Gau-Algesheim and Bingen: My Seligmann Family

Mural in parking lot—it says We Love Gau-Algesheim

On our second night in Germany (May 3), we had a truly joyful and unforgettable experience: dinner with Wolfgang and his family—his wife Bärbel and their twelve year old daughter Milena.  We met in the small town of Schwabenheim, located about halfway between Bingen, where we were staying, and Undenheim, where Wolfgang and his family live.  I could not remember the name of the restaurant, but fortunately I was able to WhatsApp with Milena who told me it was zum Engel.  The atmosphere was perfect—an old stone building divided into smaller rooms with just a few tables. It was a good thing that for much of the time we had our room to ourselves because there was much laughter throughout our meal.

All three Seligmanns understand English, but I wanted to practice my German.  So we switched back and forth, often with many questions about which word to use (on my part) and some inevitable misunderstandings based on use of the incorrect word (again, on my part). It could not have been a more enjoyable and relaxing evening—remarkable given that I’d never met Milena or Bärbel before and had only met Wolfgang the day before. The food was also excellent—salmon, potatoes, and my first experience with the white asparagus that is so popular in Germany—“spargel.” Es war lecker, as they say.  When Wolfgang asked at the end of the evening whether we wanted to have dinner with them all the next night, there was no hesitation.  “Of course,” we said.  (I think the German equivalent expression is “genau”—a word we heard over and over when we listed to Germans converse with each other.)

The following day Wolfgang, Harvey, and I traveled to Gau-Algesheim, the birthplace of my great-great-grandfather, Bernard Seligman, and of his younger brother August Seligmann, Wolfgang’s great-grandfather. But first Wolfgang took us to see the Rochus Chapel outside of Bingen where his grandparents and father and uncle hid during the bombing of Bingen during World War II. It is lovely church perched high above Bingen surrounded by trees and views of the valley and of the Rhine.  It was easy to see how this must have been a peaceful sanctuary for Wolfgang’s family and others during the bombing.

View from Rochuskappelle

Rochus Chapel

Inside Rochus Chapel

View of the Rhine from Rochus Chapel

Parklike grounds around Rochus Chapel

In some ways the survival of Wolfgang’s grandfather, father, and uncle is a miracle. Julius Seligmann was born Jewish, but converted when he married Magdalena Kleisinger, who was Catholic.  Their sons, Walter and Herbert, were raised as Catholics.  But in Nazi doctrine, that should not have mattered.  Julius had “Jewish blood,” and so did his sons.  Many of those with Jewish ancestors who converted or who were raised as Christians were not spared from death by the Nazis.

When I asked Wolfgang why he thought his grandfather, father, and uncle survived, he said that his mother always said that the Bingen Nazis were stupid. Or that perhaps the police in Bingen somehow provided protection. As I wrote earlier, Wolfgang’s father Walter did forced labor on the Siegfried Line during the war and there were restrictions placed on the men in terms of their occupations, but they were not deported or tortured.  I am thankful for that; otherwise, my dear cousins Wolfgang, Bärbel, and Milena would not be part of my life.

After leaving Rochus Chapel, we drove the short distance to Gau-Algesheim where we were to meet Dorothee Lottmann-Kaeseler, another German dedicated to preserving and honoring the history of the Jews in Germany.  Dorothee and I had connected several years back through JewishGen.org when I was searching for information about Gau-Algesheim.  She had worked on a cemetery restoration project with Walter Nathan, a man whose father’s roots were in Gau-Algesheim; Walter and his family had escaped to the US in 1936.  Dorothee and I have been exchanging information through email for several years—going far beyond my initial inquiries about Gau-Algesheim, and she is a regular reader and frequent commenter on my blog.  I was very much looking forward to meeting this friend in person, and she is terrific—outgoing, energetic, interesting, smart, and very insightful.

Dorothee

But it took some chasing to catch her! We drove up the road below the cemetery, and Wolfgang spotted what he believed was her car up on the hill near the cemetery gate.  We got out of the car and clambered up the hill only to see that Dorothee’s car had disappeared.  (We were a few minutes late arriving.) So we ran back down the hill, got in Wolfgang’s car, and raced back down the road where we again spotted Dorothee’s car.  She had driven back down, thinking we might have missed her.  It was like a scene out of a bad romantic comedy!

Anyway, after introductions were made and hugs exchanged, we all drove back up to the cemetery gate. Dorothee was accompanied by a Gau-Algesheim resident named Manfred Wantzen, who had the key to the cemetery.  But before we entered, Dorothee reminded us that in fact there were very few stones in the cemetery.  This was not an act of Nazi destruction; this was an act of stupidity on the part of a man in the 1983 who may have had good intentions. He thought the cemetery needed to be cleaned up and asked permission of the Jewish community in Mainz (which oversees the cemetery).  They agreed without asking what he planned to do.  The man then proceeded to remove the stones so he could cut the grass.  Some he placed against the cemetery wall, but others were carted away and lost forever.

The Gau-Algesheim cemetery—with stones removed.

Dorothee, Wolfgang, and Manfred Wantzen

View of Gau-Algesheim from the cemetery gate

When Dorothee and Walter Nathan worked to preserve what was left of the cemetery, several plaques and markers were placed on the wall outside and inside the cemetery, one to commemorate those who were killed in the Holocaust and others to honor the memory of those who were buried in the cemetery but whose stones were no longer there.

Unfortunately, there were no stones to be found for my 3-x great-grandparents, Moritz Seligmann and Babetta Schoenfeld, who were undoubtedly buried in that cemetery.  There were likely many other relatives buried there, including Wolfgang’s great-grandfather August Seligmann, but the only family member whose stone survived is that of Rosa Bergmann Seligmann, August’s wife and Wolfgang’s great-grandmother.  But even that discovery was bittersweet as her stone had been vandalized several years ago by some local teenagers. Wolfgang and I each placed a stone on her grave to mark that we had been there and to honor her and all the other Seligmanns buried there.

Headstone for Rosa Bergmann Seligmann, great grandmother of Wolfgang

Although I left the cemetery disappointed and somewhat disheartened, my spirits were lifted when we drove into Gau-Algesheim and I got to see this little town of 7000 people where my ancestors had once lived. I have written before about Gau-Algesheim and seen photographs, but it was an entirely different experience being there in person and imagining a young Bernard Seligmann running through the narrow streets into the main square of the town where Langstrasse and Flosserstrasse meet and where the town hall and the fountain are located.  Here is Wolfgang standing where perhaps our mutual ancestors Moritz and Babetta once stood with their children:

Wolfgang in front of town hall in Gau-Algesheim

Medieval tower topped by Gothic addition

Town hall

Dorothee had arranged for us to meet with the mayor of Gau-Algesheim, Dieter Faust.  We sat in his office where everyone but Harvey and I spoke rapid German.  I tried to understand, but it was futile.  The mayor was extremely engaging and clearly excited to have two descendants of Gau-Algesheim residents visiting, and after signing his guest book and taking photographs, we all went to lunch—in an Italian restaurant in the middle of this small German town.  And it was excellent! Somehow we all managed to converse and even managed to discuss American, French, and German politics with Dorothee and Wolfgang acting as interpreters.  It was a delightful experience.

Burgermeister Dieter Faust, Dorothee Lottman-Kaeseler, Wolfgang Seligmann, Manfred Wantzen, me, and Harvey

The mayor and me

Two proud descendants of the Seligmanns of Gau-Algesheim

Outside the restaurant where we were treated to lunch by the mayor

After lunch, Herr Wantzen and Dorothee guided us through the small town where we saw what had once been the synagogue in Gau-Algesheim.  It closed before 1932 because there was no longer a Jewish community in Gau-Algesheim. Today it is a storage shed behind someone’s house.  But the stained glass window over the door and the windows convey that this was once a house of prayer. A shul where my ancestors prayed almost 200 years ago.  It was awful to see its current condition, and I wish there was some way to create a fund to protect and restore the building before it deteriorates any further. I am hoping I can figure that out.

Plaque marking former synagogue

Former synagogue of Gau-Algesheim

We walked then along the streets where my family had once lived, saw the building where Wolfgang’s grandfather Julius once had a shop, and the street where my great-great-grandfather Bernard and his siblings were born.  It was surreal.  And emotionally exhausting.

Building where Julius Seligmann once had a wine shop

Maybe our ancestors once lived in this grand half-timber house on Flosserstrasse?

House built into the old wall that surrounded the town in medieval times

The castle of Gau-Algesheim

Our last stop was the Catholic Church in Gau-Algesheim, which Herr Wantzen was very excited to show us.  It was beautiful—far larger and more elaborate than one might expect in such a small town.  And a striking contrast to the size and condition of the abandoned synagogue.

Catholic church in Gau-Algesheim

We said goodbye to Dorothee and Herr Wantzen and returned to our hotel for a rest, and then at 6, Wolfgang picked up us again for dinner with his family in Bingen. We went to another very good restaurant, Alten Wache, and again had a wonderful time.

Bärbel, Milena, and Wolfgang—my dear cousins

After dinner we all climbed up the many steps to the Burg Klopp, the medieval castle that sits at the top of the hill overlooking  Bingen. As the sun began to set, the views were awe-inspiring. But I was already starting to feel emotional about saying goodbye to my wonderful cousins, Wolfgang, Bärbel, and Milena.  When Milena said to me in her perfect English that she was going to miss me, my eyes filled with tears.

Some new friends along with our new cousins. 🙂

Milena and a photographing tourist

View as we climb up to Burg Klopp

It was very hard to say goodbye, but I know that I will see my Seligmann cousins again—somewhere, sometime.  And until then, we have WhatsApp, email, and all our wonderful memories.  Auf wiedersehen, Wolfgang, Bärbel, Milena—and Bingen, Gau-Algesheim, and Mainz.  It was time to move on the next step of our journey.

Gau-Algesheim

 

 

 

Bingen: The Early Home and the Last Home in Germany for Many in the Seligmann Family


After lunch in Mainz on May 3, Wolfgang drove us to Bingen, where we were scheduled to meet Beate Goetz.  Beate, who volunteers at the Arbeitskreis Judische in Bingen, is one of the many German researchers who have helped me with my research.  Over the last two years she has sent  many records of our Seligmann relatives from the Bingen region, and she has been extremely helpful so I was looking forward to meeting her.  She had volunteered to show us around Bingen.  It was wonderful to meet her and spend time with her; she is one of the many dedicated people working to preserve the Jewish history of Germany.

Beate Goetz, Wolfgang, and me

In researching my Seligmann family, I had learned that my 4x-great-grandfather Jacob Seligmann and my three-times great-grandfather Moritz Seligmann were both born in Gaulsheim, a village that is now a part of Bingen.  I had wanted to see Gaulsheim, but Beate assured me that there was really nothing to see as all the old houses were gone.  Now it is just a residential area outside the main center of Bingen. So we focused instead on the center of the city itself.

https://www.google.com/maps/dir/Mainz,+Germany/Bingen,+Germany/@49.9832962,7.93582,11z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m14!4m13!1m5!1m1!1s0x47bd912e33df1379:0x422d4d510db1ba0!2m2!1d8.2472526!2d49.9928617!1m5!1m1!1s0x47bdefacf3e6e303:0x422d4d510db4180!2m2!1d7.904596!2d49.9667396!3e0

Bingen is located at the junction of two rivers—the Rhine and the Nahe.  It is a small city; today its population is about 25,000 people.  Our hotel, the Roemerhof, overlooked the Nahe river (which we could see if we peered between two buildings outside our window).  While walking along the river, we saw ducks swimming along.  The region is known for wine-making, and we could see vineyards in the hills surrounding the city.

There is evidence that Bingen was settled as early as Roman times, and its location gave it strategic importance as a gateway to the Rhine Valley region.  There was a Jewish community in Bingen at least as early as the 12th century. Although the Jews were expelled from Bingen in both the late 12th century and the 16th century, they returned and resettled.  Jews worked as money lenders in the earliest times, but in later times, Jews like my own relatives were merchants and wine traders. In 1933 there were 465 Jews living in Bingen. Half left by 1939, and those who remained were deported. Only four returned. Today there is a small number of Jews from Russia living in Bingen, but no real synagogue or formal Jewish community.

Jews being deported from Bingen. Courtesy of the Arbeitskreis Judische Bingen.

Bingen suffered extensive damage by Allied bombing during the war, and parts of the the city today are not particularly pretty, although there are still lovely winding streets and open squares throughout the city, some lined with older buildings and homes.  Many of the buildings, however, are post-war concrete construction that do not have much aesthetic appeal.

Catholic Church in Bingen

Beate took us to see two former synagogue buildings.  The first had been closed by the Jewish community itself in 1905 because the community, numbering at that time about 700 people, needed a larger space.  Today it is used as a youth center.

Old synagogue in Bingen

The second synagogue, which opened in 1905, was once quite a grand building. Here are some photographs from the Arbeitskreis Judsiche Bingen of what it looked like before 1938 as well as a model showing what the exterior looked like:

Courtesy of the Arbeitskreis Judische Bingen.

Courtesy of the Arbeitskreis Judische Bingen.

Courtesy of the Arbeitskreis Judische Bingen.

Like so many synagogues across Germany, it was partially destroyed by fire in November, 1938, on Kristallnacht. After the war the building was sold, as there was no longer a Jewish community that needed it. Most of the building was taken down, but part remains.  Today part of it houses the Arbeitskreis Judische and provides a meeting space for the Russian Jews who live in Bingen.

1905 Bingen synagogue

Beate also took us to several homes where some of our Seligmann cousins had once lived.  We saw the house that had belonged to Bernhard Gross and his wife, Bertha Seligmann.  Bertha was my first cousin, four times removed. Her grandparents were Jacob Seligmann and Martha Mayer, my 4x-great-grandparents; her mother, Martha Seligmann, was the sister of Moritz Seligmann, my three-times great-grandfather. Bertha and Bernard died from carbon monoxide poisoning in their own home in 1901, as I wrote about here.

Home of Bertha Seligmann and Bernhard Gross

We also saw the former home of Bertha and Bernard’s daughter Mathilde Gross and her husband Marx Mayer.  Mathilde is the cousin whose memoir inspired me to start learning German. (I still am not fluent enough to read it with much ease, however.) Her husband Marx died in 1934, but Mathilde and all their children emigrated from Germany in the 1930s and were able to survive the war.

House of Marx Mayer and Mathilde Gross

As you might imagine, seeing these two stately and large homes made me realize how successful the family had been and thus how much they had lost when they left Germany.

We also saw a number of stolpersteine, including these three for the family of Karl Gross, who was Mathilde Gross Mayer’s brother. Karl Gross, his wife Agnes Neuberger, and their daughter Bertha Gross were all killed in the Holocaust.  Karl was was my second cousin, three times removed. His grandparents, Jacob Seligmann and Martha Mayer, were my 4x great-grandparents. I wrote about the Gross family here.

Stolpersteins for Karl Gross and his family

Finally, Beate pointed out to us the location of the former shoe store owned by the family of Joseph Wiener.  Joseph Wiener married my cousin Anna Winter, daughter of Samuel Oskar Wiener and Rosina Laura Seligmann.  Rosina was the daughter of Hyronimus Seligmann, brother of my great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman.  Rosina was thus also the sister of Johanna Seligmann Bielefeld, whose house in Mainz I’d seen the day before.  Rosina and her husband were both murdered in the Holocaust; their only son had been killed serving Germany in World War I.  Anna and Joseph survived and immigrated to the US in 1938.  Their daughters, Doris and Lotte, wrote the moving memoirs I was honored to excerpt on my blog here, here, here, and here.

Thus, as we left the downtown area of Bingen to drive to the Jewish cemetery up the steep hill from the town, I had the thoughts of all these cousins in my head. The people behind the names and stories I’d researched and studied suddenly felt very close and very real. Seeing some of the additional names in the cemetery made me appreciate how deeply connected my Seligmann relatives had been to the Bingen community.

The cemetery is a large and peaceful place.  There are about a thousand headstones there in a beautiful wooded area overlooking the valley below.  It was overwhelming. I took many photographs, and I hope to be able to get some of them translated.  Here are just a few of the stones we saw for my Seligmann relatives.

Marx Mayer, husband of Mathilde Gross, granddaughter of Jacob Seligmann and Martha Mayer, my 4x-great-grandparents:

Marx Mayer

Ferdinand Seligmann and Lambert Seligmann: brothers of Bertha Seligmann. My first cousins, four times removed.

Graves of Ferdinand Seligmann and his brother Lambert Seligmann

Hermann Seligmann, brother of Ferdinand, Lambert, and Bertha.

Headstone of Hermann Seligmann

Ludwig or Louis Seligmann, son of Isaak Seligmann and another grandson of Jacob Seligmann and Martha Mayer.  Another first cousin, four times removed.

Louis Seligmann

Wife of Louis Seligmann, Auguste Gumbel

Auguste Seligmann geb. Gumbel

Emilie Seligmann Lorch. daughter of Benjamin Seligmann and Martha Seligmann (who were first cousins).  Martha Seligmann was the sister of Moritz Seligmann, my 3x-great-grandfather. She was my 4x great-aunt.

Emilie Seligmann Lorch

There were probably many, many more of my Seligmann cousins buried in Bingen’s Jewish cemetery, but many stones were impossible to read, and the sheer volume of stones made it overwhelming to think about searching for more.  I took some additional photographs of stones that would need translating from Hebrew, but I had to accept that there was no way to find and photograph every headstone in the cemetery in the limited time we had.

By the end of our afternoon in Bingen, it was clear to me that this city had been at one time the place where most of my Seligmann relatives and ancestors had lived.  Although I had not found the gravesites or homes of any of my direct ancestors, I knew that many of my cousins had lived and died in Bingen, sadly some at the hands of the Nazis.  Bingen was the home of the earliest Seligmann ancestors I’ve found, Jacob and Martha (Mayer) Seligmann back in late 18th century, and there were Seligmann descendants still living there in the 20th century.

We would return to Bingen the following evening for dinner, but first on the following day we were to visit Gau-Algesheim, where my great-great-grandfather Bernard was born and lived until he came to America in the1840s.

Annlis Schäfer Seligmann 1924-2017

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

Annlis and Wolfgang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pine, p. 7.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ernst Mayer WW1 military register 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pine, pp. 35-36.

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

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

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

Pine, p. 29

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

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

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

Pine, p. 32

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

According to the Whonamedit website:

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

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

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

Ernst Mayer passenger manifest 1935

Ernst Mayer passenger manifest 1935 page 2

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

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

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

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

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

Ernst Mayer and family August 1936 manifest

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

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

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

Mathilde Mayer passenger manifest October 1 1937

Mathilde Mayer passenger manifest October 1 1937 page 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other members of their extended family were not as fortunate.

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

Mathilde Mayer-Gross on passenger manifest February 1937

Mathilde Mayer-Gross on passenger manifest Feb 1937 page 2

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

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

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

Mathilde Mayer book cover

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

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

Relationship_ Amy Cohen to Mathilde Gross part 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

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

Bernard Seligman

Bernard Seligman

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

tree 2 pages 2 and 3

Emil Seligmann’s handwritten tree courtesy of Wolfgang Seligmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DADNW, p. 18

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

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

DADNW, pp.19-20

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family View Report for Bertha Seligmann-page-001

 

 

 

 

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

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

Why I Am Studying German

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

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

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

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

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

Relationship_ Amy Cohen to Mathilde Gross part 1

Relationship_ Amy Cohen to Mathilde Gross part 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

But I digress.

 

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

Mathilde Mayer book cover

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

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

20160810_174631600_iOS

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

duolingo icon

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

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

 

More Hidden Treasure from Wolfgang’s Magic Suitcase

http://www.wpclipart.com/money/. Per the licen...

http://www.wpclipart.com/money/. Per the license: These images are public domain. License . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have had many exciting finds through the course of my search for my family history: wonderful photographs and letters, newspaper articles, government documents, birth and marriage and death certificates, and so on.  But for me some of the most special finds have been the family trees prepared by other members of my extended family, like the family tree prepared by my Aunt Elaine.  These trees are special not only for the information they convey, but also because they tie me to someone else who cared about the family history and wanted it preserved for posterity.

So you can imagine how excited I was when my cousin Wolfgang sent me a four page family tree prepared at least 75 years ago by one of our Seligmann cousins in Germany.  We know that this tree was prepared by a child of Karoline Seligmann, the daughter of my three-times great-grandfather Moritz Seligmann and his first wife, Eva Schoenfeld because the tree refers to Karoline Seligmann and her husband Siegfried Seligmann as “our parents.” Karoline (sometimes spelled Caroline or Carolina) and Siegfried had five sons and two daughters: Heinrich, Eva, Wilhelm, Emil, Eugen, Rosa, and Carl.  Two of the sons died in infancy, Wilhelm and Carl, , and one I cannot account for beyond his birth, Heinrich. Emil, Eugen, and Eva all died during the Holocaust.  Only one child survived the Holocaust, their daughter Rosa, who immigrated to the US in 1940.  I discussed Karoline’s children here.  I don’t know which child created this tree.

Wolfgang thought Emil was the most likely author of the tree, so for simplicity purposes I will refer to it as Emil’s tree and to its author as Emil.  (The last date given on the tree is 1909, and unfortunately it stops with the generation of Karoline and Siegfried and does not include their children.)  Although I cannot be sure which of the surviving children—Emil, Eva, Eugen, or Rosa—was my fellow genealogist, I am extremely grateful to whoever created this tree because it provides me with one more generation of my Seligmann and Schoenfeld relatives—the siblings of my three-times great-grandfather, Moritz Seligmann, and the siblings of my three-times great-grandmother, Babetta Schoenfeld (Eva’s sister).  It, of course, also raises new questions and new pathways for research.

Starting with page 1 of the tree:

Page 1 of Emil's tree

Page 1 of Emil’s tree

It says at the top, “Our great-grandparents in Gaulsheim: a) fathers side: Jacob Seeligmann, his wife: (Merle) Marta nee Mayer (Gaulsheim).”  I found it interesting that the early spelling of the family name was Seeligmann.  Marta (Martha) Mayer’s name is consistent with the record I obtained for the marriage of their son Moritz to Eva Schoenfeld.  Jacob and Marta were my four-times great-grandparents.  According to prior records I’d obtained, they were both born around 1773.

According to Emil’s tree, Jacob and Marta had ten children. Until seeing this tree, I had only found three: my three-times great-grandfather Moritz and two other sons, Leopold and Isaac.  I had found Leopold and Isaac on the Steinheim Institute website, but not the other seven children.  According to the Emil tree, they were Simon, Martha, Mina, Caroline, Marx, Salomon, and Babette.

The next section of the first page and the second page provide information for the ten children of Jacob and Marta.  For Simon and Isaac, it seemed that Emil had no information, except that Simon was living in Bingen. The entry for Leopold simply says “in Gaulsheim.”    But then on the second page of the tree (see below), Emil returned to Simon, Isaac, and Leopold and listed what appears to be the names of their children.  It looks like he thought Simon had two sons, Louis and Richard, and Isaac had a son named Hermann.  Leopold’s children were Malchen, Sigmund, Sophie, August, and Roschen.

Page 2 of Emil's tree

Page 2 of Emil’s tree

This, however, is not consistent with what I found on the Steinheim website.   According to the Steinheim website, Isaac was born in 1795 and died in 1860.  He seems to have lived in Gaulsheim all his life.  The Steinheim site states that Isaac married Rosine Blad and that they had five children: Pauline, Magdalena, Henriette, Ludwig (Louis), and Richard. My best guess is that Ludwig and Richard are the same people who Emil listed as Louis and Richard.  I don’t know whether Emil is correct or the Steinheim site is correct as to whether they were Simon’s sons or Isaac’s sons.  I also don’t know where Hermann fits into the family.  Was he really Simon’s son and Emil had it backwards?  I don’t know.

There is also some inconsistency between Emil’s facts for Leopold and the information on the Steinheim website.  The Steinheim site lists Leopold’s wife as Caroline Marum, and I found a marriage record for them dated December 17, 1849.

Marriage Record of Leopold Seligmann and Caroline Marum

Marriage Record of Leopold Seligmann and Caroline Marum

Leopold Seligmann marriage record

According to the Steinheim site, they had five children: Amalie, Rosalie (Roschen?), Sophia, August, and Therese.  Emil did not have Therese or Amalie, but had instead Malchen and Sigmund. I don’t know which information is more accurate.

For Jacob and Marta’s daughter Martha, Emil wrote that she married Benjamin Seeligmann. To the right of Martha’s name is a box that says, “Our grandparents in Bingen.” Then next, for our mutual ancestor Moritz, Emil wrote “our grandfather in Gau-Algesheim.”  There is a date underneath that looks like 13-2-1877; I believe that must be his date of death.  But how could Martha and Moritz, sister and brother, both be Emil’s grandparents? Well, that will become clear later on.

For Mina, it says that she was the wife of Leopold Mayer of Oberursel and that they had one child, Adolf Eduard, who died and was never married. I wonder if this Mayer was a relative of Mina’s mother Marta Mayer.  The next child of Jacob and Marta, Caroline, married Moses Moreau (?) of Worrstadt, and they had four children whose names are written underneath; the first I cannot decipher (maybe Markus?), but the other three are Albert, Bertha, and Alice.

The last entry on the first page is a long one for Marx Seligmann.  With the help of the kind people in the German Genealogy group on Facebook, I was able to get a sense of what happened to Marx.  He married Rosina Loeser on June 11, 1838.  They were legally separated in June 1848, and he agreed to pay support for the children.  They were divorced in February, 1849.

On page 2 of the Emil tree, Emil continued with the facts about Marx Seligmann.

Page 2 of Emil's tree

Page 2 of Emil’s tree

This is the hardest part of the document for me to understand, despite help from Wolfgang and the German Genealogy group.  At the top are listed the names of the two daughters of Marx and Rosina: Mathilde and Sophie. But what does it say underneath?  All my German helpers agreed that is says, “Underage ??? in Amerika.”  One thought it said “Wife in Amerika,” another thought it said “Later in Amerika.”  Who went to America?  And when did they go? I have started looking, but so far have not had any luck.

(As I was finishing this post, Wolfgang sent me another handwritten version of this tree with more information about Marx and a few others.  I need to finish deciphering that one and then will update with more information.)

Emil wrote that Salomon had a wife named Anna Chailly of Mainz and a son and daughter, whose names are not listed here.  I found an entry in the Mainz Family Register database on ancestry.com for Salomon and his family, and his children were named Emilie, Mathilde, Siegmund, and Jacob.  Jacob married Dora Rosenberg in 1887, and they had a daughter named Anna Dora, born in 1890.  I have not yet found any further information for the other three children of Salomon and Anna.

Finally, for Babette, the tree recorded that she had died unmarried and had lived in Gaulsheim.

That completed Emil’s entries for the children of Jacob Seeligmann and Marta Mayer.  He then drew a horizontal line across the page as if to start a new section.  Under that line he wrote, “Isaac Seeligmann and his wife Felicitas nee Goetzel of Bingen.”   I was totally confused when I saw this; was this the same Isaac Seligmann, the son of Jacob and Marta, about whom Emil had written already?  Underneath the names of this Isaac and Felicitas was a list of their children, and they were not the same names that I had found on the Steinheim site, discussed above, for Jacob and Marta’s son Isaac.  Instead, the following names were listed: Benjamin, Theodor, and Martha.  Who were these people?

According to my German Genealogy helpers, under Benjamin’s name it says, “Our grandfather from Bingen.” Suddenly something clicked.  This was the Benjamin Seeligmann who married Martha Seligmann, the daughter of Jacob and Marta and the sister of Moritz.  Remember that Martha and Benjamin had also been named as Emil’s grandparents.  This section of the tree is reporting on Emil’s other great-grandparents, the other Isaac Seligmann and his wife Felicitas Goetzel, and their children.

Was this Isaac Seeligmann related to Jacob Seeligmann, my four-times-great-grandfather?  They all lived in the Bingen-Gaulsheim area.  I’ve yet to find any documentation linking the two different Seligmann families, but my hunch is that they were in fact cousins if not brothers, meaning that Benjamin Seeligmann might have married a cousin, Martha Seligmann.

Emil then reported on his grandfather Benjamin’s siblings.  Theodor was living in Nancy (in France, presumably), and he had a son August who lived in Paris.  Martha married Isaac Cahn of Mainz, and they had a son Adolf Cahn.

That brings me to the third page of Emil’s tree.

Page 3 of Emil's tree

Page 3 of Emil’s tree

This page is primarily devoted to Emil’s grandparents Benjamin Seeligmann and Martha Seligmann.  He provides their birth and death dates and then the names of their seven children: Siegfried, Emilie, Hermann, Karoline, Ferdinand, Lambert, and Bertha.  Under their names, Emil reported on who some of them married, including his father Siegfried, who married Karoline Seligmann.  Suddenly the rest of the tree made sense to me.

Emil’s father Siegfried was the son of Martha Seligmann; his mother Karoline was the daughter of Moritz Seligmann.  Moritz and Martha were siblings, so Siegfried and Karoline were first cousins.  Thus, Emil’s paternal grandmother Martha and his maternal grandfather Moritz were sister and brother.  Now if in fact Benjamin Seeligmann, Martha’s husband, was also a cousin, there is truly a remarkable amount of inbreeding there.  Here is a family chart that will (I hope) help to visualize these relationships:

Pedigree Chart for Emil Seligmann

Pedigree Chart for Emil Seligmann

 

The last entry on the third page provided me with the death dates for Moritz Seligmann and Eva Schoenfeld, information I had not had before.

Finally on page four Emil discusses his maternal great-grandparents, a) the family of Jacob Seligmann of Bingen, already discussed under his paternal great-grandparents; and b) the family of his grandmother Eva Schoenfeld, sister of my three-times great-grandmother Babetta Schoenfeld, the sister who married Moritz Seligmann after Eva died in 1835.

Page 4 of Emil's tree

Page 4 of Emil’s tree

As I already knew, Eva and Babetta were the daughters of Bernard Schoenfeld and Rosa Goldmann of Erbes-Budesheim.  I also had records of the names and births of most of their children.  Emil’s list confirmed these and added one more for whom I did not have a record, Alexander.  The children as listed on Emil’s tree are Alexander, Eva and Babetta (described as the first and second wives of Moritz Seligmann of Gau-Algesheim), Maria Anna (wife of Alexander Levi of Kirchheimbolanden), Sara (wife of Leokov (?) Kahn of Bubenheim), Zibora (wife of Karl Levi of Alzey and mother of Albert, Bernhard, and Berta), and Rebecca (wife of Salomon Goldmann of Kirchheimbolanden).  Then at the bottom Emil listed the children of Maria Anna and Alexander Levi: Fridolin, Leonhard, Judith, Lina, Hedwig, Elise, and Ottmar.

I was recently contacted through Wolfgang by one of the grandchildren of Zibora Schoenfeld Levi and am hoping to learn even more about my Schoenfeld ancestors.

What a treasure trove this tree is!  Such a gift from one of my predecessors as a family historian—someone who died during the Holocaust and who left behind evidence not only of his ancestors’ lives, but of his own.  Now it is my job to try and fill in the details and continue the story.

 

 

 

A Difficult Life: Julius Seligmann

Julius Seligmann, son of August and grandfather of Wolfgang, lived a life filled with conflict.  As I’ve written previously, he was shunned by his family for converting to Catholicism and marrying Magdalena Kleisinger, a Catholic woman. Since their first child Walter was born in February, 1925, I assume that Julius and Magdalena must have married by 1924.  According to family lore, he had to pay his family a substantial sum of money, causing him great financial distress.

Since writing previously about the challenges Julius faced, I’ve learned a bit more, thanks to Wolfgang and some documents he was able to find.  One thing that Julius tried to do to address his financial condition was to secure some money from the estate of his uncle, the James Seligman who moved to England and died in 1930.  Although we now know that James’ widow had control over the estate for the duration of her life and the principal was not to be distributed for over another fifty years, Julius was obviously in great need of money and hoped to be able to get some of what must have been a substantial amount of money.

In April, 1931, he wrote the following letter to the lawyers handling the estate of his uncle James:

Lawyers-page-001

 

As translated by Wolfgang, in this letter Julius was asking the bank how to contact James’ widow in order to ask her for some money.  He wrote that he was having a lot of financial problems after the bank closed down and that he had had to apply for a “Vergleichsverfahren,” which is apparently a method used by debtors that is somewhat like a bankruptcy proceeding.  Julius told the lawyers he was looking for a thousand Reichsmarks in order to take care of his most urgent debts.

In June, 1932, Julius received the following letter from his cousin Moritz Oppenheimer.  Moritz, who I wrote about here, was both a successful businessman and a horse breeder with a large stud farm.

Oppenheimer-page-001

From this letter, as translated by Wolfgang, it would appear that Julius had asked Moritz to go to England to see if they could resolve their claims against the estate of James Seligman.  Moritz had responded that he thought such a trip might be successful and that it was only necessary for one person to go.  (It’s not clear who he thought should go.) But Moritz also wrote that he was traveling and not at home and that Julius should contact him and he would be glad to help.   He also wrote that he was not available on Sundays as he was at the races—horse races, I’d assume.[1]

In September, 1932, Julius wrote the following letter to the German embassy in London, seeking a lawyer there to help him with his claim against the estate of his uncle.

julius letter front-page-001

julius letter front-page-002

According to Wolfgang, Julius wrote in this letter that he had been notified that since his uncle had not had any children, he and other relatives were to inherit 150 to 300 pounds as their inheritance.  He asserted that the widow had promised to pay this money, but had never done so, and that now neither she nor her attorneys were responding to his requests for payment.  He commented that his economic situation was not good and that they needed to do something quickly.

I do not think anything came from any of these attempts to get money from the estate back in 1932 as we know that Julius eventually was forced to close his store in Gau-Algesheim in 1935 and move to Bingen in 1939.

Both the Hellriegel book about Gau-Algesheim and Wolfgang suggested that the chief of police in Bingen had extended protection to Julius and his family despite knowing that Julius had Jewish roots.  Wolfgang recently spoke with someone who knew his father Walter during the war; he told Wolfgang that everyone in the community knew that Julius had come from a Jewish family, but that no one cared.  This man’s father, like the prior in the Rochus chapel I wrote about last time, spoke out against Hitler and the Nazis.  It would appear that there were a good number of people in Bingen who were opposed to the Nazis and did what they could to protect the Jewish citizens. Sadly, however, it was not enough.

Deutsch: Rochus-Kapelle in Bingen am Rhein/Deu...

Deutsch: Rochus-Kapelle in Bingen am Rhein/Deutschland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

****

 

[1] Wolfgang also found some discussion of Moritz Oppenheimer on a German internet horse-racing enthusiast’s forum back in 2010.  The participants were discussing the history of the stud farm once owned by Oppenheimer and how he had been driven to bankruptcy by the Nazis, forced to sell the stud farm for a price far below its value, and then died either by his own hand or executed by the Nazis.  http://www.galopper-forum.de/viewtopic.php?f=50&t=2473

The Faces of My Past: The Magic of Photography

I received some remarkable photographs from my cousin Suzanne, the daughter of Fred and Ilse Michel.  Fred, as I wrote about here, was the grandson of August Seligmann, who was my great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman’s brother.  Fred would have been my grandfather John Nusbaum Cohen’s second cousin, making him my second cousin, twice removed.  Suzanne is thus my third cousin, once removed.

Suzanne sent me a number of photographs, including some taken of prints that had hung in her childhood home in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  For example, here are two prints of Bingen, Germany, the town where Fred Michel lived and also where our mutual ancestor Moritz Seligmann lived (in Gaulsheim, now part of Bingen) before moving to Gau-Algesheim.  It is also close to where my cousin Wolfgang now lives, and he identified the location and some of the structures depicted therein.

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Bingen 3

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

These prints show the city of Bingen’s location at the intersection of the Rhine River and the Nahe River.  According to Wolfgang, the tower in the river is called the Mäuseturm or “tower of mice,” and the church on the hill in the top print is the Rochuskapelle or the chapel on Rochus Hill.  Wolfgang said that his grandfather Julius and his family survived the last part of World War II in the Rochus chapel. Wolfgang told me that much of the city of Bingen was destroyed by British bombers in November, 1944.  The bombs destroyed the apartment whereJulius Seligmann and his wife and sons lived, so they moved to the Rochuskappelle, which the monks had opened for those who had lost their homes and their possessions.

On the reverse of the top print is written, “So that you always think of Bingen and your friends: ???-Kathi-Rainer und Christa Güttler. Bingen, Nov,11, 1974.”  The reverse of the second print says, “The loving Ize and his wife to remember Bingen from Gret and Kath Scharer.”   Based on the captions on these photographs from an album that belonged to Fred Michel, these were close friends.

Courtesy of the family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the family of Fred and Ilse Michel

scharers in album

These prints of Bingen before the war and the photographs of Fred’s friends made me think about what was lost during the war.  Not just all the millions of people who died, but also the landscape, the history, and, for the many who were lucky enough to emigrate, their homeland.  Perhaps these old prints and the pictures of his friends helped keep some of those happier memories alive for Fred Michel.

Here is a photograph of Fred Michel and his mother Franziska Seligmann Michel taken when Fred was a young boy, when he likely could never foresee leaving Germany and moving to a place called Scranton:

Fred Michel and Franziska Seligmann Michel  Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Fred Michel and Franziska Seligmann Michel
Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Here is a photograph of Franziska’s headstone.  She died four years before Fred left for America.

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

I believe these are photographs of Fred as a young man, taken in Munich in 1928, according to the caption:

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Although he is not identified in the photographs above, here is a photograph of Fred with Ilse and his children sometime around 1960, and it appears to be the same man many years later:

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

I was quite excited about these two portraits. I know who is in these photographs because of the inscriptions on the reverse:

August Seligmann

August Seligmann Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Rosa Goldmann Seligmann

Rosa Bergmann Seligmann Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

August was my great-great-granduncle, the brother of Bernard Seligman.  Here is a picture of Bernard, my great-great-grandfather.  Can you see any resemblance between the two brothers?

Bernard Seligman

Bernard Seligman

Rosa’s headstone is the one that was terribly defaced in the Gau-Algesheim cemetery.

closeup of Rosa Seligmann headstone

And here are the portraits that intrigue me the most.

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Who are these people?

On the reverse of one of these is the following:

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

By editing and zooming and enlarging the script below the photographer’s information, I was able to see more clearly what was written there:

enhanced snip photo 2

I could decipher Seligmann there as well as von Gau-Algesheim to the right, but I was not able to read the word underneath Seligmann.  I posted the snip of this to the German Genealogy group on Facebook, and two people there confirmed that the word was the German word for “grandfather.”  One of the two also insisted that the name was Schafmann, not Seligmann, but I still am sure that it says Seligmann, and not only because I know that was the family’s name.  What do you think?

So if this man was a Seligmann and a grandfather, who was he?  Since the portrait belonged to Fred Michel, I would have assumed that it was his grandfather, that is, August Seligmann.  But the man in this portrait does not appear to be the same person as the man in the portrait above, which was clearly labeled August Seligmann.  So my thought/hope was that this was the grandfather of Fred’s mother Franzeska, who must have given these old pictures to her only child.  If that is the case, then these two portraits depict my great-great-great-grandparents, Moritz Seligmann and Babetta nee Schonfeld.

But Moritz was born in 1800 and Babetta in 1810.  I wondered whether there would even have been photography portraits like these in their lifetime.  I looked again at the label on the back of the photograph of Moritz and saw that the photographer was Hermann Emden of Frankfort.  I took a chance and googled the name, not expecting anything.  I was quite surprised and happy to get numerous hits for Hermann Emden.  His full name was Hermann Seligmann Emden, and he was a very well-known and successful Jewish photographer and artist.  Here is the entry from the Jewish Encyclopedia for Hermann Seligmann Emden:

German engraver and photographer; born at Frankfort-on-the-Main Oct. 18, 1815; died there Sept. 6, 1875. Early evincing a love for art and unable to afford an academic education, he entered an engraving and lithographic establishment as an apprentice, endeavoring especially to perfect himself in the artistic side of his work. In 1833 he left Frankfort and went to Hersfeld, Darmstadt, and Bonn. His portrait-engraving of Pope Pius IX. and his views of Caub, Bornhofen, and the Maxburg belong to this period. He also turned his attention to photography, then in its infancy, and was one of the first to establish a studio at Frankfort-on-the-Main. He made his reputation as photographer by the work “Der Dom zu Mainz und Seine Denkmäler in 36 Originalphoto-graphien,” to which Lübke refers several times in his “History of Art.” Emden was the first to compose artistic photographic groups (“Die Rastatter Dragoner,” “Die Saarbrücker Ulanen,” etc.), and was also among the first to utilize photography for the study of natural science.

You can see some of his more famous works here.

Once I saw that Emden died in 1875, I was even more certain that these were portraits of Moritz and Babetta Seligmann.  August would have only been 34 when Emden died, and the man in that portrait is quite clearly older than 34.  It has to be his father Moritz. Moritz and Babetta had to be quite comfortable, I would think, having their photographs taken by such a successful photographer.  I also wonder whether Emden was a relative.  Seligmann was a fairly common name, and it was often used as a first name as well as a surname.  But perhaps further research will reveal some familial connection.

But for me what is most important is that I am looking at the faces of my three-times great-grandparents.  I never ever thought that would be possible.

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

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

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

August Seligmann death certificate

August Seligmann death certificate

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

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

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

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

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

Julius and Magdalena Seligmann

Julius and Magdalena Seligmann 1960s  Courtesy of Wolfgang Seligmann

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

Map of the Siegfried line.

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

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

Walter Seligmann  Photo courtesy of Wolfgang Seligmann

Walter Seligmann Photo courtesy of Wolfgang Seligmann

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

Herbert Seligmann courtesy of Christoph Seligmann

Herbert Seligmann courtesy of Christoph Seligmann

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

Julius Seligmann death notice

Julius Seligmann death notice

Magdalena Seligmann death notice

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

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

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

German Cross of Honour 1914-1918

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

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

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

Gestapo letter re Moritz Seligmann

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

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

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

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

Wolfgang Seligmann

Wolfgang Seligmann  Courtesy of Wolfgang Seligmann

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

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

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

Death record of Emil Seligmann, husband of Carolina Seligmann

Death record of Emil Seligmann, husband of Carolina Seligmann

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

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

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

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

Emil Seligmann-KZ (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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