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.