Schopfloch: A Lesson in Gravestone Symbols

The last ancestral town we visited on our trip was Schopfloch in Bavaria where my three-times great-grandfather John (born Josua) Nussbaum was born in 1814.  I wrote a long post about Schopfloch when I was doing my research of my Nussbaum relatives.  The town dates back to the 13th century, and there was a Jewish community there in the 14th century.  As early as the 17th century, there was a synagogue, a mikveh, and a school in Schopfloch. In 1867, there were almost 400 Jews in the town out of almost 2000 residents. Today Schopfloch is a small town of about 3000 people, about half the size of Gau-Algesheim and slightly larger than Jesberg, but four times the size of Sielen.  There is no Jewish community there now.

My 4x-great-grandparents, Amson Nussbaum and Voegele Welsch, died in 1836 and 1842, respectively, and I thought they were likely the last family members to have died in Schopfloch. Six of their eight children immigrated to the United States before 1860; there were two additional daughters for whom I had birth information, but no information as to whether they had married or had children or where or when they had died. I am still searching for the documents Angelika Brosig used to document this Nussbaum family.  But, as far as I knew, there was no one left in Schopfloch from my Nussbaum family after 1860.  Would I find anything relating to my ancestors in this town?

I had arranged for Jutta Breittinger, who works at the Schopfloch town hall, to be our guide; since Frau Breittinger said she did not speak English well, she had recommended that we also hire a translator. When we met Frau Breittinger, we were soon joined by the translator and his wife, whose names I never quite caught. They were all very helpful and very earnest in their desire to help us and inform us about the Jewish history of Schopfloch.

Our three guides told us the same thing we had heard in the other small towns we’d visited: before the Nazi era, Jews and Christians had worked and lived together without any problems. As described by our translator, Lachoudisch, the secret language developed in Schopfloch, is evidence of this co-operative relationship.  Most Jews in Schopfloch were involved in horse and cattle trading, and market day was on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath. The Jewish traders relied on their Christian neighbors to assist with business on Saturdays, using their “secret language” as a way of communicating with them in confidence.

Frau Breittinger told us that she and a number of other Schopfloch residents were now studying Lachoudisch to keep the language alive.  At the end of our visit, we purchased Lachoudisch Sprechen by Hans-Rainer Hofmann, a small book about the language which includes a list of Lachoudisch words and their German equivalents.  It was very interesting to see some of the Lachoudisch words—-some derived from Hebrew like yes (“kenn”) and no (“lou”) and night (“Laila”) and please (“bewackasha”), some from sources I can’t determine like “kiss” for the word “kiss,” which is neither German nor Hebrew for the word we use for kiss in English.  It’s all rather fascinating and also amazing that people in Schopfloch are trying to keep this language alive.

We walked around the corner from the Rathaus to what is now called Bahnhofstrasse but was once called Judengasse.  It was here that the synagogue once stood.  Here is an old photograph of Judengasse with the synagogue on the far right. Below is a photograph of a model of the way the synagogue once looked:

Judengasse before the Holocaust

Model of old synagogue

There is no building now where the synagogue once stood; it is essentially an empty lot between two other buildings.  A plaque marks where it once stood. As I wrote in my earlier post, this synagogue, like so many throughout Germany, was destroyed on Kristallnacht in November, 1938, and by then all the Jews had left the town.  The town, which once had almost 400 Jewish residents, had become “Judenfrei.”

Plaque marking the location of the former synagogue

Empty lot where synagogue once stood

Judengasse today (now called Bahnhofstrasse)

Across the street from the location of the former synagogue was the building which was once the Jewish school.

Former Jewish school

We then walked through the town and up the hill to get to the Jewish cemetery.  I was very surprised to see how large the cemetery was, given how small the town was (and still is).  There are almost 1200 stones there, making it larger than any of the synagogues we had seen in the Hessen region, but it served not just Schopfloch but also several other towns nearby.  The cemetery is actually quite beautiful.  There is a stone wall that surrounds the entire cemetery.

But sadly many of the stones, especially the older ones, are not at all legible.  Some are sinking into the soft ground or already have disappeared.  And the further back we went in the cemetery to reach the oldest stones, the harder it was to find stones that were legible.  The oldest legible stones I could find were from the 1880s, and thus I knew I was not going to find the stones for my 4x-great-grandparents who died before 1850.

Once I came to that realization, I decided instead to focus on the stones I could read, and there were some very interesting ones there. Several people had asked about the hand symbols in one of my earlier posts:

Scholem Katzenstein, my 3x great-grandfather, Haarhausen cemetery

As I explained, those are the symbols indicating that the person buried there descended from the tribe of the high priests, the Cohanim.  But there were other symbols in the Schopfloch cemetery that I’d not seen before.

For example this one shaped like a tree trunk, which symbolizes a premature death—someone whose life was cut short.

Or this one with a palm tree. I was unfamiliar with this as a Jewish gravestone symbol, so I asked the members of the Tracing the Tribe group on Facebook.  I got wonderfully helpful responses, including a translation of the text.  What we deduced from the text and from Psalm 92 (“the righteous shall flourish like a palm tree”)  is that the date palm is a symbol of righteousness; the man buried here was probably a rabbi, and the text refers to his philanthropy and his scholarliness.  He’s not my relative, but I am glad I looked into the meaning of his stone.  His name was David Ballenberger 1815-1881.

This one interested me because of the unusual way the Hebrew letters were carved. Notice also the two completely eroded stones behind it. Could those be the stones for my Nussbaum 4x-great-grandparents? I don’t know.

Finally, I found this one very interesting:

It has three symbols on it: a butcher’s knife, a shofar (the horn blown on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), and a knife used for circumcision. I asked my friend Brett Levi to translate this for me, and he confirmed that the text indicated that the man buried there had been a shochet (kosher butcher), a shofar blower, and a mohel (person trained to do ritual circumcisions).

After visiting the cemetery, we walked back to town hall, where we saw the model of the former synagogue depicted above. After purchasing the Lachoudisch book, we said goodbye to our guides and headed out of Schopfloch.

We were excited to be going to our last stop, Heidelberg.  I have no genealogical connection to the city, and these last three days of our trip were going to be days to relax, enjoy a beautiful city, and look back on everything we’d seen. I had scheduled a walking tour of Worms for part of one of the days, but otherwise, we were going to be on our own.

So we took a deep breath, got back into our Nissan Juke, and set the GPS to take us to Heidelberg. We were ready for the last leg of our trip and had plenty of time to get to Heidelberg and return our rental car before 6 pm when the Hertz office closed.

But it was not to be.

It Takes A Village: Mystery Solved!

Immigrant children, Ellis Island, New York.

Immigrant children, Ellis Island, New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I received a lot of exciting documents today, but I cannot write about them all at once.  I want to write first about the one that resolved a longstanding mystery I had almost despaired of ever solving.

Just to refresh your recollection (or to tell you the story for the first time), my great-great aunt Tillie Strulowitz arrived at Ellis Island with her husband Jankel and three of her seven children, the older four having already emigrated.  They were detained at Ellis Island because of questions about Jankel’s health, and I was able to obtain, with the help of the generous people at JewishGen, the file for the immigration hearing. From that I knew that he had been admitted to the United States and had not been deported or died before arriving in the US, as some of his descendants believed.

But I still could find no evidence of what happened to him after January, 1908, when he was admitted.  He was not on the 1910 census with Tillie and the children. Tillie was listed as a widow, but I could not find a death certificate or a cemetery burial that proved he had died. I began to wonder whether Jankel had abandoned them or been institutionalized or returned to Romania.

I wrote to the JewishGen discussion group for a second time to ask for help, and I received many very helpful and creative suggestions.  I pursued each one of them, but with no success.  The only one that I had still not been able to put closure on was a suggestion from a man named Barry Chernick who had found a death recorded for a Jankof Israelwitch in April 1908.  Barry hypothesized that this might be Jankel because Israelwitch could be an Americanization of Strulowitz or Srulovici.  Since Srul is Yiddish for Israel, perhaps the family had switched their name after leaving Ellis Island.  It seemed like a long shot, but I figured it was worth a try and wrote away for the death certificate.

Well, today I received the death certificate for Jankof Israelwitch, and I am certain that it is the death certificate for Jankel Srulovici.  My conclusion is based on the following clues: his birth place (Romania), length of time in the US (4 months—he died in April 1908 and arrived in the US at the very end of December 1907), his father’s name (Israel—Jankel’s first born son was named Israel or Srul in Romania), his residence (East Harlem, where his family was living from 1910 and afterwards), and his age (57).

Jankel Srulovici death certificate

Jankel Srulovici death certificate

The death certificate also revealed on the reverse side that he was buried at Mt Zion cemetery, so I went to their website and searched for Jankof Israelwitch, and there I was now able to find that he is in fact buried there under that name.  The fact that Tillie and Isidor and Pincus are also buried at Mt Zion (though not in the same sections) is further corroboration that this is the right person.

reverse side

reverse side

And so now, thanks to the assistance of so many people at JewishGen and especially Renee and Barry, I can put closure on the life of Jankel Srulovici.  He did not abandon his family, he was not deported, he was not institutionalized, he did not divorce Tillie.  No, he died what must have been a painful death from a metastatic growth in his ribs.

Like my great-grandfather Moritz, Jankel’s brother-in-law, Jankel died soon after arriving in America.  How awful it must have been for the two sisters, Tillie and Ghitla, to lose their husbands after making the brave and difficult decision to leave home and start anew in this country.  Yet somehow they both continued on, they raised their children, and they made a life for themselves as widows in the United States.  I continue to be amazed by the resilience of the immigrant generation.

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Who was Tillie Srulowitz? Another mystery solved?

As I mentioned in my post about the ship manifests, Betty Goldschlager was released from Ellis Island to someone she identified as her aunt, Tillie Srulowitz.  I had no idea who this could be when I first saw this many months ago.

In reviewing my Goldschlager research this past week or so, however, I looked more closely at the census report from 1910, as seen below.

The Strolovitz Adler family with Isadore and Betty in 1910

The Strolovitz Adler family with Isadore and Betty in 1910

Isadore and “Bella” Goldschlager are listed as boarders living with….Tillie Strolowitz and her many children.  When I first looked at this, I had no idea who the Strolowitz family was and just assumed that Isadore and Betty were living there as boarders, not relatives.  This time I remembered the name on the ship manifest and made the connection: this was the aunt that met Betty at Ellis Island.

So who were these people?  Tillie was listed as a widow and had five children named Strolowitz: Beckie, Bertha, Bella, Lizzie and Pincus.  She also had two sons with the last name Adler, David and Isidor.  I assumed David and Isidor were children of a first marriage, and the others children of her second marriage, but since David is younger than Bertha, that did not make sense.  Of course, knowing how unreliable census reports are, it is also likely that that is just an error and that David was in fact older than Bertha.  The census also reports that Tillie’s present marriage was 26 years old, but I don’t know whether that means she’d been married to Mr. Strolovitz for 26 years when he died or whether it had been 26 years since she had married him.  All her children named Strolovitz were younger than 26, whereas Isidor was 27.

I then decided to see what I could find about the Strolovitz family and the possible connection to the Goldschlager family.  On the Ellis Island site, I found entries for two sisters, Betty and Bruche Strulovici from Jassy, who arrived together in 1906 on the Noordam when Betty was 17 and Bruche was 20 with thirty dollars between them.  That information matched the ages and dates of arrival for Bella and Bertha Strolovitz on the 1910 census, so it could very well be them.  I so far have not been able to locate any other Ellis Island records for Tillie Strolovitz’s family.

When I searched for later US census records, I could find almost nothing at first for anyone named Strolovitz with similar first names or for Szrulowitz or Strulowitz or any other reasonable variation.  I then turned to search for David and Isidor Adler and ran into the problem of too many people with those names and no certain way of determining which ones were Tillie’s sons.  I think I have narrowed it down, but am still not certain that I have found the right David or Isidor.

On the other hand, while searching for Adlers on the US census I found this one:

Tillie, Bertha, Bella and Leah Adler 1920

Tillie, Bertha, Bella and Leah Adler 1920

Tillie, Bertha, Bella and Leah Adler, listed as mother and daughters, of the approximate ages that Tillie Strolovitz and her daughters would have been in 1920, from Romania.  This seemed too unlikely to be a coincidence, and I feel fairly certain that for some reason, Tillie and her daughters had changed from being Strolovitz to Adler.  I could not find any records under either last name for Tillie or the daughters, except for death certificate for a Tillie Adler dated 1925 for a woman of the correct age.  I have ordered that certificate and will wait to see what it contains.

Having concluded that Tillie and her daughters were now using Adler, I thought that perhaps her son Pincus had also switched from Strolovitz to Adler, so I searched for him.  I found a South Carolina death certificate for Pincus Adler dated July, 1919, age 19, born in Romania, whose father’s name was Jacob Adler, and whose mother’s maiden name was Tillie Rosensweig.

Pincus Adler Death Certificate 1919

Pincus Adler Death Certificate 1919

The informant on the death certificate was David Adler of West 68th Street, New York, New York.   I am fairly certain that this is the same David Adler and the same Pincus Strolovitz AKA Pincus Adler, although the age may be off by a year or so (not anything surprising in these records).  Everything else lines up: mother is Tillie and brother is David Adler from NYC.  Pincus Adler was also buried at Mount Zion cemetery in Queens, not in South Carolina.  Perhaps Pincus ended up in South Carolina after World War I.  I’ve yet to find a draft registration under either name, but am continuing to look.

So why does any of this matter? When I first saw what Tillie’s maiden name, it didn’t mean anything to me.  Like so many other times in the research, I had to move away from it. Several hours later, while doing something completely unrelated, a lightbulb went off.  Rosensweig was Gisella Goldschlager’s maiden name also! Gisella and Tillie were sisters—Tillie, after all, was listed as Betty’s (and thus, David’s and Isadore’s) aunt on that Ellis Island form.  Her children—Bertha, Bella, Beckie, Pincus, Lizzie, David and Isidor— were my grandfather’s first cousins.

I still have more work to do to figure out the Strolovitz/Adler family.  Why did they use two different last names?  I found a Tillie Strulowitz buried at Mount Zion on August 4, 1925, the day after the date of death for Tillie Adler; this must be the same person, but one place she is Adler, the other she is Strulowitz.  Why is Jacob Adler listed by David Adler as Pincus’ father?  Was there ever a Mr. Strolovitz or was Jacob Adler the father of all seven children? Why did Tillie switch back and forth? Why did her daughters become Adlers?

This stuff just never gets boring to me; there is always another mystery, another surprise around each corner.

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Mt Zion and Mt Hebron

[This is the second part of my post about the weekend in New York. If you haven’t read the post about the Lower East Side, that is Part One. This is Part Two.]

Before I write about my trip to Mt Zion and Mt Hebron cemeteries, let me tell you that I have never been someone who understood why people go to cemeteries, and it always seemed a little creepy to me. I don’t believe in an afterlife, and it seemed to me that you could remember those who had died without standing over the place where their bodies were buried.

I initially saw a cemetery trip this time as a way of doing more research. Then when I realized that Joseph was not buried near any of his children or his wife, I felt badly. It was likely no one had been there for a hundred years. Did that matter? Joseph didn’t know, so why did I care? I am not sure, but somehow I felt compelled to pay him honor. In fact, once I received the photos of the headstone and footstone from Charlie Katz, I no longer needed to go for research. I was going for some emotional reason that was mysterious even to me. The trip to Mt Hebron, which is only ten minutes away from Mt Zion, then seemed like an obvious addition to the trip to Mt Zion.

So off we went on Sunday morning, first to Mt Zion. It is one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in New York City, and the graves are very close together with almost no open land left. I knew from Charlie Katz that it would be hard to find Joseph’s gravesite. The stones are so close together that it is very difficult to walk between and around them, and without Charlie’s directions, we might never have found it. But then suddenly we spotted it.



I stood there, not really knowing what to do or to think. I thought of his life, thanked him silently for bringing his family here, tried to imagine what he looked like. Did he have red hair? No idea. Then I left on the headstone one of the beach rocks I had collected the prior weekend. I had decided to bring a piece of something I loved to leave at the graves, and the beach is the place that always makes me the happiest. I left feeling that I had at least done something to honor his memory.

Then we went on to Mt Hebron, a much larger and much less crowded cemetery. The section where Bessie is buried is across the road from the section where my grandparents and Sam are buried. [What I didn’t know then is that Frieda is also buried there, but that’s a story for another post.] I saw Philip’s headstone right away, but did not realize that Bessie’s was right behind it, as you can see in the photo below.


It took some counting and looking, but finally Harvey spotted it. I felt the same way standing at Bessie’s grave—grateful and wistful. I found myself drawn to her name—both in Hebrew and in English—and rubbed my hand over the name Bessie, saying, “That’s my name.” I also was very touched to see that the Brotman name was included on her headstone, not just Moskowitz.


I left one of my beach rocks there as well and then walked across the street to the other section.

In that section I first saw Sam Brotman’s headstone. I never met Sam, and I really felt badly about that, given that he lived until I was 22 years old. I left a beach rock on his stone, saying, “I am sorry I never met you.”


In the row behind Sam’s grave I found my grandparents’ grave. The headstone was covered with ivy, which looked pretty but made reading the inscriptions impossible. I gently tore away the ivy so I could see the stones.


My grandfather died when I was almost five, so I have only the vaguest memories of him, but have heard lots of stories about him—how funny he was, how smart he was (he knew several languages), and how opinionated. He walked across Romania to escape oppression and poverty. I wish I had had a chance to know him better. There was a rock left on his headstone when we arrived. Who could have been there? I don’t think it could have been anyone recently, but perhaps it had been there for many years. I placed mine next to it and rubbed his name.


Seeing my grandmother’s headstone was the most difficult for me. She lived until I was 23, and when I was a little girl I loved her very much. She was fun and loving with her grandchildren, despite having had a difficult and often sad life. I have thought of her so many times while doing this research and learning what her life was like, but standing there, thinking of her, I suddenly was overcome with emotion and found myself sobbing, thinking of her and her life and the memories I have of her. As I did with Bessie and Isadore, I found myself rubbing my hand over her name, Gussie, feeling some unexpected emotion in doing so. I left my beach rock, specially selected for her, and wished I had asked her more questions while I could have.

Apparently, I was wrong. Going to the cemetery can bring you closer to those who are gone.

A simple and righteous man: Our great-grandfather


Below are two photos, one of Joseph’s headstone, one of his footstone.  (I did not take these; a very kind stranger volunteered to do so.  I do, however, plan to visit the grave next weekend.)  Although I don’t know much Hebrew, using a translator program I think that the headstone says, “Here lies a Simple and righteous man, Our beloved father Yosef Yaakov ben Avraham, Deceased [Hebrew date].”

The footstone inscription is longer and harder to translate, but I think that it says something like, “Here lies a simple man who woke and toiled doing crushing work in order to support his home, to see and satisfy a dream as a gift to other people,  Yosef Yaakov ben Avraham, Deceased  [Hebrew date].

Like I said, I relied on a translation program, so I am using some poetic license to put this into English.  If there is anyone who has any fluency in Hebrew, please correct me!!

Edited: After consulting with a rabbi and working at this again, I think the footstone says, “Here lies a simple man who toiled doing crushing work to support his home and rejoiced in pleasing others.”

At any rate, I found the inscriptions very touching.  At the very least we know his family saw him as a plain, hardworking man who worked to support his home and provide for their dreams in the new world.


Update on Abraham Brotman of Brooklyn

Yesterday I received photos of the headstones of our great-grandfather Joseph Brotman, which I will post separately, and of Abraham Brotman of Brooklyn, who I have been researching to find out whether he was also related to Joseph.  Max was the witness on Abraham’s naturalization application, so I assumed there was a connection, but couldn’t find any other evidence of it.  Well, now I do.  Joseph’s headstone revealed that his Hebrew name was Yosef Yaakov ben Avraham.  Abraham’s headstone revealed that his name was Avraham ben Yosef Yaakov! Thus, Abraham was named for Joseph’s father, our great-great-grandfather.  (Or great or great-great-great, depending on which generation you are a part of.)  

I am in touch with two of Abraham’s grandchildren, Morty Grossman and Paula Newman, who are also second cousins of the fourth generation cousins.  I also am going to add a new page for Abraham and his descendants.  It’s a little thin now, but I am hoping that Morty and Paula will be able to fill in with some more information.