A Genealogy Story for Hanukkah: Looking for Light in the Darkness

Today is the first day of Hanukkah, a holiday that reminds us to find the light and hope even in the darkest of times. And in that spirit, this is a story of three children who lost their mother as children and then their father as young adults. Yet they found the strength to go on and survive the Holocaust. They looked for the light and hope despite the darkness.

Selig and Clementine Goldschmidt’s third daughter Hedwig Goldschmidt Cramer had five children with her husband Hermann Hirsch Cramer. Their oldest daughter Rosa Cramer married Arthur Abraham Oppenheimer on May 16, 1904, in Frankfurt. Arthur was born August 25, 1879, to William Oppenheimer and Ida Jettchen Cramer.

From Arnold S. Oppenheimer, The Story of My Life (2007)

I have had the great pleasure this week of talking with Arthur and Rosa’s grandson, my fifth cousin Arthur, who told me that Rosa and Arthur were first cousins, Ida Jettchen Cramer being the sister of Hirsch Hermann Cramer. Their parents were at first opposed to them marrying because they were first cousins. But they were deeply in love and insisted on being together.

Rosa Cramer marriage to Arthur Oppenheimer, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 903, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Marriages, 1849-1930

Rosa and Arthur had four children. Twins were born on March 3, 1905, in Frankfurt, William1 and Gertrud.2 Then Arnold Selig Oppenheimer was born on June 15, 1907,3 and finally Edith was born on June 13, 1911.4

Arnold Selig Oppenheimer wrote a wonderful book, The Story of My Life,5 which his son Arthur shared with me. It is filled with memories of his childhood and adult life as well as many photographs of the family. I wish I could add more of the rich details of his life described in the book, but for now I will include just some of those details as well as a few of his childhood pictures, including these two of the three older Oppenheimer children and, in the one on the right, their mother Rosa.

From Arnold S. Oppenheimer, The Story of My Life (2007)

And here is a fabulous photograph of Hedwig Goldschmidt Cramer with her husband Hermann Cramer, their daughter Rosa, and her husband Arthur, and their four children:

From Arnold S Oppeheimer, The Story of My Life (2007)

Here is one of all four children taken in 1916:

William, Gertrud, Arnold, and Edith Oppenheimer, c. 1916. From Arnold S. Oppenheimer, The Story of My Life (2007)

Those children were still quite young when their mother Rosa Cramer Oppenheimer died on December 24, 1918,  just two years after this photograph was taken; she was only 37 years old. According to her grandson Arthur, she died from the flu during the terrible epidemic of 1918.

Rosa Cramer Oppenheimer death record, Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 903; Signatur: 10794
Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Deaths, 1851-1958

Arnold wrote this about his mother’s death:6

When she became ill with influenza in December 1918, she knew that her life would soon come to an end. I remember her on her last morning when she called us in, one after the other and talked a little and bensched [blessed] us. 

It’s just heartbreaking to imagine how those children must have felt, saying goodbye to their mother.

Rosa’s widower Arthur Oppenheimer was left to raise the four young children on his own, though there was plenty of support from the extended family and from the nannies and housekeepers, as described in Arnold’s book. Arnold wrote that his father never fully recovered after Rosa’s death—that he became more serious and rarely laughed. But that he was a loving and caring father who tried to be both father and mother to his four children.7

Then three years later, sixteen-year-old William Oppenheimer died from meningitis on December 31, 1921; family lore is that he had a bad headache, but it was Shabbat, and the family was told that it would be safe to wait another day. Unfortunately, William died later that day, although it would seem that especially back then before antiobiotics, little could have been done even if he’d gotten medical attention sooner. Arnold described his brother William as an excellent student and a gifted artist.8

William Oppenheimer death record, Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 903; Signatur: 10857, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Deaths, 1851-1958

The remaining three children were left orphans when their father Arthur died on March 22, 1925, just seven years after Rosa and four years after William. According to his son Arnold, Arthur died from misdiagnosed appendicitis. Arthur had been a banker and stockbroker as well as a synagogue leader and treasurer, who, according to his son Arnold, was “highly esteemed…and known for his just attitude.”9

Arthur Abraham Oppenheimer death record, Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 903; Signatur: 10907, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Deaths, 1851-1958

It’s hard to fathom how the three remaining children—Gertrud, Arnold, and Edith—coped with so much loss. They were twenty, eighteen, and fourteen, and had lost their mother, their brother, and their father.

But Arnold’s son Arthur said that his father in fact was able to live quite a good life in the 1920s—traveling around the world, owning two horses and a sports car, studying in Frankfurt and Berlin, and generally enjoying the life of a wealthy young man in his twenties. Photographs of the extended Goldschmidt family in Arnold Oppenheimer’s book demonstrate that the children had a very large network of relatives who must have provided a sense of comfort and safety.

Those children then lost their grandmother Hedwig. Hedwig died on November 19, 1934. She was 73 and was survived by her four sons and her grandchildren.

Hedwig Goldschmidt Cramer death record. Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 903; Signatur: 11024, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Deaths, 1851-1958

And then the Oppenheimer siblings had to face the rise of the Nazis.

Rosa’s two daughters both ended up in Palestine. Gertrud  Oppenheimer had decided to become a teacher against the resistance of her family, who believed that women should not work. But Gertrud persisted and ended up teaching in the Jewish elementary school in Frankfurt. Gertrud married Rabbi Bernhard Joel in 1928. As her brother Arnold wrote in his autobiography, Bernhard was the brother of Edith Joel, the housekeeper for the children who was like a surrogate mother to them. Bernhard had immigrated to Palestine in 1924 and was then a librarian at the Jewish National and University Library. After he and Gertrud married in Frankfurt, they returned to Palestine, where they had four children.10

Gertrude Oppenheimer marriage record to Bernhard Joel, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 903, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Marriages, 1849-1930

Gertrude (Ruth in Israel) died on November 15, 1979; her husband Bernhard (Issachar in Israel) died April 14, 1977. They were survived by their children and grandchildren.11

Gertrud’s younger sister Edith also immigrated to Palestine. Like her sister Gertrud, she also pursued a career and went to Stuttgart to become a nurse. There she met a second cousin of her brother-in-law Bernhard Joel and his sister Edith Joel, a doctor named Ernst Joel. They were married in 1932 and settled in Stuttgart.12

I was able to find the Palestinian immigration records for Edith and Ernst, and according to those records, they arrived in Palestine on April 24, 1933, just a few months after Hitler had been elected Chancellor of Germany. My cousin Arthur told me that after Ernst was told by a patient that he could no longer be his doctor because he was Jewish, Ernst told Edith they had to get out of Germany as soon as possible. They must have been among the earliest Jews to see the horrific handwriting on the wall.

Edith and Ernst had three children born in Palestine/Israel in the 1930s. Ernst died in Israel in 1980 and Edith in 2002.13

Ernst Ludwig Joel and Edith Hanna Oppenheimer, Palestine Immigration File, Israel Archives, https://www.archives.gov.il/en/archives/Archive/0b07170680034dc1/File/0b07170680ebc8ca

Rosa’s son Arnold Oppenheimer escaped to England, where he had better business prospects and which he liked better than other countries he’d visited. After clearing numerous bureaucratic hurdles, he was able to immigrate in the spring of 1936, but made several trips back to Germany to help family members emigrate, including one time that he narrowly escaped being arrested by the Gestapo. On August 1, 1939 he married Dorothy Duschinsky, whom he met at a Hanukkah party of a mutual friend in 1937.  She was born in London on March 27, 1911, to Charles Duschinsky, a rabbi and scholar from Hungary, and Blanche Barnett. By marrying Arnold, who was considered an “enemy alien,” Dorothy forfeited her British citizenship.14

But Arnold and Dorothy soon found themselves separated when Arnold was sent to a British internment camp for being an enemy alien soon after World War II started in September, 1939. Arnold, then working as a wool merchant, was first sent to an internment camp in southern England; he was released from that camp six months later, but then in May 1941, he was sent to the internment camp on the Isle of Man. Meanwhile, Dorothy was living with her brother Arthur in Hendon, working as a psychologist.15 Arnold wrote in detail about both the hardships and the more positive aspects of his internship in his book.16

Arnold Oppenheimer internment card UK, The National Archives; Kew, London, England; HO 396 WW2 Internees (Aliens) Index Cards 1939-1947; Reference Number: HO 396/189
189: German Internees Released in UK 1939-1942: Nels-Orde, Ancestry.com. UK, World War II Alien Internees, 1939-1945

Arnold was finally released in 1942.  Arnold and Dorothy continued to live in England after the war. They had two children, one of whom is my fifth cousin Arthur. Arnold worked in the antique jewelry business for many years before retiring at the age of 82 in 1989.  Dorothy died November 1, 1976, in London; she was 65.17 Arnold outlived her by 35 years.  After having heart surgery at the age of 92, he moved to Israel to be closer to his daughter.18 He died at 104 in Israel on September 25, 2011.19

Thus, Rosa Cramer’s three orphaned children all managed to survive not only the tragedy of losing their parents and brother when they were still young, but also the Holocaust. They found lives for themselves in their new homelands and are today survived by their children and grandchildren all over the world.

So when we are all feeling down and discouraged by COVID and quarantining, it’s important to remember that others have endured terrible ordeals and found light in the darkness. As we light the Hanukkah candles or celebrate whatever holiday traditions we observe that bring light to the darkness this time of year, let’s keep our eyes on the light at the end of the tunnel.

Happy Hanukkah!


  1.  William Oppenheimer, Gender: männlich (Male), Age: 16, Birth Date: abt 1905
    Death Date: 31 Dez 1921 (31 Dec 1921), Death Place: Frankfurt, Hessen (Hesse), Deutschland (Germany), Civil Registration Office: Frankfurt , Certificate Number: 7
    Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 903; Signatur: 10857, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Deaths, 1851-1958 
  2.  Gertrud Karoline Oppenheimer, Gender: weiblich (Female), Age: 23, Birth Date: 3 Mrz 1905 (3 Mar 1905), Marriage Date: 22 Mrz 1928 (22 Mar 1928)
    Marriage Place: Frankfurt am Main, Hessen (Hesse), Deutschland (Germany)
    Civil Registration Office: Frankfurt am Main, Spouse: Bernhard Joel, Certificate Number: 218, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 903, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Marriages, 1849-1930 
  3.  Arnold S Oppenheimer, Gender: Male, Nationality: German, Birth Date: 15 Jun 1907, Birth Place: Frankfurt, Germany, Internment Place: Isle of Man, Discharge Date: 15 May 1941, The National Archives; Kew, London, England; HO 396 WW2 Internees (Aliens) Index Cards 1939-1947; Reference Number: HO 396/189, Ancestry.com. UK, World War II Alien Internees, 1939-1945 
  4. Edith Oppenheimer Joel, Palestinian Immigration File, Israel Archives, found at https://www.archives.gov.il/en/archives/Archive/0b07170680034dc1/File/0b07170680ebc8ca 
  5. Arnold S. Oppenheimer, The Story of My Life (2007, Jerusalem). 
  6. Oppenheimer, note 5, at p. 1. 
  7. Oppenheimer, note 5, at p. 2. 
  8. Oppenheimer, note 5, at p. 3 
  9. Oppenheimer, note 5, pp. 1-2, 61. 
  10. Oppenheimer, note 5, at p. 2. 
  11. Oppenheimer, note 5, at p.3. 
  12. Oppenheimer, note 5, at p. 3. 
  13. Oppenheimer, note 5, at p.4. 
  14. Oppenheimer, note 5, at pp. 69-70. Arnold S Oppenheimer, Registration Quarter: Jul-Aug-Sep, Registration District: Marylebone, Inferred County: Middlesex, Spouse: Dorothy Duschinsky, Volume Number: 1a, Page Number: 2673, General Register Office; United Kingdom; Volume: 1a; Page: 2673, Ancestry.com. England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1916-2005 
  15. Dorothy Oppenheimer, Gender: Female, Marital Status: Married, Birth Date: 27 Mar 1911, Residence Year: 1939, Address: 11 Residence Place: Hendon, Middlesex, England, Occupation: Psychologist Intelligence Tests, Line Number: 27, Schedule Number: 76, Sub Schedule Number: 1, Enumeration District: BKCV, Borough: Hendon
    Registration district: 130/3, Household Members Age, Dorothy Oppenheimer 28, Arthur Dusckinskyh 27, The National Archives; Kew, London, England; 1939 Register; Reference: RG 101/822C, Ancestry.com. 1939 England and Wales Register 
  16. Oppenheimer, note 4, at pp. 73-75. See also The National Archives; Kew, London, England; HO 396 WW2 Internees (Aliens) Index Cards 1939-1947; Reference Number: HO 396/236, Description Piece Number Description: 236: Dead Index (Wives of Germans etc) 1941-1947: Nicht-Plunn, Ancestry.com. UK, World War II Alien Internees, 1939-1945. Duschinsky Family, Class: RG14; Piece: 32, Enumeration District: 32, Ancestry.com. 1911 England Census. Dorothy Duschinsky, Registration Year: 1911, Registration Quarter: Apr-May-Jun, Registration District: Paddington, Inferred County: London, Volume: 1a, Page: 14, FreeBMD. England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915 
  17. Dorothy Oppenheimer, Death Age: 65, Birth Date: 27 Mar 1911, Registration Quarter: Oct-Nov-Dec, Registration District: Hendon, Inferred County: Greater London
    Volume: 13, Page: 0495, General Register Office; United Kingdom; Volume: 13; Page: 0495, Ancestry.com. England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1916-2007. Dorothy Oppenheimer, Death Date: 1 Nov 1976, Death Place: London, Probate Date: 15 Aug 1977, Probate Registry: London, Ancestry.com. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995 
  18. Oppenheimer, note 5, at pp. 85-86. 
  19.  MyHeritage at https://www.myheritage.com/research/record-1-317197441-7-501665/arnold-selig-oppenheimer-in-myheritage-family-trees 

Holiday Wishes

I will be taking a short break from blogging until early 2020. So let me wish all of my family, friends, and loyal readers a wonderful holiday season. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, or Christmas, or Kwanzaa, or all of them, or something else, or nothing at all, we all need ways to find light and hope in the darkest time of the year, a year that for many of us has been a dark year. I will not miss 2019. May 2020 bring light, love, and hope around the world and to all of you.

On that note, I will once again share one of my favorite quotations.

 

 

 

Lightness in the Dark

snowmen 2

It’s that time of year again.  It’s so cold out, and the roads can be slippery, sometimes with hard-to-see black ice.  I tend to stay safely inside, enjoying the warmth and comforts of my home.  But the dark and cold can be oppressive, and so I am glad that there are occasions to bring light and joy into our lives during this time of year.  It doesn’t help that my last three posts have been rather depressing, no pun intended.  Reading and writing about the travails of the Nusbaum clan in the 1870s has not been uplifting, to say the least, though it has been interesting.

So I am grateful that Hanukah is starting tonight and that we get to light candles and bring more light into our homes.   The candles kindle memories of my children lighting the menorah over the years, and now they enhance the images of my grandsons’ faces as we light the candles.  The songs, the dreidels, the latkes—all signify joyfulness to me on a personal level and also triumph over all kinds of darkness on a historical and universal level.

 

And I am grateful also for the Christmas lights.  Yes, the Christmas lights.  It may not be my holiday, but the lights and trees and wreaths and music are uplifting as well.  They also brighten these cold and dark days.  I may not have Santa Claus coming to my house, but I can still share the excitement that so many children (and their parents) feel about his upcoming visit down their chimneys.

English: Christmas lights Nederlands: Kerstver...

English: Christmas lights Nederlands: Kerstverlichting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I am also grateful that I will be getting a break from the ice and cold (though not the darkness) when we head out of town later this week.  The thought of a break from scarves, gloves, hats, and heavy coats is indeed enough to make me smile.

So the blog may be quiet for a bit as I enjoy a short escape from the New England winter.  I have one more post about the 1870s that I will finish before the end of the week, and perhaps I will have a few thoughts to post while away, but the research will have to wait.

Let me take this chance then to wish you all a wonderful holiday season—whether you celebrate Hanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, something else, or no holiday at all.  Enjoy any and all of the lights that diminish the darkness of these short winter days.  And may 2015 bring us all good health, happiness, and peace.  I still believe that peace is possible, despite all the darkness of all kinds that surrounds us all.


Empire State Building exhibiting decorative li...

Empire State Building exhibiting decorative lights for both Chanukah and Christmas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Miracles

There has been more than enough media attention paid to the fact that Hanukkah coincides with Thanksgiving this year.  There have been menu suggestions, historical comparisons, mathematical calendar explanations, and rabbinic messages regarding the coincidence.  It’s all been fun and interesting, but in the end nothing too serious since it only will happen this year for any of us living today and for hundreds of generations to come.  (Apparently the next time it happens will be almost 80,000 years from now.)  It’s a once in many lifetimes coincidence with no deeper hidden meaning.  And yet here I am, looking for meaning.

Aside from planning to have latkes with the turkey, I hadn’t given this whole thing much thought myself, but now that the two events are about to occur, I have been thinking about what this means to me.  Both holidays celebrate freedom and specifically freedom of religion.  The Pilgrims left England and came to the New World to be able to practice their own form of Christianity; the Maccabees fought the Syrian army in order to be able to practice Judaism. When we light the menorah, we not only celebrate the miracle of the oil lasting eight days. we also celebrate the miracle that we have survived—not only then, but every time before and after that time when some army, some nation, some maniac tried to exterminate the Jewish people.  It is indeed a miracle that we, the Jewish people, are here.

Although Thanksgiving has no particular miracle associated with it (aside from the miracle that at least for a short time, the settlers were not trying to kill the natives who lived here first), we celebrate the miracle of America—its bounty, its beauty, and its identity as a place of refuge not only for the Pilgrims, but for all the immigrants who came later to escape religious, political or economic oppression.  This year when we eat the turkey and light the candles, I will be grateful not only for what I have now, but for all those who came before me.  I will think of Joseph and Bessie and be grateful for their courage and determination.  It is in many ways a miracle that they were able to come here with their children and survive with few resources or skills other than hard work, determination, hope, and love.  I am so thankful for all they did and for everything their descendants—my grandparents and my parents —have done to provide me with the life I live today.  It is indeed a miracle that we, all of our family members, all of the descendants, are here.

Of course, this year I am also grateful to have found all of you, my long-lost cousins, and for all my relatives everywhere.  Enjoy this crazy coincidence of Thanksgivukah in whatever way you celebrate it, and let’s hope for continuing miracles in our lives and the lives of all people everywhere.  It is indeed a miracle that we are here.