Cousins Deported to France: The Camp at Gurs

Did you know that during the Holocaust some German Jews were deported not to the camps in the east, but to France? It was a revelation to me.

I left off my last post with a series of questions regarding the fate of my cousin Johanna Schoenthal and her husband Heinrich Stern, both of whom had been living in a hospice in southern France at the end of World War II. Why did they end up in France, and how long had they been there? How had they survived after the Nazis took over France in the spring of 1940? Who was Henry Kahnweiler,  the friend in Paris they named on their 1947 ship manifest when they left France for the US?  Had they had children?

Although I don’t have answers to all those questions, thanks to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the people and sources on JewishGen, I have been able to piece together part of the story of Johanna and Heinrich’s ordeal during World War II.

From the Mannheim Jewish Community database on JewishGen, I learned that Johanna and Heinrich Stern had resided in a town called Karlsruhe before the war.  Karlsruhe is about forty miles from Mannheim.  It is rather distant from Köln, where Johanna was born—almost 200 miles—and from Giessen, where Heinrich was born.  But perhaps more importantly, it is less than twenty miles from the French border.  I don’t know how the Sterns ended up living there or when they had moved there.

But I do know when they left.  Thanks to Peter Lande at the USHMM, I have learned about a whole new chapter in the history of the Holocaust.  Peter sent me the documents below regarding Johanna and Heinrich Stern:

 

Heinrich Stern ITS card page 1Heinrich Stern ITS card page 2

 

Johanna Stern ITS card

 

(Translation of first card: Stern, Heinrich, born 3rd August 1876 in Giessen, religion: Jewish, nationality: German – Senior councillor of the Jews in Baden, district South-Baden (source: Nathan Rosenberger, Freiburg: List of survivors of 7.500 deported from the state of Baden), without date, page 3 – ref.-nr. F-18-555 – residence: Karlsruhe, Kleinprechtstr. 41, deported from Karlsruhe at the 22 October 1940 to Gurs in Southern France, current address: Hospice de Romain Drome.

Second card: transport-list from the Gestapo, district Fürstenberg-Baden. ref-nr. VCC 155/XIII.  The third card is the same as the first, except it is for Johanna Stern, born 15th of July, 1880 in Köln. )

These cards were definitely about my cousin Johanna Schoenthal Stern and her husband Heinrich Stern.  The birth dates and places are consistent with the passenger ship manifest and the JewishGen sources I had found, and the place of last residence in Germany and the residence in France are also consistent with those sources and the notice posted by the family in Aufbau in 1946.  These cards told me what had happened to Johanna and Heinrich. They had been deported by the Gestapo from Karlsruhe on October 22, 1940, to a place called Gurs in southern France.

With these clues, I was able to find out more about the fate of the Sterns, not specifically but generally.  In October, 1940, the Nazi officials in charge of the Alsace and Lorraine regions of France as well as the Baden district of Germany decided to deport the Jews from Baden, having already deported those who had been living in Alsace and Lorraine.  This decision, known as the Wagner-Burckel Aktion for the two Nazi officials who planned and implemented it, led to the sudden deportation of approximately 7,500 Jews from the Baden region, including my cousins, the Sterns, who were living in Karlsruhe.  It would be the only deportation of German Jews to the west rather than the east of Germany during the Holocaust.

 

Railroad tracks to Gurs By Jean Michel Etchecolonea (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Railroad tracks to Gurs
By Jean Michel Etchecolonea (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Manfred Wildmann, a victim of this deportation, provided this chilling account of the deportation itself on his website Our Lives in Europe:

On October 21, 1940, late in the afternoon, my grandfather, as head of the Jewish community, was told to inform all the Jews of Philippsburg that the next day Jews were not allowed to leave their homes.  The next morning the police (it may have been the Gestapo) came to every Jewish house, to inform us that we had one hour to pack after which we would be taken away to an unknown destination.

An hour later, the police came to pick us up to march us to the central square, where a canvas covered truck was waiting for all the 21 Jews of Philippsburg, aged 10 to 80.  The truck took us to Bruchsal, 20 km away which was an assembly point for Jews from the area.  Late that afternoon, we were all marched to the railroad station.  When the train finally came, a passenger train with third class coaches, we were relieved that it was heading south and not north towards Poland.  While we didn’t know any details of what was happening in Poland, we knew that whatever it was, it wasn’t good.  All night long, the train headed south, stopping often to pick up more Jews along the way.  Early in the morning, we crossed the Rhine.  Now we knew that we were in France.

Once in France, the deportees were sent to a French detention camp in Gurs in the Basque region of southern France, near the border with Spain.  Originally built in 1939 by the French to house refugees from the Spanish Civil War, the camp had also been used by the French to detain German Jews as “enemy aliens” in 1940.  After Germany invaded France and the Vichy government was established, the camp came under Vichy control.  When the Jews from Baden arrived on nine trains in October 1940, the Vichy government decided to send them to the camp at Gurs.

According to the USHMM website, “Conditions in the Gurs camp were very primitive. It was overcrowded and there was a constant shortage of water, food, and clothing. During 1940-1941, 800 detainees died of contagious diseases, including typhoid fever and dysentery.”

 

Manfred Wildmann provided a more detailed and vivid description:

No vegetation grew in the entire Camp, and the constant rain transformed the ground into a sea of mud into which one could sink knee deep and lose one’s shoes.

The barracks of Gurs were of a special construction, with the lower parts of the walls slanting outwards.  They were constructed of rough wooden planks, covered with tar paper, with a wooden floor and a few small windows covered with plasticized chicken wire.  About eighty people were assigned to each.  The only furniture in the barracks was each person’s rolled up straw bag or mattress, suitcases and one cast iron stove in the center to provide a little heat.  Everybody lived sitting either on these straw bags or suitcases.  This is also how we ate, out of empty tin cans or any other suitable container we could find.

Another family memoir about life at Gurs can be found at The Grey Folder Project website by Toby Sonneman.

In January, 1941, the New York Times reported on conditions at Gurs, noting that there were fifty doctors providing medical treatment to over 7000 people interned in the camp, trying to “reduce an already high and still mounting mortality rate resulting from lack of food and medicine and unhygienic conditions, the physical resistance of most of the refugees already having been worn down through long suffering.”  The Times article stated that there were over 500 children in the camp and about 1200 people over seventy.   People were suffering from malnutrition, bleeding gums, heart problems, dysentery, typhoid, and lice.  There was severe overcrowding and poor heating and ventilation.  Fifteen to twenty-five people were dying every day.  “Misery and Death in French Camps, ” New York Times, January 26. 1941, p. 24.

 

New York Times, January 26, 1941, p. 25

New York Times, January 26, 1941, p. 24

 

What happened to those who survived? According to the USHMM, “1,710 were eventually released, 755 escaped, 1,940 were able to emigrate, and 2,820 men were conscripted into French labor battalions.”  The exact number of those who died of the 7,500 Jews who were deported from Baden is not known, but overall over 1000 people died at Gurs over the course of the war.  Many of those Baden deportees were transferred to other camps and some eventually to Auschwitz.  The USHMM website states, “Between August 6, 1942 and March 3, 1943, Vichy officials turned over 3,907 Jewish prisoners from Gurs to the Germans; the Germans sent the majority of them to the Drancy transit camp outside Paris in northern France. From Drancy, they were deported in six convoys to the extermination camps in occupied Poland, primarily Auschwitz.”

 

Cemetery for those who died at Gurs By Jean Michel Etchecolonea (Own work) [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

Cemetery for those who died at Gurs
By Jean Michel Etchecolonea (Own work) [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

I don’t know how long Johanna and Heinrich were at Gurs or under what circumstances they were able to leave.  Perhaps they were among the 755 who escaped or the 1,710 who were released.  Maybe they were transferred to another camp.  The records that the USHMM had for them end with the cards posted above.

As for Henry Kahnweiler, the man the Sterns named as their contact person in France on the passenger manifest when they left for the US in 1947,  he was the very well-known German-born art dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, described by one source “a banker, writer, publisher, and art dealer who became the pioneering champion of Cubism.”  As described by Johanna’s sister, Erna Schoenthal Haas, in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle on June 14, 1989, Kahnweiler was a friend of her brother-in-law, Heinrich Stern, from the days they had both been working at a bank in Germany.  Kahnweiler’s parents had wanted him to be a banker, but instead he’d moved to Paris in 1907, where he soon established himself as a successful art collector and dealer. He became one of the principal dealers in Cubist art and a major dealer in the works of Picasso.

Here is a portrait of Kahnweiler done by the artist Juan Gris:

Deutsch: Juan Gris: Porträt Daniel-Henry Kahnw...

Deutsch: Juan Gris: Porträt Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, 32,5 x 26 cm, Bleistift auf Papier, Museée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


During World War I, France appropriated and sold Kahnweiler’s collection because he was a German national and thus a national of an enemy state.  After spending the war in exile in Switzerland during which time he wrote several important works on Cubism and art history, Kahnweiler returned to Paris in 1920 and started over.  Here is he depicted in 1923 at his gallery in Paris:  standing, Daniel Henry Kahnweiler (r), Juan Gris (c) ; 1st row, Louise Leiris (c).

But then in the spring of 1940 when the Nazis invaded France, Kahnweiler, like thousands of other Jews living in France, went into hiding in the south of France.  This post describes in detail his ordeal and perhaps reflects the experience of many others including that of Johanna (Schoenthal) and Heinrich Stern.  I don’t know how the Sterns stayed in touch with Kahnweiler during the war, but they obviously knew his Paris address in 1947 when they departed for the US.

I imagine that the Schoenthals in the US—especially Lee, Meyer, and Erna—must have been greatly worried about their sister Johanna and her husband during the war, but by June 14, 1946, they knew that Johanna and Heinrich were alive and where they were living, as is apparent from the notice from the Aufbau regarding the deaths of Henriette and Julius Levi.  That notice indicates that Johanna and Heinrich were then living in a hospital or hospice in a town called Romans in the department of Drome in southeastern France.  I have written to the town of Romans in France to see if they have any information, but so far have not gotten any response.

 

Aufbau June 14, 1946

Aufbau June 14, 1946

It was almost exactly a year later that Johanna and Heinrich arrived in the US and settled in Pittsburgh.  I can only imagine the joy that the four surviving siblings experienced when they were finally all reunited.  A joy, however, that must have been bittersweet, tempered by the knowledge that their sister Henriette and her husband had not survived and that their sister Johanna and her husband must have suffered greatly in order to survive.

In my next post, I will write about the post-war lives of these four siblings, their spouses, and the two grandsons of Jakob and Charlotte Schoenthal, Werner Haas and Helmut Levi/Henry Lyons.

 

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

 

Lotte’s Story, Part II:  Life in Nazi Germany

This is the second part of a three-part post about the life of my cousin Lotte, who was born in Germany, left in 1938, and came to the United States in 1939.  You can read Part One here.

Although Lotte was only eleven years old on January 30, 1933, when Adolf Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany, she has vivid memories of that day and the events leading up to it.

Lotte wrote:

For years, the Nazis had been a minority party. Many people thought they could not possibly rise to power. But in 1933, Germany was in the grip of the world-wide depression precipitated by the crash of the American stock market and an enormous scandal involving Ivar Kreuger, the Swedish Match King, whose pyramid scam had caused the collapse of the European markets. Unemployment was widespread and severe. In addition, Germany’s pride, so badly hurt by the harsh and unrealistic provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, was crying for revenge. Thus the stage had been set for the dramatic rise of the Nazis whose promise of hope, and whose message of antisemitism, fell on accepting ears. In November of 1932 they succeeded in winning an election and joined up with the “German National Party”, a very rightist holdout of frustrated generals and army protagonists, frustrated because the German army was severely limited by the peace treaty. …But then, on that ominous day in January, President Paul von Hindenburg, a tottering and senile ex- general, appointed Adolf Hitler to be the chancellor.

Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring performing the...

Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring performing the salute at a Nazi party rally in Nuremberg (ca. 1928) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like many Jewish residents of Germany, Lotte’s father at first was not overly concerned about Hitler and his party.  Her mother was more worried.

My father, who was a decorated veteran of World War One, owner of the Iron Cross medal, and a respected physician in the community, kept on stating that nothing could really happen to us. That the whole thing would blow over. My mother, always a realist, an activist and somewhat of a pessimist, painted a different picture. She was a convinced Social Democrat with a leftist leaning, whereas my father supported the more centrist “Zentrum” party. There had been many heated arguments about politics in our house, and both Doris and I were quite up-to-date on what had been going on.

It did not take long for Lotte’s mother to be proven right about her concerns about the Nazis.  By February, 1933, the father of one of Lotte’s close friends was sent to Dachau, and when he returned, he and his family left Germany.  While the father was still in Dachau, his daughter and Lotte were assaulted on the street by three boys, leaving Lotte with a bloody lip.

Lotte soon became fearful of saying the wrong thing and getting her family into trouble.  Lotte wrote:

A few days into February [1933] I found that a large picture of Adolf Hitler was hanging in my classroom. Without thinking I exclaimed more or less to myself: “Does that guy have to stare right into my face?” The boy sitting in front of me, known to be a “Nazi”, turned around and said “what did you say?” I don’t remember what I answered, but I was scared to death about the possibility that some harm could come to my father. Fortunately, the boy did not report the incidence, and nothing happened. But from there on I knew that I had to be extremely careful with what I said or did. There was always a certain pressure, a certain fear looming over my head, not a very healthy state for a child and then a teenager. And that fear increased as time went on.

By April, the Nazis had instituted a boycott of Jewish businesses, and Lotte’s father was directly affected by this:

A yellow sign with a Magen David (Jewish star) bearing the inscription “Jewish Enterprise” was plastered over my father’s medical shingle. An S.A. man (Nazi stormtrooper) was planted at the entrance to the building with instructions to prevent anyone other than residents from entering. But one well-meaning elderly woman told him to be ashamed of himself, that my father, who handled many deliveries, had actually brought him into this world, and the young man shamefacedly trotted away.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABoycot_of_Jewish_shops_april_1_1933.jpeg

A stormtrooper stands in front of a store being boycotted (Not Lotte’s family) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABoycot_of_Jewish_shops_april_1_1933.jpeg

In her memoirs, Lotte describes the various ways that life for Jews in Germany became increasingly intolerable between 1933 and 1935, when the Nuremberg Laws were enacted.  Jews were not allowed in restaurants, theaters, and concert halls.  They could not ice skate or swim in public pools.  Blatant expressions of anti-Semitism by storm troopers and others became commonplace.  Even one of Lotte’s teachers espoused anti-Semitic rhetoric:

My French teacher, who had been known to have been a Social Democrat and who had quite opportunistically converted to Naziism, actually had the gall to try to console me by stating that none of the shenanigans were really meant to be antisemitic, but that the day would come when it would be discovered that the blood in Jewish veins actually was different from that of “Aryans”, the true Germans.

Although most Jewish children were forced to leave the public schools, Lotte was able to stay at the Gymnasium because her father had served in the army during World War I.  However, she knew she was facing discrimination:

At the end of each school year the three best scholars received prizes donated by local merchants. Being Jewish, I never received such a prize. My home room teacher used excuses, or I was given an undeserved “C” in a minor subject. Twice I just received an “honorable mention”.  Later on they no longer bothered to cover up, and I knew why.

Another incident occurred when Lotte attended a concert, violating the prohibition:

I attend a concert by the fourteen year old Yehudi Menuhin who, wearing shorts, looks like a little boy but plays beautifully. Of course being Jewish I am not supposed to be in the concert hall where I meet the grandmother of one of my non-Jewish friends. The lady looks the other way, completely ignoring me, although I have spent many hours at her house in friendlier times.

Meanwhile, Lotte became more interested in learning about her Jewish identity.  As described last time, her father had left the Jewish community, and Lotte’s upbringing had been completely secular.  Her limited exposure to Judaism had occurred when she had visited her maternal grandparents in Neunkirchen.  But once Hitler came to power, Lotte’s father Joseph rejoined the Jewish community, and Lotte felt a desire to learn more about what it meant to be Jewish.

First, she tried a class for Jewish religious instruction.  Her description may seem familiar to many who attended Hebrew School growing up in the US:

The teacher had one look at me and promptly asked what I was doing there, but condescended to let me stay. There was a lot of noise in the classroom, nobody was paying any attention, and the teacher could only try to keep some order by slapping the faces of some and shouting louder than the others. After attending twice I was completely turned off and never went there again. Nobody ever asked me to come back.

Lotte then enrolled in a Zionist youth group, Die Werkleute, where she found a group of like-minded Jewish youth and learned a lot more about Judaism.  Although her parents did not support the Zionist movement, for Lotte it became a political, religious, and social outlet.

As far as I was concerned, the concept of Zionism fell on fertile ears. I remembered the KKL box on my grandparents’ chest, and I needed something positive to look forward to, seeing how my future in Germany was being destroyed systematically. A few of my friends actually went to Israel by enrolling in the Youth Aliyah program which was in full force by then and was instrumental in to rescuing Jewish children. Others were planning to spend some time in preparation for their move to the Kibbutz by gaining work experience in agriculture, gardening and some of the trades. I was not quite ready to do just that, but I certainly expected to emigrate to Israel somehow at some time in the future. Fate had it that things worked out differently for me. But more about that later. 

I learned a lot about Judaism at that time. Some of the members were very observant, and everybody respected that, but on the whole religion was downplayed. It was discussed in a more or less theoretical context. Jewish history, especially the history of Zionism, and Jewish peoplehood were the thrust of our education. At the same time the value of our background of German culture was stressed. We took our mission very seriously.

Werkleute group in Frankfort, Germany 1927 (not Lotte's group) http://www.infocenters.co.il/gfh/multimedia/GFH/0000065842/0000065842_1_web.jpg

Werkleute group in Frankfort, Germany 1927 (not Lotte’s group)
http://www.infocenters.co.il/gfh/multimedia/GFH/0000065842/0000065842_1_web.jpg

In 1936, Lotte’s father was excluded from the state-run insurance system which had provided him with many of his patients.  He finally realized that it might be time to leave Germany before it was too late.  First, the family arranged for Lotte’s older sister Doris to emigrate; she left for the United States in 1937.  Lotte’s parents then began to make plans for their own emigration.  .

Lotte’s grandparents Laura (Seligmann) and Samuel Winter and her great-uncle Jakob Seligmann had already left Germany for Luxembourg a few years earlier.  As explained by Lotte, Neunkirchen was located in the Saar region, which had been under French control after World War I, as agreed to in the Treaty of Versailles.  In 1935, there was a plebiscite to determine whether or not the region should be returned to Germany, and the residents of the Saar region voted overwhelmingly to rejoin Germany (over 90%).  Under the terms of the Treaty, however, anyone dissatisfied with the result could leave the area.  Thus, Lotte’s grandparents and great-uncle had gone to Luxembourg, where German was spoken.  Lotte beautifully described where her grandparents lived in Luxembourg:

With my mother’s help they managed to move to a lovely small apartment at the foot of a hill in the fairytale-like city of Luxembourg. The view toward the skyline silhouette, way above, was breathtaking. The ruins of an ancient watchtower and of fortifications lay on the way up to the city. Grand-duchess Charlotte ruled the country which had an army of about 100 men. At times you could see two or three of the soldiers marching behind each other, rifles on their shoulders. Had it not been for a shortage of funds, it would have been an idyllic place to live.

Luxembourg

 

Lotte’s mother Anna persuaded her husband to move to Luxembourg when they made the decision to emigrate. Lotte wrote:

Once the decision was made, all the following steps fell into place. I had to leave school and take the courses needed to prepare me for a different life. My father closed his office. We obtained the necessary passports featuring the addition of the name “Sara” for my mother and me. “Joseph”, my father’s name, was sufficiently Jewish to avoid any changes. The passports were not hard to get since one of the officials at the office was known to oblige when a DM 10.00 note was slipped into each application. Ours was the last family in Mannheim to be allowed to pack most of its belongings.

Lotte remembers what this meant for her education.

Unfortunately my schooling was rudely interrupted when my parents began to make preparations for emigration. Much to my chagrin I had to quit school in the middle of the equivalent of my junior year. Instead, I took courses in English and French shorthand, typing and commercial correspondence at a private school. I also learned the rudiments of using a sewing machine, courtesy of a school run by nuns. I must add that for a couple of years I had also studied English with a very proper Oxford-trained teacher at the private Berlitz School.

On a more positive note, Lotte’s parents saw to it that she would have a good violin before they left Germany.

In preparation for eventual emigration my father and I travel to Stuttgart to buy a new violin for me. Or rather, it is a beautiful old Italian instrument, bearing a label stating that it was made by Matteo Albani in 1698. It has a gorgeous flamed wood back, gracefully molded. The sound is magnificent. My teacher assists in the purchase which also includes a light brown case lined with light blue plush. A piece of matching blue silk serves as a wrapper for the instrument. It will soon become a part of me. I am ecstatic.

An Albani violin

An Albani violin  http://www.bromptons.co/reference/articles/details/sears-danelectro-history.html

 

I would imagine that that feeling of ecstasy was tempered by some sadness about leaving behind her childhood home, the city of Mannheim where she’d grown up, and her birth country.  But Lotte’s memoirs do not convey sadness, just relief.

On the day scheduled for the packing, an inspector appeared whose job it was to supervise what we were doing. He was quite a jovial man. At lunchtime he attached a yellow ribbon across the doorway and announced that he was now going to be gone for about one hour. My mother took the hint and promptly hid a box with jewelry and cash in one of the suitcases destined for Luxembourg. After exactly one hour the good man returned. Luckily he did not ask any questions and did not inspect anything.

For a few more days we stayed at the home of some friends. On May 9, 1938 my parents and I boarded a train heading for Luxembourg. Again luck was with us. Our compartment was shared with a gentleman who turned out to be the Luxembourg consul posted in Stuttgart. The German border control officers of whom we had been afraid and who might have made a lot of trouble for us, they tipped their hats in deference and did not search the compartment very thoroughly. The Luxembourg officials were considered harmless.

Not long after settling in Luxembourg, Lotte’s mother traveled to New York to attend her daughter Doris’ wedding.  When she returned better informed about what was going on in Europe, she persuaded her husband that they should leave Luxembourg and immigrate to the United States.  How fortunate it was that Doris had moved to the United States a year earlier and that her mother had come to the US to attend her wedding.  If the Wiener family had not left Luxembourg, it is very likely that Lotte would not be here today to share this remarkable story.

Next, the family’s departure from Europe, journey to America, and Lotte’s life in the new country.

 

 

Prague and Terezin

If our first day or so in Prague felt like a bit of a fairy tale, our second day had nothing magical about, just a lot of ghosts wherever we turned.  We had a new guide that day, Helena from Wittman Tours, a company that specializes in Jewish heritage tours of Prague and the surrounding area, including the concentration camp in Terezin.  We had heard good things about the company from friends at home, so chose to use one of their guides for our second full day in Prague.  Helena was another excellent guide, and she was able to provide us with another person’s perspective on Prague.

Helena, like Andrea, was a Czech native and had lived in Prague for many years.  When she told us that she was Jewish, I asked her about her family’s experience during the Holocaust.  Helena said that although her parents had never discussed the matter in any detail with her, she knew that somehow they had been able to obtain falsified papers giving them a Christian identity.  Like so many survivors, her parents preferred not to discuss those years, and thus Helena knew only those bare facts.

According to Helena, Prague had a Jewish community very early in its history, though many settlers came and left, depending on the economic and political situation.  There was a Jewish community as early as the tenth century, living near the Castle and the marketplace there.  Although that community was wiped out during the Crusades in the 12th century, there was then a new community growing on the other side of the river near what is now called Old Town, where in the 13th century the oldest still-existing synagogue was built, referred to as the Old-New Synagogue.  That synagogue is still providing religious services to this day.  It is claimed to be the oldest surviving synagogue in Europe.

Entrance to prayer hall in Old New Synagogue

Entrance to prayer hall in Old New Synagogue

It was humbling to be in this synagogue, thinking of its long history.  Although it lacked the awesome size and height of the St. Vitus Cathedral and of some of the other synagogues we saw in the Jewish Quarter of Prague, it was moving to think about Jewish men (women prayed behind a thick stone wall with only a small hole to see into the main sanctuary) almost 800 years ago praying in this space.  Jews then lived in a ghetto, separated from the rest of the city by walls, and they faced anti-Semitism and periods of expulsion and then return, but were generally successful merchants and bankers and important contributors to the economy of the city.

At services women sit behind the wall where the opening is shown here

At services women sit behind the wall where the opening is shown here (not where this woman is seated)

 

The second oldest of the synagogues we saw in Prague was the Pinkas Synagogue, built in the early part of the 16th century.  Today it operates as a museum to educate people about the Jewish religion, its holidays and rituals, and does not operate as a place of religious services.

Pinkas Synagogue, Prague

Pinkas Synagogue, Prague

Immediately outside the synagogue is the oldest Jewish cemetery in Prague, so crowded with the remains of about 200,000 Jewish residents that the headstones are tumbled together and, according to Helena, are buried as many as twelve deep, one on top of the other.

IMG_2549 buried 12 deep IMG_2550 cemetery

 

There is also a building for the chevra kadisha (burial society) on the cemetery grounds, including a balcony where the Cohanim stood since they were not allowed to enter the cemetery.  (According to Jewish law, the Cohanim, the priestly tribe descended from Aaron, are not to defile themselves by touching or going close to a dead body.)

chevra kadisha building

chevra kadisha building

IMG_2558 cohen symbol

Cohanim symbol

Cohanim balcony

Cohanim balcony

These ancient stones and their placement and inscriptions are evidence of what once was a crowded Jewish neighborhood within the ghetto walls, a community that was observant of Jewish laws and forced to live separately from their Christian neighbors.

In the 1500s Prague had one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe. Other synagogues were built, including a synagogue built by one of the wealthiest residents of Prague, Mordecai Maisel, as his own private synagogue.  According to Helena, Maisel was friendly with the reigning king, Rudolf II, and was an important merchant and property owner in Prague.  Maisel was also very friendly with Rabbi Judah Loew, a leading rabbi as well as a writer, best known for his rendition of the Golem legend.  Both Maisel and Rabbi Loew are buried in the Old Cemetery, their graves marked by large tent-like structures instead of plain headstones.  We were not able to get inside the Maisel synagogue as it is closed for renovations, but we were able to take some photographs of the exterior.

Maisel Synagogue, Prague

Maisel Synagogue, Prague

IMG_2544 Maisel synagogue 2

Maisel's tombstone

Maisel’s tombstone

IMG_2555 Rabbi Loew tombstone

Rabbi Loew’s tombstone

The newest synagogue we saw in the Jewish Quarter was the magnificent Spanish Synagogue.  Despite its name, the synagogue had nothing to do with Spain nor were its congregants Sephardic.  Rather the name refers to the Moorish designs that decorate both the exterior and the interior of the synagogue.  This synagogue was built in the second half of the 19th century and still offers services on Friday nights, attracting many tourists.

Spanish Synagogue, Prague

Spanish Synagogue, Prague

IMG_2535 interior of Spanish synagogue IMG_2536 organ in Spanish synagogue IMG_2537 Spanish synagogue interior IMG_2538 Spanish synagogue from above IMG_2539 women's section Spanish synagogue

Seeing this synagogue made me realize just how prosperous the Jewish community must have been in the 19th century.  The lavish and ornate wall coverings are indicative of the resources available to the Jewish residents.  In fact, Jews were granted equal rights around this time, and the ghetto walls came down, allowing Jews to move out of the Jewish Quarter.

Many moved to the New Town area, where yet another impressive synagogue was built in the early 20th century, the Jerusalem Synagogue.  We later visited this synagogue on our own, and although we did not get inside, we were once again dazzled by the colorful and elaborately designed exterior, which also reflects Moorish influence.

Jerusalem Synagogue, Prague

Jerusalem Synagogue, Prague

IMG_2622 Jerusalem Synagogue Prague

Helena told us that once the Jews were allowed to move out of the ghetto, most left if they could afford to do so, leaving behind only those too poor to move.  Poor Christians then moved into the area where the ghetto had existed, and because of the poverty, conditions deteriorated, leading to severe sanitary and health problems.  Eventually the city tore down the old buildings in an early form of urban renewal, replacing the older homes with the fancy Art Nouveau buildings that line the streets today.  The streets were widened, and the whole character of the former ghetto disappeared.  For the most part, only the synagogues survived.

Newer buildings in what was once the ghetto

Newer buildings in what was once the ghetto

IMG_2568 Prague street 5 22

Wider streets in what was once the ghetto

 

Then the Nazis arrived in the late 1930s and 1940s, and what had been a large and thriving Jewish community of over 90,000 people, amounting to about 20% of the city’s overall population, was destroyed.  The synagogue buildings survived only because the Nazis found them useful for storing their supplies and horses.  Most of the Jews who had lived in Prague were killed.  Today there are fewer than 2000 Jews living in Prague.

Seeing the Jewish Quarter and learning about its history helped place into context what we saw in the afternoon when we went to Terezin.  As we drove to Terezin, Helena told us about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the SS officer who is considered to have been one of the principal planners of the Final Solution, the Nazi plan for exterminating the world’s Jewish population. He also was appointed as the SS officer responsible for overseeing the occupation of Czechoslovakia during the war and the creation of the Terezin concentration camp.  In May, 1942, two Czech resistance members attacked Heydrich’s car and assassinated him.  As revenge, the Nazis selected the town of Lidice, claiming it was the home of the assassins, and completed erased it from the face of the earth, killing all the men, deporting all the women and children, and razing all the buildings.  As Helena said, when people learned what had happened, they thought it could not get any worse.  But as we now know, it got much worse.

I am not sure how to write about Terezin.  I wanted to go there to pay my respects to the numerous Seligmann cousins who had died there as well as all the other thousands who had died there.  But part of the time I felt very uncomfortable, like I was visiting a museum, not a place where people were tortured, starved, and killed.  I took a few photographs at first and then stopped because I felt it to be disrespectful and trivializing to take pictures as if I were visiting an ordinary tourist attraction.

The last photo I took was one of a cell in the Small Fortress, the part of Terezin where dissidents and “criminals” were sent to be punished as opposed to the Large Fortress where the Jews were sent to await their deaths.  Of course, many Jews were also classified as  dissidents and “criminals” and ended up at the Small Fortress, and the room I photographed was one where such Jewish prisoners were sent, getting no meat and just water and a piece of bread twice a day and sleeping like animals on platforms squeezed into a tiny space where they were crowded on top of each other.  The solitary confinement cells, the yard where guards shot Jews for target practice, the sinks where no water ran but were there merely to fool the International Red Cross.  My brain had a hard time absorbing that these were real places where these horrendous things actually happened.

Jewish prisoners' cell, Terezin

Jewish prisoners’ cell, Terezin

 

My initial impression of the so-called Large Fortress or ghetto was that, by contrast to the Small Fortress, it was not that bad.  This was the camp that Hitler used as a “model camp” to convince the International Red Cross that Jews were being well-treated.   Children put on performances and created drawings and played soccer, all to impress the visitors.  Food was served for the visit that was never served again.  Children were required to lie to the visitors to create the impression that they were happy.

Some of the children’s drawings are on display at Terezin, and they are just heart-breaking.  The childlike depictions of their happy lives before the war and of their impressions of what was happening around them are so powerful.  I can’t possibly convey in words what these drawings convey.

Although Terezin was not a death camp, many thousands of people died at Terezin either from malnutrition, disease, or murder. When we saw the barracks where people lived and the living conditions they endured, my initial impressions were corrected, and I realized how horrible life must have been for those forced to live there while awaiting death, either at Terezin or later when shipped to Auschwitz.

As I noted above, according to records at Yad Vashem several of my Seligmann cousins died at Terezin, including Moritz Seligmann, Laura Seligmann Winter, Bettina Seligmann Arnfeld, Anna Seligmann Goldmann and her husband Hugo and their three children Ruth, Heinz, and Gretel, and Eugen Seligmann.  Helena was able to catch a researcher at Terezin right before he was leaving for the day, and in a few minutes he was able to provide me with information about one of these relatives, Eugen Seligmann.  He gave me these documents.

Record for Eugen Seligmann at Terezin

Record for Eugen Seligmann at Terezin

Scan0003

Death certificate for Eugen Seligmann at Terezin

Death certificate for Eugen Seligmann at Terezin

From these documents we were able to learn the day Eugen died and from that we were able to identify where in the burial grounds at Terezin Eugen had been buried.  You see, the bodies were buried in mass graves that were identifiable only by date.  Eugen died on September 16, 1942, and thus the archivist at Terezin could determine that he had been buried in a mass grave located at marker 59.

Helena led us to the cemetery where the markers are posted, and after some searching (many markers had numbers missing for reasons that were not clear) we found marker 59.  I placed a stone on the marker and stood in silence, thinking about this cousin I’d never known and what his life and his death at Terezin must have been like.

cemetery at Terezin

cemetery at Terezin

Marker 59

Marker 59

location of mass grave where Eugen Seligmann is buried

location of mass grave where Eugen Seligmann is buried

According to the death certificate, Eugen died from marasmus, or severe malnutrition.  In other words, this 87 year old man starved to death.  It is just horrifying to look at this document and translate the German words; the document records his birth date, his home town, his date, day, and time of death, his parents’ names and whether he was married and had children (none recorded here), the name of the attending physician, and other information—the level of detail is in direct conflict with the dehumanization the Nazis inflicted on these people.  Why create a record that creates an impression that someone cared who this man was and then toss his body into a mass grave?

Eugen, the son of Carolina and Siegfried Seligmann and a nephew of my great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman, was a member of a successful Jewish German family. He was in his late 80s when he was taken to Terezin.  How can anyone possibly grasp what it must have been like for him to have been torn from his home and transported to this camp in Czechoslovakia, deprived of all his rights and property, forced to live in squalor and without any privacy or essentials? How can we grasp what it must have been like for this elderly man to starve to death in such a place? How can anyone understand how human beings can do this to other human beings?

I never knew Eugen or any of the other cousins who died at Terezin.  In fact, a year ago I didn’t know I had any cousins who died in the Holocaust.  Although going to Terezin was a very painful and nightmarish experience, I am glad that I was able to honor their memories by visiting the place where they are buried, the place where they were killed for no reason at all.  Even now I cannot really fathom what happened there.  It just is incomprehensible.

 

 

Too Many Missing Pieces: Part II

In my last post, I wrote about the list of English James Seligmann’s heirs that my cousin Wolfgang found in his family’s papers.  There were 21 principals named as heirs on that document, and I had discussed all the easily identified ones and some of those that were more difficult to figure out.  I had discussed Numbers 1, 2, 6-13, 15, 16, 19-21.  That left Numbers 3-5,  14, 17, and 18.  Here again is the list of heirs:

heirs list p 1

Heirs List p 2

So let’s start with Number 3, Johanna Bielefeld, the one whom Elsa Oppenheimer had claimed was not a daughter of Hieronymus Seligmann in her July, 1984 letter.

Elsa Oppenheimer 1984 letter-page-001

Elsa Oppenheimer 1984 letter-page-002

Perhaps Elsa was wrong; after all, she was wrong about Adolph Seligman not being the child of Moritz and Babetta, as discussed last time.  Or maybe Johanna was the daughter of Benjamin Seligmann.  I am not sure yet, but I do know that she was born in Gau-Algesheim.  Wolfgang found this registration card for her, dated January 12, 1939, issued by the police in Mainz.  It gives her birth name as Seligmann, her birth date as March 15, 1881, and her birthplace as Gau-Algesheim.  I have written to my contact in Gau-Algesheim, asking him to see if he can find a birth record for Johanna so I can determine who her parents were.  Notice also the large J on her card, indicating that she was Jewish.

Here is the companion card for her husband Alfred Bielefeld:

The list of heirs provided the names of Johanna and Alfred’s children, Hans and Lili (or Lily).  It indicated that Johanna had died as had Hans, he in 1948.  Then it provided a married name for Lili, Mrs. Fred Hecht, and an address on West 97th Street in New York City.  Searching for Hans Bielefeld brought me to someone with that name on the 1940 census, living in Cleveland, Ohio. He was working as an insurance agent, was 37 years old, and had been residing in Mainz, Germany, in 1935.

Year: 1940; Census Place: Cleveland, Cuyahoga, Ohio; Roll: T627_3221; Page: 5A; Enumeration District: 92-451

Year: 1940; Census Place: Cleveland, Cuyahoga, Ohio; Roll: T627_3221; Page: 5A; Enumeration District: 92-451

Further searching found an index listing in the Ohio Deaths database on Ancestry for Hans Bielefeld, indicating he had died on September 13, 1948, the same year of death given on the list of heirs document.  On Fold3.com, I then found naturalization papers for Hans Ludwig Bielefeld, indicating that he was divorced, that he was born on July 1, 1902 in Maine (sic), Germany, and that he had arrived in the US on the SS Gerolstein on July 14, 1938.

Publication Number: M1995 Publication Title: Naturalization Petition and Record Books for the US District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, Cleveland, 1907-1946 Content Source: NARA National Archives Catalog ID: 1127790 National Archives Catalog Title: Naturalization Petitions, compiled 1867 - 1967 Record Group: 21 Partner: NARA State: Ohio Court: Northern District, Eastern Division Catalog Keywords: Petitions Naturalization Immigration Citizenship Fold3 Publication Year: 2008

Publication Number: M1995
Publication Title: Naturalization Petition and Record Books for the US District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, Cleveland, 1907-1946
Content Source: NARA
National Archives Catalog ID: 1127790
National Archives Catalog Title: Naturalization Petitions, compiled 1867 – 1967
Record Group: 21
Partner: NARA
State: Ohio
Court: Northern District, Eastern Division
Catalog Keywords: Petitions Naturalization Immigration Citizenship
Fold3 Publication Year: 2008

 

That led me to a passenger manifest for the SS Gerolstein, where I found Hans listed as a divorced merchant from Mainz.  It seemed like this could be the son of Johanna Seligmann Bielefeld, but I couldn’t be sure.

So I searched for his sister Lili.  I first searched for her as Lili Hecht, but had no luck, so I searched for Lili Bielefeld and found her first on an English ship manifest dated September 18, 1940, from Liverpool bound for Montreal, Quebec.  Lili was listed as 36, having last resided in London, but born in Germany.  Her occupation was given as a domestic.  The age, birthplace and name seemed correct, so I considered it likely that this was the right person.

Ancestry.com. UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.

Ancestry.com. UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.

Then I found her listed with the same information on a US manifest for passengers entering the United States from Canada.  But since Lili did not arrive until September, 1940, she is not listed on the 1940 census, making it extremely difficult to find her in the online databases on Ancestry.  There were a number of Fred Hechts, but how would I know if any of them were married to Lili?

So I turned to Google and entered “Lili Bielenfeld Fred Hecht,” and once again I hit the jackpot.  Like Fred and Ilse Michel, Fred Hecht and Lili Bielenfeld have papers in the collection at the Leo Baeck Institute entitled “Hecht and Gottschalk Family Collection; AR 5605.”  In the biographical note included with this collection, I learned that Fred Hecht came from a German Jewish family with a long history.  I will quote here only the sections relevant to Fred, Lili and Hans:

Jakob and Therese Hecht had a son, Siegfried Max Hecht (alternatively Fritz, later Fred, 1892-1970). Siegfried Hecht became a merchant and served in the German military during World War I. Siegfried and his wife Emma née Cahn divorced in 1939, and he immigrated to the United States in 1940, where he took on the name Fred. He settled in New York City and became a jewelry salesman. In December of 1944, he and Lili née Bielefeld (1904-1977) were married.

The Bielefeld family can be traced back to the late 18th century. The family lived in Karlsruhe, Mainz, and Mannheim until the 1930s, when some members immigrated to the United States. Lili Hecht née Bielefeld was the daughter of Alfred Bielefeld, a wine merchant, and Johanna Bielefeld née Seligmann. Despite efforts to procure passage to the U.S., both Alfred and Johanna perished in the Holocaust. Alfred died in Theresienstadt, and Johanna was deported from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz, where she perished.

Lili Hecht née Bielefeld’s brother Hans Ludwig Bielefeld (1902-1948) was a merchant. He married Lilli née Kiritz in 1933, and the couple divorced in 1936. Hans Ludwig immigrated to the United States under the sponsorship of his cousin, Irma Rosenfeld, and settled in Cleveland, Ohio, where he worked in insurance. After his death, his sister Lili Hecht née Bielefeld was the sole heir to the Bielefeld family property, which she claimed in the 1960s alongside restitution for her parents’ deaths.

Thus, from these papers and this biographical note, I was able to find out a great deal about what had happened to Johanna Seligmann Bielefeld, her husband, and her two children, Hans and Lili.  I will write more about them in a separate post once I have a chance to examine the LBI collection more carefully and obtain translations where necessary.

Number 4 on the list, Bettina Arnfeld, was more difficult to locate, but I found a Bettina Elizabeth Arnfeld listed on FindAGrave  with the notation, “Body Lost or Destroyed.” Her birthdate was given as March 17, 1875.  This may have been the “Elizabeth” whom Elsa claimed was not a child of Hieronymus Seligmann.  I then looked for and found Bettina Elizabeth Arnfeld in the Yad Vashem Database.  The entries there confirmed that her birth name was Seligmann, that she was born on March 17, 1875, and that she had resided in Muelheim Ruhr in Germany at the time she was deported.  She was exterminated at Thieresenstadt on January 23, 1943.

The list of heirs indicated that Bettina had a son, Heinz Arnfeld, living on 22 Gloucester Square in London, and he was not difficult to locate.  I found several entries for Heinz and Liselotte Arnfeld at that address in London, England, Electoral Registers on Ancestry.  I also found Heinz and Liselotte listed in the England & Wales Marriage Index on Ancestry.  They were married in Doncaster, Yorkshire West Riding in 1945. Heinz is also listed as a survivor of the Holocaust in the Shārit ha-plātah database on JewishGen.

Heinz died in 1961 and left his estate to Liselotte; she died in 1988. I do not know whether they had any children.  Since they were married in 1945 when Liselotte was 37, it does not seem likely.

That brings me to Numbers 17 and 18 on the list, putting Numbers 5 and 14 aside for now.  Who were Eva Hansu and Rosa Reisz?  If these were nieces of English James Seligmann, then they had married and changed their surnames, so how could I find them?  Since they were listed right after Emil and Eugen, sons of Carolina Seligmann and Siegfried Seligmann, I went back to the list of Carolina’s children and realized that she had daughters named Eva and Rosa.  Thus, I assumed that Eva became Eva Hansu and Rosa became Rosa Reisz.

I had good luck searching for Rosa Seligmann Reisz.  I knew her daughter’s name was Hedwig Neter from the list of heirs, and that seemed unusual enough that I decided to search for it first.  Sure enough the name came up on a passenger’s manifest dated August 31, 1940, for the ship Cameronia departing from Glasgow, Scotland, for New York.  Sailing with Hedwig was her husband Emil Neter and her mother Rosa Reis.  Emil was a 61 year old manufacturer, Hedwig a 48 year old housewife, and Rosa was 73 without occupation.  They all had last been residing in London and said the US was their intended permanent residence.

Ancestry.com. UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.

Ancestry.com. UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.

According to FindAGrave, Rosa Seligmann Reis died on January 29, 1958, and is buried at Hauptfriedhof in Mannheim, Germany.  Her son-in-law Emil Neter died on July 8, 1971, in Washington, DC, and is also buried at Hauptfriedhof in Mannheim, as is her daughter Hedwig Reis Neter, who died on May 28, 1979, in Washington.  I found it very interesting that after living in the United States all those years, Rosa, Emil, and Hedwig chose as their burial place the country they had escaped so many years before.  A little more searching turned up Hedwig’s birth certificate and a family record from 1891, both of which revealed that Rosa’s husband’s name was Ludwig Reis, son of Callman Reis, a merchant.

Ancestry.com. Mannheim, Germany, Births, 1870-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: Personenstandsregister: Geburtsregister Standesamt Mannheim und Vororte 1876-1900, Stadtarchiv Mannheim, Mannheim. Deutschland.

Hedwig Reis Birth Certificiate Ancestry.com. Mannheim, Germany, Births, 1870-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
Original data: Personenstandsregister: Geburtsregister Standesamt Mannheim und Vororte 1876-1900, Stadtarchiv Mannheim, Mannheim. Deutschland.

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

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

Searching at Hauptfriedhof on FindAGrave, I found that Ludwig had died in 1928 and had been buried at Hauptfriedhof.  It seems that Rosa and her daughter Hedwig wanted to be buried where Ludwig had been buried years before.  With the help of Matthias Steinke in the German Genealogy group on Facebook, I was able to locate the headstone for all four of them at the  Stadtarchiv Mannheim website.

 

 

At first I couldn’t find anything about Eva Hansu, Number 17.  I couldn’t find her husband’s first name, and although the heirs’ list gives her daughter’s married name as Alice Kauffman of France, I had not been able to find her either.  Then after Matthias introduced me to the Stadtarchiv Mannheim website where he had found the headstones for Rosa and her family, I decided to search for all people with the birth name Seligmann and found Eva as Eva Seligmann Hanau, not Eva Hansu as I had mistakenly read it on the list of heirs.  It provided the same birth date I’d already found for Eva, March 18, 1861, and it reported her date of death as March 18, 1939.  Her husband was Lion Hanau, born May 24, 1854, in Altforweiler, Germany, and he died February 7, 1921.  The archive also included photographs of their headstone.

As for their daughter, now that I had the correct spelling of her birth name Hanau, I was able to find her marriage certificate for her marriage to Ernst Kaufmann on August 10, 1911.

Marriage cert of Alice Hanau and Ernst Kaufmann

Marriage cert of Hanau Kaufmann p 2

Ancestry.com. Mannheim, Germany, Marriages, 1870-1920 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: Personenstandsregister: Heiratsregister Standesamt Mannheim und Vororte, Stadtarchiv Mannheim, Mannheim. Deutschland.

I do not know what happened to either Alice or Ernst during or after the war.

So that leaves me with only two names on the list of heirs for whom I as yet have no answers: Anna Wolf, Number 5, and Bettina Ochs, Number 14.  Anna Wolf is listed as a fraulein, so that is her birth name, not a married name.  It says that Johanna Bielfeld was her aunt, so presumably Anna’s mother was a sister of Johanna.  If, in fact, Johanna was a child of Hieronymus Seligmann, she had two sisters, Mathilde and  Auguste and perhaps Bettina.  I don’t have any information about them aside from what was listed in Elsa’s letter, posted above.  More work to be done.

And Number 14, Bettina Ochs, is even more of a puzzle.  I’d have assumed that Ochs was her married name, Seligmann her birth name.  But the note on the document mentions a brother as her next of kin, and his name was Arthur Erlanger.  That would suggest that Bettina Ochs was born Bettina Erlanger, not Seligmann.  So how is she related? Who was her husband? Which one is the blood relative of English James Seligmann?  I found one listing on JewishGen.org for Bettina Ochs-Erlanger with a secondary name as Bettina Oberdorfer.  She was born May 7, 1870, and her nationality was Italian, consistent with the Milan address provided on the heirs list.  She was listed in the Switzerland, Jewish Arrivals, 1938-1945 database; I can’t see the original document, but the index indicates that she arrived in Switzerland on August 5, 1944.

It’s amazing how much information I could mine from this one little document.  Unfortunately, although I should have gotten great satisfaction from finding so many people and so much information, I ended up feeling very sad and very drained as I added all these names of my cousins to the list of those killed in the Holocaust.  It is beginning to overwhelm me.  So much loss, so much evil.  Incomprehensible.

Yom Hashoah

In honor of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, I am posting the links to six of my blog posts in which I discussed the members of my own family who perished in the Holocaust. Six to represent the six million Jews who were slaughtered by the Nazis during World War II.

These are all members of the Seligmann/Schoenfeld family.  I did not even know about them a year ago. And I know that there must have been members of my other family lines who were also murdered during the war.  I just haven’t found them yet.  So in memory of all those who were killed, those we know about and all those we do not yet know about, please read these posts if you have not done so already.  Or even if you have.  We must never forget.

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six


English: A lit Yahrtzeit candle, a candle that...

English: A lit Yahrtzeit candle, a candle that is lit on the Hebrew anniversary of a loved one’s death. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)