Part II: The Benefits of Teamwork

So who was Frederick Selinger, and how did he fit into the family? And who was Fanny Selinger’s mother?

In Part I, I described the research I had done first with Val Collinson in 2014 and then separately with Shirley Allen during the summer and fall of 2015 to try and find the connections between all our various Selinger relatives. Through that research we had established with a fair degree of certainty that Julius and Alfred Selinger, who married two of my Cohen cousins, sisters Augusta and Fanny, were themselves brothers, the sons of Seligmann Selinger and Breinle Hofstadter. We had also established that Helena Selinger Auerbach, who had been Val’s great-grandmother, was a first cousin to Julius and Alfred and the daughter of Abraham Selinger and Rosalia Wilhelmsdorfer.

Relationship_ Julius Selinger to Helena Selinger

We also had established that Fanny Selinger Rosenthal, Shirley’s grandmother, was also a daughter of Abraham Selinger, but Shirley and I had not found any document that revealed whether her grandmother Fanny was a full or half sister to Helena and the other children of Abraham Selinger; we had not found her mother’s name or where she was born.

And I still didn’t know how Frederick Selinger fit into the question.

We also knew that Abraham Selinger had immigrated to England by 1871 because he appeared on the 1871 UK census with a second wife, Gali, along with several children: Sigfried, Helena, Cornelia, and Oscar.  By 1881, Abraham had died, and his widow Gali was living with some different children: Morris, Flora, and Sidney, plus Oscar.  Aside from Helena, who were all these children, and where were they born?  I had no birth records for Cornelia, Morris, Flora, Sidney, or Oscar.

So by late November, we had many answers, but many questions remained.

Fast forward again to January 13, when I again heard from Shirley.  She had received a copy of the marriage authorization for Fanny Selinger and Jacob Rosenthal from the Chief Rabbi in London.  It confirmed that Fanny was the daughter of Abraham and that she was born in Hurben, but did not reveal her mother’s name.  Although we did not have any new information, the new communication inspired us to try again to get answers to our primary questions: Who was Fanny Selinger’s mother?  And how did Frederick Selinger fit into the family, if at all?

Fanny Selinger Rosenthal and her husband Jacob Rosenthal and children Gladys, Daniel, and Alfred Courtesy of Shirley Allen

Fanny Selinger Rosenthal and her husband Jacob Rosenthal and children Gladys, Daniel, and Alfred
Courtesy of Shirley Allen

After reviewing everything we had, I decided to post on the German Genealogy group on Facebook for information about records in Ansbach , where Oskar Selinger had claimed to be born on his UK naturalization record.  Although I was unable to find Ansbach birth records for the appropriate years, my friend Matthias did find two websites with information about Abraham Selinger in Ansbach: one, a website listing past and present tobacco businesses in Germany; Abraham Selinger was listed as the manager of Equity and cigar-tobacco factory in Ansbach from 1862 until 1871. Thus, it made sense that Oscar Selinger was born in Ansbach.

The second website was even more revealing.  It was an Ansbach police report from 1870 reporting the arrest on May 31, 1870 of Abraham Selinger from Hurben, manager of a cigar factory,  for fraud.  Perhaps that is why 1871 was both the last date he had the cigar business in Ansbach as well as the first year he appeared on UK records.

But it also meant that the children I believed had been born to Abraham in the 1850s—Frederick, Fanny, Morris, Flora, and Sidney—were probably not born in Ansbach if Abraham’s business there didn’t start until 1862.  So where were they born?  Shirley continued to contact various offices in Germany, and I tried to think of new paths for research.

And then I had the best idea I’d had yet.  While doing all this work with Shirley in 2015, I had somehow forgotten about my correspondence with Val Collinson back in 2014.  Maybe Val had made some new discoveries or would have some new ideas.  I wrote to Val on January 22, 2016, and now we had three heads working on the mysterious Selingers.

Filament Productions

Filament Productions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The emails started flying back and forth among the three of us, and it became clear fairly quickly that Val and Shirley had some relatives in common, that is, relatives they both had met or at least had heard of.  I just sat back, enjoying the fact that I had brought these two cousins together.  They both were descendants of Abraham Selinger:  Shirley through his daughter Fanny, Val through his daughter Helena.  We weren’t yet sure whether Helena and Fanny were full or half-sisters, but in any event Shirley and Val, who’d never heard of each other before and who live about 60-100 miles apart in the UK, are third cousins.  I was thrilled that I’d brought these two wonderful family researchers and cousins together.

Shirley and Val both had lots of information about the marriages and descendants of some of the other Selinger siblings and also some wonderful photographs, but neither had any information about Frederick and neither was sure as to the identity of the mother or birthplaces of Fanny, Cornelia, Morris, Flora, or Sidney.

And then on January 29, 2016, the walls started tumbling down.  Val found this on Ancestry:

JPF Ludwigshafen page

Ludwigshafen?? Where was that? It’s a town very close to Mannheim.  Could be this OUR Fanny? Val asked me to follow up because I have the broadest Ancestry subscription (All Access), and I was able to pull up a scan of the actual record.  And not only did I find birth records for Fanny, I found them for three other children, all born to Abraham Selinger and Rosalia Wilhelmsdorfer, his first wife.

The four children born in Ludwigshafen were:  Babetta, born in 1853, died in 1854; Flora, born in 1855 (later Flora Wallach); Fanny, born December 5, 1856; and  Sigmund (later Sidney) born in 1858.  We finally had a birth record for Fanny, and we knew now that she was in fact a full sister to Helena as they were both the daughters of Abraham Selinger and Rosalia Wilhelmsdoerfer.  Val and Shirley were officially third cousins.

 

Fanny Selinger birth record from Ludwigshafen Ancestry.com. Ludwigshafen, Germany, Births, Marriages, and Deaths, 1798-1875 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: Ludwigshafen Zivilstandsregister, 1798-1875. Stadtarchiv Ludwigshafen, Ludwigshafen, Deutschland.

Fanny Selinger birth record from Ludwigshafen
Ancestry.com. Ludwigshafen, Germany, Births, Marriages, and Deaths, 1798-1875 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
Original data: Ludwigshafen Zivilstandsregister, 1798-1875. Stadtarchiv Ludwigshafen, Ludwigshafen, Deutschland.

So that left three children whose birthplaces were still unknown: Morris, Cornelia, and, of course, Frederick.  Since Morris and Cornelia were both born before 1862 when the Selinger family arrived in Ansbach and after 1848 when the family had moved to Mannheim, I assumed that they were probably born in Mannheim.  The 1881 census recorded Cornelia’s age as 18, two years younger than Helena, whom they reported as twenty. But even English census records are unreliable.  Helena would have been turning 22 that year; maybe Cornelia was really 19 or 20 and thus born in 1850 or 1851.  The 1881 census said Morris was 28; he was probably born in 1852 since Babetta, the child who died in 1854, was born in 1853, in Ansbach.  Cornelia and Morris would also probably have been the children of Abraham and Rosalia since there were four children born to that couple even after Cornelia and Morris were born.

So I went back to the Mannheim records because my initial search had been only for the years between 1853 to 1859; now I searched the set of records before it, dating from 1842 to 1852.  And there they were, birth records for Cornelia (1850) and Morris (1852).  And Helena (1849).  All three were the children of Abraham Selinger and Rosalia Wilhelmdoerfer.

landesarchiv_baden-wuerttemberg_generallandesarchiv_karlsruhe_390_nr-_2862_bild_147_4-1229196-147 Birth record for Helena Selinger from Hurben

landesarchiv_baden-wuerttemberg_generallandesarchiv_karlsruhe_390_nr-_2862_bild_147_4-1229196-147
Birth record for Helena Selinger from Mannheim (center, left page)

 

So there are two birth records for Helena, one in Hurben, one in Mannheim.  Go figure.

Meanwhile, Val found yet another document:

Abraham Selinger - Ansbach, Germany JPG

(I cannot understand why neither the Ludwigshafen nor the Ansbach registers showed up for me when I searched.  Val has a magic touch with the search engine logic that I don’t have.)

I then retrieved the image of the actual document:

Abraham Selinger Lutheran register Ansbach

 

Abraham Selinger family in Ansbach Ancestry.com. Ansbach, Germany, Lutheran Parish Register Extracts, 1550-1920 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: Ansbach Lutheran Parish Register Extracts. Digital images Tobias Brenner Collection.

Abraham Selinger family in Ansbach
Ancestry.com. Ansbach, Germany, Lutheran Parish Register Extracts, 1550-1920 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
Original data: Ansbach Lutheran Parish Register Extracts. Digital images Tobias Brenner Collection.

This document revealed two more things: that Gali’s birth name was Kohn and that she and Abraham had had another child before Oskar, Isidor, who died when he was an infant. So now I had a record confirming that Oscar was born in Ansbach and that his mother was Gali Kohn, not Rosalia Wilhelmsdoerfer.

Shirley, Val, and I had pretty much closed the circle on the children of Abraham Selinger.  But despite all our efforts, we still had not found one record for Frederick Selinger.  If he was born in 1856 as his passport application and his death certificate indicated, he should have been included with those children born in Ansbach.  He would have been born around the time of Flora or Fanny, maybe even a twin of one of them.  But he wasn’t there. And he wasn’t in the Mannheim records or the Hurben records.

So something did not make sense.  Frederick was not the child of Abraham Selinger with either of his wives.  I was convinced of it now.  So who was he? What was I missing?

 

P question

P question (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

This is the part of the story where I just want to kick myself.  I went back once again to the Hurben birth records and looked more closely at the children born to Seligman Selinger.  There were nineteen of them.  NINETEEN.  Nine were born to Seligman and his first wife between 1835 and 1844.  They all were born too early to be Frederick.  Ten children were born to Seligman Selinger and his second wife, Breinle Hofstadter, between 1849 and 1866.  There were five girls and five boys from that second marriage.  The five boys were Heinrich (1852), Julius (1853), Sigfried (1855), Hugo (1860), and Alfred (1866).  Julius and Alfred were the two who had married my Cohen cousins Augusta and Fanny.  That left Heinrich, Sigfried, and Hugo. Could any of them be Frederick?

Sigfried.  Hmm, I thought.  That could have become Frederick, maybe?? But he was born December 29, 1855, and Frederick was born in December 1856, according to his US death certificate and his US passport application.  So what, I thought? People lie! He made himself a year younger. The more I thought about it, the more I thought that Sigfried was Frederick.  The disparity in the dates in December for his birthday (the death certificate said December 27, the passport application December 21) didn’t bother me either.  Jews in Europe might not have known their birthday on a Gregorian calendar, only a Jewish calendar.  Frederick might have just known that his birthday was close to Hanukkah and nothing more precise than that.

I went back to Ancestry to look at the records I had for Frederick.  The earliest two—his 1880 marriage record and the 1880 census—list him as Fred, not Frederick.  Fred could be a shortened version of Sigfried, couldn’t it?  So I decided to search for Sigfried Selinger.

Marriage record for Frederick Selinger and Rachel Cohen 1880

Marriage record for Frederick Selinger and Rachel Cohen 1880

And I found this ship manifest from 1872:

Siegfried Selinger ship manifest 1872 to Baltimore The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Records of the US Customs Service, RG36; NAI Number: 2655153; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85

Siegfried Selinger ship manifest 1872 to Baltimore
The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Records of the US Customs Service, RG36; NAI Number: 2655153; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85

Siegfried Selinger, sixteen years old, arrived in Baltimore in June 1872, when Sigfried Selinger of Hurben would in fact have been still sixteen years old.  I thought that this could very well be the man who became Frederick Selinger.  Supporting this assumption was the fact that his marriage record states that he was from Baltimore and that he ended up marrying a woman from Washington, DC, so it would make sense that he would have entered the US through Baltimore, as his naturalization papers indicated.    (They also say he entered the country in June 1871.  People lie!  People forget!)

Frederick Selinger passport application National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, 1795-1905; Roll #: 378; Volume #: Roll 378 - 14 Jul 1891-31 Jul 1891 Description Volume : Roll 378 - 14 Jul 1891-31 Jul 1891

Frederick Selinger passport application
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, 1795-1905; Roll #: 378; Volume #: Roll 378 – 14 Jul 1891-31 Jul 1891
Description
Volume : Roll 378 – 14 Jul 1891-31 Jul 1891

And when I searched for Fred Selinger in Baltimore, I found two listings in Baltimore directories, one in 1875, one in 1878.  I am quite certain I have found Frederick and now know that he was Sigfried Selinger,  the son of Selinger Seligmann and Breinle Hofstadter.  He was the middle brother to his brothers, Julius and Alfred, who followed him to the US in the following decade and married respectively the aunt (Augusta) and the sister (Fanny) of Frederick’s wife Rachel.

So why do I want to kick myself? Not only because I should have seen this much, much earlier, but because Ralph Bloch in fact told me he thought Sigfried could be Frederick way back in August, 2015.  I’d forgotten that until I reviewed all the old emails to write this blog post.  I probably saw his comment and forgot it or thought that I needed more proof.  And I got caught up in searching for Fanny and the other Selingers and for some reason assumed Frederick had to be the child of Abraham.  I could have so easily searched back then for Sigfried in the US and found what I found just this past week.

But actually I am so glad that I didn’t.  Because if I had done that in August, I might never have continued searching and working with Shirley and Val.  I might never have brought Shirley and Val together, third cousins who’d never known each other before.  I would have missed out on all the fun Val and Shirley and I have had as we worked together to solve this mystery.  That makes this all very worthwhile.

All this, you might say, for people who aren’t even my blood relatives? For people who happened to marry my distant cousins Rachel, Augusta, and Fanny?

It’s moments like this that I want to say, “We are all cousins.  Our families are all entangled.  And every person’s life, every person’s story is worth remembering and is worth memorializing.”

 

 

 

 

The Benefits of Teamwork: Part I

In my recent post, I mentioned that I had been working with two other researchers on the mystery of the three Selinger men who married my Cohen cousins.  Frederick Selinger had married my cousin Rachel Cohen in 1880 in Washington, DC.  Rachel was the daughter of Moses Cohen, my three times great-uncle (brother of my great-great-grandfather Jacob).  Julius Selinger had married Augusta Cohen in 1884 in Washington, DC; Augusta was the daughter of Moses Cohen, Jr. and niece of Rachel Cohen.  Finally, Alfred Selinger had married Fannie Cohen in Washington, DC, in 1893.  Fannie was also a daughter of Moses Cohen, Jr., also a niece of Rachel Cohen, and a sister of Augusta Cohen.

Julius and Augusta Cohen Selinger passport photos 1922

Julius and Augusta Cohen Selinger passport photos 1922

 

Way back on July 22, 2014, when I first posted about the three Selinger men, I had speculated that they all had to be related.  Both Julius and Frederick had documents indicating that they had been born in Hurben, Germany.  Alfred and Julius had lived together in DC before they’d married, and Alfred had traveled with Julius and Augusta to Europe before he married Augusta’s sister Fannie.  But I had nothing to support that speculation besides that circumstantial evidence.

Then a month later on August 5, 2014, I wrote about the marriage of Eleanor Selinger to Henry Abbot.  Eleanor was the daughter of Julius Selinger and Augusta Cohen; Henry was the son of Hyams Auerbach (Abbot) and Helena Selinger (some records say Ellen or Helen).  I was curious as to whether Helena Selinger was somehow related to Julius and the other Selinger men, Alfred and Frederick.  I thought that she might be since how else would an American woman have met an Englishman? And the shared name seemed too uncommon to be pure coincidence.

 

Eleanor Selinger Abbot and Abbot family-page-001

Eleanor Selinger Abbot (center) with the Abbot family Courtesy of Val Collinson

 

As I wrote then, I had contacted the owner of an Ancestry family tree who turned out to be Eleanor Selinger and Henry Abbot’s great-niece: Val Collinson.  Val and I exchanged a lot of information, but we could not at that time find any definitive evidence linking Helena Selinger, her great-grandmother, to Frederick or Julius or Alfred.  All were born in Germany, but it seemed from the records in different locations.  Helena’s marriage record indicated that her father’s name was Abraham Selinger, whereas Julius had indicated on his passport application that his father was Sigmund Selinger.  We were stumped.  And that was that.  Or so I thought.

Fast forward a full year to August, 2015, when I received a comment on my earlier blog post about Eleanor Selinger and Henry Abbot from someone named Shirley Allen, whose grandparents were Jacob Rosenthal and Fanny Selinger:

Fanny Selinger Rosenthal and her husband Jacob Rosenthal and children Gladys, Daniel, and Alfred Courtesy of Shirley Allen

Fanny Selinger Rosenthal and her husband Jacob Rosenthal and their children Gladys, Daniel, and Alfred
Courtesy of Shirley Allen

I’ve been delving into my paternal (Rosenthal) family history. I’ve found that my grandfather Jacob Rosenthal was married to Fanny Selinger. Unfortunately I haven’t found anything further about Fanny other than she was born in Germany, probably in 1857. However, I’ve recently come upon a wonderful paper lace invitation to the 1873 wedding of Hyams Auerbach and Helena Selinger that you referred to. What I don’t know is why Fanny would have been invited. Clearly she and Helena were related – but how ?

Needless to say, I was intrigued.  Maybe Fanny Selinger was related to Helena and/or maybe she was related to Julius, Frederick, and Alfred.  Shirley and I communicated by email, and we both started digging.

Invitation to the wedding of Helena Selinger and Hyms Auerbach Courtesy of Shirley Allen

Invitation to the wedding of Helena Selinger and Hyms Auerbach
Courtesy of Shirley Allen

 

I found a website called Jewish Genealogy of Bavarian Swabia (JGBS) that had records for Hurben and located 25 Selingers in their database, including those for Alfred and for Julius, who were the sons of Seligman Selinger and Breinle Hofstadter and thus were brothers, as I had suspected. Shirley and I both thought that Seligman Selinger had been Americanized to Sigmund by Julius on his passport application and that the birth records for Julius and Alfred confirmed that they were in fact brothers.

I also found a birth record for Helena Selinger, whose father was Abraham Selinger, not Seligman Selinger.  Abraham and his wife Rosalia Wilhelmsdoerfer had six children listed: Seligman (1842), Raphael (1843), Pauline (1845), Karolina (1847), Heinrich (1848), and Helena (1849). Pauline, Karolina, and Heinrich had all died as young children, leaving Seligman, Raphael, and Helena as the surviving children of Abraham.  Here is Helena’s birth record from Hurben in August 1849.

Helena Selinger birth record from Hurben http://jgbs.org/SuperSearch.php?Sp=3&Book=birth&Com=11

Helena Selinger birth record from Hurben (third from bottom)
http://jgbs.org/SuperSearch.php?Sp=3&Book=birth&Com=11

 

But what about Frederick?  And Fanny? And was there a connection between Helena’s father Abraham and the father of Julius and Alfred, Seligman Selinger?

A little more digging on the JGBS site revealed that both Abraham Selinger and Seligman Selinger were the sons of Joachim Selinger, thus confirming that they were brothers and thus that Helena was a first cousin to Julius and Alfred.

Marriage record from Hurben for Abraham Selinger, son of Joachim, and Rosalia Wilhelmsdoerfer http://jgbs.org/detail.php?book=marriage&id=%206671&mode=

Marriage record from Hurben for Abraham Selinger, son of Joachim, and Rosalia Wilhelmsdoerfer (second in page)
http://jgbs.org/detail.php?book=marriage&id=%206671&mode=

 

Seligmann Selinger, son of Joachim, marriage to Breinle Hoftsadter

Seligmann Selinger, son of Joachim, marriage to Breinle Hoftsadter (second from bottom) 1848 http://jgbs.org/detail.php?book=marriage&id=%206695&mode=

 

That meant that Eleanor Selinger, daughter of Julius Selinger, had married her second cousin, Henry Abbot, son of Helena Selinger.

 

But that still left us wondering about Frederick Selinger and Shirley’s great-grandmother Fanny Selinger.  How did they fit into this picture?

I contacted Ralph Bloch, the webmaster for the JGBS website, and he was extremely helpful.  More helpful than I realized at the time, but more on that later.  Ralph also could not find any evidence that Fanny was born in Hurben, and he reassured me that the birth records for Hurben were quite complete.  He even searched through the original pages to be sure that Fanny hadn’t somehow been missed when the records were indexed. (There was a Fany Selinger born in the 1830s, but that would have been far too early for Shirley’s ancestor.) Ralph also sent a photograph of Seligman Selinger’s headstone, which confirmed that his father’s name was Joachim or Chaim, his Hebrew name.

Seligman Selinger gravestone

 

So once again we hit the brick wall.  We still had not found either Frederick or Fanny.  Shirley said she would pursue it on her end, and I turned back to the other research I’d been doing when I received Shirley’s comment.

Not much happened again until late November when I heard again from Shirley, telling me that she had received a copy of Fanny Selinger’s marriage certificate, which revealed that Fanny was the daughter of Abraham Selinger.  Now we could link Fanny to Helena, also the daughter of Abraham, as well as to Julius and Alfred, Abraham’s nephews. But we didn’t know if Fanny and Helena were both the daughters of Rosalia Wilhelmsdoerfer.

Shirley’s research of UK records showed that by 1871 Abraham was married to a woman named Gali, and we assumed that Abraham had left Hurben at some point, that his first wife Rosalia had died, and that he had had several children with Gali.  That is what the UK census records from 1871 seemed to reflect. Abraham and Gali were living with Sigfried (28), Helena (20), Cornelia (18), and Oskar (4).  But there was neither a Fanny nor a Frederick.

 

Abraham Selinger and family 1881 UK census Class: RG10; Piece: 555; Folio: 86; Page: 3; GSU roll: 823397 Description Enumeration District : 10 Source Information Ancestry.com. 1871 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004. Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1871. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1871.

Abraham Selinger and family 1881 UK census
Class: RG10; Piece: 555; Folio: 86; Page: 3; GSU roll: 823397
Description
Enumeration District : 10
Source Information
Ancestry.com. 1871 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004.
Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1871. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1871.

Abraham died in 1880, and in 1881, Gali was living with four children, but aside from Oskar (13), they were all different from those on the 1871 census: Morris (28), Flora (surname Wallach) (25), and Sidney (23).  Now I was really confused.  Who were these people, and where had they been in 1871?  Flora was presumably married to someone named Wallach and now a widow, but Morris would have been eighteen in 1871 and Sidney only thirteen. Where were they living?  Who were they? None of those children were listed on the Hurben birth register on the JGBS site; in fact, there were no children listed for Abraham Selinger and any wife in Hurben after Helena’s birth in 1849.

Gali Selinger and family 1881 UK census Class: RG11; Piece: 472; Folio: 118; Page: 55; GSU roll: 1341103 Description Enumeration District : 9 Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1881. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1881

Gali Selinger and family 1881 UK census
Class: RG11; Piece: 472; Folio: 118; Page: 55; GSU roll: 1341103
Description
Enumeration District : 9 Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1881. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1881

I assumed that Morris, Flora, Sidney, and Oscar, all born after 1850, were born in a different place and perhaps to a different mother.  Certainly Oskar had to be Gali’s child since he was so much younger than all the rest and only four on the 1871 census.

Searching again on Ancestry, I found a new record:  an entry for Abraham, Rosalia, Seligman, and Raphael Selinger on the Mannheim, Germany, family register dated November 26, 1848.  What were they doing in Mannheim? By that time the three younger children, Pauline, Karolina, and Heinrich, had died.  Perhaps they needed a change of scenery.  But what about Helena? She was born in Hurben in 1849.

Then I found a second Mannheim family register that included Helena, the final entry on the page:

 

Abraham Selinger and family, Mannheim register Ancestry.com. Mannheim, Germany, Family Registers, 1760-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: Polizeipräsidium Mannheim Familienbögen, 1800-1900. Digital images. Stadtarchiv Mannheim — Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Mannheim, Germany.

Abraham Selinger and family, Mannheim register
Ancestry.com. Mannheim, Germany, Family Registers, 1760-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
Original data: Polizeipräsidium Mannheim Familienbögen, 1800-1900. Digital images. Stadtarchiv Mannheim — Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Mannheim, Germany.

My friends in the German Genealogy group,  Heike Keohane, Matthias Steinke, and Bradley Hernlem, came to my rescue and translated it to read, “Helene, his daughter, here born the 22 August 1849.”  So Helena’s birth is entered on the Hurben birth records (on the same date) and on the Mannheim records.  I’ve no idea which is the correct birthplace; maybe Rosalia went home to Hurben to give birth and returned to Mannheim afterwards where the family was living.

But perhaps now I could find out where Frederick was born, not to mention Morris, Flora, Sidney, and Oscar. Maybe they were born in Mannheim.  I checked the Mannheim birth records from 1853 through 1866 and found not one person named Selinger.  I checked over and over, looking at each page until my eyes were blurry.  There were no Selingers born in Mannheim during that period that I could find.

Then I discovered that Oskar Selinger had listed Ansbach as his birth place on his UK naturalization papers and thought that perhaps the family had moved from Mannheim to Ansbach.

Oscar Selinger UK naturalization papers The National Archives; Kew, Surrey, England; Duplicate Certificates of Naturalisation, Declarations of British Nationality, and Declarations of Alienage; Class: HO 334; Piece: 54 Description Description : Piece 054: Certificate Numbers A20701 - A21000

Oscar Selinger UK naturalization papers
The National Archives; Kew, Surrey, England; Duplicate Certificates of Naturalisation, Declarations of British Nationality, and Declarations of Alienage; Class: HO 334; Piece: 54
Description
Description : Piece 054: Certificate Numbers A20701 – A21000

I had no luck locating Ansbach birth records for that period, and by then it was Thanksgiving, and other matters distracted me, and I put the Selinger mystery on the back burner.

To be continued…..

The Memoirs of Lotte’s Sister Doris: Another Perspective on Life in Hitler’s Germany

Many of you enjoyed the memoirs and other writings of my cousin Lotte Furst, which are posted here, here, here, and here.  You will recall that Lotte and her family lived in Mannheim, Germany, and were living a comfortable life in a good home; Lotte’s father was a doctor, and her mother was the granddaughter of Hieronymous Seligmann, younger brother of my great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman.  When the Nazis came to power, Lotte’s life changed forever.  After suffering through years of anti-Semitism and deprivation of their rights, her family finally decided to leave Germany and came to the United States.  Lotte’s writings described in vivid terms her perspective on all of this as she experienced it as a young girl and then as a young woman.

I recently learned that Lotte’s older sister Doris also wrote a memoir.  Doris was four years older than Lotte, and thus I was curious as to how her perspective was like or different from that of her younger sister.  When Hitler came to power in 1933, Doris was seventeen and thus would have had a more adult-like view of things.  Doris died in 2007, and her daughter Ruth was kind enough to share her mother’s memoirs with me.  Much of it is quite personal, so I am going to focus on those sections that provide insights into the larger questions: what was life like before Hitler came to power, how did it change when he did, and what led to the decision to leave Germany? [All material quoted from Doris Gruenewald’s writings is protected by copyright and may not be used without the permission of her children.]

By Snapshots Of The Past (Parade Place and Kaufhaus Karlsruhe Baden Germany) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Snapshots Of The Past (Parade Place and Kaufhaus Karlsruhe Baden Germany) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Doris was born in October 1916 in Mannheim; Germany was in the midst of World War I, and her father, Joseph Wiener, was drafted into the German army as a medical officer soon after she was born.  Her mother, Annie Winter Wiener, went with Doris to live with her parents, Samuel and Laura (Seligmann) Winter in Neunkirchen, where Samuel owned a women’s clothing business.  Annie’s brother Ernst had recently been killed while serving in the German army after volunteering against his parents’ wishes.  Doris wrote:

He had been the apple of their eyes and his death dealt a terrible blow to both.  My grandmother wore only black from then on, and my grandfather’s health began to deteriorate.  They also lost their sizable fortune, having bought war bonds as their patriotic duty, which at the end of the war were not worth anything anymore.  My grandfather’s business was dissolved and then reestablished on a much smaller scale.

Ernst Winter Courtesy of Lotte Furst

Ernst Winter
Courtesy of Lotte Furst

Doris compared her grandparents’ home in Neunkirchen with her own home in Mannheim:

The house in Neunkirchen had a large garden in back of it, most of which was rented out.  The smallest part, directly behind the house, was used for growing some vegetables and flowers.  I remember loving to play in the garden and watching earthworms after a rain as well as other living creatures.  In Mannheim there was little opportunity for this kind of nature watching as we lived in a built-up urban area with little greenery, other than a well laid out park some distance from our apartment.

Neunkirchen

Neunkirchen

For several years while the French occupied parts of Germany after World War I, several family members housed French soldiers, and the neighborhood school Doris would have attended was also being used by the French military.  Thus, she had to go to a school somewhat further from her home for those years.  Like her sister Lotte, Doris pursued a highly academic path in school and was one of only six girls out of thirty students in her Gymnasium classes and then the only girl in her class when she reached the final years of her pre-university level education.

This excerpt provides a sense of the family’s lifestyle:

My parents employed a cook and a housemaid, and when my sister and I were still young, a “Kinderfraulein” who used to be an untrained young woman with an interest in children.  In other words, not quite a “governess.”  My father had help in his office and for some time also employed a driver after he developed a painful condition in his left arm, due to having to reach outside the car for shifting gears.  …. 

We had a Bechstein Grand piano in our living room. This instrument had been given to my mother as a young girl. She had really wanted to study music on a professional basis. But her parents felt that “proper” young ladies did not take up that kind of profession and did not allow her to pursue her wish. Instead, they bought her the Bechstein and let her have piano lessons.

I began taking piano lessons at age seven, with a teacher considered among the best in Mannheim. My mother, although an accomplished pianist, no longer played much. But occasionally, she and my father, who had learned to play the violin in his youth, would play duets together. That always was a special treat.

By Annaivanova (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Annaivanova (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I was particularly interested in what Doris wrote about the role of Judaism in the family’s life.

I grew up through the years with some awareness that we were Jewish, without knowing what significance that had then and later. Neither my parents nor my grandparents when I knew them observed any religious tenets. However, I was told that in past years my grandfather had been the head of the Jewish Congregation in Neunkirchen. My grandmother, who was president of the local Red Cross chapter for some time, used to fast on Yom Kippur. She reluctantly told me, when I kept asking her, that she had promised her dying mother to keep that tradition. As for me, I was kept home on the Jewish High Holy Days. My family did not attend any services.  …. 

At eight years of age I happened to be visiting my grandparents at the time of Passover. They had been invited by friends to a large Seder. Unfortunately, nobody thought of explaining to me what that was all about. My grandparents may have assumed that I knew, but I did not. I understood nothing of what was being read in Hebrew or spoken in German. I was utterly bored! Furthermore, when the ceremony asked for tasting the so-called bitter herbs, I bit off a piece of the horseradish on my plate and soon experienced the consequences of that act!

Unfortunately, I think far too many children, here in the US and elsewhere in the world, have that experience at seders.

The family was, however, required to provide some religious instruction because of the school system’s requirements:

There having been no separation of Church and State, religious instruction was part of the official curriculum. The students were separated one period per week according to their denominations. Most were Protestants, some were Catholics, and a few were Jewish. Since the number of Jewish children was so small, and in the case of my first-grade placement non-existent, my parents were required for that year to hire a private instructor in order to comply with the legal requirement. Thus, there suddenly appeared a not very clean looking young man with a greasy book, from which he proceeded to read and attempt to teach me-at six years of age-the Hebrew text. My recollection is that he came to our house only a very few times. I do not know how the religious instruction requirement was fulfilled after that disaster.

When, at fourth grade level, I changed schools, religion was taught by a little old man, a retired rabbi, who was very nice and even made some of what he taught rather interesting. But I developed no feeling for or interest in it at all, as it was totally divorced from the rest of my life.

Then, as Lotte also described, their father decided to withdraw from the Jewish community:

When I was fourteen, my father had some kind of a dispute with the Jewish Community, which was the official agency for collecting taxes. These taxes were legally mandated as a percentage of one’s general income tax obligation. I nearer knew exactly what the problem was, except that it had something to do with the amount owed, to which my father was apparently objecting. The Rabbi came to our house to straighten the matter out. Apparently he was not successful as subsequent events proved. (This rabbi became my brother-in-law at a much later time. He knew that I was far removed from religious observance, but he was always very tolerant and friendly to me.)

Whatever the problem had been, my father decided to leave the Jewish Congregation. Since I was already fourteen years old, I was required to state my personal intention. As I had no ties to the Jewish community, that was no problem for me. From then on I was without any religious affiliation, called “konfessionslos.” In practical terms it meant that I no longer had to attend religious instruction at school. I used the weekly free hour to visit the Art Gallery opposite the school building and saw a lot of very interesting, good art works.

Dr. Joseph Wiener

Dr. Joseph Wiener  Courtesy of Lotte Furst

Of course, the family’s withdrawal from the Jewish community and lack of religious involvement did not make any difference in the eyes of the Nazis once they came to power.  Doris wrote:

Between 1932 and 1935 I had a valid German passport, used during those years primarily for trips to the Saar to visit my grandparents and take the then permitted two hundred German marks to be deposited outside Germany. In those years the Saar was still under the administration of a French post-World-War I governing authority. My grandmother took care of such transactions. By the time I needed a new passport, the Nazis had decided that a big “J” had to be stamped on any so-called non-Aryan, meaning Jewish, person’s passport. Word had gotten around that one of the clerks in the passport office in Mannheim would issue a “clean” document without the dreaded J, for suitable consideration. I went to that office, saw the clerk in question, and for the small sum of five marks was issued a regular passport without the J. I still have this passport as a memento.

When the Nazis assumed power in 1933, we as a family re-joined the Jewish Congregation as a matter of honor. Not that it would have made any difference had we not done so as the Nazis classified people not necessarily by religion but by their so-called racial identity.

German Jewish passports could be used to leave...

An example of German Jewish passport. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Doris approached the end of her time in the local schools in the 1930s, she was both the only girl and the only Jew in her class.  She wrote that things did not change dramatically at school despite the political changes around them, but she did describe one troubling incident:

I entered the classroom in the morning, as usual. Upon approaching my desk, I saw that someone had pasted a viciously antisemitic sticker from the “Sturmer,” a rabidly anti-Jewish paper, on my desk. By that time, one of my classmates had begun wearing the SS uniform. I more or less assumed that he was the culprit, which in the end turned out not to have been the case. However, at that moment I decided not to confront him or anyone else. I sat down at another desk and waited for the right time to act. This came with the second period when the “Klassenlehrer”-the equivalent of our Home Room teacher-was due for his hour. … I waited for this teacher outside the classroom and told him my reason for doing so, adding that I knew there was nothing I could do about official policy and insults, but that I was not willing to put up with personal attacks.

This teacher, who, incidentally, had been an officer in World War I and had lost an arm, rose to the occasion. He and I entered the classroom together, and he immediately asked who had done this deed. Somewhat to my surprise, and perhaps his too, not one of the students admitted having put the sticker on my desk. There was nothing further he could have done: I do not remember whether he spoke to the class, but his earlier behavior had given ample proof of his opinion. … The incident occurred about one week before the final exam, the Abitur. It cast a pall over that important event.

Imagine being the only girl and the only Jew in the class and standing up for herself that way.  What courage it must have taken to do this.  What if her teacher had not been sympathetic?  Despite this stressful incident, Doris successfully passed the Abitur.  Although Doris was entitled to enroll in the university based on her father’s military service during World War I, Jews were prohibited from enrolling in either law school or medical school.  Instead, Doris decided to audit a few courses while awaiting a visa to leave Germany.  She wrote:

I had known for some time that I had to get out of Germany as there was no future there for me, and I was willing to take whichever came first [she had applied for both a US visa and a certificate to immigrate to Palestine]. However, I admit that I was relieved when the American visa materialized first.

The American Consulate closest to Mannheim was located in Stuttgart. In due course I was summoned for an interview with the American consular officials. I was in a somewhat unusual position in that my father had learned of a legal means of transferring money abroad, which was then discounted at the rate of fifty percent. The permissible amount was sufficient to enable me to show the U.S. Consulate that I had the requisite five thousand dollars for obtaining an immigration visa to the U.S. In this way I did not have to await my application number to come up in regular order, which would have taken a great deal more tame. I got my visa rather quickly. By that time I had also received a so-called Affidavit of Support from one of my grandmother’s cousins, whose father had emigrated in the nineteenth century and had settled in Cleveland, Ohio. This cousin was in very good financial circumstances and readily responded to our request for an affidavit.  …

I was very interested in determining who this cousin might have been.  If she was Laura Seligmann Winter’s cousin, she might have also been a cousin of mine, depending on whether she was a paternal cousin or not.  The only clues I had from Doris’ memoir were her married name (Irma Rosenfeld), her residence in Cleveland, her children: a son who was in his 20s in 1937, a daughter who was married, and another daughter who was a student at Vassar.

I found one Irma Rosenfeld living in Cleveland at that time who had two daughters and a son and was married to a man named Mortimer Centennial Rosenfeld (I assume the middle name was inspired by the fact that Mortimer was born in 1876, the centennial of the Declaration of Independence).  I sent Lotte the photo from that Irma’s passport application, but Lotte was unable to confirm from the photograph that it was the right Irma Rosenfeld.

Irma Rosenfeld and daughter passport photo 1924 Ancestry.com. U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2007. Original data: Selected Passports. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Irma Rosenfeld and daughter passport photo 1924
Ancestry.com. U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2007.
Original data: Selected Passports. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

After reading Doris’ memoir, I went back to all the documents I had for her and examined more closely the passenger manifest for her trip to the US in 1937.  I had not seen the second page of it my first time through, but this time I noticed that it not only named Irma Rosenfeld; it had her street address in Cleveland.  It only took a glance at the 1940 US census for me to confirm that I had in fact found the correct Irma.

Doris Wiener 1937 ship manifest

Doris Wiener 1937 ship manifest part one

 p2 Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897.

p2
Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897.

A little more research revealed that Irma’s birth name had been Irma Levi, daughter of Isaac Levi and Fanny Loeb.  Since Doris and Lotte’s great-grandfather (and my three-times great-uncle) Hieronymous Seligmann had married a woman named Anna Levi, I believe that that is the connection between Doris and Irma.  Anna Levi was a contemporary of Isaac Levi; perhaps they were siblings, and thus Irma Rosenfeld would have been a first cousin, twice removed, of Doris and Lotte, their grandmother Laura’s first cousin.  Obviously, the family had stayed in touch with these American cousins, and even though Irma was American-born and had never met Doris before, she reached out to help her escape the Nazi regime.

Continuing now with Doris and her emigration from Germany:

Necessary preliminaries having been taken care of and good-byes having been said, it was time to arrange for the journey to America. We bought a ticket for me on the SS Washington, a twenty-thousand ton ocean-going passenger boat, and also obtained railroad tickets for me and my mother who wanted to accompany me to Cherbourg, the place of embarkation. …

In Cherbourg I said good-bye to my mother, for whom the separation was very hard, more so than for me. For one thing, I was looking toward something new. But perhaps more importantly, I had unwittingly insulated myself to some degree from the impact of events. This condition lasted for a long time and to some extent gave me some emotional protection….

In contrast to so many, I confess that I had an easy time. Not only was the way for coming to America smoothed. My parents also were well able to pay for my ticket and whatever other expenses arose in connection with my leaving. I was twenty years old at that time.  …

Aenne Wiener and Doris

Doris Wiener and her mother Courtesy of Lotte Furst

Doris explained why her parents and sister did not come with her:

The question has often been asked why my parents and sister did not come at the same time. Like a great many people, my father kept believing that the Hitler episode was just that, and he refused for a long time to see the situation realistically. Not so my mother. She was instrumental in organizing their own as well as her parents’ emigration to Luxembourg, and later their own to America.

Doris wrote that she arrived in New York in 1937 with $400.  Her parents had arranged for friends to meet her at the boat, and Doris stayed with them for a week before moving to her own apartment on the top floor of a building at 96th Street and Central Park West.  Doris also described a visit to Cleveland to see her grandmother’s cousin, Irma Rosenfeld, the woman who had provided the affidavit in support of Doris’ visa, as discussed above. “The slightly more than four weeks I spent with the Rosenfelds were very pleasant, with visits to their country club and other social activities.”  But Doris preferred to remain in New York City.

After returning to New York, Doris soon found employment in a dentist’s office and also soon met her future husband, Ernst Gruenewald.  They were married in May 1938.  Her mother Annie came to New York for the wedding, not only to witness the wedding but also “to gain insight into the international situation uninfluenced by German propaganda.”

My mother had intended to stay in America for about six weeks. But as she listened to the broadcasts available to us, she became increasingly agitated and decided to cut her visit short in order to initiate their emigration from Luxembourg to the United States. She had always been a very intelligent woman capable of making important decisions, many of which were advantageous. She returned to Luxembourg and was able to convince my father that this was the right thing to do. They arrived in the U.S. in April 1939, three weeks after the birth of our first child and about half a year before the outbreak of World War II.

Her grandparents, as we know from Lotte’s memoirs, did not fare as well:

During my childhood I had spent a good deal of time with them in Neunkirchen and was very fond of my grandmother. I knew her only from her mid-forties on, when in my eyes she was an old lady. She was a very reserved but warm person and managed their life very competently. My grandfather was a short, slim man who from the time I knew him as a person, was not well. …  My grandparents had applied for a visa to the United States before the outbreak of World War II, but failed to be granted immigrant status. In retrospect, I am convinced that my grandfather’s condition was the reason, as they had enough money to qualify for a visa. My parents also could have vouched for them. My grandfather ended up in Theresienstadt, where he died of pneumonia, as we were told after the war. My grandmother had suffered a fatal heart attack while still living in Luxembourg.

Doris and her husband Ernst and their family ended up relocating from New York to Chicago for a business opportunity a few years after her parents and Lotte arrived .  During the 1950s, Doris went back to school and obtained her bachelor’s degree while also raising her children; in 1961 she received a masters’ degree in psychology as well.  She then went on to get a Ph.D. in psychology, specializing in neuropsychology, which was itself still a relatively new field.  After obtaining her degree, she worked at Michael Reese Hospital in the Adult Inpatient department where she eventually became the director. Sadly, after twenty years there, she found herself forced out on the basis of their mandatory retirement age.  She had just turned seventy.

By Zol87 from Chicago, Illinois, USA (Michael Reese Hospital) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Zol87 from Chicago, Illinois, USA (Michael Reese Hospital) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1987 Doris and Ernst moved to California, where the winters were milder and where her sister Lotte was living.  Doris had obtained a California license before moving and was able to continue to practice as a psychologist when they moved, but did so only for a short period before retiring.  Ernst died in 1989, and Doris died almost twenty years later in 2007.

It was fascinating to me to read Doris’ memoirs after reading Lotte’s; both sisters wrote so clearly and so powerfully about their lives.  I can see that they had much in common: great intelligence, dedication to hard work and to family, astute powers of observation, and a love of language.  Doris struck me as the more thick-skinned of the two sisters, often talking about her independence and emotional distance from others, even as a young child.  Doris wrote about being somewhat of a loner and keeping her thoughts and feelings to herself.  I would imagine that those qualities served her well as she endured her teen years in Hitler’s Germany and a voyage alone to America in 1937 as well as her adjustment to life in America.

Overall, I am struck by how strong these two women were, both as children in Germany, as new immigrants to the US, and as women experiencing all the changes that came in the years after World War II.    I’d like to think some of that is the Seligmann DNA that we share, but I doubt that I would have been as resilient and brave as they had to be, if I had had to endure the challenges and hardships they did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lotte’s Story: A Post-Script

The response I received to the writings of my cousin Lotte was overwhelming.  People were very moved by her life story and by her writing. (You can find her story here, here, and here.)  Lotte has generously shared some additional writings and photographs about her family and her life, which I will share with you, with her consent.  (All of Lotte’s writings are protected by copyright and may not be reproduced without her permission.)

First, a reminder of how I am related to Lotte:

Lotte to me

 

For those who have not read the first installment of Lotte’s story, a brief recap:  Lotte grew up in Mannheim, Germany, with her parents, Joseph and Aennie (Winter) Wiener and her older sister Doris.  Her father Joseph was a doctor in Mannheim, and her family was living a comfortable life there.  Lotte was an excellent student and was enjoying a good life until the Nazis came to power in 1933.

Aenne Wiener and Doris

Aenne and Doris Wiener c. 1916

Joseph Wiener earlier picture

Dr. Joseph Wiener

Her grandparents, Laura (Seligmann) and Samuel Oscar Winter lived not too far away in Neunkirchen, where her grandfather was in business with his brother-in-law, Laura’s brother Jakob Seligmann.  Lotte described what it was like to visit her grandparents:

MY GRANDPARENTS’ HOUSE

Neunkirchen

It was a foregone conclusion that I spent most of my Christmas and Easter and also a couple of summer vacations at my grandparents’ house. I never was asked whether I wanted to go there. If so, the answer would have been “yes”. I liked them.

They lived in Neunkirchen in the Saarland, an area of coal mining and steel production administered by the League of Nations at that time. Their three-story attached row house was at Moltkestrasse 23, a nice residential neighborhood. A buzzer would open the front door after which another door with a glass panel opened to a short corridor. To the right on the first floor, called parterre, there was a fairly large carpeted and well-furnished salon and a quite formal dining room. Both rooms were dark and hardly ever used. The smelled a bit dank and musty. But to the left of the dining room a glass-beaded curtain opened to a long, enclosed, bright veranda where my grandmother kept a number of house plants including some she called amaryllis, her pride and joy. And yes, there was a rope-operated dumb-waiter from the kitchen above to the dining room. I used to love pulling those ropes and playing with it.

A toilet with a small hand basin and a spindle full of squares of cut newspaper, hardly to be called toilet tissue, was located half-way up the stairway  to the middle floor, the actual living quarters. The living room was fairly bright and not anywhere as elegant as the downstairs salon. The main attraction were my grandfather’s rocking chair and the blue and white KKL (Jewish National Fund) box filled with a number of coins. I liked to manipulate them out with a knitting needle. Of course I replaced them immediately. I knew the money was for a far-away country called Palestine.

Gilabrand at en.wikipedia [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Gilabrand at en.wikipedia [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Next to the living room was the fairly spacious master bedroom, dark and gloomy and actually taboo for me. But the bathroom was bright and big and quite an attraction for me because I could come in while my grandfather was still brushing his teeth and whistling while doing so. He used to announce that he was the only person with that capacity because he had false teeth. Oh, and of course the kitchen was on that floor but I did not spend much time in it and don’t remember the details, except that it opened up to a balcony where we would sometimes eat. On those occasions we had to constantly wipe off the ever-present soot that came from the coal mines.

The landing half-way up to the third floor featured an ice box. Not much food was stored in it. Certainly nothing kept there tasted fresh. We had to watch out for the sound of drip-drip-dripping water which meant the molten ice had filled the basin below it almost to capacity.

I slept in the first of the three bedrooms on the third floor, up a creaky stairway. It was pretty dark too with a large bed and a dresser. It also smelled pretty musty and the bed springs were making all kinds of noises. A large limp rag doll with a porcelain head and eyes that would open and close greeted me on the bed. It was the ugliest thing I can remember, but my grandmother thought I would like to play with it since it had been my mother’s. I hated it and tucked it away in a drawer very quickly. Early in the morning I could hear the crowing of roosters. Kickeri-kee they went. Kickeri-kee. On Sunday mornings that sound was joined by the ringing of several church bells. After all, Neunkirchen means nine churches. It did not wake me since I was not asleep any more but had to stay upstairs until I could get into the bathroom. On the way downstairs I was greeted by the aroma of freshly brewed coffee.

Two more rooms were located on that floor. One was a large storage room, mostly unused. The other was the former bedroom of my uncle, my mother’s brother, who was killed early in World War I. I was not allowed to enter that room. Probably it was locked. I believe it was kept exactly the way my uncle had left it. My grandparents never talked about it but never got over it. My grandmother only wore black or grey clothes.

Of course the house also featured a basement. There were at least two parts to it, one a coal cellar, unpleasant with a dusty smell all of its own, and a fruit cellar. That was a delightful place. I loved to go downstairs and inhale the aroma of apples, yeast cakes, apple pies and other goodies which were stored in the cool basement room.

The house really was quite gloomy and I probably was bored during my visits. But I never felt unhappy there. That was the way it was. And my grandparents certainly loved my visits and I loved them for it.

Her writing is so vivid that I can easily picture this large and dark house that she visited as a small child.  It’s incredible to me how clearly she remembers this house and these visits.

Samuel, Laura, and Anna Winter and Jakob Seligmann

Lotte’s grandparents Samuel and Laura Winter, her mother Anna (Winter) Wiener, and her great-uncle Jakob Seligmann

 

Lotte also has painted a wonderful portrait in words of her great-uncle Jakob Seligmann, depicted above, far right:

Onkel Jakob

He was a good-looking man. Portly and erect. He had a rosy complexion, a well cared-for short white beard, short white hair surrounding his mostly bold pate, an aquiline nose. Portly, I said. His belly protruded just enough to display a heavy golden watch on a chain. That was Onkel Jakob, my grandmother’s brother and thus my mother’s uncle. He was my grandfather’s business partner.

He was very fastidious. His shoes were always shined and a crisp handkerchief was tucked in his left upper coat pocket. He spoke clearly and slowly in a baritone voice. He showed up at the office at exactly the same time every day. On Sundays at 10 o’clock he walked to the train station, about 20 minutes from where he lived, in order to check the correct time and reset his watch if necessary. He wanted to make sure his gold watch, so prominently displayed on his belly, was correct. Once the watch was set, he might pick me up at my grandparent’s house in Neunkirchen. He took me and perhaps my sister too for a walk in the nearby woods, right behind my grandparent’s store. Sometimes Herr Eisenbeis, the owner of the building, would join us. He was a hunter and carried a long rifle. He actually was looking for deer in the birch woods. I never saw him shooting any but I did see a number of deer. Herr Eisenbeis was stocky and short. He was dressed in a green hunter’s outfit. He spoke in staccato sentences and was very abrupt and very Prussian. I did not like him very much.

But back to Onkel Jakob. I did like him and I also liked Tante Anna, his wife, who was quite beautiful and a wonderful cook. She served different kinds of food from those my grandmother made because she was not Jewish and was born in Hamburg in northern Germany. She had a brother in Kalamazoo. I remember because that name sounded very funny.

Onkel Jakob’s life seemed to be run strictly by the rules. He was pedantic, to say the least. But something went utterly against those rules. He never brought Tante Anna to my grandparent’s house. Somehow I found out that she was not welcome there because she was a shikse and because she had been Onkel Jakob’s housekeeper for many years and that they had only recently been married. It was not fair. She was a good woman who went with Onkel Jakob when he had to leave Neunkirchen to move to Luxembourg during the Hitler years. She was the one who kept in touch with my mother as long as she could after World War II broke out. Through her we learned that my grandmother collapsed on the doorsteps and died when the Nazis marched in. That my grandfather had been deported. And that Onkel Jakob had died before the same fate could happen to him. That both he and my grandmother were buried in the Jewish cemetery in Luxembourg for which she supplied the address. She finally moved back to Hamburg where she had some family. After that we did not hear from her again.

I remember Onkel Jakob as a very pedantic man. But along with him I also remember Tante Anna who was a kind and good woman.

As she wrote in Part II of her story, her grandparents and her great-uncle all moved to Luxembourg around 1935 to escape the Nazis.  They were, however, unable to come to the United States when Lotte and her parents left in 1939, and all three died during the Holocaust.  There is a memorial stone for the three of them in Luxembourg.

Winter stone

 

Fortunately, Lotte, her sister, and her parents were able to move first from Germany to Luxembourg and then to the United States in 1939 where Lotte successfully completed nursing school.

 

Lotte

Lotte

I was curious about what had happened to her father Joseph Wiener after he came to the US.  He’d been a doctor in Germany, and I asked Lotte whether he had been able to continue practicing medicine after coming to the US to escape the Nazis.  She shared this essay:

FACING DIFFICULTIES

Imagine having to learn a new language, having to take difficult tests in it, living in a completely new environment and under completely different circumstances, and making the best of it, all at the age of 56 which was considered “getting there” agewise at the time? That’s what happened to my father.

Under duress he had to give up his medical practice in Germany. Other than his native German he knew a little French and of course had studied Latin and Greek in highschool. In Luxembourg where we lived for a year he had no way of working in his profession. Knowing that it was just an interim stop he began to study English. “1000 Words of English” was his first textbook. It was over-simplified and actually quite hilarious. “Do you like this girl?” was the beginning of one of the dialogues. “I not only like her, I love her” it went on. “She has millions of dollars”. That kind of thing really was not adequate , but he learned. My mother who did speak English fairly well taught him some more. And then we left for America.

He felt very strange but he knew he had to make the best of it. He learned that he would have to take the New York State Boards in order to practice medicine. Anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, psychology, the whole works. He plowed right into it. The English language came “as you go” so to speak. He might have taken a course or two, I don’t quite remember. His pronunciation was not great, but then neither was mine.

Meanwhile I started nursing school. Since I had a few of the same courses, though in drastically abridged form, I helped him some whenever I had a chance to get home. He really worked hard at it. He also found time to play the stock market, thanks to two very good advisors whom he knew from before. Whatever little money my parents had managed to smuggle or take out of Germany needed to be augmented in order provide for a decent living. He had no illusions about the income from his medical practice, whenever that would materialize. But the war had started, the market was going up, and as I said, he had some very good advisors who went for safety and not for speculation.

After studying for almost two years my father applied for the State Boards. Miraculously he passed almost all of the difficult courses. All except one in a course called “Hygiene”. The Board, consisting of physicians eager to keep out the new competition g by German immigrants, could not in good conscience let him pass. So he had to take a refresher course and an additional exam, fortunately just in the one subject.

Now he would be able to hang out his shingle. My parents moved from apartment B61, on the sixth floor of the Park Chateau building at 8409 Talbot Street,  Kew Gardens, to a spacious five-room one on the ground floor in the A building. My sister, her husband and their little girl, who had been sharing the upstairs apartment with my parents, moved to their own place a  convenient distance away. My father bought second-hand equipment for his office. He posted a sign reading “Joseph Wiener, M.D. Physician” or something like that at the front of the building. I must explain that it was and probably still is quite customary for New York physicians to practice out of their living accommodations. No need to rent a special office space.

I remember the “Field of Dreams” movie with the theme “when you build it, they will come”. Well my father opened his office and a few patients came. Not too many, but at least it was a start. By now he was 58 or 59 years old and not too anxious to establish a large practice. He definitely did not to drive a car any more. His clients would have to live in walking distance. That worked out just fine. The neighborhood with its small homes and working-class occupants which started right behind the Park Chateau building turned out to be just what he needed. They did not come in droves. Just enough to keep him happily satisfied. He charged $3.00 for an office visit. Sometimes he did not charge anything. He made house calls by walking there. He joined the local AMA chapter and enjoyed going to their meetings. I suppose he was glad to get away from home once in a while. He also looked forward to what they called “collation” on the invitations. It took a while to figure out that meant refreshments. For several summers he worked  as the physician at a summer camp in the Catskills. The kids and also heir parents loved him and respected him. He had a great time there.

But then his health gave out. His arteriosclerotic heart grew weary. It took a few years before it went into failure. A few critical episodes followed. And yet he was determined to face this fact. Released after an early April stay in an oxygen tent at the local hospital, he proceeded to file his income tax. He knew his house was in order. He knew my mother was well provided for. And then he went to sleep. No longer did he have to face any difficulties.

Joseph Wiener MD

Dr. Joseph Wiener

You can see the sadness in Joseph’s eyes (as well as his strength) in this later photograph as compared to the one above that was taken in the pre-Hitler era.

I also asked Lotte about her own adjustment—in particular, how she was able to do so well in her studies, given that English was not even her first language.  She shared with me this essay:

MOTHER TONGUE

It is obvious. The moment I open my mouth, people recognize my accent. “Charming”, they may say. “Annoying”, it seems to me. I can’t hear it myself, except when I listen to my own phone message. “That’s me?” It sure does not sound like it. It sounds like a stranger.

Whether I like it or not, German is my mother tongue. That’s what I spoke exclusively until I was seventeen. That’s what my schooling and much of my thinking are based on. That’s what influenced my formative years. But that’s not what I spoke for many years. After all, I left Germany under the pressure of the Hitler years. When I left, I was sure I would never look back, never return again and never want to be involved with anything German. I had to start a new life. And when I met my husband who was from Vienna which after all is not Germany, we hardly ever spoke German. It was during the war, and the language was not welcome. Besides, in Austria they use a number of different terms for everyday common things, and we would begin to argue who was right. So we dropped it and just spoke English.

Learning English was not difficult for me. For a while I took English as an elective in high school.At age sixteen I took some private lessons at a Berlitz School where you are immersed in the foreign language. My courses included conversation, shorthand  and commercial correspondence. With my German and a strong background in French it came easily. The study of Latin and Greek was very handy to understand grammar and vocabulary. But the pronunciation! German is a phonetic language while English is not. That caused – and causes – some trouble. While I pride myself in being completely fluent in English, I still may pronounce certain words the way I think they should be pronounced, the way I can sound them out. That is especially true with proper names many of which have been anglicized, for no good reason so it seems. Why for example should Verdi be pronounced “Voedy” when in Italian it is VERDI, or “Aphrodite” sound like “Aphrodaite” while the I in Greek is just that: “EE”? Well, so much for that.

I do think and figure almost exclusively in English. But sometimes an old German adage creeps in. And oh how many such words can be found in that language. There is a saying of wisdom for just about everything. And certain words simply cannot be translated – they are idiomatic. Just like the Yiddish schlemiel, or chutzpah. There is no English word for that.

I can still converse fairly fluently in my erstwhile mother tongue. People who did not know about my background would comment that for an American I spoke very good German. Little did they know. But when it comes to writing it becomes more difficult. For many years I had a lively correspondence with one of my high school friends who did not speak English. Often I would have to beat around the bush, so to speak, and find some alternate, perhaps awkward way to describe what I wanted to say. And reading German books or communications. Those convoluted intertwined interminably long sentences. English is much more direct.

Somehow I cannot think of English as being my mother tongue. It is not, although it is what I use almost exclusively. Somewhere, deep in the crevices of my brain my German background prevails. Sometimes it comes to the fore. After all, that is my mother tongue.

There is no question that Lotte has mastered the English language; very few of us for whom English is our mother tongue can express ourselves as well as she does in her adopted language.

Once again, I was and continue to be struck by how determined and how positive Lotte was as a young woman and how she has remained so to this day.  These more recent photographs of her show her indomitable spirit in her smile and in the light in her eyes.

Uli and Lotte 1988

Lotte and her husband Uli 1988

Lotte Furst in 2006

Lotte in 2006

 

My Cousin Lotte’s Story, Part I: A Childhood in Germany during the Weimar Republic (1918-1933)

It has been a true blessing to connect with my cousin Lotte.   Lotte is the daughter of Joseph and Anna (nee Winter) Wiener.  Her mother Anna was the daughter of Rosina Laura Seligmann. Laura was the daughter of Hieronymous Seligmann, brother of my great-great-grandfather Bernard and son of Moritz and Babetta Seligmann, my three-times great-grandparents.  Thus, Lotte is my third cousin, once removed.  Her story is a remarkable story.

Relationship_ Amy Cohen to Leonore Lotte Wiener

Lotte was born in Mannheim, Germany, in 1921, and she left Germany with her parents in the late 1930s to escape Hitler and the Nazis.  Her education in Germany was cut short as a result, yet she came to the United States and successfully completed a nursing program in New York City shortly after immigrating.  But I cannot do Lotte’s story justice.  Fortunately, I do not have to because Lotte shared with me her memoirs and much of her other writing as well as some anecdotes she shared by email.  With Lotte’s permission, I am going to share some excerpts from her own writing and some of those anecdotes.

I am also including a link to her memoirs for anyone who wants to read them in their entirety.  You won’t be disappointed.  Lotte’s writing is poetic, evocative, and very moving.  This post will cover Lotte’s early life in Germany; subsequent posts will cover her life once Hitler came to power and then Lotte’s early years adjusting to life in the United States.  (To read Lotte’s memoirs in their entirety, click on My Story Lotte Wiener Furst. Copyright Lotte Wiener Furst 2015. Not to be reproduced in whole or in part without permission of the author.)

Lotte described her maternal grandparents Samuel Oskar Winter and Rosalind Laura Seligmann in these words:

My grandfather, born in Hülchrath, Westphalia, founded and owned a large dry-goods store. He had served his apprenticeship in a similar but larger store in Düsseldorf, having had to leave school at age fourteen because his mother was impoverished. He had a sister who never married, and a brother who later lived in Saarbrücken with his wife and two daughters, where he died quite young of syphilis. My grandfather was small of stature, but had a formidable mind and a keen, dry sense of humor. For quite a few years he served as a trustee of the local synagogue although he was not particularly observant.

My maternal grandmother was one of five siblings. Her family owned a vineyard in Gau-Algesheim, near Bingen, a place where my mother spent part of her childhood and which she always remembered very fondly. My grandmother also had left school at the age of fourteen in order to take care of her mother who was dying of tuberculosis, and to whom she had promised to always fast on Yom Kippur, and to observe Passover, promises she kept very faithfully. She loved poetry and could recite beautifully many of the sometimes very lengthy poems by the beloved German poets Goethe and Schiller. While my mother was growing up, my grandmother kept the books and otherwise assisted in the store. Keeping house was the task of Tante Yettchen, her spinster sister-in-law.

Laura Seligmann Wiener with two of her sisters, Bettina Seligmann Arnfeld and Johanna Seligmann Bielefeld Courtesy of Lotte Furst

Laura Seligmann Winter with two of her sisters, Bettina Seligmann Arnfeld and Johanna Seligmann Bielefeld
Courtesy of Lotte Furst

Samuel and Laura Winter had two children, Lotte’s mother Anna and her uncle Ernst.  Ernst was killed fighting for the Kaiser’s army in World War I:

My mother had one brother, Ernst, one year her junior. At the beginning of World War I he enlisted in the German army along with all of his classmates, much to the horror of his parents. He was killed six weeks later in the first Marne battle. My grandparents never recovered from the shock. I never saw my grandmother in anything but grey or black clothing. My uncle’s room was left untouched, and I was never allowed to enter it. My grandfather lost all his drive for maintaining the business, gave up his large store and became a partner in a much smaller one which was now mostly run by my grandmother’s brother, Uncle Jack, a very distinguished-looking but not very capable gentleman.

(“Uncle Jack” was Laura’s older brother Jacob, about whom I wrote here.)

Ernst Winter Courtesy of Lotte Furst

Ernst Winter
Courtesy of Lotte Furst

How painful it must have been for Samuel and Laura to lose their son and then have the country he fought for betray them less than twenty years later.

As for Lotte’s mother Anna or Aennie, she was afforded a fine education as the daughter of a successful merchant:

My mother’s higher education consisted of a year or two in a finishing school, followed by some time in England where one of my grandmother’s uncles had established his residence. Her stay there was cut short, however, because this uncle, who owned several hotels and was very wealthy, made some unsolicited advances, and she fled in terror. The time spent in England provided her with an excellent chance to learn the language, which turned out to be quite an asset later on. She also was an accomplished pianist. Actually she aspired to become a concert pianist or at least a teacher of piano, but my grandparents felt that to be entirely inappropriate for a young lady of good bourgois upbringing. Their denial made her very unhappy but was mitigated somewhat when she received a beautiful black Bechstein grand piano as a wedding gift.

Samuel, Laura, and Anna Winter and Jakob Seligmann

Samuel, Laura, and Anna Winter and Jakob Seligmann (Laura’s brother) Courtesy of Lotte Furst

The uncle in England referred to above was, of course, James Seligman, born Jakob Seligmann, the younger brother of Hieronymous and Bernard Seligmann, the same James Seligman whose estate created quite a ripple of activity in the family and provided me with all those Westminster Bank family trees.  Lotte also shared with me her own memories of James Seligman.  According to Lotte, “[James] owned one or several hotels in Scotland/England. He lived in one of them. Together with his wife Hedy he visited his family on the continent once. She was a big and very pompous woman. After her death he visited the family again to distribute her belongings. Everybody went out of the way to serve him fancy dinners. My mother hired a caterer and we had “omelet surprise” for dessert. My grandmother Laura made a very simple home-cooked meal which he found the best he’d had. “

James married Claire, his second wife, shortly after his first wife Hedy died.  Claire had been his nurse.  When James died, Claire had the right to the income from his estate for her life; when she died, the principal was distributed to the various heirs found by the Westminster Bank.  According to Lotte, her mother’s estate received $200 in 1985.  I guess I can’t cry too much over the fact that the Westminster Bank failed to find my father and my aunt while doing their investigation since it seems their inheritance would have been about $100 each, if that much.

My heart went out to Lotte’s mother Anna Winter, a young girl with dreams of being a concert pianist, whose dreams were thwarted by society’s limited ideas of what a woman could be back in those times.  Anna married Joseph Wiener in December, 1915.  Joseph was in the Germany army at the time and was a doctor; after completing his service during World War I, he and Anna and their first daughter Doris moved to Mannheim where he established his medical practice.  Lotte was born there a few years later during the years of the Weimar Republic.

Lotte’s description of her childhood home creates a vivid picture:

We lived on the second floor of a six story apartment building. There were two units on each floor. Our living quarters occupied one of these units while my father’s office and the maids’ quarters were situated in the other half. The office consisted of my father’s consultation room and a large waiting area where 20 – 30 chairs were lined up along the four walls, together with a coat rack and a spittoon. Doris and I shared one of the two family bedrooms, while the maids had to sleep in a very small and primitively furnished room, I am ashamed to say. They were not allowed to use our toilet, I am ashamed to say. … In addition to the maids, we had a part-time nanny and, for a few years at least, a part-time chauffeur who was mostly busy driving my father who had to make innumerable house calls. In 1923 or 1924 my parents had bought their first car, a black Benz, which unfortunately came to a sad ending when the chauffeur “borrowed” it for a joy ride and totally crashed it. The car was replaced by a green Buick, the driver was fired, and my father did his own navigating from then on.

****

Originally we had separate stoves in the various rooms, one of them a real pot-belly stove called “Der Amerikaner”. But in approximately 1928 my parents obtained permission to remodel our two apartments, and central heating was installed. The furnace, placed in the kitchen, had a large flat surface on which to keep pots of hot water and to make baked apples at times. It also provided a lot of soot. The noise of one of our maids stoking the fire early in the morning usually woke us up.

The living room featured three wall-to-ceiling bookcase units, separated by two bay windows. There was a wealth of information in those books, and my parents placed no restrictions on our choice of reading material. I devoured almost everything: fiction, classics, history, you name it. But I certainly did not retain most of the material I read. Other furniture included three caned armchairs, a round coffee table with marble top, a green velvet-upholstered sofa, and a large oak desk.

A doorway, equipped with a curtain, led to the dining room half a small step above. For a while Doris and I used this setting to put on some improvised shows. The oak dining room table was large and massive. Other than for dining we used it as an improvised ping-pong table when extended. Of course the proportions were not right, and the ball would bounce off when it hit the extension crack in the middle.

…  My parents’ bedroom had mahogany furniture and yellow wallpaper with green and red intertwined garlands. I would stare at them at the times when I was allowed to lie on Mutti’s bed when I was sick, and I thought they were ugly. Doris’ and my bedroom was not so fancy. It was equipped only with two iron beds, a dresser, a night stand, and a clothes closet.

Between the bedrooms was a bathroom, used only for bathing. We had a separate toilet a little further down the hall and next to the kitchen which featured to a stove, oven, furnace, table and two chairs and an icebox, later replaced by a Frigidaire which was usually kept locked.

By Snapshots Of The Past (Parade Place and Kaufhaus Karlsruhe Baden Germany) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Mannheim, Germany  By Snapshots Of The Past (Parade Place and Kaufhaus Karlsruhe Baden Germany) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Lotte also wrote about her parents’ various responsibilities in the household:

My father (Vati) was a very busy general practitioner. He had long office hours and also made numerous house calls every day, frequently to people who lived on the fourth, fifth or sixth floor of walk-up apartments. Elevators were non-existent in the working-class neighborhood where we lived. But he was always home for lunch, the main meal of the day, which was served at 1 PM. Breakfast was not a family affair – Doris and I had rolls with butter and jelly, delivered fresh every morning from the bakery across th street, and a cup of tea before leaving for school which started at 8 AM. During morning recess we had a “second breakfast” consisting of a sandwich which we brought from home. The light evening meal was served at about 7 PM. 

My mother (Mutti) attended to the household: instructing, supervising and hiring and firing the maid(s), and doing the marketing which in itself was a very complicated job. Because many of the nearby merchants were my father’s patients, she had to keep track of with which grocer, which butcher, which baker she had done business last in order to keep all of them happy. Butchers were especially difficult. There were some who had the best and most aged beef, suitable for roasts, and some who carried a poorer quality and therefore were only good for meat that had to be boiled or braised. Sausage came from other sources: regular, ordinary sausage was bought at a nearby store, but kosher sausage with its distinctively different taste came from a Jewish butcher who lived quite a distance away. Vati frequently questioned where the meat came from, and Mutti, quite peeved, would answer “from the fish store”.

In addition to the household chores, Mutti kept my father’s books. At the beginning of each calendar quarter she had to add up all the patients’ slips pertaining to their insurance coverage, and submit them to the local health insurance office and to the few private insurance companies involved. Since Bismarck’s time in the 1880’s Germany had compulsory and comprehensive health insurance laws covering most of the working population. Self-employed and professional people took out their own private insurance. During those busy quarterly events Mutti was extremely nervous and tense. We knew better than asking her any silly questions.

After lunch, Vati usually took a short nap on the living-room sofa, followed, at least in the early years, by a cigar which I helped him light. He then resumed his afternoon office hours while I went back to school or to my music lessons or other activities. At some time during the afternoon I did my homework, never too much of a chore, and practiced my violin music for which I did not need any coaxing because I enjoyed it.

Lotte and her sister spent school vacations visiting Anna’s parents Laura (Seligmann) and Samuel Winter in Neunkirchen:

My grandparents’ (Oma and Opa’s) house had four stories: a large basement with a fruit cellar, a downstairs “salon” and formal dining room with a large veranda which was hardly ever used, another floor with the actual living quarters (living room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen), and three more bedrooms above that. The rooms were rather small, however. A rarely used dumb waiter connected the kitchen with the downstairs dining room. A mostly unkempt and unplanted  backyard, except for some large clumps of rhubarb, was also featured. The house overlooked a large and frequently used soccer field.

There was not very much to do at the house. I usually accompanied Opa to the store where he spent most of his time. The salesladies and the office help all were very nice. They gave me odds and ends of fancy yarns, remnants of cloth, and various sundries. The secretary let me use the typewriter where, one index finger at a time, I would compose never to be published letters and poems.

Oma meanwhile would be busy with her household chores. Once a week she attended meetings at a housewives’ club, and I would come with her whenever I was visiting. I believe they did some charitable work, but all I know for sure is that they gossiped a lot and always had a big “Kaffeeklatsch”. Every time they saw me, some of these ladies would ask whether I remembered who they were, followed by “my, how you have grown”. The club was the only outside activity Oma allowed herself.

By Daniel Arnold (Photo taken by Daniel Arnold) [CC BY-SA 2.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Town Gate, Neunkirchen By Daniel Arnold (Photo taken by Daniel Arnold) [CC BY-SA 2.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Lotte wrote a wonderful description of a day she spent with her Opa, but it is quite long, so I will leave it for those who wish to read her entire memoir.  I do want to include this description of her Oma, Laura Seligmann Winter:

My grandmother, Oma, was a fairly short, fairly plump woman. Her body, always dressed in rather shapeless grey clothes and bulging a bit in the center, did not seem to have any remarkable form of its own. But her oval face was kind and full of expression. Severely myopic, she had protuberant grey eyes. To help her poor eyesight, she used a lorgnette for reading. I don’t recall her ever wearing glasses. She also suffered from rheumatic heart disease, the result of rheumatic fever early in life, which incapacitated her a lot and finally contributed to her death.

To maintain her wavy, well-coiffured hairdo, Oma allowed herself the only luxury I was aware of. Once or twice a month she used the services of a hairdresser who came to her home to wash and set her hair, embellished by the use of a hot iron. She probably coordinated those appointments with the meeting dates of the “Hausfrauenverein” ( housewives’ club), a gathering of mostly Jewish old – or so it seemed to me – women who fairly fell over me when Oma took me along during my visits, exclaiming how I had grown and wondering if I still remembered their names. Whether the club members did anything socially worthwhile I do not know. I suppose they did. But I do know that they gossiped a lot while enjoying afternoon coffee and cake.

Oma’s most remarkable talent was her gift to recite poetry. With only a grade-school education, she had managed to memorize a great many of the famous German poems written in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, noticeably poems by Goethe, her hero, and also by Schiller. A glorified picture of Goethe adorned a wall in her kitchen, leading, to her bemusement, to a question by her milkman who wondered if that handsome man had been her father.

Laura Rosina Winter nee Seligmann

Rosina Laura Seligmann Winter, Lotte’s grandmother

For more on Lotte’s grandparents and their home, read MY GRANDPARENTS HOUSE by Lotte (Copyright Lotte Wiener Furst 2015. Not to be reproduced in whole or in part without permission of the author.)

Lotte, an exceptional student, also wrote about her early school experiences:

From first through fourth grade I attended the Hildaschule, the public school for girls in the district where I lived and about three blocks from our apartment. My first impression of the first grade classroom was that it smelled bad and was very noisy, featuring an enrollment of about 40 anxious little girls. The teacher was very strict – a real no-nonsense person by the name of Mrs. Seltenreich. The slightest kind of misdemeanor was usually punished by a sharp blow with a cane on the poor kid’s outstretched fingers. It required a great deal of courage to oblige her. I must admit that I never was in that predicament since I was a very good little girl. But I had one great shortcoming: From the very beginning my handwriting was very poor. I never earned anything better than a “3″ (on a scale of 1-5) in that course. Later, when we started to write with ink, I did not produce one paper without a smudge or an inkblot. I never could shake that weakness, and only with the advent of the computer did I learn to produce more or less perfect papers without any visible corrections.

Mrs. Seltenreich was replaced by Fräulein Unger from second to fourth grade. She was a very kind, stout elderly lady who really loved teaching, trying some innovative methods, thus commanding respect without the cruelty shown by her predecessor. I had one girlfriend at that time but did not spend much time with her. Once I accompanied her to the Catholic church across the street from the school, and she showed me how to make the sign of the cross and how to kneel, which I did because I did not know any better. When I told my mother, she instructed me never to do that again. I, however, knew hardly anything about my own religion except for the fact that I was Jewish and therefore different.

School hours were during the morning.  In the afternoon I usually went to a park with my nanny during the early school years. There I mostly played by myself or perhaps with one other child, sheltered kid that I was. In school we also had to attend an outdoor playtime session once a week. I did not like it too much because I did not know the games which most of the girls had played frequently. I was rather ignorant in social skills and did not participate very well.

In fourth grade I befriended a girl by the name of Johanna who lived on a river boat which made periodic stops in Mannheim, traveling up the Rhine from Holland. During those stops she attended my school. I proudly presented her to the handicrafts instructor (embroidery, crocheting and knitting were compulsory and part of the curriculum), only to be asked if she was also a Yid (which she was not). My mother was infuriated when I told her about this, so much so that she went to the School Board to complain. After all, we were living in Germany during the time of the democratic Weimar Republic. Discrimination supposedly was not allowed. I never found out if the teacher was reprimanded.

Reading this made me realize how drastically German society changed once Hitler came to power.  Here was Lotte’s mother, a Jewish woman, daring to complain about an anti-Semitic remark made by a teacher.  Just a few years later such anti-Semitism was the official law of the land.

After her early years in the girls’ school, Lotte was one of a small number of girls who were admitted to the almost all-male Karl-Friedrich Gymnasium, where she had to work extra hard and even box some of the boys in order to prove herself and win approval from her teachers. Lotte also spent many hours in the nearby art museum. She loved music and was exposed to music throughout her childhood.  She started taking violin lessons when she was eight years old and had the same teacher for nine years until she and her family emigrated.

Karl-Friedrich-Gymnasium Mannheim

Karl-Friedrich-Gymnasium Mannheim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although her grandmother Laura always fasted on Yom Kippur and observed Passover, as she had promised her mother, Lotte grew up with very little exposure to Judasim.  She wrote:

Prior to the Nazi rise to power I had a very cursory knowledge of the fact that I was Jewish. My parents were totally non‑religious. They agreed with Karl Marx that religion was “the opiate of the masses”. My father even resigned from the Jewish community since he did not see why he should pay the obligatory cultural tax. In school I was listed as “without religious affiliation.” None of the Jewish holidays were observed at our house.

But Lotte’s grandparents and other relatives of her grandmother Laura did provide her with some knowledge and experience with Jewish rituals and holidays:

But at my grandparent’s house I learned a little more about Jewish customs. My grandmother fasted on Yom Kippur. They only ate matzot during Passover. Best of all, they had a blue and white KKL (Jewish National Fund) box on their living room chest. Only pennies were inside, as I found out when I tried to fish out the money with a crochet hook (I always replaced the money, I only did it because 1 was utterly bored and had nothing else to do). But I do remember the outline of Palestine on the box, and I learned that it was the Jewish homeland far away.

Gilabrand at en.wikipedia [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Gilabrand at en.wikipedia [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

There also were some more observant relatives in Neunkirchen. One, a cousin of my grandmother, was married to the orthodox owner of a dairy store who did not make much money but beat up his poor wife and his three children every once in a while. I remember their son celebrating his bar‑mitzvah. A lot of complete strangers (to me) were assembled, including a very distinguished‑looking rabbi. Following the ceremony and the lunch people sat around talking and telling jokes. Since the rabbi looked so distinguished with his white beard, I asked him to write a word on a slip of paper as part of a puzzle I wanted to present. Well … The good rabbi told me very kindly that he did not write on schabbes, and that’s how 1 learned one of the basic rules of Judaism.

Lotte told me that the bar mitzvah boy was Heinz Goldmann, son of Anna Seligmann and Hugo Goldmann.  Anna was the daughter of August Seligmann, my three-times great-uncle.  Anna, Hugo, and their children were all killed in the Holocaust.

Overall, Lotte’s description of her childhood suggests that she had a very happy and comfortable childhood: a childhood free of economic or other struggles, a loving family, vacations and trips, school and art and music, and grandparents whom she adored.  All of this would come to what must have been a shocking, heart-wrenching, and tragic end as Lotte entered adolescence and Hitler came to power.