional insight into Hilde’s reason for going to the US. 4 he wrote that she left home at seventeen because she had socialist political opinions that created conflicts with her religious parents.  Her parents permitted her to go for a year.

Hilde lived with her uncle and his wife in New York for a year, learning English and secretarial skills. But when that year was up, Hilde did not return to Germany. By then she had saved enough money from working while going to school to get her own rented room, and she then got a job doing German-English translation for Siemens-Schuckert in their patent department. (According to Britannica, at that time Siemens was making medical diagnostic and therapeutic equipment, especially X-ray machines and electron microscopes.) She worked there for three years. At night she continued her studies.5

Hilde had serious intentions of staying in the US, as seen in her Declaration of Intention to become a US citizen, filed in 1931.

Hilde Blumenfeld Declaration of Intention. Courtesy of the family

But her life changed when she went back to Germany in 1932 to visit her family; she at first intended to stay for only six months and then return to New York, but then she met her future husband, Ludwig Meinrath, at a Purim ball and decided to stay in Germany longer.6 Here is a photograph of Hilde with Ludwig:

Hilde Blumenfeld and Ludwig Meinrath Courtesy of Richard Bloomfield

Hilde Blumenfeld and Ludwig Meinrath Courtesy of the family

Hilde began working for an American author named William March; Roberto told me that she was helping him with his manuscript for his book Company K. According to the description on, Company K is the “greatest First World War novel to come out of America[.] Company K is the unforgettable account of one US Marine company, from initial training, through to the trenches in France and post-war rehabilitation. Written in 1933 by a decorated Marine hero, this is an unflinching, visceral depiction of the brutal reality of war.”

William March was apparently quite fond of Hilde. Richard Bloomfield found this quote from a letter written by William March to John B. Waterman on February 18, 1933, as quoted in an article about March from the Fall 1977 issue of The Mississippi Quarterly written by R. S. Simmons (warning—it is quite sexist, but typical of its times): 7

[March] had this to say about the German secretary he had engaged: “As a matter of interest for the company’s records, Miss Blumenfeld is quite in the tradition of the Waterman Line not only for beauty but for intelligence.” He added whimsically: “Of course, the latter was merely a happy accident.”

It appeared that Hilde was not planning to leave Germany now that she was married and happily employed. But, of course, everything changed when Hitler came to power. More on that in the post to follow.


  1. The references in this post to the interview of Hilde Meinrath and the information contained therein are from her interview with the Shoah Foundation, March 18, 1998, which is in the archive of the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education. For more information: 
  2. Ibid. 
  3. Ibid. 
  4. All the information in this post attributed to Roberto Meinrath as well as the quotations were shared through emails sent between February 11 and February 16, 2023. 
  5. See Note 1, supra
  6. See Note 1, supra
  7. R.S. Simmons, “William March’s ‘Personal Letter:’ Fact into Fiction,” The Mississippi Quarterly (Fall 1977), p. 625, 629, found at 

Rudolph Meyer: “A Great Man”

Back in late December, a new reader, Candice, left a comment on my blog saying that her grandparents were Rudolph Meyer and Ruth Cohn and that we were related. I love when a new cousin finds my blog and seeks to connect with me.

Candice and I are fifth cousins, once removed, through my Blumenfeld branch. Her grandfather Rudolph was the son of Rebecca Strauss, the grandson of Dusschen Blumenfeld Strauss, the great-grandson of Isaak Blumenfeld I, the great-great-grandson of Moses Blumenfeld I, and the great-great-great-grandson of Abraham Blumenfeld I, my four times great-grandfather. This chart shows Rudolph’s relationship to my father; they were fourth cousins, so Rudolph was my fourth cousin, once removed:

I wrote about Rudolph and his family here, but Candice and her father Albert were able to give me a more complete portrait of Rudolph and his wife Ruth Cohn. I already knew that Rudolph was born in Bonn, Germany, in 1908, and had arrived in the US from Germany in 1937 and settled first in New York City. By 1940 he was living in Albany, New York, and working for Cotrell & Leonard, a manufacturer of graduation caps and gowns.

Rudolph’s son Albert filled in some of the gaps in the story in the obituary he wrote about his father in 1984. Albert wrote in part:

Rudolf Raphael Meyer was born in Bonn, Germany, on March 17, 1908. He was to experience many of the history shaping events which influenced the course of his life and development. As the child of Albert and Rebecca Meyer with his sister Ilse he at the ages through 6-10 went through the trauma of World War I. The war brought hardship to him as did the period following it. The economic chaos of Weimar Germany with its rampant inflation left its mark on him in that no matter how well might do, he felt he never knew if he and his family would have enough just to provide for the basic necessities of life.

As the economic and political situation remained explosive in Germany and with Anti-semitism on the rise, he, his sister, and mother, his father having died, immigrated to the United States. However, life in the new country soon underwent its earthquake also with the coming of the Great Depression and World War II. The Depression only added to his feelings of anxiety regarding economic matters and [he] became a fervent supporter of the new deal with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and then Harry Truman representing the type of leadership he felt a society needed.

During the later years of the 30s he met Ruth Cohn and after a 3 year courtship they were married on August 10, 1941.

Rudolph enlisted in the US Army on September 6, 1943, and successfully petitioned for naturalization three months later in December 1943 from Spartanburg, South Carolina, where he was then stationed. What I did not know was that Rudolph then served overseas in Europe, fighting against the Nazis and the country where he was born.

Candice shared this photograph of her grandfather Rudy (as he was known) in uniform during World War II.

Rudolph Meyer during World War II. Courtesy of the family

Rudy wrote this poem about his outfit in World War II, the Blue Devils. Obviously, he was a proud American soldier out to defeat his former home country.

“Blue Devils,” by Rudolph Meyer c. 1944 (c) Courtesy of the family

What I also had not realized until Candice shared the family story is that Ruth was pregnant when Rudy left for Europe; their son Albert was born while he was abroad, fighting the Nazis. Rudy did not meet his child until after the war was over when Albert was already sixteen months old. Albert addressed this in his 1984 obituary for his father:

[Albert was born] while [Rudolf] was stationed overseas in Italy. The notice of his birth filled him with special joy as can be told by a reading of his letters from the war. As an additional sacrifice he did not get to see his child for another year.

Although the war was difficult and he was certainly not a young man while fighting in both North Africa and Italy for the Allies, his experience in the army gave him great pride. He felt he contributed to the service of his country and had helped to smash the Fascist Beast that had destroyed so many Europeans who could [not] leave and so many of his religious faith.

In fact among the things that gave him pride were his experience as a soldier, his role as a law abiding citizen, a good family provider. His citizenship was marked by regular voting, paying debts, attention by regular public affairs, and occasionally involvement in Democratic Party politics.

Here is a photograph of Albert as a baby taken while his father was away at war:

Albert Meyer Courtesy of the family

Ruth wrote this wonderful tribute to her husband, Rudy, whom she considered a “great man.”

Essay by Ruth Cohn Meyer (c) Courtesy of the family

A Great Man

My choice for the meaning of the word Great would be important. I write of a great man that I knew many years ago. His name was Rudolph Meyer. Now Rudy had a loving wife, and as is the nature of things, she became pregnant—and Rudy and his wife were very happy.

But then came fears of war from a country across the sea—a country from far away which hundreds of people were fleeing for they were afraid of what might now happen at this time. And Rudy and many of his fellow countrymen had found refuge in this country, the good old USA.

Then came the day when their fears for their country were alas confirmed. Atrocities! Tortures—and then War and Holocausts! Rudy immediately went to enlist. But at the recruitment center, he was told that because of his poor eyesight he would have to be rejected. But Rudy insisted—he must fight against the evil ones were who trying to destroy civilization. So—Rudy went to war!

I was sad. I was pregnant—but I knew in my heart that it was for those qualities in him—great devotion to family and country—that I loved him. And though I was sad—I was proud. My Love was a great man.

I waited—I would go to the grocery store. A pound of butter, if you please. Hey, Lady—don’t you know there’s a war on. Ah,yes—there’s a war on over there!

It is 4 years later—the end of the war. Rudy comes home. He holds in his arms a loving wife and 16 mo. old son. A great man has come home to us.

This was obviously a strong and loving marriage that endured for many years after Rudy returned home. This photograph of Ruth and their son Albert was taken after the war.

Albert Meyer and Ruth Cohn Meyer. 1948. Courtesy of the family

As I wrote in my earlier post, Rudy and Ruth moved to the Bronx after the war, and in 1950 they were living in the Bronx, and Rudy was now an accountant for motion pictures distributors. Ruth was an elementary schoolteacher.  Rudy’s mother Rebecca and Ruth’s father Benjamin were also living with Rudy and Ruth and their child, and Benjamin was working as a tailor.

I want to express my gratitude to Candice and her father Albert for sharing these stories and photographs about my cousin Rudolph Meyer, a man who truly lived up to his wife Ruth’s description, a great man.



Irmgard Johanna (Joan) Lorch Staple (1923-2022): A Woman Ahead of Her Times

Last month my cousin Wink Lorch informed me that her aunt and my fourth cousin, once removed, Joan Lorch Staple had passed away on November 27, 2022, after living a remarkable life for more than 99 years. Joan was related to me through our mutual ancestors, Jacob Seligmann and Martha Mayer, she through their daughter Martha and me through their son Moritz, my three-times great-grandfather.

Joan was born in Offenbach, Germany, on June 13, 1923, escaped from Nazi Germany to England with her parents during the 1930s, and married Peter Staple in England in 1952. Together they had two sons and immigrated to the US, settling first in Alabama and later in Buffalo, New York. Joan also had a long and successful career while raising her family; she was truly a woman ahead of her times..

Joan had a remarkable career as a scientist and as a scholar and teacher, as described below in her obituary, and she wrote two memoirs about her life: Chance and Choice: My First Thirty Years (2007) and Change and Challenge: My Life After Thirty (2009). I have read them both, and they are fascinating. They tell not only the story of Joan and her family, but provide valuable historical insights into living in Germany before the Nazi era, the persecution of Jews during the Nazi era in Germany in the 1930s, life in England during World War II, and racism in Alabama before and during the Civil Rights movement, as well as the struggles of being a woman scientist in the years before, during, and after the Women’s Movement.

But the obituary written by Joan’s sons tells her story much better than I can. Thank you to my cousin Wink Lorch, Joan’s niece, for sharing it with me.  

Irmgard Joan Staple: Path-Breaking Canisius Scientist and Women’s Advocate Has Died

Joan Staple (known professionally as Dr. I.J. Lorch) passed away at the age of 99 on November 27, 2022, in her home at Canterbury Woods, Williamsville, New York.

A Professor of Biology at Canisius College for more than 30 years, Dr. Lorch also pioneered women’s studies programs at Canisius. Her ground-breaking research in the field of cell biology at the University of Buffalo was recognized by the New York Times and led to more than 30 publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Early Life and Education

Dr. Lorch was born into a Jewish family in Offenbach am Main, Germany. Her father was a co-owner of Rowenta, the innovative electric appliance brand. Her family escaped the Nazis by fleeing to Birmingham, England in 1938. Lorch’s forced emigration from Germany is marked by a series of Stolpersteine — commemorative bronze plaques — set into the sidewalk outside her former home at 19 August Bebel Ring.

She attended public schools in Offenbach until 1935 when Jewish children were banned from secondary education. After emigrating, she continued her education at King Edwards High School for Girls and later graduated from Birmingham University. She went on to earn a PhD in histochemistry from the University of London in 1949.

Scientific Career

As one of the very few women working in the ‘hard sciences’ at that time, she continued her post-doctoral research on cellular aging at Kings College, London. Rosalind Franklin worked in the lab next door. The many challenges facing women in building scientific careers are well documented in the struggle to properly credit Franklin for her critical role in discovering the structure of DNA.

In 1952, Dr. Lorch married Dr. Peter H. Staple, research dentist and fellow post-doctoral student. For the next 10 years she became a homemaker raising two sons and over-seeing the family’s move to Birmingham, Alabama in 1959, and then to Buffalo in 1963.

Once in Buffalo, Dr. Lorch rejoined her King’s College mentor and colleague, James Danielli, who was then the Director of The Center for Theoretical Biology at the University of Buffalo. The team was funded by NASA and carried out pioneering work on how cells age and whether living cells can be created from cellular components. This work came to a spectacular conclusion from the controversy created by the Nov. 13, 1970 New York Times article declaring that University of Buffalo scientists had documented “the first artificial synthesis of a living and reproducing cells”. Hundreds of media outlets picked up on the story that UB scientists were creating living cells that might be shipped by NASA on spaceships to Mars.

These reports misrepresented the research and the ensuing publicity upended the  research agenda. In 1973, Dr. Lorch left the University of Buffalo accepting an offer from Canisius College. 

She shifted her professional focus from research to teaching becoming Professor and Chair of the Department of Biology. To address the discrimination against women in scientific fields, with the support of the Canisius College leadership, she spent over 20 years training and hiring women scientists and also broadening the scope for women’s participation in the management of the College. Dr. Lorch founded the women’s studies program at Canisius, now called Women and Gender Studies. She created a course for non-majors called the Biology of Women (sex ed for college kids) that soon attracted so many men that she had to limit enrollment.

In recognition of her devoted advocacy for women, in 1992 Canisius established the annual I. Joan Lorch Award to “honor a person who has made a significant contribution to women and who exemplifies the pursuit of liberation and justice regarding sex, gender, and sexuality.”

Following her retirement from Canisius in 2003, Dr. Lorch published a two-volume memoir: Chance and Choice (2007) and Change and Challenge (2009).

As recounted in her memoir, Dr. Lorch witnessed many of the 20th century’s historic events. She saw Hitler speak at the opening of an autobahn near Frankfurt in 1935, and Martin Luther King at Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo in 1967. She personally knew the discoverers of DNA (Watson, Crick and Franklin) and saw the fruits of her own research on amoeba used for cloning new organisms.

In 2019, Canisius College awarded Dr. Lorch the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters to celebrate “her exceptional achievements in scientific research, unwavering dedication as an educator and for being a steadfast advocate for women.”

Since learning to ski as child in Switzerland, Dr. Lorch was also an avid outdoors woman. She skied well into her eighth decade in Europe and North America and was also an active member of the Adirondack Mountain Club. In recent years, she loved playing Scrabble with her family and connecting on-line daily with other players of “Words with Friends”.

She was pre-deceased by her husband of almost 60 years, Dr. Peter Staple, Professor of Oral Biology at the University of Buffalo’s Dental School. She is survived by her sons Gregory (Siobhan) of Chevy Chase, Maryland, and Alan of Chestertown, Maryland; four grandchildren, Nicole, Nico, Justin and Camille; and one great grandchild, Naomi Joan.

A memorial service will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Amherst in 2023. Donations, in lieu of flowers, should be made to Hospice & Palliative Care Buffalo.

A more abbreviated version of her obituary appeared here in The Buffalo News on December 4, 2022.

Joan’s life and career are an inspiration. She overcame leaving her homeland, adjusting to two different countries (and two different regions within the US), learning English, separating from her family, facing prejudice and discrimination, and nevertheless having a highly successful career balanced with a highly successful family life. Her two memoirs taught me so much about grace and strength and persistence.

My Fifth Cousin Matthew, Ruth Blumenfeld Friedman’s Grandson

Happy 2023, everyone! For today’s post I am updating a post I wrote back in April 2022. Thank you to my cousin Matthew Steinhart for making this post possible.

Back on April 22, 2022, I wrote about the children of Meier Blumenfeld III and Emma Oppenheim and the teamwork it took to locate their three daughters, Gertrud, Ruth (also known as Bertha), and Hanna. Meier, my second cousin, three times removed, was the son of Giedel Blumenfeld, Isaak’s daughter, and her first cousin, once removed, Gerson Blumenfeld I (not to be confused with Giedel’s brother Gerson Blumenfeld II, whose story I just completed.)

Meier and Emma and their family were destroyed by the Holocaust. Of the five of them, only Ruth managed to escape from Germany in time to survive the Holocaust. The others were all murdered by the Nazis.

Ruth immigrated to the US and settled in New York City, where she married Leo Friedman on March 21, 1942, as I wrote about here. Ruth and Leo had two children, and I was recently contacted by one of Ruth and Leo’s grandsons, Matthew Steinhart, son of Eileen Dinah Friedman Steinhart.

Matthew works in video production and is the manager of the video production team at the United States Holocaust Museum and Memorial in Washington, DC.1 He created three short videos about his search to learn more about his grandparents and their families. With his permission and courtesy of the USHMM, I can provide links to those three videos. They are very touching, and I highly recommend you spend the time watching them.

Matthew also shared some wonderful photographs of his grandmother and her family and generously has allowed me to share them on the blog. He also shared some family stories and other information to fill in some of the holes in the story of Ruth and her family that were left unanswered in my April 22, 2022 post.

One of those unanswered questions involved the fate of Ruth’s sister Gertrud. Yad Vashem reported that she had been killed in the Holocaust, but an Arolsen Archive document indicated that she and two children had left for the US. Which was true? Sadly, Matthew confirmed for me that the Yad Vashem information was accurate. He wrote that “the story I was told of Gertrud was that she and her husband and children intended to leave but Erwin, her husband, had an eye condition which prevented him from emigrating. Gertrud refused to leave without him, and eventually all four were deported to Lodz. All four perished.”2

I also asked Matthew about Ruth’s younger sister Hanna because again there were records that suggested she had escaped the Holocaust because she had a visa for Cuba. But Matthew had to confirm that Hanna was in fact killed in the Holocaust. He wrote that he was told that “she and her husband [Siegfried Levi] took a train to Portugal with the intent to emigrate to Cuba. In fact, Hanna had sent some of her furniture and clothing to Ruth in anticipation for her eventual arrival to the US. Apparently, this train was stopped and turned around to France. Both were put into slave labor camps. Hanna was eventually deported to Auschwitz and died. Her husband survived and emigrated from Luxembourg.”3

Matthew’s grandmother Ruth was sponsored by her aunt Bella Oppenheim Marx, her mother’s sister, and was the only one who was able to leave Germany and get to the US safely.4

Matthew has a large collection of old photographs of the family, but unfortunately, he has been only able to identify the people in a limited number of those photographs. I am sharing only those he could label with certainty. Most of those are of his grandparents, Ruth Blumenfeld and Leo Friedman.

Here are two photographs of Ruth, one as a baby and the other as a toddler.

Ruth Blumenfeld, c. 1920. Courtesy of Matthew Steinhart

Ruth Blumenfeld, c. 1922 Courtesy of Matthew Steinhart

These two photos show Ruth as a younger adult, but are undated. They may have been taken in the US since Ruth was nineteen when she immigrated, but they also might have been taken in Germany. We do not know who the woman is on the left in the first photo or who the child is in the second.

Ruth Blumenfeld on right. Date and place unknown. Courtesy of Matthew Steinhart

Ruth Blumenfeld with unknown child. Courtesy of Matthew Steinhart

The next photograph is of Ruth and Leo with Ruth’s aunt, Bella Oppenheim Marx, the woman who sponsored Ruth when she left Germany in 1940. I am sorry the image is so small.

Bella Oppenheim Marx, Leo Friedman, and Ruth Blumenfeld Friedman. Courtesy of Matthew Steinhart

This next group of photographs were taken in 1972 when Ruth and Leo visited their respective hometowns in Germany. Unfortunately we cannot identify who the couple is standing with Ruth or where these photos were taken—presumably either Bad Hersfeld, where Ruth grew up, or Crailsheim, Leo’s hometown.

Ruth Blumenfeld and Leo Friedman, 1972, in Germany. Courtesy of Matthew Steinhart

Ruth and Leo in Germany, 1972 Courtesy of Matthew Steinhart

Ruth with unknown couple, 1972, in Germany. Courtesy of Matthew Steinhart

Speaking of Bad Hersfeld, here is a postcard depicting the town sent to the family of Leo Friedman in Forest Hills, New York, from someone named Minna.. I can’t decipher the date on the postmark, but it must have been written after June 1, 1963, because that is when the US adopted zip codes.

Thank you to Simone Simiot of the GerSIG Facebook group for translating the message on the card; she said that Minna wrote that she had moved and gave her new address. She said it was fine that she moved because Dudenstrasse had become too busy and noisy. She also said that she could have moved in with her son Josef but she doesn’t want to be away/move from her pretty Bad Hersfeld. And she sent regards to Tante Bella—Aunt Bella Oppenheim Marx. I don’t know who Minna is, but if she was a relative, she must have been related to Ruth’s mother.

Since there are so many other photographs that Matthew cannot provide labels for, I have suggested that he contact Ava Cohn a/k/a Sherlock Cohn, the photogenealogist, for help in identifying the people in the other photographs. I hope that he has success doing that.

I am very grateful to my cousin Matthew for sharing his videos, his photographs, and his stories with me. It is always good to be able to have faces to put with the names and answers to questions, but it is especially meaningful to be able to connect with a new cousin who can share all this with me.

  1. Email from Matthew Steinhart, September 24, 2022. 
  2. Email from Matthew Steinhart, October 11, 2022. 
  3. Ibid. 
  4. Ibid. I will be writing more about Bella in an upcoming post. 

Sitta Blumenfeld Spier and Her Daughter Gisela—A Story of Survival and Hope in the Midst of Despair and Death

Although three of the four surviving children of Gerson Blumenfeld II—Friedrich, Katinka, and Mina/Meta—and all their children escaped from Germany to the US and avoided being murdered by the Nazis, the fourth surviving child, Sitta Blumenfeld Spier, and her husband Siegfried Spier and their two children Manfred and Gisela were not as fortunate. As explained by Gisela’s son Simeon Spier in the eulogy he wrote for his mother, “[Siegfried] tried frantically to get the family out of Germany but since he was a wounded veteran from World War I – he had been awarded the Iron Cross for bravery and still had a bullet lodged in his lung – he was considered a health risk and emigration to other countries was not possible.”1

What a cruel irony—because he was wounded fighting for Germany, Siegfried could not escape German persecution twenty years later.

Sitta, Siegfried, Manfred, and Gisela were all deported to the concentration camp at Theriesenstadt on September 7, 1942.2 Manfred was sixteen and Gisela thirteen at that time. Gisela was “allowed” to participate as an athlete in games filmed by the Nazis for propaganda purposes—to show how “humanely” the camp prisoners were being treated.3 You can read more about the propaganda film created by the Nazis and see a clip from it here.

By October, 1944, all four members of Sitta’s family had been transported from Theriesenstadt to Auschwitz where Sitta and Siegfried were immediately sent to the gas chambers. Manfred was transferred several days later to the Dachau concentration where he died from starvation and typhus on April 18, 1945, just a few weeks before Germany surrendered and the war in Europe ended. He was nineteen years old.4

Manfred Spier Page of Testimony at Yad Vashem, found at

The only member of Sitta’s family to survive was her daughter Gisela. She was sent from Auschwitz on October 12, 1944,5 to the concentration camp in Flossenburg, Germany, a camp where prisoners worked as slave labor to build fighter planes and other equipment for the German military. The US Holocaust Museum and Memorial  provided this description of conditions at Flossenburg:

The conditions under which the camp authorities forced the prisoners to work and the absence of even rudimentary medical care facilitated the spread of disease, including dysentery and typhus. In addition to the dreadful living conditions, the prisoners suffered beatings and arbitrary punishments.

About 30,000 people died there, but somehow Gisela survived.

On April 29, 1945, as the Allied forces were approaching Flossenburg, the Nazis began to evacuate the camp and transport the prisoners elsewhere. Gisela was transferred from Flossenburg to the Mauthausen concentration camp,6 where she was liberated by the Allies on May 5, 1945. She was sixteen years old and weighed 46 pounds when she was freed.7

In his eulogy for his mother, Gisela’s son Simeon Spier wrote this description of Gisela’s life after she was liberated in May, 1945.8

She travelled with a friend she met in a displaced persons camp to Paris.  They were on one of the first trains to arrive in Paris at Gare de l’Est after the war’s end and were mobbed by frantic people looking for word of loved ones.  It was at that time she realized she had survived an atrocity of epic proportions.

She searched for her brother through refugee organizations.  She found out he had died of hunger and exhaustion at Dachau.  She saw 2 men on the streets of Paris wearing Magen David.  She asked them why they were wearing Stars of David now that the war was over. They told her they were part of a brigade building the Jewish state in Palestine.  They told her if she wanted to go to Palestine there was a boat leaving from the port of Marseille in several days.

With no family left, she set off to Marseille and boarded the ship, the Mataroa, to Palestine.  Since Jewish immigration to Palestine was illegal under the British Mandate, she was detained by the British army upon reaching Palestine.  She was imprisoned in Atlit ….  The Jewish underground broke her free from Atlit.  Her name was changed to escape British authorities.  She became Yael Blumenfeld – Gisela to Gazella to Yaela to Yael.  Blumenfeld for her mother’s maiden name.  She said when she became Yael Blumenfeld, she finally felt free.

She lived in the youth village of Ben Shemen, joined the Palmach army and fought in the Israeli War of Independence.  She was a decorated veteran of the 1948 war.

In 1950, Gisela came to New York with the help of her mother’s siblings and then got a job in Montreal as a secretary for a synagogue. She met her husband Israel Cohen in Canada, where they were married in 1956.9

Gisela and Israel had three children, each named for one of Gisela’s family members who had been killed in the Holocaust— a daughter Sitta, named in memory of Gisela’s mother Sitta Blumenfeld Spier, a son Simeon, named in memory of Gisela’s father Siegfried Spier, and a daughter Michall, named in memory of Gisela’s brother Manfred. The family lived in Montreal and later in Toronto.10

Once her children were grown, Gisela devoted a great deal of her time and energy to Holocaust education, including regularly traveling back to Momberg and other towns in Germany, to educate German children about what had happened to her family and many other Jewish families.11

Here is a very moving video of Gisela produced by the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre at the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto as part of Gisela’s efforts to provide education about the Holocaust. I highly recommend you watch this eight-minute interview so that you can see and hear this remarkable woman.

Gisela died on February 19, 2016, in Toronto. She was 87 years old and had endured and experienced so much. Simeon ended his eulogy for his mother Gisela in words that bring tears to my eyes each time I re-read them.12

My mother was overwhelmed by the good fortune her life had brought her after suffering such unbearable loss early in life.  As her life neared its end, she became at peace with herself having lived a full life bearing witness to history’s most brutal atrocity.

Death, to her meant two things. She would be re-united with her family and the ability to have a real grave with a tombstone – something her family never had.  She had always mourned that according to Jewish tradition, a son must say Kaddish at the grave of his parents and that no one had been able to say Kaddish for her parents and brother.  Today, we will go to the cemetery and say Kaddish at her grave – for her, her mother, father, and brother.  And for this, we are all very happy.

Gisela Spier Cohen was survived by her three children and her grandchildren. Her life exemplified courage and persistence and hope against all odds. I feel so moved and honored to be able to share her story and that of her family.

Special thanks to my cousin Simeon Spier for allowing me to quote extensively from the beautiful eulogy he wrote for his mother.



  1. “In Loving Memory of Yael Gisela Spier Cohen,” by Simeon Spier, published February 28, 2016, found here
  2. See the entries at Yad Vashem at the links in the text. 
  3. Obituary for Gisela Spier Cohen in Oberhesslische Press, March 23, 2016, found at 
  4. Manfred Spier, Nationality: German or Austrian, Birth Date: 29 Nov 1925, Birth Place: Momberg, Prior Residence: Momberg, Street Address: Marburg a. d. L, Arrival Date: 10 Oct 1944, Arrival Country: Germany, Death Date: 18 Apr 1945, Prisoner Number: 115317, Arrival Notes: 10 Oct 1944 from Auschwitz, Disposition Notes: died 18 Apr 1945, Description: prisoner German or Austrian Jew, Page: 5440/Bg.
    Original Notes (desc. / arr. / dis.): Sch. DR. J./ 10 Oct 1944 v. Au./ gest. 18 Apr 1945, JewishGen volunteers, comp. Germany, Dachau Concentration Camp Records, 1945 
  5. Gizela Spier, Nationality: German, Born: 29 Nov 1928, Prisoner Number: 54367
    Classification: Jew, Arrival: 12 Oct 1944, Record Source: Reel 2, Image #: 269, Page #: 1000, JewishGen Volunteers. Germany, Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Records, 1938-1945 
  6. Gisela Spier, Date of Birth: 29 Nov 1928, Nationality: German. Prisoner Number: 54,367, Category: Jew, Town/Camp: Freiberg, Factory: Hildebrandt, Transferred from (camp name): Auschwitz, Date transferred: 12 Oct 1944, Transferred to (camp name): Mauthausen, Date transferred: 29 Apr 1945, Germany, Women in Flossenbürg Branch Camps (Hans Brenner Book Lists), 1944-1945 
  7. See Note 1, supra. 
  8. See Note 1, supra. 
  9. See Note 1, infra. 
  10. See Note 1, supra. 
  11. See Note 1, supra. See also Note 3, supra. 
  12. See Note 1, supra. 

Gerson Blumenfeld II, Part IV: Leaving Germany

Three of the four surviving children of Gerson Blumenfeld II made it out of Germany in time to escape from the Nazis.

The family of Mina Blumenfeld Simon were the first descendants of Gerson Blumenfeld II to leave Germany. Mina’s son Josef arrived in New York on February 5, 1937. He listed his occupation as a butcher and his prior residence as Wetzlar, a town near Hermannstein where he was born.

Josef Simon ship manifest, Year: 1937; Arrival: New York, New York, USA; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 10; Page Number: 35, New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,

His brother Kurt arrived eight months later on October 1, 1937; he listed his occupation as a merchant and last residence as Wetzlar.

Kurt Simon ship manifest, Year: 1937; Arrival: New York, New York, USA; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 3; Page Number: 38, Ship or Roll Number: New York, New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957

The rest of the family—Albert, Mina, and Grete—arrived the following year on August 18, 1938. They also had been living in Wetzlar where Albert was a merchant.

Albert Meta Grete Simon passenger manifest, Year: 1938; Arrival: New York, New York, USA; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 12; Page Number: 8, Ship or Roll Number: Washington New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957

Mina had officially changed her name from Mina Blumenfeld Simon to Meta Simon by the time she filed her Declaration of Intention to become a US citizen on January 24, 1939.

Meta Blumenfeld Simon declaration of intention, The National Archives at Philadelphia; Philadelphia, PA; NAI Title: Declarations of Intention For Citizenship, 1/19/1842 – 10/29/1959; NAI Number: 4713410; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685-2009; Record Group Number: 21, (Roll 549) Declarations of Intention For Citizenship, 1842-1959 (No 427401-428300), New York, U.S., State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1794-1943

The family was reunited and living together as of the 1940 US census. They were living in New York City, and Albert and his two sons Kurt and Joseph (as spelled here) were working as butchers.

Albert Simon and family 1940 US census, Year: 1940; Census Place: New York, New York, New York; Roll: m-t0627-02670; Page: 11B; Enumeration District: 31-1895, 1940 United States Federal Census

Friedrich Blumenfeld and his family, including his mother Berta Alexander Blumenfeld, were the next family members to arrive in the US. They left shortly after Kristallnacht.

I had the great pleasure of Zooming with two of Friedrich’s grandsons last week, Steven and Milton, and they shared with me a story about their grandmother Berta’s reaction to Kristallnacht. Apparently when the Nazis came around to arrest Jewish men in the aftermath of Kristallnacht, Berta was so angry that she took the medals awarded to the family in honor of  Moritz and Isaak, the two sons who died fighting for Germany in World War I, and threw them at the Nazi soldiers, yelling that she had lost two sons already. According to the family, the soldiers backed off and left the family alone. Soon thereafter the family was able to get visas to leave Germany.1

Friedrich, Berta, and their two children arrived in the US on January 13, 1939. Friedrich’s occupation on the ship manifest is listed as shoe manufacturing, but his grandsons told me he was actually a dry goods salesman in Momberg.

Friedrich Blumenfeld and family passenger manifest, Year: 1939; Arrival: New York, New York, USA; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 23; Page Number: 150, Ship or Roll Number: Hansa New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957

I cannot locate them on the 1940 census, but on October 16, 1939, they were all living together in the Bronx, according to Friedrich’s Declaration of Intention filed on that date. Friedrich was unemployed at that time.

Friedrich Blumenfeld declaration of intention, The National Archives at Philadelphia; Philadelphia, PA; NAI Title: Declarations of Intention For Citizenship, 1/19/1842 – 10/29/1959; NAI Number: 4713410; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685-2009; Record Group Number: 21,  (Roll 567) Declarations of Intention For Citizenship, 1842-1959 (No 444001-444900), New York, U.S., State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1794-1943

Katinka Blumenfeld Rosenberg was the last of the children of Gerson Blumenfeld II to escape Nazi Germany in time. Their departure was delayed because, as I learned from Katinka’s son Heinz/Henry, after Kristallnacht, Katinka’s husband Emanuel and son Walter were taken to Buchenwald where Walter spent two months and Emanuel spent five weeks. After they were released in early 1939, the family was determined to leave, but it was very difficult to find a sponsor to help them get permission to immigrate to the US. Finally a stranger from Texas who was not even related to the family came forward with an affidavit and sponsored the family. They took a train to Italy and sailed to the US from Genoa. As Henry and I discussed during our conversation, it is somewhat miraculous that they were to get out of Germany after World War II had started since for so many the borders closed after September 1, 1939.2

Katinka, her husband Emanuel Rosenberg, and their three sons Walter, Guenter, and Heinz arrived in New York on February 1, 1940. Emanuel listed his occupation as a trader, and Momberg was their last residence.

Emanuel Rosenberg and family passenger manifest, Year: 1940; Arrival: New York, New York, USA; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 6; Page Number: 37, Ship or Roll Number: Conte Di Savoia, New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957

Henry said they at first lived with cousins in the Bronx, but soon moved to Washington Heights in Manhattan where so many German Jewish refugees settled in the 1930s and 1940s. Henry quickly learned English and soon was able to not only catch up with his classmates but to excel in school.3

When the 1940 US census was taken a few months after their arrival, the Rosenbergs were all living in New York City. Emanuel was working in a grocery store, and Walter was a machine operator in a watch factory.

Emanuel Rosenberg and family 1940 US census,Year: 1940; Census Place: New York, New York, New York; Roll: m-t0627-02670; Page: 9A; Enumeration District: 31-1887, 1940 United States Federal Census

Thus, Mina, Friedrich, and Katinka and their families were able to escape to the US in time and survived the Holocaust.

Tragically, the youngest child of Gerson Blumenfeld II, Sitta Blumenfeld Spier, did not leave Germany in time to escape the Holocaust.  Her family’s story in my next post.

I will be taking next week off to be with my family, who are coming to visit for Thanksgiving. Have a great Thanksgiving to all my US readers!



  1. Zoom with Steven Hamburger and Milton Hamburger, November 10, 2022. 
  2. Phone conversation with Henry Rosenberg, October 30, 2022 
  3. See Note 2, supra. 

Gerson Blumenfeld II, Part III: The Nazis Come to Momberg

As we saw, Gerson Blumenfeld II died on July 29, 1919, in the aftermath of losing two of his sons—Moritz and Isaak—during their service to Germany in World War I. He was survived by his wife Berta, one remaining son Friedrich, and his three daughters, Mina, Katinka, and Sida, as well as Mina’s husband Albert Simon, and their children.

Fortunately, the family continued to grow after the war. Katinka married Emanuel Emil Rosenberg on November 7, 1919. Emanuel was born on June 19, 1885, in Rosenthal, Germany, to Joseph Rosenberg and Fanni Stiebel. He was also the nephew of Mendel Rosenberg, who was married to Katinka’s aunt Rebecca Blumenfeld, her father Gerson’s sister.

Katinka Blumenfeld marriage to Emanuel Rosenberg, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 915; Laufende Nummer: 6204, Year Range: 1919, Hesse, Germany, Marriages, 1849-1930

Katinka and Emanuel had three sons: Walter, born in Frankfurt, Germany, on October 17, 1920;1 Guenther, born in Frankfurt on July 7, 1925;2 and Heinz, born in 1928.3

Katinka’s older brother Friedrich married Lina Neuhaus on October 26, 1921, in Braach, Germany. She was born on September 19, 1894, in Braach (sometimes listed as Baumbach, which is less than two miles from Braach) to Samuel Neuhaus and Bertha Wallach.

Siegmund Friedrich Blumenfeld marriage to Lina Neuhaus, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 907; Laufende Nummer: 510, Year Range: 1921, Hesse, Germany, Marriages, 1849-1930

Friedrich and Lina had two children: Gretel was born August 21, 1922, in Momberg,4 and Gunter was born on February 22, 1926, in Momberg.5

Sida Blumenfeld, the youngest child of Gerson II and Berta, married Siegfried Spier on December 29, 1924, in Momberg. Her name is spelled Sitta on the marriage record, and I will use that spelling going forward. Siegfried was also a native of Momberg; he was born there on May 14, 1887, to Michael Spier and Veilchen Nussbaum. He was the owner of a matza factory.6

Sitta Blumenfeld marriage to Siegfried Spier, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 915; Laufende Nummer: 6209, Year Range: 1924, Hesse, Germany, Marriages, 1849-1930

Sitta and Siegfried had two children, Manfred, born on November 29, 1925, in Momberg,7 and Gisela, born exactly four years later on November 29, 1929.8

Gisela’s son Simeon Spier wrote this beautiful description of his mother’s family’s life in Momberg before the Nazis came to power in the 1930s.9

Momberg was like a storybook village of gingerbread cookies and green rolling hills.  Her family had lived there since the 17th century.  Her father, Siegfried Spier, owned a matza factory started by her great grandfather.  Her mother, Sida, was a deeply religious woman.   Her paternal grandmother lived in her house and her maternal grandmother lived across the street.  It was a world of German folk songs and Jewish religion.  She played soccer with her brother and cousins, attended the village school and went to the tiny village shul on Shabbos.

I also had the great pleasure of speaking to Katinka’s son Heinz (now Henry) Rosenberg just a week or so ago. He also spent his early childhood years in Momberg. He pointed out that since Gisela’s father Siegfried Spier owned a matza factory that employed many of the town’s residents, even after Hitler first came to power in 1933, no one bothered the Jews in Momberg at first because they were grateful to have jobs in the factory.10

That idyllic life would soon come to an end with Kristallnacht in November, 1938. Simeon Spier described what happened in Momberg to his mother and her family:11

On the 9th of November 1938 her world was destroyed by the Nazis during the Kristallnacht. The synagogue was burned down and the men were taken to concentration camps. Her brother’s Bar Mitzvah could not take place later that month as there was not a minyan of 10 adult Jewish men in the village. This saddened her all her life since her brother had been practicing his parsha and haftorah for months. She too knew the words and could recite them the rest of her life.

Jews were kicked out of the village school and Gisela and her brother were sent to an orphanage in Frankfurt. There, away from her family at 10 years old she would spend countless hours in the school’s gymnasium on the horizontal bar. Her love of sports helped her escape what was happening. She lived on Pfingsfeid Strasse near the zoo. Jews were not allowed in the zoo so all she could see was the head of the giraffe. She was forced to wear a yellow star.

Heinz/Henry Rosenberg also was unable to go to school for two years and still clearly remembers seeing the destruction of the Momberg synagogue on Kristallnacht. He shared with me the moving story of his family’s rescue of a Torah scroll that had belonged to his grandfather Gerson Blumenfeld and had been damaged during the violence of Kristallnacht. They brought that scroll with them to the US, and Henry read from it at his bar mitzvah in 1941 as did his grandson over seventy years later.

Fortunately, like that Torah scroll, almost all of Gerson Blumenfeld’s children and grandchildren got out of Germany in time and survived the Holocaust. Almost all.

  1. Walter Joseph Rosenberg, Gender: Male, Petition Age: 24, Birth Date: 17 Oct 1920
    Birth Place: Frankfurt, Germany, Record Type: Naturalization Petition, Petition Number: 1788, National Archives and Records Administration – Southeast Region (Atlanta); Atlanta, GA; Petitions For Naturalization, Compiled 1922-1964; Series Number: 648598; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States; Record Group Number: 21, Louisiana, U.S., Naturalization Records, 1836-2001 
  2. Guenther Rosenberg, [George G Rosenberg], [George Rosenberg], Gender: Male
    Race: White, Birth Date: 7 Jul 1925, Birth Place: Frankfurt MA, Federal Republic of Germany, Death Date: 27 Oct 1998. Father: Emil Rosenberg. Mother: Katinka Blumenfeld, SSN: 093129735, U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 
  3. Heinz, Record Type: Naturalization Declaration., Birth Date: — 1928, Birth Place: Frankfurt, Germany, Court: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Father: Emanuel Rosenberg, Box Number: 338, The National Archives at Philadelphia; Philadelphia, PA; NAI Title: Declarations of Intention For Citizenship, 1/19/1842 – 10/29/1959; NAI Number: 4713410; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685-2009; Record Group Number: 21, Source Information New York, U.S., State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1794-1943. Because Heinz/Henry is still living, I am not disclosing his exact birth date. 
  4. Gretel Blumenfeld, [Grethe Blumenfeld], Gender: Female, Race: White, Declaration Age: 18, Record Type: Naturalization Declaration, Birth Date: 21 Aug 1922
    Birth Place: Momberg, Germany, Court: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Declaration Number: 493628, Box Number: 366, The National Archives at Philadelphia; Philadelphia, PA; NAI Title: Declarations of Intention For Citizenship, 1/19/1842 – 10/29/1959; NAI Number: 4713410; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685-2009; Record Group Number: 21, New York, U.S., State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1794-1943 
  5. Gunter Blumenfeld, Petition Age: 19, Record Type: Naturalization Petition, Birth Date: 22 Feb 1926, Birth Place: Momberg, Germany, Departure Place: Momberg, Germany, Petition Place: Augusta, Augusta-Richmond, Georgia, USA, Ship: Hansa
    Description: Augusta Naturalization Petitions 9/1943-12/1953 (Box 2), National Archives and Records Administration; Washington, DC; ARC Title: Petitions For Naturalization, Compiled 1909 – 1970; ARC Number: 2143321; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States; Record Group Number: 21, Georgia, U.S., Naturalization Records, 1794-1993 
  6. “In Loving Memory of Yael Gisela Spier Cohen,” by Simeon Spier, published February 28, 2016, found here
  7. Manfred Spier, Nationality German or Austrian, Birth Date 29 Nov 1925, Birth Place Momberg, Prior Residence Momberg, Street Address Marburg a. d. L., Arrival Date 10 Oct 1944, Arrival Country Germany, Death Date 18 Apr 1945, Prisoner Number 115317
    Arrival Notes 10 Oct 1944 from Auschwitz, Disposition Notes died 18 Apr 1945, Description prisoner German or Austrian Jew, Page 5440/Bg., Original Notes (desc. / arr. / dis.) Sch. DR. J./ 10 Oct 1944 v. Au./ gest. 18 Apr 1945, JewishGen volunteers, comp. Germany, Dachau Concentration Camp Records, 1945 
  8. Giesela Sara Spier, Gender: weiblich (Female), Nationality: Deutsch Juden, Record Type: Inventory, Birth Date: 29 Nov 1928, Birth Place: Momberg, Last Residence: Momberg, Residence Place: Momberg, Marburg an der Lahn
    Notes: Inventories of personal estates of foreigners and especially German Jews
    Reference Number: 02010103 oS, Document ID: 85950815, Arolsen Archives, Digital Archive; Bad Arolsen, Germany; Lists of Persecutees, Free Access: Europe, Registration of Foreigners and German Persecutees, 1939-1947 
  9. See Note 6, supra. 
  10. Phone conversation with Henry Rosenberg, October 30, 2022. 
  11. See Note 6, supra. 

Gerson Blumenfeld II, Part II: Two Sons Killed in World War I Fighting for Germany

In the summer of 1914 after the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary, the countries of Europe and of the wider world declared war on each other based on mutual protection agreements those countries had previously formed. On one side were the Central Powers including Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Turkey; on the other side were the Allies, including France, England, Italy, Russia, Japan, and later the US.

The three sons of Gerson Blumenfeld II and his wife Berta Alexander—Moritz, Friedrich, and Isaak—all served in the German army for the Central Powers. But only one of those sons came home alive.

Moritz, their oldest son, was killed on the Eastern Front of the War in Niedzieliska, Poland, on December 11, 1914, according to his German death record.1 The report of his death came from the commander of his reserve infantry unit, as indicated on the death record, and stated that he’d been shot in the abdomen.2

Moritz Blumenfeld, Death Age: 27, Birth Date: abt 1887, Death Date: 11. Dez 1914 (11 Dec 1914)
Death Place: Momberg, Hessen (Hesse), Deutschland (Germany), Civil Registration Office: Momberg, Father: Gerson Blumenfeld, Mother: Bertha Blumenfeld, Certificate Number: 1, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 6225; Laufende Nummer: 915, Hesse, Germany, Deaths, 1851-1958

Niedzieliska was a small village about 42 miles east of Krakow. During the summer and into the fall of 1914, the Russians were successfully fighting the German and Austrian troops in that general area, winning an important battle in Lemberg (now Lviv) in the late summer of 1914 and then moving west and capturing Przemysl in the spring of 1915.

I am very grateful to Eric Feinstein of the GerSIG Facebook group for providing me with access to a description of the battle of Niedzieliska from a book entitled (as translated) Reserve Infantry Regiment No. 83: edited from official and private war diaries by Hans Wahrenburg, published in 1924 by Stalling Verlag in Berlin. Eric pointed me to page 42 which describes the Niedzieliska battle, and I used DeepL to translate it, though some of the references are not clear.

At 12:12, II and III Battalions will be moved out of the forward line during the morning and III Battalion will be housed and fed at Niedzieliska. At 1.30 a.m. the II Battalion also follows there, while at the same time the III Battalion from the eastern exit of the Dorsel is deployed for another assault against the Russian position at the windmill Wszeliwn in the subsection of the 49 RJB.

Heavy flank fire from the right initially hampered the advance of the companies and only after the arrival of II Battalion on the obstructed right wing did the assault proceed briskly, especially since the enemy apparently had little artillery, but was able to bring the assault to a halt with even more intense infantry and M.C. fire.

Exhausting effort! 4 o’clock in the morning the position on the Wszelimn-Dsief road was taken by assault, during which, among others, the leader of 12 Company, Captain a D Rudel, and by roughing up the enemy MC Sergeant Emilius and Muss. Cohn 11 Compagnie, Ref. Zinf. Kriegsfreim. Ludwig and Ref. harms 12th Compagnie and Ref. Deja quite particularly distinguish.

About 1500 prisoners and 12 MC find the spoils of the day. I Battalion advanced as a division reserve to the west exit of Niedzieliska, but failed to enter.

It was sometime during this battle that Moritz Blumenfeld II, oldest child of Gerson Blumenfeld II and Berta Alexander, was mortally wounded.

His younger brother Isaak was killed on the Western Front. Although I do not have a death certificate for Isaak, I have information from the lists of German casualties located on Ancestry and elsewhere. Isaak died in a field hospital in Sainghin-en-Weppes in the north of France on January 8, 1915, after being seriously wounded. He was only 21 at the time.

Isaack Blumenfeld, Residence Year: 1914, Residence Country: Deutschland (Germany)
List Date: 30. Jan 1915 (30 Jan 1915), List Number: 0345, Volume: 1915_VII, Germany, World War I Casualty Lists, 1914-1919

Isaack Blumenfeld Residence Year: 1914 Residence Country: Deutschland (Germany) List Date: 20. Jan 1915 (20 Jan 1915) List Number: 0331 Volume: 1915_VII, Germany, World War I Casualty Lists, 1914-1919

Like Niedzieska where Moritz was killed, Sainghin was just a small village with no obvious strategic importance, but it was located in the region of France where during this time period, thousands of soldiers on both sides were killed during trench warfare where the two sides were essentially deadlocked, going back and forth slaughtering each other’s young soldiers and others.

This UK website on World War I described it in these terms:

By the end of 1914 the battles of movement in the first weeks of the war had been  brought to a halt. The fierce defence of strategic landmarks by the Allied forces resulted in a situation which became one of deadlock. Carefully selecting the most favourable high ground the Imperial German Army began the construction of a strong defensive line from early in 1915.

The consolidation of the Front Lines consisted of trenches, wire defences, mined dugouts and deep bunkers, reinforced concrete emplacements and selected strongpoints, usually a reinforced farm, in an Intermediate, Second and Third defensive line. Gradually the building and digging was carried on on both sides of the wire along a distance of approximately 450 miles, creating a more or less continous line of trenches separating the warring belligerents along the length of The Western Front.

In 1915, 1916 and 1917 both sides made attempts to break the deadlock with major battle offensives. The characteristics of siege warfare which developed on the Western Front in these three years created conditions never witnessed before. Instead of expecting to achieve objectives at a considerable distance from the start of an offensive, the type of trench warfare fighting created a situation where attacks were carried out in phases with short distance objectives and usually following a bombardment of enemy trench lines beforehand. This strategy led to prolonged periods of fighting with success counted in gains hundreds of yards rather than miles. The human cost of casualties and dead in such a grinding type of siege warfare would be recorded in the thousands in the space of a single day.

Isaak Blumenfeld, Gerson II and Berta’s youngest son, was killed during the early days of this period of warfare, less than a month after the death of his brother Moritz.

A January 29, 1914 article in the Frankfurter Israelitisches Familienblatt reported, “The G. Blumenfeld family was hit by a heavy loss. Two hopeful sons both suffered heroic deaths for their fatherland. Both stood out from the enemy with their outstanding bravery honored, the eldest carried a seriously wounded man out of the most terrible shell fire at great risk to his life. The youngest last stood as a teacher in Petershagen on the Weser.”

The deaths of Moritz and Isaak left Gerson and Berta with just one surviving son, their middle son Friedrich. But Friedrich also served in the German armed forces. His great-nephew Michael Rosenberg shared with me Friedrich’s military record, including translations of the information on each page done by Richard Bloomfield.

As translated by Richard, this record indicates that Friedrich began his military service for Germany on August 24, 1915, just months after the deaths of both of his brothers. He was transferred to the homeland and away from the front in January 1917, perhaps because the family had already lost Isaak and Moritz. Friedrich was discharged from service on December 26, 1918, six weeks after the war ended, and came home alive.

His father Gerson Blumenfeld II, however, died in Momberg on July 29, 1919, just seven months after Friedrich returned home. Although Gerson was 66 and thus was not particularly young for that era when he died, I nevertheless wonder whether losing two of this three sons in some way hastened his death.

One might have thought that sacrificing two sons to the cause of Germany in World War I would have somehow kept the rest of this family safe from the Nazis, but it was not to be, as we will see.

  1. At least one secondary source reports that his death occurred on December 12, 1914, but I am relying on his actual death record. See the list of Jewish World War I casualties for Germany at 
  2. Thank you to the members of the GerSIG: German Jewish Genealogy Special Interest Group on Facebook for transcribing and translating this record. 

Gerson Blumenfeld II, Part I: Two Marriages, Three Daughters, Three Sons

As I turn to the next child of Isaak Blumenfeld and Gelle Straus, Gerson Blumenfeld, I am fortunate to have not only the support and research of Richard Bloomfield, whose work I’ve already noted numerous times on the blog, but also of a direct descendant of Gerson Blumenfeld, his great-grandson Michael Rosenberg. Michael and I have been in touch for quite a while, and he also, like Richard, has been helpful to me in researching other aspects of the Blumenfeld family tree. But now I have finally reached Michael’s direct line, and I am excited that I will be able to work with him and learn from him.

Gerson Blumenfeld, the son of Isaak and Gelle, will be referred to as Gerson Blumenfeld II on my tree and on the blog; his first cousin, once removed, also named Gerson Blumenfeld I, was married to Giedel Blumenfeld, daughter of Isaak and Gelle and sister of Gerson II, as I wrote about here.

Gerson II was born on April 29, 1853, in Momberg, Germany.

Geburtsregister der Juden von Momberg (Neustadt) 1850-1874 (HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 608)AutorHessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, WiesbadenErscheinungsjahr1850-1874, p. 4

On August 23, 1883, he married Mina Katz, daughter of Joseph Feist Katz and Brendel Katz. Mina was born on June 7, 1860, in Jesberg, Germany.

Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 920; Laufende Nummer: 3838
Year Range: 1883, Hesse, Germany, Marriages, 1849-1930

As soon as I saw that Mina was born in Jesberg and was a Katz, I figured she must also be related to me. Mina is my third cousin, three times removed, and is descended from my five-times great-grandfather Schalum Katz of Jesberg through his son Salomon Katz. So both Mina and Gerson II were my cousins, but they were not related to each other as far as I have been able to determine.


Gerson II and Mina had a daughter born in Momberg on August 30, 1884, and tragically Mina died the following day, presumably from complications from childbirth. She was only twenty-four years old. Their one-day old infant was named for her mother Mina.

Mina Blumenfeld birth record, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 915; Laufende Nummer: 6467, Year Range: 1884, Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901

Mina Katz Blumenfeld death record, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 6551; Laufende Nummer: 915, Year Range: 1884 Hesse, Germany, Deaths, 1851-1958

Gerson II remarried two years later on June 2, 1886. His second wife was Berta Alexander. She was born on November 16, 1859, and was the daughter of Joseph Alexander and Fradchen Frank, and like Gerson II’s first wife, Berta was also my cousin, specifically my second cousin, three times removed. Berta was the great-granddaughter of Abraham Katz Blumenfeld and Geitel Katz, my four-times great-grandparents. She also was a second cousin to her husband Gerson II, who was also a great-grandchild of Abraham Katz Blumenfeld.

Gerson Blumenfeld marriage to Berta Alexander, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 915; Laufende Nummer: 6496, Year Range: 1886, Hesse, Germany, Marriages, 1849-1930

Thus, all the children of Gerson II and Berta were not just siblings, but also each other’s third cousins. And the descendants of Gerson II and Mina were my double cousins since I was related to both of them. Oy vey! No wonder I can’t sort out my DNA matches…

But onto the children of Gerson II and Berta. Their first child Moritz was born on March 16, 1887, in Momberg, Germany.

Moritz Blumenfeld II birth record, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 915; Laufende Nummer: 6470, Year Range: 1887, Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901

Their second child, Siegmond Friedrich “Fritz” Blumenfeld, was born on December 7, 1888, in Momberg, Germany.

Siegmund Friedrich Blumenfeld birth record,Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 915; Laufende Nummer: 6471, Year Range: 1888, Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901

Katinka, their third child and oldest daughter, was born in Momberg on July 30, 1891.

Katinka Blumenfeld birth record, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 915; Laufende Nummer: 6474, Year Range: 1891, Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901

Isaak Blumenfeld (labeled III on my tree) was born September 24, 1893, in Momberg.

Isaak Blumenfeld III birth record, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 915; Laufende Nummer: 6476, Year Range: 1893, Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901

The fifth and youngest child of Gerson II and Berta was their daughter Sida (sometimes spelled Sitta), born in Momberg on July 26, 1896.

Birth record for Sida Blumenfeld, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 915; Laufende Nummer: 6479, Year Range: 1896, Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901

Mina Blumenfeld, Gerson II’s daughter with his wife Mina Katz, married Albert Simon on October 31, 1910, in Momberg. Albert was the son of Joseph Simon and Guste Aumann, and he was born on November 17, 1879, in Hermannstein, Germany.

Mina Blumenfeld marriage to Albert Simon, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 915; Laufende Nummer: 6195, Year Range: 1910, Hesse, Germany, Marriages, 1849-1930

Mina and Albert had four children.

UPDATE: I just located a death record for a fifth child of Mina and Albert born before Julius. That child, a son named Dedo, died on January 16, 1912, in Hermannstein. He was only a day old.

Dedo Simon death record, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 4342; Laufende Nummer: 911
Year Range: 1912
Source Information Hesse, Germany, Deaths, 1851-1958

Their second child, Julius, was born in 1913 and died when he was only two years old on May 31, 1915.

Julius Simon death record, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 4345; Laufende Nummer: 911, Year Range: 1915 Hesse, Germany, Deaths, 1851-1958

Mina and Albert’s third child Kurt was born on November 10, 1914.1 Their fourth son Joseph was born on October 26, 1916.2 And their fifth child and only daughter Grete was born December 23, 1919.3 Fortunately, these three children all survived to adulthood.

My cousin Michael shared with me this beautiful photograph taken before World War I of Gerson II and Berta with their five children as well as Gerson’s daughter Mina from his first marriage.

Gerson and Berta Blumenfeld and their children c. 1911

From left to right in the back row, they are Isaak, Fritz, Mina, Katinka, Moritz, and Sida. Berta and Gerson are seated in front of them, and the family dog lies at their feet. How can I not love a family that includes their dog in the family portrait?


  1. Kurt Simon, Gender: Male, Birth Date: 10 Nov 1914, Death Date: Jun 1969, Claim Date: 17 Jul 1969, SSN: 131102677, U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 
  2. Josef Simon, [Joe Simon], Gender: Male, Race: White, Birth Date: 26 Oct 1916
    Birth Place: Hermanuskin, Federal Republic of Germany, Death Date: 30 Oct 2001
    Father: Albert Simon, Mother: Meta Blumenfeld, SSN: 116034007, U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007. 
  3.  National Archives at Boston; Waltham, Massachusetts; ARC Title: Petitions and Records For Naturalization, 10/1911-9/1991; NAI Number: 615479; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685-2009; Record Group Number: Rg 21, Description: Vol173-175, Petition No 40197, Paul Saban, 24 Mar 1944 – Petition No 407321, Sophie Bursack, 16 June 1944, Connecticut, U.S., Federal Naturalization Records, 1790-1996