Max Goldschmidt: A Survivor

As seen in my last few posts, although my cousin Betty Goldschmidt and her husband (and our cousin) Jacob Goldschmidt had eight children, I only have adult records for one of them, their son Berthold. Berthold and his wife Mathilde Freudenstein had seven children, but their son Siegfried Goldschmidt was the only child of the seven to live long enough to marry and have a child of his own; Siegfried and his wife Frieda Fanny Pless had one child, a son Max born November 30, 1924, in Frankfurt, Germany.

Siegfried and his wife were among the six million murdered in the Holocaust, but their young son Max, the last known remaining descendant of Betty and Jacob, survived. Max was only eight years old when Hitler came to power and not yet eighteen when his parents were deported in 1942. How had he survived? At first all I knew was that he had immigrated to the US from Israel in 1948, but thanks  to the generous assistance of Elan Oren of the Tracing the Tribe group on Facebook, I have been able to piece together much of the story of Max’s life.

Elan located Max’s file in the Israeli archives, which revealed that Max had escaped to Switzerland at some point during the Nazi era. After the war, Max sailed on the ship Plus Ultra from Barcelona, Spain, to Haifa, arriving in Haifa on June 19, 1945.

From Max Goldschmidt Israeli immigration file: Ship manifest for the Plus Ultra from Barcelona to Haifa, arriving June 19, 1945. Max is on line 94. http://www.archives.gov.il/en/archives/?fbclid=IwAR1y3d5C1X3pi2R1_jyX0MAbgeHLQoNhL6TM7F5P7ZT7CE4sFJgPPuql11A#/Archive/0b0717068002258e/File/0b071706856dcab1

Max’s file in the Israeli archives did not reveal how or when he got to Switzerland or to Barcelona, but Max’s A-file—his US immigration file—from the US Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) revealed further details.1 According to a German police certificate included in Max’s application to the US Consul in Palestine for an immigration visa in 1947, Max lived in Warburg, Germany, from April 1927 until September 1936. That is also where his parents were residing during that time, according to records  at Yad Vashem.

On Max’s 1947 US visa application he stated that he’d immigrated to Switzerland in January 1939. He was only fourteen at that time. He lived in Basel, Switzerland, from January, 1939, until May, 1945, when he must then have left for Barcelona and ultimately Palestine. As for how he escaped from Germany in 1939, Elan Oren suggested that a Zionist youth group such as HeHalutz  might have helped him get out of Germany.

After arriving in Haifa, Max was transferred to Atlit, a detention camp built by the British, who were then in control of what was then Palestine. With the help of Elan Oren and his translation of Max’s Israeli naturalization file, I learned that Max left Atlit and first lived in Petach Tikvah and then moved to Tel Aviv to live with the Laks family. (More on them in a bit.)

Document that states that Max moved from Petah Tikvah to Tel Aviv where the Laks family lived. Translated by Elan Oren. http://www.archives.gov.il/en/archives/?fbclid=IwAR1y3d5C1X3pi2R1_jyX0MAbgeHLQoNhL6TM7F5P7ZT7CE4sFJgPPuql11A#/Archive/0b0717068002258e/File/0b071706856dcab1

But Max decided not to settle permanently in Israel. Max left Haifa on January 29, 1948, and arrived in New York on February 14, 1948. The manifest lists Max’s occupation as a gardener, his primary languages as English and Hebrew, his last residence as Tel Aviv, Palestine, and his birthplace as Frankfort [sic], Germany.

Max Goldschmidt passenger manifest, Year: 1948; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 7546; Line: 19; Page Number: 197, Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957

The second page of the manifest lists a friend named Pinil Laks as the contact person from Max’s prior residence of Tel Aviv and an uncle “Bernh Laks” of Blackwood, New Jersey, as the person he was going to join in the United States.

So who were the Laks? Bernhard Laks, also known as Bernhard Lachs, Berek Laks, and Bernard Laks, was married to Rosa Pless,2 who must have been a sister of Frieda Pless Goldschmidt, Max’s mother, since Max identified Bernard as his uncle and Rosa as his aunt on various documents.  Moreover, Bernard Laks (then spelled Bernhard Lachs) was one of the witnesses on the marriage record for Max’s parents, Siegfried and Frieda.

Bernhard Lachs as witness on the marriage record of Siegfried Goldschmidt and Frieda Fanny Pless. Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 903
Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Marriages, 1849-1930

When Max arrived at Ellis Island on February 14, 1948, he was denied admission to the United States because he did not have in his possession the immigration visa that he had been granted by the US consul in Palestine on November 17, 1947. A hearing was held on February 18, 1948 before a Board of Special Inquiry, at which Max testified that he had last seen his visa on the day he embarked from Haifa while at customs, that he had left it with his other papers in his baggage, and that while at sea he’d discovered that the visa was missing.

Max also testified that he had no relatives living outside of the US and no money. He stated that he was coming to the US in order to join his relatives, the Laks family of Blackwood, New Jersey, and that his uncle Bernard Laks had paid for his ticket from Haifa. In addition, Max presented an affidavit from Bernard and Rosa Laks in which they, as “his sole surviving relatives,” promised to “receive and care for [Max] and …not permit him to became a public charge.”

Although the Board of Special Inquiry found that Max had a valid Palestinian passport with a stamp indicating that a visa had been issued to him by the US Consulate in Jerusalem, they concluded that he was not admissible without possession of the actual visa. On February 20, 1948, however, the Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization (INS) recommended that the decision to deport Max be deferred for ninety days to give him time to locate the visa or to obtain a certified copy.

On March 3, 1948, the ninety day stay was granted, and Max was also granted parole during that period, meaning that on March 4, 1948, he was allowed to enter the country though he was required to report in writing on a monthly basis to the Deportation and Parole Section at Ellis Island. Max had thus been detained for eighteen days at Ellis Island before his parole.

On March 18, 1948, his attorney wrote to INS to notify them that the American Consulate in Jerusalem had confirmed that Max had been granted a visa on November 17, 1947, and that the Visa Division in Washington, DC, had been so notified.  On April 8, 1948, the State Department submitted a certified copy of the visa. However, it was not until four months later on August 11, 1948, that an order was entered to re-open Max’s case. A new hearing was scheduled for September 15, 1948.  Fortunately, Max had better luck at this hearing, and he was granted legal admission into the country on September 15, 1948, more than seven months after arriving at Ellis Island on February 14, 1948. (I assume Max had received extensions of the 90 day parole period initially granted in March, 1948.)

Then began the next chapter of his life and more experiences with the slowly grinding wheels of American bureaucracy. He started the process of becoming a US citizen on October 1, 1948, just two weeks after entering the country officially.  But before Max’s papers could be processed, he was inducted into the US Army on January 1, 1949, the very day the government had scheduled a meeting to discuss his citizenship application. He amended his address to reflect that he was now stationed at Fort Dix in New Jersey as a member of the 9th Infantry Division. He was honorably discharged from the army on November 2, 1951, and on March 11, 1955, a certification of his service was issued to INS. His formal petition for naturalization was filed on October 14, 1955, with Bernard and Rosa Laks attesting to his character.

On January 24, 1956, the government received reports from the army that on January 2, 1951, while serving in the army, Max had “stated in substance … that if the Army is an example of democracy, he would take communism” and that on June 4, 1951 while giving a training lecture to his unit, “he introduced the Crusades as an illustrative example in this history of warfare, and then proceeded to interject his own thoughts on the persecution of Jews by Christians at the time of the Crusades, allegedly making rather strong remarks about the Roman Catholic Church. [Max] has at various times in the past tried to turn a topic of conversation into ‘making a case’ for Zionism.”

I suppose Max took the meaning of the First Amendment more literally than the US Army thought appropriate. Whether this had any impact on his citizenship application is not clear. On a page of examiner’s notes dated November 9, 1956, the examiner gave Max a final rating of “deny,” but then that was crossed out, and on May 17, 1957, his application was granted and he was finally issued a certificate of naturalization; he also changed his name to Goldsmith at that time. Despite his service in the US Army, it had taken almost eight years to complete the process of becoming a citizen.

Two months later in July 1957, Max married Shirley Larve in Trenton, New Jersey.3 Shirley was born in Trenton on May 29, 1923, to Joseph and Anna Larve.4 She was 34 when they married, and Max was 32. They did not have any children.

Shirley died at age 70 on July 24, 1993, in Broward County in Florida.5 Her obituary in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on August 15, 1993, filled in some of the gaps in their lives between 1957 and 1993.  Here are some excerpts:

…Shirley worked during WWII for the U.S. Army Finance Dept. and later for 25 years for the Department of Motor Vehicles, State of NJ, retired supervisor in 1985. Married Max Goldsmith July, 1957, an immigrant to the U.S.A. They resided at various locations throughout the U.S.A. … Her life was devoted to her husband, being a true companion to him who had lost his family of 68 members during the Nazi era.

She served two terms as President of the Ladys Auxiliary of the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. Post 697 in Levittown, PA. A life member in the American Red Star of David for Israel. In 1989 she received the Lady of the Year award of the Star-Faye Post 672. She was very mild mannered, yet forceful. A lady in her own right. Always unpretending with an inherent sense of justice. She had her golds [goals?] and she never let go until accomplished. She had little patience for people who sat around and complained. Although small in stature yet big in ability and courage.

Shirley and Max thus lived in or near Trenton, New Jersey until 1985 when she retired after 25 years working for the Department of Motor Vehicles. (Levittown, Pennsylvania, is less than eight miles from Trenton.) By 1990, they had moved to Pompano Beach, Florida.6

I am troubled by the reference in her obituary to 68 members of Max’s family being killed in the Holocaust. Who were those 68 people? How were they related to Max? Were they his mother’s relatives? Or were they Goldschmidts I just haven’t found? It haunts me.

Max died in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, eleven years after Shirley on July 2, 2004, at age 80.7  He’d endured a great deal in his life—fleeing from his homeland and his family as a young teenager, the murder of his parents, the move to Palestine and then to the US, and all the hassles he endured to become first a legal resident and then a  citizen of the United States.

But I was very comforted after reading Shirley’s obituary; I assume that Max wrote it himself. It is clear from his words that he loved her very deeply and that he felt loved and taken care of by her.  It is wonderful to know how devoted they were to each other, especially after all he’d been through in the first 32 years of his life.

Max Goldsmith, my third cousin, once removed, was a true survivor.  As best I can tell, he was the only and last surviving descendant of  his great-grandparents, Betty Goldschmidt and Jacob Goldschmidt, two first cousins who married each other, both grandchildren of Jacob Falcke Goldschmidt and Eva Reuben Seligmann, my four-times great-grandparents. By remembering Max, I hope to honor not only him, but all those who came before him.

 

 

 


  1. The references in this post to documents relating to Max’s immigration to the US are all from his A-file from USCIS, copies of which are in my possession. References to his immigration to Palestine and his time there are from the Israeli archives here
  2. On the 1937 passenger manifest for Berek and Rosa Laks, the person they named as their closest relative living in their former residence of Frankfurt was E.Pless, identified as Berek’s mother-in-law and Rosa’s mother. From this I inferred that Rosa’s birth name was Pless and that she was the sister of Frieda Pless Goldschmidt, Max’s mother.  Laks family, passenger manifest, Year: 1937; Arrival: New York, New York;Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957;Microfilm Roll: Roll 6022; Line: 1; Page Number: 127, Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957 
  3. Certificate Number: 21705, New Jersey State Archives; Trenton, New Jersey; Marriage Indexes; Index Type: Bride; Year Range: 1957; Surname Range: L – Z, Ancestry.com. New Jersey, Marriage Index, 1901-2016 
  4. Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007,SSN: 146160447 
  5. Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007,SSN: 146160447 
  6.  Ancestry.com. U.S. Public Records Index, 1950-1993, Volume 1. Original data: Voter Registration Lists, Public Record Filings, Historical Residential Records, and Other Household Database Listings. 
  7.  Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007, SSN: 129240166 

Julius Simon and Bertha Alexander: Mystery Solved!

Back on October 24, 2017, I wrote about Regina Katzenstein, the daughter of Mina Katzenstein and her husband Wolf Katzenstein. Mina Katzenstein was a daughter of Jacob Katzenstein and Sarchen Lion and was the niece of my great-great-grandfather Gerson Katzenstein. Her daughter Regina was thus my paternal grandmother’s first cousin.

Regina married Selig Alexander of Frankenau, and they had seven children, but only four lived to adulthood: Bertha, Rosa, Mina, and Samuel. I learned that Regina, Seligman, and three of their children had escaped to South Africa in the 1930s, but I had no luck finding out what had happened to their oldest daughter Bertha. I knew she had married Julius Simon of Pohl-Goens in 1922, but that was it. I didn’t know whether they had any children or whether they had survived the Holocaust. They just seemed to have disappeared.

I asked Aaron Knappstein if he could help, and he soon sent me this wonderful photograph of Julius Simon taken when he was serving in the German military during World War I. But I’d given up on ever finding out what had happened to Julius and Bertha after 1922.

And then last week Aaron shocked me by emailing me that he had learned what had happened to Julius Simon and Bertha Alexander. Aaron had written to Dr. Dieter Wolf, the head of the museum and archives for the city of Butzbach, Germany, and Dr. Wolf had responded with detailed information about Julius and Bertha. Now I have closure on one of the most perplexing mysteries in my research of the Katzenstein family.

Dr. Wolf relied on a review of documents including address books from Pohl-Goens but primarily on a book written by Werner Reusch in 1998 entitled Wäi the Bimbel noach ean Polgies gehale hoat. Pohl-Göns in the 20th century (Selbstverlag Butzbach-Ebersgöns 1998). [I have no idea what that title means, and neither did Google Translate.  Does anyone?] UPDATE: See the comment from Michael Zorn below. Michael lives in Pohl-Gons and informed me that the title means “When the Steam Train Stopped in Pohl-Gons.” Thank you, Michael.

The book not only includes information about the family of Julius Simon and Bertha Alexander; it includes several photographs of them. Here is one of Julius and Bertha with both Bertha’s parents and Julius’ parents taken in 1923; I believe the young boy was Julius’ nephew.

Back row: Bertha Alexander, Regina Katzenstein Alexander, Selig Alexander, and Julius Simon in 1923 (found at p. 263 of Werner Reusch’s book, Wäi die Bimbel noach ean Polgies gehale hoat. Pohl-Göns im 20. Jahrhundert.  Selbstverlag Butzbach-Ebersgöns 1998

According to Dr. Wolf and Werner Reusch, Bertha and Julius had two children, a daughter Senta, born in 1926, and a son Martin, who died before his first birthday. He was born on September 9, 1928, and died on January 9, 1929; Martin is buried in Pohl-Goens.  According to Werner Reusch, the Simon family was a distinguished family in the town.

When Julius received a warning that he was going to be arrested by the Nazis in early 1936, he and Bertha and Senta left immediately, first going to Frankfurt for a short time and then to Johannesburg, South Africa, where Bertha’s parents and siblings also settled as well as many of Julius’ relatives. This is a photograph from Reusch’s book of Senta, Julius, and Bertha in 1940 in Johannesburg.

Senta Simon, Julius Simon, and Bertha Alexander Simon, 1940 Johannesburg. Found in Werner’s Reusch’s book Wäi die Bimbel noach ean Polgies gehale hoat. Pohl-Göns im 20. Jahrhundert. Selbstverlag Butzbach-Ebersgöns 1998, p. 264

In 1966, Bertha, Julius, and Senta left South Africa and moved to Israel, where they settled in Rehovoth. Julius died there in January 1987; my cousin Bertha Alexander Simon lived to 101, dying in February 1995. Here is a photograph of her celebrating her 100th birthday in Israel.

Bertha Alexander Simon celebrating her 100th birthday in Israel. Found on p, 264 in Werner Reusch’s book, Wäi die Bimbel noach ean Polgies gehale hoat. Pohl-Göns im 20. Jahrhundert. Selbstverlag Butzbach-Ebersgöns 1998

In addition to their daughter Senta, Bertha and Julius were survived by two granddaughters.

Thank you once again to Aaron Knappstein, who has proven time and time again that he is an excellent and persistent researcher and a good friend.

 

 

 

 

Last but Not Least, Levi Katzenstein and His Heroic Great-Grandson, Arye Katzenstein

How painful it must have been for this family to lose a son to terrorism in Germany in 1970 after escaping from the Nazis in Germany less than forty years before.  This is the story of the family of Levi Katzenstein, the youngest child of the nine children of my three-times great-uncle Jakob Katzenstein and his wife Sarchen Lion. With this post I will have covered as best I can at this point the lives of all the descendants of Scholem Katzensten, my 4-times great-grandfather.

In some ways Levi’s story reflects the stories of all his siblings; there are children who died young or who were stillborn. There are children who were killed in the Holocaust. And there are children who escaped from Nazi Germany and whose descendants are alive today in various places in the world. And in this family, there was a hero who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect other people.

Levi was born on May 29, 1851, in Jesberg. He married Jeanette Bendheim on August 13, 1878.  Jeanette was born July 17, 1858, in Friedberg, Germany, daughter of Wolf Bendheim and Johanette Schering or maybe Schwarz (the mother’s birth name is very hard to read; these were the possibilities given by members of the Jekkes group on Facebook. I can’t read it at all.).

Marriage record for Levi Katzenstein

Marriage record of Levi Katzenstein and Jeanette Bendheim Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Heiratsregister; Signatur: 924; Laufende Nummer: 546

Levi and Jeanette had six children, four sons and two daughters. Their firstborn was Kathinka, born on November 25, 1879, in Jesberg.

Kathinka Katzenstein birth record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Geburtsregister; Signatur: 920; Laufende Nummer: 3810

Then came two sons, Jakob and David. Jakob was born February 25, 1882, six years after the death of his grandfather Jakob for whom he must have been named.

Jakob Katzenstein birth record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Geburtsregister; Signatur: 920; Laufende Nummer: 3813

David was born two years later on March 3, 1884.

David Katzenstein birth record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Geburtsregister; Signatur: 920; Laufende Nummer: 3815

Sadly, the fourth child did not make it to her first birthday. Sara was born July 14, 1886, and died on May 11, 1887.

Sara Katzenstein death record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 920; Laufende Nummer: 3885

The last two children were boys. Sally Katzenstein was born on April 10, 1890, and Max Katzenstein was born on May 15, 1893.

Sally Katzenstein birth record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Geburtsregister; Signatur: 920; Laufende Nummer: 3821

Max Katzenstein birth record
HStAMR Best. 920 Nr. 3824 Standesamt Jesberg Geburtsnebenregister 1893, S. 29

Thanks to Barbara Greve, I can share this photograph of the house in Jesberg where Levi and Jeanette Katzenstein raised their children:

Home of Levi Katzenstein in Jesberg

Four of the five children of Levi and Jeanette Katzenstein married and had children. Kathinka married Meier Bamberger on August 8, 1905, in Jesberg. Meier was born on June 8, 1878, in Holzheim, Germany, the son of Joseph Bamberger and Settchen Meier.

Kathinka Katzenstein and Meier Bamberger marriage record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Heiratsregister; Signatur: 920; Laufende Nummer: 3860

Kathinka and Meier Bamberger had one child who survived, a daughter Gertrud born in Holzheim on May 7, 1910, and also had a stillborn child on December 9, 1915.

stillborn child of Kathinka and Meier Bamberger
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 905; Laufende Nummer: 796

Kathinka’s brother Jacob married Auguste Wallach on February 11, 1908, in Oberaula, Germany. Auguste was the daughter of Manus Wallach and Roschen Stern, and she was born on August 7, 1882, in Oberaula.

Marriage record of Jakob Katzenstein and Auguste Wallach
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Heiratsregister; Signatur: 920; Laufende Nummer: 6351

Jacob and Auguste had one child, a son named Benjamin Willi born in Jesberg on November 18, 1908, according to the research done by Barbara Greve.

David Katzenstein married Gertrude Spier on January 7, 1912 in Merzhausen, Germany. Gertrude, the daughter of Juda Spier and Jeanette Rothschild, was born in Willinghausen, Merzhausen, Germany, on December 10, 1887.

Marriage record of David Katzenstein and Gertrude Spier
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Heiratsregister; Signatur: 920; Laufende Nummer: 8870

David and Gertrude had a stillborn baby on October 27, 1912, and then three more children: Heinz (1913), Erich (1919), and Ursula (1923). Here is David Katzenstein’s house, as provided to me by Barbara Greve:

David Katzenstein’s house in Jesberg

The fourth surviving child of Levi and Jeanette was Sally Katzenstein. He married Gretha Nussbaum on December 24, 1913, in Wurda, Germany. She was the daughter of Joseph Nussbaum and Rickchen  Stein, born in Rhina, Germany, on August 5, 1991.

Marriage record of Sally Katzenstein and Gretha Nussbaum
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Heiratsregister; Signatur: 907; Laufende Nummer: 6935

Sally and Gretha had two daughters, Elfriede (1914) and Ruth-Rika (1924).

The youngest child of Levi Katzenstein and Jeanette Bendheim was their son Max. Tragically, Max was killed fighting for Germany in World War I on June 4, 1915. According to Barbara Greve’s research, Max served as a musketeer in the Third Company of the 7th Infantry, Regiment No. 142. He was 22 years old. Given what happened to some of his siblings, his sacrifice for Germany is especially tragic.

Max Katzenstein death record
HStAMR Best. 920 Nr. 3913 Standesamt Jesberg Sterbenebenregister 1915, S. 27

Levi and Jeanette Katzenstein had thus already lost two of their children—their daughter Sara and their son Max. Then on May 17, 1921, they lost yet another child, their only other daughter Kathinka Katzenstein Bamberger. She was only 41 years old and left behind her husband Meier and their eleven year old daughter Gertrud.

Kathinka Katzenstein Bamberger death record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 905; Laufende Nummer: 797

Meier remarried seven months later on December 23, 1921; his second wife was Zerline Kahn, stepmother to little Gertrud.

After Kathinka’s death, Levi and Jeanette had only their three sons Jakob, David, and Sally surviving as well as their grandchildren. Levi died on April 3, 1929, and Jeanette died a year later on July 22, 1930.

Levi Katzenstein death record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 920; Laufende Nummer: 3920

Jeanette Bendheim Katzenstein death record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 920; Laufende Nummer: 3921

They are both buried in Jesberg, as seen in this photograph I took while in Jesberg in May:

Levi Katzenstein and Jeanette Bendheim Katzenstein, Jesberg cemetery

Levi and Jeanette’s remaining family did not get to stay in their ancestral town of Jesberg. According to Barbara Greve, David Katzenstein was forced to sell his home and farm after the Nazis came to power. He and his family left for Palestine in 1934. His brother Jakob left three years later in 1937.

Jakob and David and their families survived the Holocaust and settled in Palestine where, as these documents reveal, they became naturalized citizens.

Naturalization petition and citizenship order in Palestine for David Katzenstein and
Gertrude Spier
http://www.archives.gov.il/en/

Naturalization petition and citizenship order in Palestine for David Katzenstein and Gertrude Spier http://www.archives.gov.il/en/

Palestine Application for Naturalization for Jakob Katzenstein and Auguste Wallach http://www.archives.gov.il/en/

Palestine Citizenship Order for Jakob Katzenstein and Auguste Wallach http://www.archives.gov.il/en/

Their younger brother Sally and his wife Gretha as well as their niece Gertrud Bamberger and her father and stepmother were not as fortunate.  They were all murdered by the Nazis. Gertrud Bamberger, her father Meier Bamberger and stepmother Zerline Kahn Bamberger were deported to the concentration camp at Treblinka on September 30, 1942, where they were killed. (The links are to their entries in the Yad Vashem database.)

The fate of Sally Katzenstein and his wife Greta Nussbaum Katzenstein and their two daughters was described in detail on this website describing the Stolpersteine for the village of Minden, Germany. I will quote from this website, which tells in chilling terms the story of this Katzenstein family:

Sally Katzenstein was a teacher and a preacher. He taught in an Israeli school in Breitenbach, North Hessen, from 1911 and from 1921 until 1934 at the state school in Soest. At both schools he also had the responsibility for teaching four hours each week at a school for further education. In Soest he was [a] preacher to the Synagogue congregation.

Shortly after the National Socialists took over power on the 7th April, 1933, the law for the Reinstatement of the Career Civil Servants was passed. This was to enable the removal of unwanted officials, especially Jews, from governmental posts. Sally Katzstein also fell foul of this law and on 29th March, 1934, lost his occupation as a teacher.

On 1st September, 1935, the family moved to Minden and found a home in Wilhelmstrasse 18. Sally Katzenstein became the local representative for the National Association of Jews in Germany and later preacher to the Synagogue Community. As Jewish children were banned from State schools he held lessons in private rooms.

After the November Pogrom of 1938 Sally Katzenstein was required to pay 1.400 Reichsmark tax on his fortune. These taxes were cynically called ‘Jewish Punishment Tax’. With this money the Jews had to pay for damage that had been done to their property, by others, during the Pogrom.

In 1939 the family tried to emigrate to Palestine but only their daughter, Ruth Rika, was given permission to leave. Her sister, Elfriede, had emigrated in 1936. In 1941 Sally and Gretha submitted an application to emigrate to the USA and permission was granted but then was foiled by the USA entering the war.

In 1941 the Katzensteins were forced to leave their home and to move into the so called Jewish house in Kampstrasse 6, The Jewish community house together with lots of other Jews, in very cramped conditions.

In the spring of 1943 Sally and Gretha Katzenstein were the last Jews living in Minden but they were arrested and taken to Bielefeld and from there were deported to Teresienstadt. From there they were taken separately to Auschwitz where they were both murdered in October 1944.

Fortunately, both of Sally and Gretha’s daughters survived. Elfriede, their older daughter, married to Siegfried Berliner, settled in Palestine, now Israel, where she died on December 8, 2011, according to this obituary. She was 97 years old and had three children.  Her sister Ruth Rika Katzenstein married Harold Rosenberg and settled in Scotland where Ruth was registered as a nurse for many years. I have not yet found a death record for Ruth nor do I know whether she had any children.

There is one final tragic story to tell about the descendants of Levi Katzenstein. As noted above, two of his sons, Jacob and David, immigrated to Palestine in the 1930s. David and his wife Gertrude had three children: Heinz, Erich, and Ursula. Heinz had a son named Arye born in Haifa, Israel, in 1937.

On February 10, 1970, Heinz was seriously injured and Arye was killed during a terrorist attack on a bus that was supposed to take them from the Munich Airport terminal to an El Al jet they were planning to board. The details were described in a September 6, 2015, obituary for Uriel Cohen, an El Al pilot who had tried to stop the attack:

The attack in Germany occurred on February 10, 1970, at 12:50pm. An El Al plane on Flight 435 from Israel had landed at the airport shortly before. Some passengers intended to continue to London, [and] were on their way to a bus that would take them to a connecting flight. A scream was suddenly heard and three young Arab men came from the direction of the transit hall stairs, shouting and running towards the bus, ordering passengers to put their hands up.

The captain tackled the assailants, but they managed to toss two hand grenades at the bus. One of the terrorists pulled out a gun, and another grenade was thrown. Arye Katzenstein of Haifa, 32 at the time, was on the bus with his father and sprinted towards one of the grenades. He used his body to prevent other passengers from being wounded. He died at the scene and his father was severely wounded.

Arye Katzenstein, my fourth cousin, was a hero. His family had left Germany to escape from the Nazis, and almost forty years later he was killed in Germany while trying to protect others from a terrorist attack.

It does make me wonder whether hate will ever end.  It also makes me realize that there will always be good people who will fight that hate and provide us all with hope and inspiration.

 

The Flat: A film by Arnon Goldfinger

 

The other night we watched a fascinating movie, The Flat. It is a documentary made by Arnon Goldfinger about what he learns about his grandparents after his grandmother dies and he and his family clean out their apartment in Tel Aviv. His grandparents had lived in Berlin until 1936 when they left for Israel. Goldfinger and his family, including his mother, had almost no knowledge of the grandparents’ lives before they left Germany.

I do not want to reveal too much about what they learn because each viewer should be able to experience the revelations as they are uncovered in the course of the film. But I will say that this is a film that anyone interested in family history and the ethical dilemmas that are created when you learn something surprising and perhaps troubling about the past should watch. What is our obligation to reveal the truths we learn to those left behind, even if they were innocent of the past actions of their family members? Why do people hide from the truth? Why do some of us ask questions and seek answers whereas others prefer to avoid uncovering the past?

But this is not only a film for genealogists. It is a film for everyone who has an interest in human nature. The film addresses important questions of identity and nationality. What makes people identify with a country, a religion, a family? How do we pick our friends? How does denial play into our sense of who we are?

Finally, this is also a film about our legacy. What will our families do and think after we are gone?  When the family throws out bag after bag after bag of the treasured belongings of the grandparents, I couldn’t help but think about the way we all collect objects—clothing, books, jewelry, letters, photographs—that our descendants will toss away with barely a thought. We have to leave something else behind besides these material things—our good name, our good deeds, our stories, and our love. All else will vanish.

Why I Have Been Quiet about Israel

I have never been afraid to express my opinion.  I welcome reasonable discussions and debate about almost anything—food, movies, books, baseball, politics, world affairs, religion, you name it.  I have strong feelings about almost anything and everything, and I usually am not at all hesitant to say what I am thinking.  I like to think that I listen to what others have to say and that I try and be informed about as much as I can before formulating my own opinion.  My values have not changed much at all in the course of my life, so I know my starting point based on those values, but my mind has been changed many times on many issues by listening and reading what others have to say.

But this time I am lost.  I am Jewish, I am proud to be Jewish, and I feel a strong emotional tie to Israel and Jewish people everywhere.  I’ve only visited Israel once, back in 1997, and it left an indelible mark upon me.  I felt a connection historically and spiritually to the place.  I cried when we left in a way that was far different from the sadness I always feel when a trip or vacation ends.  Israel felt like home to me in a way I never expected.  From my research I now know I have family in Israel.  I have friends in Israel. I know how important Israel is to the past, the present, and the future of the Jewish people.

I am also a lifelong progressive liberal (and not ashamed at all of that word) who argued and protested against every US war during my lifetime—from Vietnam starting in 1965 when I was a teenager up through Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2002.  I know that some wars were so-called just wars; defeating Hitler and others who have tried to commit genocide is justified and necessary.  Dropping an atomic bomb on Japan, however, is not something I would have agreed with, if I’d been born at the time.  I don’t agree with capital punishment, even when the convicted person has committed a heinous crime.  I just don’t see killing as a way of accomplishing anything unless and until there is no choice in the name of self-defense or defense of others.

So I have read the news these last few weeks with my stomach churning, my heart breaking, and my brain torn from one side to the other.  Almost everything I have read is filled with one-sided rhetoric. There is no reason for me to recap the arguments; you’ve heard them all before.  People who are defending Israel point me to pro-Israel sources; people who are anti-Israel point me to anti-Israel sources.  I read the New York Times every day, hoping it is more objective than other sources.  People who are pro-Israel say that the Times is biased against Israel; people who are anti-Israel say the Times is biased in favor of Israel.

There are only a few actual facts: Hamas wants to destroy Israel—it says so in its charter; there is a blockade around Gaza that makes escape for those who live there almost impossible and life there absolutely miserable; Hamas is building tunnels and accumulating weapons and shooting rockets to reach its goal of destroying Israel; Israel is fighting back with stronger and bigger weapons and with a defense system that has resulted in many more Palestinian deaths than Hamas has been able to inflict on Israel; Hamas refuses to agree to a ceasefire; Israel refuses to stop building new settlements; Hamas continues to shoot rockets, knowing that its own people will be killed in greater numbers; Israel knows that it cannot avoid killing them when it shoots its rockets at Gaza.  Neither side can win unless it obliterates the other side, in which case neither side has won.

Meanwhile, people are dying on both sides, no one feels safe, and there is hate being spewed by both sides.  And across the world, there are people protesting, saying things that I’ve not heard said so publicly and proudly in my lifetime: “Death to the Jews, Kill the Jews.”  In one town in France, shop windows were smashed.  Immediately I thought of Kristallnacht.

So why have I remained quiet?   Being quiet did not help the Jews in the 1930s. But why express my feelings when they only provoke more rhetoric?  Why be accused of being either a self-hating Jew for having sympathy for the people in Gaza or of being a Jewish imperialist/Zionist for understanding why Israel feels a need to use force to stop Hamas from trying to kill the Israeli people and their country? The dialogue is pointless.  No one really listens.  They just argue.  They just throw around words of hate.  They just make me feel sick and sad and confused.

I have also remained quiet because I am confused and upset and heart-sick.  I see no hope for any improvement in the situation; I only see things getting worse.  I only see a terrible ending to all this anger and killing and hate, and it makes me despair for my children and my grandchildren, for Jews and for non-Jews, for our world, our planet, our lives.  There is no right, no wrong.  There is just ugliness, blood, violence, and hatred.  There are no words.  I have no words.  I am speechless.  I am silenced.

Please don’t tell me what you think.  Please don’t fill my heart with more hate, with more anger. I’ve heard all the arguments. The rhetoric is all noise to me. Endless Facebook postings prove nothing; people only read what supports their point of view. There is nothing to celebrate. Everyone is wrong; everyone is right. Everyone needs to be quiet, to stop talking, and to start listening to their hearts, hoping with their souls, and thinking with their brains.  If those of us who do not live where the bombs are flying cannot talk to each other with respect and understanding, how is there any hope that there will ever be peace over there or, for that matter, anywhere?

So my silence does not signify indifference or apathy; it signifies confusion and a willingness to listen and think and hope. You cannot listen when you are talking.  You cannot think when you are just spewing rhetoric.  You cannot hope when you are angry.  I am listening.  I am thinking.  I am trying as hard as I can to hope.

A Call to Israel!

Just to show that I never give up, I thought I’d report on a phone call I made this morning to Shmuel Brotman of Kiryat Tivon in Israel.   Renee, my mentor, made the suggestion that I look for any Brotmans who had lived in Dzikow by checking both JRI-Poland and the database at Yad Vashem.  Both sources found one family, the family of Shmuel and Zipporah Brotman, who had resided in Dzikow/Tarnobrzeg.  It looked like the entire family had died in the Holocaust, but Renee suggested I contact the person who had submitted the names to Yad Vashem, Shmuel’s daughter-in-law Chana Brotman.

I then had to track down Chana Brotman.  I knew from the Yad Vashem submission that she had lived in Kiryat Tivon in 1997 when she submitted the names of Shmuel and his family, and so I made a request on both the JewishGen website and on Gesher Galicia for help in locating the family.  By this morning I had several responses, including two that gave me phone numbers, one for Chana and one for her son Shmuel.  The person who provided me with Shmuel’s number had just spoken with him and said he was awaiting my call.

I jotted down some notes and then called Shmuel.  He’s about my age and fluent in English.  He was very happy to help me, and we spent about half an hour, comparing notes and trying to figure out whether there is a connection between our families.

At the moment I still don’t know what the connection is, but it seems likely that there is one.  His grandfather Shmuel Brotman was born around 1888 in Dzikow, and his great-grandfather’s name was Moshe.  I don’t yet know where Moshe Brotman was born.  He could even be the same Moses Brotman who ended up in Brotmanville.  We still have to sort more things out.

He did tell me that he has done some research and believes that the Brotman family originally came from Georgia in the former Soviet Union and left to escape the pogroms.  He believes they changed their name to Brotman to get across the border.  According to Shmuel, some Brotmans went to the US, some to Romania, and some to Poland, including his family.  Whether our ancestors were also part of that family I don’t yet know, but it is a possibility.

So just as I was about to give up hope of finding more traces of our family, I received a glimmer of hope this morning from Israel.  No matter where this goes, it was another one of those uplifting experiences where strangers helped me find someone and that someone ended up being welcoming and hopeful that we are related.