Our Ancestral Towns Seen Through My Cousin’s Eyes

My newly-discovered cousin Wolfgang Seligmann lives close to our shared ancestral towns of Gau-Algesheim and Erbes-Budesheim.  Erbes-Budesheim is where Babetta Schoenfeld was born and raised; Babetta is my 3-x great-grandmother and Wolfgang’s great-great-grandmother.  Babetta married Moritz Seligmann, and together they settled in Gau-Algesheim where they had a number of children, including Bernard Seligmann, my great-great-grandfather, and August Seligmann, Wolfgang’s great-grandfather.

Here is a recent photo of Wolfgang with his wife Barbela and daughter Milena—my beautiful German cousins.

Barbela, Milena and Wolfgang Seligmann

Wolfgang went to both Gau-Algesheim and Erbes-Budesheim recently to take some photographs of the towns and to look for the houses where our ancestors lived.  In Erbes-Budesheim, he looked for the houses at 77 and 80 Hauptstrasse where the Schoenfelds lived almost 200 years ago, but unfortunately those houses must have been torn down, and now a new street and a factory stand where those houses must have stood.  But Wolfgang took some photographs of other houses, including one at 50 Hauptstrasse, to capture what the Schoenfeld house might have looked like and also to depict the type of homes they saw on their street.

hauptraße Nr 50 Nr 50a


Wolfgang also visited the Jewish cemetery in Erbes-Budesheim.  He reported that there were only a few headstones left and none for the Schoenfelds.  Here are some photographs he took of the cemetery.  It looks like such a peaceful and scenic spot.

Friedhof 1 Friedhof 2 Friedhof 3

Although Wolfgang did not locate any Schoenfeld headstones there, this older video taken in 2010 does show some headstones with the Schoenfeld name, so I wonder whether these have been destroyed since that video was taken.

Wolfgang also visited Gau-Algesheim and took some photographs there.  First is a photo of Flosserstrasse, one of the main streets in Gau-Algesheim.  Our ancestors Moritz and Babetta and their children lived on Flossergasse, which no longer seems to exist, but must have either been a prior name or a smaller street off of the main street.



The other main street in Gau-Algesheim is Langgasse.  The store owned by Wolfgang’s great-grandfather August and his grandfather Julius was on this street, and the house where Julius and his wife Magdalena lived until relocating to Bingen was also located on Langgasse. Because the original building is no longer there, Wolfgang also sent me this newspaper clipping which depicts on the left what Langgasse looked like in 1900 and when Julius lived and worked there.

Langgasse in 1900

Langgasse in 1900


Langgasse today

This is the town center where Langgasse and Flosserstrasse meet.

Gau Algesheim


Finally, Wolfgang also visited the Jewish cemetery in Gau-Algesheim.

Jewish cemetery in Gau-Algesheim

Jewish cemetery in Gau-Algesheim

There was only one headstone with the Seligmann name on it, and it was for Rosa Bergmann Seligmann, the wife of August Seligmann and Wolfgang’s great-grandmother.  He must have been quite disturbed by what he saw there.  Here are two photographs of Rosa’s headstone taken in the 1950s and posted on the alemannia-judaica website:


This is what the headstone looks like today as captured by Wolfgang, Rosa’s great-grandson:

Rosa headstone another of Rosa Seligmann's headstone closeup of Rosa Seligmann headstone Rosa Seligmann headstone

According to Wolfgang, the cemetery was vandalized in 1998 by “some idiots,” as Wolfgang described them.  He commented that even today there is some anti-Semitism in Germany.  Although Wolfgang noted that there are not many who feel this way, it only takes a few to do damage like this.

I am so very grateful to my cousin Wolfgang for taking these photographs.  There is something very touching and special about seeing these towns through the eyes of my cousin, a fellow descendant of Moritz Seligmann and Babetta Schoenfeld.  I know he looks at these places with the same sense of connection that I would feel if I were standing in those places, and I look forward to standing there with him in the hopefully not too far off future.

All photographs on this post except the two from alemannia-judaica are courtesy of Wolfgang Seligmann.




New Seligmann Discoveries: Erbes-Budesheim and the Schoenfelds, Part I

While you all may have thought that for the last several months I was obsessed with Nusbaums and Dreyfusses (and I guess I was), there were several other things happening in my genealogy life (not to mention my actual life) that I haven’t had a chance to blog about yet.  One of the biggest things was the discovery of documents and information about another line of my family, the Schoenfelds, and another ancestral town, Erbes-Budesheim.

Erbes-Büdesheim in January 2006

Erbes-Büdesheim in January 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who are the Schoenfelds?  Moritz Seligmann, my 3-x great-grandfather from Gau Algesheim, married two Schoenfeld sisters (not at the same time, of course).  First, he married Eva Schoenfeld and had four children with her, and then he married her younger sister, Babetta, my 3-x great-grandmother, the mother of Bernard Seligman, my great-great-grandfather.  Moritz and Babetta had seven children together in addition to the four born to Eva.

Because the birth names of women often disappear, it is all too easy to overlook the family names and lines that end when a woman changes her name to that of her husband.  Although I was always aware of the family names of Goldschlager, Brotman, Cohen, Nusbaum, and Seligman (as well as those from my paternal grandmother’s side, not yet covered on the blog), I had no awareness of a family connection to the names Rosenzweig, Dreyfuss, Jacobs, and Schoenfeld.  Discovering the Schoenfeld name, like discovering those others, was an exciting revelation and addition to my extended family tree.

So how did this happen?  As I wrote back on December 1, Ludwig Hellriegel’s book about the Jews of Gau Algesheim revealed that Moritz Seligmann was born in Gaulsheim and had moved to Gau Algesheim as an adult.  That discovery had led me to the Arbeitskreis Jüdisches Bingen and a woman named Beate Goetz.  Beate sent me the marriage record for Moritz Seligmann and Eva Schoenfeld, which revealed that Eva was the daughter of Bernhard Schoenfeld and Rosina Goldmann from Erbes-Budesheim.  (Now I also know another maternal name—Goldmann.)

Marriage record for Moritz Seligmann and Eva Schoenfeld February 27, 1829 Gaulsheim, Germany

Marriage record for Moritz Seligmann and Eva Schoenfeld February 27, 1829 Gaulsheim, Germany

From there I contacted the registry in Erbes-Budesheim to ask about records for my Schoenfeld ancestors, and within a short period of time, I received several emails from a man named Gerd Braun with an incredible treasure trove of information and records about my Schoenfeld ancestors.

But first, a little about Erbes-Budesheim.  Erbes-Budseheim is a municipality in the Alzey-Worms district of the Rhineland-Palatine state in Germany.  It is located about 25 miles south of Gaulsheim where Moritz Seligmann was born and grew up and about 27 miles south of Gau Algesheim where Moritz and his family eventually settled.  The closest major city is Frankfort, about 46 miles away.

Erbes-Büdesheim in AZ

Erbes-Büdesheim in AZ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The town has an ancient history, dating back to the Stone Age, according to Wikipedia.  Like many regions in Germany, it was subject to various wars and conquerors throughout much of its history.  During the Napoleonic era in the late 18th, early 19th century, Erbes-Budesheim and the entire Alzey region were annexed as part of France; after 1815 it was under the control of the Grand Duchy of Hesse.

Although originally a Catholic community, after the Reformation Erbes-Budesheim became a predominantly Protestant community.  Some sources say that there was a small Jewish community in Erbes-Budesheim as early as the 16th century, but as of 1701, there were only 15 Jews (two families) living in the town.  A third family lived there in 1733, but even as late as 1824 and throughout the entire 19th century, the population did not exceed 23 people.  The Jews in Erbes-Budesheim for much of that history joined with Jews from neighboring communities for prayer, education, and burial.

By 1849, however, one Jewish resident named Strauss had dedicated the first floor of his home for prayer services, and it was furnished with the essential elements for a synagogue: Torah scrolls, an ark, a yad, and a shofar, for example.  Perhaps this is where my 4-x great-grandfather Bernhard Schoenfeld went to daven [pray] when he and his family lived in Erbes-Budesheim.

Strauss home where the Erbes-Budesheim Synagogue was located  http://www.alemannia-judaica.de/erbes_buedesheim_synagoge.htm

Strauss home where the Erbes-Budesheim Synagogue was located


There is also a Jewish cemetery in Erbes-Budesheim.

On this video you can some headstones with the name Schoenfeld from the Erbes-Budesheim cemetery.

By 1939, there were only eight Jews left in the town, and it would appear from the allemannia-judaica website that none of these survived the Holocaust.

Thus, Erbes-Budesheim was never a place where a substantial Jewish community existed, and it makes me wonder what would have brought my ancestors there.  Why would anyone want to be one of a handful of Jews in a community?  In my next post, I will consider that question and share the documents I received from Erbes-Budesheim.

More Blessings and More Insight into My Seligmann Ancestors

This morning I woke up to another email that made me smile to start my day. But to understand why, I need to backtrack a bit.

One of the passages that was translated by Ralph Baer from Ludwig Hellriegel’s book on the history of the Jews of Gau-Algesheim indicated that Moritz Seligmann had originally come from Gaulsheim, a town that is only five miles from Gau-Algesheim.  In this passage, Hellriegel described Moritz Seligmann’s attempt to get permission to move to Gau-Algesheim in 1828.  He was denied permission the first time because the mayor concluded that there were already too many Jews in the town.  He then appealed, and although the mayor still wanted to deny him permission, Seligmann prevailed because he was legally entitled to move to the town.

This passage gave me a clue as to where Moritz, my three-times great-grandfather, might have been born, and Ralph suggested I contact the archives in Gaulsheim for more information.  I found an organization called Arbeitskreis Judische Bingen, or a study group of Jews in Bingen. (Bingen now includes the town of Gaulsheim.)  I wrote to the organization, asking for any information that they might have on Moritz Seligmann or his family.

And that brings me to my happy morning email.  A woman from the Arbeitskreis named Beate Goetz sent me a copy of the marriage record for Moritz Seligmann and Eva Schoenfeld.  Not only did this email confirm that Moritz was born in Gaulsheim (on January 10, 1800) and that he married Eva Schoenfeld (on February 27, 1829), it told me the names of my four-times great-grandparents, Jacob Seligmann and Martha nee Jacob/Mayer (my guess is that Mayer was the surname adopted by her father Jacob when surnames were required in the early 19th century).

In addition, I know now when Eva Schoenfeld was born (June 2, 1806) and where she was born (in Erbes-Budenheim), and I know her parents’ names: Bernhard Schoenfeld and Rosina Goldmann.  Assuming that Eva and Babetta, Moritz’s second wife, were sisters, Bernhard and Rosina were also my four-times great-grandparents.  Now I need to see what records I can find in Erbes-Budenheim to determine if in fact Eva and Babetta were sisters.  Beate said that she would also continue to look for a birth record for Moritz (who was born Moises) and any other relevant records.

Marriage record for Moritz Seligmann and Eva Schoenfeld February 27, 1829 Gaulsheim, Germany

Marriage record for Moritz Seligmann and Eva Schoenfeld February 27, 1829 Gaulsheim, Germany

I also know from Ralph’s additional translation of the marriage record that Jacob Seligmann and Bernhard Schoenfeld were both traders as was Moritz.  The record also indicated that the bride’s parents did not attend the wedding; as Ralph explained, this was probably a second ceremony for purposes of civil law and thus not as important as the religious wedding ceremony, which presumably the couple’s parents did attend.

Thus, thanks to Ralph Baer’s translation of a passage in the Hellriegel book, I now have learned the names of four more of my ancestors.

The Hellriegel book just continues to be a treasure chest of information.  Thanks to Matthias Steinke, I also have a translation of another few passages of Ludwig Hellriegel’s book, which shed some additional light on the character of my ancestor Moritz Seligmann.

In one passage, Hellriegel discussed the education of Jewish children in Gau-Algesheim.  He reported that until 1841, Jewish boys were taught Hebrew and other important subjects by their fathers, but in 1841 they were permitted to attend the Christian school in town.  Apparently, this was difficult for the Jewish children, so Moritz Seligmann applied in 1850 to remove his children from the school.  He then hired a private teacher named Benjamin Mayer from Essenheim to come to Gau-Algesheim to teach the children. (Essenheim is about ten miles from Gau-Algesheim.)

Apparently, however, Mayer ran into trouble in Gau-Algesheim for speaking badly about the Catholic Church, saying in front of the children and two other witnesses that those who believe in the Catholic faith are “downright stupid.”  He reportedly left Gau-Algesheim shortly after this incident.

I found this passage interesting in many ways, but mostly for what it told me about my great-great-great-grandfather Moritz.  He was a man who was determined to see that his children received a good education and in a setting where they were comfortable. That is a value that has certainly been passed down the generations in my family.  Moritz also was apparently a man of some means since he had the money to hire a private teacher.

Coat of arms of Gau-Algesheim

Coat of arms of Gau-Algesheim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Matthias also helped me better understand a passage about Moritz and his knowledge of German.  According to Matthias’ reading of this paragraph, Moritz had some role in the synagogue as an educated man.  He was in charge of writing the lists of Hebrew prayers to be assigned to those who made contributions to the synagogue.  (This is somewhat unclear to me.  Perhaps these were prayers for certain members to lead or perhaps these were prayers for the benefit of certain members, or maybe the book is referring to payment in order to receive the honor of reading Torah in synagogue.)

A man from Mainz, Mr. Landauer, commented that Moritz was able to write German very well in compiling these lists, but that he had trouble with “unpunctured” Hebrew.  I asked Ralph Baer what he thought unpunctured would mean in this context, and he explained that the German word could also be translated as undotted and that the reference to undotted Hebrew most likely meant that Moritz had a hard time reading Hebrew without vowel markings.  So Moritz was more fluent in writing and reading in German than he was in Hebrew.


By Assyrio (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The final passage that Matthias helped me understand involved Julius Seligmann, the grandson of Moritz and son of August Seligmann, discussed previously.  He was the Seligmann who converted to Catholicism upon marrying a Catholic woman.  What I had not been able to understand before were references to Julius closing his business in 1935 in Gau-Algesheim and being the last Jew in Gau-Algesheim when he and his family left in 1939.  He and his family moved to Bingen, and the book states that there the police chief did nothing against him and that his two sons Herbert and Walter were even allowed to enlist in the army, although dismissed shortly afterwards.

With a better idea of what the words say, I now think that I understand the significance of this passage.  It seems that Julius, despite converting, was still seen as a Jew when the Nazis came to power and thus was forced to close his business.  However, once he relocated to Bingen, he was not harassed by the police, perhaps because they did not know he was Jewish.  And perhaps the significance of the sons being able to enlist also relates to this ability to deny their Jewish roots, at least for a short time.

I am obviously still reading between the lines, and without being able to read the entire book and read everything in context, I fear that I may be misreading some of these isolated passages.  It’s a long term project to be able to understand the whole book and the whole story of the Jews of Gau-Algesheim.  But already this little book has enabled me to learn so much more about my Seligmann ancestors.

By the way, Seligmann means “blessed man” in German.  The more I learn about the Seligman(n)s, both German and American, the more it seems to be an appropriate surname for the family to have adopted, especially for those Seligmans who were fortunate enough to have left Germany before the Holocaust.





A Package from Germany, Part II: Did Moritz Seligmann Have Two Wives?

Gau-Algesheim, Rathaus am Marktplatz

Gau-Algesheim, Rathaus am Marktplatz (Photo credit: Wikipedia) (Town Hall)

As I mentioned in my last post, the package I received from Germany included both a book about Gau-Algesheim and photocopies of the birth records for Bernard Seligman and his siblings.  Unfortunately for me, the birth records were all in German and were half in Germanic font and half in handwritten old German script.  I could pick out names, and most meaningfully, I could see the signature of my great-great-great-grandfather Moritz Seligmann on all the records.  But I could not read any of the text.  Not the typeface print on the form, and certainly not the handwritten script.

Bernard Seligman's birth record

Bernard Seligman’s birth record

JewishGen has a function called ViewMate where you can upload documents and ask JewishGen members for help in translation.  I decided to try that first.  Unfortunately, ViewMate limits the size of the documents you can upload to a relatively small size, and once I reduced the records to the requisite size, they were hardly legible.  Plus ViewMate takes several days; your document has to be submitted to the site, approved, and then it will be posted.  Then you have to send an email to the listserv and ask for help in translating the documents up uploaded.  Then you have to wait for someone to see your email and respond.  And you can only do five documents in a week.  This seemed a bit frustrating for me in this day of instant communications.

So I turned once again to Facebook.  There is a group on Facebook for German Genealogy, and I asked a question about obtaining translations of German records.  Someone there referred me to a different group that exists just for that purpose: German Genealogy Transcriptions.  I joined the group, and I posted the record for Bernhard Seligmann depicted above, asking if anyone could help me translate it and other records like it.

Within two hours, I heard from a group member, Matthias Steinke, who translated that first document and then spent the next couple of hours—no exaggeration—helping me with all the others.  I was just blown away by his generosity as well as his ability to decipher that script from a small scanned photograph of the document.  Matthias, if you are reading this, once again I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

So what does that birth record for Bernhard Seligmann say?  This is the translation Matthias provided, as modified based on some of the later records he reviewed:

In the year thousand eighteen hundred thirtyandseven, the twentythird November at eleven o´clock pre midday came to me, Quirin Ewen, mayor and official for the civil registration of the comunity Gau-Algesheim, county Ober-Ingelheim, Moritz Seligmann, thirtyseven years old, merchant, residing in Gau-Algesheim and declared, that at the twentythird November Eighteen hundred thirtyseven at one o´clock in the morning in the Blosselgasse nr. 98, Babetta nee Schönfeld, twentyseven years old, wife of the named Moritz Seligmann, here residing gave birth to a child of male sex, who was showed to me and who got the first name Bernhard. The declaration and showing happened in presence of the witnesses: 1. Johann Kleissinger, thirty years old, church-clerk in Gau-Algesheim residing 2. Johann Wessel (?), thirtyfive years old, tax-messenger in Gau-Algesheim residing. [signatures]

There were nine records all together, and for the others I only needed the basic data: names, ages, dates, and addresses, since I now knew what the form template was asking based on this first translation.  All the basic dates and names for the children were consistent with the information I had been originally provided by Bernie Brettschneider from Gau-Algesheim, but now I had copies of the actual records to verify that information.

Plus I now had an address for where the family was living during the years from Sigmund’s birth in 1829 until Paulina’s birth in 1847.  Although the house numbers vary, throughout all those years the Seligmann family was living on Flossergasse (apparently rafter alley). (Bernard’s said Blossergasse, but all the others said Flossergasse.)   I was able to locate Flosserstrasse on the map as well as Langgasse where August and Hyronimus later lived.  I assume Flossergasse was either off of Flosserstrasse or the street was renamed at some point.


But the records also revealed a mystery.  For Sigmund (1829), Carolina (1833), and Benjamin (1835), the mother’s name is Eva nee Schonfeld.  But starting with Bernhard in 1837, the mother’s name is given as Babetta or Barbara nee Schonfeld for Bernhard (1837), Hyronimus (1839), August (1841), Adolph (1843), Mathilde (1845), and Paulina (1847).

At first I thought that Eva had changed her name, but Matthias pointed out that the ages did not quite line up.  Not all the birth records included a reference to the age of the mother, but in  March, 1833 Eva was 26, meaning a birth year of 1806/7, depending on the month of her birthday. In May, 1835, she was 28, so that is consistent with the same birth year range.  But on Bernhard’s birth record, Babette nee Schonfeld is 27 in 1837, meaning a birth year of 1809 or 1810.  Two years later on December 14, 1839, she was 30, meaning her birth year was most likely in 1809.  The other birth records are also consistent with a birth year for Babette in 1809.

So unless Eva both changed her name and lied about her age on the later birth records, it would appear that Sigmund, Carolina, and Benjamin had a different mother than their younger siblings and also perhaps that Moritz married Eva’s younger sister sometime between 1835 when Benjamin was born and 1837 when my great-great-grandfather was born.

Thanks again to Matthias Steinke for his incredible generosity and great skills in transcribing and translating from German to English.  Thank you also to Ralph Baer who has also  been a tremendous help. Ralph is the JewishGenner who has been helping me with my Nussbaum/Dreyfuss relatives as well as generally with German records and German translations.  Both Ralph and Matthias are also helping me with the Gau-Algesheim book as I try and confirm and understand the passages about the Seligmanns.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I am filled with gratitude for all the help I have received as I continue on this path to find my family—from the readers who comment and send me helpful suggestions to the people on Facebook who jump in to help, to the people at various libraries and historical societies who respond to my inquiries, and to the people at JewishGen who have helped me solve many mysteries.  As I’ve said several times, the generosity of the genealogy community is an inspiration.  If only the whole world was as giving and helpful as the people I have met in the genealogy world.



A Package from Germany and More Sobering Revelations: A Seligmann Update

Coat of arms of Gau-Algesheim

Coat of arms of Gau-Algesheim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few days ago I received a package from Gau-Algesheim with photocopies of the birth records of Bernard Seligman and his siblings as well as a book about the Jews of Gau-Algesheim, Die Geschichte der Gau-Algesheimer Juden by Ludwig Hellriegel (1986, revised 2008)[The History of the Jews of Gau-Algesheim].  Of course, the records were in German, as is the book.  And the documents were also in Germanic font and in the old German script.   Completely unintelligible to me.  Here is an example, the birth certificate of my great-great-grandfather, Bernard Seligman or Bernhard Seligmann, as it was originally spelled.

Bernard Seligman's birth record

Bernard Seligman’s birth record

And so I started with the book, which is at least printed in regular font.  I first went through the entire book (about 110 pages), looking for the name Seligmann, not really expecting to find it.  But there on page 52 was the name Moritz Seligmann, and there again a few pages later, and then a list of Seligmanns a few pages after that, and then a few paragraphs here and a few paragraphs there.  But I can’t read German.

I painstakingly entered the passages that mention Seligmann into Google Translate and mostly got gibberish.  Google Translate does not like umlauts or those funny double S symbols used in German, and typing in German is very hard when you do not know the language.  Google Translate can do a word, but putting down a whole sentence leads to verbs and nouns and prepositions in places that just make it almost impossible to know what you are reading.

For example, what does this sentence mean?

Mr. Landauer of the Israelite Religious Community in Mainz has found that Moritz Seligmann who has led this protocol , although writes excellent German , but his burden with the Hebrew has unpunctured .

That is how Google Translate translated this sentence:  Herr Landauer von der israelitischen Religionsgemeinde in Mainz hat festgestellt, dass Moritz seligmann, der dieses protokoll gefuhrt hat, zwar ausgezeichnet deutsch schreibt, aber seine Last mit dem unpunktierten Hebraisch hat.

So if there are any readers out there who can help me with translation, please let me know.  I have no clue what that means except that perhaps my great-great-great-grandfather was very proficient in German.  The sentence that follows discusses the fact that the Jews in Gau-Algesheim did not speak or read Hebrew except for religious purposes.

Now I am working on getting a better translation program or finding someone to translate the book for me.  But here are a few random tidbits of information that I am pretty sure I did understand from my very poor translation of some of the passages.

Perhaps the most informative section revealed the livelihoods of two of my great-great-grandfather’s brothers, August and Hyronimus, and a third Seligmann whose name was Jacob, for whom I have no earlier record.  August opened a business in October, 1891, for iron and also spices and playing cards.  (That’s what Google Translate says anyway.)  August died on May 14, 1909.  Hyronimus also was in the iron and spice business as well in the wine trade; he opened his business on May 22, 1892.  Jacob was also in the iron trade and the wine and spirits trade; his business opened June 5, 1898.

I also know from the book that at one time August and Hyronimus both lived and/or did business on Langgasse or Long Alley.  I had posted this photo before without realizing that this was the street were some of my family lived or worked.

Gau-Algesheim. Langgasse.

Gau-Algesheim. Langgasse. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The paragraph that follows the one about the three Seligmanns and their businesses was a bit hard to follow with Google Translate, but from what I can decipher, August had a son named Julius born in 1877.  Julius married a Catholic woman and converted to Catholicism.  He had a hardware store in Gau-Algesheim as well as a spice business.  If I am reading the German correctly, he closed the store on December 9, 1935 and moved with his family to Bingen on September 15, 1939.  He had two sons, Herbert and Walter, who were both apparently still alive when the book was written.  Julius also survived the war, but was killed in a fatal car accident on his way to church on March 28, 1967.

Burg Klopp in Bingen am Rhein, Germany

Burg Klopp in Bingen am Rhein, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Julius had an older sister Frances, born on December 26, 1875, who married Max Michel, but divorced him and moved to Bingen.  Frances died on December 19, 1933; her son Fred escaped to the United States in 1937.

The third child of August Seligmann was named Moritz, and he participated in the town’s cycling association. Moritz Seligmann, his grandfather’s namesake, was born in June 25, 1881.  The book seems to be describing the skills of various members and seems to be praising the skills of young Moritz, who was nineteen when he joined the club.  The end of this passage about Moritz says that he was single and had moved to Koenigsberg and that it was believed he was killed in 1941 in Theresienstadt.

The fourth child of August Seligmann was his daughter Anna.  She was born on November 30, 1889, in Gau-Algesheim.  She had moved with her husband Hugo Goldmann to Neunkirchen in Saarland.  They and their three children, Ruth, Heinz, and Gretel, were all killed in the Holocaust.

There is also an entry for Elizabeth nee Seligman Arnfeld, who was born March 17, 1875.  She had moved to Mulheim on the Ruhr in 1938 and wanted to emigrate to the United States.  A woman named Leonara Morreau[1] had vouched for them, but for unknown reasons they were never able to emigrate.  Elizabeth died on January 23, 1943 at Theresienstadt.  Her son Heinz survived the war.  The book did not identify the parents of Elizabeth Seligman Arnfeld, but she could have been the daughter of Salomon or Benjamin, who unfortunately are not mentioned in the book, or of Hyronimus or Jacob.


Theresienstadt concentration camp

Now that I have more names and more recent relatives, I am hoping that perhaps I can find out more about these people.  I also now know that many of them moved to Bingen, so there may be records from that larger town that will tell me more about the Seligmanns who stayed in Germany. And from several other entries in the book, I know where they lived in Gau-Algesheim.

I would love to be able to read the entire book and learn more about the history and lives of Jews in Gau-Algesheim, but it took me a good part of two days just to translate these few passages, and those translations are not very reliable.  It seems hiring someone to translate the whole book could cost me as much as $1000, and that is not in my genealogy budget by a long shot.  If someone has any brilliant ideas on how to get the book translated for free or for a really reasonable price, please let me know.

What I did learn from the passages I struggled to translate is that my family was not untouched by the Holocaust, as I once believed, but that we lost many people just from Gau-Algesheim alone.   I am hoping that I can find the descendants of the few who seem to have survived—Heinz Arnfeld and Fred Michel and Herbert and Walter Seligmann—and learn more.

In my next post I will discuss the birth records I received for the Seligmanns and how I was able to translate them.  Then I will return to the Nusbaums.

memorial plaque gau aldesheim

Holocaust Memorial plaque in Gau-Algesheim

[1] I found Leonara Morreau’s obituary and researched her a bit, but know of no reason that she would have had a connection to the Seligmanns in Germany.  She was born, married, and lived in Cleveland.  Her husband died in 1933, and she died in 1947.  As far as I can tell, they never traveled to Germany.  Leonara’s brother was Isaac Heller, who was also born in Cleveland, as was their father, Charles Heller.  Although their grandfather was born in Germany, it was not even in the same region as the Seligmanns.  Perhaps Leonara was active in trying to bring German Jews to the United States during Hitler’s reign, but I can find no evidence of that.  Her obituary only states that she was active in charitable and religious causes.

Goodbye for now, Santa Fe

Gau-Algesheim. Langgasse.

Gau-Algesheim. Langgasse. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Where They Started

I’ve now completed my research of the American Seligmans, or at least those I know to be related to me.  I have added a page with a family tree and descendant chart to the blog that you can find by clicking on the label in the menu box at the top of the page.

For a number of reasons, this has been the easiest branch of the family tree to research.  First, I was fortunate to find my cousin Arthur “Pete” Scott, who is the great-grandson of Bernard Seligman and the grandson of Arthur Seligman.   He had already done a lot of work on the family history in New Mexico and was very generous in sharing his research and photographs with me.  He also had published a great deal of it on the web at vocesdesantafe.com.

Secondly, Bernard and Arthur Seligman were public figures—men who were often written about during their lives in newspapers and after their lives by historians.  Their fame made it much easier for me to find sources and information to learn about their lives and the lives of their families.  (Although it was easier to find information, it also was a lot more work to read it, digest it, and analyze it all.)

Bernard Seligman and other merchants

My great-great-grandfather Bernard on the fronteir

Also, there were not a lot of descendants to trace.  Sigmund Seligman never married, James Seligman in England had no children, and Bernard only had three children who lived to adulthood—my great-grandmother Eva and her two brothers James and Arthur.[1]  Eva’s family I had already researched in doing the Cohen branch, James had only one child who lived to adulthood, and Arthur had one biological child and a stepdaughter.  So compared to the thirteen children of Jacob Cohen, some of whom had over ten children themselves, this was a much smaller family to research.

I still do have work to do, tracing the German Seligmanns and seeing if I can learn what happened to them.  That is a task I will continue to work on, but it will be slowed by the inaccessibility of German records and my inability to read German.  I am ordering copies of the records I posted about here, but I hope to be able to learn more.  Once I know more, I will write about it on the blog.

But for now I will move on from the Seligmans in my writing and begin the next branch of my father’s father’s family, the Nusbaums.  As far as I know, there are no famous people on this branch, but time will tell.  I am hoping that my cousin Pete will be able to help me here as well since he also is a descendant of Frances Nusbaum Seligman.  I have already learned some interesting things about the Nusbaums and am eager to learn more.

Arthur Seligman, Marjorie, and Eva May Cohen, 1932 Atlantic City

Governor Arthur Seligman, Marjorie, and his sister, my great-grandmother Eva May Seligman Cohen, 1932 Atlantic City

Before I move on from the Seligmans, however, I have a few concluding thoughts about this branch of my family tree.  Unlike my Cohen, Goldschlager, Rosenzweig, and Brotman branches, the Seligmans were in the public eye and not able to lead the private lives that my other relatives lived and that most of us live.  They were subject to much scrutiny—Bernard was a wealthy merchant and public servant, Arthur a mayor and governor, and Morton a Navy hero.  Their actions and character were criticized at times, but each in his own way managed to rise above that criticism.   They were loyal, decent and honest men who served their communities with honor.

What the Seligmans share with the rest of my ancestors is the story of Jewish immigrants in general—whether they came in 1850 or 1890 or 1910, whether they came from Germany or England or Romania or Galicia.  All came here for a better life, all were brave enough to leave their homes and their families, all took a risk that living in America would be better for them, their families, and their descendants.  Some may have come with more than others, some succeeded more than others, but all were undoubtedly better off here than they would have been had they stayed in Europe.  With hindsight we know what would have been their fate if they had still been in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, as was the fate of some of my German Seligmann relatives who did not leave Europe in time.

Once again, I feel grateful for the risks that my ancestors all took and for their courage and hard work, which made it possible for me to be here today, remembering them all.


Bernard Seligman

My great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman, born in Gau-Algesheim, a pioneering leader in Santa Fe, and father of a US governor




[1] Adolph did have children, and I’ve traced all of his descendants, but out of privacy concerns have not written about them since many of his grandchildren are still living, and I have not been in touch with them.


More Gifts from Doing Genealogy: The Gau-Algesheim Seligmanns and New Friends in Germany

As I’ve been researching and writing about my American Seligman relatives, I’ve also been busy trying to learn more about my German ancestors.  I wrote to about five different people in Gau-Algesheim, names I found on websites or through contacts from JewishGen or two Facebook groups, Tracing the Tribe and German Genealogy, including Klaus Cook.  I’d been trying since September 7 to find someone to help me learn whether there were any records of Jewish births, marriages and/or deaths from the town where I knew Sigmund, Bernard and Adolph Seligman were born.  I had gotten no responses—not even one saying that they had no such records.

Coat of arms of Gau-Algesheim

Coat of arms of Gau-Algesheim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I also contacted a woman named Dorothee Lottman-Kaeseler.  I had found her name on the website describing the restoration of the Gau-Algesheim cemetery, and she did write back to me.  She was very helpful and eventually she managed to find someone to pay attention to my emails.  Imagine my delight when the other morning I woke up to this email:

On behalf of our registrar, Frau Hemmkeppler, I am hereby replying to your genealogy request, which we have received on 15. Oct. 2014 via email. 

At first, please note, that due to age, we do not have any electronic archives of our historical records.  However, we have put in extra efforts and were able to manually trace the following information related to the name of Seligmann: 

Siegesmund Seligmann, DOB: 24. Dec.1829 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 67/1829


Salomon Seligmann, DOB: 15. Mar.1832 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 19/1832


Carolina Seligmann, DOB: 18. Mar.1833 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 25/1833


Benjamin Seligmann, DOB: 10. May 1835 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 36/1835


Bernhard Seligmann, DOB: 23. Nov.1837 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 49/1837


Hyronimus Seligmann, DOB: 14. Dec.1839 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 75/1839


August Seligmann, DOB: 10. Dec.1841 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 88/1841


Adolph Seligmann, DOB: 29. Sep. 1843 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 52/1843


Mathilde Seligmann, DOB: 31. Jan. 1845 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 4/1845


Paulina Seligmann, DOB: 29.01.1847 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 5/1847 

All the beforementioned persons are the children of Moritz and Eva Seligmann (born as Eva Schoenfeld). …. 


B. Brettschneider



There was the birth record of my great-great-grandfather Bernard, his brothers Sigmund and Adolph, and seven other siblings, all born in Gau-Algesheim, all the children of Moritz and Eva Schoenfeld Seligmann.  I was so excited.  I now had seven more relatives to learn about and, most importantly, the names of my great-great-great-grandparents, Moritz Seligmann and Eva Schoenfeld.

I have now been in touch again with Bernie Brettschneider and hope to obtain copies of these records and also to learn if there are any other records of these individuals or of others who might be their children, spouses, and so on.

Gau-Algesheim in MZ

Gau-Algesheim in MZ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am deeply grateful to Klaus Cook and the other people in the Facebook groups and JewishGen, to Dorothee Lottmann-Kaeseler and to Bernie Brettschneider for their assistance, and I am excited to see what else I can learn about this part of my family.  I am also in touch with Walter Nathan, who was the man behind the cemetery restoration in Gau-Algesheim.  Walter and I are trying to find what connections there may be between my Seligmanns and his Seligmann family, and I am learning more and more about how Jews lived in Germany in the 19th century.

When I started down this path less than three years ago, I never imagined how much I would learn about the world and its history by simply researching my own little family. I never imagined I would make contact with people in Germany and Romania and Poland, have cousins all over the world and talk to people whose lives have been so interesting.  The gifts I receive from genealogy continue to surprise me and warm my heart.

And I now am thinking that someday in the not too distant future I will visit Gau-Algesheim and see where my Seligmann ancestors lived.  And Iasi to see where my Goldschlager and Rosenzweig ancestors lived.  And Tarnobrzeg, Poland, to see where my Brotman ancestors lived.  In fact, that last one is being planned for this coming spring.  And then there are all the places right here in the US where I can go to walk in the places where my ancestors lived—New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, Santa Fe, Colorado, and who knows where else?  The adventures continue.



Jews on the Santa Fe Trail 1848-1871:  My Great-Great-Grandfather Bernard Seligman and his Brothers



Sign for Santa Fe National Historic Trail.

Sign for Santa Fe National Historic Trail. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


My great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman was born on November 23, 1837 in Gau-Algesheim, Germany.  When I learned about the small town in Germany where my great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman was born, I was not surprised that he had decided to move away when he reached adulthood.  Gau-Algesheim was itself a very small town, and the Jewish population was tiny—perhaps 60-80 people during the 1840s and 1850s when Bernard was growing up.  The opportunities for a young Jewish man must have been very limited—socially and economically.  My research of the town indicated that by 1900 the Jewish population had declined dramatically.  My great-great-grandfather and his brothers were therefore not unlike many others who moved out of their small hometown to seek greater opportunities.

Before leaving Germany, Bernard received what was described as a “first class education in the public and commercial schools of his native land where he also gained considerable actual business experience while employed a wholesale establishment there.”[1]  According to a book written in 1925 by Ralph Emerson Twitchell, then the official state historian for New Mexico, Bernard Seligman had been associated with the Rothschild banking house in Frankfort-on-the-Main before coming to the US.[2]

Bernard was not the first of the Seligman brothers to arrive in the United States. His older brother Sigismund or Sigmund, born in 1830 in Gau-Algesheim, had arrived in Santa Fe in 1849.  At first, Sigmund found work as a photographer, running a daguerreotype portrait studio for a few years.[3]  But within a few years he and another recent German immigrant named Charles Clever “formed a business partnership … under the firm name and style of Seligman and Clever, engaging in general merchandizing and freighting over the old [Santa Fe] Trail.”[4]

This photo is claimed to be the oldest photograph of Santa Fe, taken about 1855.  You can see the sign for Seligman and Clever on the right.  At one time one of the streets in this photograph was called Seligman Street.


Sigmund’s younger brother Bernard, my great-great-grandfather, arrived in the United States on March 23, 1857, coming aboard the ship Mercury and landing in New York.  On the record for the passenger manifest it says that his occupation was a merchant.[5] Twitchell wrote that Bernard initially settled near Philadelphia and worked for a cotton manufacturing business.[6]  He is said to have arrived in Santa Fe in 1858, taking a position in his brother Sigmund’s business, according to Bernard’s obituary. [7]

When Sigmund’s partner Charles Clever resigned from the business a few years later to become a lawyer, Bernard became a partner with his brother Sigmund in the business, and it was renamed S. Seligman and Bro.  Some years later a third brother, Adolph, born in 1845, also settled in Santa Fe and joined his brothers’ business in the 1860s.[8]

As described by William J. Parish in “The German Jew and the Commercial Revolution in Territorial New Mexico 1850-1900,” New Mexico Historical Review, Vol. 35, p. 1 (1960), until the arrival of Jewish German immigrants like the Seligmans, the trade conditions in the New Mexico territory were quite rudimentary, a few small stands relying upon traveling merchants to provide them with merchandise.  According to Parish, heavy taxes and the high cost and risk of travel made many reluctant to deal in the region.  Storekeepers could not rely on these traveling merchants to supply an adequate inventory of goods.  Thus, few merchants established permanent roots in the area.

English: "Arrival of the caravan at Santa...

English: “Arrival of the caravan at Santa Fe” — Copy of original lithograph ca. 1844 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These conditions provided a substantial opportunity for Jewish German immigrants like my ancestors, the Seligmans. Beginning in the 1840s around the time that Sigmund immigrated, there were a number of recent Jewish German immigrants who brought a thriving economic base to Santa Fe and other New Mexican cities based on transporting goods from the eastern United States over the Santa Fe trail to the New Mexican territory recently acquired by the US after the Mexican War ended.[9]

As postulated by Parish, German Jews came to the US with a particularly good background to take advantage of these entrepreneurial opportunities.  Parish discusses how historically Jews in Western Europe, although foreclosed from entering many trades, had been allowed to take on the role of the moneylender, a livelihood to which Christians had an aversion and, in some cases, a religious opposition, thus leaving that unpopular job for their Jewish neighbors.  Although this created some hostility and resentment (as seen, of course, in The Merchant of Venice and the character of Shylock), it also provided Jewish men with the opportunity to develop skills in banking, business, and capitalism.  Jewish immigrants brought these skills with them to the US wherever they settled, and, as Parish points out, those who came to New Mexico had a profound impact on the fledgling economy that existed there.

This is a photograph of my great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman (far left) with two other Santa Fe merchants,  Zadoc Staab and Lehman Spiegelberg,  and  two Kiowa Indian scouts.

Bernard Seligman and other merchants

Freighters on the Santa Fe Trail, Bernard Seligman, Zadoc Staab, Lehman Spiegelberg and Kiowa Indian scouts Palace of the Governors Photo Archives, New Mexico History Museum, Santa Fe


The growth of the economy is illustrated by the growth in the number of Jewish merchants in Santa Fe from 1850 to 1870.  In 1850 there were eight such merchants; by 1860 that number had doubled to sixteen.[10]  By 1870 it had doubled again to 32; clearly, my relatives had arrived at the right place at the right time.[11]  These merchants were not transient traveling merchants.  They established permanent businesses and stayed in the community.

Twitchell provided this vivid description of the scale of the Seligman brothers’ business:

“A Fair exemplar of the magnitude of the business of this firm is recorded in the fact that one caravan, conducted by firm, loaded at the Missouri river eighty-three wagons of merchandise consigned to the firm at Santa Fé, each wagon carrying not less than three tons of high class freight.  Another record in the books of the firm shows the payment of $30,000 in transportation charges on one caravan alone, all of the merchandise having been disposed of to New Mexican buyers within the brief period of three weeks after arrival in Santa Fé[. N]early three quarters of a century disclose an aggregate of more than fifteen millions of dollars.”[12]



Thus, by the 1860s, the Seligman Brothers’ business was thriving.  They and the other Jewish merchants had brought a reliable source of goods to Santa Fe for the first time.

These merchants, however, were not involved in any of the traditional practices of Jewish life.  According to Henry J. Tobias, the author of The History of the Jews in New Mexico, although these men identified as Jews, there was no evidence of any regular Jewish observance in Santa Fe during those early days—no evidence of a synagogue or any form community prayer or celebration, no observance of dietary laws.[13]  The Jewish population was less than five percent of one percent of the overall population at that time, and the Jews had to adapt to living in a culture where they were such a tiny segment of the community.

Most of the Jewish residents in the 1860s were single men, although a few women and families were starting to arrive.  In 1860 there was a celebration of Yom Kippur at the home of Levi Spiegelberg, another Jewish merchant, who had recently married a Jewish woman from Germany.  Tobias speculated that perhaps the arrival of Spiegelberg’s bride, one of only two Jewish women in the town at that time, made the others nostalgic for the traditions from back home and thus inspired this day long observance of fasting and prayer.[14]

After the Civil War[15] and after his younger brother Adolph had arrived in Santa Fe, Bernard moved back east to Philadelphia for several years.  Parish pointed out that there were no Jewish single women in Santa Fe in the 1850s and 1860s, and that while some Jewish men intermarried, most went back east to find a Jewish woman to marry.[16]  Sigmund never married, and Adolph did not marry until he was in his 60s, but Bernard went back east and found a Jewish woman from Pennsylvania, my great-great-grandmother Frances Nusbaum.  She was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 1845, but by 1860 she and her family had moved to Philadelphia.  Bernard and Frances married on March 28, 1865, and my great-grandmother Eva (named Evalynn at birth) was born the following year on May 27, 1866 in Philadelphia.  According to the Philadelphia city directories for 1867, Bernard was in business with his Nusbaum in-laws at that time.

On August 17, 1867, Bernard and Frances had a second daughter, Florence; the baby only lived five weeks and died on September 26, 1867.  She was buried at Mt. Sinai cemetery in Philadelphia, along with many of the Nusbaum family members (and also many of my Cohen relatives).  A third child, James Leon Seligman, was born on August 11, 1868, and then another daughter, Minnie, was born on October 31, 1869.  All of these children were born in Philadelphia, and Bernard, Frances and the three surviving children are all listed in the 1870 census as living in Philadelphia in the 13th Ward. Bernard is also listed in 1871 in the Philadelphia directory.

Bernard, however, must have been traveling back and forth between Santa Fe and Philadelphia because he is also listed in Santa Fe on the 1870 census, living with his brother Sigmund and two clerks.  Bernard is listed as owning $25,000 worth of real estate and $20,000 in personal property. (Strangely, Sigmund only claimed $20,000 in personal property and no real estate, despite being the founder of the store and the full time resident.)

At some point, however, in 1871, Bernard and Frances and their children relocated to Santa Fe, and their last child, Arthur Seligman, was born on June 14, 1871, in Santa Fe, the first family member to be born in that city.  According to Twitchell, Frances Nusbaum Seligman was one of only eight women living in Santa Fe at that time who did not come from a Spanish background.  Twitchell described my great-great-grandmother as “a woman of rare beauty, great intelligence and charming personality.”[17]  Although I will write about the Nusbaum family at a later time, for now I can say that they were a large and successful Philadelphia family with a German Jewish background; it must have been very difficult for Frances to leave her family behind and move all the way to Santa Fe, a frontier town far different from Philadelphia.

My great-grandmother Eva was only five years old when she made that cross-country trip with her parents and her siblings, leaving Philadelphia temporarily behind. She lived there for ten years, and when she was fifteen years old, she returned to Philadelphia for college and married my great-grandfather Emanuel Cohen when she was twenty.  She lived in Philadelphia for the rest of her life.  But most of the Seligman family developed and maintained deep roots in Santa Fe, ties that still exist today for many of their descendants.


In my posts to follow, I will first write about the years that my great-grandmother lived in Santa Fe, 1871-1881, and about her family.  Then I will write about the years that followed, including the story of my great-great-uncle Arthur Seligman and his career as a political leader and ultimately governor of New Mexico.


Santa Fe Trail around 1845 plus connecting tra...

Santa Fe Trail around 1845 plus connecting trading routes to commercial hubs and ports in the USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)







[1] “A Good and True Man Called Home,” Santa Fe New Mexican, February 3, 1903.


[2] Ralph Emerson Twitchell, Old Santa Fe: The Story of New Mexico’s Ancient Capital (The Rio Grande Press 1925), pp 476-478.  I found a few errors in Twitchell’s account of Bernard Seligman, including the birth year of his brother Sigmund and the birth places of his first three children.  I cannot independently verify some of his other assertions, unfortunately, but report them here as they were reported in Twitchell’s book.


[3] Arthur Scott, “My Grandfather’s Birthplace on the Santa Fe Plaza,” http://www.vocesdesantafe.org/social/index.php/explore-our-history/santa-fe/item/1090-my-grandfathers-birthplace-on-the-santa-fe-plaza


[4] Twitchell, p. 477.  It is important to note that there was an entirely separate Seligman family that settled in Bernalillo, New Mexico around the same time that my Seligman ancestors were settling in Santa Fe.  As far as I can tell, there is no familial relationship between the two families and the “other” Seligmans came from a different region in Germany, but one never knows.  Henry Tobias and Sarah Payne, “Jewish Pioneers of New Mexico: The Seligman Family” (The New Mexico Jewish Historical Society, 2005).


[5] United States Germans to America Index, 1850-1897,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/KDWS-R3N : accessed 20 Sep 2014), Bernhard Seligmann, 23 Mar 1857; citing Germans to America Passenger Data file, 1850-1897, ARC identifier 1746067; Ship Mercury, departed from Havre, arrived in New York, New York, New York, United States, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C.)


[6] Twitchell, p. 477.  Bernard’s obituary claimed that he had come to Santa Fe directly after immigrating, but it makes sense that he would have spent some time in the east since he arrived in NY in 1857 and is said to have arrived in Santa Fe in 1858.  Also, perhaps it was that initial stay in Philadelphia that caused him to return to Philadelphia some years later and to meet and marry my great-great-grandmother.


[7] “A Good and True Man Called Home,” Santa Fe New Mexican, February 3, 1903.


[8] Arthur Scott, “Seligman Brothers—Pioneer Jewish Entrepreneurs of Santa Fe and the New Mexico Territory,” http://www.newmexicohistory.org/people/seligman-brothers-pioneer-jewish-entrepreneurs-of-santa-fe-and-the-new-mexi




[9] Parish; also,  Gunther Paul Barth, Instant Cities: Urbanization and the Rise of San Francisco and Denver


(Oxford University Press, 1975), pp. 71-73.


[10] Parish, p. 15.  See also Henry J. Tobias, A History of the Jews of New Mexico (Univ. N. Mex. Press. 1990), p. 40-41.


[11] Parish, p. 15


[12] Twitchell, p.477.


[13] Tobias, pp. 43-44.


[14] Tobias, pp. 42-43.


[15]  During the Civil War, Bernard served as a captain and quarter master for the Union Army.   Arthur Scott, “Seligman Brothers—Pioneer Jewish Entrepreneurs of Santa Fe and the New Mexican Territory,” at http://www.newmexicohistory.org/people/seligman-brothers-pioneer-jewish-entrepreneurs-of-santa-fe-and-the-new-mexi   See also Tobias, p. 54.


[16] Parish, p. 23, 129.


[17] Twitchell, p. 477.




Gau-Algesheim and the Seligmans: My Great-great-grandfather’s Birthplace and What I Learned

Coat of arms of Gau-Algesheim

Coat of arms of Gau-Algesheim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From several documents and historical references, I know that Bernard Seligman, my great-great-grandfather, and his brothers Adolph and Sigmund were born in a small town close to the Rhine River called Gau-Algesheim in what was then the Hesse Darmstadt region of Germany. Today it is located in the Mainz-Bingen district in the Rheinland-Pfalz state in Germany.   Gau-Algesheim is about 15 miles southwest of Mainz and 40 miles southwest of Frankfort, Germany.  Its population in 2012 was under seven thousand people, and it is less than five miles square in area.[1]   From the photographs posted on the town’s official website, it appears to be a very charming and scenic location.  There are wineries nearby, and tourism appears to be an important source of revenue for the town.[2]



What was Gau-Algesheim like almost 200 years ago when my ancestors were living there?  How long had my Seligman ancestors been there, and were there any family members who remained behind after Bernard and his brothers left? How long had there been Jews living in Gau-Algesheim, and are there any left today? These were the questions that interested me the most about my great-great-grandfather’s birthplace.

There is a book about the history of Jews in Gau-Algesheim written by Ludwig Hellriegel in 1986, Die Geschichte der Gau-Algesheimer Juden, but unfortunately there is no copy available online, and the closest hard copy is in the New York Public Library.  I tried to borrow it through my university’s interlibrary loan program, but was it was not available for lending.  Thus, I’ve had to piece together bits of information from Wikipedia, JewishGen.org, the Gau-Algesheim website, and http://www.alemannia-judaica.de to get some answers to my questions, relying on Google Translate in order to read the sources written in German.  What follows is a very brief skeletal history of Gau-Algesheim overall and in particular of the history of Jewish life there based on these limited secondary sources.

Gau-Algesheim has ancient roots.  There is evidence of graves dating back as far as 1800 BCE, and evidence of a settlement during Roman times as well.  In the 700s a church and a monastery were established.  Gau-Algesheim was part of the Holy Roman Empire in the Middle Ages, and during that time was under the control of various different officials and jurisdictions within the Empire and often the subject of disputes and battles for control.  See  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gau-Algesheim  http://www.gau-algesheim.de/category/stadt-gau-algesheim/geschichte/  It was part of Napoleon’s empire until 1812, and then eventually became part of the nation state of Germany in the mid-19th century.


Gau-Algesheim. Rathaus am Marktplatz.

Gau-Algesheim. Rathaus am Marktplatz. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Its Jewish history dates back to at least the 14th century.  By the 14th century, the town had developed into a commercial center.  Many merchants and artisans lived in the town, including herring merchants, blacksmiths, bakers, barbers, coopers, tailors, and shopkeepers.  The monasteries owned a lot of the land, and there was also a fairly large class of nobility.  By 1334, there must have been a Jewish community in Gau-Algesheim because in that year a head tax was imposed upon the Jewish residents.  According to Wikipedia, Jews were required to pay this additional tax because they were considered the property of the crown and under its protection.[3] There was also a Jewish cemetery in existence during the 14th century.  However, this community must have been a very small minority, and the Jews were certainly considered outsiders by the Catholic majority.  In 1348 there was a flu pandemic in the region, and Jews were accused of poisoning the water, such accusations then leading to pogroms across the region.

Gau-Algesheim. Langgasse.

Gau-Algesheim. Langgasse. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My sources do not reveal anything about Jewish life in Gau-Algesheim between 1400 and 1800, but the population in 1790 was reportedly only nineteen (it’s not clear whether this refers to people or households, but I assume it refers to total people).  In 1808 there were three Jewish families, and in 1819 only six Jewish families.  In 1857, the Jewish population was fifty people, and the Jewish population peaked in Gau-Algesheim in 1880 when it reached eighty people or 2.6% of the total population of the town, according to the alemannia-judaica website.  (JewishGen puts the 1880 population at only 66.[4])  According to alemannia-judaica, a synagogue is not mentioned as being in the town until 1838. It was described as very old and in poor condition in 1850 and was rebuilt in 1861 and renovated again in 1873-1874.  There was also a mikveh and a religious school, although it seems that there was a joint school with the nearby town of Bingen. (Bingen, by comparison, had 542 Jews in 1880, amounting to almost eight percent of its overall population; it was only six miles away from Gau-Algesheim. By further comparison, Mainz had a Jewish population of about 3,000 in 1900, and Frankfurt had almost 12,000 Jews in 1900.)[5]

The tiny size of the Jewish population in Gau-Algesheim in the 19th century in the years when my ancestors were living there surprised me.  How did my family end up there?  And why did they leave? I don’t know the answers to the first question at all and can only speculate about the second and will write more generally about it in a later post.   But what I want to focus on for now is what happened to the Jewish community in Gau-Algesheim after my great-great-grandfather Bernard and his brothers left in the middle of the 19th century.

It appears that my ancestors were not the only Jews to leave Gau-Algesheim.  By 1900, the Jewish population had declined to 27 people; in 1931 there were only 31 Jewish residents.  Presumably many of these Jews had immigrated to another country, and many may have moved to the larger cities in Germany.  In the Reichstag elections of 1933, the Nazi Party only received 26.6% of the vote in Gau-Algesheim with the Center Party carrying almost half the vote.  Unfortunately, that did not reflect the overall vote in Germany, and the Nazi Party took control of the country, soon dissolving the Reichstag and all other political parties, ultimately leading to World War II and the Holocaust.  Whatever Jews were left in Gau-Algesheim before World War II either left the town or were killed by the Nazis.

There is no Jewish community there today.  The Jewish cemetery remains, however, although it was desecrated during the Holocaust and has been vandalized several times since then.  In 2006, Walter Nathan, whose father was born in Gau-Algesheim, visited the cemetery and was so disturbed by the condition of the cemetery that he decided to work to have it restored and to create a memorial to those who were buried there and also to those who had been killed in the Holocaust.  On November 9, 2008, on the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the memorial was dedicated by Nathan and many members of his extended family.[6]  Included in the headstones remaining in the cemetery was this one for a woman named Rosa Gebmann Seligmann who was born in 1853 and died in 1899 and married someone who was probably my relative.

With the help of two members of the Tracing the Tribe Facebook group, I can provide this translation of the German and the Hebrew on the headstone.  The German says, “Here rests in peace my unforgettable wife and good mother Rosa Seligman, nee Bergman, born May 11, 1854, died Feb.1 8, 1899. Deeply missed by her husband and children.  The Hebrew at the bottom says, “Here is buried Mrs. Roza wife of Alexander Seligman Died (on the) holy Shabbos 8(th day of) Adar 5659 by the small count. May her soul be bound in the bonds of life.”

There is also a plaque in town commemorating the Jewish citizens of Gau-Algesheim who were killed by the Nazis. It says, as translated by Google Translate, “The city of Gau-Algesheim commemorates their Jewish fellow citizens who were victims of Nazi violence and domination.”


There is another plaque hanging on the wall of the cemetery listing the Jews born in Gau-Algesheim who were murdered during the Holocaust according to Memorial Book: Victims of the Persecution of Jews under the National Socialist Tyranny in Germany 1933 – 1945.  It says, “Standing in this sacred place our hearts turn to the memory of those who fell victim to the violence of the Nazis, and we vow to keep their memory alive. In solemn testimony of the unbroken faith that connects us with them, their names are referred to in profound awe. We say the Kaddish—the prayer for the dead— and remember the terrible tragedy of the Jewish people.”

Among the names listed on this second plaque were these individuals: Bettina Elisabeth Arnfeld born Seligmann (1875), Johanna Bielefeld born Seligmann (1881), Anna Goldmann born Seligmann (1889), and Moritz Seligmann (1881),.[7]

On the JewishGen.org site, I found two more Seligmanns born in Gau-Algesheim: Jacob Seligmann, born April 8, 1869, who became a resident of Neunkirche and emigrated in 1935 to Luxembourg, and Laura Seligmann Winter, born June 9, 1870, who was also a resident of Neunkirche and immigrated to Luxembourg in 1935. [8]

These may have been my relatives.  Given the small size of the Jewish community that lived in Gau-Algesheim, I have to assume that at least some if not all of those named Seligmann were related to my great-great-grandfather Bernard and were thus related to me.  When I saw those names, I was stunned.   Because I have not found where my Brotman relatives lived in Galicia, because I have not found any Goldschlagers from Iasi who were killed in the Holocaust, because my Cohen relatives left Europe long before Hitler was even born, I had not ever before seen the names of possible relatives who were victims of the Holocaust.  But Bettina, Johanna, Anna, Moritz, Jacob, and Laura Seligmann—they were likely the nieces and nephew or the cousins of Bernard, Sigmund, Adolph and James Seligman.  They were likely my family.

Now I need to see what I can learn about them and what happened to them.  I need to be sure that their names are not forgotten.  This is what I know so far from the Yad Vashem names database:

Bettina Elizabeth Seligmann Arnfeld, born March 17, 1875, was residing in Muelheim Ruhr, Dusseldorf, Rhine Province, and was deported to Theresienstadt on July 21, 1942, and she died there on January 23, 1943.



Johanna Seligmann Bielefeld, born March 13, 1881, was living in Mainz during the war.  She died in Auschwitz.



Anna Seligmann Goldmann, born November 30, 1889, was living in Halle der Saale, Merseburg, Saxony Province.  She was deported from there May 30, 1942.  Her husband Hugo Goldmann, born in 1885, and their daughter Ruth Sara, born in 1924, were also deported that same day.  They were all murdered.



Moritz Seligmann, born in 1881, was not listed in the Yad Vashem database.  On the memorial plaque placed at the cemetery in Gau-Algesheim the only notation after his name is Verschollen, which means “missing, lost without a trace,” according to one source.



Jacob Seligmann, despite escaping Germany in 1935 and moving to Luxemburg, did not escape the Nazis.  He was killed in 1941 in Luxemburg, according to the Yad Vashem website.

Laura Seligmann Winter, who may have been Jacob’s sister, was a widow; on August 28, 1940, she also was killed in Luxemburg.



I will continue to look for more records that will tell something about the lives of these people and their families so that they can be remembered not only for how they died but also for how they lived.


“Dachau never again” by Forrest R. Whitesides – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dachau_never_again.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Dachau_never_again.jpg














[1] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gau-Algesheim



[2] See http://www.gau-algesheim.de/category/stadt-gau-algesheim/geschichte/



[3] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leibzoll



[4] See http://data.jewishgen.org/wconnect/wc.dll?jg~jgsys~community~-1774383



[5] See http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synagogue_de_Bingen_am_Rhein_(1905-1938)



[6] See http://www.iit.edu/magazine/spring_2009/article_1.shtml#top








[8] [8] http://www.bundesarchiv.de/gedenkbuch/directory.html



Change of Plans

Shofar (by Alphonse Lévy) Caption says: "...

Shofar (by Alphonse Lévy) Caption says: “To a good year” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was going to post about Gau-Algesheim this morning, but have decided to wait until after Rosh Hashanah.  It’s an important post (to me, at least), and with so many family and friends celebrating the holiday, I thought it might get lost in the shuffle.  So I will wait until Sunday to post it.


In the meantime, I also will be busy celebrating the holiday and so will take a short break from writing and researching so that I can focus on the holiday and my family.


For everyone out there, whether you celebrate this holiday or not, let’s hope for and work for a year of peace everywhere—within our families, our communities, our countries, and our world.  Shana tova!