The Blessings and Curses of Old Family Stories

Family stories can often lead you astray, but perhaps more often they can give you clues or corroborate evidence you’ve already uncovered.  In the case of the descendants of Rahel Katzenstein and Jacob Katz, there has been a little of all three.

What I know from the research done by Barbara Greve and David Baron is that Rahel and Jacob had six children: Blumchen, Moses, Meier, Abraham, Sanchen, and Samuel. Abraham and Samuel came to the United States in the years following the Civil War, as I’ve written.  But what about the other four siblings? What could I learn about them?

Fortunately, my cousin Marsha interviewed our mutual cousin Theo Goldenberg in January, 1993, about the family history.  Theo Goldenberg was born and raised in Jesberg; he was the grandson of Meier Katz and came to the US in the 1930s as a young man escaping Nazi Germany. Having grown up in Jesberg with his Katz and Katzenstein relatives, Theo had first-hand knowledge of the family stories and may have been one of the the best people to ask about the siblings of his grandfather Meier.

In his interview with Marsha, Theo named five of the children of Rahel and Jacob: Blumchen, Moses, Meier, Abraham, and Samuel.  He also told Marsha that there had been another daughter who drowned as a small child—presumably that would have been Sanchen, the only other daughter found by Barbara Greve or David Baron. Thus, Theo’s recollection is quite consistent with the list of names I had learned from Barbara Greve and David Baron.

Family lore, however, is that there was another son who came to the United States before Abraham and Samuel and who fought in the Civil War.  The family story is that when Abraham came to the US, he went to New Orleans to look for this brother, but never found him. He was presumed to have been killed in the Civil War.

Theo Goldenberg told Marsha that he was not aware of any other son, and although I have spent a fair amount of time searching, I have found no records that support the existence of this fifth brother (nor did Barbara Greve or David Baron, both of whom have done extensive research on the family).

At first I thought perhaps Moses was this missing brother because I found a Moses Katz who came from the Hesse region and who fought in the Civil War.  He survived the war and settled in Baltimore.  But I could find no tie to the family of Rahel Katzenstein and Jacob Katz, and Marsha’s father Henry pointed out persuasively that if Moses had been in Baltimore, Abraham would have known and easily found him without traveling to New Orleans, especially since Abraham lived in Baltimore when he first came to the US.

Theo Goldenberg, moreover, told Marsha that Moses never left Germany. Although Marsha commented in her notes that this part of her interview with Theo was somewhat confusing, it appears that Theo told her that Moses had died as a young man after being kicked by a cow in the stomach.  He had, however, been married and had had several children.

David Baron also had information about Moses Katz that indicated that Moses had married Amalia Malchen Wetterhahn in Jesberg, Germany on July 3, 1869, and had had six children born in Jesberg.  I owe David a huge thank you for sending me many of the Katz records from Jesberg and also for teaching me how to find others myself.  Here is one he shared with me, a death record for Moses Katz:

Moses Katz death record, Jesberg Hessisches Staatsarchiv Marburg: Standesamt Jesberg Sterbenebenregister 1898 (HStAMR Best. 920 Nr. 3896) Jesberg 1898, p.32

My FB friend Matthias Steinke once again helped me out and translated the document, and it says nothing about the cause of death, so the “kicked in the stomach” story will have to remain family lore.  Also, Moses Katz died when he was almost sixty—so hardly a “young man.”  Maybe Theo was referring to someone else in the family.

Jesberg, the 9th July 1898
To the below signing registrar came the personally known merchant Markus Katz, residing in Jesberg, house-nr 32/2, and reported, that the merchant Moses Katz, 58 years, 6 month, 11 days, mosaic religion, residing in Jesberg, housenr. 32/2, born in Jesberg, been married to Amalie nee Wetterhan of Jesberg, son of the deceased merchant Jakob Katz and his deceased wife Rael nee Katzenstein of Jesberg, in Jesberg at the 8th July 1898 past midday at 6 o’clock is deceased. The Markus Katz declared, that he knows about the death by his own knowledge. Readed, confirmed and signed Markus Katz – the registrar (signature)

I suppose it’s possible that Moses went to the US, fought in the Civil War, returned to Jesberg after the war and married Amalia in 1869. But that seems unlikely, and wouldn’t Abraham have known that his brother had returned to Jesberg?

Perhaps it was not a brother but a cousin who fought and died in the Civil War? I don’t know.  But at this point I think the evidence does not support the story of this missing brother. However, the story has been passed down through the generations, and I’ve learned that in every family story there is usually some kernel of truth.  I just haven’t found it yet in this story.

Nor can I verify the story about Sanchen’s drowning. If Sanchen died as a young girl, that would have been more than fifty years before Theo’s birth and so perhaps not reliable as a piece of family history (and unfortunately before the earliest Jesberg records that are kept online.)  Yet such a traumatic event might very well have been reliably reported from generation to generation.

As for Blumchen, Theo told Marsha that she had stayed in Germany, married, and had not had any children.  According to David Baron, Blumchen married Heskel Grunenklee of Meimbressen, Germany, and she died on March 9, 1909.  Theo’s story is thus consistent with the research done by David Baron.

Theo had, not surprisingly, the most information about the children of Meier Katz, his grandfather, who died on October 29, 1925, when Theo was eleven.  Unfortunately, there were no insights about Meier in the interview notes.

Meier Katz death record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 920; Laufendenummer: 3916
Year Range : 1925
Source Information Hesse, Germany, Deaths, 1851-1955 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2016.
Original data: Sterberegister und Namensverzeichnisse. Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, Wiesbaden, Deutschland.

Theo’s grandmother Sprinzchen Jungheim Katz died on June 15, 1917, so Theo would have been only three years old when his grandmother died.

Death record of Sprinz Jungheim Katz 1917
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 920; Laufendenummer: 3915

Meier and Sprinzchen had six children: Jacob, Aron, Seligmann, Regina, Karl, and Sol, according to Theo. I have not seen Sol listed anywhere else, and Theo had nothing more to say about him besides his name. However, there was a Salli Katz born to Meier and Sprinzchen on June 14, 1888, who died on January 10, 1892, so I assume that this is the “Sol” referred to by Theo Goldenberg.

Salli Katz birth record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Geburtsregister; Bestand: 920; Laufende Nummer: 3819
Year Range : 1888
Source Information Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2016.
Original data: Geburtenregister und Namensverzeichnisse. Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, Wiesbaden, Deutschland.

Salli Katz death record, Hessisches Staatsarchiv Marburg: Standesamt Jesberg Sterbenebenregister 1892 (HStAMR Best. 920 Nr. 3890)
Jesberg 1892, p.2

As translated by Matthias Steinke:

Jesberg at the 10th January 1892 – To the below signing registrar came today the personally known merchant Moses Katz, residing in Jesberg, House nr. 32 1/2 and reported, that Salli Katz, 2 years 6 month 25 days old, mosaic religion, residing in Jesberg, house nr. 28, born in Jesberg, son of the merchant Meier Katz II and his wife Sprinzchen nee Jungheim of Jesberg, in Jesberg at the ninth January of the year 1892, past midday at four o’clock is deceased. The Moses Katz declared, to know about the death by his own knowledge. Readed, confirmed and signed Moses Katz The registrar Appell

[The death record reports that Salli was two and a half years old, but based on the birth record, he was really three and a half years old.]

The other five children of Meier and Sprinzchen—Jacob, Aron, Isaac, Regina, and Karl—all survived to adulthood and all came to the United States, some as early as the 1880s, others as late as the 1930s.  But fortunately they all survived. More on that in the posts to come.  For now, here is a photograph of Meier and Sprinzchen and those five children:

Meier and Sprinzchen (Jungheim) Katz and children

What I learned from all this is that we all should be doing what Marsha did back in 1993; we should be interviewing the older generations in our family, asking questions and taking notes.  Even if some of the information leads us on a few wild goose chases, the stories we will hear will disappear if they are not recorded.  I am so grateful that Marsha had the wisdom to meet with her cousin Theo and ask him to answer her questions about the family back in 1993.  If only I had done the same with my own older relatives 24 years ago…




Another Small World Story, Another Twist in the Family Tree

In my last post I described my discovery that Rose Mansbach Schoenthal was not only related to me by her marriage to Simon Schoenthal, the brother of my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal, but that she was also related by marriage to my other great-grandfather Gerson Katzenstein through her Mansbach cousins.   This post is about another discovery of a strange twist in my family tree, but this one involving two living cousins.

Last week I received a comment on an old blog post about Elizabeth Cohen, who was the sister of my other great-grandfather, Emanuel Cohen.  The man who left the comment on my blog, Joel Goldwein, is the great-grandson, through his mother’s side, of Elizabeth Cohen.  He is thus my third cousin.  I was, of course, delighted to make this connection, and I emailed Joel to learn more about him and our mutual family.

In the course of the exchange of emails, Joel shared information not only about his mother’s family, but also about his father, Manfred (Fred) Goldwein, who had escaped from Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport to England.  His father’s parents and other family members, however, were murdered by the Nazis.  Joel sent me a link to a website about his son’s bar mitzvah in Korbach, Germany, the town where his father was born and had lived until he left Germany.  I was very moved by the idea that Joel’s family had returned to this town to honor the memory of his father’s family.

I mentioned that I was going to be in Germany, not far from Korbach, because I had Hamberg ancestors from Breuna.  Joel then mentioned that his paternal great-grandparents are buried in Breuna and that he had visited the cemetery there.  He sent me a link to his photographs of the cemetery, and I looked through them in search of anyone named Hamberg.

Imagine my surprise to find this photograph:

Courtesy of Joel Goldwein

Baruch Hamberg was the second cousin of my great-great-grandmother, Henrietta Hamberg Schoenthal.  More importantly, he was the great-grandfather of my fifth cousin, Rob Meyer.

Some of you may remember the story of Rob.  He and I connected through JewishGen’s Family Finder tool about a year and a half ago, and we learned that not only did Rob live about a mile from where I had once lived in Arlington, Massachusetts, we also had very good mutual friends.  It was one of those true goosebump moments in my genealogy research, standing in a cemetery in Longmeadow and talking to Rob as we realized that we both had the same close friends.

Rob’s mother had, like Joel’s father, escaped from Nazi Germany, and she also, like Joel’s father, had lost most of the rest of her family in the Holocaust. I sent the headstone photograph to Rob, and I asked whether he might be related to Joel.  Rob answered, suggesting that perhaps he was related to Joel not through Baruch Hamberg, but through Baruch’s mother, Breinchen Goldwein.  A little more digging around revealed that in fact Joel was related to Breinchen: her brother Marcus Goldwein was Joel’s paternal great-grandfather.

Thus, Joel and Rob are third cousins, once removed, through Rob’s mother’s side and Joel’s father side. And although they did not know of each other at all, Joel also had a photograph of the street in Breuna named in memory of Rob’s aunt:

Courtesy of Joel Goldwein


It gave me great pleasure to introduce Rob and Joel to each other, who soon discovered that not only are they third cousins through their Goldwein family line, they are also both doctors and both graduates of the same medical school.

And they are both my cousins, Rob through his mother’s Hamberg side and Joel through his mother’s Cohen side.

There truly are only six degrees of separation.

Something I Never Expected to See

I want to share two documents that I thought I’d never see.  In preparing for our upcoming trip to Germany, I’ve been trying to find guides who can help me in the various places we plan to visit.  One of those guides is a man named Aaron.  Although Aaron is based in Cologne and will be our guide while we are there, he also asked where else we were visiting and whether we needed any help finding records.

I mentioned to him that probably the one place I had had the worst luck finding any records—online or elsewhere—was Schopfloch, the small town in Bavaria where my Nussbaum ancestors once lived.  Some of you may recall that all I had were the notes left behind by a researcher named Angelika Brosig, who died in 2013.  Angelika had a lot of information about the birthdates of the children of Amson Nussbaum and Voegele Welsch, my four-times great-grandparents, including a name and birthdate for my three-times great-grandfather, Josua Nussbaum, who became John Nusbaum in the United States.  I knew these facts were accurate because they were consistent with the information in the Nussbaum family bible kept first by my three-times great-grandmother Jeanette Dreyfuss Nusbaum and later by my great-grandmother Eva May Seligman Cohen.  But I had no images or transcriptions of original records

Even after contacting several people who knew Angelika Brosig and had worked with her, I had no luck figuring out where she’d gotten this information.  But Aaron had better luck—he found the death records for my four-times great-grandparents, Amson and Voegele.  This gives me hope that perhaps other records exist and that someday I may find them.

Death record of Voegelein Nussbaum

Death record of Voegelein Welsch Nussbaum, October 2, 1842

As transcribed and translated by Leon and Cathy from the German Genealogy group on Facebook, this says:

Vogelein Nussbaum, Wittwe des Amson Nussbaum, geb. Welsch, stirbt in einem Alter von 60 Jahren und 7 Monaten plötzlich am Schleimschlag Sonntag Abends am zweiten /2/ Oktober 1/2 5 Uhr 1842, und wird beerdigt Tags drauf am 3. dess. Abends 5 Uhr. Arzt wird nicht gebraucht. No. 132.

Vögelein Nussbaum, widow of Amson Nussbaum, born Welsch, dies at the age of 60 years and 7 months suddenly due to mucoid impaction on Sunday evening on 2nd October, half before 5 o’clock, 1842, and is buried on the next day in the evening 5 o’clock. Doctor is not needed.


Death record of Amson Meier Nussbaum, 1837

Death record of Amson Meier Nussbaum, June 7, 1836

Leon and Cathy translated Amson’s death record to say:

Amson (Meier) Nussbaum, merchant, here no. 132, married, consumption, 8th this evening at 8 o’clock, 58 years old.

Thank you to Aaron for his persistence and hard work in locating these records. And thank you also to Leon and Cathy from the Facebook German Genealogy group!  Danke!!

Will the Real Abraham Mansbach Please Stand Up?

In my prior post about my great-great-grandparents Gerson Katzenstein and Eva Goldschmidt, I was trying to determine whether anyone in either of their families was living in Philadelphia when they immigrated there with their first three children in 1856.  The closest possible relative I could find who might have been there first was someone I thought was Gerson’s nephew Abraham Mansbach, son of his half-sister Hannchen Katzenstein and her husband Marum Mansbach of Maden.

There was an 1852 ship manifest for an Abraham Mansbach, a merchant from Germany, who I thought might be this nephew, but there was no town of origin or age listed on the manifest, so it was hard to know. Also, he had entered the country in Baltimore, not Philadelphia.


Abraham Mansbach 1852 immigration card “Maryland, Baltimore Passenger Lists Index, 1820-1897,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 17 June 2014), NARA M327, Roll 98, No. M462-M524, 1820-1897 > image 2545 of 3335; citing NARA microfilm publication M327 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).


Abraham Mansbach on 1852 passenger list “Maryland, Baltimore Passenger Lists, 1820-1948,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 25 September 2015), 1820-1891 (NARA M255, M596) > 9 – Jun 2, 1852-Aug 29, 1853 > image 503 of 890; citing NARA microfilm publications M255, M596 and T844 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

The 1860 census, however, shows that living in the household of Gerson Katzenstein was a 25 year old salesman named Abraham Anspach.  Since Gerson’s nephew Abraham was born in 1835, he would have been 25 in 1860.  It seemed to me that this was in fact the son of Hannchen Katzenstein and Marum Mansbach, Abraham Mansbach.

But there was also a 20 year old woman living in the house named Marley Mansbach, and I had at first thought she could be Gerson’s niece and Abraham’s sister Henrietta.  I also thought she was likely the same person who was listed on the 1856 ship manifest right below Gerson Katzenstein and his family: a sixteen year old girl named Malchen Mansbach from Maden. But the ages were off from the birth year I had for Henrietta (1833), and the name Henrietta is quite different from Malchen.  Most Malchens I’d seen adopted the name Amelia or Amalia; most Henriettas had been Jette in Germany, not Malchen.

Plus there was Heinemann Mansbach, the other sixteen year old who had sailed with Gerson and his family and who’d been heading to “Libanon.”  He was not listed on the 1860 census with the Katzenstein family. Who was he, and where was he?

Ship manifest close up Year: 1856; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 164; Line: 1; List Number: 589

Ship manifest close up
Year: 1856; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 164; Line: 1; List Number: 589

Closeup of Katzensteins and Mansbachs on 1860 census

Closeup of Katzensteins and Mansbachs on 1860 census

So I consulted with David Baron, and what a Pandora’s box that opened! David worked on this Mansbach puzzle quite extensively and discovered that the Katzenstein family was entwined in multiple ways not only with the Mansbach family, but also the Goldschmidt, Jaffa, and Schoenthal families.  Some of this I’d known before, but much of it was new to me and was quite a revelation.  There are siblings who married the siblings of their spouses; cousins who married cousins; and so many overlapping relationships that my head was spinning.  I won’t describe them all here.  I’d lose you all.

But what David sorted out for me did help answer some of the questions posed above. He pointed me to the work done by Hans-Peter Klein on the Mansbach family from Maden. From Hans-Peter’s work I learned that there were FOUR men from Maden named Abraham Mansbach. The first Abraham Mansbach died sometime before 1808.  I will refer to him as Abraham I. He had two sons, Lieser, born in 1770, and Marum, born in either 1769 or 1778 (Marum I).


Lieser had three sons: Isaak (1799), Marum II (1802), and Abraham II (1809).  So that’s two Abrahams, two Marums.  Still with me? Both Abraham I and Abraham II were clearly born too early to have been the Abraham Mansbach on the 1860 census with Gerson.


As a distracting aside, let me mention that Lieser’s son Abraham II married Sarah Goldschmidt, Eva Goldschmidt’s sister, making him the brother-in-law of my great-great-grandparents, Gerson Katzenstein and Eva Goldschmidt.  But that’s a story for another day.

Lieser’s son Marum II is the one who married Hannchen Katzenstein, sister of Gerson, and they had Abraham III in 1835.  He’s the one I believe is listed with Gerson on the 1860 census; he also appears to be the first member of the Katzenstein line to come to the US.


Finally, Lieser’s brother Marum I had a daughter named Schiele (birth year unknown).  Schiele had two children apparently out of wedlock; both took on the surname Mansbach.  They were Abraham IV, born in 1849, and Malchen/Merla, born in 1840.  Thus, Abraham IV was born fourteen years after Gerson’s nephew, Abraham III, and was far too young to have been the Abraham living with Gerson in 1860 or sailing by himself to America in 1852.


Thus, I feel quite certain that the Abraham Mansbach on the census and on the 1852 ship manifest was Abraham Mansbach III, son of Hannchen Katzenstein and thus Gerson Katzenstein’s nephew.

In addition, David Baron believes, and it seems right to me, that the girl named Malchen Mansbach listed with Gerson and his family on the 1856 ship manifest and the 1860 census was not Henrietta Mansbach, daughter of Marum Mansbach II and Hannchen Katzenstein, but instead the daughter of Schiele Mansbach and sister of Abraham Mansbach IV.  Schiele’s daughter Malchen was born in 1840, according to Hans-Peter’s research, and so she would have been sixteen in 1856, as reflected on the manifest, and twenty in 1860, as reflected on the 1860 census.  Abraham Mansbach IV, her brother, did not immigrate to the US until 1864.

Having gone down this deep rabbit hole of the extended Mansbach family, I had to pull myself back up and regain my focus.  After all, other than the children of Marum Mansbach II and Hannchen Katzenstein, none of these other Mansbachs are genetically connected to me.  Their stories are surely important and interesting, but I had to get back to the Katzensteins before I became too distracted.

I now feel fairly confident that the Abraham listed with Gerson in 1860 was in fact his nephew, Abraham Mansbach III, son of Hannchen Katzenstein and Marum Mansbach II, but that Malchen/Marley Mansbach was not their daughter Henrietta and thus not Gerson’s niece.  But I still had questions about Hannchen and Marum’s two other children, Heinemann/Harry and Henrietta. In 1860, where was Heinemann Mansbach, the third child of Hanne and Marum, the one who had sailed with Gerson in 1856 and whose destination was apparently Lebanon, PA? And when, if at all, did Henrietta arrive in the US?

More on that in my next few posts.



The Katzenstein Clan: Who Got Here First?

One of the main questions I had about Gerson Katzenstein, my great-great-grandfather, was why did he come to the United States?  Did he have other relatives who had paved the way, or was he the first in his family to arrive?

When I first did some research about Gerson almost five years ago, I was unable to find any relatives aside from his wife and children, and so I had no information about the rest of his family.  But thanks to the work of Barbara Greve and David Baron, I now have a long list of names of relatives, including the names of Gerson’s siblings.  I thought that there might have been other relatives living in the United States when Gerson arrived that I’d not known about during my initial research several years ago.

What I learned from Barbara Greve’s work was that Gerson was one of the eight children of Scholem Katzenstein; there were four half-siblings born to Scholem’s first wife, Gella: Hannchen (1798-1840), Mendel, who died as an infant in 1799, Jacob (1803-?), and Gela, who also died as an infant in 1808.  Gerson had three full siblings born to his mother, Breine Blumenfeld: Freudchen (1809-1818), Rahel (1813-1861), and Moses, for whom the only record is a birth record dated November 4, 1814.  Perhaps Moses also had died as an infant. Thus, of the eight children of Scholem Katzenstein, the only ones for whom there are records indicating survival to adulthood are Gerson, Hannchen, Jacob, and Rahel.



Gerson’s birth is recorded as somewhere between 1811 and 1815, depending on the source.  He married Eva Goldschmidt of Oberlistingen sometime before 1848, when their first child, Scholem, was born in Jesberg.  Two more children followed, Jacob in 1851 and Brendina (Branche in German—presumably named for Gerson’s mother) in 1853.

Gerson, Eva, and their three children left Germany and arrived in New York City on July 3, 1856.  On the ship manifest, Gerson listed his occupation as a butcher and their final destination as Philadelphia.

Gerson Katzenstein and family on 1856 ship manifest Year: 1856; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 164; Line: 1; List Number: 589

Gerson Katzenstein and family on 1856 ship manifest
Year: 1856; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 164; Line: 1; List Number: 589

Just a little over a month later, Eva gave birth to their fourth child, Perry, who was born in Philadelphia on August 19, 1856.  Eva had obviously been far into her pregnancy when they left Germany. Why did they leave then? Why did they go to Philadelphia? Was there another family member there? Had any of Gerson’s siblings preceded them? Or a cousin?[i] Did his wife Eva have family there?

I knew that Eva Goldschmidt had relatives already in the US.  Her uncle Simon Goldschmidt had arrived in 1845 with his wife Fradchen Schoenthal, who was the aunt of Eva’s future son-in-law, Isidore Schoenthal, my great-grandfather.  They were living in Pittsburgh in 1850.  In 1860, Simon, at that point a widower, was living with his son Jacob in Washington, Pennsylvania. But no one from the Goldschmidt family was living in Philadelphia in 1856 when Gerson and Eva and their family arrived, at least as far as I can tell.

I decided to look more closely at Gerson’s siblings to see whether they or their children had emigrated.  According to the work done by Barbara Greve and David Baron, Gerson’s half-brother Jacob married Sarchen Lion in 1829 in Jesberg, and they had nine children: Gelle (1829), presumably named for Jacob’s deceased mother, Michaele (1832), Schalum (1834); Rebecca (1826), Johanna (1838), Pauline (1841), Baruch (1844), Meier (1849), and Levi (1851).  From the Greve/Baron research, it appears that neither Jacob nor any of these children left Germany.

As for Gerson’s sister, Rahel, she married Jacob Katz, and they had six children: Blumchen (1838), Moses (1839), Meier (1842), Abraham (1852), Samuel (1853), and Sanchen (1854). Of these six children, only Abraham and Samuel emigrated from Germany.  According to the 1900 census, Abraham immigrated to the United States in 1872, many years after Gerson’s departure from Jesberg; he lived in Kentucky for many years.

Abraham J Katz and family 1900 US census Year: 1900; Census Place: Louisville Ward 5, Jefferson, Kentucky; Roll: 530; Page: 3A; Enumeration District: 0053; FHL microfilm: 1240530

Abraham J Katz and family 1900 US census, line 39
Year: 1900; Census Place: Louisville Ward 5, Jefferson, Kentucky; Roll: 530; Page: 3A; Enumeration District: 0053; FHL microfilm: 1240530

Samuel also emigrated in 1872, and also lived in Kentucky before moving and settling in Omaha, Nebraska. Rahel’s other four children did not leave Germany, although some of the next generation did. Both Samuel and Abraham thus arrived in the United States long after their uncle Gerson had emigrated in 1856, and they settled far from Philadelphia where their uncle was living.

Samuel Katz 1905 passport application National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, 1795-1905; Roll #: 669; Volume #: Roll 669 - 01 Feb 1905-28 Feb 1905

Samuel Katz 1905 passport application
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, 1795-1905; Roll #: 669; Volume #: Roll 669 – 01 Feb 1905-28 Feb 1905


The remaining sibling who survived to adulthood was Gerson’s half-sister, Hannchen. She married Marum Mansbach, who was from Maden, Germany, which is where Hannchen and Marum lived after marrying.  They had three children born in Maden: Gelle (later Henrietta) (b. 1833), Abraham (b. 1835), and Hendel (later Harry) (b. 1840).  Hannchen died the day Harry was born, so Marum was left with three young children including a newborn to raise on his own. These children and their father ended up in the US, but when had they emigrated? Were they the ones who led the way for Gerson, Eva, and their children in 1856?

I went back to look at the documents relating to Gerson that I’d collected years back, and I started with the ship manifest pictured above.  This time I noticed something I’d not seen before.  Right below the family of Gerson Katzenstein were the names of two more people: Heinemann Mansbach, a sixteen year old male who was a peddler and headed for “Libanon,” and Malchen Mansbach, a sixteen year old female headed to Baltimore.  Both were from Maden, Germany.

Ship manifest close up Year: 1856; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 164; Line: 1; List Number: 589

Ship manifest close up
Year: 1856; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 164; Line: 1; List Number: 589

I hadn’t seen any connection to the Katzensteins originally since the two Mansbachs were from Maden, not Jesberg, and because they were headed to different cities, not Philadelphia.  Plus I had no reason to see any connection to anyone named Mansbach.  But now, thanks to the Greve/Baron work, I knew that Gerson had a niece and nephew from Maden with the surname Mansbach.  Could Heinemann Mansbach be the person known later as Harry Mansbach? Could Malchen Mansbach be Henrietta, his older sister? She would have been 23 in 1856, not 16, but perhaps she, like so many others, had lied about her age.  Or could this be an entirely different Mansbach not even related to Gerson Katzenstein?

And was there anyone from the Mansbach family already in the US, and if so, where? Why was Malchen going to Baltimore and Heinemann to “Libanon”? And where is “Libanon”?  There is a Lebanon, Pennsylvania about 90 miles west of Philadelphia, so perhaps that is where Heinemann was headed.  But why? A search of the 1860 census for Lebanon, PA, for those born in Germany did not uncover anyone who appears to have been connected to the Mansbach/Katzenstein family.

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lebanon County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lebanon County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then I wondered about Hannchen Katzenstein and Marum Mansbach’s older son Abraham. Where was he when his brother was apparently sailing with their uncle Gerson? I searched for him and found an Abraham Mansbach on an 1852 ship manifest; no age was given, but he was a merchant from Hesse. The ship arrived in Baltimore on December 14, 1852. Gerson’s nephew Abraham Mansbach would have been seventeen in 1852.  This could have been him.


Abraham Mansbach on 1852 passenger list “Maryland, Baltimore Passenger Lists, 1820-1948,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 25 September 2015), 1820-1891 (NARA M255, M596) > 9 – Jun 2, 1852-Aug 29, 1853 > image 503 of 890; citing NARA microfilm publications M255, M596 and T844 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).


Abraham Mansbach 1852 immigration card “Maryland, Baltimore Passenger Lists Index, 1820-1897,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 17 June 2014), NARA M327, Roll 98, No. M462-M524, 1820-1897 > image 2545 of 3335; citing NARA microfilm publication M327 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).


So perhaps Abraham Mansbach, Gerson’s nephew, was the first of the Katzenstein clan to come to the US.  I don’t know whether he stayed in Baltimore or not, but by 1860, it appears that he was living in Philadelphia with his uncle Gerson and the other members of the Katzenstein family:

Gerson Katzenstein and family 1860 US census Year: 1860; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 13, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: M653_1163; Page: 519; Image: 105; Family History Library Film: 805163

Gerson Katzenstein and family 1860 US census
Year: 1860; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 13, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: M653_1163; Page: 519; Image: 105; Family History Library Film: 805163


Gerson was working as a salesman and had a personal estate worth $400.  He and Eva had had a fifth child, Hannah, who was a year old.  Their oldest child Scholem was now using the name Joe and was twelve years old; Jacob was nine, Brendina was six, and Perry was three.

Gerson Katzenstein in the 1859 Philadelphia directory

Gerson Katzenstein in the 1859 Philadelphia directory

Living with them were a seventeen year old clerk named Benjamin Levi and a 24 year old bookkeeper named David Frank.  In addition, there was a 25 year old salesman named Abraham Anspach; this could have been Abraham Mansbach, Gerson’s nephew.  Finally, there was a twenty year old domestic named “Marley Manspach;” perhaps this was the same person as the Malchen Mansbach who was listed on the ship manifest.

Closeup of Katzensteins and Mansbachs on 1860 census

Closeup of Katzensteins and Mansbachs on 1860 census

But was Malchen/Marley really the daughter named Henrietta who would have been 29 in 1860, not 20? And where was Heinemann/Harry living if not with his brother and uncle? It’s too bad that the 1860 census did not include information about the relationships among those living in a household.  That might have cleared some of this up.

But what did seem clear was that by 1860 my Katzenstein great-great-grandparents and the first four of their children were living in Philadelphia.  It also seemed likely that at least two of the children of Gerson’s half-sister Hannchen and her husband Marum Mansbach had also arrived in the United States by then.

But many questions remained.  Fortunately, David Baron helped me find some answers.


I admit that it’s been hard for me to get back into genealogy right now, but I am trying to find ways to deal with all my anger and grief, and while I look for ways of fighting back against Trumpism, I also am trying to find ways of clearing my head.  Genealogy has done that for me before, and I am hoping it will help me now. This post was written before the election, and now I am trying to work on the next one.


[i] I also went through the rest of the family report prepared by David Baron to see if any of the more distant Katzenstein or Katz relatives had arrived in the US before 1856.  There were none who arrived that early, although there were a few who were in the US by the 1890s and more who came after Hitler came to power.

Introducing The Katz and Katzenstein Families of Jesberg

According to the work done by David Baron, the earliest known Jesberg Katz/enstein ancestor was Bonum Katz ,who was also known as Pinchas ha Kohen.  Those two surnames actually share the same meaning and origins. The name “Katz” is an acronym for Kohen Tzedek or “priest of justice” in Hebrew and is another name like Cohen usually indicating that the father’s family descended from the Cohanim, the priestly tribe traced back to Aaron, Moses’ brother.  It is a fairly common Jewish surname as is Cohen.

All I know about Bonum Katz is that he died in Jesberg sometime after 1720 and that he had at least two children: a son named Schalum Ha Cohen, and a daughter named Jitl Katz.  I don’t know when or where Pinchas was born, what he did for a living, who he married, or when he died.

Deutsch: Reste der Allee im Prinzessingarten b...

Deutsch: Reste der Allee im Prinzessingarten bei Jesberg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nor do I know very much about his son Schalum, though I know a little more about him than I do about Pinchas.  According to the research done by David Baron, Schalum was born about 1720 in Jesberg and died there on February 3, 1774.  He married a woman named Brendelchen, who was born in Treysa, Germany, and who died on May 17, 1776, in Jesberg.

According to David Baron, Schalum and Brendelchen had at least two children: my 4th great-grandfather, Meier Katz, born sometime before 1744, in Jesberg, and his brother Schneuer ha Kohen, also known as Salomon Katz, born in Jesberg on November 11, 1752.[1]  Salomon had ten children with two different wives.

Barbara Greve disagrees with David Baron as to whether or not the Katzenstein line began with Bonum Katz; she believes that that line is separate from the Katzenstein line. Whereas David believes that Schalum and Brendelchen had two sons, Salomon and Meier, Barbara believes that Meier was not their son but part of a separate family.  I have at this point no way of knowing who is right and thus have included both views here for the moment. If Barbara is right, my Katzenstein line would begin with Meier Katz.

Meier Katz, my four times great-grandfather, only had one child: my third great-grandfather Abraham Schalom Ha Cohen, also known as Scholem Meier Katzenstein.  It is interesting that whereas Meier used the surname Katz, his son Scholem used Katzenstein.

Deutsch: Burg Jesberg

Deutsch: Burg Jesberg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Scholem Meier Katzenstein, my third great-grandfather, thus may have been the first in my direct line to use the name Katzenstein.  He was born in September 1769 and died on October 13, 1826, in Jesberg. He was an “Ellenwarenhandler,” according to Barbara Greve.  Thanks to the help of the German Genealogy group on Facebook, I learned that Ellenwarenhandler is a term that was used to describe someone who sold dry goods according to specific measurements.

Scholem Katzenstein was married twice, first to Gella Katz (Katten) in January 1795 in Jesberg.[2]  Gella died on January 31, 1808, after giving birth to her fourth child with Scholem, Gela.  The four children born to Gella and Scholem Meier were Hannchen (1798-1840), Mendel (1799-1799), Jacob (1803-1880), and Gela (1808-1808). Only Hannchen and Jacob survived infancy.

Scholem remarried on September 29, 1808; his second wife was my third-great-grandmother, Breine Katz Blumenfeld.  She was born in Momberg, Germany, and David Baron thought was she probably the daughter of Abraham Katz Blumenfeld, and Geidel Katz, who would thus be my fourth-great-grandparents.

Deutsch: Gilsabrücke in Jesberg

Deutsch: Gilsabrücke in Jesberg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scholem and Breine had four children.  The first was Freudchen, born on November 4 1809 in Jesberg; she died September 8, 1818 when she was not yet nine years old.

A second daughter, Rahel, was born on January 15, 1813, in Jesberg.  She married Jacob Katz, also of Jesberg; he and Rahel were cousins.  Jacob was the great-grandson of Bonum Katz; Rahel was the great-great-grandaughter of Bonum Katz. Thus, Rahel and Jacob were second cousins, once removed. Rahel and Jacob had five children.  Rahel died on December 7, 1861, in Jesberg.

(Since Barbara Greve believes that Bonum Katz was not the great-great-grandfather of Rahel, this statement may not be correct.  For the moment I will let it stand, subject to change.)

Scholem and Breine also had a son named Moses, who was born in Jesberg on November 4, 1814.  There was no further information about Moses on David’s family tree.

But most important to me was the remaining child of Scholem and Breine, Gerson Katzenstein, my great-great-grandfather.  Although most American records have Gerson’s birth year at roughly 1815, the German records show that he was born on August 11, 1811, making him the second oldest child and oldest son of Scholem and Breine.  Since Freudchen had died as a child, Gerson was effectively the oldest child, assuming that the Jesberg record as transcribed is more accurate than the US records.


So where do I begin to tell the story of this large family that extends back 300 years? I think it makes sense to start with my great-great-grandfather Gerson Katzenstein and his siblings.


[1] Given the seven year age gap between Salomon and Meier, it seems likely that Schalum and Brendelchen had other children who have not yet been found; the 1744 Jesberg census, for example, lists another son named Mendel, but no other information about him has been found.

[2] Despite the Katz surname, it does not appear that Gella was closely related to the Jesberg Katz/Katzenstein family as she was born in Halsdorf, another Hessian town; but given the marriage patterns in these families, there is likely some connection.

Herding Katz

The title of this post has a double meaning, as you will see.

As I wrote in my last post, about ten years ago when I first found the genealogy page about the Katzenstein and Goldschmidt family compiled by David Baron and Roger Cibella, David (who is their family genealogist) at that point had traced the Katzenstein family line back as far as Gerson Katzenstein, my great-great-grandfather.

Fast forward to 2012 when I began to explore my family’s history and discovered, with the help of others, Barbara Greve’s work, which took the Katzenstein line back yet another generation to Scholum Katzenstein, my three-times great-grandfather.  Now I could trace the family back as early as 1769 when Scholum was born in Jesberg, Germany.  I entered all the data into my Ancestry family tree and thought, “Well, that’s incredible.  But that must be as far as it can go, for sure.”

But I was wrong.  Just recently I spoke again to David Baron, and he provided me with his new 2016 update to the Katzenstein family tree.  Based on more recent data from Barbara Greve’s transcriptions of birth, marriage and death records from Jesberg and from photographs and transcriptions of headstones from the Jewish cemetery for Jesberg, David had been able to extrapolate even more information about the Katzenstein line.

Now he was able to go back three more generations. Scholum Katzenstein’s father was Meier Katz, my four-times great-grandfather.  Meier was the son of Scholum ha Kohen, who was born in about 1720 in Jesberg; he was my five-times great-grandfather; his wife was Brendelchen, my five-times great-grandmother.  Scholum’s father was Pinchas ha Kohen, also known as Bonum Katz.  He was my six-times great-grandfather.  Like all those who followed until Gerson emigrated, Pinchas had died in Jesberg, Germany.



(Update: As I described in a later post, there is disagreement between Barbara Greve and David Baron as to whether or not Bonum Katz/Pinchas ha Cohen was an ancestor of Meir Katz and thus my Katzenstein line.  I’ve left this post as written subject to reaching some resolution of that disagreement.)

Now that I know how deep my family’s roots are in Jesberg, Germany, I am even more excited that I will be there next year, seeing the place where my Katzenstein ancestors lived at least as far back as the early 1700s.  I will be able to see where they were born, where they lived, where they died, and where they are buried.

So I’ve done some research about this little town in Germany.

Location of Jesberg in district Schwalm-Eder-Kreis

Location of Jesberg in district Schwalm-Eder-Kreis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesberg is a small town located in the Schwalm-Eder-Kreis district of the state of Hesse in Germany.  It is about forty miles south of Breuna, where my Hamberg relatives lived, and about fifty miles south of Sielen, where my Schoenthal relatives lived.  According to Wikipedia, as of the end of 2015, the population of Jesberg was 2,347 people, and the town’s area is 19.22 square miles.

I could not find much of the history of Jesberg online, but Wikipedia reports that the Linsingen family built the Burg Jesberg, the castle, in 1241.  Beyond that and a reference to the Prinzessgarten built by Maximilian von Hessen, I could not anything else online that describes the general history of Jesberg.  I have written to the town to see if I can learn more about the history and the current economic and social aspects of the town.

Deutsch: Burg Jesberg, Gewölbe

Deutsch: Burg Jesberg, Gewölbe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was surprisingly able to find more information about Jesberg’s Jewish history from several different sources. (See below.) There was first a Jewish presence in Jesberg in 1664. In 1774, there were five Jewish families in Jesberg; two years later there were seven Jewish families.  At least one of those seven families had to have been members of my Katzenstein family.

Although Jews prayed together before 1832 in Jesberg, it wasn’t until that year that a synagogue was built.  It was a two-story building that accommodated 44 men and 41 women; there was also space for a school and an apartment for the teacher, who generally also acted as the cantor and schochet (Kosher butcher).

By 1835, there were 53 Jewish residents of Jesberg.  There was a mikveh and a cemetery, shared with a nearby community.  Jews were engaged in farming, horse and cattle trading, trading of goods, and various other trades.  Jesberg itself was a center for the cattle trade, and David Baron believes that many members of  the Katz/enstein family were engaged in the cattle business.

By 1871, the Jewish population had grown to 77 people, constituting 8% of the overall population of 960 people.  The Jewish population continued to grow, peaking at 89 people in 1905, which was more than 10% of the overall population of the town at that time. During that time period, there were also twenty to thirty children enrolled in the Jewish school.

As the twentieth century progressed, the Jewish population started to decline.  The school closed in 1922, and in 1931, there were only six children receiving religious instruction in Jesberg.  In 1932, the synagogue was renovated in honor of its 100th anniversary.  The Jewish population in 1933 when Hitler came to power was 53 people.

Between 1933, and 1938, 27 Jesberg Jews emigrated from Germany; twenty went to the United States, seven to Palestine.  Two families moved to Frankfurt. After the synagogue was destroyed in November 1938 during Kristallnacht, more Jews left.  But not enough.  At least 25 Jews from Jesberg were killed in the Holocaust, including a number of those from the extended Katz and Katzenstein families.

Jesberg was never a big town, and its Jewish population never exceeded much more than ten percent of the overall population.  But there was once a real Jewish community there: a synagogue, a school, a mikveh, a kosher butcher, and a cemetery. Today there is no Jewish community there.  Nevertheless, I want to see Jesberg just as I want to see Sielen, Breuna, Gau-Algesheim, Bingen, Schopfloch, and all the other towns where my ancestors lived in Germany.

English: Jesberg (Hessen) viewed from the castle

English: Jesberg (Hessen) viewed from the castle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fortunately for me, my last direct ancestor to have been born in Jesberg, Gerson Katzenstein, my great-great-grandfather, emigrated from Germany in the mid-19th century.   Because of that courageous move, my Katzenstein line has flourished.  Not the same can be said for the families of most of Gerson’s siblings and cousins.  More on that in posts to come.



The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust: A-J (Shmuel Spector, Geoffrey Wigoder,  eds., NYU Press, 2001) p. 573.  Found here.

Destroyed German Synagogues and Communities website, found here.

The Alemannia-Judaica site:

The Work is Never Done

It’s time to move on to the next family line, although there is still so much to do on those I’ve started.  As my most recent discoveries about the Brotman line reveal, there is always more to learn, more to find. I still have collateral lines to complete in the Schoenthal family—the families of my great-great-great-aunts, Mina Schoenthal Rosenberg and Fradchen (Fanny) Schoenthal Goldschmidt. In fact, however, Fanny’s family is intertwined with the next family’s story as well.

Because now it is time to turn to my remaining great-grandparent—my father’s maternal grandmother, Hilda Katzenstein Schoenthal, wife of Isidor Schoenthal and mother of my grandmother, Eva Schoenthal.  Hilda was the daughter of Gerson Katzenstein of Jesberg, Germany, and Eva Goldschmidt of Oberlistingen, Germany.  My grandmother Eva was presumably named for her grandmother, Eva Goldschmidt.

Hilda Katzenstein Schoenthal

Hilda Katzenstein Schoenthal

Just over a year ago, I wrote about the crazy twist in my family tree involving Eva Goldschmidt, my great-great-grandmother.  She was the daughter of Seligmann Goldschmidt, a brother of Simon Goldschmidt, who married Fanny Schoenthal, my great-great-grandfather’s brother.


Marriage of Simon Goldschmidt and Fradchen Schoenthal HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 669, S. 11

Marriage of Simon Goldschmidt and Fradchen Schoenthal
HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 669, S. 11

In other words, my great-grandmother Hilda was a Goldschmidt, and her husband, my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal, was the nephew of Fanny Schoenthal Goldschmidt and thus had cousins named Goldschmidt.  In fact, one of those cousins, Simon’s son Jacob Goldschmidt from his first marriage, was likely the first member of the extended family to settle in Washington, Pennsylvania, where my grandmother was born in 1904.   More on the Goldschmidt family tree twist here. And more on the Goldschmidt family to come.

But for now I am going to focus on the Katzenstein side of my great-grandmother Hilda’s family. As I’ve indicated before, when I first started looking into my family’s history, this was the one line that had already been extensively researched by others.  Long before I started my own research, David Baron and Roger Cibella had posted their research on an old Geocities page.  And who even remembers Geocities!? Roger is my third cousin, once removed. I had contacted David and Roger years ago when I somehow fell upon their website (I don’t remember how), and was amazed that they were able to trace my family back to Gerson Katzenstein, my great-great-grandfather.gerson-to-me


And although I was fascinated by their research, I didn’t pursue it further. I hadn’t yet been bitten by the genealogy bug.

Isidore, Hilda (Katzenstein), and Eva Schoenthal

Isidore, Hilda (Katzenstein), and Eva Schoenthal

Then when I was first bitten in 2012 and started to explore genealogy on my own, I found a family tree on Ancestry that included some of my Katzenstein relatives, and I contacted the tree owner, a woman named Jennifer with whom I’ve been in contact ever since as we continue to find ways that our families overlap.  Back in June 2012, Jennifer put me in touch with an entire group of people with ties to the Katzenstein family, and from that group I also received a copy of the extensive report on the Jesberg Katzenstein family that had been done by a researcher named Barbara Greve.

Barbara Greve was born in Berlin, Germany after World War II.  As an adult, she developed an interest in the history of the Jewish communities that had once lived in the Hesse region where she now lived and taught school. She began to research those communities and what had happened to the people who had lived in them, compiling extensive information and genealogies for those Jewish families, including the Katzensteins of Jesberg. In 2010, Greve received the esteemed Obermayer German Jewish History award.  You can read more about her here.

I was both awestruck and overwhelmed by Barbara Greve’s research.  At that point in time I was a total newbie and knew nothing about genealogy research or about my family’s history.  All I had done at that point was the fourteen day free trial on Ancestry, where I had randomly searched for any name I knew from my family’s history. She had traced the Katzenstein line back another whole generation before Gerson Katzenstein to Scholum Katzenstein, my three-times great-grandfather, and included not only Gerson and his descendants, but Gerson’s four siblings and many of their descendants.  Now I could trace the family back as early as 1769 when Scholum was born in Jesberg, Germany.


I had no idea that there were ancient records still in existence in places like Germany.  Seeing all those names and dates going back over 200 years was amazing to me.

My reaction to the Katzenstein research at that time in 2012 was—well, I guess it’s all done.  Nothing much left for me to do.  This was over a year before I started blogging.  I thought just collecting the names and dates was all I needed to do, and someone else had done it.  So I moved away from the Katzensteins and returned to the other lines where the research was not as complete.

And along the way I learned that genealogy is not just about collecting names and dates, although that is a big part of the work.  It’s also about trying to learn the stories of the lives of all those people behind the names and dates.  It’s about putting yourselves in their shoes and recognizing the legacy that we have all inherited from our ancestors.

HIlda (Katzenstein) Schoenthal, Eva (Schoenthal) Cohen, Eva HIlda Cohen, and Harold Schoenthal

HIlda (Katzenstein) Schoenthal, Eva (Schoenthal) Cohen, Eva HIlda Cohen, and Harold Schoenthal

Thus, I now return to the Katzensteins knowing that there is still work to be done.  There are stories to tell about these people, questions to ask, memories to honor. The work is never done.



Ernest Lion’s The Fountain at the Crossroad: An Unforgettable Book

I am very excited to announce that Ernest Lion’s memoir, The Fountain at the Crossroad, has now been published and is available on both as a paperback ($10.50) and an ebook ($2.99). [UPDATE: the Kindle version is now available!] It has been my honor and privilege to bring this book to the public with the permission and assistance of Ernest’s son Tom.  I did this because I found the book unforgettable and because I don’t want Ernest or his life to be forgotten.  Tom and I are not deriving any financial gain from sales of the book. All net proceeds received from sales of the book will be donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in memory of Ernest Lion.

I have written about some aspects of Ernest’s life on the blog as he was married to my cousin, Liesel Mosbach, granddaughter of Rosalie Schoenthal, my grandfather’s sister.  Ernest and Liesel were deported from Germany to Auschwitz in early 1943; Liesel was murdered there, but Ernest survived.

The story of what he endured and how he survived is moving and horrifying.  His determination and courage in the face of unimaginable suffering is a story of what it means to be human when you are surrounded by inhumanity. And Ernest’s escape from the Nazis kept me on the edge of my seat even though I knew that he would survive.

But the book is not only about Ernest’s experience during the Holocaust.  It also tells the story of his childhood growing up with his parents in Germany and of his early adulthood when he dreamed of being an actor.  In addition, Ernest wrote about his life after the war—how he rebuilt his life in the US, starting all over, scarred by his experiences, but nevertheless determined to have a full and meaningful life.

Ernest only started talking about his Holocaust experiences late in his life, and then he was persuaded to write his memoirs.  In doing so, he relived much of the pain, but also reached a very poignant conclusion about the value of his own life.

If you have an interest in history, in World War II, in the Holocaust, in fact, if you have an interest in human beings and what they are made of, you should read this book. You can find it here.

Mathilde’s Brothers: Wilhelm, Isidor, and Karl Gross

Mathilde Gross Mayer, my distant cousin and the author of Die Alte und Die Neue Welt, had three younger brothers in addition to her younger sister Anna about whom I wrote in my last post.  In this post, I will tell what happened to the three brothers. In order to learn a little more about them, I decided to use my little bit of German (along with a dictionary and Google Translate) to try and read some of Mathilde’s book myself, in particular Chapter 4, which is entitled “Geschwister,” or siblings.  I also relied on the family biography on the Arbeitskreis Judische Bingen website  in addition to traditional genealogy sources.

Family View Report for Bertha Seligmann-page-001

Wilhelm, the third child of Bertha Seligmann and Bernhard Gross, was born on April 14, 1872, in Bingen.  He married Sophie Hirsch, who was a relative of his sister Anna’s husband, Wilhelm Lichter, and they, like Anna and her family, settled in Stuttgart. They had a son, Bernhard, born in Stuttgart in 1905; he was presumably named for his grandfather Bernhard, who had died from carbon monoxide poisoning in 1901.  According to Mathilde’s book (pp. 48-50), Wilhelm suffered from mental illness and was institutionalized for many years, dying in a sanatorium in Wurttemberg in 1928.

When Hitler came to power in 1933, Wilhelm’s widow Sophie  and son Bernhard Gross immigrated to Rio de Janeiros, Brazil, where Bernhard became a very successful and well-known physicist. He was appointed to the staff of the National Institute of Technology in Rio and eventually became the director.  He also served on various scientific committees of the United Nations and traveled all over the world serving on those committees; later, he was the director of the Brazilian National Commission of Nuclear Energy.  You can read more about his life and career here and here and here.  He died at age 97 in 2002 in Brazil.

Mathilde’s second brother Isidor, whom I’ve mentioned before for his role as a contributor to Mathilde’s book, was born on September 25, 1873, in Bingen.  He married Klara Emrich, and like his sister and her husband, Anna (Gross) and Wilhelm Lichter, Isidor and Klara settled in Stuttgart where Isidor worked as a banker. Isidor and Klara had one child born in 1903 and presumably also named for his grandfather; his name was Hans Bernard Gross.  When Wilhelm’s widow and son, Sophie and Bernard Gross, left for Brazil in 1933, they took Isidor’s son Hans with them as well, according to the Arbeitskreis Judische-Bingen website.  Hans was at that time a law student.

Isidor and Klara were not yet ready to leave Germany in 1933.  As indicated by a September, 1937 ship manifest, Isidor and Klara sailed from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Southampton, England; the manifest shows that their last permanent residence was in Germany and that they were going to stay at a hotel in London, but that their “country of intended future permanent residence” was a foreign country outside of the United Kingdom.  (It looks like the far right column says “..o de Jan,” so I assume that Isidor and Klara had been visiting Hans in Rio.)

Isidor and Klara (Emrich) Gross on 1937 ship manifest The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists.; Class: BT26; Piece: 1138; Item: 48

Isidor and Klara (Emrich) Gross on 1937 ship manifest
The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists.; Class: BT26; Piece: 1138; Item: 48

The immigration cards below indicate that Isidor and Klara moved to Brazil in June 1939:


Brasil, Cartões de Imigração, 1900-1965,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 10 November 2014), Group 4 > 004914427 > image 44 of 203; Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (National Archives, Rio de Janeiro).


Brasil, Cartões de Imigração, 1900-1965,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 10 November 2014), Group 4 > 004914427 > image 44 of 203; Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (National Archives, Rio de Janeiro).


Brasil, Cartões de Imigração, 1900-1965,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 10 November 2014), Group 1 > 004551542 > image 34 of 203; Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (National Archives, Rio de Janeiro)


Brasil, Cartões de Imigração, 1900-1965,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 10 November 2014), Group 1 > 004551542 > image 34 of 203; Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (National Archives, Rio de Janeiro)

They both lived the rest of their lives in Brazil, as did their son Hans.  Isidor died and is buried in Petropolis in 1950; Klara is also buried there; she died in 1969.  Hans died in Rio de Janeiro in 1979.

(Thank you to Andre Convers of the LatAmSIG on for finding the information about Klara and Isidor’s deaths and burial for me; they are listed in Egon and Frieda Wolff’s book, Sepulturas de Israelitas Il, p.100; Sophie Gross, widow of Wilhelm Gross, is listed on p. 101 and also buried in Petropolis, but her date of death says “19.5” so I assume it was partially illegible. There are also several people named Emrich on p. 100, presumably relatives of Klara Emrich Gross.)

Egon and Frieda Wolf, Sepulturas de Israelitas II, p. 100 (Petropolis Municipal Cemetery)

Egon and Frieda Wolf, Sepulturas de Israelitas II, p. 100 (Petropolis Municipal Cemetery)


Egon and Frieda Wolf, Sepulturas de Israelitas II, p. 101 (Petropolis Municipal Cemetery)

Unfortunately, the youngest child and third son of Bertha Seligmann and Bernhard Gross was not as fortunate as his older brother Isidor or his sister Mathilde.  Karl Gross was born on March 6, 1876, in Bingen, Germany.  According to the Arbeitskreis Judische Bingen page dedicated to Karl, he married Agnes Neuberger, and they had two daughters.  Bertha was born in 1906 and presumably named for Karl’s mother, Bertha Seligmann Gross, who had died with her husband in 1901 from carbon monoxide poisoning; sadly, Bertha suffered brain damage at birth and required special care.

A second daughter, Ilse, was born in 1921, after Karl returned from service in the Germany army during World War I. He had served from August, 1914, through the end of the war and was honored several times for his service.

After returning from the war, Karl worked in the Gross family winemaking business.  Two years Hitler’s rise to power, he and Agnes decided to send fourteen year old Ilse to the International School in Geneva, Switzerland in 1935. In 1938, when she was just seventeen, Ilse left Switzerland for England.

Karl and Agnes, however, stayed in Germany to be near their other daughter, Bertha. In December, 1940, the German Reich required that Bertha be admitted to the Israelite Hospital and Sanatorium in Bendorf-Sayn, also known as the Jacoby Institute. It had been founded almost a century before as a mental institution for Jewish patients.  Its role was altered terribly by the Nazis.

According to this website,

During the first years of National Socialism the Jacoby Institute was left in relative peace; probably as an acknowledgement of the fact that it was an important employer for Sayn and the region. ….A circular decree issued by the Ministry of the Interior on 12th December 1940 decreed that “mentally ill Jews” were only to be accommodated in Sayn because “a cohabitation of Germans and Jews is not acceptable in any length of time” (illustr. 7). The option of concentrating all the patients in one location served as preparation of their deportation. In the course of five transports (between March and November 1942) 573 people were taken to the death camps in the East.

Bertha Gross was one of those 573 people; she was deported to a concentration camp in Izbica, Poland, where she died.

Karl and Klara Gross also were killed in the Holocaust. They were sent to Theriesenstadt on July 27, 1942, where Karl worked as a stretcher-bearer until he died on February 1, 1944.  In October, 1944, Klara was deported from Theriesenstadt to Auschwitz where she was murdered.


Stolpersteins for Karl Gross, Agnes Gross, and Bertha Gross

Their younger daughter Ilse, however, survived, and like so many in this family, she ultimately thrived. As described in her obituary, after leaving Switzerland for England in 1938, at first she worked as an unpaid mother’s helper.  After England was at war with Germany, however, Ilse, along with many other Jewish refugees from the Nazis, was imprisoned as an “enemy alien” in an internment camp on the Isle of Man, according to her obituary. 

Ilse, who had been writing poetry in German since she was a teenager, began writing short stories in English while in the camp and continued her writing after she was released in 1941.  In 1948, she married Kit Barker, a British artist.  Ilse began writing under the pseudonym Kathrine Talbot and published a number of well-regarded works, including three novels, many articles, and short stories.  She died in 2006, and her obituary in The Guardian includes an extensive description not only of her life but of her work.  “Ilse Barker,” The Guardian (June 2, 2006), located here.

Thus, Mathilde Gross Mayer lost both her sister Anna and her brother Karl in the Holocaust, as well as their spouses, Wilhelm Richter and Klara Emrich, respectively; her niece Bertha also was a victim of the Nazis.  Her brother Wilhelm had died years before, so Mathilde’s only surviving sibling after 1944 was her brother Isidor, who had immigrated to Brazil along with his wife and son and Wilhelm’s widow and son and thus lived a continent away from where Mathilde was in New Rochelle, New York.

Although Mathilde was fortunate that all of her children and grandchildren and almost all her nieces and nephews had survived the Holocaust, there is no overstating the tragedy she endured—from the loss of her parents in 1901, the loss of her husband in 1934, the uprooting of her children, grandchildren, and herself from their homeland, and the cruel deaths of a number of her family members at the hands of the Nazis.

Perhaps now you can better understand why I want to be able to read her book and get a feel for the real person who endured so much and lived so long.