My Three-Times Great-Grandfather Hart Cohen, Witness for the Prosecution

Imagine being able to read the testimony your ancestor gave in a case back in 1831. Thanks to Teresa of the Writing My Past blog, I found a case where my three-times great-grandfather Hart Levy Cohen was a critical eyewitness to a crime.

Teresa wrote on her blog about the Proceedings of Old Bailey Online Project. As described on the project website, “The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674-1913 [is a] fully searchable edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing 197,745 criminal trials held at London’s central criminal court.”1 Teresa had found a number of interesting cases involving her English ancestors, and on a lark, I decided to search to see if I could find any references to my Cohen relatives who lived in London from about 1800 until 1851.

Old Bailey, photograph by Ben Sutherland from Crystal Palace, London, UK / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

Lo and behold, I found one case—an 1831 case in which Hart Cohen was a witness, not the defendant or the victim, fortunately.2  The case involved an alleged theft of money from a man named Michael Hart by a man named Isaac Isaacs. As described in the testimony recorded in the transcript of the trial, Michael Hart was a recent immigrant to England from Amsterdam and was courting Isaac Isaacs’ sister. According to Michael Hart, Isaacs grabbed Dutch notes worth 500 guilders from his hand and ran off with the money.

My three-times great-grandparents were present in the room when Isaacs took Michael Hart’s money, and Hart Cohen testified to the fact that he saw Isaacs snatch the notes. One witness, Mary Isaac (not a relative of the accused) testified that Michael Hart willingly gave the money to Isaacs. But the court found Isaacs guilty and sentenced him to “transportation for life,” meaning he was permanently exiled from England. I don’t know where Isaacs ended up, nor do I know where Michael Hart ended up.

In the testimony, Isaac Isaacs is referred to as “the prisoner” and Michael Hart is referred to either as “the prosecutor” or by his surname Hart. In the brief excerpt from the transcript below, I have added “the prosecutor” to any references to Michael Hart to prevent any confusion with my 3x-great-grandfather Hart Cohen. I also have highlighted a few relevant portions that I comment on below.

MICHAEL HART (through an interpreter.) I am a native of Amsterdam; I came to England nine or ten weeks ago, …. – I became acquainted with the prisoner, slightly, about a fortnight after I came to this country; I was courting his sister, and do so now. On a Monday morning, about eight o’clock, I met the prisoner in the neighbourhood, and went with him up the street to Whitechapel; we went into a public-house, and there had two quarterns of gin together- we then went back to the prisoner’s lodging: before we got there he asked me if I had my notes about me, and asked why I did not change them, as I could get English money for them; I said that at present I was not in need of money, and thought of saving them a little longer – I had them in my pocket at the time; they were two Amsterdam notes, for three hundred and two hundred guilders- he asked me to come home, and I went to his lodgings in Goulston-street, Whitechapel – when we got up stairs he asked me to let him look at the notes; I took them out of my pocket, intending to show them to him – I held them in my own hand; the prisoner took them out of my hand with one hand, and gave me a blow with his other hand – he went down stairs; I did not follow him immediately –[Hart] Cohen, his wife, and the prisoner’s wife and sister were in the room…. I went that evening to the Police-station, and told the inspector, who sent a Policeman with me, and he took the prisoner; I had a man with me, who interpreted for me – I have not seen or heard of my notes since – a guilder is worth 20d.

[Goulston Street was the street where my Cohen relatives were living on the 1841 English census. I tried to find a familial connection between Isaac Isaacs and my relatives but was unable to do so. I believe he was just a neighbor.]

New Goulston Street today

HART COHEN . I was in the prisoner’s room when he and the prosecutor came in, between eight and half-past eight o’clock in the morning – they spoke in Hebrew, which I understood, but did not notice what they were talking about; I saw [the prosecutor] Hart open his pocket-book, and take out some papers – the prisoner snatched them out of his hand, gave him a push, and ran down stairs; I could not see what the papers were, but [the prosecutor] Hart called out in Hebrew, “I have lost five hundred guilders;” I had seen him in possession of a three hundred and two hundred guilders Amsterdam notes; I have not seen them since.

[I found it interesting that Hart understood Hebrew—an indication that he was connected to Judaism and Jewish traditions.]

[Cross-examination of Hart Cohen]:  Who was in the room? A. My wife, the prisoner’s wife, his sister, and children: he being an intended brother-in-law, I did not like to interfere – I did not call Stop thief! my wife was alarmed – the prosecutor was standing up; he could have followed him down stairs if he chose – I had merely called there because the children were ill with the measles; I saw two men carrying the prisoner home, drunk, about two o’clock; the prosecutor went to Brighton, and my son went with him as an interpreter, and I wrote to him, directing my letters “Lewis Cohen,” which was my son’s name – the prisoner was to inquire at the post-office for a letter in that name; my wife is too ill to be here.

[When Hart testified “he being an intended brother-in-law,” I at first thought he meant that Isaacs was to be married to either his sister or his wife Rachel’s sister, but Isaacs was already married. On rereading, it was clear to me that Hart Cohen was referring to the fact that Michael Hart was courting Isaacs’ sister and thus was his intended brother-in-law.” It’s clear from this comment and the one that follows that Hart had not wanted to get involved in this dispute.]

[It was the mention of his son Lewis that helped to convince me that this was my Hart Cohen. Lewis would have been eleven years old at that time.]

[Witness for Isaacs] MARY ISAAC . I was at the prisoner’s house, between eight and nine o’clock, when this gentleman came up stairs, and he gave Mr. Isaacs the notes – I live there as servant to the prisoner; I am not related to him; Mr. and Mrs. Cohen. Mr. and Mrs. Isaacs, and I were in the room, nobody else – I cannot speak Hebrew; I saw the prosecutor give the prisoner the notes; he put them into his pocket, had his breakfast, shaved himself, and went down – before he went down the prosecutor took out his pocket-book, and wrote down on a piece of paper, how many guilders there were, and how much they would come to – I did not read the paper; he wrote it in numbers – I understand numbers; the prisoner then went down – Mr. Cohen went down directly after.

….

HART COHEN . I did not notice [Mary] Isaac there, and do not suppose that she was – it is a middling sized room, and has a bed in it.3

[This testimony effectively undercut Mary Isaac’s testimony. Hart made it clear that there was no way that he would not have seen her if she were in the room, given the size of the room.]

There were other witnesses and testimony, but I was primarily interested in the role my relative played in this dispute. And what did I learn? That my three-times great-grandfather was a man who did not initially want to get involved, but did his civic duty and testified to the facts he observed, that he knew Hebrew, and that my great-grandparents were neighbors who would come check on sick children. Given that I’d known nothing about his personality beforehand, these are wonderful insights.

Take a look at the Old Bailey project website if you ever had relatives living in London. It could provide interesting insights into their lives.


  1. Tim Hitchcock, Robert Shoemaker, Clive Emsley, Sharon Howard, and Jamie McLaughlin, et al., “Home page.” The Old Bailey Proceedings Online, 1674-1913 (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.0, 24 March 2012).
  2. Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0, 04 October 2020), October 1831, trial of ISAAC ISAACS (t18311020-149. 
  3. Ibid. Emphasis and annotations added. 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 1933-2020

We had just finished our first dinner together as a family since before the pandemic—both of my daughters, my son-in-law, and my grandsons. It was a wonderful meal—lots of laughter and food and candles and blessings. Apples and honey and challah and wine. We were cleaning up in the kitchen, the kids were playing, and suddenly I heard my son-in-law gasp. He stood up, ashen, and whispered, “Ginsburg died.”

All I could say was, “Oh, no.” Then two seconds later. “Oh, no.” It felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. It felt like a personal loss, the death of someone I knew and loved, not the death of someone famous I’d never actually met. We were all stunned. Even my grandsons, ages six and ten, knew who Ruth Bader Ginsburg was and knew how important she was.

We talked about her and her life, and then the next night we all watched “On the Basis of Sex,” a dramatized version of her early career and one of the first legal cases that established that treating men and women differently solely on the basis of gender was unconstitutional. When the movie ended with the shot of the real RBG standing on the steps of the Supreme Court, I cried. She was a hero, a role model, someone who changed the world I lived in and thus changed the course of my life.

She was born in Brooklyn, where my mother was born and raised and where my grandsons now live. Like my mother, she was Jewish and the daughter of an immigrant father and a mother who was first-generation American-born. She went to Cornell University and then was one of only nine women in her class at Harvard Law School in the 1950s. Despite the discrimination she faced there and the skepticism many had about women becoming lawyers, she rose to the top of her class.

Without Ruth Bader Ginsburg and others like her, I never would have dreamed of becoming a lawyer. When I was in high school and the women’s movement was just brewing, I thought girls could only grow up to be three things—a mommy, a nurse, or a teacher. I recall a heated debate with a classmate who was already more awake to the need for change than I where I took the position that a woman had to choose between a career or a family. She couldn’t have both.

All that changed in the four years I was in college, the years that RBG began litigating cases against sex discrimination. By my senior year I’d decided I wanted to go to law school. I wanted to have it all—a family and a career. When I arrived at Harvard Law School in 1975, there were more than ten times the number of women in my entering class than had been there when Ginsburg enrolled. We were still only 20% of the class, but at least there were more of us—thanks to the work of Ginsburg and others. Professors could no longer outwardly treat us as lesser beings than our male classmates, although some may have still thought that way. Without RBG and others, that never would have happened.

When RBG graduated from law school in the late 1950s, she could not get a law firm to hire her despite being on law review and at the top of her class. Twenty years later when I graduated from law school, there were still few women partners in law firms (and none at the firm where I was hired), but firms were hiring women.  Four years later, my firm had two women who were partners (out of over forty partners overall), and almost half of new hires were women.

When I left practice in 1982 to become a law professor, there were only two other women on the faculty of twenty-five; there were many students who expected their professors to be men, preferably older white men in suits, not a young woman with a young child and another on the way. But things changed over the years. More and more women were becoming lawyers, and more were becoming law professors. One of those law professors was Jane Ginsburg, Ruth’s daughter, and I first felt a real personal connection to RBG when I adopted two of her daughter Jane’s casebooks—one on copyright law, one on trademark law—to teach my courses in those subjects. When I retired from law teaching in 2014, women made up a majority of those on the faculty at my school. We had seen a momentous shift in thirty-two years.

So much changed from the time I was in high school and could only dream of becoming either a mother or a nurse or a teacher. So much changed from the day I entered law school until the day I retired almost forty years later. Women went from being outsiders in the legal profession to being a majority of those enrolled in law school and prominent in the profession, though even today there are still too few women partners in big law firms and too much discrimination generally against women in society.

I feel so deeply grateful to Ruth Bader Ginsburg for all these changes. When she was named by Bill Clinton to the US Supreme Court in 1993, I felt as if someone I knew had made it to the highest court in the land. A Jewish woman was on the Supreme Court. Someone who grew up in the time and place in which my mother had grown up. Someone who had had both children and a career. Someone who shared my background and my values. She was only the second woman to be named to the court. She changed it forever. She changed me and my life and my world even before I knew her name.

I am forever indebted to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. No wonder I feel her loss so personally. She was a blessing to every little girl growing up today, to every woman searching for a meaningful life, and to every woman of my generation who benefited from everything she did. She was a blessing to all people whose rights have been denied, who have faced discrimination, or who simply want to see justice and fairness in our society.

May her memory be a blessing forever. May we carry on her legacy.


Two other bloggers wrote posts about Ginsburg that touched me. I recommend them both. You can find them here (“The Heavens Opened for RBG” at Zicharanot), discussing another personal reaction to her death, and here (“Ruth Bader Ginburg, Rest in Power” at wmtc), discussing her opinions on the Supreme Court and their significance. There have been, of course, many other tributes and obituaries published that describe her life and her career and her impact on the law and on society.

 

 

Eugene and Maurice Goldsmith: Together at Home and at Work

In 1910 the two surviving sons of Meyer and Helena Goldsmith were living with their parents in New York City.  Eugene Goldsmith, 51, was in the import business, and his brother Maurice, 46, was working in a department store. They were both single and had lived together with their parents Helena (Hohenfels) and Meyer Goldsmith all their lives, first in Philadelphia and then in New York City. But with their mother’s death in 1910 and then their father’s in 1911, their lives changed.

Eugene and Maurice Goldsmith (possibly). Courtesy of the family.

Meyer Goldsmith 1910 US census, Census Place: Manhattan Ward 12, New York, New York; Roll: T624_1028; Page: 3A; Enumeration District: 0739; FHL microfilm: 1375041
Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census

In 1913, Eugene married May Jacobs in Philadelphia.1 He was 54, she was 41. May was the daughter of Michael Jacobs and Alice Arnold, both of whom were born in Pennsylvania.2 May’s father died when she was just a young child, and she and her three sisters were all living together with their mother in Philadelphia in 1910.3 I’d love to know how May connected with Eugene, who had by that time been living in New York City for over twenty years.

In 1915 Eugene and May were living at 817 West End Avenue in New York City; Eugene was still in the import business, and May was doing housework. They were still living at 817 West End Avenue in 1920, and Eugene’s import business was now identified as umbrellas. They also had a servant living with them.

Eugene Goldsmith 1915 NYS census, New York State Archives; Albany, New York; State Population Census Schedules, 1915; Election District: 18; Assembly District: 17; City: New York; County: New York; Page: 28, Ancestry.com. New York, State Census, 1915

As for Maurice, the 1915 New York State census lists him (now as Murry Goldsmith) in his own household at 256 West 97th Street in New York City, working as a clothing salesman.4  Despite finding him listed in both the 1920 and 1922 New York City directories and having addresses from both years, I was unable to find Maurice/Murry/Murray on the 1920 US census. But the 1920 directory revealed important information about both Murray and Eugene.5

I learned that by 1920 Eugene and Maurice were involved in a new business together. Eugene is listed as the president of a firm called Goldsmith-Dannenberg in the 1920 New York City directory, and Murray is listed as its treasurer. Barnard Dannenberg was the secretary, and their business was described as infants’ wear.

New York, New York, City Directory, 1920 (under Goldsmith)
Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995

New York Times, August 9, 1922, p.12

Unfortunately, this business soon ran into legal problems with a company that failed to take delivery and pay for a large order of goods from Goldsmith-Dannenberg.6 According to the complaint filed by their lawyer, Leo Levy (Eugene and Murray’s brother-in-law), on December 26, 1919, Berg Bros., Inc., contracted with Goldsmith-Dannenberg for the purchase of 373 dozen specially made hand-knit caps for infants for a total price of $5051.25, to be delivered in several separate installments over a several month period. Berg Bros. accepted the first installment, which was very small compared to the overall order (nine dozen caps), but refused to accept the last two installments of 182 dozen caps each. The purchaser had paid Goldsmith-Dannenberg only $141.25 of the $5051.25 purchase price.  Goldsmith-Dannenberg asserted that since the goods were specially made for this purchaser, they could not be resold and that therefore the company was entitled to the complete purchase price as damages.

In its answer, Berg Bros. denied the allegations in the complaint and also asserted two defenses: first, that the contract was not in writing and thus was unenforceable under the Statute of Frauds because it was for more than $50 worth of goods, and second, that the employee who entered into the contract with Goldsmith-Dannenberg did not have the authority to do so. The defendant also claimed that the goods were “standard” goods that could be easily resold by the plaintiff in order to mitigate its damages.

I was disappointed that I could not find out how the case was resolved—whether by a court or by a settlement between the parties. The only decision I could locate relating to the case was not on the merits of the underlying claim but rather on a procedural question involving the plaintiff’s request to take a deposition of some of the defendant’s employees.7 But given that the last advertisements and directory listings for Goldsmith-Dannenberg are dated 1922, it appears that the company did not recover from this litigation or otherwise ran into business trouble and went out of business.

In 1925, Eugene listed himself both in the New York State census and in the New York City directory as once again in his own umbrella importing business (I don’t know whether he had ever left this business even when involved in the baby clothes business).8 He and May were living at 500 West End Avenue. As for Maurice/Murray, the 1925 New York City directory lists him at 248 West 105th Street and as “treasurer,” but there is no indication as to where he was serving as treasurer. 9 Perhaps his brother’s umbrella company? Unfortunately I couldn’t find Murray on the 1925 New York State census, which might have provided more details.

The 1930 US census found Eugene and May still living at 500 West End Avenue and Eugene still in the umbrella importing business.10 Murray was still at 248 West 105th Street, where the 1930 census shows that he was one of a number of people boarding in the household of Joseph Mantzer. His occupation was given as salesman for an umbrella company, obviously that owned by Eugene.11

Maurice/Murray Goldsmith died at age seventy on April 21, 1933;12 his death notice in the New York Times stated that he died after a “short illness.” He was described as the “beloved son of the late Meyer and Helena Goldsmith and dear brother of Eugene J. Goldsmith, Rose G. Morgenstern and Florence G. Levy.” There was also a death notice posted by his Elks Lodge.

New York Times, April 23, 1933, p. 28.

In 1940, Eugene and May were living at 277 West End Avenue, and Eugene no longer was working.13 He died six years later on April 27, 1946. 14 He was 86 years old. His wife May died the following year on October 11, 1947.  She was 75.15 A family member shared with me that May had beautiful porcelain and lace dolls which she allowed this family member to play with when she was a young child.

Neither Eugene nor Maurice had any direct descendants and were survived by one of their sisters, Florence, and by their nieces and nephew. In so many ways, their stories are stories of the American dream—two sons of immigrant parents who created their own business, used the legal system to try and find justice, lost their business but started all over again, just as their father Meyer had after losing his business in Philadelphia and moving to New York City.

 

 

 

 

 


  1.  Ancestry.com. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Marriage Index, 1885-1951. Marriage License Number: 294169. 
  2. Michael Jacobs death certificate, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1915,” database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VK8M-GJF : 8 March 2018), Michael Jacobs, 07 Jan 1880; citing v A p 15, Philadelphia City Archives and Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; FHL microfilm 1,003,706. Alice Jacobs and family 1880 census, Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1173; Page: 105B; Enumeration District: 205. Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1880 United States Federal Census. Jay Jacobs death certificate, Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission; Pennsylvania, USA; Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1966; Certificate Number Range: 087501-090500. Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1966. 
  3. Alice Jacobs and daughters, 1880 US Census, Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 15, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: T624_1391; Page: 14A; Enumeration District: 0232; FHL microfilm: 1375404. Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census 
  4. Murry Goldsmith, 1915 New York State census, New York State Archives; Albany, New York; State Population Census Schedules, 1915; Election District: 12; Assembly District: 17; City: New York; County: New York; Page: 12. Ancestry.com. New York, State Census, 1915 
  5. New York, New York, City Directory, 1920, 1922. Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 
  6. The legal papers connected with this case can be found here. They were filed in connection with an appeal with the New York Appellate Division of an order dated December 28, 1920, from the New York Supreme Court for the County of New York, Index No. 24707. 
  7. Goldsmith-Dannenberg v. Berg Bros., Inc., 196 A.D. 930 *; 1921 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 6091 **; 187 N.Y.S. 935 (1921). 
  8. Eugene Goldsmith, 1925 New York State census, New York State Archives; Albany, New York; State Population Census Schedules, 1925; Election District: 52; Assembly District: 09; City: New York; County: New York; Page: 5. Ancestry.com. New York, State Census, 1925. New York, New York, City Directory, 1925. Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 
  9.  New York, New York, City Directory, 1925. Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 
  10. Eugene and May Goldsmith, 1930 US Census, Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; Page: 25A; Enumeration District: 0431. Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census 
  11. Murry Goldsmith, 1930 US Census, Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; Page: 29A; Enumeration District: 0489. Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census. 
  12.  Ancestry.com. New York, New York, Extracted Death Index, 1862-1948. Certificate 9791. 
  13. Eugene and May Goldsmith, 1940 US Census, Census Place: New York, New York, New York; Roll: m-t0627-02637; Page: 4A; Enumeration District: 31-587A. Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census 
  14. New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1949,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2WY9-ZN3 : 10 February 2018), Eugene J Goldsmith, 27 Apr 1946; citing Death, Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, New York Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 2,132,945. 
  15. New York Department of Health; Albany, NY; NY State Death Index; Certificate Number: 62459. Ancestry.com. New York, Death Index, 1880-1956 

My Uncle, The Criminal? If The Shoe Fits….

Before I turn to my three-times great-uncle Meyer and his family, I want to write about another uncle—my four-times great-uncle Simon Goldchmidt, brother of my three-times great-grandfather Seligmann Goldschmidt.

Back in January, I wrote about Simon Goldschmidt, including the fact that he had been in legal trouble in Germany before immigrating to the US. David Baron had located a record that indicated that in 1826 Simon was charged with burglary and attempted robbery. (HStAM Fonds 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No G 40.) I then wrote in that post:

I requested a copy of the file from the Marburg archives and learned that the file covers Simon’s appeal of a ten year sentence for his criminal activity. The listing online indicates that the date of appellate decision was December 24, 1830.

The contact person at the Marburg archives did not reveal the outcome of the appeal, so I am now hoping to find someone who might be able to go to Marburg and provide me with a summary (in English) of the judgment. (I could order a copy, but it would be costly and in German. My German has improved, but 130 pages of a legal decision would be too great a challenge!)

Well, with the help of three wonderful women in Germany, I’ve been able to obtain a copy of the report, have it transcribed, and then have it translated.  First, Floriane Pfeiffer-Ditschler from the German Genealogy group on Facebook volunteered to go to the archives in Marburg and scan the entire 130 pages of the documents in the file.1 She sent it to me as a PDF, and it’s too long to post on the blog, but I will post just a few pages in this post so that you can see how difficult it is to read. If you’re interested in seeing the entire document, let me know.

Cover page of file, HStAM 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No. G 40

Neither Floriane nor I could decipher the text, so I turned to my friend Julia Drinnenberg, who had been one of my wonderful guides during my visit to Germany last year. Julia also found the handwriting difficult to read, so she recruited her friend Gabriele Hafermaas to help. Gabriele transcribed the text, which Julia then translated it into English. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to these three women for their help.  It took many, many hours of work for them to produce a document that I can read.

The file contained three documents: the original trial court opinion finding Simon guilty, Simon’s application for appellate review, and the appellate court’s opinion. Because the documents are quite lengthy and at times repetitive, I thought it best to write up a summary.

The alleged crime took place on the night of May 16, 1826. The trial, however, did not take place until four years later.  At this time we do not have any information to explain the long delay between the crime and the trial, but Julia is consulting with a judge and legal historian in Germany, so perhaps he will have some answers.

The trial court reached its decision on May 14, 1830.

Simon Goldschmidt, first page of trial court opinion
HStAM 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No. G 40

According to the trial court’s opinion, on the evening of May 16, 1826, someone broke into the home of eighty-year-old Georg Wolf, a resident of Oberlistingen.  There was a hole in the wall of his home and a ladder lying on the ground in front of his sitting room. The court found that someone used violent force to break into the sitting room, using the ladder to push the door open and even breaking an iron bar that served as a lock on that door. There was a struggle between Wolf and the burglar, during which Wolf claimed he had bitten the hands of the assailant and scratched and pinched his face and neck.

When neighbors heard Wolf’s cries for help, the assailant ran away.  According to Wolf and several witnesses, a pair of shoes was left behind, which Wolf claimed had belonged to the assailant. Wolf described the assailant as a small and flexible man with frizzy hair, wearing a long black cape and speaking with a Yiddish accent.

Based on this description, Simon Goldschmidt, a 32-year-old tailor, was thought to be the assailant, and local authorities went the next morning to his home to investigate. Witnesses testified that Simon had injuries on his face and hands that were consistent with Wolf’s testimony and that he fit the physical description provided by Wolf. Simon denied the charges and claimed that he had injured himself when he fell on a stack of logs in the corridor while going to the toilet in the middle of the night.

The trial court did not find Simon’s assertion that his injuries came from such a fall credible for several reasons.  The court did not find it believable that Simon had used the toilet in the corridor because he had a “night stool” in his room for bathroom use. Simon claimed he could not use the night stool because Jewish law prohibited sharing of the night stool while his wife was menstruating, but the court cited the testimony of a rabbi stating that there was no such prohibition under Jewish law. There also was no evidence that Simon’s wife was in fact menstruating at the time of the crime. Furthermore, the court found that Simon’s injuries were not consistent with falling on logs, citing the testimony of a doctor that Simon appeared to have bite marks on his hands and bruising on his face.

In addition, in a page torn from Cinderella or the OJ Simpson trial, the trial court found that the shoes left behind by the assailant fit Simon as well as his wife. A shoemaker testified that he had made the shoes for Simon’s wife and repaired them. He was able to identify them by the way the heels were worn down on one side. Simon denied that the shoes were his or his wife’s, saying that her shoes had been stolen. The trial court did not find this assertion credible because the theft of the shoes had never been reported to the police.

Cinderella
By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

The fact that Simon was wearing dirty socks covered with thick straw and half-dry black mud when the authorities came to investigate was also relied on by the trial court in its analysis. Simon claimed his socks were dirty from walking inside his house and from walking outside to his well. The trial court was not persuaded, finding evidence that Simon was ordinarily a tidy man, that his floors did not have dirt like that found on his socks, and that the walkway to the well had a stone path. Witnesses also testified that the dirty socks were like those of someone who walked through the village without shoes.

There was also some discussion in the trial court opinion about the fact that Simon had plans to go to the estate of the aristocratic von Malsburg family the morning of the investigation.  Julia and I were not sure what this all meant, but as best I can tell, Simon was wearing boots when the authorities arrived and claimed it was because he was planning to go to the Malsburg estate. The court seems to have concluded that this was not the case, but that Simon had put on boots to hide his dirty socks, which were only revealed when the investigator asked him to remove his boots.

Based on its evaluation of the evidence, the trial court concluded that Simon was guilty of attempted theft with burglary and attempted robbery with murder and sentenced him to ten years in prison with his legs shackled. The court considered as an aggravating factor in determining its sentence that Simon had not voluntarily called off his attempted crime, but only left because he was afraid of being caught when Wolf called for help.

End of trial court opinoin
HStAM 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No. G 40

Although the court observed that the usual penalty for a crime of this nature would be twelve to fifteen years in prison, it noted that the case had been delayed for two years due to an overload of pending cases and therefore reduced the usual penalty and sentenced Simon to ten years in prison. The court’s mention of a two-year delay is confusing since the crime was in 1826 and the trial decision in 1830. Simon had been incarcerated for four years while awaiting trial.

On July 22, 1830, Simon appealed the trial court’s verdict, making many of the same arguments that he made at trial, but with some additional details. For one thing, he claimed that he had not reported the theft of his wife’s shoes because of their low value. As to the fact that he was wearing boots the morning after the crime, he asserted that it was insulting to claim that a tailor would not ordinarily be wearing shoes.

Simon Goldschmidt’s application for appearl, first page
HStAM 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No. G 40

With respect to his dirty socks, Simon asserted that the stones on the walkway to the well were quite distant from each other and that the humid weather had made the ground very muddy. And as for his claim that he injured himself from a fall when he went to the toilet in the corridor, he asserted that he left the bedroom because he did not want to make a stench inside and that he believed, even if incorrectly, that under Jewish law he and his wife could not share a night stool while she was menstruating.

Simon also pointed out that Wolf had not specifically identified him, but had only given a general description of the person who attacked him. In addition, Simon asserted his overall good reputation as a factor mitigating against his guilt.

The appellate court issued its decision on December 24, 1830. Its opinion is far more detailed and thorough than the trial court opinion and raises some additional issues. For example, the appellate court pointed out that Simon had been having financial problems and thus had a motive for stealing from Wolf. The court also mentioned that Simon knew that Wolf had money because he and his brothers had at one time borrowed money from Wolf.

Appellate decision, first page
HStAM 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No. G 40

Simon’s response was that his financial problems were only temporary and that everyone in the village knew that Wolf had money and might have stolen from him. Simon also argued that since Wolf had loaned money to him and his brothers, it would not make sense for him to steal from him. The court concluded that the evidence of Simon’s financial problems supported the trial court’s guilty verdict, although only circumstantially.

(If I were representing Simon, I might also have argued that since Wolf knew Simon, he should have been able to identify him as the assailant rather than merely providing a general description.)

The appellate court also considered Wolf’s description of his assailant and whether it clearly identified Simon. Despite some inconsistencies in the evidence regarding the description of the assailant’s “singing voice” and hair, the court found that this evidence nevertheless pointed towards Simon’s guilt.

With respect to the fact that Simon was wearing boots when the authorities came to investigate early on the morning after the crime, the court found that it was not Simon’s usual practice to wear boots and that his story that he was planning to walk to the Malsburg estate was not supported by any witnesses. But the court considered this only relevant to the claim that Simon was trying to hide the dirt on his socks.

The evidence that the appellate court seemed to consider most persuasive of Simon’s guilt was the evidence relating to the shoes left at Wolf’s house and the dirt on Simon’s socks. In the court’s weighing of the evidence, it concluded that the shoes belonged to Simon and his wife and that he got his socks dirty when he ran home through the town without his shoes.

The appellate court also considered very persuasive the evidence of Simon’s injuries and concluded that Simon’s story about falling on logs was not credible. In response to the assertion that Simon did not use the night stool because his wife was menstruating, the prosecution argued that Simon’s wife could not have been menstruating because she was breastfeeding [presumably Jakob, their first child born in 1825]. I was impressed by the court’s response to this assertion—that women can menstruate even while breastfeeding—because that is a fact that I would not have thought was commonly known in 1830.

But the court nevertheless found that it was not likely that Simon’s injuries were sustained in a fall, given the doctor’s testimony that there were bite marks and the fact that the injuries were in multiple locations on Simon’s body, not on one side as one would expect from a fall. Also, Simon couldn’t give a convincing description of the fall and refused to show his injuries. Thus, the court dismissed Simon’s assertion that he was injured in a fall.

After weighing all the evidence, the appellate court thus upheld the verdict. However, it reduced the sentence from ten years to four years because Wolf’s injuries were not dangerous or life-threatening and because Simon had not used any lethal weapons.  It thus reduced the original charges against Simon to attempted robbery. The court also observed that the delay in trial was not Simon’s fault and took that into consideration in reducing his sentence. Simon was released from prison after the appellate court’s decision.

Last page of appellate decision, HStAM 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No. G 40

As noted in my earlier post, Simon’s first wife Eveline died in 1840, and in 1844 my four-times great-uncle Simon Goldschmidt married Fradchen Schoenthal, the sister of my great-great-grandfather Levi Schoenthal and thus my three-times great-aunt. Fradchen and Simon left for the United States not long after. Simon was the second member of the Goldschmidt family to immigrate to the US, following his oldest son Jakob, and Fradchen was the first Schoenthal to immigrate.

Passenger manifest for Simon Goldschmidt, Fradchen Schoenthal and Eva
Ancestry.com. Baltimore, Passenger Lists, 1820-1964. Original data: Selected Passenger and Crew Lists and Manifests. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

I can’t help but wonder whether their decision to leave Germany was in some part motivated by a desire to leave behind Simon’s criminal past and start over in a new country. If so, well, then I have to say that I am awfully glad that Simon was convicted of this crime because in many ways it was that event that led ultimately to the emigration of my great-great-grandmother Eva Goldschmidt Katzenstein (Simon’s niece) and my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal (Fradchen’s nephew), who later married Eva Goldschmidt’s daughter, Hilda Katzenstein.

Thus, in some ways Simon’s crime may have led to the merging of three of my paternal family lines—Goldschmidt, Schoenthal, and Katzenstein—in America.  How very strange.

 

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  1.  HStAM 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No. G 40. 

A Personal Reflection: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Yesterday was a turning point in my life.  Since August, 1982, I have been a law professor.  Over the course of thirty-two years, I have taught over 4000 students various law courses, including copyright law, trademark law, antitrust law and contracts.  The students I’ve taught have been overall very hard-working, determined, and excited to be in law school.  I’ve enjoyed every semester, though perhaps not every day that I’ve taught during those semesters.  Sometimes I was tired, impatient, or disappointed; sometimes the students were bored or unprepared or frustrated.  But those were the rare days.  Almost all the time, I loved being in the classroom.  I loved helping students to learn, laughing with them, pushing them to try harder, and delighting in their successes.  It was never boring for me; it was almost always fun and rewarding.

Yesterday was my last day teaching law students.  After thirty-two years, I’ve decided to retire from the law school faculty and pursue other interests, including but not limited to genealogy.  I was not tired of the students or teaching, but it was time for a change.   I hope to find new ways to use my skills and love of teaching as a volunteer, working with a different type of student, teaching something other than law.  I want to learn new things myself.  I want time to do the things that I’ve not been able to do while working full time.  But I will miss teaching law students and preparing them for a profession that they are so excited and proud to enter.

Yesterday I said goodbye to my students.  I got choked up.  It caught me by surprise how emotional I was, how sad I felt.  I thought I would want to celebrate.  I’d been counting down the days all year.  Until this last week.  Then suddenly I no longer was counting the days.  It suddenly felt scary and sad.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have no second thoughts; I know this is the right thing for me and the right time to do it. But after 32 years, if I didn’t feel a little sad, what would that say about those 32 years? As my brother-in-law once said in a different context, if it doesn’t hurt when it’s over, it could not have been worth very much.

Yesterday is over; today I am processing what it meant.  But tomorrow I will start thinking about what is ahead.  I still have exams to grade, recommendation letters to write, one more faculty meeting, and graduation to attend.  But after that I get to start a brand new chapter of my life.  The third chapter.  Chapter One was preparing to be an adult: childhood, adolescence, and education.  Chapter Two was being an adult: raising a family, owning a home, having a profession.  Chapter Three?  I don’t know what Chapter Three will bring.  I hope it brings new challenges, new experiences, new discoveries.  I hope it brings time to reflect, time to give back, time to be with those I love, time to learn and write and think and read—all the things I love best.  I know that a big part of Chapter Three will be learning more about my ancestors, more about my family.  I know that this blog will be a big part of it as well.  All my life I have wanted to write.  This is my chance.  This is my time.  Tomorrow is here; yesterday is over.

 

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