Letters from Frank: A Soldier in World War I

In my last post I posted and transcribed three letters written to Francis Oestreicher aka Frank Striker by various relatives between 1907 and 1939.  In this post I want to share the letters that Frank wrote home while he was serving in World War I.  These letters were all written in the fall of 1918, beginning before Frank was sent overseas and ending with one in December, 1918, a month or so after the war had ended.

Frank Striker WW1

Francis Oestreicher in World War I

As with the last post, I have tried to keep the transcriptions true to the text of the letters, only making some punctuation changes and some spelling changes and adding paragraphing to make them more easily read.

The first letter was written from Camp Meritt, New Jersey, on September 20, 1918.

IMG_1847 IMG_1848


Camp Meritt, NJ September 20, 1918

Dear Mother, Father & Sister,

As you can see by the heading, I am now located at Camp Merrit. This accounts for my not having written yesterday. We left Camp Holabird yesterday morning and arrived here to[o] late last night to write.  We are located about 15 miles from New York and the camp is more like a park than anything else. It is layed out beautifully and is made to accomidate 70,000 men, all of whom sleep in barracks. There are no tents here.

Am going to try to get a pass to go to New York Sunday, but I doubt it if they will give me one, as they are very anxious to keep us together.

I suppose it will not come as a surprise when I tell you that we are prepairing to go across, we do not know just what day, but it may be to-morrow and it may not be for 2 weeks or more, so please do not worry if you do not hear from me for 3 or 4 weeks.  It often takes this long or longer for mail to come across. Our trucks are already in France.

Please do not let this worry you as I know I will be safe. It is not worrying me in the least and I am feeling fine and getting along nicely.

We will go through a good bit of schooling when we get to the other side so that we will not be assigned to our regular duty for 2 months or more. We will have to learn to understand French road signs and a great many other things.

Will close now as I want this letter to go out in the next mail.

I remain, with love to you all,

Your son & brother,


I love the tone of this letter—a young man trying to reassure his parents that he is and will be fine.  How can he possibly say he knows he will be safe? I had to laugh at the idea that his parents would not worry when their child was going off to fight in a war that had already seen a tremendous number of fatalities. But so far Frank hadn’t seen anything but American army camps.

The second letter was written while Frank was sailing to Europe with the army:



Aboard ship October 6, 1918

Dear Mother, Father, & Sister,

We expect to land in [place name torn off] tomorrow so I am writing aboard ship in order that my mail will lose no time.  I trust that you have received the postal mailed from New York advising you of my safe arrival.

Our trip has been delightful in every respect and although some of our company suffered some from sea-sickness, I came through feeling fine all the way. We saw no submarines and everything went along nicely.  Of course we were protected, but the censor would not permit my writing anything on this subject.  The trip took us considerably longer than they do in peace times, but since we had plenty of entertainment the time passed quickly and pleasantly.  You know I’ve traveled considerably around the U.S.A. but this has it beat, we are in sight of shore.

[Letter ends there; not sure if there was more as there is no signature.]

Once again, Frank is being reassuring.  He writes as if he’s on a cruise, traveling to Europe, except for the hints about censorship and submarines.  Was he really feeling as calm as his letter claims?

There are no letters between this one and the end of the war on November 11, 1918.  I don’t know whether that means Frank didn’t write any letters during that time or just that they have not been preserved or located.

The next letter was written two days after the armistice:

Frank November 13 letter 1

Frank November 13 1918 letter 2



France  November 13, 1918

Dear Mother, Father & Sister,

The official notice of an armistice came to-day and of course I was more than happy to hear the good news.  We had been expecting it for sometime as the Allies have been having things their own way for some time. Now that the firing is over and there is no more need of your worring, I might as well tell you that I have been to the front a number of times and that our position here has been shelled every night since we came, with the exception of the last 4 nights.  The Germans are now retreating and not a single shot is being fired.

The only subject the boys talk about now is coming home and I do hope that it will not be long until we are homeward bound.

We are using some English trucks and our routine is the same every day.  I believe I have the softest snap on this side of the pond. The hardest job I have is to entertain myself.  I believe I told you in my last letter that I was in charge of the detail located here and I live a gentleman’s life.

Trusting you are all enjoying the best of health, I am


Your son and brother


PS I am going to send you a camouflaged German helmet as a souvenir.

The tone of this letter is markedly different from the first two.  One would expect a soldier to be excited and upbeat that the war had ended.  But this letter seems more somber.  Although Frank says he now living a gentleman’s life and just waiting to come home, his brief allusions to the war—being shelled every night—make it clear that he has seen more than he is mentioning.  Somehow he seems to have changed from that young man excited to be traveling overseas to a young man eager to get home and away from the war.

The next letter came four days later.

Frank November 13 1918 letter 1 Frank November 18 letter 2

November 17, 1918

Dear Mother, Father, and Sister,

Was very much surprised to-day to receive a letter addressed to Camp Lee and dated July 28th.  Although a bit stale I was very glad to receive it.

There is not much new to write.  Our duties are the same as they have been and we are getting along nicely.  Instead of war talk now the principal discussion these days are when are we going home.  There are many rumors as to what our company will do.  Some say we are to go to Germany, others say we will soon be homeward bound, but the truth is yet to be learned.

The cold weather is beginning to set in, but you never need worry as I have clothing gelore.  I have a heavy overcoat, sweater and gum boots that I have never worn also heavy wollen socks.

Yesterday I saw the first lot of prisoners to be returned from Germany.  They were a lot of Italians who had been in Germany 2 years.  Believe me they were glad to have there freedom

I can imagine the celebrations that took place in the states when peace was signed, but at the front all was silent.  In the night some bright lights flashed.

I trust that it will not be long now until I will be siting around the table with you as we used too.

Please give my love to dear Aunt Jennie and family, Uncle Morris, and Mr Lebenwalter.

Must close now with love to you all,

I remain


Francis B. Oestreicher

Frank obviously was longing to be home.  And again the tone is more somber.  His line contrasting what he expects the celebrations were like back home to the silence at the front is telling.  There was no celebrating by those who had fought in the war.  They just wanted to go home.

Eleven days later he wrote this letter:

Frank November 28 1918 letter 1

Frank November 28 letter 1918 2

Frank November 28 1918 letter 3


France, November 28, 1918

Dear Mother, Father & Sister,

These last few days we have not had a thing to do so I spent most of my time roaming around the country.  The YMCA gave me several hundred Christmas cards and I distributed some of them among the members of our Co. and I sent more than 50 to my customers.

Last week I was called back and joined the rest of my company.  I believe I wrote to you shortly after my arrival in France that was away from the Co. on detached service.

The part of France which I am in was full of soldiers and the roads were jammed with traffic a few weeks ago, but now there are very few soldiers around here and the only trucks we see are our own water tanks.  A few civilians are now coming back.  I was speaking to an old Frenchman this morning.  He is about 60 years old.  He pointed to a few standing walls and said it was his home.  His fields are turn [torn?] up with shell holes and trenches.

There are some German prisoners around here. One of them told me they have not had soap in Germany for 2 years and that they could not even buy a handkerchief without a note from a city official.

The censorship regulations are the same as they have been, but I think that within a short time the censorship will be lifted and I will be able to tell you where I am located.  At present I can only state that I am in the most notable line of defence the Germans ever built. Am also within 20 miles of the strongest fortified city in France, a city which the Germans have tried to take since the beginning of the war but never succeeded.

We are living in barracks which the Germans built and our meals are very good.  There is a YMCA located a very short distance from here and we can buy candy and chocolate.  We can also get newspapers and writing paper.

So far the weather has been fine.  It has been warm and fairly dry.

Have not received mail from you since I wrote to you last, but the mail comes in bunches, and I am expecting mail from you within a few days.

Knowing of nothing else that would interest you, will close, hoping you are all enjoying the best of health, I remain,


Your son and brother


Two images stand out for me here: the Frenchman surveying his destroyed home and fields and the German soldier revealing the desperate economic situation in Germany. How interesting that Frank conversed with someone who just weeks before had been the enemy.  And he sounds somewhat sympathetic to the conditions endured by that enemy.

It’s also interesting that Frank was now allowed to reveal more details about his location. That location was made much more clear in the letter that follows.

Frank December 8 1918 letter 1 Frank December 8 1918 letter 2 Frank December 8 1918 letter 3


France December 8, 1918

Dear Mother, Father, & Sister,

The censor is partly lifted now and I am able to write things that would not have passed a week ago.  We are now permitted to relate our experiences and to mention the names of the towns and cities.   We arrived in Liverpool, England on October 8th and traveled through England by rail to South-hampton.  From there we took a boat to Cherbourg, France, where we arrived on October 11th.  On October 13th we boarded a train on which we remained 4 days and finally we landed at Clermont which is located about 15 miles west of Verdun. At the time of our arrival here the front was 15 miles north.  On October 25 was sent on detatched service with some others in our Co. and we located at Montfucon which is about 22 miles north of Clairmont.  At the time of our arrival at Montfucon the trenches were a very short distance and we were able to get a fair idea of what modern war really is.

The day before yesterday we came back to Clairmont where the battalion headquarters are located and from all appearances I will remain with the Co. until we land in America.

Have not received any mail from you for about 2 weeks, but I know it is because of poor mail service.  I am not worried about you and you need not worry about me.  I also will ask you not to send me anything, either money, eatables or clothes, as I have everything I need.

Our chief thought these days is the thought of going home, but we receive very little information on this subject.  We are not doing any work and we have a good chance of being in the U.S.A. in Feb or possibly even in January.  However I cannot kick as we have it very good here.  There is an excellent band occupying an adjurning building so we have lots of music.  We also can buy candy and cakes at the Salvation Army.

Regarding the weather must say it is just like spring. We have not had one cold day yet.

Trusting you are all enjoying the best of health and wishing you dear father a very prosperous Chrismas business, I remain


Your son and brother,


PS Dear Mother, It seems a bit early to congratulate you for your birthday, but considering the slowness of the mail this letter may reach you after your birthday.  I wish to extend my heartiest wishes for a very happy birthday and trust that you will enjoy many more birthdays in good health and happiness. [Sarah’s birthday was January 8.]


I looked on a map to try and determine where Frank was located based on this letter.  I knew he had been involved in the Meuse Argonne offensive, so that also helped.  I believe “Clairmont” is Clermont-en-Argonne and “Montfuscon” is Montfaucon-d’Argonne.  On this map you can see Verdun, the “most fortified city in France,” as Frank described it in his earlier letter, and the cemetery at Meuse-Argonne where those killed in that offensive are buried.


Even though the censorship was reduced and Frank could reveal where he had been, he still does not discuss what he saw during the fighting or how he felt.  He makes reference to “getting a fair idea of what modern war is,” but he doesn’t share what that was like.  I wonder if he ever did. But it is clear that he is anxious to get home and hopes to be there by January or February, at the latest.

Frank’s military dates as revealed on this postcard, however, indicate that he did not in fact get back to the US until July.  I wonder what they had him doing for the next six months.

Frank postcard with military service dates

That is the last of the letters written by Frank that I received from Steve. I don’t know whether Frank wrote more.  I imagine he did.   Perhaps more letters will show up.  But even these six letters written over a short period of time reveal in subtle ways the experiences Frank lived through between September 20, 1918, and December 8, 1918.

Frank Striker WW1 medal




Jakob Schoenthal and Charlotte Lilienfeld, Part II: Finding Their Children and Grandchildren

In my last post, I talked about the twisted path I took to find my great-great-uncle Jakob Schoenthal and his wife Charlotte Lilienfeld.  After discovering that their daughter Henriette Schoenthal and her husband Julius Levi had been killed in the Holocaust, I was determined to find out what had happened to Henry Lyons, who was the son of Henriette and Julius Levi and who had filed Pages of Testimony for his parents with Yad Vashem.

I thought that would be easy.  After all, I had a name and a specific address from the Pages of Testimony—99-30 59th Avenue, Rego Park, New York.  And I did almost immediately find a Public Records listing with his name at that address that provided me with his birthdate, October 17, 1919.  But that didn’t tell me much more than what I knew from the Pages of Testimony.

Yad Vashem page of testimony for Henriette Schoenthal Levi


Searching a bit further using the Rego Park address listed on the Pages of Testimony, I found a Pauline Lyons listed at that same address; I assumed that she was Henry’s wife.  Having both names made the search a bit easier since Henry Lyons itself is not exactly a unique name. I was able to use their two names together to find that they are both buried at Calverton National Cemetery and that Henry had died on December 18, 1986, and Pauline on November 30, 2007.  Henry had served in the US military during World War II, beginning his service on November 28, 1942, and thus was entitled to a military burial.  Imagine coming to America as a young man to escape Hitler and then fighting against the country of your birth.

When had he come to the US? Had he and Pauline had children? I wanted to know more.  I assumed Henry had arrived in the US sometime in the mid-to late 1930s.  I also assumed that he had arrived under the surname Levi, not Lyons.  After I wasted a lot of time searching for him under the wrong name, a member of the NYC Genealogy Group found a record for a man named Helmut Levi who had changed his name to Henry Lyons on October 5, 1953, in the city courts in New York.


Helmut Levi change of name to Henry Lyons Ancestry.com. U.S. Naturalization Record Indexes, 1791-1992 (Indexed in World Archives Project) [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com

Helmut Levi change of name to Henry Lyons
Ancestry.com. U.S. Naturalization Record Indexes, 1791-1992 (Indexed in World Archives Project) [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com

Armed with the information about what was probably his original name, I was able to find Helmut Levi on the 1940 census, living as a lodger at 204 West 87th Street in NYC and working as a watchmaker.  I was pretty certain I had found the right person when I saw on the census record that he had been living in Cologne, Germany, in 1935.

I also then found him on a passenger manifest (see line 26 on each page below):

Helmut Levy ship manifest p 1

Helmut Levi ship manifest Henry Lyons

Year: 1939; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 6293; Line: 1; Page Number: 188


Helmut Levi had arrived in NYC on February 25, 1939.  According to the ship manifest, he was a nineteen year old merchant born and last residing in Cologne, leaving behind his father Julius Levi of Breitstrasse in Cologne and going to his uncle Lee Schoenthal of Washington, Pennsylvania.  This was obviously my cousin, the man later known as Henry Lyons.

I also found him on a second passenger manifest dated July 4, 1948, arriving in NYC from Bremerhaven, Germany.  Henry had returned to Germany after the war.  What a devastating trip that must have been.  The photo below shows what his home city of Cologne looked like after Allied bombing during the war.  Henry had not only lost his parents, but the place where he had lived as a child and a teenager.


By U.S. Department of Defense. Department of the Army. Office of the Chief Signal Officer. [2] [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By U.S. Department of Defense. Department of the Army. Office of the Chief Signal Officer. [2] [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

From that 1948 passenger manifest (line 10), I saw that Helmut Levi was then living in Washington, Pennsylvania, where his two uncles, Lee and Meyer, were also living, that is, his mother’s brothers, the two sons of Jakob and Charlotte mentioned in my last post.  Like so many Schoenthal relatives before him, Helmut had spent time living in western Pennsylvania.  The ship manifest also indicated that by 1948, Helmut had married, although Pauline is not listed as traveling with him.


Helmut Levi aka Henry Lyons 1948 ship manifest

Helmut Levi 1948 ship manifest Year: 1948; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 7624; Line: 10; Page Number: 9


But I still didn’t know whether Helmut/Henry and Pauline had had children or whether there were other family members I might have missed.  I called Calverton National Cemetery, but they had no additional information.  I searched in the newspaper databases for articles or obituaries that might reveal more about Henry and Pauline Lyons.  At first I limited myself to New York papers, but then I realized that that was too narrow, given that he had once lived in western Pennsylvania.  I broadened my search and found this obituary from the January 19, 1989, Pittsburgh Press:


Erna Schoenthal Haas obit 1989


Who was Erna Haas? And was she Henry’s aunt or Pauline’s aunt? And who was Yohana Stern? I had more work to do.  I searched for Erna Haas, an unusual enough name, and was very excited to find this ship manifest (see lines 15 and 16):


Erna Haas ship manifest p 1

Year: 1938; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 6152; Line: 1; Page Number: 174


Erna and her twelve year old son Werner had sailed from Hamburg, Germany on May 4, 1938; Erna was a beautician coming from Cologne.  I assumed that therefore her connection would be to Henry, a native of Cologne, not to Pauline, who was American-born.  Turning to the second page of the manifest, my hunch was confirmed (again, see lines 15 and 16):


Erna Haas ship manifest p 2

Year: 1938; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 6152; Line: 1; Page Number: 174


Who was the person she named as living in the place she had left? Her sister, H. Levy of Breitstrasse in Cologne—that is, Henriette Schoenthal Levi, who had lived on that street as seen in the Köln directories in my last post. And who was she going to be with in the US? Her brother, Lee Schoenthal in Washington, Pennsylvania.  Erna Haas was another child of Jakob Schoenthal and Charlotte Lilienfeld.  She was also my grandmother’s first cousin.  And the aunt of Henry Lyons.  She was born Erna Schoenthal. I had found a fourth child of Jakob and Charlotte Schoenthal.

In 1940, Erna was listed on the census living with her son Werner in Pittsburgh, Erna working in cosmetics sales, Werner in newspaper sales.  Erna was a widow, so I assume that her husband Arnold had died in Germany, as I have no record of him in the US.  Unfortunately I have not yet found a record for him in Germany either.

But what about Yohana Stern, who had been listed in Erna’s obituary as her sister? I found this obituary for her husband Heinrich while searching for more information about Erna Haas:

Heinrich Stern obit


And then I located a ship manifest for Johanna Stern and Heinrich Stern (lines 3 and 4):


Ship manifest p 1 Johanna Schoenthal and Heinrich Stern


Ship manifest p 2 for Johanna Schoenthal and Heinrich Stern

Year: 1947; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 7389; Line: 4; Page Number: 107


They had not arrived in the US until June 10, 1947, when they were 66 and 70 years old.  Notice that Johanna was born in Cologne, presumably around 1880.  How had she and Heinrich survived the Holocaust?  The manifest lists them as “stateless” and notes that they had last resided in “Lyon, France” and that their visas had been issued in “Marseille, France.”

The second page indicates that the person they were leaving behind at their last residence was a friend named Henry Kahnweiler of Paris (more on him in my next post) and the person they were going to see in the US was Johanna’s brother Lee Schoenthal of Washington, Pennsylvania.  Their final destination was Washington, Pennsylvania.  Yohana or Johanna Stern was born Johanna Schoenthal, a fifth child of Jakob and Charlotte Schoenthal. Another of my grandmother’s first cousins.


Thus, Jakob and Charlotte had had five children.  Their two sons Lee and Meyer had emigrated from Germany long before Hitler came to power; they had both settled near their aunt and uncle in Washington, Pennsylvania.    Jakob and Charlotte’s three daughters had stayed behind.  One, Henriette, was murdered by the Nazis with her husband Julius Levi at the Chelmno death camp in 1942, but their son Helmut Levi, aka Henry Lyons, left Germany in 1939 and survived.  Another daughter, Erna, left Germany with her son Werner in 1938.  And finally a third daughter, Johanna, somehow survived the war by going to France, and she and her husband Heinrich Stern came to the US in 1947.

It was a long and twisty road finding these five children, and it was heartbreaking to read of more cousins killed in the Holocaust.  But four of those five children survived and came to the US as did two of Jakob and Charlotte’s grandsons, Henry Lyons and Werner Haas.  More on the lives of these four children and their descendants in my next post.

The Schoenfelds and Erbes-Budesheim: Part II

In my last post, I wrote about Erbes-Budesheim, the German town where my Schoenfeld ancestors lived, where my 3x-great-grandmother was born, and where my 4x- and 5x-great-grandparents lived.   From the records I was able to obtain, I know that my 4x-great-grandparents Bernhard Schoenfeld and Rosina Goldmann were married and living in Erbes-Budesheim by 1804 when their first child Benedict Baehr was born.

As explained to me by Gerd Braun, the man in Erbes-Budesheim who sent me the documents,  when the French took over control of the region, one thing that they did in 1808 was order the Jewish residents to adopt surnames akin to those used by the Christian population.  Before that, Jews used patronymics.  Thus, before 1808, Bernhard Schoenfeld was named Baer (ben) Salomon[1] and Rosina was Rosina (bat) Benjamin.  The two children born before 1808 were named Benedict (ben) Baer and Taubchen (bat) Baer.  Taubchen was renamed Eva Schoenfeld after 1808.

Here is the birth record for Benedict.  (All the records before 1816 are in French, and my high school French classes came in handy.)  The translations for all of the documents below are in italics.

Benedict Baer birth record 1804

Benedict Baer birth record 1804

Act of birth of Benedict Baer born the 15th of Frimaire[2] at 10 in the morning, the legitimate son of Baer Salomon, merchant, living in Erbesbudesheim, and of Rosine nee Benjamin of Munchweiler.  The sex of the child has been recognized as masculine.  [Witnesses and signatures]

Benedict died just eight months later.

Benedict Baer death record 1805

Benedict Baer death record 1805

Act of death of Benedict Baer, died the 17th of Messidor[3] at 7 in the evening, eight months old, born in Erbesbudesheim and living in Erbesbudesheim.  Son of Baer Salomon and Roes nee Benjamin.  On the declaration made by Baer Salomon, his father, resident of Erbesbudesheim and a merchant, and Francois Colin, resident of Erbesbudeshem, a barber and a neighbor.

A year later, Taubechen (who became Eva) was born:

Birth record of Taubchen Baer/Eva Schoenfeld 1806

Birth record of Taubchen Baer/Eva Schoenfeld 1806

Act of birth:  In the year 1806 on the 2d of June in the afternoon appeared before the mayor of Erbesbudesheim… Baehr Salomon, a merchant, 34 years old, living in Erbesbudesheim, No. 66, and presented to us a female child of him and his legal wife Rosine nee Benjamin born the 2d of June at 5 in the morning and also stated that he wanted to give the child the name Taubchen.  [Witnesses and signatures.]

The children born after 1808 were given the name Schoenfeld, including my 3-x great-grandmother, Babetta.  You will see that on this record, Bernard and Rosine are referred to with surnames.

Babete Schoenfeld birth record 1806

Babete Schoenfeld birth record 1806

In the year 1810, the 28th of February, at nine in the morning, Bernard Schoenfeld, 37 years old, a merchant, and a resident of Erbesbudesheim,appeared before Andre Cronenberger, Mayor of Erbesbudesheim and presented a female child born the 28th of February in the morning of himself and Rosine nee Goldmann, his wife, and also declared that he wanted to give the child the name of Babet. [Witnesses and signatures]

In addition, I received records for other children of Bernard and Rosina Schoenfeld, ancestors I’d not known about before.  The first two are in French, but the last two are in German because they occurred when the region was back under German control.  The two in French follow the format and content of those above and evidence the births of a daughter Marianne, born June 29, 1812, and a daughter Rebecque, born July 20, 1814.

Birth record of Marianna Schoenfled 1812

Birth record of Marianna Schoenfled 1812

Birth record of Rebecque Schoenfeld 1814

Birth record of Rebecque Schoenfeld 1814

The last two are in German.  Thank you to Matthias Steinke for the translations. The first record is for the birth of another daughter, Zibora, in 1818.


Birtn record of Zibora Schoenfeld 1818

Birtn record of Zibora Schoenfeld 1818

In the year 1818, the 23rd of May came to me, the mayor and official for the civil registration of the comunity of Erbesbuedesheim, county of Alzey, Bernhard Schoenfeld, 45 years old, merchant, residing in Erbesbuedesheim, who reported, that at the 22nd of May at 11 o´clock in the night a child of female sex, which he showed me, was born and whom he intends to give the first name Zibora, and which he declared to have fathered with his wife Rosina Goldmann, 35 old, residing in Erbesbuedesheim.  The child was born in the Hauptstr. nr. 77. This declaration and presentation happened in presence of the witnesses Johannes Knobloch, 55 years old, farmer, in Erbesbuedesheim residing and Jacob Landesberg, 29 years old, farmer, in Erbesbuedesheim  residing, and have the father and the witnesses signed his birth-record and it was read to them. Signatures

The last child of Bernard and Rosine for whom I have a record was their daughter Saara, born in 1820:

Birth Record of Saara Schoenfeld 1820

Birth Record of Saara Schoenfeld 1820

In the year 1820 the fifteenth of October at twelve o´clock midday came to me, mayor and official for the civil registration of the comunity Erbes-Buedesheim Bernhard Schoenfeld, 51 years old, merchant, residing in Erbes-Buedesheim, who reported, that at the fifteenth October at two o´clock in the morning a child of female sex, whom he showed me, was born and whom he intends to give the name Saara, and he also reported, that he fathered the child with Rosina Goldmann, 41 years old, residing in Erbes-Buedesheim, his legal wife. This declaration and showing happened in presence of the witness Johannes Knobloch, 57 years old, farmer, and Jakob Landsberg, 28 years old, merchant, both residing in Erbes-Buedesheim, and have the father and the witnesses with me this present birth-certificate after it was read to them, signed. Signatures

In the midst of all these births, there was also a death.  On February 16, 1813, Salomon Schoenfeld, father of Bernard Schoenfeld, died at age 63 (or is that soixant treize meaning 73?).  His occupation was given as “cultivateur,” or cultivator, which I assume means that he was a farmer.  The witnesses to his death included Benoit Schoenfeld, his son, age 23, a “propietaire”  or owner, but no indication of what he owned.  This must have been a younger brother of Bernard since in 1813 Bernard would have been at least 40 years old.  (His age seems to vary from birth record to birth record.)

Death Record of Salomon Schoenfeld 1813

Death Record of Salomon Schoenfeld 1813


There is also a record for the birth of the child of an Isaac Schoenfeld and a Barbe Goldmann who is probably also a family member, though I am not sure what the exact connection was between these Goldmanns and Schoenfelds and Bernhard and Rosina, my 4x great-grandparents. But the number of marriages between a Schoenfeld man and a Goldmann woman are somewhat revealing.  Here is a third such marriage, this one between Rebeka (Rebecque) Schoenfeld, the daughter of Bernhard and Rosina,  and Salomon Goldmann.  Is it any surprise that Ashkenazi Jews come up with thousands of matches when DNA testing is done?  We are all interrelated at so many different levels.

Marriage Record for Rebecque/Rebkah Schoenfeld and Salomon Goldmann

Marriage Record for Rebecque/Rebkah Schoenfeld and Salomon Goldmann



In the year 1834 on the fifteenth October at ten o´clock pre midday came to me, Andreas Cronenberger mayor and official for the civil registration of the comunity Erbes-Buedesheim, county of Alzey:

Salomon Goldmann, 42 years old, merchant, residing in Kirchheimbolanden, Rhein-county, Bavaria, born in …thal, like it was presented to me by a certificate of the district-court Kirchheimbolanden from the 24th of December 1807, which was certified by the district-court in Mainz, the adult son of 1. Joseph Goldmann, 75 years old, during his lifetime a merchant in Kirchheimbolanden, deceased there the 8th of  November, 1800 (some parts here were cut off) 2. Friederike Goldmann, widow, nee Goldmann, 62 years old, without profession residing in Kirchheimbolanden and here present and giving her confirmation and who declared to be unable to write.

And on the other hand, Rebeka Schoenfeld (Schönfeld), 20 years old, born in Erbebudesheim in 1814, like I have seen in the present birth-register of the year 1814, without profession, in Erbes-Buedsheim residing.

Minor daughter of 1. Bernhard Schoenfeld, 62 years old, merchant and owner of a manor, in Erbes-Buedesheim residing. 2. Rosina Schoenfeld nee Goldmann, 55 years old, without profession, in Erbes-Buedesheim residing, both are present and giving their confirmation.

The appearing people asked me to do the marriage. The proclamation was published at the main-door of the comunity-building the September 24, 1834 at noon and the second the September 26 at noon in Erbes-Buedesheim and in Kirchheimbolanden the 14th of September the first time and the 21st of September of the same year the second time was made.

Due to the case, that no objections against this marriage appeared, and after reading the sixth chapter of the civil-rights-lawbook which is titled „about the marriage“ I asked them whether they want to marry each other. Both confirmed this question and I declared that Salomon Goldmann, widower from Kirchheimbolanden and the maiden Rebeka Schoenfeld of Erbes-Buedesheim are from now on connected by the matrimony.

About this act this certificate was made in presence of the following witnesses:

Georg Peter Erbach, 54 years old, member of the regional council and manor-owner in Erbes-Buedesheim, a neighbour of the bride, not related.  Johannes Klippel, 45 years old, farmer in Erbes-Buedesheim, not related, a neighbour of the bride, Christoph Zopf, 49 years old, farmer in Erbes-Buedesheim, not related, a neighbour of the bride,  Johannes Härter, 82 years old, comunity-servant in Erbes-Buedesheim, not related, a neighbour of the bride. After happened reading have all parts this document with me signed. Signatures

I have a couple of observations about this marriage certificate.  First, the groom was a widower and 24 years older than the bride.  Also, Rebeka was younger than her sister Babete or Babetta, my 3x-great-grandmother, yet married before her, even though this would appear to have been an arranged marriage.  Did Babetta object to marrying Salomon? Or did Salomon choose Rebeka over her older sister?

Also, I was struck by the fact that Bernard was described not just as a merchant, as he had been in the records of his children’s births, but as the owner of a manor.  Perhaps this explains why my Schoenfeld relatives were living in this small village with almost no Jewish residents.  Bernard must have  been quite successful to be a manor owner.

Two years after this wedding, Bernard Schoenfeld died.

Death record of Bernard Schoenfeld 1836

Death record of Bernard Schoenfeld 1836

In the year 1836 November 20th, at eight o´clock pre midday came to me, Andreas Cronenberger, mayor and official for the civil registration of the comunity Erbes-Buedesheim, county of Alzey, 1. the Jakob Landsberg, 46 years old, merchant in Erbes-Buedesheim residing, related as uncle of the below named deceased, and 2. Leopold Schoenfeld, 42 years old, merchant, in Erbes-Buedesheim residing, related as sibling of the below named deceased, and have reported to me that Bernhard Schoenfeld, 67 years old, merchant and manor-owner, born and residing in Erbes-Bueresheim, married to Rosina Schoenfeld, nee Goldmann ,56 years old, without profession, residing in Erbes-Buedesheim. Parents were: Salomon Schoenfeld, during lifetime merchant and manor-owner in  Erbes-Buedesheim, 2. Gertrude Schoenfeld nee Judah, during lifetime also residing in Erbes-Buedesheim.

Died November 1836 at three o´clock past midday in house nr 85 in the Hauptstrasse (Mainstreet) here is deceased and have the here present this certificate after it was read to them with me undersigned.

In this record, Bernard’s father Salomon is described as a merchant and manor owner, not a cultivator.  I am not sure how to reconcile that with the earlier record of Salomon’s death. The above record also reveals two more relatives: Leopold Schoenfeld, another brother of Bernard, and Jakob Landsberg, an uncle.  But Jakob Landsberg was over 20 years younger than Bernard.  Perhaps he was a nephew?  Leopold Schoenfeld’s headstone appeared in the video I posted in the last post.  Here’s a screenshot from that video:

Leopold Schoenfeld headstone

Leopold Schoenfeld headstone

Just a few months after Bernard Schoenfeld died, his daughter Babete, my 3-x great-grandmother, married Moritz Seligmann on February 14, 1837.

Marriage record of Babete Schoenfeld and Moritz Seligmann 1837

Marriage record of Babete Schoenfeld and Moritz Seligmann 1837

In the year 1837 the 14th of the month February, at three o´clock past midday to me, Peter Cronenberger, mayor and official for the civil registration of the comunity Erbes-Buedesheim, county of Alzey came:

Moritz Seligmann, 38 years old, widower of Eva Seligmann, nee Schoenfeld, deceased in Gaulsheim the 12th of May 1835 as it is written in the death-register of the comunity Gaulsheim of the year 1835, merchant, in Gau Algesheim residing, like it is in the birth-records of the community Gau Algesheim to find, adult son of 1. Jacob Seligmann, 63 years old, merchant, in Gaulsheim residing, 2. Martha Seligmann nee Mayer, 63 years old, in Gaulsheim residing, both not present, but giving their permission to this marriage according a notary-certificate of the notary Wieger in Gaulsheim from the 6th of February, 1837,

and on the other hand, Babete Schoenfeld, 26 years old, without profession, in Erbes-Buedesheim residing, born the February 28, 1810, like it is stated in the birth-register of the comunity Erbes-Buedesheim of the year 1810, adult daughter of 1. Bernhard Schoenfeld, during lifetime merchant, in Erbes-Buedesheim residing, deceased 19th of November 1836, as it is stated in the death-register of the comunity Erbes-Buedesheim, 2. Rosina Schoenfeld, nee Goldmann , 56 years old, in Erbes-Buedesheim residing, last named here present and consenting to the marriage. ….

Due to the case, that no objections against this marriage appeared, and after reading the sixth chapter of the civil-rights-lawbook which is titled ‘about the marriage,“ I asked them whether they want to marry each other. Both confirmed this question and I declared that Moritz Seligmann, merchant in Gau Algesheim residing and Babete Schoenfeld, without profession in Erbes-Buedesheim residing, are from now on legally connected by the matrimony.

About this act I made this certificate in the presence of the following witnesses: [Witnesses and signatures]

This marriage record answered a question that I had had about the two sisters both marrying Moritz Seligmann.  According to this record, Eva Schoenfeld had died on May 12, 1835.  Eva died in the aftermath of giving birth to her fourth child, Benjamin, who was born on May 10, 1835.

Her sister Babetta (as it was later spelled) became the instant mother of Eva’s four children, who then ranged in age from Benjamin, not yet two years old, to eight year old Sigmund, who would be the first to come to the US and settle in Santa Fe.  Babetta not only had these four children to care for; she must also have become  pregnant almost immediately after the wedding because my great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman, obviously named for Babetta’s father Bernard Schoenfeld who had died the year before, was born on November 23, 1837, just nine months and nine days after the marriage.

The last record I received from Erbes-Budesheim was the death record for Rosina Goldmann Schoenfeld, dated July 19, 1862.  She was 84 years old.  She was my 4-x great-grandmother.  All I know about her is where she was born, her father’s name, her husband’s name, and the names of her children and some of her grandchildren.  I know that she lost one child at eight months old, an adult daughter in the aftermath of childbirth, and her husband almost thirty years before she died.  It’s not a lot, but it is remarkable to me that I know even that much about a woman who was born in the 18th century in Germany.

Death record of Rosina Goldmann Schoenfeld 1862

Death record of Rosina Goldmann Schoenfeld 1862

So what have I learned about my Schoenfeld ancestors and their lives in Erbes-Budesheim from all these documents?  First, they must have been one of only a very few Jewish families in Erbes-Budesheim if the total Jewish population was just 23 people.  Second, they must have been fairly comfortable living in that small town, living as merchants and manor owners.   But there was no future for their family in the town.  Bernard Schoenfeld and Rosina Goldmann had only daughters who survived to adulthood.   To find marriage partners for their daughters, Bernard and Rosina had to look outside of Erbes-Budesheim.  Their 20 year old daughter Rebeka Schoenfeld married a 44 year old widower from a town in Bavaria, about ten miles from Erbes-Budesheim.  Their daughter Eva married Moritz Seligmann and moved to Gau-Algesheim.  Then their daughter Babetta,  my 3-x great-grandmother, married Moritz after her sister died.  These young women must have had no choice but to marry and move away from Erbes-Budesheim.  No wonder the town’s Jewish population never grew and eventually declined and disappeared.

But the cemetery still exists, and Erbes-Budesheim is one more town to add to my list of ancestral towns I’d like to visit one day.



[1] Gerd Braun did not use the Hebrew terms “ben” or “bat” for son or daughter of, but simply referred to them as, for example, Baehr Salomon.  I am assuming, however, based on Jewish practice, that the second name would have been the father’s first name.  Thus, Baehr Salomon is really Baehr son of (ben) Salomon.

[2] According to Wikipedia,  Frimaire “was the third month in the French Republican Calendar. The month was named after the French word frimas, which means frost. Frimaire was the third month of the autumn quarter (mois d’automne). It started between November 21 and November 23. It ended between December 20 and December 22. It follows the Brumaire and precedes the Nivôse.”  Benedict was thus born about December 6.

[3] Messidor in the French Republic Calendar was equivalent to June 19 to July 18.  The 17th would be equivalent to July 6.

Simon L.B. Cohen 1898-1934: A Story about the Horrors of War

The youngest child of Reuben and Sallie Cohen was Simon L. B. Cohen.  He was born on February 25, 1898, in Philadelphia, and spent his childhood in Philadelphia and Cape May like his siblings.

When he was nineteen years old, he voluntarily enlisted in the US Army as a private in the infantry.  According to a questionnaire he completed for the American Jewish Committee, he had been a professional boxer before enlisting.  While in the service, Simon was promoted to sergeant and served in the machine gun battalion.  He was wounded in March, 1918, while fighting with his battalion in France.  In the questionnaire for the American Jewish Committee, he provided this detailed description of the battle in his own hand.

Simon L B Cohen  American Jewish Committee questionnaire

Simon L B Cohen
American Jewish Committee questionnaire

Simon page 4

I will try to transcribe it as best I can, preserving the original spelling and punctuation as well as Simon’s expressive language:

Entered the firing lines March 1, 1918, action commenced March 4, 1918; March 17 gas barrage lasting seventy-two hours, followed by a box barrage under my battalion stood the strain for five hours being boxed in by curtains of bursting shells on all sides of us preparing for an advance.  We were met by a creeping barrage in front of us followed by masses of German soldiers advancing towards us, with all of our machine guns in action mowing them down to the best of our abilities, and having us at such strong odds, our battalion being reduced from twelve hundred and fifty to two men; myself and another man.  The other man mentioned was wounded by having his left arm and right leg shot off, forcing me to take the gun, upon taking the gun, a wave of German soldiers advanced, which I mowed down, following them came another wave of German soldiers which I done likewise; Evidently the third wave arrived of which there was no evidence except the fact they used their own dead comrades bodies out of first and second waves piling them higher than a man head using them for breast works over which they fired at me. While laying there I heard reinforcements of ours arriving. Orders were given after they arrived for me to cease firing, and they went over the top but were compelled to come back, as it was impossible for them to advance through the dead German bodies, had to send working parties out so as throw the dead German bodies aside, So as infantry could advance. Seemed at that moment a black curtain fell before my eyes, and knew nothing more for three days. When I come too and found I was in the hospital at Baccarac where I was decorated by General Foch with Croix de Guerre.

I have read plenty of literature about the horrors of war, from All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque to The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, among many other fictional and factual accounts of battles and the horrible things that young people experience and see when serving as soldiers.  But I have never read one by someone related to me, someone whose family I had been researching and writing about for days and weeks before reading this account.  This was a boy, the baby of his family, one of the few children who had survived to be a young man out of the seventeen children born to his parents.  He grew up with a successful father and lived a life of relative luxury and comfort, spending summers at the seaside in Cape May.  He had many older siblings and his parents who must have treasured him as one of the few who had survived.

And then he volunteered to help his country and was exposed to this:  Being one of two of 1250 young men to survive being mowed down by other young men, seeing his friends and comrades die before him.  Killing probably many, many other young men who happened to be German by “mowing them down” with a machine gun.  Watching them use the bodies of their own dead comrades as protection on the battlefield and then watching his own countrymen throw those bodies aside so that they could advance against those other young men.  How could a nineteen year old boy like Simon watch and experience these things and not be scarred forever? What does something like that do to someone?

Simon’s story did not end there.  As he mentioned in his account, he was awarded the Croix de Guerre by General Ferdinand Foch, Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces,  while in the hospital recovering from his injuries.  As he described that occasion, he was decorated by General Foch, who pinned the medal on his breast, “kissed [him] on both cheeks and expressed his appreciation for [Simon’s] bravery.”  Simon was also recommended by General Pershing for a Distinguished Service Cross.

English: Hand-colored photograph of French Gen...

General Ferdinand Foch, Commander in Chief, Allied Forces, World War I

Do these medals and honors make up for the pain and suffering and mental distress that he endured? Simon recognized that the war had had a psychological effect on him. On the questionnaire, Simon mentioned that he suffered from shell shock or what we today call post-traumatic stress syndrome.  He was rightfully recognized for his service and his sacrifices, but for me, that hardly makes up for the price he paid while engaged in that service.

Croix-de-Guerre awarded to Simon L B Cohen 1918

Croix-de-Guerre awarded to Simon L B Cohen 1918

Croix-de-Gurre-Back Simon LB Cohen

To make matters even worse, his family back home was subjected to extraordinary emotional distress.  As this news article from the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, Simon had been mistakenly reported as killed in action while he was actually recuperating in France.  Only after an officer was surprised to see that Simon was not being sent back home to recover did he and Simon learn that Simon had been thought to be dead.  (“239 Phila. Soldiers Killed during War Two Soldiers Reported Dead Yesterday with 10 Wounded,”  Thursday, September 12, 1918 Paper: Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA) Volume: 179 Issue: 74 Page: 14)

simon alive

Imagine thinking that your youngest son had been killed.  Imagine that after already losing ten of your children you were told that another had died.  Then imagine the shock, the relief, the joy, maybe the anger you would feel when told that he was in fact alive.

So Simon did come home, and by 1920 he was back living with his parents and some of his siblings in Cape May.  The 1920 census reports that he had no occupation.  However, by 1930 he was married, living in Cape May, and working as a clerk for some company I cannot decipher on the census report.  He and his wife Myrtle had only been married for one year.  Simon’s father Reuben, Sr., had died just four years before in 1926.  His mother Sallie died in 1930.  Four years later, Simon himself died on October 24, 1934.  He was only 36 years old.  I plan to order his death certificate from the State of New Jersey, but thus far I have not found any explanation of his cause of death.  I won’t speculate, though I have some thoughts.

Simon was buried in Cold Spring Presbyterian Cemetery near Cape May. Five years after his death, Simon’s older brother Arthur L.W. Cohen, Sr., applied for a military headstone to mark his brother’s grave.  His short life must be remembered not only because he served his country proudly and bravely, but also because for me it will always be a reminder of the horrible things we do to these brave and proud young people when we send them off to war.

Simon LB headstone request


Maurice Goldschlager

A number of the photographs I received from Robin were of her father, my uncle, Maurice (Mike) Goldschlager.  I asked Robin to provide me with some information about her father’s life to fill in what I know so that I could write a short biography to go with her photos.  Much of this was new information to me.  What I knew of my uncle was that he was a man who had a wonderful sense of humor, a big tease who pinched our ears whenever we saw him, a man who loved his family, animals and the outdoors, a good businessman, a man who had served his country proudly, a man who was full of passion and loved life.

Isadore Gussie Maurice and Elaine about 1923

Isadore Gussie Maurice and Elaine about 1923

Maurice Lawrence (really Leon but he hated that name) was born June 10, 1919, the second child of Isadore and Gussie Goldschlager.  He was named for Isadore’s father, Moritz.  My mother has a book with some notes that her big brother wrote about his activities when he was a boy, and as I recall, he was keeping track of the number of animals he had captured.  I don’t have access to the notebook right now, but that’s my vague recollection.  Once I can get that notebook again, I will update this and scan some of his handwritten notes.

Maurice 1939

Maurice 1939

Here is a picture of Maurice in 1941 when he was twenty-two before he enrolled in the Army Air Corps to serve in World War II.

Maurice Labor Day 1941

Maurice Labor Day 1941

He enrolled on September 25, 1942 and served until the end of the war.  He was a staff sergeant and a tail gunner on a B 12 bomber.  He was stationed in North Africa and flew missions over Italy and France.  The day before he returned to the US, his tent caught fire, and he lost everything but what he was wearing.  Although I never heard my uncle talk specifically about his war experiences, we all knew that he was very proud of his service and remained close to many of his army buddies.  He had his wings made into an ID bracelet which his son Jim now wears in his memory.

Maurice at Aerial Gunnery School in Kingman, AZ

Maurice at Aerial Gunnery School in Kingman, AZ

Maurice 1942

Maurice 1942

Tilly with nephew Maurice 1944

Tilly with nephew Maurice 1944

Maurice 1942

At the end of the war he was stationed in New Jersey where he met Lynn Brodsky.  As Robin reported in my earlier post, it was love at first sight, and they were married on his birthday, June 10, 1945.

Maurice and Lynn 1946

Maurice and Lynn 1946

  They settled in New Jersey until Maurice had a run-in with his boss and lost his job.  Lynn’s uncle, Kurt Leopold, owned a meat packing company, Union Meat, in Hartford, Connecticut, and offered Maurice a job and a place to live until he and Lynn could get settled in Connecticut.  Maurice worked for Union Meat for several years and then started his own business with his partners Eric and Kurt Strauss called National Packing.  Lynn had a sign made with the National Packing logo that hung in their family room in West Hartford; my cousin Beth now has it hanging in her kitchen.

National Packing sign on fireplace behind Maurice and Lynn

National Packing sign on fireplace behind Maurice and Lynn

Maurice and Lynn 1967

Maurice and Lynn 1967

Maurice and Lynn had three daughters, my cousins Beth, Suzie and Robin.  Sadly, Lynn’s life was cut short on September 5, 1967 when she died of breast cancer at age 44.

Maurice was very fortunate to find love again with Diane Crone Schaler, who happened to be Lynn’s first cousin.  He and Diane married and had a son, Jim (James Ian).  In addition, Diane had two children from her first marriage, George and Leslie, and they all moved in together in Bloomfield, Connecticut, in a house that not only was filled with teenagers and one small boy, but also lots of animals—dogs, cats, horses, even chickens, ducks and geese, as I recall.

Beth, George, Sue, Leslie, Jim/Jamie, Robin

Beth, George, Sue, Leslie, Jim/Jamie, Robin

Diane and Maurice

Diane and Maurice

The whole family in BloomfieldThe whole family in Bloomfield plus some visitors

But tragedy struck again on April 24, 1978, when Maurice was killed in a freak accident while riding a lawn mower down an incline on the property in Bloomfield.  He was only 58 years old.   It was hard to believe that a man who was so full of love and life was gone so suddenly.  His name lives on through his many namesakes and in our memories and in these pictures.


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