What Happened to Adolf Michel?

In looking through my email exchanges with my cousin Wolfgang and my friend Aaron Knappstein, I remembered one of the unsolved mysteries that remain on our Seligmann family tree, the mystery of Adolf Michel, father of Fred Michel and ex-husband of Franziska Seligmann.

I have written a number of posts about my cousin Fred (born Fritz) Michel. Aaron Knappstein was able to locate several records related to Fred Michel and his parents, including Fred’s birth record. He was born in Bingen on June 6, 1906, to Adolf Michel and Franziska Seligmann.

Fred Michel and Franziska Seligmann Michel
Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Birth record of Fritz Michel

Franziska was the daughter of August Seligmann and Rosa Bergmann and brother of Julius Seligmann, Wolfgang’s grandfather.  Since August Seligmann was a brother of my great-great-grandfather Bernard, Franziska was my great-grandmother Eva Seligman Cohen’s first cousin. Here is Franziska’s birth record, also located by Aaron Knappstein:

Birth record of Franziska Seligmann

Although the stories of Fred’s life and his mother’s life have been told on the blog, his father Adolf Michel has remained a mystery. Aaron Knappstein located the marriage record of Adolf Michel and Franziska Seligmann, which shows that they were married on July 11, 1904, and divorced on February 16, 1915.

Marriage record of Franziska Seligmann and Adolf Michel

Aaron also located Franziska’s death certificate.

Death record for Franziska Seligmann Michel

Matthias Steinke from the German Genealogy group on Facebook translated the death record for me:

Nr. 176
Bingen, at the 19th December 1933
To the sigming registrar came today the personally known seller Fritz Michel, residing in Frankfurt am Main, Fuhardstreet 32, and reported that the privateer Franziska Michel born Seligmann, 57 years old, residing in Bingen, born in Algesheim, widow, in Bingen in the house Kapuzinerstreet 4, at the 19th December of the year 1933, pre midday at seven o’clock is deceased.
The reporter declared, that he knew about the death due to his own knowledge.
Readed, confirmed and signed
Fritz Michel
The registrar
In representation
Signature

Although it identified Franziska as a widow when she died in 1933, it is impossible to know whether that meant Adolf had died or whether their son Fritz (Fred), the informant, was just saving his mother from the stigma of divorce.

In any event, despite searches by Wolfgang, Beate Goetz, and Aaron Knappstein, no other records for Adolf Michel after that marriage certificate have been located. Fred Michel’s children also have no information about the fate of their grandfather Adolf.

We thought we had a possible lead when Wolfgang discovered this remarkable letter that Fred Michel wrote on August 18, 1958, to the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, Germany (now known as the Arolsen Archives and searchable online), searching for his missing relatives.

There is much in this letter to discuss later in this post, but for now I want to focus on the last paragraph where Fred wrote:

Weiter such ich seit Jahren Max und Sophie [geb. Mendel] Michel vor Jahren wohnhaft in Essen, im Jahre 1934, 1935, 1936 in Duesseldorf und zuletzt im Nimwegen Holland. Herr Michel war in Bingen/Rhein geboren und ist ein Bruder meines Vaters. Alle obigen sind nach  Geruechten in K.Z. verbrannt worden.

For years I have been looking for Max and Sophie (nee. Mendel) Michel lived in Essen years ago, in 1934, 1935, 1936 in Duesseldorf and most recently in Nijmegen Holland. Mr. Michel was born in Bingen/ Rhein and is a brother of my father. All the above are rumored to have been burned in the concentration camps.

We were excited to learn that Adolf Michel had a brother and hoped that if we found that brother’s family, we might learn what happened to Adolf. Unfortunately, the rumors Fred mentioned in his letter were true; both Max and his wife Sophie were killed in the Holocaust. They were deported to Auschwitz and murdered there on May 22, 1944, according to records at Yad Vashem. As far as we can tell, Max and Sophie did not have any children, and so far we have not found anyone one else to ask about the fate of Adolf Michel.

As for the other relatives Fred was asking about in his 1958 letter, sadly they also were murdered in the Holocaust. I wrote here about Moritz Seligmann (son of August Seligmann and Rosa Bergmann), who was killed in the Holocaust in 1942, and here about his sister Anna Seligmann and her husband Hugo Goldmann and their three children, all of whom also were killed during the Holocaust (the Goldmann family information will be updated in a post to come). Moritz and Anna were the siblings of Fred’s mother Franziska and Wolfgang’s grandfather Julius.

About his uncle Julius, the remaining child of August and Rosa, Fred wrote:

Eine andere Bruder Julius jetzt beinahe 80 Jahre alt lebt Taunusstrasse 8 Bingen. Vor Jahre habe ihne ohne Erfolg gebeten nach den Verwandten nachzuforachen. Er hat in dieser Angelgenheit NICHTS unternommen.

Another brother Julius now almost 80 years old lives at Taunusstrasse 8 in Bingen. Years ago I had asked him without success to trace the relatives. He has done NOTHING in this matter.

Julius was Wolfgang’s grandfather, and Wolfgang and I were puzzled by this paragraph. We are not sure what Fred meant here or why he was expressing his frustration with Julius to the ITS. The use of ALL CAPS seems to suggest that Fred was angry with Julius.

Wolfgang wondered why his grandfather would not have helped look for his lost siblings. There is probably more to that story, given that, as discussed before on the blog, there was a family dispute between Julius and the rest of the family when Julius married a Catholic woman, Magdalene Kleisinger, and Julius ended up leaving the family business and moving away from Gau-Algesheim. More on Julius to come in a subsequent post.

Julius and Magdalena Seligmann

One thing, however, that we may be able infer from this letter is that Fred Michel knew what had happened to his father since he did not list him among the many relatives he was seeking. Either Adolf Michel died before or after the Holocaust, or he was killed during the Holocaust (though he is not in the Yad Vashem or Arolsen records) and Fred already knew when and how his father was killed. It’s also possible that Adolf Michel was still alive in 1958. He would have been 89 years old at that time. I just wish we knew the answer.

UPDATE: Although I still have no information about Adolf’s death or whereabouts after his divorce from Franziska in 1915, Aaron Knappstein was able to locate Adolf’s birth record:

Adolf Michel birth cert from AK-page-001

Birth record for Adolph Michel. father: Marx Michel, 30years old, tradesman *13.01.1869 in Bingen mother: Eva Michel née Woog, 26years old

Aaron also wrote to the archives in Berlin for any information about Adolf’s death, but he did not appear in their index. So the brickwall remains. Thank you, Aaron!

 

 

 

Two Photos to Identify—Can You Help?

I am back…sort of! Still working on my first Goldschmidt posts, but before I dive into that matter, I have two wonderful new photographs to share, thanks to my cousin by marriage, Ulrike Michel.

Ulrike is married to my fourth cousin, once removed, Torsten Michel. Torsten and I are both descended from Bernard Schoenfeld and Rosina Goldmann, my fourth great-grandparents; Torsten’s great-great-grandmother Ziborah Schoenfeld was the sister of my three-times great-grandmother Babetta Schoenfeld, wife of Moritz Seligmann, my three-times great-grandfather.

 

I’ve not met Torsten, but when we were in Germany, we spent a day with Ulrike in Heidelberg, as I wrote about here. Ulrike is the family historian in their family, and she and I have been in touch for several years now.

Recently Ulrike found and shared with me two photographs. I am particularly excited by this one that Ulrike believes is Babetta Schoenfeld Seligmann:

 

Here is the only confirmed photograph I had of Babetta, and I do see a definite resemblance.  But is it the same woman? Or is it perhaps her sister Ziborah, Torsten’s direct ancestor? What do you think?

The second photo Ulrike sent me is this one.  She believes this could be Franziska Seligmann, granddaughter of Moritz Seligmann and Babetta Schoenfeld and my first cousin, three times removed:

 

Here are the photographs I’d previously found of Franziska:

Franziska Seligmann Michel

 

Fred Michel and Franziska Seligmann Michel
Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Again, there is a definite resemblance, but is it the same woman? What do you think?

One of the mysteries raised by this photograph is why the Michel family would have had a photograph of Babetta’s granddaughter, who lived from 1875-1933.  Was it simply because she was Ziborah Schoenfeld’s great-niece?

Or was there a second connection to the Michel family? Franziska married Adolf Michel, and I have no information about his background. But Ulrike is now researching to see if Adolf Michel was related to her husband’s Michel relatives. She and Wolfgang are meeting in a few weeks to compare notes and see whether there is an additional overlap between the Seligmanns, Schoenfelds, and Michels.

I’d love your feedback on the photographs. Let me know what you think.

The Faces of My Past: The Magic of Photography

I received some remarkable photographs from my cousin Suzanne, the daughter of Fred and Ilse Michel.  Fred, as I wrote about here, was the grandson of August Seligmann, who was my great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman’s brother.  Fred would have been my grandfather John Nusbaum Cohen’s second cousin, making him my second cousin, twice removed.  Suzanne is thus my third cousin, once removed.

Suzanne sent me a number of photographs, including some taken of prints that had hung in her childhood home in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  For example, here are two prints of Bingen, Germany, the town where Fred Michel lived and also where our mutual ancestor Moritz Seligmann lived (in Gaulsheim, now part of Bingen) before moving to Gau-Algesheim.  It is also close to where my cousin Wolfgang now lives, and he identified the location and some of the structures depicted therein.

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Bingen 3

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

These prints show the city of Bingen’s location at the intersection of the Rhine River and the Nahe River.  According to Wolfgang, the tower in the river is called the Mäuseturm or “tower of mice,” and the church on the hill in the top print is the Rochuskapelle or the chapel on Rochus Hill.  Wolfgang said that his grandfather Julius and his family survived the last part of World War II in the Rochus chapel. Wolfgang told me that much of the city of Bingen was destroyed by British bombers in November, 1944.  The bombs destroyed the apartment whereJulius Seligmann and his wife and sons lived, so they moved to the Rochuskappelle, which the monks had opened for those who had lost their homes and their possessions.

On the reverse of the top print is written, “So that you always think of Bingen and your friends: ???-Kathi-Rainer und Christa Güttler. Bingen, Nov,11, 1974.”  The reverse of the second print says, “The loving Ize and his wife to remember Bingen from Gret and Kath Scharer.”   Based on the captions on these photographs from an album that belonged to Fred Michel, these were close friends.

Courtesy of the family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the family of Fred and Ilse Michel

scharers in album

These prints of Bingen before the war and the photographs of Fred’s friends made me think about what was lost during the war.  Not just all the millions of people who died, but also the landscape, the history, and, for the many who were lucky enough to emigrate, their homeland.  Perhaps these old prints and the pictures of his friends helped keep some of those happier memories alive for Fred Michel.

Here is a photograph of Fred Michel and his mother Franziska Seligmann Michel taken when Fred was a young boy, when he likely could never foresee leaving Germany and moving to a place called Scranton:

Fred Michel and Franziska Seligmann Michel  Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Fred Michel and Franziska Seligmann Michel
Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Here is a photograph of Franziska’s headstone.  She died four years before Fred left for America.

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

I believe these are photographs of Fred as a young man, taken in Munich in 1928, according to the caption:

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Although he is not identified in the photographs above, here is a photograph of Fred with Ilse and his children sometime around 1960, and it appears to be the same man many years later:

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

I was quite excited about these two portraits. I know who is in these photographs because of the inscriptions on the reverse:

August Seligmann

August Seligmann Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Rosa Goldmann Seligmann

Rosa Bergmann Seligmann Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

August was my great-great-granduncle, the brother of Bernard Seligman.  Here is a picture of Bernard, my great-great-grandfather.  Can you see any resemblance between the two brothers?

Bernard Seligman

Bernard Seligman

Rosa’s headstone is the one that was terribly defaced in the Gau-Algesheim cemetery.

closeup of Rosa Seligmann headstone

And here are the portraits that intrigue me the most.

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Who are these people?

On the reverse of one of these is the following:

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

By editing and zooming and enlarging the script below the photographer’s information, I was able to see more clearly what was written there:

enhanced snip photo 2

I could decipher Seligmann there as well as von Gau-Algesheim to the right, but I was not able to read the word underneath Seligmann.  I posted the snip of this to the German Genealogy group on Facebook, and two people there confirmed that the word was the German word for “grandfather.”  One of the two also insisted that the name was Schafmann, not Seligmann, but I still am sure that it says Seligmann, and not only because I know that was the family’s name.  What do you think?

So if this man was a Seligmann and a grandfather, who was he?  Since the portrait belonged to Fred Michel, I would have assumed that it was his grandfather, that is, August Seligmann.  But the man in this portrait does not appear to be the same person as the man in the portrait above, which was clearly labeled August Seligmann.  So my thought/hope was that this was the grandfather of Fred’s mother Franzeska, who must have given these old pictures to her only child.  If that is the case, then these two portraits depict my great-great-great-grandparents, Moritz Seligmann and Babetta nee Schonfeld.

But Moritz was born in 1800 and Babetta in 1810.  I wondered whether there would even have been photography portraits like these in their lifetime.  I looked again at the label on the back of the photograph of Moritz and saw that the photographer was Hermann Emden of Frankfort.  I took a chance and googled the name, not expecting anything.  I was quite surprised and happy to get numerous hits for Hermann Emden.  His full name was Hermann Seligmann Emden, and he was a very well-known and successful Jewish photographer and artist.  Here is the entry from the Jewish Encyclopedia for Hermann Seligmann Emden:

German engraver and photographer; born at Frankfort-on-the-Main Oct. 18, 1815; died there Sept. 6, 1875. Early evincing a love for art and unable to afford an academic education, he entered an engraving and lithographic establishment as an apprentice, endeavoring especially to perfect himself in the artistic side of his work. In 1833 he left Frankfort and went to Hersfeld, Darmstadt, and Bonn. His portrait-engraving of Pope Pius IX. and his views of Caub, Bornhofen, and the Maxburg belong to this period. He also turned his attention to photography, then in its infancy, and was one of the first to establish a studio at Frankfort-on-the-Main. He made his reputation as photographer by the work “Der Dom zu Mainz und Seine Denkmäler in 36 Originalphoto-graphien,” to which Lübke refers several times in his “History of Art.” Emden was the first to compose artistic photographic groups (“Die Rastatter Dragoner,” “Die Saarbrücker Ulanen,” etc.), and was also among the first to utilize photography for the study of natural science.

You can see some of his more famous works here.

Once I saw that Emden died in 1875, I was even more certain that these were portraits of Moritz and Babetta Seligmann.  August would have only been 34 when Emden died, and the man in that portrait is quite clearly older than 34.  It has to be his father Moritz. Moritz and Babetta had to be quite comfortable, I would think, having their photographs taken by such a successful photographer.  I also wonder whether Emden was a relative.  Seligmann was a fairly common name, and it was often used as a first name as well as a surname.  But perhaps further research will reveal some familial connection.

But for me what is most important is that I am looking at the faces of my three-times great-grandparents.  I never ever thought that would be possible.