Thanksgiving in a Pandemic

I’ve been in a bit of a funk the last week or so. It’s COVID, it’s politics, it’s the weather. November is  hard for me. I hate when the trees lose their leaves, the grass turns brown, the sky turns gray, the temperature drops.

So I am going to take the advice of an old friend and list the top ten things that fill me with gratitude—in no particular order. I find when I focus on the things for which I am grateful, it makes me feel better. So here goes.

  1. I am thankful for my husband and my children and my grandchildren. They are the rocks in my life, the ones who get me from spot to spot, no matter how roiling is the water beneath our feet.
  2. I am thankful for my parents. My father is gone, and my mother is struggling. But they were a constant source of love and support in my life, and I hold all the memories close to my heart.
  3. I am thankful for the rest of my family, including all the cousins I’ve found on this genealogy journey. They all remind me how connected we all are—all humans—regardless of where we grew up or when or how.
  4. I am thankful for my three cats, whose ability to live in the moment and to provide constant companionship, affection, and comfort has been so very important during the last nine months.
  5. I am thankful for my friends—my friends from high school, from college, from law school, and from the community where I have lived since 1983. So many times in the last nine months I have turned to my friends—by Zoom, text, telephone, email. They have made me laugh, they have given me perspective, they have given me strength. I hope I’ve done the same for them.
  6. I am thankful for the genealogy village—those who read my blog, those who help me with my research and with translations, those in the Facebook groups who comment and help answer my questions. Family history research has been one way I’ve escaped from the anxiety of the pandemic. It has given me focus and a distraction and continues to keep my brain working.
  7. I am thankful for the good fortune I have to live in a comfortable house in a wonderful community of neighbors. In the course of our daily walks we’ve gotten to know our neighbors and their dogs and feel so fortunate to live where we live.
  8. I am thankful that I don’t have to worry about where my next meal will come from or whether I will be able to get adequate medical care or whether I will be harassed or injured because of my race. In a time when so much feels dangerous, I’ve learned more than ever to appreciate just how privileged I am.
  9. I am thankful for the beautiful world we live in. We’ve taken walks and hikes in places we never knew about before and in places that we’ve always loved—the beach and the woods, the mountains and the lakes. I learned early on that getting into a quiet place surrounded by nature was often the best thing to do to find solace and calm the noise in my head.
  10. I am thankful for science and for doctors and nurses and all the frontline workers in hospitals and grocery stores and elsewhere who are putting their lives on the line to do everything possible to keep us safe.

That’s my top ten. There are probably hundreds if not thousands more. What are yours?

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Crazy Quilt of Selig Goldschmidt’s Family

As I move on now to the next child of my four-times great-uncle Meyer Goldschmidt, his fifth child and second son Selig Goldschmidt, I admit to some trepidation. I’ve been working on my Goldschmidt line for almost three years now, and Selig has one of the biggest branches.

The overall Goldschmidt clan is so large and so entangled. There are eleven men named Jacob Goldschmidt/Jacob Goldsmith on my tree, six named Meyer Goldschmidt/Goldsmith, six women named Helene/Helena/Helen Goldschmidt/Goldsmith, six named Hedwig Goldschmidt, and nine women named Clementine (including three named Clementine Fuld) within the Goldschmidt family. And then there are all the cousins who married cousins, adding more confusion and twists to the family tree.

And Selig Goldschmidt’s family only adds to all that entanglement. Just a quick overview to give you a sense of what I mean by entanglement. Sources and details to follow.

Selig Goldschmidt married Clementine Fuld. She was the sister of Salomon Fuld, the husband of Selig’s niece Helene Goldschmidt, daughter of Selig’s brother Jacob Meier Goldschmidt.

Salomon Fuld and Helene Goldschmidt’s daughter, also named Clementine Fuld like her aunt, married David Cramer, the son of Jakob Cramer. Selig’s daughter Hedwig Goldschmidt married David Cramer’s brother Hirsch Cramer. And Selig’s son, Meyer Selig Goldschmidt, married Selma Suzette Cramer, a first cousin of Hirsch and David Cramer.

Two of Selig’s other children, Flora and Recha, married men with the surname Schwarzschild. I’ve not yet found records establishing a connection between the two Schwarzschild husbands, but I bet there was one.

Finally, Selig’s youngest and sixth child, Johanna Goldschmidt, married Abraham Stern, the son of Sarah Goldschmidt, Selig’s older sister, or Johanna’s first cousin. Fortunately I’ve already told the story of Johanna and Abraham when I wrote about Sarah Goldschmidt’s family so that particular web has already been untangled. I hope.

But as you can see, of Selig’s six children, one married a first cousin, two married spouses who were related to each other (first cousins), and two may have married spouses who were related in some way. Only Selig’s oldest child, Helene (yes, another Helene Goldschmidt) married someone who seems otherwise unconnected to someone else in the family.

And so, with that introduction to the family of Selig Goldschmidt and Clementine Fuld, I now will turn to this next branch of my Goldschmidt family tree. Once I finish Selig’s branch, there will be only one more Goldschmidt branch to cover, that of Selig’s brother Falk Goldschmidt. His line is also a crazy patchwork of intrafamily marriages, but I’ll address that when I get to that branch of the tree.

Blogging in a Pandemic, Part IV: It’s Getting Too Real

I’ve written a series of posts over the last five or six weeks to record the experience of living through the pandemic, trying to find some good news among all the darkness. Writing them has been therapeutic for me, and from the responses I’ve gotten, I know that they’ve resonated for others. I am, however, finding it harder and harder to find the light in the darkness. But I am trying.

The last two weeks have made it harder because the virus has come to my community with a vengeance. Many people have died, including the mother of one of my dear friends and the sister of another friend. Our local nursing homes have been ravaged, including 21 deaths in the Jewish Nursing Home near us. Other friends have had loved ones become ill with the virus. I live in dread of hearing that my mother or someone in her memory care facility is infected. My anxiety level has increased to the point that most of the things I was finding helpful—long walks, yoga, Zoom sessions—are becoming less effective.

And the rush of some to resume “normal life” even though it means risking more lives, including their own, is infuriating, as are the actions of those who are putting political ambition and money above the health and well-being of people.

But I know we are among the very fortunate ones. We have a safe home, resources to pay for what we need, food in the house and delivery services bringing more as needed, and, so far, our health. We have the support network of our children, our relatives, our friends, and our community. We have each other. I am always mindful of that.

My three cats are a real source of comfort; they are oblivious to what’s going on outside, and they only care that we are here to feed them and to pet them. They cuddle up next to me day and night and give me some peace.

And little things make me smile. Our neighbors drawing hearts on all the driveways and leaving painted stones on all the doorsteps and paper flowers taped to our windows.

The discovery of more places to walk where we can avoid close contact with people and enjoy the quiet of nature continues to be soothing.

The weekly Shabbat Shalom zooms with family are a needed break from the constant talk of COVID19. Who cannot smile when a five-year-old wants to play Twenty Questions by Zoom?

This week my younger daughter was celebrated by her friends on what would have been Marathon Monday with cards and posters and a bottle of champagne. I can’t tell you how much that meant to her and to us.

There is so much love out there, and the best of human nature can outshine the darkness of illness, death, and the suffering of so many.

One small example from my genealogical activities. While all this has been going on, I’ve connected with a few more cousins who found me through my blog. I think people stuck at home are turning to family history for consolation and also are uncovering photographs and letters that were buried in boxes or trunks in their attics and basements.

One of these cousins sent me scans of some photographs of my Benedict cousins, including this terribly torn photograph of Hannah Goldsmith Benedict, the first cousin of my great-grandfather Isadore Schoenthal:

I was thrilled to receive this photograph—a definite moment of joy. But heartbroken that Hannah’s photo was so damaged. Could it be repaired, I wondered?

I posted it in the Free Photo Restoration group on Facebook, and when I woke up the next morning, three group members had posted repaired versions. Aren’t they amazing?

These people obviously spent a great deal of time fixing this photograph and asked for nothing in return. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. It made me smile, and it reminded me once again that most people are kind and good and generous and loving.

I need to keep all these reminders in front of me as things outside get scarier and scarier.

Passover During A Pandemic

Every year for as far back as I can remember, my family has gathered for Passover. In my childhood, we had seders at my aunt and uncle’s house with my cousins Jody and Jeff. Then we all started doing a second seder together at our house. Every year, no matter what else was happening, we had seders. They were wild and chaotic and so much fun. Passover was my favorite holiday and was my first introduction to Jewish culture, history, and religion.

Once I married, the tradition shifted, but nevertheless, every year we had seders, one with my family at my parents’ house, one with my husband’s family either in New Jersey or the Bronx or later in Newton. They were all wild and chaotic and a great deal of fun.

Then we had grandchildren, and we began hosting one of the seders at our house, relieving my mother of the burdens of preparing the seder. We love hosting the seder, although the craziness beforehand and during makes me appreciate what all those who had hosted in the past were experiencing. Trying to convert our house to Passover dishes and pots and pans while also cooking some food ahead of time, renting tables and table cloths to accommodate the crowd, and then attempting to participate in the seder while also warming and serving food was a logistical challenge.

Passover 2019

But seeing my family gathered together around our table made it all more than worthwhile.

My dad and Remy, Passover 2016

Harvey and Nate

So here we were, facing Passover during the social distancing brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. How were we going to celebrate without being together? Would this be the first year ever in my memory that I would not be going to a seder? The thought saddened me, as I know it did for Jews all over the world.

Fortunately, my nine-year-old grandson Nate presented us with a challenge and an idea. Could we do a virtual seder using Zoom, the platform his school was using for remote learning? We spent some time learning how to use Zoom and thinking of how we could do this.

We scanned the Haggadah my family has used forever (The Haggadah for the American Family—mostly in English and accessible to all) and figured out who would read which parts. We added back in the handwashing we usually overlook. Nate and Remy practiced the four questions. Then we distributed a PDF of the scanned Haggadah to all who would be attending with their parts designated in the margins. As a final touch, Nate filmed himself doing an introduction and explanation of how things would work, and I emailed it all to everyone along with a Zoom invitation.

Nevertheless, the day of the first seder, I was feeling a bit blue. Sure, I had a lot less work to do, but that made me feel a bit at loose ends. Was it really Passover? I set the table for two with our seder plate filled with the usual ingredients, our cups for Elijah and for Miriam, our matzah holder, and salt water for the parsley.  It looked empty. We even put on nicer clothes than what we’ve been wearing since self-quarantining to make the day feel special. And then we waited for our guests to arrive in the Zoom waiting room.

Our seder table 2020 (before the seder plate was filled)

And they all showed up on time, ready to go. After chatting a bit and saying hello, our grandson Remy, only five, asked if we could have a virtual group hug. Can you imagine how happy that made me? We all reached out our arms to each other. What an amazing insight for a five-year-old—to recognize that we all needed that embrace, even if it was only across the internet.

I asked if everyone had a seder plate, and sure enough, everyone had made the effort to put together as best they could a plate with charoset (or an apple), moror, an egg, a shankbone (or a plastic sheep), and parsley or some other green. It was so uplifting, seeing that everyone had made the effort to make this a real Passover. Here are a few examples; you can see the creativity involved.

In fact, my younger daughter Maddy went all out and made chicken soup and matzoh balls, something she had never cooked before, and it looked amazing. My older daughter Rebecca made homemade macaroons. Everyone cared enough to do whatever they could to honor our holiday and our traditions. Suddenly it felt like this was really Passover.

Once we started the seder, it was almost as if we were all in the same room. Nate and my husband shared the responsibilities of being the leader, an honor Nate had certainly earned by virtue of his efforts and creativity in getting the seder organized. We went through our Haggadah as we usually do, adding a few extra comments appropriate to the situation—talking about the need for handwashing, adding an eleventh plague for COVID19, and recognizing the current meaning of the lesson that the wise child is the one who works for the benefit of all humankind, not just for him or herself.

Nate and Remy did a beautiful reading of the four questions, first in English and then in Hebrew. Then I read something our rabbi had written, describing how this Passover is different from all other Passovers and making us all think about our gratitude to those on the front lines of this pandemic—the medical personnel, those working at grocery stores and drug stores, the delivery people, the police and fire and other emergency personnel. Her words also gave us hope that as with our ancestors in ancient times, we would pull through and get out of this contemporary time of captivity.

And then we shared our dinners together, gefilte fish, soup, or whatever we each had prepared for that evening. Nate and Remy searched for the afikomen in their own home, and we sang for Elijah, but didn’t let anyone else inside. We pulled out whatever we had for dessert, and then we said good night.

Of course, it wasn’t the same as being together. Zoom makes it hard to have individual conversations or any real extended conversations that aren’t interrupted by the chatter of everyone else. And there are no hugs and kisses to say hello and goodbye.  But we had celebrated Passover. We had been together. We had remembered our own family traditions as well as the traditions of Jews everywhere around the world and throughout all time. We had had a seder.

Next year we hope we will be together in one space. But maybe this year’s seder will be the one we will always remember best. Because we all cared enough to make it real, to feel the connection to each other, and to appreciate what our traditions have taught us about hope and freedom and gratitude.

Blogging in a Pandemic, Part II

As we enter our third or really our fourth week of social distancing, self-quarantine, or whatever else you want to call it (no closer than six feet from anyone but each other, washing our hands religiously, no restaurants, no stores except when we can’t get delivery of groceries, and so on), I have to say that this week things suddenly seem much harder and much sadder. But we are still fortunately feeling fine despite having flown twice in March, and we feel very, very relieved, and are so grateful to be home.

And we also feel very grateful that so far our families are also okay and our friends. I almost am afraid to write that for fear of tempting the corona gods. But I know that magical thinking is just superstition. We all just have to keep staying apart, staying safe, and staying home. The anxiety sometimes feels unbearable, but my mantra has always been and continues to be—one day at a time.

We’ve taken some wonderful walks in places nearby, a few of which we’d never been to before. And we’ve taken many walks in our neighborhood, chatting with neighbors from at least six feet apart, and feeling a sense of community and warmth that can be overlooked when we all just drive in and out of our garages.

I’ve cleared out a drawer filled with expired medicines and other products, organized our “junk” drawer, and discovered dust in places you cannot imagine. Every day I try to think of at least one small project to accomplish, even if it is simply remembering to mail a check.

I’ve also started to accept that I will never do some of the things the internet keeps throwing at us: free courses online, free tours of museums and national parks, free videos of exercise classes, and so on. I just can’t focus long enough to do those things. Fortunately, doing genealogy in shorter spurts than usual and writing my blog still provide me with a way to escape from the pandemic pandemonium.

Now we are preparing for a Zoom seder. The planning has given me an opportunity to work with my nine-year-old grandson on that project. In fact, we’ve had more contact with our kids and grandsons during these weeks than we usually do, though not in person. I am reading the wonderful book Hatchet by Gary Paulsen with the older grandson and playing chess online with the younger one. And we’ve had Zoom cocktail hours with friends and with family. So it’s not all bad.

What really prompted me to write this particular post was one of those little benefits I’ve gotten from people spending all this time at home. My brother, who also has been spending more time at home than usual (but who is still working since he is a doctor), was going through a box of papers and photographs that had been my father’s and discovered this photograph.

I know this is not great quality (and my brother’s scan of it does not help). But I am so excited by this photograph. Let me explain why.

This is a photograph of my father as a baby being held by his father with my aunt sitting on her father’s left. My father had written the ages in the margins, and although he had not written the names, it was easy to deduce the identities from the relative ages and the facial characteristics using other photographs of my grandfather, of my aunt as a young child, and even of my father as a baby.

Eva Schoenthal and John Cohen, Sr. 1923

My aunt Eva Hilda Cohen and my grandmother Eva Schoenthal Cohen, c. 1925

My grandmother and my father, c. 1927

But what made this so special is that I had never seen a photograph of my grandfather with his children. All the photographs I had of him were either of him alone or with my grandmother. So seeing this photograph was really touching. Look at how he is looking at his son. There is such joy and love on his face.

It was especially touching because I knew that my father had had very few years living with his father before my grandfather became disabled from multiple sclerosis and was ultimately institutionalized for the rest of his life.  He died long before I was born, and for most of my life I knew almost nothing about him. I didn’t ask when I was young because my father seemed to be reluctant to talk about him. I didn’t know if that was out of sadness or anger or indifference. But I didn’t want to upset him either way.

One of the gifts of doing genealogy and talking to my father in the five or six years before he died in February 2019 was that he finally did talk a bit about his father. And in doing so, I realized that even though he had not spent many years living with his father, my father had loved him. His reluctance to talk about him was due to pain and sadness, not anger or indifference.

The fact that my father saved this photograph and hid it away in a box we never saw before is telling. This must have been a photograph he cherished, something special that he didn’t want mixed in with the hundreds of other photographs he had taken over the years of vacations and friends and family. I am so glad that my brother discovered it and that he shared it with me. It gave me new insights into my father and his father.

Have you discovered any wonderful photographs or other treasures while staying at home? Have you always planned to label and/or scan your family photographs? Maybe now is a good time.

Blogging During A Pandemic

Ordinarily on Tuesday mornings I post about my genealogy research. I have such a post ready for today, but decided that I needed or wanted to write about the present, not the past, today. Often when I am researching a relative from the past, I wonder how they coped, what they felt, what they thought during some personal or public crisis—during wars, the Holocaust, the Depression, the flu epidemic of 1918, and so on. Today I thought I would share with my future descendants answers to those questions for me and my family regarding the current pandemic.

First, let me say that so far everyone in my immediate family has been symptom free. We may be infected, but we have no way of knowing at this moment. My grandsons, my daughters, our son-in-law, my husband, and I are fine. So far. And our extended famiy members and our friends are also fine. So far. Most importantly, my vulnerable 89 year old mother is safely locked down in her wonderful and loving assisted living facility. It’s terrible that I cannot visit her, but it’s also the smart and ethical thing to do. And we have all been able to Skype with her—which she seems to love. As long as she knows we are here and thinking of her and have not just walked away, I can sleep at night knowing she is safe. So far.

Of course, all those “so fars” are what makes much of this so nerve-racking. No matter how strictly we stay isolated away from others and how often we wash our hands, no one is suggesting for a minute that we won’t all end up getting the virus. All they are saying is that doing these things will slow down the progress of the spread so that doctors and nurses and hospitals will be more able to handle the flood of cases. So am I anxiety-free? Hardly. Is anyone?

On the positive side, I am just so proud and impressed by my daughters. Our younger daughter has had a terrible week in so many ways. She’s been training for the Boston Marathon for months, only to have it postponed until September. She was supposed to go to Florida for five days. That trip was canceled. And yesterday she learned that because all the restaurants in Massachusetts have been ordered to close, she will be out of work until they can re-open. Yes, each of these disappointments upset her, but with her usual optimism and strength, she has quickly rebounded and found the positive. She noted that running in September means she can celebrate her birthday when we are all in Boston to watch her cross the finish line. She has been surrounded by love and support from her incredible network of friends and her family and feels so grateful to them all. And when confronted by the reality of losing income for some unknown period of time, she remarked with her characteristic wit, “Well, with all the restaurants, bars, and stores closed, I will be spending a lot less money anyway.”

There have been lots of disappointments. My grandsons were looking forward to a trip to St Martin with their parents. Canceled. Grandparents Day at their school. Canceled. A performance by our older grandson. Canceled. But they also have taken these disappointments in stride—upset, but accepting the wisdom of those decisions. Our son-in-law celebrated his birthday this week—no fancy dinner out, no celebration with friends. But he found joy in being home with his family, sharing a homemade cake. If you look closely at each disappointment and how we respond, you will find that love and gratitude will quickly help you forget that disappointment.

Our older daughter has taken on the role of being our protector. Weeks ago before we were getting any really clear guidance from the government, she was warning us that we should not go to Florida in March as we had planned. She begged, pleaded with us, not to go. But we, being the stubborn teenagers in this scenario, pooh-poohed her concerns. After all, we consulted four doctors (yes, really. Four different doctors.), and all told us we shouldn’t cancel the trip, that we would be fine. Our daughter was apoplectic. The night before we left (yes, we did go), I couldn’t sleep. I knew she was right. But we went.

We practiced as much self-isolation as we could.  We didn’t see people. We walked, and we sat on the beach. We didn’t eat in restaurants unless there was outdoor dining. But after four days of anxiety, we decided it was just too much. There were rumors that all domestic flights would be canceled. So we left. We came home. Our daughter had been right all along.

I don’t want to make this political, except to say that I wish that my two daughters were in charge of our government. Where is the compassion, the honesty, the directness, the sense of hope tempered by the sense of urgency and wisdom that we all have needed since January when the first news of the viral spread in China was published?

So now we are home.  We are trying not to panic. We are not hoarding toilet paper or food or water. We have what we need. So far.  We are staying in touch with our family and our friends. We are grateful for modern technology, which allows us to see each others’ faces, hear their voices, read their words.  We are reaching out to others, and others are reaching out to us. That part feels good.

But the physical isolation is hard. How I wish I could hug and kiss my daughters and my grandsons. And my mother. I am worried about them all, and I am worried about my friends. And yes, I am worried about my husband and me. I know the worst is yet to come. And no, I am not ready for it. But we have no choice.

Stay home, everyone. Be wise. Be compassionate. Do the ethical thing, and keep away from others as much as and as best you can. Find love and gratitude even in these dark days.

 

 

 

November 15, 2019

Today would have been my father’s 93rd birthday. Tomorrow it will be nine months since he died on February 16, 2019. Nine months is a long time—long enough for a human baby to gestate and be ready for life outside the womb. And yet it is just a flash in a life that lasted over 92 years.

These nine months have been the hardest of my life—dealing with not only losing my father, but watching my mother decline as well. Life without my father has been just too hard for her to bear.

So today I’d like to dedicate my blog to them both, two people whose love for each other was the key to almost all of their happiness, two beautiful young people who grew to be loving parents, adoring grandparents and great-grandparents and aunt and uncle, and loyal and caring friends to people in their community and elsewhere.

Florence and John Cohen 1951

My Father

With much love and sadness, I share that my father passed away this weekend after 92 years of a life well lived. He was a man of great intellect, incredible curiosity, a passion for art, architecture, and music, and a lifelong commitment to progressive values—peace, justice, and human rights. He loved cats and dogs and the beaches of Cape Cod. But above all else, he was a man who passionately loved his family, especially my mother, whom he adored for 67 years of marriage.

Those of you who follow my blog may have seen the occasional comments my dad left on the blog. He was a devoted reader of the blog and supportive of and fascinated in the family history I was uncovering. He also was a constant source of information about his family and, most importantly, the inspiration for all the research I have done about all my paternal lines (which is probably 80-90% of what I’ve done since I have had much more luck finding information about my father’s side than my mother’s side). I will miss him deeply and will undoubtedly share more about him as time goes on.

For now I am taking a short break from blogging, but I will return soon because I know he would have wanted me to continue telling the stories of his many relatives.

Here are just a few photos.

My father at 9 months old

John Nusbaum Cohen, Jr.

In the Navy

Florence and John Cohen 1951

My father with Nate June 2010

 

Break Time

For the next two weeks I will be busy with family—not the ones I research, but the ones who are still here, eating, breathing, and sleeping. Four generations together.

I will be back by August 1, but in the meantime, I will try and keep up with all the other blogs if I get the chance.  It’s hard to find a quiet moment with this crew around!

I hope all of you are having a wonderful summer.  Here are some photos of my favorite beach. No ancestors lived here, but since 1962, I have spent at least a few days each summer somewhere on this beach. I’ve walked many times along the beach, finding sea glass and shells and heart-shaped stones; I’ve sat on this beach many, many hours with my family—first, as a child, then as a mother, and now as a grandmother. I’ve spent hot days in the warm bay waters, tossed in the waves. I’ve watched storms come in across the horizon, turn the water a dark green, and bring the waves crashing against the sea wall. I’ve watched the tide go in and go out, twice a day, every day. I’ve walked two dogs up and down this beach.  I’ve held my husband’s hand on this beach, my children’s hands, my grandsons’ hands.  I may have more happy family memories from times spent here than I have of any other place on earth.

Through the years….(sadly, I seem to have no pictures on the beach itself before my kids were born).

1983

1985

1987

1988

2010

2016

2016

2016

See you in August!

Letters to Frank: A Close Family Revealed

As I mentioned here, included with all the photographs that my cousin Steve scanned and sent to me were a number of letters.  I posted the letter written by Gerald Oestreicher to his family during World War II, and I mentioned that there were also letters written by Gerald’s uncle, Francis Oestreicher, when he was serving during World War I.  Frank was my father’s second cousin, both being the great-grandchildren of Levi Schoenthal and Henriette Hamberg. Thus, he was my second cousin, once removed:

Frank Striker to me relationship chart

 

There were also some letters written to Frank, as he was known after the war.  In this post I will share the letters written to Frank. The next post will contain the letters written by Frank during World War I.  I’ve transcribed all the letters as close to their original spelling and punctuation as I could, but made some changes just for purposes of readability.  No words were deleted or changed; nothing was added, except where I’ve put my own comments in brackets.

What struck me as meaningful about these letters is what they reveal about the close connections among the Schoenthal siblings—the ten children of my great-great-grandparents Levi Schoenthal and Henriette Hamberg.  These three letters date from 1907 to 1939, and each one shows that this large and extended family knew and cared about each other.

The oldest letter was a letter written by Frank’s great-aunt Helen Lilienfeld Schoenthal, the wife of my great-great-uncle, Henry Schoenthal.  Helen wrote this letter from Washington, Pennsylvania in 1907, to Frank, grandson of her sister-in-law Hannah Schoenthal.

Letter from Helen Lilienfeld Schoenthal dated December 12, 1907 from Washington, PA

IMG_1830

My dear Francis,

Years roll by, and children grow up to man and womenhood before we know it. And so it is with you my dear boy.  I can hardly realize that you have reached your 14th birthday, and it seems to me only a little while that dear Hilda was our representative at your Bris mihle.  With a hearty birthday kiss accompanied by the best wishes I send you many congratulations.  May our heavenly Father always protect and bless you, so that with every birthday your young life may be brighter and happier.  May the best of health and a long life free of care and worry be yours that your dear parents will have a great deal of pleasure on you.  Again I send you a little gift which help a little to swell your Bank account and which I hope will bring you the best luck in business.

Wishing you a very happy birthday with lots of fun.  I am

Lovingly

Your affectionate Aunt Helen

Uncle Henry, Hilda and Therese send their congratulations and love to everybody.

There is also a message written by Helen in German along the margin that I could not read, but with the help of my friend Matthias Steinke in transcribing and translating the old German script, I now know what it says:

My dear all! I am sending you this time only the heartiest greetings and kisses because my eyes close already automatically, because this evening I wrote already a couple of letters. In Love, your aunt, Helen 

Isn’t it interesting that in 1907 after being in the US for 35 years and clearly fluent in English,  Helen reverted to German (and German script) to write to Frank’s parents, Gustav and Sarah Stern Oestreicher? Both Sarah and Gustav were native German speakers, but both also had been in the US for a very long time. I wonder if Frank could read German or was as puzzled as I was by the German script scrawled on the margin of his birthday letter.

Aunt Helen--maybe Lilienfeld Schoenthal

The second letter was written a little over ten years later in July, 1918 when Frank had joined the army, but before he was shipped overseas.  It is also from his great-aunt Helen, with a short addendum by his great-uncle Henry Schoenthal.

Once again, it is evident that Helen and Henry were closely connected to Frank, a child of their niece Sarah Stern, grandson of Henry’s sister Hannah.  I was touched by how much affection there was for this young man, their great-grandnephew.  The letter is also interesting because it talks about Henry and Helen’s own children, their daughter Hilda, their son Lee (born Lionel) and his wife Irma, and Henry and Helen’s granddaughter Florence, who was only thirteen when this letter was written.  Helen did not use any paragraph breaks, but I’ve added some to make the text more easily read.

Letter from Helen Lilienfeld Schoenthal and Henry Schoenthal dated July 30 1918 written from NYC

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My dear Francis,

I was just thinking to write to your dear parents and ask for your address, when we were agreeably surprised on last Sunday, when your dear brother Sidney came to see us, stayed for supper and until late in the evening.  And so we are able to write to you, as Sidney was glad to give us your ad: for every soldier likes to get letters from some one, and if it is not from a sweetheart, this letter comes from your old Uncle and Aunt, who always loved you. 

I suppose your ears were ringing last Sunday, for Sidney and we talked about you a great deal, and we were glad to hear that you liked soldiers life and also the camp.  Are any boys with you from Pittsburg who you know? And how is the weather in your section?

We have terrible hot spell here since over a week, and I feel the heat very much.  But I am so thankful that we live on such nice open place near the Hudson and get all the fresh air that is going.  There is a good deal of suffering on the East side I know. 

Uncle and I are alone since the 19th of July. Irma & Lee went to the Adirondex Mountains to stay two weeks, as Lee had not been feeling well and needed a rest badly.  They choose this place so that they could be near Florence who is at a girls camp named camp Woodmere.  It is owned by Misses Goldsmith and Kuhn from Philadelphia.  They have 54 girls there and it an ideal place.  Florence is crazy about and Irma & Lee are also very much taken with the place and how beautiful it is managed.  They have all sorts of sports there.  Florence is a good swimmer and also can now [?] and take long hikes. 

We expect Irma and Lee back next Saturday and the following Saturday Hilda will arrive here and spend her vacation with us. I am looking forward to her coming with great joy, and we will try and make her stay very pleasant.  She can take many nice boat trips which she likes so much.  Sidney will come up again next week when Irma & Lee is here. 

I am making a nice lunch cloth for Helen’s engagement present, but I am taking my time making it as I have to be very careful with my eyes. [I assume Helen was Frank’s sister Helen, who married in 1920.] We also had a long letter from dear Meyer [their younger son] last week. 

Now dear Francis, be bright and cheerful and take good care of yourself.  Our good God will be with you wherever you are, and He will bring peace to every heart and all the countrys before long. 

With loads of love and a hearty and write soon to your affectionate Aunt Helen.

 My dear Francis

Your aunt has left me a little space and I gladly add a few words to tell you that we often think and speak of you.  I have no doubt that you like the life in the camp, as most of the boys do and that you will make such a fine soldier that all your friends will be proud of you.  Should the time come when you have to be on your way for “Over There” we may have a chance to bid you God’s speed in person. God be with you and bless you.

Affectionately yours,

Uncle Henry

I read this letter as an attempt by his aunt and uncle to give him their blessing before he went off to war without making him too nervous about what he was about to face.  Frank’s own letters, as we will see, reflect a similar impulse, only he is reassuring those at home that he is and will be okay.

The last letter for this post was written many years later by Frank’s father, Gustav Oestreicher.  It was written in 1939 after Gustav and Sarah had moved to California, as had their daughter Helen.  I am not certain whether Frank was living in Minneapolis or just visiting; the letter is addressed to him at a hotel, and from the content of the letter, I can infer that Frank had recently been to Chicago. I assume he was on the road in his capacity as a traveling salesman.

A little background to help identify the people named in the letter:  First, Gustav mentions the Good family.  He must be referring to Edith Stern and Leo Good and their son Bernard; Edith was Sarah Stern Oestreicher’s younger sister, thus Gustav’s sister-in-law.  In 1939, the Good family was living in Chicago.

Gustav then mentions a Lionel and his brothers and sister and another sister Hilda. At first I thought this referred to the children of Henry and Helen Schoenthal, as they had a son named Lionel, a son Meyer, and a daughter Hilda. But after reading through the letter more carefully, I realized that he was referring to Lionel Heymann, the oldest child of Rosalie Schoenthal and Willy Heymann, about whom I wrote here.  Rosalie was the youngest Schoenthal sibling, sister of Hannah Schoenthal, who was Gustave’s mother-in-law. So Rosalie was Sarah Stern’s aunt.

Here’s why I think Gustav is talking about Lionel Heymann, not Lionel Schoenthal. For one thing, Henry and Helen Schoenthal’s son Lionel was called Lee at this point, not Lionel.  And at the time this letter was written, Lionel Heymann (the photographer) was living in Chicago as were his brothers Walter and Max, so if Frank had seen the Good family, he must have been in Chicago. (I am not sure why Gustav writes that he hoped Frank might see Lionel’s “bros.& sister” since there was no sister at that time living in the US, but perhaps he was referring to Max’s wife Frieda.)

Also, Gustav mentions a sister Hilda who was still in Germany. Henry Schoenthal’s daughter Hilda was not living in Germany, but in Washington, DC, in 1939.  But Lionel Heymann had a sister Hilda who was still in Germany in 1939.  I have written about what happened to Hilda Heymann as well as her sister Helene, who married Julius Mosbach and had two daughters, Liesel and Gretel.  All were killed in the Holocaust.  That fact makes Gustav’s comment even more chilling.  I put those comments in bold below.

I do not know who the Fannie mentioned towards the end of the letter could be.

Letter from Gustav Oestreicher to his son Frank [edited for readability only]

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September 16, 1939 from Los Angeles

My dear Francis,

Although late, [I] will begin my letter extending to you my best wishes for a healthy, happy and prosperous new year. [Obviously a reference to Rosh Hashanah, given the September date.] You ought to know you enjoy our good wishes at all times so hope you will pardon the expression of it at a rather late date. As usual we were happy to learn the contents of your recent letter.  It pleased us to learn you enjoyed your visit with the Good family as well as that all of them are getting along nicely.  You evidently misinformed them about our anniversary as we rec’d a very nice letter from them congratulating us for our golden wedding anniversary which will not be until next year. [Gustav and Sara were married in 1940.]

We regretted very much you could not see Lionel and his Bros. & Sister again. [You] May be aware dear Mother is very much interested in his family that are still in Germany particular so his Sister Hilda. [We]  presume the anti-semitism in Germany has somewhat diminished since the war as I noticed in the papers they are eager to get the Jewish Doctors, Engineers and other Professional Man back even promising to restore their property.  Conditions regrett to note are not very encouraging for England and France particular so since the uncertain attitude of Russia but let us hope for the best.

You need not fear about me getting into the market further. Am fairly well satisfied with my holdings. Have absolutely no intention to buy anything nor feel inclined at this time to sell any of my stocks with possible exception of Congoleum-Narin and even should I sell that, may apply it to my loan or in other words will not increase my loan if I do not reduce still more.  Have not decided whether or not I will sell same. 

Fannie is at least a weekly visitor by us.  She still has not secured a position but is hopefull some thing will be available before long.  As for ourselves have nothing of interest to offer so will leave it to dear Mother to inform you pertaining herself so will conclude for to day with love and best wishes. 

Your loving Father

As with the earlier letters from Helen Lilienfeld Schoenthal, this letter reveals the close connections among the many Schoenthal siblings and their children.  I’ve often wondered what the family knew about the two siblings who had stayed in Germany: Jakob Schoenthal and Rosalie Schoenthal.  From Gustav’s letter it is apparent that the family was in touch at least to some extent with those family members who had not immigrated.  They knew that the three Heymann brothers were in Chicago, and they knew that some family members were still in Germany.

Gustav’s hope that anti-Semitism was diminishing in Germany once the war started is so terribly painful to read, knowing what was going to happen not only to Hilda, her sister, and her nieces, but to six million other Jews living in Europe.

Realizing how connected the family was to each other as late as 1939 makes me wonder what happened.  Why didn’t my father even know about all his Schoenthal second cousins like Frank and his siblings? Did my grandmother Eva Schoenthal know any of these people? My guess is that because my great-grandparents moved from western Pennsylvania to Denver when my grandmother was just a small child, not even four years old, she did not grow up with the benefit of knowing all those cousins in western Pennsylvania.  Perhaps if she had, I would not have had to search to find my Oestreicher cousins.  Perhaps we would have always known about each other.