More Blessings and More Insight into My Seligmann Ancestors

This morning I woke up to another email that made me smile to start my day. But to understand why, I need to backtrack a bit.

One of the passages that was translated by Ralph Baer from Ludwig Hellriegel’s book on the history of the Jews of Gau-Algesheim indicated that Moritz Seligmann had originally come from Gaulsheim, a town that is only five miles from Gau-Algesheim.  In this passage, Hellriegel described Moritz Seligmann’s attempt to get permission to move to Gau-Algesheim in 1828.  He was denied permission the first time because the mayor concluded that there were already too many Jews in the town.  He then appealed, and although the mayor still wanted to deny him permission, Seligmann prevailed because he was legally entitled to move to the town.

This passage gave me a clue as to where Moritz, my three-times great-grandfather, might have been born, and Ralph suggested I contact the archives in Gaulsheim for more information.  I found an organization called Arbeitskreis Judische Bingen, or a study group of Jews in Bingen. (Bingen now includes the town of Gaulsheim.)  I wrote to the organization, asking for any information that they might have on Moritz Seligmann or his family.

And that brings me to my happy morning email.  A woman from the Arbeitskreis named Beate Goetz sent me a copy of the marriage record for Moritz Seligmann and Eva Schoenfeld.  Not only did this email confirm that Moritz was born in Gaulsheim (on January 10, 1800) and that he married Eva Schoenfeld (on February 27, 1829), it told me the names of my four-times great-grandparents, Jacob Seligmann and Martha nee Jacob/Mayer (my guess is that Mayer was the surname adopted by her father Jacob when surnames were required in the early 19th century).

In addition, I know now when Eva Schoenfeld was born (June 2, 1806) and where she was born (in Erbes-Budenheim), and I know her parents’ names: Bernhard Schoenfeld and Rosina Goldmann.  Assuming that Eva and Babetta, Moritz’s second wife, were sisters, Bernhard and Rosina were also my four-times great-grandparents.  Now I need to see what records I can find in Erbes-Budenheim to determine if in fact Eva and Babetta were sisters.  Beate said that she would also continue to look for a birth record for Moritz (who was born Moises) and any other relevant records.

Marriage record for Moritz Seligmann and Eva Schoenfeld February 27, 1829 Gaulsheim, Germany

Marriage record for Moritz Seligmann and Eva Schoenfeld February 27, 1829 Gaulsheim, Germany

I also know from Ralph’s additional translation of the marriage record that Jacob Seligmann and Bernhard Schoenfeld were both traders as was Moritz.  The record also indicated that the bride’s parents did not attend the wedding; as Ralph explained, this was probably a second ceremony for purposes of civil law and thus not as important as the religious wedding ceremony, which presumably the couple’s parents did attend.

Thus, thanks to Ralph Baer’s translation of a passage in the Hellriegel book, I now have learned the names of four more of my ancestors.

The Hellriegel book just continues to be a treasure chest of information.  Thanks to Matthias Steinke, I also have a translation of another few passages of Ludwig Hellriegel’s book, which shed some additional light on the character of my ancestor Moritz Seligmann.

In one passage, Hellriegel discussed the education of Jewish children in Gau-Algesheim.  He reported that until 1841, Jewish boys were taught Hebrew and other important subjects by their fathers, but in 1841 they were permitted to attend the Christian school in town.  Apparently, this was difficult for the Jewish children, so Moritz Seligmann applied in 1850 to remove his children from the school.  He then hired a private teacher named Benjamin Mayer from Essenheim to come to Gau-Algesheim to teach the children. (Essenheim is about ten miles from Gau-Algesheim.)

Apparently, however, Mayer ran into trouble in Gau-Algesheim for speaking badly about the Catholic Church, saying in front of the children and two other witnesses that those who believe in the Catholic faith are “downright stupid.”  He reportedly left Gau-Algesheim shortly after this incident.

I found this passage interesting in many ways, but mostly for what it told me about my great-great-great-grandfather Moritz.  He was a man who was determined to see that his children received a good education and in a setting where they were comfortable. That is a value that has certainly been passed down the generations in my family.  Moritz also was apparently a man of some means since he had the money to hire a private teacher.

Coat of arms of Gau-Algesheim

Coat of arms of Gau-Algesheim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Matthias also helped me better understand a passage about Moritz and his knowledge of German.  According to Matthias’ reading of this paragraph, Moritz had some role in the synagogue as an educated man.  He was in charge of writing the lists of Hebrew prayers to be assigned to those who made contributions to the synagogue.  (This is somewhat unclear to me.  Perhaps these were prayers for certain members to lead or perhaps these were prayers for the benefit of certain members, or maybe the book is referring to payment in order to receive the honor of reading Torah in synagogue.)

A man from Mainz, Mr. Landauer, commented that Moritz was able to write German very well in compiling these lists, but that he had trouble with “unpunctured” Hebrew.  I asked Ralph Baer what he thought unpunctured would mean in this context, and he explained that the German word could also be translated as undotted and that the reference to undotted Hebrew most likely meant that Moritz had a hard time reading Hebrew without vowel markings.  So Moritz was more fluent in writing and reading in German than he was in Hebrew.


By Assyrio (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The final passage that Matthias helped me understand involved Julius Seligmann, the grandson of Moritz and son of August Seligmann, discussed previously.  He was the Seligmann who converted to Catholicism upon marrying a Catholic woman.  What I had not been able to understand before were references to Julius closing his business in 1935 in Gau-Algesheim and being the last Jew in Gau-Algesheim when he and his family left in 1939.  He and his family moved to Bingen, and the book states that there the police chief did nothing against him and that his two sons Herbert and Walter were even allowed to enlist in the army, although dismissed shortly afterwards.

With a better idea of what the words say, I now think that I understand the significance of this passage.  It seems that Julius, despite converting, was still seen as a Jew when the Nazis came to power and thus was forced to close his business.  However, once he relocated to Bingen, he was not harassed by the police, perhaps because they did not know he was Jewish.  And perhaps the significance of the sons being able to enlist also relates to this ability to deny their Jewish roots, at least for a short time.

I am obviously still reading between the lines, and without being able to read the entire book and read everything in context, I fear that I may be misreading some of these isolated passages.  It’s a long term project to be able to understand the whole book and the whole story of the Jews of Gau-Algesheim.  But already this little book has enabled me to learn so much more about my Seligmann ancestors.

By the way, Seligmann means “blessed man” in German.  The more I learn about the Seligman(n)s, both German and American, the more it seems to be an appropriate surname for the family to have adopted, especially for those Seligmans who were fortunate enough to have left Germany before the Holocaust.