Looking Back and Looking Forward: A Story for the New Year

For Rosh Hashanah this year, I want to share a story about one of my cousins. His life is a true example of how we as human beings are capable not only of inconceivable evil but more importantly of boundless love and undying hope and gratitude.

When we talk about the Holocaust, the number six million is both overwhelming and numbing. Our minds can’t grasp what six million people looks like—what six million of anything would look like. Visiting the camps makes that number somewhat more comprehensible; when we visited Auschwitz in 2015 and saw the huge piles of eyeglasses, of shoes, of suitcases, each representing one of those six million killed, it made the scope of the horror more visceral. It gave us a concrete, visual way of imagining each of those killed. This video also helps to illustrate the immensity of that number:

 

But for me, it is the individual stories of those people who were killed that leave the biggest impact. If we read one story about one of the six million who were killed each day for our entire life, we still would hardly make a dent in the total numbers. Assuming we read a story a day for eighty years, we would still have read fewer than 30,000 stories—learned about only 30,000 of the six million who were killed. And that doesn’t even include the horrifying stories of many of the survivors—those who survived the camps, those who spent the years in hiding, those who escaped but who had lost their families and homes forever.

This is the story of a cousin whose life was forever changed because of the Nazis. He wishes to remain anonymous, so I will refer to him simply as J. J is my fifth cousin, another descendant of Jakob Falcke; his family left Oberlistingen, Germany at the end of the 19th century and moved to the Netherlands, where for many generations the men were butchers and cattle traders or worked in the textile and clothing business. J’s father was a butcher.

Their quiet lives were forever altered after the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in May, 1940. J’s father was taken to Mauthausen concentration camp, where he was killed in October, 1941. J, who was just a young boy, and his mother and younger sister were left behind. When it became clear that the Nazis were going to start deporting all the Jews in Holland to concentration camps, J’s mother placed her two children in an orphanage in Utrecht, believing that the Nazis would not deport children because they would be too young to work. J’s mother and her sisters went into hiding with a non-Jewish family.

Description: Jewish Memorial in Mauthausen Concentration Camp, Austria main courtyard. 
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mauthausen-Jewish_memorial.jpg
Photographer: Gianmaria Visconti
Year: 2002

But then in December, 1942, those living in the orphanage were moved from Utrecht to the ghetto in Amsterdam, and J’s mother realized that her children were in imminent danger. She tried to get her children released from the orphanage, but it was impossible. Instead, a cousin who was working at a hospital in Amsterdam somehow managed to kidnap the children and bring them to a safe place in Amsterdam where J and his sister could then be placed in hiding.

At that point J’s mother relinquished her spot in the home where she and her sisters had been hiding so that her son, my cousin J, would have a safe place to hide. His sister was hidden somewhere else. J’s mother moved to different hiding places, but she was eventually discovered by the Nazis in the fall of 1943. She was deported to Auschwitz where she was murdered in October 1943. As J expressed it to me, she had given everything so that her children would survive.

Deportation of Jews from Amsterdam
By Anonymous (National Archives) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

J and his sister survived the war in their hiding places. After the war, his sister immigrated to Israel, where she still lives. J stayed in the Netherlands and continued to live with the brave couple who had kept first his mother and aunts safe and then kept him safe. He described them as being like grandparents to him. They made it possible for him to go to college, where he trained to become a veterinarian.

Despite the horrible losses he experienced as a young boy, J has led a remarkably productive and happy life. In addition to achieving professional success, he has been married since 1958 and has four children, ten grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.  He is another example of the resilience of human beings who, in the face of the darkest evil and the most heinous cruelty, somehow emerge into the light and are able to give and receive love and find the good and the beautiful in our world.

For me this is an appropriate story for Rosh Hashanah,  It reminds us that although we must always look back and remember, we also have to look forward with hope. We must be cognizant of all that is evil in the world, but we must embrace all that is good and beautiful.

May we all find the light of love and share all that is good and beautiful in the coming year.

L’shanah tova! A good year to you all, family and friends!

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

Milton Goldsmith: A Victim of Conscience

In my last post we saw what my cousin Milton Goldsmith predicted for the 21st century; in this post, we will start to look at his life in the 20th century.

In 1900, Milton was recently married to Sophie Hyman of New York City, and the newlywed couple were living in Philadelphia where Milton continued to make a living as a clothing merchant. Their first child, Rosalind, was born on February 1, 1901, in Philadelphia,1 and a second daughter, Madeleine, followed on May 20, 1904, also in Philadelphia.2

By this time Milton had published his first novel, Rabbi and Priest (1891), as discussed here, as well as a second novel, A Victim of Conscience (1903).3

A Victim of Conscience takes place in the 1850s in a city that is unnamed but (based on the street names) is most likely Philadelphia. The main character is a recent German Jewish immigrant named Isaac Schwartz.  He has been in America for four years at the beginning of the novel and is living in dire poverty, desperate for a way to earn enough money to support his family. He finally decides to go to California to join the gold rush. There he encounters anti-Semitism and abuse and ultimately commits the crime that makes him a “victim of conscience.”

The principal theme of the book is atonement. Isaac seeks advice from a rabbi about how to atone for his crime and is discouraged by some of the rigidity of Jewish law. He then considers converting to Catholicism and studies with a priest, but ultimately decides that he can’t accept the notion that mere faith in Christ as his savior will provide salvation. In the end he learns that Judaism can provide a path to forgiveness and expiation for his sins.

The book’s focus is thus on Isaac’s struggle with his conscience and how religion affects that struggle. But the book is of more interest to me in the way that it reflects the way my cousin Milton understood his own family’s story—their life in Germany, their reasons for leaving Germany, and the life they found when they first settled in the US fifty years before he wrote this book. A few excerpts will illustrate what I mean.

Although I have no reason to assume that Milton was being at all autobiographical in describing the lives of some of his characters, I did wonder whether this description of Isaac’s life in Germany was based on his father Abraham’s life in Oberlistingen before emigrating:4

Isaac’s father, old Meyer Schwartz, was a power in his native village of D. He was in fair circumstances, and educated as far as education went in those days; for the Jews, rich and poor alike, were denied the privileges of the village schools, and were limited in their instruction to the teachings of their “Cheders ” and the scraps of information which they could impart one to the other. Old Schwartz was a profound Talmud scholar, and was deemed as wise as he was devout, which was no equivocal compliment, for he was pious indeed. … It was [his] ambition to make a Rabbi of [Isaac], but in spite of his earnest and painstaking instruction, Isaac never got beyond the general outlines of the law and the Talmud. Buying and selling afforded him more pleasure than poring over parchments, and, after a vain effort to keep him to his studies, old Schwartz reluctantly allowed him to follow his own inclinations.

Milton also provided some background for the reasons so many German Jews emigrated:5

In those days the Jews in Germany had few rights and many grievances. Harsh measures were devised, stringent laws enacted to drive them out of the country, or at least to restrict their increase. The possession and cultivation of land, the study of a profession, the following of the fine arts, were all interdicted. Buying and selling, borrowing and lending, were the only channels in which the Israelites were allowed to exercise their ingenuity, and grievous was their condition in consequence. Worse still, a Jew was not allowed to marry until some co-religionist in the community had died or had moved away.

His main character Isaac decides to emigrate because he wants to marry the woman he loves, Lena, and cannot stay in his home community and do so.

Milton also described the hard lives of the Jews who made a living as peddlers after coming to the US, as his father Abraham probably did:6

A number of peddlers were among the visitors, stalwart young fellows but lately arrived from Germany, who, with a heavy pack on their shoulders, or, if their means allowed, with horse and wagon, wandered through the State, hawking a varied assortment of merchandise, and seeking to master the American tongue while they accumulated American dollars. It was a hard experience, but a salutary one. For the pious Jews, peddling meant untold privations, a total abstinence of all food except eggs and such “Kosher” dried meats as they could carry with them. It meant a weary trudging through unfamiliar villages, over stony roads, amid hostile surroundings, from Sunday morning until Friday evening, and a short rest on the Sabbath in some synagogue town.

It was a career which might well have daunted the most enterprising youth, and yet thousands of “greenhorns ” adopted it, thrived at it, became wealthy through it. It was not considered degrading in those pioneer days, but eminently proper for a new arrival.

19th century etching of a peddler by Granger found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/1-peddler-19th-century-granger.html

The book also sheds light on the lives of German Jewish families in Philadelphia during that time period—the level of observance of Jewish law, the economic and social conditions, and the relationship between the Jewish and non-Jewish communities. The book is likely more valuable today for what it reveals about its times than for its literary merit, but for me, it was a worthwhile read.

Thus, by 1903, Milton had published two novels and written many essays, short stories, and even a musical. He and his family must have decided that it was time to leave Philadelphia and move to New York City where he might have more opportunities to pursue his literary career.

You can download a free copy of A Victim of Conscience here.


  1. Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Births, 1860-1906,” database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VBYW-R9L : 9 March 2018), Rosalind Goldsmith, 01 Feb 1901; citing bk 1901 p 107, Department of Records; FHL microfilm 1,289,340. 
  2. Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Births, 1860-1906,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VBBL-N5K : 8 December 2014), Madeline Goldsmith, 29 May 1904; citing cn 22583, Department of Records; FHL microfilm 2,110,933. 
  3. Milton Goldsmith, A Victim of Conscience (Henry T. Coates & Co., 1903). 
  4. Ibid., p.6. 
  5. Ibid., p. 7. 
  6. Ibid., pp. 84-85. 

Milton Goldsmith: Rabbi and Priest

When I prepared this post, it didn’t occur to me that I would be publishing it on the day  that is both Good Friday and Erev Passover—the night of the first seder. But it couldn’t be a more appropriate day to post about a book that deals with the need for religious tolerance—written by my cousin Milton Goldsmith in 1891.

Happy Passover and Happy Easter to all!


Abraham Goldsmith’s oldest child was his son Milton, born to Abraham’s first wife Cecelia on May 22, 1861, in Philadelphia.1 I have been looking forward to researching and writing about Milton for a long time, ever since my father told me that he had once met one of his Goldsmith cousins and remembered that he had written children’s books. It took me a while to figure out which Goldsmith that was, but I believe that it must have been Milton.

From what I’ve written about Milton so far, you would not know about his literary interests and career.  From the late 1880s until at least 1900, public records listed his occupation as clothing merchant, and he worked in his father’s clothing store, A.Goldsmith & Sons, for many years.

But even during those years, Milton was engaged in other, more creative pursuits. According to one online biography, Milton graduated from Central High School in Philadelphia in 1877 and then studied literature, languages, and music at the University of Zurich for three years from 1877 until 1880 when he returned to Philadelphia.

His first full length novel was published by the Jewish Publication Society in 1891. It was an interesting choice of subject matter for the son of a very successful German-Jewish immigrant. Entitled Rabbi and Priest, it is the story of two Russian Jewish brothers who are separated during a pogrom; one eventually finds his way to Kiev where his uncle lives; he is educated in a yeshiva and grows up to be a rabbi.  The other is rescued by a Russian Countess and sent to a monastery where he grows up to be a priest.2

The book provides insight into the lives of poor Jews living in Russia in the 19th century and their attitudes, practices, and beliefs as well as the lives and views of the Christian populations. It also includes information about Russian history and the treatment of Jews there between 1850 and 1880, including details about pogroms and the attitudes of the czars and the Russian people. There are also insights into Milton Goldsmith’s own beliefs and attitudes, revealed by the character of Phillip Harris, a Russian Jew who immigrates to America and comes back to visit his former home in Kiev.

Milton Goldsmith explained in the preface to his book his reasons for writing this story:3

Towards the end of 1882, there arrived at the old Pennsylvania Railroad Depot in Philadelphia, several hundred Russian refugees, driven from their native land by the inhuman treatment of the Muscovite Government. Among them were many intelligent people, who had been prosperous in their native land, but who were now reduced to dire want. One couple, in particular, attracted the attention of the visitors, by their intellectual appearance and air of gentility, in marked contrast to the abject condition of many of their associates. Joseph Kierson was the name of the man, and the story of his sufferings aroused the sympathy of his hearers. The man and his wife were assisted by the Relief Committee, and in a short time were in a condition to provide for themselves.

The writer had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Kierson a few years later and elicited from him a complete recital of his trials and an account of the causes of the terrible persecution which compelled such large numbers of his countrymen to flee from their once happy homes.

His story forms the nucleus of the novel I now present to my readers. While adhering as closely as possible to actual names, dates and events, it does not pretend to be historically accurate. In following the fortunes of Mendel Winenki, from boyhood to old age, it endeavors to present a series of pictures portraying the character, life, and sufferings of the misunderstood and much-maligned Russian Jew.

In the description of Russia’s customs and characteristics, the barbarous cruelty of her criminal code and the nihilistic tendency of the times, the author has followed such eminent writers as Wallace, Foulke, Stepniak, Tolstoi and Herzberg-Fraenkel. The accounts of the riots of 1882 will be found to agree in historic details with the reports which were published at the time.

With this introduction, I respectfully submit the work to the consideration of an indulgent public.

MILTON GOLDSMITH

Philadelphia, April, 1891

Russian Jews in Philadelphia 1890

The themes that run through the book focus primarily on anti-Semitism and its roots, Jewish faith and identity, and the value of a more worldly and secular education. As to the first, Goldsmith wrote:4

The serf persecutes the Jew because he is himself persecuted by the nobility. There is no real animosity between the peasant and his Jewish neighbors. Our wretched state is the outgrowth of a petty tyranny, in which the serf desires to imitate his superiors. Let the people once enjoy freedom and they will cease to persecute the Hebrews, without whom they cannot exist.

I thought this was an insightful perspective for someone living in 1893—to understand that a group’s prejudice often has its roots in its own oppression and poverty and that freedom and prosperity for all is the best way to eliminate hate and discrimination.

But it is Goldsmith’s attitudes towards education and assimilation that I found most interesting, keeping in mind that he was a man who had spent three years in Switzerland, learning about literature, language, and music. First, he notes how Talmudic study sharpens the intellect of Jewish students:5

It was to this incessant study of the Scriptures that Israel owed its patience, its courage, its fortitude during centuries of persecution. It was this constant delving for truth which produced that bright, acute Jewish mind, which in days of fanaticism and intolerance, protected the despised people from stupefying mental decay.

But then he expresses concern for how Talmudic study fosters closed-mindedness and superstition, stating,”That this study often degenerated into a mere useless cramming of unintelligible ideas is easily understood, and its effects were in many cases the reverse of ennobling.”6

It is, however, when the character of Phillip Harris returns to Russia and speaks of life in America that Goldsmith’s personal views and experience are most clearly revealed.  In speaking with the people of his former community in Kiev, Philip asserts that Jews are on equal footing with Christians in America, and when questioned about the fact that he has shaved his beard and abandoned many traditional Jewish practices, he says:7

[I]t seems to me that a Jew can remain a Jew even if he neglect some of those ceremonials which have very little to do with Judaism pure and simple. Some are remnants of an oriental symbolism, others comparatively recent additions to the creed, which ought to give way before civilization. What possible harm can it do you or your religion if you shave your beard or abandon your jargon for the language of the people among whom you live? … Every effort to develop the Jewish mind is checked, not by the gentiles, but by the Jews themselves. … A knowledge of the history of the world, an insight into modern science, will teach us why and wherefore all our laws were given and how we can best obey, not the letter but the spirit of God’s commands.

Romanian Jewish journalist Sache Petreanu, an advocate of assimilation, cutting off the payot of an observant Jew (1899 caricature by Constantin Jiquidi)
Constantin_Jiquidi_-_Sache_Petreanu,_Foaia_Populară,_14_feb_1899

Phillip continued:8

You will all admit that you place more weight upon your ceremonials than upon your faith. You deem it more important to preserve a certain position of the feet, a proper intonation of the voice during prayers than to fully understand the prayer itself, and in spite of your pretended belief in the greatness and goodness of God, you belittle Him by the thought that an omission of a single ceremony, the eating of meat and milk together, the tearing of a tzitzith (fringe) will offend Him, or that a certain number of mitzvoth (good acts) will propitiate Him. Do you understand now what I mean when I say that superstition is not religion?

The character concludes by saying:.9

Worship God as your conscience dictates, continue in your ancient fashion if it makes you happy, but be tolerant towards him who, feeling himself mentally and spiritually above superstition, seeks to emancipate himself from its bonds and to follow the dictates of his own good common-sense

Goldsmith recognized that for those living in Russia where oppression and poverty made Jewish lives difficult, an adherence to these traditional practices was more understandable, for the rabbi responds to Phillip by saying, “Whether these observances are needed or are superfluous in a free country like America I shall not presume to say, but in Russia they are a moral and a physical necessity.”10

When poor Jews from Eastern Europe and Russia began to immigrate to the US in the 1880s and 1890s, they faced prejudice not only from the Christian majority here, but also from many Jews with German origins whose families had immigrated decades earlier and had assimilated into American life.11 I am proud of my cousin Milton Goldsmith for writing a book that tried to convey to Americans and perhaps in particular to American Jews the travails and obstacles faced by these new Russian Jewish immigrants. He does an excellent job of describing what their lives were like, why they were forced to emigrate, and why they were clinging to traditions and practices that American Jews might no longer feel necessary. And he also endorsed the need for and value of a liberal education and an open mind.

The book is not just a novel, but a lesson in tolerance, in the need for education, and in the power of faith when life seems too grim and hopeless to bear.

If you are interested in buying the book, it is available on Amazon as an e-book here.


  1. Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Births, 1860-1906,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VB16-KTZ : 8 December 2014), Milton Growsmith, 22 May 1861; citing bk 2 p 168, Department of Records; FHL microfilm 1,289,306. 
  2. Milton Goldsmith, The Rabbi and The Priest: A Story (Jewish Publication Society, 1891) 
  3. Goldsmith, Milton, Rabbi and Priest: A Story (pp. 6-8, Kindle edition). 
  4.  Goldsmith, Milton. Rabbi and Priest A Story (p. 30). Kindle Edition. 
  5.  Goldsmith, Milton. Rabbi and Priest A Story (p. 84). Kindle Edition. 
  6. Goldsmith, Milton. Rabbi and Priest A Story (p. 84). Kindle Edition. 
  7.  Goldsmith, Milton. Rabbi and Priest A Story (pp. 99-100). Kindle Edition. 
  8.  Goldsmith, Milton. Rabbi and Priest A Story (p. 102). Kindle Edition. 
  9.  Goldsmith, Milton. Rabbi and Priest A Story (p. 103). Kindle Edition. 
  10.  Goldsmith, Milton. Rabbi and Priest A Story (p. 104). Kindle Edition. 
  11. Irving Aaron Mandel, “Attitude of the American Jewish Community toward East-European Immigration As Reflected in the Anglo-Jewish Press 1880-1890,” American Jewish Archives, 1950. 

Schutzjuden

Back on January 12, 2018, I wrote about my four-times great-grandfather Jacob Falcke Goldschmidt who in 1724 was the first Jew to receive a Schutzbrief in the town of Oberlistingen. I received a couple of comments and questions about the practice of obtaining a Schutzbrief, so I decided to do some additional research to get a better understanding.

Unfortunately, there is not much written online about this practice.  I asked in the Jewish genealogy groups on Facebook and received a recommendation for a book by Mordechai Breuer and Michael Graetz entitled German-Jewish History in Modern Times, Volume I: Tradition and Enlightenment 1600-1780 (Michael A. Meyer, ed., William Templer, translator) (Columbia University Press 1996)(hereinafter “Breuer-Graetz”). Another person recommended a different book, Mathilda Wertheim Stein’s The Way It Was: The Jewish World of Rural Hesse (FrederickMax Publications 2000)(hereinafter “Stein”). What follows is based on just these two sources and is not meant to be a comprehensive summary of German Jewish history by any means, but merely a brief overview of the practice of issuing letters of protection or Schutzbriefe.

In 1236, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II declared that Jews were servi camerae nostril—that is, permanent servants of the emperor.1   Jews were subject to many restrictions; for example, they were not allowed to bear arms; they were required to pay onerous taxes to the empire; and they were prohibited from many areas of trade and from guilds.2 Because of these restrictions, many Jews made their living as moneylenders and pawnbrokers, fields that were were considered un-Christian. As a result, many Jews developed experience in finance and in facilitating trade.3

It was during this era that a class of “protected Jews” or Schutzjuden developed. Frederick II instituted a policy whereby territorial rulers could take over the oversight and taxation of Jewish.4  As explained by Stein, “When the emperor needed funds, he granted his right over the Jews to territorial feudal lords and free cities.  They in turn charged a regular fee for letters of protection to the Jews living within their domain. As a result, Jews became the subjects of the feudal lords, who furnished a letter of protection (Schutzbrief). Letters of protection had to be renewed periodically for a fee set by the sovereign and they generated a good income.”5  According to Stein, “Many a palace in [Hesse] was built with money exacted from Jews who paid excessively for the privilege of living under wretched conditions at the pleasure of the sovereign.” 6 But the payment for protection at least ensured the Schutzjuden some rights as well as some protection against anti-Semitic violence and abuse.7

By the 16th century, there was some liberalization in the treatment of Jewish residents. According to Breuer-Graetz, those in power at this time “gradually came to view the Jews in a different light: not as individuals bereft of all rights, but as human beings with a basic right to toleration, though no more than that.”8

But Jewish security was still very much dependent on the local nobles, and at the same time the nobles often found themselves depending on the Jews for their expertise in commercial and economic matters.9  During the Thirty Years War in the 17th century, many Jews played a critical role in financing and procuring supplies for the nobles’ armies.10  This led to the development of a class of Jews known as Court Jews who were very wealthy and protected by the nobles though still treated as outsiders.  The Court Jews also played an important role within their own Jewish communities, acting as tax collectors for the nobles and as advocates and benefactors for Jewish residents who needed financial help or who were having legal problems.  Court Jews also hired other Jews to work as their servants in their homes.11 Other Jewish residents worked as peddlers and traders, often as cattle and horse traders.12

The practice of Schutzjuden also was somewhat liberalized during this period in some places. In earlier times, a letter of protection (Schutzbrief) was issued to just one individual and for a limited time, usually just a few years.  Now in some localities letters of protection lasted for the lifetime of an individual and were granted to larger numbers of people. To acquire a letter of protection, Jews were required to pay a substantial annual fee.13

“One important feature of these letters of protection was the specification of a precise territorial area in which they were valid. The patron could cancel the privilege at any time, and there was generally a fixed number of authorized protected Jews.“14  The entire household of a protected Jew was also covered by the letter of protection, including servants. Jews who were not covered by a Schutzbrief were part of an underclass known as “unvergleitet” Jews; they had no right to reside in a community and were dependent on manual labor or begging to survive.15

Even those with protection had quite circumscribed rights. They were still prohibited from most areas of trade, and they could own no real estate other than their home. They were subjected to many taxes and fees in addition to their annual fee for protection, and those taxes were substantially higher than the taxes paid by their Christian neighbors. If an individual Jew did not fulfill his or her personal obligations, the entire Jewish community was responsible for the debts of that individual. Breuer-Graetz observed that the non-Jewish peasant community was in some ways worse off financially than the Schutzjuden, but in many ways had more legal rights than their Jewish neighbors.16

There were many regional variations in Schutzbrief practice. According to Stein, “Renewal of a Schutzbrief was customary in the region of Hesse, but each case was handled individually at the discretion of the local feudal lord with whom terms had to be continually renegotiated.”17 Stein cites as one example a Schutzbrief that was valid for only four years and subject to carrying on an approved business and paying the yearly fee in advance.18 In some towns in Hesse the granting of a Schutzbrief was subject to two other requirements: the ability to read and write and the possession of sufficient wealth.19  A couple wishing to marry often had to wait until a place in a town or village was available before they could marry.20

An example of a Schutzbrief from the Hesse region in 1678 Source: HStAM II A 2 Judenachen 1646-1814

The 18th century saw the dawn of the so-called Age of Enlightenment, but for the Jewish residents it was hardly that.  It was during this time that my ancestor Jacob Falcke Goldschmidt became the first protected Jew in the town of Oberlistingen. Jews were still forced to endure both heavier taxation and greater legal restrictions. “Increased difficulties were likewise encountered in connection with the granting of protection. In many places there was a rigorous expulsion of poor, ‘unprotected’ Jews; the children of protected Jews were not accepted for permanent residence unless the parents were wealthy or had proven their worth by the establishment of manufactories.” 21

During the reign of Frederick the Great (1740-1786), treatment of Jews worsened. He considered Jews “the most dangerous of all sects”22, and despite his view that the state’s most important function was to ensure the welfare of all its subjects, he did not extend that view to his Jewish subjects. “Rather, they remained nothing but an instrument for furthering the welfare of the state and its development into a great European power.”23

Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, painting by
Anton Graff [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Revised General Code of 1750 placed Jews in a number classes from most privileged to least privileged. As described by Breuer-Graetz,24 these categories were:

  1. Generalpriviligierte: the smallest and most elite level. They could purchase land and homes without a permit, work as merchants, and pass on their rights to their children.
  2. Ordentliche Schutzjuden: privileged protected Jews; they could not choose their residence without a permit and could only pass on their rights to one of their children.
  3. Ausserodentliche Schuzjuden: unprivileged protected Jews; only permitted to reside in the town if they had a useful profession or trade and could provide one of their children with the right of residence if the child had sufficient assets.
  4. Community employees, including rabbis.
  5. Unprotected Jews: they required the patronage of a protected Jew and could only marry if their spouse was someone from the top two classes. Children of the privileged protected Jews who did not share in the right to inherit were also placed in this class as were children of community employees.
  6. Servants employed by those in the first class.

According to Breuer-Graez, the purpose of this system of classification was “to curb the growth of the legitimate Jewish population and to put a halt on the illegal influx of unprotected Jews.” 25 It was also a means of raising revenue since each of those who obtained protection paid hefty amounts for that privilege.

This oppressive government-imposed treatment of Jews as outsiders with limited rights lasted for another century. It was not until the 19th century that various Germanic states began to emancipate their Jewish residents and grant them full legal rights as citizens; unfortunately, that did not end anti-Semitism and the violence and discrimination it engendered, as we saw most tragically in the 20th century.

 

 

 

 

 

 


  1. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 28-29. 
  2. Breuer-Graetz. pp. 29-30. 
  3. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 30-31. 
  4. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 29-30. 
  5. Stein, p 6. 
  6. Stein, p.6. 
  7. Stein, p. 20. 
  8. Breuer-Graetz, p. 65. 
  9. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 75-77. 
  10. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 104-117. 
  11. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 117-122. 
  12. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 123-134. 
  13. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 135-136. 
  14. Breuer-Graetz, p. 136. 
  15. Breuer-Graetz, pp.136-137. 
  16. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 137-143. 
  17. Stein, p. 22. 
  18. Stein, p. 22. 
  19. Stein, p. 20. 
  20. Stein, p. 18. 
  21. Breuer-Graetz, p. 145. 
  22. Breuer-Graetz, p. 147. 
  23. Breuer-Graetz, p. 147. 
  24. Breuer-Graetz, 148-149. 
  25. Breuer-Graetz, p. 149. 

Introducing the Goldschmidts of Oberlistingen

It’s a new year, and it’s time to start the story of a new line in my family. As I was finishing the history of the Katzenstein family, I pondered which line I should work on next. Growing up, I’d only known the surnames of some of my ancestors: Cohen, Seligmann, Nusbaum, Schoenthal, Katzenstein, Brotman,  and Goldschlager, the lines I’ve focused on so far. I did not ever hear the names Jacobs, Schoenfeld, Hamberg, Goldschmidt, Brod, or Rosenzweig. Those names had disappeared when the women took their husbands’ names and gave their children only their husbands’ names. But after researching the husband’s lines, I learned the birth surnames of their wives. 

So now it’s time to go back and find the stories of these other families. I have decided to start with the Goldschmidt line—the family of my great-great-grandmother Eva Goldschmidt who married Gerson Katzenstein. She was the mother of my great-grandmother Hilda Katzenstein Schoenthal and the grandmother and namesake of my grandmother Eva Schoenthal Cohen. It made sense to start with the Goldschmidts because they are entangled in several ways with both my Katzenstein relatives and my Schoenthal relatives, as you will see. Also, I am intrigued by the idea of following the direct female line of my paternal grandmother–from Eva Schoenthal to Hilda Katzenstein to Eva Goldschmidt.

Thanks to the incredible work of David Baron and Roger Cibella, I can trace my Goldschmidt family back to my fifth-great-grandparents, Falcke Jacob, born in about 1697, and his wife Sara (surname unknown), born in about 1704.

My Goldschmidt ancestors came from Oberlistingen in the Hesse region of Germany, just a few miles from the village of Breuna, where my Hamberg ancestors once lived, about fourteen miles from Sielen where my Schoenthal ancestors lived, and about fifty miles north of Jesberg where my Katzenstein relatives lived.  Oberlistingen is in fact a small village within the larger township of Breuna, which also includes Niederlistingen, another small village very close to Oberlistingen. The two villages are sometimes referred together as the two “Listingens.”

 

Years ago David and Roger put together a website that traced the history of the Goldschmidt family and Oberlistingen and included excerpts from Chapter III of Dieter Carl’s book, Die Juden Geschichte Beider Listingen [The Jewish History of the Two Listingens] (Herausgegeben vom Gemeindevorstand der Gemeinde Breuna, 1999), as translated by Joseph Voss.

According to Dieter Carl, Jews had been expelled from the Hesse region by Duke Phillip the Generous in the mid-16th century in response to pressure from Martin Luther.  Then in 1592 Lord Moritz allowed a few Jews to settle in the region. Eventually more Jews settled in the Hesse region, but restrictions were imposed.

Carl provided this helpful background:

The unique position of the Jews derived from the nature of their religion, on one hand, and, on the other hand, stemmed from the nature of a people who had no citizens rights, who were not fully free, and stood outside of the established Christian society.  Therefore the Jews had gained the special protection of the Feudal lords needed for their security and livelihood for economical activity and housing.  Originally this protection was in the hands of the Kaiser, but in time it transmitted down to local Dukes.  ….  [T]he Dukes of Hessen … gave to certain families a letter “schutzbriefe” of protection–the legal basis for living in these rural areas.  The receiver of the schutzbriefe had to pay a reasonable sum and had to provide other services for the Lord.  The protection letter gave the Jews the legal right to trade and lend money.

For a long time Jews could not become artisans, farmers or civil servants, but only moneylenders or traders.  In order to limit the number of Jews in Hessian towns and villages, the letter could not be inheritable.  In reality though, the letter was passed down from father to eldest son with a small sum paid in order to continue that right.  This was beneficial for the right to do business and who could establish a family; hence the authorities could control the size of the Jewish population.  All the Jews for whatever reason did not possess the Schutzbrief, the youngest sons and unmarried daughters were the so-called “Unvergleitete” or disinherited.  From these large groups were created the Jewish under classes   or “Unterschicht”.  These consisted mainly as the “knechte, or the worker/ servants, the men and women who served the Schutzjuden in their employ.  In part they lived in great poverty and some resorted to begging for their livelihood.

According to Dieter Carl, the first Schutzbrief in Oberlistingen was given in 1724 to someone known as Juden Falcke, as seen in this letter dated October 19, 1724:

I, the undersigned am writing because I am protected by the esteemed sires of Malsburg.  I wish to become a member of the Oberlistingen community with permission to reside there.  I have obtained all of the rights to function in this community as a Jew and who has officially received these rights along with your right to cancel my contract.  Furthermore I am obligated, if the community is in need of money, and if I have the means to provide a loan without interest without damage to myself, I will make an advance to them if the need arises.  All of what is said here and recorded is based on free will and opinion, which my signature authenticates.

Signed 19 October 1724

Juden Falcke

Who was Juden Falcke? Was he related to me?

My fifth-great-grandparents Falcke Jacob and Sara had three children: Jacob Falcke, born in 1729; Joseph Falcke, born in 1734; and Blume Falcke, born in 1740.  Following the March 31, 1808 decree requiring Jews in the region to adopt surnames, Jacob Falcke adopted the surname Goldschmidt. Carl concluded that the “Juden Falcke” who received the first Schutzbrief for Oberlistingen was Jacob Falcke Goldschmidt, my four times great-grandfather. His brother Joseph adopted the surname Neuwahl and eventually also received a Schutzbrief to live in Oberlistingen.

Jacob Falcke Goldschmidt was married three times.  His first wife was named Bela, with whom he had one son; his second wife was Judith Arons, with whom he also had one son. Jacob’s third wife was my four-times great-grandmother, Eva Reuben Seligmann,[1] whom he married on November 24, 1780. [2]

Jacob Falcke Goldschmidt and Eva Reuben Seligmann had four sons:  my three-times great-grandfather Seligmann and his brothers Lehman, Meyer, and Simon. Dieter Carl also listed an unnamed daughter, and David Baron found a reference to this daughter in the Alex Bernstein Collection at the Leo Baeck Institute.  Her name was Jette, and she was born May 4, 1793; she married David Grunewald of Hoexter, Germany—the region that is the focus of Alex Bernstein’s research. According to his research, Jette died on August 4, 1822, and did not have any children.

CORRECTION: David Baron pointed out that I had misread Bernstein’s research. He found that Jette Goldschmidt did have children with David Grunewald before her death. First, a son Jacob Grunewald was born May 5, 1820; a second child was stillborn on July 30, 1822. Jette died five days later, presumably from complications from childbirth. Jacob Grunewald married and had fourteen children. Later I will return to these Goldschmidt cousins and report on them more fully.

Although I am primarily interested in my three-times great-grandfather Seligmann and his descendants, I will also write about his brothers, in part because his brother Simon was married to Fradchen Schoenthal, sister of Levi Schoenthal, my great-great-grandfather from Sielen.  Yes, my family tree continues to twist and bend.

 

[1] There is no known familial connection between Eva Reuben Seligmann, who was born in Warburg, Germany, and my Seligmann ancestors from Gau-Algesheim.

[2] This information all comes from Dieter Carl’s book as excerpted on the Cibella-Baron website. I will be focusing only on the children of my direct ancestor, Jacob Falcke Goldschmidt.

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?