Annlis Schäfer Seligmann 1924-2017

We have returned from our trip to Germany, and I have many things to share about the experience.  It was a trip filled with many joyous moments as well as many sad and heartbreaking moments.  One of the greatest joys and definitely the saddest moment involved Annlis Seligmann, mother of my dear cousin Wolfgang.

Annlis and Wolfgang

When Wolfgang found my blog almost two and half years ago, it was the result of a family research project he was sharing with his mother.  Annlis was not born a Seligmann; she was born Annlis Schäfer on April 12, 1924.  But in 1965 she married Wolfgang’s father Walter Seligmann, who died in 1993, and she was fascinated with the history of his family.  When the Seligmann family discovered the “magic suitcase” that had belonged to Walter’s brother Herbert, Annlis and Wolfgang began to search through the documents to learn more about the Seligmann family history.  Because Wolfgang could not read the old German script, Annlis had to decipher many of the old records and documents for him.

At some point in this process, Wolfgang discovered my blog, and together the three of us—Annlis, Wolfgang, and I—all worked together to find many of the missing pieces of the Seligmann family.  We were able to figure out how many of the people named in those documents were related to us all.  Without their help, I would not have found many of the Seligmanns who died in the Holocaust or who, like my cousins Lotte Wiener Furst and Fred Michel, were able to escape Germany before it was too late.

So when I was planning my trip to Germany, one of my priorities was to meet not only Wolfgang, his wife Bärbel, and daughter Milena, but also his mother Annlis.  We arrived in Germany on May 2, and the first thing we were scheduled to do on May 3 was meet Annlis.  We went with Wolfgang to the senior residence where she was living in Mainz (like an assisted living facility in the US) first thing that morning. Annlis did not speak English, so I was able to test my baby German.  With Wolfgang’s help, we were able to communicate.

She and Wolfgang showed me some family photographs, and I shared with her photographs of my parents, children, and grandchildren.  We looked through the magic suitcase together (there are still hundreds of letters and postcards still to be translated). Despite the language obstacles, I felt a strong connection to Annlis and was sad to say goodbye when our visit ended.

Annlis had been in declining health in recent months.  Her vision had become so poor that she could no longer read and help translate the documents, but she remained very interested in the family history and, according to Wolfgang, had been very anxious to meet me.  After our visit, she expressed to Wolfgang how happy she had been to meet me.  I was so touched and, of course, felt the same way.

So you can imagine my shock when less than ten days later while still in Germany, I received a message from Wolfgang telling me that his mother had died.  I was stunned and so sad.  And heartbroken for Wolfgang and his family.

Annlis lived a long and full life.  From Wolfgang I know that she grew up in Mainz where she also lived for the last five years of her life.  During World War II, she was working in Bingen.  In September, 1944, she witnessed the murder of an American soldier, Odis Lee Apple, whose plane had been shot down and crashed nearby.  As described here by Wolfgang himself on the website for the radio station where he works, the caretaker for the building where Annlis worked notified the people in the office that an American soldier was walking on the street outside the building.

Annlis and three of her co-workers left the building and followed Apple, whom she described as a man with a friendly face.  Then suddenly the building’s caretaker rushed out onto the street in his SA uniform and shot Apple.  He did not die right away, but was suffering terribly from the gunshot wound.  At some point someone else shot him, and he died.

Street in Bingen where Annlis worked and witnessed the murder of Odis Lee Apple

After the war, the US Army investigated Apple’s death; Annlis provided testimony, and several people were sentenced to prison.  The caretaker, however, had died not long after the shooting during a bombing attack on Bingen.

According to Wolfgang, his mother never forgot this incident and was horrified by what she had witnessed. Even though at that point the US was at war against Germany, Annlis knew it was wrong to kill someone in cold blood like that.

Tribute to Odis Lee Apple at the spot where he was shot

It was not until twenty years after the war that Annlis married Walter Seligmann in 1965.  Together they raised their son Wolfgang in a neighborhood outside of Mainz in an apartment overlooking the valley.  She lived in that apartment until five years before her death when she moved to the building where I met with her on May 3.

Annlis Seligmann lived a good and long life; she had just turned 93 a month before her death.  I feel so privileged and fortunate that I was able to be a part of her life in the last two years and especially that I was able to meet her in person, share some time with her, and give her a hug.  My heart goes out to Wolfgang, Bärbel, Milena, and the entire extended family.  May her memory be a blessing.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pine, p. 7.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ernst Mayer WW1 military register 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pine, pp. 35-36.

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

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

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

Pine, p. 29

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

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

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

Pine, p. 32

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

According to the Whonamedit website:

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

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

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

Ernst Mayer passenger manifest 1935

Ernst Mayer passenger manifest 1935 page 2

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

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

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

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

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

Ernst Mayer and family August 1936 manifest

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

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

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

Mathilde Mayer passenger manifest October 1 1937

Mathilde Mayer passenger manifest October 1 1937 page 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other members of their extended family were not as fortunate.

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

Mathilde Mayer-Gross on passenger manifest February 1937

Mathilde Mayer-Gross on passenger manifest Feb 1937 page 2

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

Life in Bingen, Germany 1850-1901: The Family of Martha and Benjamin Seligmann

As I wrote last time, Mathilde Gross Mayer (known sometimes as Mathilde Mayer-Gross) lived a long life—a hundred years that spanned two centuries (1869-1969) and two countries—Germany until she was 68 and then the United States for the last 32 years of her life. Her autobiography, Die Alte and Die Neu Welt, records the story of her remarkable life.  I have read the small portion of her autobiography that I had translated by Ute Brandenburg.[1]  I hope to read the book in its entirety once I know enough German to make that possible.

Mathilde Mayer book cover

But from the excerpt I’ve read in translation along with information I obtained from other sources, I have learned quite a bit about Mathilde’s family and her early life in Germany.

First, a little background. As I wrote last time, Mathilde was my second cousin, three times removed. Her great-grandparents were my four-times great-grandparents, Jacob Seligmann and Martha Mayer.  Jacob and Martha had ten children, including Moritz Seligmann, my three-times great-grandfather, and Martha Seligmann, Mathilde’s grandmother.Relationship_ Amy Cohen to Mathilde Gross part 1

Relationship_ Amy Cohen to Mathilde Gross part 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have written about Moritz and his family in several places.  His son Bernhard (later Bernard), my great-great-grandfather, was one of the Seligmann brothers who came to the United States and settled in Santa Fe where they established the important trading business known as Seligman Brothers.

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Moritz Seligmann, Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Bernard Seligman

Bernard Seligman

I have also written about Martha and how I discovered, thanks to the family tree discovered by my cousin Wolfgang, that in 1824 she married her first cousin (and also my cousin) Benjamin Seligmann, son of Hirsch Seligmann, who was Jacob Seligmann’s brother.  Martha and Benjamin lived in Bingen, Germany, where they had seven children: Siegfried (1824), Emilia (1826), Hermann (1828), Karolina (1831), Ferdinand (1836), Lambert (1838), and Bertha (1841).

tree 2 pages 2 and 3

Emil Seligmann’s handwritten tree courtesy of Wolfgang Seligmann

The facts below are all based on Mathilde’s book, except where noted.  All quotations are from the translation by Ute Brandeburg of Chapter 2 of Mathilde’s book.

Benjamin Seligmann was initially in the scrap metal business and then later in the money changing business, but according to his grandson Isidor Gross (who contributed to his sister Mathilde’s book), Benjamin was actually more academically inclined by nature.  It was his wife Martha and their sons Lambert and Ferdinand who really ran the business. Benjamin and two of his sons, Lambert and Hermann, also served as accountants for the Jewish congregation in Bingen.

Isidor wrote about his uncle Ferdinand that he had traveled to Paris and when he returned, he brought home a top hat.  “He would promenade around Bingen, wearing this hat and using a skinny walking stick, just as he had in Paris.” (DADNW, p. 10).  As a result, he earned the nickname “Hat,” and Isidor and Mathilde referred to Ferdinand as “Uncle Hat.”

After their father Benjamin died in 1862, his sons Ferdinand and Lambert took over the business, which was eventually renamed “Ferdinand Seligmann.”  Neither Ferdinand nor Lambert ever married, and they lived together in Bingen and were known as Die Herren, or The Gentlemen.  A third brother, Hermann, also never married; he was for a time involved in the business, but ran into some financial troubles and was bought out by Ferdinand.

The oldest child of Martha and Benjamin, Siegfried, married his first cousin, Carolina, who was a daughter of Moritz Seligmann, my three-times great-grandfather.  Siegfried and Carolina had seven children together, including Emil, the one presumed to have recorded the family tree I discussed here.  Emilia, the second child of Benjamin and Martha Seligmann, married Salomon Lorch and had four children. Karolina Seligmann (Benjamin and Martha’s daughter, not the one who married Siegfried) married Sigmund Marx; I don’t have any record of children born to that couple.

Bertha Seligmann, the youngest child of Benjamin and Martha and the mother of Mathilde and Isidor, married Bernhard Gross on June 30, 1868.  Bernhard was the son of Wolfgang Gross and Fanny Nathan, who lived in Gau-Bickelheim where Wolfgang was in the wine business, working with his sons Bernhard, Moses, and Julius.

The marriage contract between Bertha Seligmann and Bernhard Gross is included in Mathilde’s book and reveals the contributions that each side made to the marriage. It is quite apparent that this couple came from families of some means.

Bertha brought clothing and personal items worth 850 gulden and house furnishings worth 350 gulden to the marriage as well as 2000 gulden in cash.  Her mother also made a gift of 3500 gulden to the couple (to be deducted from Bertha’s inheritance). Bertha’s brother Siegfried promised to pay the rent on the couple’s home in Bingen for two years, or a total of 260 gulden.

Bernhard also contributed to the marriage.  He brought 300 guldens’ worth of personal items and clothing and 418 gulden’s worth of home furnishings.  His parents provided a gift of 2000 gulden to the couple (also to be deducted from their son’s inheritance).

Thus, Bertha’s contribution amounted to 6,960 gulden, and Bernhard’s was 2,718 gulden.  As converted by Isidor Gross in 1938 as described in his sister’s book, that combined amount would have been equivalent to about 16,000 goldmarks in 1938.  According to one source, in 1938 there were 2.49 marks to a dollar, so that would mean that 16,000 marks was equivalent to $6425 in 1938.  Using an inflation calculator, I calculated that $6425 in 1938 would be worth about $108,000 today.  Not a bad start for a young couple.

When they married, Bertha and Bernhard moved to an apartment in Bingen where less than a year later their first child, Mathilde, was born on April 14, 1869.  She was followed by her sister Anna a year later, her brother Wilhelm in 1872, and then her brother Isidor in 1873.  By the time Isidor was born, the family had moved to a house of their own.  The prior owner, a baker, continued to occupy the first floor, which he used for his business, and a police officer lived on the third floor.  Isidor described the house as “a large building with a passageway to Eselgasse, where the driveway was located.  The courtyard and back buildings offered us children much space to play.” DADNW, p. 16  A sixth child was born to Bertha and Bernhard in March 1876, a son Karl.

Mathilde described her father Bernhard as “a highly respected citizen who had no enemies, did much for the common good, and helped however and wherever he could.  He supported the congregation in word and deed, and whenever possible he went to Saturday services.” DADNW, p.18  She continued:

Father was a hardworking, ambitious businessman.  He was well liked with the customers.  Nearly every morning, he would head out early to the train station, his bags heavy with wine samples.  But he never left the house without first bringing a little sample of his breakfast, bread rolls with egg, a “morsel.” As he called it, to the children’s bed….. Although he was often serious and judicious, he did have a cheerful disposition and was always in a good and light-hearted mood when attending social and family events….Despite his occupation, which had him taste alcohol on a daily basis, he always sought moderation in drinking.  He could not tolerate more than two or three glasses of good wine; then he would become exceedingly merry, climb onto chairs and tables, stretch out his arms, and exclaim: “My dear friends, this is the world!”

DADNW, p. 18

Mathilde’s portrait of her mother Bertha Seligmann Gross, is quite different:

She was serious and strict, with herself as well as others.  She rarely participated in fun and laughter. … Mother strove to manage the household with as much frugality as possible.  The boys often came home with holes in the bottoms of their pants and the knees of their socks.  [Heels?] Sometimes there would be a pat on the backside.  Then [I] would have to spend [my] Saturday evenings and Sundays mending the work day clothes and darning the socks instead of reading or going to visit [my] girlfriends. ….  There would many weeks where I had to polish the metal stove pipes with scouring paper until they shone before I could return to school at 2 o’clock.  Mother was a heavy-handed person who did not know how to make life easier for herself and others.

DADNW, pp.19-20

Mathilde also wrote about her brothers that they were “wild and spunky.  They were always up for pranks, didn’t spend much time in the books, and went outside the moment Mother looked the other way.”  DADNW, p. 18.

Obviously as the oldest child and daughter, Mathilde had a lot of responsibilities, but she did have some happy childhood memories.  She enjoyed ballroom dancing lessons, and she and her sister Anna spent school holidays with her mother’s brother Siegfried Seligmann and his family in nearby Mainz.  She also spent some time in 1885 when she was sixteen living with her Uncle Hat (Ferdinand) in Nancy in Alsace, but was not happy going to school there and returned to her family in Bingen.

The family of Bertha and Bernhard Gross moved a few times in Bingen to accommodate their growing family.  The second home was bigger, but needed work. Isidor wrote, “There was no gas, no plumbing, no electric light, and the toilets were very primitive.  They were outside the apartment, which was quite unpleasant in the winter and in bad weather.” DADNW, p. 17  Mathilde also described the house’s shortcomings: “only kerosene lamps that needed to be cleaned every morning, no warm water, and only much later running water—before that one had to fetch water in pails from the pump in the courtyard.  It was a lot of work to keep three or four stoves going in the wintertime.” DADNW, p. 20

 

On April 11, 1888, Mathilde married Marx Mayer, a man one of her aunts had introduced to her.  On the Judische-Bingen site I found Mathilde’s description of her husband:

My husband Marx was a cheerful person, a life-affirming character, who knew how to make friends everywhere.  He was a good dancer, loved to dance, and we seldom missed seeing the New Year begin at the New Year’s ball in Caecilienverein. 

Mathilde went on to describe the yearly three-day carnival celebration in Bingen, which Marx enjoyed greatly, often staying out until four in the morning.[2]

Mathilde and Marx had three children between 1889 and 1896: Wilhelm, Ernst, and Anna. Mathilde’s siblings also married in these years.  Her sister Anna married Willhelm Lichter; her brother Wilhelm married Sophie Hirsch.  Isidor married Clara Emmerich, and Karl married Agnes Neuberger.  They all would have at least one child.

With their children all grown, Bertha and Bernhard decided to purchase another home at Mainzer Strasse 16 in Bingen, though it needed substantial renovations.  Bertha and Bernard moved into the house in late 1898.  Sadly, they only lived in the house for a few years because on November 1, 1901, both Bernhard and Bertha were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning that had resulted from some faulty renovations being made on the house.  Bernhard was only 61, Bertha just 60 when they died.

Headstones for Bertha Seligmann Gross and Bernhard Gross in the Jewish cemetery in Bingen http://www.juedisches-bingen.de/43.0.html

Headstones for Bertha Seligmann Gross and Bernhard Gross in the Jewish cemetery in Bingen
http://www.juedisches-bingen.de/43.0.html

Mathilde wrote of how she learned the news of her parents’ awful death:

On that fateful Thursday morning when Emil Seligmann [son of Siegfried and Caroline Seligmann and Mathilde’s first cousin] came to get me and then told me, as we were walking, of the accident, he lead me over Schlossberg rather than through town where people already knew and would have stared at me.  I could not immediately comprehend the scale of the tragedy that had befallen us.  DADNW, p. 19.

Understandably, Mathilde was devastated.  She wrote that her father’s death “was a heavy blow that left a big void.”  DADNW, p. 19.

Thus, the new century did not begin well for the family of Bertha Seligmann and Bernhard Gross.  In fact, it was a century marked by a great deal of tragedy for the family.  Although I cannot yet read enough of Mathilde’s book to provide a reliable translation of her own words for the years that followed her parents’ deaths, I have been able to learn more about the fate of her family from other sources and will reveal what happened to them all in posts to follow.

Family View Report for Bertha Seligmann-page-001

 

 

 

 

[1] Ute Brandenburg provides professional translation services for German texts, including texts written in the old German script.  You can see her website at  https://germanscriptexperts.com/   References to translated quotes from the German version of Mathilde’s book are indicated by “DADNW” and the appropriate page numbers.  All translations of the book were done by Ute Brandenburg.

[2] Unfortunately, Google Translate’s translation of these pages is quite awful, so I am hoping to obtain a better translation.

Why I Am Studying German

Along with researching, blogging, working on my novel, and doing other ordinary things with my days, I have started studying German.  I took French in high school and college, and I learned some Italian from a travel experience I had after college, but I knew no German.  Well, other than a word here and there like Danke and Gesundheit.

So why, you might ask, did I decide to learn German? It certainly is a challenge.  Although I’ve been delighted to see how many words are similar to English (like wein/wine and bier/beer) or Yiddish (like schön/shayne and schmutzig/schmutzy), German grammar is tough.  The sentence structure is hard.  The various cases are confusing; the articles and pronouns are a constant source of bewilderment.  But I am enjoying the challenge.

But that doesn’t address the question of why German.  Sure, I have many ancestors with German roots, and yes, it would be helpful to read the birth, marriage, and death records without depending on the generosity of people like Matthias Steinke, Ute Brandenburg, Ralph Baer, Dorothee Lottmann-Kaeseler. and others.  But I had already figured out the words for birth, death, marriage, mother, father, and even the months of the year.  So why struggle to learn ordinary vocabulary and grammar?

Yes, I am planning a trip to Germany for next year, and I do want to be able to get by as much as possible without expecting people to know English.  But I also know that I won’t be fluent enough really to do that, and I know that most people in Germany involved in the tourist industry will speak English, just as they did in Prague, Budapest, Vienna, and Krakow.

So why bother trying to learn German? It all started with Mathilde Mayer-Gross.  Who was she? She was my second cousin, three times removed:

Relationship_ Amy Cohen to Mathilde Gross part 1

Relationship_ Amy Cohen to Mathilde Gross part 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That is, Mathilde’s grandmother Martha Seligmann and my three-time great-grandfather Moritz Seligmann were sister and brother.  We are both direct descendants of Jacob Seligmann

Mathilde is also related to me through her grandfather Benjamin Seligmann since he was his wife Martha’s first cousin; Martha’s grandfather Jacob Seligmann and Benjamin’s grandfather Hirsch Seligmann were brothers.

But I digress.

 

Mathilde was born in Bingen, Germany, in April 1869. She left in 1937 to escape from Nazi persecution when she was almost 68 years old and a grandmother; she lived over thirty years in the United States, dying in September, 1969, when she was a hundred years old.  She wrote a book about her remarkable life called Die Alte und Die Neu Welt.  [The Old and The New World] (1951).

Mathilde Mayer book cover

And I want to read her book.  But I can only find it in German. Ute Brandenburg did a wonderful job of translating one of the chapters, but I can’t afford to pay what it would cost to translate the rest of the book.

I used Google Translate to read some other excerpts from Mathilde’s book that appear on the Arbeitskreis Judische- Bingen website. I also read the memoir written by Mathilde’s granddaughter Ellen Kann Pine, One Life in Two Worlds (2009). But I still want to read Mathilde’s book itself.

20160810_174631600_iOS

So I decided to learn German.  After about four months of using the Duolingo program online, I can write a simple sentence or two to my cousin Wolfgang and his young daughter Milena, and I can understand enough to read simple sentences.  The Duolingo program is wonderful; I study every day about 30 minutes a day, and I am having a lot of fun. But so far my ten year old fourth cousin Milena knows a lot more English than I know German.

duolingo icon

Will I ever be able to read Mathilde’s book? I don’t know.  I may never be fluent enough to read it without a dictionary in hand (and Google Translate), but perhaps I will be able to read and understand enough to satisfy my curiosity about her life.

In the meantime, in my next few posts, I will take a break from the Schoenthal clan, and I will share some of what I learned about Mathilde and her family from the other sources I mentioned, including Arbeitskreis Judische-Bingen, Ellen Kann Pine’s book, and Chapter 2 of Mathilde’s own book as translated by Ute Brandenburg.  Maybe someday I will be able to fill in the rest of the stories of her life.