Herding Katz

The title of this post has a double meaning, as you will see.

As I wrote in my last post, about ten years ago when I first found the genealogy page about the Katzenstein and Goldschmidt family compiled by David Baron and Roger Cibella, David (who is their family genealogist) at that point had traced the Katzenstein family line back as far as Gerson Katzenstein, my great-great-grandfather.

Fast forward to 2012 when I began to explore my family’s history and discovered, with the help of others, Barbara Greve’s work, which took the Katzenstein line back yet another generation to Scholum Katzenstein, my three-times great-grandfather.  Now I could trace the family back as early as 1769 when Scholum was born in Jesberg, Germany.  I entered all the data into my Ancestry family tree and thought, “Well, that’s incredible.  But that must be as far as it can go, for sure.”

But I was wrong.  Just recently I spoke again to David Baron, and he provided me with his new 2016 update to the Katzenstein family tree.  Based on more recent data from Barbara Greve’s transcriptions of birth, marriage and death records from Jesberg and from photographs and transcriptions of headstones from the Jewish cemetery for Jesberg, David had been able to extrapolate even more information about the Katzenstein line.

Now he was able to go back three more generations. Scholum Katzenstein’s father was Meier Katz, my four-times great-grandfather.  Meier was the son of Scholum ha Kohen, who was born in about 1720 in Jesberg; he was my five-times great-grandfather; his wife was Brendelchen, my five-times great-grandmother.  Scholum’s father was Pinchas ha Kohen, also known as Bonum Katz.  He was my six-times great-grandfather.  Like all those who followed until Gerson emigrated, Pinchas had died in Jesberg, Germany.

pinchas-to-scholem

gerson-to-me

(Update: As I described in a later post, there is disagreement between Barbara Greve and David Baron as to whether or not Bonum Katz/Pinchas ha Cohen was an ancestor of Meir Katz and thus my Katzenstein line.  I’ve left this post as written subject to reaching some resolution of that disagreement.)

Now that I know how deep my family’s roots are in Jesberg, Germany, I am even more excited that I will be there next year, seeing the place where my Katzenstein ancestors lived at least as far back as the early 1700s.  I will be able to see where they were born, where they lived, where they died, and where they are buried.

So I’ve done some research about this little town in Germany.

Location of Jesberg in district Schwalm-Eder-Kreis

Location of Jesberg in district Schwalm-Eder-Kreis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesberg is a small town located in the Schwalm-Eder-Kreis district of the state of Hesse in Germany.  It is about forty miles south of Breuna, where my Hamberg relatives lived, and about fifty miles south of Sielen, where my Schoenthal relatives lived.  According to Wikipedia, as of the end of 2015, the population of Jesberg was 2,347 people, and the town’s area is 19.22 square miles.

I could not find much of the history of Jesberg online, but Wikipedia reports that the Linsingen family built the Burg Jesberg, the castle, in 1241.  Beyond that and a reference to the Prinzessgarten built by Maximilian von Hessen, I could not anything else online that describes the general history of Jesberg.  I have written to the town to see if I can learn more about the history and the current economic and social aspects of the town.

Deutsch: Burg Jesberg, Gewölbe

Deutsch: Burg Jesberg, Gewölbe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was surprisingly able to find more information about Jesberg’s Jewish history from several different sources. (See below.) There was first a Jewish presence in Jesberg in 1664. In 1774, there were five Jewish families in Jesberg; two years later there were seven Jewish families.  At least one of those seven families had to have been members of my Katzenstein family.

Although Jews prayed together before 1832 in Jesberg, it wasn’t until that year that a synagogue was built.  It was a two-story building that accommodated 44 men and 41 women; there was also space for a school and an apartment for the teacher, who generally also acted as the cantor and schochet (Kosher butcher).

By 1835, there were 53 Jewish residents of Jesberg.  There was a mikveh and a cemetery, shared with a nearby community.  Jews were engaged in farming, horse and cattle trading, trading of goods, and various other trades.  Jesberg itself was a center for the cattle trade, and David Baron believes that many members of  the Katz/enstein family were engaged in the cattle business.

By 1871, the Jewish population had grown to 77 people, constituting 8% of the overall population of 960 people.  The Jewish population continued to grow, peaking at 89 people in 1905, which was more than 10% of the overall population of the town at that time. During that time period, there were also twenty to thirty children enrolled in the Jewish school.

As the twentieth century progressed, the Jewish population started to decline.  The school closed in 1922, and in 1931, there were only six children receiving religious instruction in Jesberg.  In 1932, the synagogue was renovated in honor of its 100th anniversary.  The Jewish population in 1933 when Hitler came to power was 53 people.

Between 1933, and 1938, 27 Jesberg Jews emigrated from Germany; twenty went to the United States, seven to Palestine.  Two families moved to Frankfurt. After the synagogue was destroyed in November 1938 during Kristallnacht, more Jews left.  But not enough.  At least 25 Jews from Jesberg were killed in the Holocaust, including a number of those from the extended Katz and Katzenstein families.

Jesberg was never a big town, and its Jewish population never exceeded much more than ten percent of the overall population.  But there was once a real Jewish community there: a synagogue, a school, a mikveh, a kosher butcher, and a cemetery. Today there is no Jewish community there.  Nevertheless, I want to see Jesberg just as I want to see Sielen, Breuna, Gau-Algesheim, Bingen, Schopfloch, and all the other towns where my ancestors lived in Germany.

English: Jesberg (Hessen) viewed from the castle

English: Jesberg (Hessen) viewed from the castle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fortunately for me, my last direct ancestor to have been born in Jesberg, Gerson Katzenstein, my great-great-grandfather, emigrated from Germany in the mid-19th century.   Because of that courageous move, my Katzenstein line has flourished.  Not the same can be said for the families of most of Gerson’s siblings and cousins.  More on that in posts to come.

 

Sources:

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust: A-J (Shmuel Spector, Geoffrey Wigoder,  eds., NYU Press, 2001) p. 573.  Found here.

Destroyed German Synagogues and Communities website, found here.

The Alemannia-Judaica site:  http://www.alemannia-judaica.de/jesberg_synagoge.htm

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

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

Family View Report for Bertha Seligmann-page-001

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irma Lichter Wronker, courtesy of the Wronker family

Irma Lichter Wronker, courtesy of the Wronker family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sale-of-effects-cairo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

paul-lichter-ship-manifest-1938

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some members of the extended family years later.

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20160810_174631600_iOS

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

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

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

Pine, p. 7.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ernst Mayer WW1 military register 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pine, pp. 35-36.

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

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

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

Pine, p. 29

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

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

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

Pine, p. 32

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

According to the Whonamedit website:

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

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

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

Ernst Mayer passenger manifest 1935

Ernst Mayer passenger manifest 1935 page 2

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

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

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

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

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

Ernst Mayer and family August 1936 manifest

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

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

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

Mathilde Mayer passenger manifest October 1 1937

Mathilde Mayer passenger manifest October 1 1937 page 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other members of their extended family were not as fortunate.

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

Mathilde Mayer-Gross on passenger manifest February 1937

Mathilde Mayer-Gross on passenger manifest Feb 1937 page 2

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

The Memoirs of Lotte’s Sister Doris: Another Perspective on Life in Hitler’s Germany

Many of you enjoyed the memoirs and other writings of my cousin Lotte Furst, which are posted here, here, here, and here.  You will recall that Lotte and her family lived in Mannheim, Germany, and were living a comfortable life in a good home; Lotte’s father was a doctor, and her mother was the granddaughter of Hieronymous Seligmann, younger brother of my great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman.  When the Nazis came to power, Lotte’s life changed forever.  After suffering through years of anti-Semitism and deprivation of their rights, her family finally decided to leave Germany and came to the United States.  Lotte’s writings described in vivid terms her perspective on all of this as she experienced it as a young girl and then as a young woman.

I recently learned that Lotte’s older sister Doris also wrote a memoir.  Doris was four years older than Lotte, and thus I was curious as to how her perspective was like or different from that of her younger sister.  When Hitler came to power in 1933, Doris was seventeen and thus would have had a more adult-like view of things.  Doris died in 2007, and her daughter Ruth was kind enough to share her mother’s memoirs with me.  Much of it is quite personal, so I am going to focus on those sections that provide insights into the larger questions: what was life like before Hitler came to power, how did it change when he did, and what led to the decision to leave Germany? [All material quoted from Doris Gruenewald’s writings is protected by copyright and may not be used without the permission of her children.]

By Snapshots Of The Past (Parade Place and Kaufhaus Karlsruhe Baden Germany) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Snapshots Of The Past (Parade Place and Kaufhaus Karlsruhe Baden Germany) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Doris was born in October 1916 in Mannheim; Germany was in the midst of World War I, and her father, Joseph Wiener, was drafted into the German army as a medical officer soon after she was born.  Her mother, Annie Winter Wiener, went with Doris to live with her parents, Samuel and Laura (Seligmann) Winter in Neunkirchen, where Samuel owned a women’s clothing business.  Annie’s brother Ernst had recently been killed while serving in the German army after volunteering against his parents’ wishes.  Doris wrote:

He had been the apple of their eyes and his death dealt a terrible blow to both.  My grandmother wore only black from then on, and my grandfather’s health began to deteriorate.  They also lost their sizable fortune, having bought war bonds as their patriotic duty, which at the end of the war were not worth anything anymore.  My grandfather’s business was dissolved and then reestablished on a much smaller scale.

Ernst Winter Courtesy of Lotte Furst

Ernst Winter
Courtesy of Lotte Furst

Doris compared her grandparents’ home in Neunkirchen with her own home in Mannheim:

The house in Neunkirchen had a large garden in back of it, most of which was rented out.  The smallest part, directly behind the house, was used for growing some vegetables and flowers.  I remember loving to play in the garden and watching earthworms after a rain as well as other living creatures.  In Mannheim there was little opportunity for this kind of nature watching as we lived in a built-up urban area with little greenery, other than a well laid out park some distance from our apartment.

Neunkirchen

Neunkirchen

For several years while the French occupied parts of Germany after World War I, several family members housed French soldiers, and the neighborhood school Doris would have attended was also being used by the French military.  Thus, she had to go to a school somewhat further from her home for those years.  Like her sister Lotte, Doris pursued a highly academic path in school and was one of only six girls out of thirty students in her Gymnasium classes and then the only girl in her class when she reached the final years of her pre-university level education.

This excerpt provides a sense of the family’s lifestyle:

My parents employed a cook and a housemaid, and when my sister and I were still young, a “Kinderfraulein” who used to be an untrained young woman with an interest in children.  In other words, not quite a “governess.”  My father had help in his office and for some time also employed a driver after he developed a painful condition in his left arm, due to having to reach outside the car for shifting gears.  …. 

We had a Bechstein Grand piano in our living room. This instrument had been given to my mother as a young girl. She had really wanted to study music on a professional basis. But her parents felt that “proper” young ladies did not take up that kind of profession and did not allow her to pursue her wish. Instead, they bought her the Bechstein and let her have piano lessons.

I began taking piano lessons at age seven, with a teacher considered among the best in Mannheim. My mother, although an accomplished pianist, no longer played much. But occasionally, she and my father, who had learned to play the violin in his youth, would play duets together. That always was a special treat.

By Annaivanova (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Annaivanova (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I was particularly interested in what Doris wrote about the role of Judaism in the family’s life.

I grew up through the years with some awareness that we were Jewish, without knowing what significance that had then and later. Neither my parents nor my grandparents when I knew them observed any religious tenets. However, I was told that in past years my grandfather had been the head of the Jewish Congregation in Neunkirchen. My grandmother, who was president of the local Red Cross chapter for some time, used to fast on Yom Kippur. She reluctantly told me, when I kept asking her, that she had promised her dying mother to keep that tradition. As for me, I was kept home on the Jewish High Holy Days. My family did not attend any services.  …. 

At eight years of age I happened to be visiting my grandparents at the time of Passover. They had been invited by friends to a large Seder. Unfortunately, nobody thought of explaining to me what that was all about. My grandparents may have assumed that I knew, but I did not. I understood nothing of what was being read in Hebrew or spoken in German. I was utterly bored! Furthermore, when the ceremony asked for tasting the so-called bitter herbs, I bit off a piece of the horseradish on my plate and soon experienced the consequences of that act!

Unfortunately, I think far too many children, here in the US and elsewhere in the world, have that experience at seders.

The family was, however, required to provide some religious instruction because of the school system’s requirements:

There having been no separation of Church and State, religious instruction was part of the official curriculum. The students were separated one period per week according to their denominations. Most were Protestants, some were Catholics, and a few were Jewish. Since the number of Jewish children was so small, and in the case of my first-grade placement non-existent, my parents were required for that year to hire a private instructor in order to comply with the legal requirement. Thus, there suddenly appeared a not very clean looking young man with a greasy book, from which he proceeded to read and attempt to teach me-at six years of age-the Hebrew text. My recollection is that he came to our house only a very few times. I do not know how the religious instruction requirement was fulfilled after that disaster.

When, at fourth grade level, I changed schools, religion was taught by a little old man, a retired rabbi, who was very nice and even made some of what he taught rather interesting. But I developed no feeling for or interest in it at all, as it was totally divorced from the rest of my life.

Then, as Lotte also described, their father decided to withdraw from the Jewish community:

When I was fourteen, my father had some kind of a dispute with the Jewish Community, which was the official agency for collecting taxes. These taxes were legally mandated as a percentage of one’s general income tax obligation. I nearer knew exactly what the problem was, except that it had something to do with the amount owed, to which my father was apparently objecting. The Rabbi came to our house to straighten the matter out. Apparently he was not successful as subsequent events proved. (This rabbi became my brother-in-law at a much later time. He knew that I was far removed from religious observance, but he was always very tolerant and friendly to me.)

Whatever the problem had been, my father decided to leave the Jewish Congregation. Since I was already fourteen years old, I was required to state my personal intention. As I had no ties to the Jewish community, that was no problem for me. From then on I was without any religious affiliation, called “konfessionslos.” In practical terms it meant that I no longer had to attend religious instruction at school. I used the weekly free hour to visit the Art Gallery opposite the school building and saw a lot of very interesting, good art works.

Dr. Joseph Wiener

Dr. Joseph Wiener  Courtesy of Lotte Furst

Of course, the family’s withdrawal from the Jewish community and lack of religious involvement did not make any difference in the eyes of the Nazis once they came to power.  Doris wrote:

Between 1932 and 1935 I had a valid German passport, used during those years primarily for trips to the Saar to visit my grandparents and take the then permitted two hundred German marks to be deposited outside Germany. In those years the Saar was still under the administration of a French post-World-War I governing authority. My grandmother took care of such transactions. By the time I needed a new passport, the Nazis had decided that a big “J” had to be stamped on any so-called non-Aryan, meaning Jewish, person’s passport. Word had gotten around that one of the clerks in the passport office in Mannheim would issue a “clean” document without the dreaded J, for suitable consideration. I went to that office, saw the clerk in question, and for the small sum of five marks was issued a regular passport without the J. I still have this passport as a memento.

When the Nazis assumed power in 1933, we as a family re-joined the Jewish Congregation as a matter of honor. Not that it would have made any difference had we not done so as the Nazis classified people not necessarily by religion but by their so-called racial identity.

German Jewish passports could be used to leave...

An example of German Jewish passport. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Doris approached the end of her time in the local schools in the 1930s, she was both the only girl and the only Jew in her class.  She wrote that things did not change dramatically at school despite the political changes around them, but she did describe one troubling incident:

I entered the classroom in the morning, as usual. Upon approaching my desk, I saw that someone had pasted a viciously antisemitic sticker from the “Sturmer,” a rabidly anti-Jewish paper, on my desk. By that time, one of my classmates had begun wearing the SS uniform. I more or less assumed that he was the culprit, which in the end turned out not to have been the case. However, at that moment I decided not to confront him or anyone else. I sat down at another desk and waited for the right time to act. This came with the second period when the “Klassenlehrer”-the equivalent of our Home Room teacher-was due for his hour. … I waited for this teacher outside the classroom and told him my reason for doing so, adding that I knew there was nothing I could do about official policy and insults, but that I was not willing to put up with personal attacks.

This teacher, who, incidentally, had been an officer in World War I and had lost an arm, rose to the occasion. He and I entered the classroom together, and he immediately asked who had done this deed. Somewhat to my surprise, and perhaps his too, not one of the students admitted having put the sticker on my desk. There was nothing further he could have done: I do not remember whether he spoke to the class, but his earlier behavior had given ample proof of his opinion. … The incident occurred about one week before the final exam, the Abitur. It cast a pall over that important event.

Imagine being the only girl and the only Jew in the class and standing up for herself that way.  What courage it must have taken to do this.  What if her teacher had not been sympathetic?  Despite this stressful incident, Doris successfully passed the Abitur.  Although Doris was entitled to enroll in the university based on her father’s military service during World War I, Jews were prohibited from enrolling in either law school or medical school.  Instead, Doris decided to audit a few courses while awaiting a visa to leave Germany.  She wrote:

I had known for some time that I had to get out of Germany as there was no future there for me, and I was willing to take whichever came first [she had applied for both a US visa and a certificate to immigrate to Palestine]. However, I admit that I was relieved when the American visa materialized first.

The American Consulate closest to Mannheim was located in Stuttgart. In due course I was summoned for an interview with the American consular officials. I was in a somewhat unusual position in that my father had learned of a legal means of transferring money abroad, which was then discounted at the rate of fifty percent. The permissible amount was sufficient to enable me to show the U.S. Consulate that I had the requisite five thousand dollars for obtaining an immigration visa to the U.S. In this way I did not have to await my application number to come up in regular order, which would have taken a great deal more tame. I got my visa rather quickly. By that time I had also received a so-called Affidavit of Support from one of my grandmother’s cousins, whose father had emigrated in the nineteenth century and had settled in Cleveland, Ohio. This cousin was in very good financial circumstances and readily responded to our request for an affidavit.  …

I was very interested in determining who this cousin might have been.  If she was Laura Seligmann Winter’s cousin, she might have also been a cousin of mine, depending on whether she was a paternal cousin or not.  The only clues I had from Doris’ memoir were her married name (Irma Rosenfeld), her residence in Cleveland, her children: a son who was in his 20s in 1937, a daughter who was married, and another daughter who was a student at Vassar.

I found one Irma Rosenfeld living in Cleveland at that time who had two daughters and a son and was married to a man named Mortimer Centennial Rosenfeld (I assume the middle name was inspired by the fact that Mortimer was born in 1876, the centennial of the Declaration of Independence).  I sent Lotte the photo from that Irma’s passport application, but Lotte was unable to confirm from the photograph that it was the right Irma Rosenfeld.

Irma Rosenfeld and daughter passport photo 1924 Ancestry.com. U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2007. Original data: Selected Passports. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Irma Rosenfeld and daughter passport photo 1924
Ancestry.com. U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2007.
Original data: Selected Passports. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

After reading Doris’ memoir, I went back to all the documents I had for her and examined more closely the passenger manifest for her trip to the US in 1937.  I had not seen the second page of it my first time through, but this time I noticed that it not only named Irma Rosenfeld; it had her street address in Cleveland.  It only took a glance at the 1940 US census for me to confirm that I had in fact found the correct Irma.

Doris Wiener 1937 ship manifest

Doris Wiener 1937 ship manifest part one

 p2 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.

p2
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.

A little more research revealed that Irma’s birth name had been Irma Levi, daughter of Isaac Levi and Fanny Loeb.  Since Doris and Lotte’s great-grandfather (and my three-times great-uncle) Hieronymous Seligmann had married a woman named Anna Levi, I believe that that is the connection between Doris and Irma.  Anna Levi was a contemporary of Isaac Levi; perhaps they were siblings, and thus Irma Rosenfeld would have been a first cousin, twice removed, of Doris and Lotte, their grandmother Laura’s first cousin.  Obviously, the family had stayed in touch with these American cousins, and even though Irma was American-born and had never met Doris before, she reached out to help her escape the Nazi regime.

Continuing now with Doris and her emigration from Germany:

Necessary preliminaries having been taken care of and good-byes having been said, it was time to arrange for the journey to America. We bought a ticket for me on the SS Washington, a twenty-thousand ton ocean-going passenger boat, and also obtained railroad tickets for me and my mother who wanted to accompany me to Cherbourg, the place of embarkation. …

In Cherbourg I said good-bye to my mother, for whom the separation was very hard, more so than for me. For one thing, I was looking toward something new. But perhaps more importantly, I had unwittingly insulated myself to some degree from the impact of events. This condition lasted for a long time and to some extent gave me some emotional protection….

In contrast to so many, I confess that I had an easy time. Not only was the way for coming to America smoothed. My parents also were well able to pay for my ticket and whatever other expenses arose in connection with my leaving. I was twenty years old at that time.  …

Aenne Wiener and Doris

Doris Wiener and her mother Courtesy of Lotte Furst

Doris explained why her parents and sister did not come with her:

The question has often been asked why my parents and sister did not come at the same time. Like a great many people, my father kept believing that the Hitler episode was just that, and he refused for a long time to see the situation realistically. Not so my mother. She was instrumental in organizing their own as well as her parents’ emigration to Luxembourg, and later their own to America.

Doris wrote that she arrived in New York in 1937 with $400.  Her parents had arranged for friends to meet her at the boat, and Doris stayed with them for a week before moving to her own apartment on the top floor of a building at 96th Street and Central Park West.  Doris also described a visit to Cleveland to see her grandmother’s cousin, Irma Rosenfeld, the woman who had provided the affidavit in support of Doris’ visa, as discussed above. “The slightly more than four weeks I spent with the Rosenfelds were very pleasant, with visits to their country club and other social activities.”  But Doris preferred to remain in New York City.

After returning to New York, Doris soon found employment in a dentist’s office and also soon met her future husband, Ernst Gruenewald.  They were married in May 1938.  Her mother Annie came to New York for the wedding, not only to witness the wedding but also “to gain insight into the international situation uninfluenced by German propaganda.”

My mother had intended to stay in America for about six weeks. But as she listened to the broadcasts available to us, she became increasingly agitated and decided to cut her visit short in order to initiate their emigration from Luxembourg to the United States. She had always been a very intelligent woman capable of making important decisions, many of which were advantageous. She returned to Luxembourg and was able to convince my father that this was the right thing to do. They arrived in the U.S. in April 1939, three weeks after the birth of our first child and about half a year before the outbreak of World War II.

Her grandparents, as we know from Lotte’s memoirs, did not fare as well:

During my childhood I had spent a good deal of time with them in Neunkirchen and was very fond of my grandmother. I knew her only from her mid-forties on, when in my eyes she was an old lady. She was a very reserved but warm person and managed their life very competently. My grandfather was a short, slim man who from the time I knew him as a person, was not well. …  My grandparents had applied for a visa to the United States before the outbreak of World War II, but failed to be granted immigrant status. In retrospect, I am convinced that my grandfather’s condition was the reason, as they had enough money to qualify for a visa. My parents also could have vouched for them. My grandfather ended up in Theresienstadt, where he died of pneumonia, as we were told after the war. My grandmother had suffered a fatal heart attack while still living in Luxembourg.

Doris and her husband Ernst and their family ended up relocating from New York to Chicago for a business opportunity a few years after her parents and Lotte arrived .  During the 1950s, Doris went back to school and obtained her bachelor’s degree while also raising her children; in 1961 she received a masters’ degree in psychology as well.  She then went on to get a Ph.D. in psychology, specializing in neuropsychology, which was itself still a relatively new field.  After obtaining her degree, she worked at Michael Reese Hospital in the Adult Inpatient department where she eventually became the director. Sadly, after twenty years there, she found herself forced out on the basis of their mandatory retirement age.  She had just turned seventy.

By Zol87 from Chicago, Illinois, USA (Michael Reese Hospital) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Zol87 from Chicago, Illinois, USA (Michael Reese Hospital) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1987 Doris and Ernst moved to California, where the winters were milder and where her sister Lotte was living.  Doris had obtained a California license before moving and was able to continue to practice as a psychologist when they moved, but did so only for a short period before retiring.  Ernst died in 1989, and Doris died almost twenty years later in 2007.

It was fascinating to me to read Doris’ memoirs after reading Lotte’s; both sisters wrote so clearly and so powerfully about their lives.  I can see that they had much in common: great intelligence, dedication to hard work and to family, astute powers of observation, and a love of language.  Doris struck me as the more thick-skinned of the two sisters, often talking about her independence and emotional distance from others, even as a young child.  Doris wrote about being somewhat of a loner and keeping her thoughts and feelings to herself.  I would imagine that those qualities served her well as she endured her teen years in Hitler’s Germany and a voyage alone to America in 1937 as well as her adjustment to life in America.

Overall, I am struck by how strong these two women were, both as children in Germany, as new immigrants to the US, and as women experiencing all the changes that came in the years after World War II.    I’d like to think some of that is the Seligmann DNA that we share, but I doubt that I would have been as resilient and brave as they had to be, if I had had to endure the challenges and hardships they did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moritz James Oppenheimer: The (More) Complete Story

Several weeks ago I received a comment on the blog from Angelika Oppenheimer, the granddaughter of Moritz James Oppenheimer, whose life I wrote about here.  He was the successful businessman who owned the horse breeding farm in Germany that was appropriated by the Nazis.  Moritz Oppenheimer died in 1941, an apparent suicide after being “visited” by the Gestapo.

Angelika found the blog because she was interested in knowing more about her grandfather’s family, and I am grateful because I now have learned more about her grandfather’s life and about the lives of his children and grandchildren.

Angelika Oppenheimer

Angelika Oppenheimer photo courtesy of Angelika

Angelika is my third cousin, once removed.  Here is a chart explaining our relationship:

Angelika to me chart

 

 

Moritz James Oppenheimer was born in 1879 in Butzbach, Germany, the youngest child of Maier Oppenheimer and Pauline Seligmann.  As seen above, he was the grandchild of Moritz Seligmann and Babetta Schoenfeld, my three-times great-grandparents.  Here is a photo of him as a young man from Fred Michel’s photo album,

Moritz Oppenheimer

Moritz Oppenheimer Photo courtesy of the Michel family

According to a resume provided to me by Angelika, in 1901 he founded the Mitteldeutsche Papierwarenfabrik situated in the Hanauer Landstraße and the Rheinische Sackfabrik.  Moritz was a member of the board of directors of several companies throughout Germany, including the Kostheimer Cellulose und Papierfabrik (Kostheim-Mainz), the Danziger Verpackungsindustrie at Danzig, the Fabbrica Italiana Sacchi Ercole at Villanovetta, the Mechanische Papiersackfabrik A.G. at Saarbrücken, the Sankt Georg Verlag at Berlin and the Bayrische Reitschule at Munich.

Emma Neuhoff and Moritz James Oppenheimer photo courtesy of Angelika Oppenheimer

Emma Neuhoff and Moritz James Oppenheimer
photo courtesy of Angelika Oppenheimer

Sometime before 1902, Moritz married Emma Katherina Neuhoff, who was not Jewish.  According to Angelika, she was a descendant of Theodor Neuhoff, born in Cologne, Germany, who traveled throughout Europe and was at one time the king of Corsica.  According to Wikipedia, “At Genoa, Neuhoff made the acquaintance of some Corsican rebels and exiles, and persuaded them that he could free their country from Genoese tyranny if they made him king of the island. With the help of the Bey of Tunis, he landed in Corsica in March 1736 with military aid. The islanders, whose campaign had not been successful, elected and crowned him king. He assumed the title of King Theodore I, issued edicts, instituted an order of knighthood, and waged war on the Genoese, at first with some success. But in-fighting among the rebels soon led to their defeat.”

Theodore Neuhoff

Theodor Neuhoff

Emma Neuhoff was a gifted musician and an excellent horsewoman, according to her granddaughter Angelika.

Emma Neuhoff Oppenheimer

Emma Neuhoff Oppenheimer  Photo courtesy of Angelika Oppenheimer

Here are two pages from a German magazine discussing M.J Oppenheimer and his wife Emma.  I think it’s a publication about thoroughbred breeding and racing, but I cannot read the pages.  Perhaps some kind German-speaking reader can help?

Familiengeschiche 2 Familiengeschichte3

(Angelika told me that the drawing of Emma illustrating this article was commissioned by the Historical Museum of Frankfort based on Emma’s reputation as an excellent horsewoman.)

Moritz and Emma had two children: Paula (1902) and Walter (1904), Angelika’s father.  Paula married a Catholic man named Rudolf Spiegler, a doctor, and converted to Catholicism; they had two children, Gabriele and Wolfgang. Paula and her family did not face any persecution during the war.

As for Angelika’s father Walter, he married Suzanne Zier on December 23, 1933.  Walter had been raised and baptized as a Christian, and his wife also was not Jewish, yet Walter faced substantial discrimination during the Nazi era.  In April 1945, as the war in Europe was ending, he wrote the following essay, describing both his own life and what happened to his father Moritz after the Nazis came to power:

27 April 1945

Biographical memorandum

I was born on 10 July 1904, son of the industrialist and thoroughbred horse-breeder Consul M.J. Oppenheimer, in Frankfurt am Main. After three years at preparatory school, I attended the Goethe Gymnasium in that city for nine years; I left school, having obtained my school leaving certificate (Abitur), at Easter 1923. After studying for six terms at Frankfurt University (Law and National Economy), I sat the examination for articled clerk at the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court [Oberlandesgericht]. After a period as an articled clerk at the court in Frankfurt, in 1927 I took my doctorate under Professor de Boor. After a lengthy period of practical training as a fitter in an engineering works, and as a paper-maker in paper-mills, I then joined my father’s paper-products company, the Mitteldeutsche mechanische Papierwarenfabrik, in Frankfurt. From 1931 I was Chief Company Secretary of this company belonging to my father as sole owner. At that time it was the largest company of its kind in Germany, and for a period employed together with its subsidiaries more than 1,000 people. In 1932 I built a major subsidiary factory for my father’s company in Berlin.

My father was arrested in the autumn of 1933, at the instigation of two [NSDAP] party members (August Hartmann and Helmut Vögler) working in collaboration with the NSDAP. His entire assets were put in the hands of the lawyer [Rechtsanwalt] Max-Ernst Cuntz as prospective administrator. A bankruptcy was thus brought about, and the assets liquidated at the lowest rate, the said lawyer Cuntz selling each item at a rate far below its value, for the most part at one twentieth of purchase value. The stud farm and stables, for example (probably the biggest and best of their kind in Germany), were disposed of at a price below the level of profits from racing for the following year. The case was similar in respect of the factories, share portfolios, Hippodrome A (whose director I also was, and all shares in which belonged to my father), etc. I myself was immediately removed without compensation from all my posts by the lawyer Cuntz, on the grounds of my non-Arian status. I was also compelled to surrender my own stables, representing an approximate worth of between 70,000 and 100,000 Reichsmark, without receiving any compensation. My father was also quite illegally disqualified from receiving the stud prize. To satisfy the rules in this latter regard, for years my mother and I continued to hold two mares for my father, so that he could legally be assigned 10% of all racing prizes won by horses bred by him, in accordance with stud rules: except with the proviso that no stud prizes could be paid out to a Jew; the authorities retained this annual sum, comprising up to 100,000 Reichsmark, and finally had it credited either to themselves or to the Union Klub. My father, who was perfectly healthy, became ill owing to ill-treatment during his detention. He was declared unfit for detention in 1934/5, and finally took his own life when he was about to be arrested again in 1941 preparatory to being sent to a camp.

I myself with my mother had founded the company Paverk, Gesellschaft für Papierverarbeitung in December 1933. As I could not appear in person as a holder of shares in a limited company, an Arian uncle of my mother acted for me. Then, in 1937, I transferred this share in trust to my father-in-law Otto Zier, now [April 1945] of Friedberg in Hessen, Dieffenbachstrasse 25, together with a further 20,000 Reichsmark of shares created in settlement of my assets, so that, of the total sum of 40,000 Reichsmark in shares of the above company, 10,000 Reichsmark of my mother’s and 30,000 of mine belonged in trust to my father-in-law. By the beginning of the war, however, with a nominal capital of 40,000 Reichsmark the company had an actual value of some 250,000 to 300,000 Reichsmark, as, thanks to the diligent efforts of my employees, the company had been highly successful under my stewardship.

My wife having died suddenly from pneumonia in April 1935, at the beginning of 1941 my father-in-law saw fit to attempt to misappropriate the shares that had been transferred to him in trust. As, owing to my status as a person of mixed blood, I myself could not appear as a plaintiff, I assigned my claim to my mother, who instituted legal proceedings and won her case, at both first and second instance. The papers relating to the case are still available in their entirety: reference 2/5 2/9 0 30/41. These papers clearly demonstrate how Zier attempted to influence the court using the entire gamut of National-Socialist arguments, with reports against me and the company being sent to all sections of the Party, including district and financial counsellors (Kreis- und Wirtschafts-berater – [advisors to the Gauleiter under National Socialism]) Eckhardt, Degenhardt, and Avieny, the DAF [Deutsche ArbeitsFront – national trades union organisation under the National Socialists], the Gestapo, etc. At last instance, the High Court [Reichsgericht] awarded my mother only 10,000 Reichsmark unconditionally, while presuming improper concealment [unsittliche Tarnung] in respect of the remaining 20,000 Reichsmark. This finding is the subject of a new trial before the District Court [Landgericht] in Frankfurt (2/5 0 36/44), over whose outcome in my mother’s favour there may be little reason to doubt. Quite apart from these machinations on Zier’s part, which caused not only the Paverk company but also my mother and myself endless spiritual and material harm, we had also much else to suffer at the hands of the NSDAP.

When the company was heavily bombed in 1943, and totally bombed out in February 1944, Herr Hermann of the Gauwirtschaftskammer [regional economic organization under National Socialism] prevented the rebuilding of the plant and re-acquisition of machines. In addition, I myself was arrested by the Gestapo in the autumn of 1942, the only charge against me being my engagement to an Arian woman in contravention of the rules. I was not released again until 28 May 1943. My entire household effects to the value of about 70,000 Reichsmark (peacetime value), including art collections etc., had meanwhile been taken, and the Gestapo official Wildhirt installed in my flat. In 1943, my fiancée was conscripted to work at the Mayfahrt company under the harshest of conditions at the direct instigation of the Gestapo. The main initiator in these matters was Zier, who did not, however, proceed in his own name, but employed the services of his friends Fabian-Gramlich (insofar as I have been able to determine up to now), while my furniture was removed by a painter by the name of Baumann, who did work for the police.

I married on 11 April 1945, immediately after the liberation by the Americans. I was allocated a flat at Freiherr vom Stein Strasse 56/1, which I immediately had redecorated and furnished with furniture belonging to my wife, only to have the flat abruptly requisitioned by US soldiers on 26 April 1945.

Initialled “W.O.” at Frankfurt am Main on 27 April 1945

I, David M.B. Richardson MCIoL, certify this to be a true and fair translation of a photocopied document in German provided to me by Frau Angelika Oppenheimer, daughter of Walter Oppenheimer.

Westcliff-on-Sea, 11 August 2015.

Walter’s essay reveals so much about the hate-filled and carefully plotted system used by the Nazis to crush, humiliate, and destroy the Jews.  First, they stripped them of their property, then they stripped them of their dignity, and finally they killed them and stripped them of their lives.  Moritz Oppenheimer, a man of great wealth, was brought to his knees by the Nazis and demoralized to the point that he took his own life rather than be subjected to further humiliation and abuse and ultimately murdered. One aspect of that humiliation and abuse not mentioned in Walter’s essay was the forced annulment of his marriage to Emma Neuhoff because of Moritz’s Jewish background.

Moritz and Emma’s son Walter, a highly educated and successful man in his own right and not even raised as a Jew, was denied his property and his rights and had his own father-in-law betray him and his trust after his first wife died in 1935.  According to Angelika, Walter’s brother-in-law was in the SS.  Only because Walter had a non-Jewish mother who bribed the local Nazi official in Frankfort was he allowed to survive.

As he wrote above, Walter married his second wife, Elsa Lina Wiegandt, in 1945, and they had a daughter, my cousin Angelika.   In 1946, Walter sought the return of the property that had been taken from him by the Gestapo, primarily the books he treasured so much.  Here is the letter he wrote and Angelika’s translation of that letter:

Walter Oppenheimer letter

Dr. Walter Oppenheimer                                  Frankfurt a. M., den 25. Oktober 1946          Niedenau 45

An das Archival Depot

Offenbach am Main

Mainstraße 167

Concerning: stolen books

With polite reference to the notice published the 22nd October under the above mentioned headword in the ‘Frankfurter Rundschau’, I take the liberty of presenting you the following:

I was arrested by the Gestapo the 26th October 1942 for purely political and racial reasons. My apartment was handed over to the Gestapo officer Wildhirt while my furniture was first and foremost transferred by a Gestapo agent to the second principal of the Gestapo here, Mister Grosse. The biggest part of my library was taken away with it. A part of the books was rubber-stamped with my name but the bigger part of it was without the name of the legitimate owner.

If there are any books of mine in your office, I ask you nicely to furnish information to me. Especially the following books mean much to me:

A 17-vlume gilt-edged edition of GOETHE in red morocco leather;

A complete half leather edition of HAUFF with gold ornament on the spine;

A half leather edition of KLEIST’s writings with gold ornament on the spine;

MUTHER: 3 volumes of history of painting, green cloth binding;

SPRINGER: 5 volumes on art history, half cloth binding and cloth binding respectively;

20 – 25 volumes of monographs on artists, partly half leather editions, partly with half cloth binding and cloth binding respectively, red with gold ornament, edition of the Stuttgarter Verlagsanstalt;

A five volume edition of HÖLDERLIN, grey pasteboards.

Many thanks indeed for your efforts in anticipation.

With all due respect to you!

I was impressed by the diversity of subjects in his library and by how much he valued his books. I also was struck by how polite and almost deferential he was in asking for the return of what was already rightfully his own.   At least some of the books were returned and remain today with Angelika.  Here is a photo of her father Walter.

Walter Oppenheimer 1972 courtesy of Angelika Oppenheimer

Walter Oppenheimer 
courtesy of Angelika Oppenheimer

Angelika shared this photograph of her family and friends at her Lutheran confirmation celebration taken in about 1961.

Angelika's confirmation Courtesy of Angelika Oppenheimer

Angelika’s confirmation c. 1961
Courtesy of Angelika Oppenheimer

From left to right: Paula Oppenheimer Spiegler (paternal aunt) , Emma Neuhoff Oppenheimer (grandmother), Christiane Wiegandt (Angelika’s maternal cousin), Christiane Bott (classmate), Sylvia Berres (classmate), Elsa (nee Wiegandt) Oppenheimer (Angelika’s mother), Angelika,, Walter Oppenheimer (Angelika’s father), Karl Wiegandt (Angelika’s maternal uncle), Karli (Angelika’s maternal cousin), Annie Wiegandt (wife of Karl), Herta Dorner (friend), Gabriele Spiegler (Paula’s daughter), either Wolfgang Spiegler or Gabriele’s husband.

I feel very fortunate that Angelika was able to find me through this blog.  Her family’s story is yet another lesson in the destructive power of prejudice, on the one hand, and the ultimate power that human beings have to survive and overcome those destructive forces, on the other.

Angelika and I have lived very different lives; we grew up with different religious backgrounds, we live in different countries, we speak different languages.  My immediate family lived through World War II in relative safety; hers was scarred forever.  But despite those differences, we know that we share a common history that ties us together as cousins.  Isn’t that remarkable?

 

Lotte’s Story, Part II:  Life in Nazi Germany

This is the second part of a three-part post about the life of my cousin Lotte, who was born in Germany, left in 1938, and came to the United States in 1939.  You can read Part One here.

Although Lotte was only eleven years old on January 30, 1933, when Adolf Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany, she has vivid memories of that day and the events leading up to it.

Lotte wrote:

For years, the Nazis had been a minority party. Many people thought they could not possibly rise to power. But in 1933, Germany was in the grip of the world-wide depression precipitated by the crash of the American stock market and an enormous scandal involving Ivar Kreuger, the Swedish Match King, whose pyramid scam had caused the collapse of the European markets. Unemployment was widespread and severe. In addition, Germany’s pride, so badly hurt by the harsh and unrealistic provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, was crying for revenge. Thus the stage had been set for the dramatic rise of the Nazis whose promise of hope, and whose message of antisemitism, fell on accepting ears. In November of 1932 they succeeded in winning an election and joined up with the “German National Party”, a very rightist holdout of frustrated generals and army protagonists, frustrated because the German army was severely limited by the peace treaty. …But then, on that ominous day in January, President Paul von Hindenburg, a tottering and senile ex- general, appointed Adolf Hitler to be the chancellor.

Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring performing the...

Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring performing the salute at a Nazi party rally in Nuremberg (ca. 1928) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like many Jewish residents of Germany, Lotte’s father at first was not overly concerned about Hitler and his party.  Her mother was more worried.

My father, who was a decorated veteran of World War One, owner of the Iron Cross medal, and a respected physician in the community, kept on stating that nothing could really happen to us. That the whole thing would blow over. My mother, always a realist, an activist and somewhat of a pessimist, painted a different picture. She was a convinced Social Democrat with a leftist leaning, whereas my father supported the more centrist “Zentrum” party. There had been many heated arguments about politics in our house, and both Doris and I were quite up-to-date on what had been going on.

It did not take long for Lotte’s mother to be proven right about her concerns about the Nazis.  By February, 1933, the father of one of Lotte’s close friends was sent to Dachau, and when he returned, he and his family left Germany.  While the father was still in Dachau, his daughter and Lotte were assaulted on the street by three boys, leaving Lotte with a bloody lip.

Lotte soon became fearful of saying the wrong thing and getting her family into trouble.  Lotte wrote:

A few days into February [1933] I found that a large picture of Adolf Hitler was hanging in my classroom. Without thinking I exclaimed more or less to myself: “Does that guy have to stare right into my face?” The boy sitting in front of me, known to be a “Nazi”, turned around and said “what did you say?” I don’t remember what I answered, but I was scared to death about the possibility that some harm could come to my father. Fortunately, the boy did not report the incidence, and nothing happened. But from there on I knew that I had to be extremely careful with what I said or did. There was always a certain pressure, a certain fear looming over my head, not a very healthy state for a child and then a teenager. And that fear increased as time went on.

By April, the Nazis had instituted a boycott of Jewish businesses, and Lotte’s father was directly affected by this:

A yellow sign with a Magen David (Jewish star) bearing the inscription “Jewish Enterprise” was plastered over my father’s medical shingle. An S.A. man (Nazi stormtrooper) was planted at the entrance to the building with instructions to prevent anyone other than residents from entering. But one well-meaning elderly woman told him to be ashamed of himself, that my father, who handled many deliveries, had actually brought him into this world, and the young man shamefacedly trotted away.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABoycot_of_Jewish_shops_april_1_1933.jpeg

A stormtrooper stands in front of a store being boycotted (Not Lotte’s family) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABoycot_of_Jewish_shops_april_1_1933.jpeg

In her memoirs, Lotte describes the various ways that life for Jews in Germany became increasingly intolerable between 1933 and 1935, when the Nuremberg Laws were enacted.  Jews were not allowed in restaurants, theaters, and concert halls.  They could not ice skate or swim in public pools.  Blatant expressions of anti-Semitism by storm troopers and others became commonplace.  Even one of Lotte’s teachers espoused anti-Semitic rhetoric:

My French teacher, who had been known to have been a Social Democrat and who had quite opportunistically converted to Naziism, actually had the gall to try to console me by stating that none of the shenanigans were really meant to be antisemitic, but that the day would come when it would be discovered that the blood in Jewish veins actually was different from that of “Aryans”, the true Germans.

Although most Jewish children were forced to leave the public schools, Lotte was able to stay at the Gymnasium because her father had served in the army during World War I.  However, she knew she was facing discrimination:

At the end of each school year the three best scholars received prizes donated by local merchants. Being Jewish, I never received such a prize. My home room teacher used excuses, or I was given an undeserved “C” in a minor subject. Twice I just received an “honorable mention”.  Later on they no longer bothered to cover up, and I knew why.

Another incident occurred when Lotte attended a concert, violating the prohibition:

I attend a concert by the fourteen year old Yehudi Menuhin who, wearing shorts, looks like a little boy but plays beautifully. Of course being Jewish I am not supposed to be in the concert hall where I meet the grandmother of one of my non-Jewish friends. The lady looks the other way, completely ignoring me, although I have spent many hours at her house in friendlier times.

Meanwhile, Lotte became more interested in learning about her Jewish identity.  As described last time, her father had left the Jewish community, and Lotte’s upbringing had been completely secular.  Her limited exposure to Judaism had occurred when she had visited her maternal grandparents in Neunkirchen.  But once Hitler came to power, Lotte’s father Joseph rejoined the Jewish community, and Lotte felt a desire to learn more about what it meant to be Jewish.

First, she tried a class for Jewish religious instruction.  Her description may seem familiar to many who attended Hebrew School growing up in the US:

The teacher had one look at me and promptly asked what I was doing there, but condescended to let me stay. There was a lot of noise in the classroom, nobody was paying any attention, and the teacher could only try to keep some order by slapping the faces of some and shouting louder than the others. After attending twice I was completely turned off and never went there again. Nobody ever asked me to come back.

Lotte then enrolled in a Zionist youth group, Die Werkleute, where she found a group of like-minded Jewish youth and learned a lot more about Judaism.  Although her parents did not support the Zionist movement, for Lotte it became a political, religious, and social outlet.

As far as I was concerned, the concept of Zionism fell on fertile ears. I remembered the KKL box on my grandparents’ chest, and I needed something positive to look forward to, seeing how my future in Germany was being destroyed systematically. A few of my friends actually went to Israel by enrolling in the Youth Aliyah program which was in full force by then and was instrumental in to rescuing Jewish children. Others were planning to spend some time in preparation for their move to the Kibbutz by gaining work experience in agriculture, gardening and some of the trades. I was not quite ready to do just that, but I certainly expected to emigrate to Israel somehow at some time in the future. Fate had it that things worked out differently for me. But more about that later. 

I learned a lot about Judaism at that time. Some of the members were very observant, and everybody respected that, but on the whole religion was downplayed. It was discussed in a more or less theoretical context. Jewish history, especially the history of Zionism, and Jewish peoplehood were the thrust of our education. At the same time the value of our background of German culture was stressed. We took our mission very seriously.

Werkleute group in Frankfort, Germany 1927 (not Lotte's group) http://www.infocenters.co.il/gfh/multimedia/GFH/0000065842/0000065842_1_web.jpg

Werkleute group in Frankfort, Germany 1927 (not Lotte’s group)
http://www.infocenters.co.il/gfh/multimedia/GFH/0000065842/0000065842_1_web.jpg

In 1936, Lotte’s father was excluded from the state-run insurance system which had provided him with many of his patients.  He finally realized that it might be time to leave Germany before it was too late.  First, the family arranged for Lotte’s older sister Doris to emigrate; she left for the United States in 1937.  Lotte’s parents then began to make plans for their own emigration.  .

Lotte’s grandparents Laura (Seligmann) and Samuel Winter and her great-uncle Jakob Seligmann had already left Germany for Luxembourg a few years earlier.  As explained by Lotte, Neunkirchen was located in the Saar region, which had been under French control after World War I, as agreed to in the Treaty of Versailles.  In 1935, there was a plebiscite to determine whether or not the region should be returned to Germany, and the residents of the Saar region voted overwhelmingly to rejoin Germany (over 90%).  Under the terms of the Treaty, however, anyone dissatisfied with the result could leave the area.  Thus, Lotte’s grandparents and great-uncle had gone to Luxembourg, where German was spoken.  Lotte beautifully described where her grandparents lived in Luxembourg:

With my mother’s help they managed to move to a lovely small apartment at the foot of a hill in the fairytale-like city of Luxembourg. The view toward the skyline silhouette, way above, was breathtaking. The ruins of an ancient watchtower and of fortifications lay on the way up to the city. Grand-duchess Charlotte ruled the country which had an army of about 100 men. At times you could see two or three of the soldiers marching behind each other, rifles on their shoulders. Had it not been for a shortage of funds, it would have been an idyllic place to live.

Luxembourg

 

Lotte’s mother Anna persuaded her husband to move to Luxembourg when they made the decision to emigrate. Lotte wrote:

Once the decision was made, all the following steps fell into place. I had to leave school and take the courses needed to prepare me for a different life. My father closed his office. We obtained the necessary passports featuring the addition of the name “Sara” for my mother and me. “Joseph”, my father’s name, was sufficiently Jewish to avoid any changes. The passports were not hard to get since one of the officials at the office was known to oblige when a DM 10.00 note was slipped into each application. Ours was the last family in Mannheim to be allowed to pack most of its belongings.

Lotte remembers what this meant for her education.

Unfortunately my schooling was rudely interrupted when my parents began to make preparations for emigration. Much to my chagrin I had to quit school in the middle of the equivalent of my junior year. Instead, I took courses in English and French shorthand, typing and commercial correspondence at a private school. I also learned the rudiments of using a sewing machine, courtesy of a school run by nuns. I must add that for a couple of years I had also studied English with a very proper Oxford-trained teacher at the private Berlitz School.

On a more positive note, Lotte’s parents saw to it that she would have a good violin before they left Germany.

In preparation for eventual emigration my father and I travel to Stuttgart to buy a new violin for me. Or rather, it is a beautiful old Italian instrument, bearing a label stating that it was made by Matteo Albani in 1698. It has a gorgeous flamed wood back, gracefully molded. The sound is magnificent. My teacher assists in the purchase which also includes a light brown case lined with light blue plush. A piece of matching blue silk serves as a wrapper for the instrument. It will soon become a part of me. I am ecstatic.

An Albani violin

An Albani violin  http://www.bromptons.co/reference/articles/details/sears-danelectro-history.html

 

I would imagine that that feeling of ecstasy was tempered by some sadness about leaving behind her childhood home, the city of Mannheim where she’d grown up, and her birth country.  But Lotte’s memoirs do not convey sadness, just relief.

On the day scheduled for the packing, an inspector appeared whose job it was to supervise what we were doing. He was quite a jovial man. At lunchtime he attached a yellow ribbon across the doorway and announced that he was now going to be gone for about one hour. My mother took the hint and promptly hid a box with jewelry and cash in one of the suitcases destined for Luxembourg. After exactly one hour the good man returned. Luckily he did not ask any questions and did not inspect anything.

For a few more days we stayed at the home of some friends. On May 9, 1938 my parents and I boarded a train heading for Luxembourg. Again luck was with us. Our compartment was shared with a gentleman who turned out to be the Luxembourg consul posted in Stuttgart. The German border control officers of whom we had been afraid and who might have made a lot of trouble for us, they tipped their hats in deference and did not search the compartment very thoroughly. The Luxembourg officials were considered harmless.

Not long after settling in Luxembourg, Lotte’s mother traveled to New York to attend her daughter Doris’ wedding.  When she returned better informed about what was going on in Europe, she persuaded her husband that they should leave Luxembourg and immigrate to the United States.  How fortunate it was that Doris had moved to the United States a year earlier and that her mother had come to the US to attend her wedding.  If the Wiener family had not left Luxembourg, it is very likely that Lotte would not be here today to share this remarkable story.

Next, the family’s departure from Europe, journey to America, and Lotte’s life in the new country.

 

 

Prague and Terezin

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

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

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

Entrance to prayer hall in Old New Synagogue

Entrance to prayer hall in Old New Synagogue

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

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

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

 

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

Pinkas Synagogue, Prague

Pinkas Synagogue, Prague

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

IMG_2549 buried 12 deep IMG_2550 cemetery

 

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

chevra kadisha building

chevra kadisha building

IMG_2558 cohen symbol

Cohanim symbol

Cohanim balcony

Cohanim balcony

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

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

Maisel Synagogue, Prague

Maisel Synagogue, Prague

IMG_2544 Maisel synagogue 2

Maisel's tombstone

Maisel’s tombstone

IMG_2555 Rabbi Loew tombstone

Rabbi Loew’s tombstone

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

Spanish Synagogue, Prague

Spanish Synagogue, Prague

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

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

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

Jerusalem Synagogue, Prague

Jerusalem Synagogue, Prague

IMG_2622 Jerusalem Synagogue Prague

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

Newer buildings in what was once the ghetto

Newer buildings in what was once the ghetto

IMG_2568 Prague street 5 22

Wider streets in what was once the ghetto

 

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

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

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

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

Jewish prisoners' cell, Terezin

Jewish prisoners’ cell, Terezin

 

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

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

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

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

Record for Eugen Seligmann at Terezin

Record for Eugen Seligmann at Terezin

Scan0003

Death certificate for Eugen Seligmann at Terezin

Death certificate for Eugen Seligmann at Terezin

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

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

cemetery at Terezin

cemetery at Terezin

Marker 59

Marker 59

location of mass grave where Eugen Seligmann is buried

location of mass grave where Eugen Seligmann is buried

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

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

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

 

 

Yom Hashoah

In honor of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, I am posting the links to six of my blog posts in which I discussed the members of my own family who perished in the Holocaust. Six to represent the six million Jews who were slaughtered by the Nazis during World War II.

These are all members of the Seligmann/Schoenfeld family.  I did not even know about them a year ago. And I know that there must have been members of my other family lines who were also murdered during the war.  I just haven’t found them yet.  So in memory of all those who were killed, those we know about and all those we do not yet know about, please read these posts if you have not done so already.  Or even if you have.  We must never forget.

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six


English: A lit Yahrtzeit candle, a candle that...

English: A lit Yahrtzeit candle, a candle that is lit on the Hebrew anniversary of a loved one’s death. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Passover 2015: The American Jewish Story

Handmade shmura matzo used at the Passover Sed...

Handmade shmura matzo used at the Passover Seder especially for the mitzvot of eating matzo and afikoman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A year ago I was feeling disconnected from Passover until I heard my grandson tell us the story of Passover in a way that made it feel new and exciting and different all over again.  This year his little brother will experience his first seder, though at only ten months, that experience will likely be short and quite unfocused.  Just a lot of really noisy people sitting around a table eating food that he neither can nor would want to eat.  But it’s a new reminder that every generation and every child experiences Passover as a new experience, allowing all of us who are jaded and detached to be able to relive our own early experiences with this special holiday.

Last year I entered into Passover thinking about my mother’s ancestors, the Brotmans, the Goldschlagers, and the Rosenzweigs.  I focused on their exodus from the oppression and poverty and anti-Semitism of Galicia and Romania and their courage and the desire for freedom that led them to leave all they knew to cross the continent and then the ocean and come to New York City, where they again lived in poverty but with greater hopes for a life of freedom and economic opportunity.  And they attained their goals if not in that first generation, certainly by the third and fourth generations.

Poor Jews taking home free matzohs, New York

Poor Jews taking home free matzohs, New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the last year now, I have been researching, studying and writing about my father’s paternal relatives.  It has taken just about a full year to cover the Cohens, the Jacobs (with whom I actually need to do more work), the Seligmans, the Schoenfelds, the Nusbaums, and the Dreyfusses.  Soon I will start my father’s maternal relatives—the Schoenthals and Katzensteins and whatever other surnames pop up along the way.  Researching my father’s families has been so different from my mother’s, and I can go so much further back.  I can’t get back much before 1840 with my mother’s family and have absolutely no records before 1885 or so for any of them.  Although I have a number of Romanian records for my Rosenzweig and Goldschlager relatives, I have no records at all from Europe for my great-grandparents Joseph and Bessie Brotman, despite hours and hours of searching and even DNA testing.

In contrast, my father’s ancestors have provided me with a rich opportunity to learn about Jews in Amsterdam, London, and especially the towns of Gau-Algesheim, Erbes-Budesheim, Bingen, and Schopfloch, Germany.  I have been able to find records all the way back to 1800 or so for almost every line.  I’ve had amazing help along the way on both sides of the Atlantic, and I’ve even learned a little German to boot.  My father’s families were pawnbrokers and peddlers and clothing merchants; they were pioneers and politicians and war heroes.

Harrisburg Market Square with Leo Nusbaum store

Harrisburg Market Square with Leo Nusbaum store

They came to the United States in the 1840s and 1850s, and most of them suffered terrible heartbreaks, economic struggles, and early deaths.  Most of them settled in Philadelphia and other parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but there were those who went to places that I’d never think a Jewish immigrant would go: Iowa, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, California, and, of course, New Mexico.  Many married outside the Jewish community and assimilated into American culture far more so than my mother’s relatives.  Ultimately, the Cohens/Jacobs and Seligmans/Schoenfelds and Nusbaums/Dreyfusses were successful; they found the American dream, and they embraced it.

But there is a very sad underside to this story of American success.  It’s the story of those who did not leave Europe.  For the first time in my life I confronted the reality that the Holocaust did not just happen to other families, to other Jews.  Not that I have not been deeply affected by the Holocaust all my life; ever since I read Anne Frank’s diary as a child, I’ve identified with and cried for all those who were murdered by the Nazis.  But I never knew that I had relatives left behind in Germany who were part of that slaughter.  I am still finding more, and I will write about them soon.  The list of names of my cousins who died in the Holocaust grows longer and longer, and I realize more than ever how grateful I should be to Bernard Seligman, John and Jeanette (Dreyfuss) Nusbaum, and Jacob and Sarah (Jacobs) Cohen for leaving Europe and taking a chance on the new country across the ocean.

memorial plaque gau aldesheim

So this year for Passover I will be thinking about that first major migration of Jews from Europe to America.  I will be feeling thankful for the risks my ancestors took, and I will be feeling the loss of not only all those who were killed in the Holocaust, but the loss of all the children and grandchildren who would have been born but for those deaths.

And overall I will be celebrating family, freedom, and faith—faith that the world can be a better place and that human beings can be their best selves and live good and meaningful lives.  May all of you have a wonderful weekend—be it Passover or Easter or perhaps just another weekend in April for you.   Celebrate all the good things in life in whatever way you can.

My Cousin Wolfgang and The Lessons of History: Will We Ever Learn Those Lessons?

When I started this blog back in October, 2013, I never anticipated that it would help family members find me.  But that has proven to be an incredible unexpected benefit of publishing this blog.  This is one of those stories.

Several weeks ago, I received a comment on the blog from a man named Wolfgang Seligmann, saying he was the son of Walter Seligmann, that he lived near Gau-Algesheim, and that he had found my blog while doing some research on his family.  He asked me to email him, which I did immediately, and we have since exchanged many emails and learned that we are third cousins, once removed:  his great-great-grandparents were Moritz Seligmann and Babetta Schoenfeld, my great-great-great-grandparents.  His great-grandfather August was the brother of Sigmund, Adolph and Bernard Seligman, the three who had settled in Santa Fe in the mid-19th century.   Wolfgang sent me a copy of August’s death certificate.

August Seligmann death certificate

August Seligmann death certificate

(Translations in this post courtesy of Wolfgang Seligmann except where noted: Registry-Office Gau-Algesheim: August Seligmann, living in Gau-Algesheim died the 14th of May 1909 at 8 a.m. in Gau-Algesheim. He was 67 years old and born in Gau-Algesheim. He was a widower.)

Our families had probably not been in touch since Bernard died in 1902 (or perhaps when Adolph died in 1920).  And now through the miracle of the internet and Google, Wolfgang had found my blog with his family’s names in it and had contacted me.  What would our mutual ancestors think of that?  It even seems miraculous to me, and I live in the 21st century.

Fortunately, Wolfgang’s English is excellent (since my knowledge of German is…well, about five words), and so we have been able to exchange some information about our families, and I have learned some answers to questions I had about the Seligmanns who stayed in Germany.  With Wolfgang’s permission, I would like to share some of those stories.

Wolfgang’s grandfather was Julius Seligmann, the second child and oldest son of August Seligmann and his wife Rosa Bergmann.  Julius was born in 1877 in Gau-Algesheim.  As I wrote about here, Julius was one of the Seligmanns written about in Ludwig Hellriegel’s book about the Jews of Gau-Algesheim.  He had been a merchant in the town.  On December 1, 1922, Julius had married a Catholic woman named Magdalena Kleisinger, who was born in Gau-Algesheim on July 9, 1882, and had himself converted to Catholicism.  Julius and Magdalena had two sons, Walter, who was born February 10, 1925, and Herbert, born July 27, 1927.  Julius and his family had left Gau-Algesheim for Bingen in 1939 after closing the store in 1935.

I had wondered why Julius had closed the store and then relocated to Bingen, and I asked Wolfgang what he knew about his grandfather’s life.  According to Wolfgang, his father Walter and uncle Herbert did not like to talk about the past, but Wolfgang knew that when Julius married and converted to Catholicism, his Jewish family was very upset and did not want to associate with him any longer.  In fact, Julius was forced to pay his siblings a substantial amount of money for some reason relating to his store in Gau-Algesheim, and that payment caused him and his family a great deal of financial hardship.  According to Wolfgang, Julius no longer had enough money to pay for his own home, and thus he and his family moved to Bingen in 1939 where they lived with Magdalena’s family or friends for some time.

Julius and Magdalena Seligmann

Julius and Magdalena Seligmann 1960s  Courtesy of Wolfgang Seligmann

The Hellriegel book also made some puzzling (to me) references to the military records of Wolfgang’s father and uncle, saying that they had been “allowed” to enlist in the army, but then were soon after dismissed.  Wolfgang explained that the German authorities did not know how to treat Catholic citizens with Jewish roots.  Wolfgang said that his father Walter had trained to be a pharmacist, but the Nazis would not allow him to work with anything poisonous.  In addition,  his father was not permitted to be in the army; instead  he was ordered by the authorities to work on the Siegfried Line, which was  originally built as a defensive line by the Germans during World War I.  In August 1944, Hitler ordered that it be strengthened and rebuilt, and according to Wikipedia, “20,000 forced labourers and members of the Reichsarbeitsdienst (Reich Labour Service), most of whom were 14–16-year-old boys, attempted to re-equip the line for defence purposes.”  Walter Seligmann was one of those forced laborers.

Map of the Siegfried line.

Map of the Siegfried line. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here is a photograph of Walter Seligmann, Wolfgang’s father:

Walter Seligmann  Photo courtesy of Wolfgang Seligmann

Walter Seligmann Photo courtesy of Wolfgang Seligmann

As for Wolfgang’s uncle Herbert, he was sent by the local police to the army, but the army would not accept him.  He was dismissed and sent back to Bingen, where he was required to work in a warehouse until the war ended.

Herbert Seligmann courtesy of Christoph Seligmann

Herbert Seligmann courtesy of Christoph Seligmann

Julius Seligmann died in 1967, and his wife Magdalena died the following year.  Walter Seligmann died in 1993, and his brother Herbert died in 2001.

Julius Seligmann death notice

Julius Seligmann death notice

Magdalena Seligmann death notice

There are some very bitter ironies in these stories.  Julius and his family were not accepted by his Jewish family because they were Catholic, but the Nazis did not accept them either because they had Jewish roots.  As I commented to Wolfgang, prejudice of any sort is so destructive and unacceptable.  His family experienced it from two different directions.

Not that the two examples here can be equated in any way.  Although all prejudice is wrong, prejudice that leads to genocide is utterly reprehensible, an evil beyond comprehension for anyone who has a moral compass.  I have already written about my own personal horror and pain when I realized that I had family who had been murdered by the Nazis.  Wolfgang told me more about some of those who lost their lives to Hitler and his evil forces.

One victim was his great-uncle Moritz Seligmann (the grandson of Moritz Seligmann, my 3x-great-grandfather, and a son of August Seligmann).  My information about his fate comes from two websites that Wolfgang shared with me. According to these two sites, Moritz Seligmann, Julius’ younger brother, was born on June 25, 1881.  He fought in World War I for Germany, spent two years in captivity, and was honored with the Hindenburg Cross or Cross of Honor for his service.  Despite this, in the aftermath of Kristallnacht, on November 11, 1938, Moritz was arrested in Konigstein, where he had been living since 1925.  He was sent to the concentration camp at Buchenwald.

German Cross of Honour 1914-1918

German Cross of Honour 1914-1918 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Moritz wrote to the authorities in Konigstein, pointing out that he was the recipient of the Hindenburg Cross.  He was released from Buchenwald in December on the condition that he emigrate by March 31, 1939.  He was required to report to the police in Konigstein twice a week until then, and if he had not emigrated by the deadline, he was to be arrested.  On March 28, 1939, however, the Gestapo lifted the emigration order and the reporting requirement in light of Moritz’s service during World War I.

Here is a copy of the Gestapo letter, lifting the emigration order.  I found this a particularly chilling document to see.

Gestapo letter re Moritz Seligmann

Wolfgang helped me translate this letter as follows: Frankfort, March 20, 1939. Concerning: the “Aktionsjude” Moritz Seligmann born June 25, 1881, Gau-Algesheim, residing in Konigstein.  Seligmann has provided proof that he was a soldier in the World War as a combatant.  Therefore the reporting obligation and emigration order is lifted for him. I would ask the emigration (?) to supervise and notify us here.

As explained to me by Wolfgang and by Wikipedia,  the “Aktionsjude” referred to 26,000 Jews who were deported in the aftermath of Kristallnacht, as was Moritz Seligmann, as part of an effort to frighten other Jews to leave Germany.  Unfortunately, not enough of them did.

Despite the lifting of the order to emigrate, Moritz had hoped to immigrate to the US.  For various bureaucratic reasons described here, he was unable to get clearance to emigrate.  On June 10, 1942, he was picked up by the Nazis and transported somewhere to the east.  Exactly where and when he died is not known.

Wolfgang and his family, after researching the fate of Moritz, informed the town of Konigstein of their findings, and the town agreed to place a “stolperstein” in memory of Moritz Seligmann near his home in Konigstein.  A stolperstein (literally, a stumbling blog) is a memorial stone embedded in the ground to memorialize a victim of the Holocaust.  Here is a photograph of Wolfgang at the ceremony when Moritz Seligmann’s stolperstein was installed in Konigstein.

Wolfgang Seligmann

Wolfgang Seligmann  Courtesy of Wolfgang Seligmann

Behind him is a man who knew Moritz and remembered when Moritz was initially arrested in 1938, clinging to his Hindenburg Cross, believing it would save him from the murderous forces of the Nazis.  It may have stalled his murder, but it did not save him.

Wolfgang also told me about the fate of another sibling of his grandfather Julius, his younger sister Anna.  Anna, born in Gau-Algesheim in 1889, had married Hugo Goldmann, and they had a daughter Ruth, born in 1924 in Neunkirchen, a town about 80 miles southwest of Gau-Algesheim, where Anna and Hugo had settled. Between 1939 and 1940, many people from this area near the border with France were evacuated to locations in central Germany, and Anna, Hugo, and Ruth ended up in Halle, Germany, 350 miles to the northeast of Neunkirchen.  On June 1, 1942, they were all deported from Halle to the Sobibor concentration camp where they were all killed.  Click on each name to see the memorial pages established by the town of Halle in memory of Anna, Hugo, and Ruth.

Finally, Wolfgang told me about another member of the family.  Moritz Seligmann (the elder) had had a daughter Caroline with his first wife, Eva Schoenfeld.  Caroline was the half-sister of my great-great-grandfather Bernard. She had married a man named Siegfried Seligmann, perhaps a cousin.  Their son, Emil, died in Wiesbaden on August 9, 1942, when he was 78 years old.

Death record of Emil Seligmann, husband of Carolina Seligmann

Death record of Emil Seligmann, husband of Carolina Seligmann

(Wiesbaden: The Emil Jakob Israel Seligmann, without profession, “israelitisch”  [presumably meaning Jewish], living in Wiesbaden, Gothestraße Nr. 5, died on 9th of August 1942 in his Apartment. He  was born on 23th of December 1863 in Mainz.

Father: Siegfried Seligmann, deceased.  Mother: Karoline Seligmann, nee Seligmann, deceased.  He was widower of Anna Maria Angelika born as Illien. The death was announced by Emil Seligmann, his son, living Goethestraße Nr.5.

The stamp in the left hand margin says:  Wiesbaden, 31th of May 1949.  The “Zwangsvorname”Israel is deleted.  Zwangsvorname translates as “forced first name,” meaning that the name Israel had been required by the Nazis, I assume as a way to identify him as Jewish.

Emil had a son, also named Emil, who died in Buchenwald, as this record attests.

Emil Seligmann-KZ (1)

(To: Miss Christine Seligmann, Wiesbaden, Goethestr. Nr. 5,1

From: Special registry-office in Arolsen-Waldeck, department Buchenwald

Subject: death-certification for Emil-Jakob Seligmann, Your letter from the 1. of March 1950

Based on the documents of the International Tracing Service in Arolsen it is proved, that your brother died on 14th of February 1945 in the Concentration Camp Buchenwald. )

I imagine that this is not the end of the list of the Seligmanns who were murdered during the Holocaust, and I imagine that there are also many other family members I never knew about who were killed by the Nazis, whether they were named Schoenfeld, Nussbaum, Dreyfuss, Goldschlager, Rosenzweig, Cohen, or Brotman or something else.  I just haven’t found them yet.

Wolfgang and I plan to keep on exchanging stories, pictures, documents, and other information.  We have also already talked about meeting someday and walking in the footsteps of our mutual ancestors.  What an honor it will be to be with him as we share our family’s story.