A Family’s Life Destroyed: The Story of Anna Gross

As I wrote last time, Mathilde Gross Mayer and her three children, Wilhelm, Ernst, and Alice, all safely emigrated from Germany in the 1930s after the Nazis had taken over.   Not all of her siblings and other relatives were as fortunate.  Mathilde had four younger siblings, Anna, Wilhelm, Isidor, and Karl.  This post will tell the story of Anna Gross, Mathilde’s younger and only sister.  Anna, like Mathilde, was my second cousin, three times removed.  We are both descendants of Jacob Seligmann.

Family View Report for Bertha Seligmann-page-001

If the birth dates provided by her brother Isidor in Mathilde’s book are accurate, Anna Gross was born September 1, 1870, or a year and a half after Mathilde’s birth on April 14, 1869.[1] Anna married William Lichter of Bruchsal in 1892, whose father Leopold Lichter owned a wine distillery.  Anna and William settled in Stuttgart, where they had a son Paul (1893) and a daughter Irma (1898).

family-group-sheet-for-anna-gross-page-001

According to a biography of William and Anna and their family published on a Stolperstein site about the family, in 1916 Wilhelm Lichter purchased a stately house on a large lot with a terrace, courtyard, garage, and a garden with pergolas and two garden sheds.

Wilhelm and Anna (Gross) Lichter, 1927 passport photos http://www.stolpersteine-stuttgart.de/index.php?docid=749

Wilhelm and Anna (Gross) Lichter, 1927 passport photos
http://www.stolpersteine-stuttgart.de/index.php?docid=749

According to the Stolperstein site, Anna and Wilhelm’s son Paul Lichter married Marie Hirsch on February 17, 1919; they would have two daughters born in the 1920s, Renate and Lore.

Just nine months after her brother married, Irma Lichter married Max Wronker on November 2, 1919.  Max had served as an officer in the German army during World War I and had been awarded the Iron Cross, Second Class.

Irma Lichter Wronker, courtesy of the Wronker family

Irma Lichter Wronker, courtesy of the Wronker family

Max Wronker during World War I, courtesy of the Wronker family

Max Wronker during World War I, courtesy of the Wronker family

Max and Irma would have two children, a daughter Gerda and a son Erich.

Max Wronker and Irma Lichter Wronker and their two children Gerda and Paul, 1927 Courtesy of the Wronker family

Max Wronker and Irma Lichter Wronker and their two children Gerda and Erich, 1927
Courtesy of the Wronker family

According to the introduction to the family papers on file with the Leo Baeck Institute (Guide to the Papers of the Lili Wronker Family 1843-2002 (AR 25255 / MF 737)), Max was the son of Herman Wronker and Ida Friedeberg of Frankfurt; Herman Wronker was an extremely successful merchant with department stores in a number of cities in Germany.  He also was a founder of a successful cinema business in Frankfurt. According to an October 25, 2007 article in Der Spiegel (“Lili und die Kaufhauskönige”), Herman Wronker was invited in the 1920s by Carl Laemmle of Universal Pictures to come to Hollywood, but Wronker was loyal to Germany and did not want to leave. (Thank you to my cousin Wolfgang for find the Der Spiegel article for me.)

The Der Spiegel article also reported that during the 1920s, the Wronker department store business employed over three thousand people with annual sales exceeding 35 million Reich marks.  When the Depression came in 1929, Herman’s son Max, husband of Irma Lichter, took over the management of the business and was forced to sell two of the Wronker department stores.

Max Wronker had a sister Alice, and I was very fortunate to make a connection through Ancestry.com with Trisha, whose husband is Alice Wronker’s grandson.  Trisha has known several members of the extended Lichter and Wronker families, and she has a wonderful collection of photographs of the family, which she generously shared with me.  The family pictures in this post are all courtesy of Trisha and her family, except where otherwise noted.

Alice Wronker Engel, Irma Lichter Wronker, and Ida Friedeberg Wronker

Alice Wronker Engel, Ida Friedeberg Wronker, and  Irma Lichter Wronker, Courtesy of the Wronker family

First cousins: Ruth , daughter of Alice Wronker Engel and Herman Engel, and Gerda, daughter of Max Wronker and Irma Lichter Wronker Courtesy of the Wronker family

First cousins: Ruth , daughter of Alice Wronker Engel and Herman Engel, and Gerda, daughter of Max Wronker and Irma Lichter Wronker
Courtesy of the Wronker family

Both the Wronker and Lichters families were obviously quite wealthy and living a good life in Germany until the Nazis came to power.  Then everything changed.  According to the same 2007 Der Spiegel article, by the end of March, 1933, the Wronkers were no longer allowed on the premises of their businesses, and the entire business was “aryanized” in 1934.

The article also indicated that at that point Max and Irma (Lichter) Wronker decided to leave Germany and move to France, where Max tried unsuccessfully to start a leather goods company.  He then received a tourist visa to go to Cairo to work as an adviser to a department store business there, but was unable to receive an official work permit and earned so little money that he was forced to sell much of the family’s personal property.

sale-of-effects-cairo

Max and Irma did not come to the United States until after the war ended.

Meanwhile, Anna (Gross) and Wilhelm Lichter also were suffering from Nazi persecution.  As reported in the Stolperstein biography, on April 1, 1938, Irma’s father Wilhelm Lichter sold the lovely home he owned in Stuttgart for 125,000 Reich marks, which was far below its value (according to assessors determining reparations after the war).  Wilhelm and Anna were allowed to rent the second floor of the home after they sold it for a one year term.

On April 26, 1938, the Germans enacted the Decree on the Registration of the Property of Jews pursuant to which all Jews were required to assess all their assets and register them if their value exceeded 5,000 Reich marks.  The Nazis also prohibited Jews from owning or operating a business, except for limited exceptions to allow services rendered by Jews to other Jews.  Additional information about these property deprivations can also be found here in a December 25, 1938 article by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (“Nazi Restrictions, Special Taxes Strip Jews of Wealth”).

As a result of these regulations, Wilhelm Lichter was forced to pay substantial amounts of money to the German government in 1938.  After Kristallnacht, the government also passed additional laws, increasing substantially the taxes that Jews were forced to pay under the pretext that they were obligated to pay for the damage caused by Kristallnacht.  Wilhelm again was required to use a great deal of his assets to pay for these taxes.

Then, in the aftermath of Kristallnacht on November 9 and 10, 1938, Wilhelm and Anna’s son Paul Lichter was arrested and sent to the concentration camp at Dachau, where he was imprisoned until December 6, 1938.  After he was released, Paul decided to leave Germany with his wife Marie and their children; his two daughters were no longer allowed to attend school after May, 1938, and he had had to sell his business.

In order to emigrate, Paul had to comply with the Reichsfluchtsteuer, or Reich Flight Tax, a tax imposed on those wishing to leave Germany.  As explained by this Alphahistory site, “this law required Jews fleeing Germany to pay a substantial levy before they were granted permission to leave. The flight tax was not an invention of the Nazis; it was passed by the Weimar Republic in 1931 to prevent Germany from being drained of gold, cash reserves and capital. But the Nazi regime expanded and increased the flight tax considerably, revising the law six times during the 1930s. In 1934 the flight tax was increased to 25 per cent of domestic wealth, payable in cash or gold. Further amendments in 1938 required emigrating Jews to leave most of their cash in a Gestapo-controlled bank.”

Another site about the Holocaust indicated that, “As a result of these levies and others, those Jews fortunate enough to emigrate were able to save only a small portion of their assets.  For Jews remaining in Germany after 1938, whatever assets they had left were kept in blocked accounts in specified financial institutions, from which only a modest amount could be withdrawn for their living expenses.”

In order to pay this tax, Paul and Marie had to sell their personal property, including their jewelry, silverware, coffee service, sugar bowls, and candlesticks to a pawnshop and then pay a tax of 67,000 Reich marks, or the equivalent of about $30,000 in 1938 US dollars.  That would be equivalent to almost $500,000 dollars in 2016.

Paul emigrated first, arriving in New York on March 11, 1938.  According to the ship manifest (line 9), he was a liquor dealer.  He listed the person he was going to as a cousin named Meyer Gross living at 30 Parcot Avenue in New Rochelle, New York.

paul-lichter-ship-manifest-1938

Paul Lichter on 1938 ship manifest to NY Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957. Microfilm Publication T715, 8892 rolls. NAI: 300346. Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; National Archives at Washington, D.C. Supplemental Manifests of Alien Passengers and Crew Members Who Arrived on Vessels at New York, New York, Who Were Inspected for Admission, and Related Index, compiled 1887-1952.

Paul Lichter on 1938 ship manifest to NY, line 9
Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957. Microfilm Publication T715, 8892 rolls. NAI: 300346. Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; National Archives at Washington, D.C. Supplemental Manifests of Alien Passengers and Crew Members Who Arrived on Vessels at New York, New York, Who Were Inspected for Admission, and Related Index, compiled 1887-1952.

That was not a name that was on my tree, but given the surname Gross, I assumed it was a relative of Anna, perhaps on her father’s side.

It also made sense that Paul would be going to New Rochelle since he had family members living in that city.  In fact, 30 Parcot Avenue was only half a mile from where Paul’s cousin Alice Mayer Kann was living in 1940 at 17 Argyle Avenue in New Rochelle as well and just two blocks from where Paul’s cousin Ernst Mayer was living at 94 Hillside Avenue in New Rochelle.

I searched the 1940 census to see if there was a Meyer Gross living at 30 Parcot Road in 1940, and I discovered that Kurt Kornfeld and his family were living at that location in 1940.  Kurt Kornfeld was one of Ernst Mayer;s partners in Black Star Publishing, which they founded after they escaped Nazi Germany, as I discussed here.  And living in the Kornfeld home as a lodger in 1940 was a 72 year old German-born woman named Matilda Mayer, who I believe I am safe in assuming was Mathilde Gross Mayer, Paul’s aunt.

But who then was Meyer Gross? I don’t know.  I checked both the 1938 and 1940 directories for New Rochelle (the 1939 was not available online), and there was no person with that name in either directory.  Since the name was entered by hand on the manifest, perhaps it was written incorrectly by the person entering the name.  Maybe it was “Mathilde Gross,” her birth name?  I don’t know.

On June 8, 1939, Paul and Marie’s eighteen year old daughter Renate sailed to New York alone; she was to be met by another “cousin” Heinz “Anspacher,” who resided at 404 West 116th Street in New York City. (See line 13.)

renate-lichter-1939-ship-manifest-line-13

Renate Lichter on 1939 ship manifest, line 13 Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957. Microfilm Publication T715, 8892 rolls. NAI: 300346. Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; National Archives at Washington, D.C. Supplemental Manifests of Alien Passengers and Crew Members Who Arrived on Vessels at New York, New York, Who Were Inspected for Admission, and Related Index, compiled 1887-1952.

Renate Lichter on 1939 ship manifest, line 13
Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957. Microfilm Publication T715, 8892 rolls. NAI: 300346. Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; National Archives at Washington, D.C. Supplemental Manifests of Alien Passengers and Crew Members Who Arrived on Vessels at New York, New York, Who Were Inspected for Admission, and Related Index, compiled 1887-1952.

That was another name that did not ring any bells for me, so I searched for him.  Although I could not find a Heinz Anspacher, I did find a Heinz Ludwig Ansbacher who had immigrated to the US in 1924 and was born in 1904 in Frankfurt. He was a well-known professor of psychology, and in the 1930s he was studying at Columbia, so living at 404 West 116th Street made sense.

Heinz was the son of Max Ansbacher and Emilia Dinkelspiel, neither of whom appear to have a connection to the Gross or Licther or Hirsch families. Perhaps this was a friend of the family? I don’t know. (I hate paragraphs that end with I don’t know, and that’s the second time in this post.)

But if her father Paul had arrived in 1938, why was Renate going to Heinz Ansbacher in 1939? Had Paul returned to Europe after his trip in 1938? On March 1, 1940, Paul, Marie, and their younger daughter sailed from Liverpool to New York, and although Marie and her daughter listed their last permanent residence as Stuttgart, Paul’s last permanent residence was stated as Birmingham, England.  They all listed Ernst Mayer, Paul’s cousin, as the person they were going to in the United States.

paul-lichter-and-family-on-1940-manifest

Paul, Marie, and Lore Lichter on 1940 ship manifest, lines 13-15 Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957. Microfilm Publication T715, 8892 rolls. NAI: 300346

Paul, Marie, and Lore Lichter on 1940 ship manifest, lines 13-15
Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957. Microfilm Publication T715, 8892 rolls. NAI: 300346

The English ship manifest for their trip leaving from Liverpool is consistent with the New York manifest: Paul is listed as last residing in England, Marie and their daughter in Germany, and Paul is listed with an address in Birmingham, England.  I can only infer that Paul had left the US sometime after his March 1938 arrival and before Renate arrived in June 1939 and was living in England in 1940 when he and the rest of the family joined Renate in New York.

Paul, Marie, and Lore Lichter on the 1940 UK ship manifest Ancestry.com. UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012. Original data: Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Outwards Passenger Lists. BT27. Records of the Commercial, Companies, Labour, Railways and Statistics Departments. Records of the Board of Trade and of successor and related bodies. The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, England.

Paul, Marie, and Lore Lichter on the 1940 UK ship manifest
Ancestry.com. UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.
Original data: Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Outwards Passenger Lists. BT27. Records of the Commercial, Companies, Labour, Railways and Statistics Departments. Records of the Board of Trade and of successor and related bodies. The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, England.

Although Anna and Wilhelm’s two children and their grandchildren were thus all safely out of Germany by the spring of 1940, Anna and Wilhelm were not as fortunate.  On February 28, 1942, they were forced to move to a Jewish home for the elderly.  (Wilhelm was then 77, Anna 72.)  Then in August, 1942, they entered into an “agreement” whereby they transferred their remaining assets (22,815 Reich marks) in exchange for free accommodations for life at the camp at Theriesenstadt.  On August 23, 1942, Anna and Wilhelm were deported to Theriesenstadt.

Anna died less than a month later on September 18, 1942.  Wilhelm lasted five more months, dying on February 6, 1943.

Stolpersteine for Wilhelm Lichter and Anna Gross Lichter http://www.stolpersteine-stuttgart.de/index.php?docid=749

Stolpersteine for Wilhelm Lichter and Anna Gross Lichter
http://www.stolpersteine-stuttgart.de/index.php?docid=749

Their son-in-law’s parents, Hermann and Ida Wronker, were also murdered; according to Der Spiegel, by 1939, almost all of their property had been confiscated by the Nazis.  In 1941, they were living in France and were sent to the internment camp at Gurs, where they were later deported to Auschwitz.  They were killed there in 1942.

Herman and Ida Wronker with their four grandchildren, Eric, Gerda, Ruth, and Marion

Herman and Ida Wronker with their four grandchildren, Erich, Gerda, Ruth, and Marion, courtesy of the Wronker family

But all the children and grandchildren of Herman and Ida (Friedeberg) Wronker and Anna (Gross) and Wilhelm Lichter survived and, like so many of those who escaped from Nazi Germany, they had to start over with almost nothing.

Here are some members of the extended family years later.

From left to right, standing: Max Wronker, Paul Lichter, Marie Hirsch Lichter, Lilli Cassel Wronker, Renate Lichter, Alice Wronker Engel, Irma Lichter Wronker, Erich .Wronker, unknown, Edith Cassel. Seated, left to right, Marion Engel and two unknown women Courtesy of the Wronker family

From left to right, standing: Max Wronker, Paul Lichter, Marie Hirsch Lichter, Lili Cassel Wronker, Renate Lichter, Alice Wronker Engel, Irma Lichter Wronker, Erich .Wronker, unknown, Edith Cassel.
Seated, left to right, Marion Engel and two unknown women
Courtesy of the Wronker family

I don’t know how people coped with the unfathomable cruelty inflicted upon them and their loved ones, but once again I am inspired by the resilience of the human spirit.

 

 

 

[1] Another secondary source reports that Anna was born on November 1, 1870, but I am going to assume that Anna’s own brother knew her birthday.  I’ve no primary source to use to determine for sure.

A Family Uprooted by the Nazis: Mathilde Gross Mayer and Her Family

My last post ended with the tragic deaths in November 1901 of my cousin Bertha Seligmann and her husband Bernhard Gross; they had died from carbon monoxide poisoning while in their own home in Bingen, Germany.  Bertha was the first cousin of my great-great-grandfather, Bernard Seligmann.  We are both descendants of my 4x-great-grandfather, Jacob Seligmann.

Much of what I have learned about the life of Bertha and Bernhard came from the memoir written by their daughter Mathilde, Die Alte und Die Neue Welt (1951). As I mentioned in the last two posts, Mathilde lived a hundred years, from 1869 until 1969, and resided on two continents during her remarkable life, first in Germany, then in the United States.  This post will focus on Mathilde and her family and descendants and their lives after 1901.

Mathilde was the oldest of Bertha and Bernhard’s five children. [1]  As stated above, she was born in 1869, and she married Marx Mayer in 1888. They had three children: Wilhelm (known as Willy) Mayer-Gross (1889), Ernst (1893), and Alice (1896).  All three would live interesting lives.

jpf-family-sheet-for-mathilde-gross-mayer

Although Alice Mayer was the youngest of the children of Mathilde Gross and Marx Mayer, I am going to write about her first because it is her daughter, Ellen Kann Pine, whose book One Life in Two Worlds (self-published, 2009) provided me with insights into the life of the Mayer family in the 1920s and 1930s.  All the facts related in this post came from Ellen Kann Pine’s memoir, except where noted.

20160810_174631600_iOS

According to Ellen’s memoir, her mother Alice Mayer married Arthur Kann, whose father was in the wholesale grain business in the Bingen area.  Their twin daughters Ellen and Hannelore were born in 1921 in Bingen.  Ellen’s description of her childhood growing up in Bingen sounds quite idyllic.  She describes Bingen in those days as the largest town in the area with about 10,000 residents.

Her family shared a house with her father’s brother Julius Kann and his wife.  The house was on the edge of town and was located across the street from Ellen’s grandparents, Mathilde (Gross) and Marx Mayer.  She saw her grandparents every day.  Ellen wrote:

No day passed without a visit from one or both of them.  Our Grandfather (Opapa) was usually the first to come.  He always brought each of us a piece of chocolate wrapped in foil in the shape of a coin. …Our Grandmother (Omama) usually visited in the afternoon and she was always interested in what we had been doing and asked us to tell her.

Pine, p. 7.

Their grandmother Mathilde would take them for walks in the neighborhood every day.  In addition, numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins lived nearby.  The town was small enough that most people knew each other, and the Kann home had a big enough yard for the children to play.

In 1927, the twins started school at the local Volksschule where both Jewish and Christian children attended. At that time, they became more aware of their Jewish background.  As Ellen described, “[i]n Germany, religious instruction was part of the overall curriculum and was taught during regular school hours by clergy of each denomination.”  Pine, p. 20.  Ellen and Hannelore were taught by their cantor and received instruction in Hebrew and Bible stories.

The family had Shabbat dinners with their Mayer grandparents and celebrated the Jewish holidays together.  The Kann family also liked to travel, and Ellen recalled family trips to the Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Switzerland, and Austria during her childhood.

Ellen’s uncles Wilhelm and Ernst, the sons of Mathilde Gross and Marx Mayer, were also living comfortable lives in Germany in the years before Hitler came to power. Wilhelm became a renowned psychiatrist.  According to Edward Shorter’s A Historical Dictionary of Psychiatry (Oxford University Press, Feb 17, 2005), Wilhelm studied medicine at the University of Heidelberg and then further specialized in psychiatry at Heidelberg.  His doctoral thesis was on “the phenomenology of abnormal feelings of happiness,” and by 1929, he was an assistant professor of psychiatry in Heidelberg.

On the personal side, according to Shorter’s book, Wilhelm had married in 1919; his wife was Carola Meyer, and they had one child.  Around the time of his marriage, Wilhelm adopted the surname Mayer-Gross, hyphenating his mother’s maiden name with his father’s surname.

Wilhelm’s younger brother Ernst served in the German military during World War I. Once again Matthias Steinke helped me out and translated the documents reporting Ernst’s military record.  According to Matt’s translation, Ernst served in the military first from October 1907 until September 1909 as a private in the 9th Infantry Regiment in Zabern.  Then when World War I started, he was on active duty from August 1914 until September 1918, again serving in the infantry.  He was a bona fide war hero for Germany.

He fought in over twenty battles all over Europe: in France, in Italy, in Bukovina and Slovenia, and at the border of Greece.  On the 5th of October he was shot in the back during a battle near Lille, France, but returned to the front by June, 1915, where he fought in a battle near Tirol. Beginning in December, 1914, he served as a ski trooper for some of his time in the army. His service ended when he was sent to the hospital in September, 1918, with influenza.  His rank at the end of his service was a reserve lieutenant.  He received several commendations for his service including the Prussian Iron Cross, the Edelweiss medal, and two Hessian orders.

Bavaria, Germany, World War I, Personnel Rosters, 1914-1918, for Ernst Mayer Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Mnchen; Abteilung IV Kriegsarchiv. Kriegstammrollen, 1914-1918; Volume: 11697. Kriegsstammrolle: Bd.1

Bavaria, Germany, World War I, Personnel Rosters, 1914-1918, for Ernst Mayer
Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Mnchen; Abteilung IV Kriegsarchiv. Kriegstammrollen, 1914-1918; Volume: 11697. Kriegsstammrolle: Bd.1

Ernst Mayer WW1 military register 6

Bavaria, Germany, World War I, Personnel Rosters, 1914-1918, for Ernst Mayer Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Mnchen; Abteilung IV Kriegsarchiv. Kriegstammrollen, 1914-1918; Volume: 11697. Kriegsstammrolle: Bd.1

After the war, Ernst became the owner of a successful publishing house in Berlin, Mauritius Verlag.  He married Helene Hirschberg, and they had two daughters and were living in Berlin.

Thus, as of 1933, Mathilde (Gross) and Marx Mayer and their three children were successful citizens of Germany.  The world and lives of all these members of the family changed drastically with the election of Hitler as chancellor in 1933.

Ellen Kann Pine was then twelve years old and remembers well how things changed in Bingen.  She wrote:

As soon as Hitler became chancellor, fierce looking men wearing different colored uniforms appeared everywhere. … Part of the uniform was a red armband with a large black swastika on a white background.  Almost all teenagers of both sexes belonged to the Hitler Youth and wore similar brown uniforms and red armbands.  They all were disturbing and frightening as they marched in the streets day and night carrying Nazi flags and singing Horst-Wessel Lied and other vicious anti-Semitic songs. Swastikas were painted everywhere: on walls, on buildings, on flags, and on women’s brown blouses. …. 

It was soon obvious that the anti-Semitic propaganda and lies that abounded in the streets had their desired effect.  It helped turn our previously friendly and courteous Christian neighbors and their children into hostile anti-Semites.  Now we rarely went for walks, and when we did, we kept strictly to ourselves.  We could not go shopping, or to the movies, or a theater, since most of these activities were out of bounds for Jews.

Pine, pp. 35-36.

Things changed for Ellen and her sister at school as well because they were Jewish. Friends ignored them, as did their teachers.

Adding to the family’s stress and sorrow was the heartbreaking death of Mathilde’s husband and the family patriarch, Marx Mayer. Ellen wrote:

Our beloved Opapa died in 1934.  It was the first family death we experienced and it was wrenching.  I cannot forget the look on our Omama’s face when we came to visit her.  Sitting on the sofa, she looked utterly lonely and sad with grief.

Pine, p. 29

After September, 1935, with the passage of the Nuremberg Laws, Ellen and her siblings could no longer attend school at all. Their father also lost his job as director of a synthetic fertilizer company.  The family made the important but painful decision to send the twins and their younger brother to boarding school in England.  For two years from 1936 until 1938, the children lived away from their parents.  Ellen wrote movingly about the experience and the issues the children had adjusting to life away from home.

Fortunately their uncle, Willy Mayer-Gross, was in England and was a source of comfort and support for the children while they lived there. The Nazi laws prohibiting Jewish doctors from practicing medicine on non-Jewish patients and other restrictions had led Willy to emigrate in 1933.  He was able to obtain funding through a Rockefeller Foundation grant to go to England to work and live.  His niece Ellen Kann Pine wrote this about her uncle Willy:

Learning a new language, a new culture, new ways of treating patients, and having to retake his medica exams made his first years there very difficult.  Although Uncle W. was in his forties he persevered, brought his family to England and was able to continue his research.  … He was our guardian and his support was invaluable when my sister and I entered boarding school in England in 1936.

Pine, p. 32

Willy did in fact have a remarkable career in England; Edward Shorter described him as the “Importer of German scientific rigor and psychopathological thinking to English psychiatry.” A Historical Dictionary of Psychiatry (Oxford University Press, Feb 17, 2005).

According to the Whonamedit website:

In the 1933 Mayer-Gross came to the Bethlem Royal Hospital, London, to work with Edward Mapother, who provided fellowships for German academics who were fleeing Hitler, such as Guttmann and Mayer-Gross. He worked at the hospital from 1933 to 1939, when he became a licentiate of the Royal College pf Physicians and the Royal College of Surgeons. He subsequently became senior fellow with the department of experimental psychiatry, Birmingham Medical School 1958; Director of Research, Uffcalme Clinic. He was a fellow of the British Eugenics Society 1946, 1957. It was Mayer-Gross who first suggested, in about 1955, that tranquilizers converted one psychosis into another. Wilhelm Mayer-Gross was the winner of the Administrative Psychiatry Award for 1958.

Willy’s younger brother Ernst also suffered due to the Nazi persecution of Jews.  Despite his distinguished service to Germany during World War I, like other Jewish business owners he was forced to sell his publishing business in accordance with the Nazi policies requiring “Aryanization” of all businesses.  Like his brother Willy, Ernst decided to leave Germany once he’d lost his business.

He arrived in New York on June 8, 1935, leaving his family behind until he could bring them over as well.

Ernst Mayer passenger manifest 1935

Ernst Mayer passenger manifest 1935 page 2

Ernst Mayer passenger manifest, June 8, 1935, line 8 Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867.

Soon after arriving in New York, he and two other German Jewish refugees, Kurt Safranski (whom Ernst had listed as his contact in NY on the manifest) and Kurt Kornfeld, formed Black Star Publishing Company.  Marvin Hefferman wrote in the New York Times blog “Lens” on July 15, 2013, that Ernst Mayer and his partners were “innovators in Germany’s picture press and publishing world and fled from the Nazis.  Their New York-based company commissioned and brokered the use of photographs that documented important events, the comings and goings of notables, and human interest stories.” Marvin Hefferman, “Black Star Shines Anew,” The New York Times (July 15, 2013), available here.

Among their early clients were the magazines Life, Look, The Saturday Evening Post, and Collier’s, which retained their services for the procurement of photographs. The Black Star company’s website describes Ernst’s important role in the success of Black Star:

It was Mayer who made the decisive step uptown into the Rockefeller Center to Time Inc. He brought with him an enormous pile of essays from photographers including Fritz Goro and Paul Wolff, whom he had brought safely from Berlin to New York.  Soon after, the chief editors of Life Magazine had chosen Black Star as one of their main suppliers of pictures. Emigre photojournalists viewed the agency as their best means of gaining access to the magazine. For the mostly Jewish photographers, Black Star was a piece of Europe in the middle of New York.… According to photo historian Marianne Fulton, Life brought Black Star 30 to 40 per cent of its business. Black Star, in turn, contributed to Life becoming the most popular magazine in America for nearly three decades, with tens of millions of readers.

A little over a year after arriving himself, Ernst was able to bring his wife and daughter to the United States on August 11, 1936.[2]

Ernst Mayer and family August 1936 manifest

Ernst Mayer and family passenger manifest August 11, 1936 Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867.

Ernst Mayer and family passenger manifest August 11, 1936
Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867.

One year after that, on October 11, 1937, he returned once more to Germany to bring his mother Mathilde back to the US.[3]  As you can see, the manifest shows they left from England, not Germany.  Ellen Kann Pine wrote that her grandmother Mathilde came to see her and her sister at boarding school in England before leaving for the US.

Mathilde Mayer passenger manifest October 1 1937

Mathilde Mayer passenger manifest October 1 1937 page 2

Mathilde Mayer and Ernst Mayer on passenger manifest, October 11, 1937 Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867.

Ernst and his family and his mother were all living in New Rochelle, New York, at that time.

In August, 1938, the daughters of Alice Mayer Kann, Ellen and Hannelore, left England to come to the US.  Their parents and brother followed a month later, and the Kann family also settled in New Rochelle, New York.  Thus, by the fall of 1938, just a few months before Kristallnacht and the increased violence against Jews in Europe that followed, all of Mathilde’s children and grandchildren were safely out of Germany, as was she.

I will leave for another day what Mathilde’s life was like once she got to America—that is, until I can read the rest of her memoir.  As for her granddaughter Ellen Kann Pine, like her two uncles Willy and Ernst, she not only survived, she thrived—she worked hard, ultimately obtained a Ph.D. in biochemistry, and became a successful research scientist.  I highly recommend her memoir as another lesson in the resilience of people and their ability to start life over in a new place and find not only security but happiness.  Her book is available on Amazon here.

Sadly, Ernst Mayer’s wife Helene Hirschberg died on July 19, 1945, at age fifty.  Willy Mayer-Gross died in 1961; he was 72.  Mathilda outlived her oldest child, dying at 100 in 1969.  Her other two children also lived long lives.  Ernst died at ninety in 1983, and Alice died in 1993 when she was 97. Her husband Arthur Kann had died many years before in 1966 when he was 83.

My cousin Mathilde had suffered greatly during her life: she had lost her parents in a terrible tragedy, her husband had died too soon, and she had been forced to leave her homeland and the place where her family had lived for hundreds of years.  But she and her three children and all of her grandchildren escaped Nazi Germany in time and survived.  Although all of them suffered from the Nazi treatment of Jews, they all found success. It’s hard to say they were lucky, given what they’d endured, but they at least survived.

Other members of their extended family were not as fortunate.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Later posts will relate what happened to Mathilde’s siblings and their families.

 

[2] Ernst and Helene Mayer had another daughter Dorothea, who had died before the family left Germany.

[3] It appears that Mathilde was listed on an earlier ship manifest to leave Germany in February, 1937. There is a notation “Ext. 9/17/37,” which I assume meant she extended her ticket for an additional seven months. Perhaps she did not want to sail alone, and it was only when Ernst returned to bring her back in October that she came to the US.  Or maybe she did come in February and returned because there is another notation that says “RT.”  Return trip? I am not sure.

Mathilde Mayer-Gross on passenger manifest February 1937

Mathilde Mayer-Gross on passenger manifest Feb 1937 page 2

Mathilde Mayer-Gross listed on February 1937 manifest Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867.

Yom Hashoah—Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day to remember all those who were killed during the Holocaust.

As a result of my genealogy work, I have learned in the last few years that there were many members of my extended family who were victims of the Nazis.  I had always assumed that all my relatives had left Europe before Hitler came to power—long before he came to power.  So learning about the many members of the Seligmann family who were killed and then more recently about the many members of the Schoenthal and Hamberg families who were killed has been very painful.

The Holocaust touched us all, whether we know it or not, whether we are Jewish or not. Our world lost millions of people.  As each generation learns how cruel and inhumane other people can be, there is once again a loss of innocence.  I dread the day when my grandsons also have to learn this horrible truth.

English: A lit Yom Hashoah candle in a dark ro...

English: A lit Yom Hashoah candle in a dark room on Yom Hashoah (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last spring I visited the camps at Terezin and Auschwitz.  I carried with me a list of the names of my relatives who had died at each of the camps so that I could honor their memories.

That list has grown since last spring.  One of the most recent names I’ve had to add to the list of those who died at Auschwitz was Liesel Mosbach Lion, granddaughter of Rosalie Schoenthal Heymann, my great-grandfather’s sister.  Liesel was my father’s second cousin.

I recently posted about Liesel and her family and what happened to them.  Most of what I knew came from the memoir written by Liesel’s husband Ernst Georg Lion, The Fountain at the Crossroads.  I was so moved by his book that I have decided to see whether there is a way to get it published in a format where it will be accessible to more people.  I am now in touch with Ernst’s son Tom.  He sent me photographs of Ernst and his family, including my cousin Liesel.  With his permission, I am posting a few of them here to honor their memory this Yom Hashoah.

The first three are of Ernst’s parents, Leo and Bertha (Weinberg) Lion.  Bertha died from the stress caused by the Nazi treatment of Jews during the 1930s.  Leo was killed in one of the camps.

Ernst Lion parents 1 Ernst Lion father

Ernst Lion parents 2

This is the last photograph taken of Leo Lion before he was arrested and sent to a concentration camp.

Ernst Lion father 2

On the left below is my cousin Liesel Mosbach Lion; she was killed at Auschwitz.  On the right is the wedding picture of Liesel and Ernst, December 18, 1939.

Liesel, her sister Grete, both of her parents, Helene Heymann Mosbach and Julius Mosbach, and her aunt Hilda Heymann were all killed during the Holocaust. Her grandfather Willy Heymann was arrested and taken to Dachau and died soon after being released.

They were all my cousins.

Liesel Mosbach Lion alone and in wedding picture with Ernst

These are various photographs of Ernst from childhood through the war years and afterwards in the US.  His story of suffering and survival is unforgettable.

pictures of Ernst Lion

We live in a time when once again hatred and fear permeate our world and demagogues are seeking power.  We must be vigilant and remember what happened then.  We must do all we can to ensure that genocide does not occur again anywhere.

We must never forget.  Never again.

More Names to Remember and Never Forget

As I move towards closure on my Schoenthal family history, this post has been the hardest one to write.  It is a tragic chapter in that history.

As I’ve already written, four of the six children of my great-great-aunt Rosalie Schoenthal and her husband Willy Heymann left Germany before they could be killed by the Nazis. The three sons went to Chicago, and the oldest daughter Johanna went to Sao Paulo. They all survived.  The other two daughters were not so lucky.

The second oldest daughter, Helene, was born in Geldern in November 9, 1890, a year after Johanna.  She married Julius Mosbach, who was the younger brother of Johanna’s first husband, Hermann Mosbach.  After marrying, Julius and Helene were living in Iserlohn, a town about 80 miles east of Geldern.  According to an article written in 2000 by the archivist of Iserlohn, Gotz Bettge, Julius and Helene Mosbach owned a fruit and vegetable business in the town square in Iserlohn.  They had two daughters: Liesel, who was born March 8, 1921, and Gretel, born October 26, 1926.

 

Iserlohn By No machine-readable author provided. Asio otus assumed (based on copyright claims). [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Iserlohn
By No machine-readable author provided. Asio otus assumed (based on copyright claims). [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


On December 18, 1939, Liesel married Ernst Georg Lion. From the incredibly moving autobiography written by Ernst Lion entitled The Fountain at the Crossroads and available online here, I was able to learn a great deal about his life and also about the lives of Julius, Helene, and their daughters.  All the information and quotes below are from his book unless otherwise indicated.  (Special thanks to Dorothee Lottmann-Kaeseler for sending me some of the additional links and information.)

Ernst was born December 15, 1915, in Brambauer, the son of Leo Lion and Bertha Weinberg Lion.  When Ernst was a very young child, his father Leo was badly injured while serving in the German army during World War I.   Leo Lion considered himself a German patriot.

Ernst grew up as the only Jewish child in Brambauer during the hard years of the Weimar Republic, but his childhood was overall quite happy. Then Hitler came to power, and his life was forever changed.  The Nazis tried to impose a boycott on his father’s business by having a Gestapo member stand in the doorway and take photographs of those who patronized his store.  Ernst’s father insisted that the man leave, even threatening to beat him up.  He did not think the Nazis would be in power for very long.  But then when the Nuremberg laws were enacted in 1935, the family had to sell their home and their store for less than their value and move to Dortmund.

Many members of the extended Lion/Weinberg family left Germany around that time, but Ernst had difficulty getting the necessary visas and permits to go elsewhere even though he had an affidavit of support from a cousin in New York.  Then on November 9, 1938, Ernst was one of thousands of German Jews who were arrested and sent to Buchenwald in the aftermath of Kristallnacht.  In his autobiography he described in graphic detail his experiences there.  It’s horrifying.

Ernst was released a few weeks later and told to leave the country within three weeks.  All the Jewish businesses were now closed, and he was forced to work on street repairs while waiting to emigrate.

 

Buchenwald Watch Tower undesarchiv, Bild 183-1983-0825-303 / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

Buchenwald Watch Tower
undesarchiv, Bild 183-1983-0825-303 / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


But then he met Liesel Mosbach in Iserlohn.  He was introduced by his Aunt Selma who lived there, and they immediately took a liking for each other.  At that time Liesel’s family was living in the apartment above their former business, which had been confiscated by the Nazis.  Julius Mosbach had suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of the harassment by the Nazis and the loss of his business, and he was doing very poorly.

Ernst moved to Iserlohn in 1939, where his aunt was able to help him get a job at a metal working company owned by a family that was unsympathetic to the Nazi government and its policies; the owners even provided Ernst with extra food to supplement the very restrictive allotments allowed to the Jews by the Nazis.

When the Nazis then imposed travel restrictions and required Jews to wear the yellow Star of David, Ernst was no longer able to get to Dortmund to visit his parents.  His mother died shortly thereafter, having given up on life, according to his father; Ernst was not even allowed to go to her funeral.

Yellow badge Star of David called "Judens...

Yellow badge Star of David called “Judenstern”. Part of the exhibition in the Jewish Museum Westphalia, Dorsten, Germany. The wording is the German word for Jew (Jude), written in mock-Hebrew script. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

On December 18, 1939, Ernst and Liesel were married.  As Ernst wrote, although they had no idea what the future would bring, “The secret of maintaining one’s sanity under those conditions is to live as normal a life as one can.” (p. 18)   Unfortunately, that became more and more difficult to do.  Conditions for the Jews continued to worsen, and there was less food available.  People were beginning to hear about Jews being arrested and sent away.

In January, 1941, Julius Masbach was admitted to a mental hospital and died shortly thereafter.  Ernst wrote (p.15):

We soon discovered that we should have opposed the doctor’s decision [to hospitalize Julius], for the Nazis had decided that all institutionalized, so-called “insane” persons no longer had the right to live and had become a burden to society.  They were led into sheds equipped with gasoline engines, which were installed in reverse fashion: the exhaust escaped to the inside of the building.  After they were asphyxiated, the bodies were burned and the ashes delivered to the surviving families.  No one realized that this activity was the rehearsal for later mass destruction of humans.

On April 28, 1942, Helene Heymann Mosbach, my grandmother’s first cousin, and her daughter Gretel, just sixteen years old, were arrested and sent to Zamosc, near Lublin, Poland.  They were never heard from again.  Ernst’s father Leo Lion was also arrested around this time, and Ernst never heard from him again either.

To add to this heartbreaking account, Helene’s sister Hilda, the youngest of the six children of Rosalie Schoenthal and Willy Heymann, was also killed by the Nazis.  Although she is not mentioned in Ernst Lion’s autobiography or on the website memorializing the Mosbach family, according to Yad Vashem, Hilda also had been living in Iserlohn before being sent Zamosc where her sister Helene and niece Gretel had been deported.   I assume that Hilda had moved to Iserlohn to live with her sister Helene after both her mother Rosalie (1937) and her father Willy (1939) had died.

I had not heard of Zamosc before, and my friend Dorothee Lottmann-Kaeseler sent me this link that reveals the absolutely horrifying story of this place.  There are no records of what happened specifically to Helene, Gretel, and Hilda, but it is possible that they were killed in Zamosc itself or deported to the death camp at Majdanek or Belzec or Sobibor, where they were killed.

 

Crematoria at Majdanek death camp near Lublin, Poland Deutsche Fotothek‎ [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

Crematoria at Majdanek death camp near Lublin, Poland
Deutsche Fotothek‎ [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

On February 26, 1943, Ernst and Liesel received orders to report to a school in Dortmund with just one suitcase each.  There were about a thousand people at the school that night, and everyone was forced to sleep on the floor. Ernst wrote, “They took our wedding bands and watches, telling us that we would not need them where we were going.” (p. 19)

The next morning they were put on a freight train (pp.19-20):

I found myself inside such a freight car among a hundred men, women and children.  The doors were locked; there were no windows to look through.  This precaution would keep us from recognizing our route or destination.  A few buckets for relief, no food or water.  This should be a short ride, I mused.

… Liesel was shoved on this train with me.  At least we were together.  Just twenty-three, she was a thin, wiry lady, strong and energetic.  Her dark eyes expressed the will to endure.  I was twenty-four.  Where was our future?

Although they were told they were being taken to a safe place for resettlement, Ernst was skeptical, as he had good reason to be.  They were being taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  When they arrived, they were told to leave their suitcases on the train; then they stepped onto the platform surrounded by SS guards and prisoners in striped uniforms who were helping with the unloading.

Then the men and women were separated.

Ernst wrote, “All the women were led away.  My wife looked at me for one last time before she disappeared.  It was dark now, and I saw her walk away like a shadow.”

He never saw her again.  Liesel Mosbach Lion, my father’s second cousin, was murdered at Auschwitz.

 

English: Aushwitz I crematoria memorial

English: Aushwitz I crematoria memorial (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I consider the entire family to be victims of the Holocaust: Rosalie, Willy, Helene, Julius, Liesel, Gretel, and Hilda as well as Leo and Bertha Lion.

 

Stolperstein for Julius Mosbach and family

 

Ernst Lion, however, survived.  The story of how he survived is remarkable.  It’s a tale of incredible courage, strength, persistence, and luck. It’s also a horrifying, nightmarish account of how cruel human beings can be to one another.  You should all read it.  I cannot do it justice in a blog post.  You must read it.  Again, you can find it here.  Please read it.

I am so grateful that Ernst, Liesel’s husband, survived and recorded his story and their story for us all to read.  We must never forget.

 

 

Fritz Davids: A Young Hero

 

I know I promised my next post would be about Lionel Heymann and his secret life, but first I need to write about someone else, someone who was not in any way related to me, but who deserves to be remembered and honored.  I will return to Lionel next time.

In my last post I had asked for help in interpreting a sentence in the Steinheim Institute site describing what had happened to Willy Heymann.

Willy Heymann wurde nach seinem Tod von dem 14jährigen Fritz Davids, der erst kurze Zeit zuvor aus dem KZ Dachau zurückgekehrt war, in das man ihn nach derPogromnacht mit seinem Vater verschleppt hatte, ganz alleine und heimlich zum Friedhof gebracht und begraben.

Translated by a member of the German Genealogy Facebook group as:

After his death, Willy Heyman was brought secretly to the cemetery and buried by 14 year old Fritz Davids alone, who had returned only a short time before from the concentration camp of Dachau where he had been brought with his father after the [Kristallnacht, Nov. 9, 1938].

And two members of the genealogy village came to my assistance and found this link and interpreted it for me:

Recently back from the concentration camp, Fritz Davids experienced, two months later, how bad the Jews had fared. There was no respect even for the dead. The Jew Willy Heymann died at the age of almost 84 years old. Since nobody wanted to bury him or could, the 14-year-old Fritz put the corpse in a wheelbarrow and at dawn wheeled it to Boeckelter Weg (street name) to the Jewish cemetery, where he, fully in dignity of the time, shoveled a grave for the old man and spoke the Kaddish. David Cain and Jacob Heymann were also buried under such humiliating circumstances.

Imagine being fourteen, being arrested and sent to a camp like Dachau.  Then imagine coming back and finding what the Nazis had done to your community.  And then imagine that fourteen year old boy having the courage and the moral decency to ensure a proper burial for one of his fellow citizens, an 84 year old man whose wife had died and whose three sons were in America.   What an exceptional person this young boy must have been.

That left me and some of my readers wondering about this brave fourteen year old boy, Fritz Davids.  Who was he, and what happened to him?

So this morning I checked my sources, and what I learned did not shock me, but it did break my heart.

Fritz Davids, the son of Gustav Davids and Freidel Hext, was born in Geldern on April 4, 1924.  He was named for his father’s brother, who had died in 1901 when he was just nine years old.

Fritz Davids, uncle of the subject of this post http://www.steinheim-institut.de/daten/picse05/xl/0051_E05_1_1984.jpg

Fritz Davids, uncle of the subject of this post
http://www.steinheim-institut.de/daten/picse05/xl/0051_E05_1_1984.jpg

 

Fritz was imprisoned again at Dachau on September 5, 1941, until May 4, 1942.  He was then deported to the killing facility at Hartheim, where he was killed on July 2, 1942.  Both of his parents and his aunt were also murdered during the Holocaust.

Fritz Davids was 18 years old.  He did not get a decent burial.  No one was there to say kaddish for him.

May his memory be for a blessing.  May we never forget his name.

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.

 

 

Krakow

We arrived in Krakow after a pretty much sleepless night on the train, and the weather was nasty—very cool and raining hard.  Once again, we overpaid a cabdriver (though not by nearly as much) to get to our hotel at 7 am, where our room was, as expected, not ready.  (Check-in wasn’t until 3 pm.)  But the young man at the reception desk was so friendly and helpful that it immediately changed my outlook.  I highly recommend the Metropolitan Boutique Hotel in Krakow—a small and friendly hotel with an incredibly professional, efficient, and friendly staff.  Although the location on a small side street at first seemed odd, we soon realized how ideal that location was—about ten minutes from the main square in Krakow and even closer to the Jewish Quarter in Kazimierz.

Our sleeping accommodations from Prague to Krakow

Our sleeping accommodations from Prague to Krakow

After breakfast at the hotel, we decided to venture out and see the city.  We took umbrellas, but fortunately we never had to open them; the skies never turned blue, but the rain was gone.  We walked to the market in the main square of Krakow where we had planned to go on two group walking tours that day, one of the Old Town, the other of the Jewish quarter.  When we got to the main square, vendors were just starting to open their stands, and the square itself was fairly empty.  The square is magnificent in size—reportedly, the largest public square in Europe.  There are cafes and shops surrounding the square as well as a number of churches and government buildings.  We wandered around a bit, and there was almost a Fanueil Hall feel to the place—a large indoor market lined with souvenir stands.  Unfortunately, the weather really was not great, but we did take a few photographs.

IMG_2625 Main Square Old Town Krakow 5 24 IMG_2626 Cloth Hall Main Square Old Town Krakow IMG_2627 Krakow Street IMG_2628 Krakow Street scene

Krakow main square krakow

After some deliberation, we decided to go on a tour of the Jewish Quarter in the morning and Old Town in the afternoon with SeeKrakow.  Our tour guide was a middle-aged Polish man who spoke English well, and the group of about sixteen people was quite diverse in background.  We were the only people from an English speaking country.  There were people from Spain, France, Belgium, and Switzerland.  They all understood English; it was embarrassing.  We were the only people in the group who could not speak a second language.  Most of the others could speak three.  The American educational system is an utter failure in preparing our children for the global world we live in.

Anyway, we marched off with our leader (whose name escapes me, perhaps for good reason), and after a few stops, I realized that he was not a good fit for me.  Maybe it was the contrast to Andrea and Helena, our guides in Prague; maybe it was the nature of being on a group rather than private tour.  The tour leader was knowledgeable and pleasant, but I felt that he had a personal agenda to promote instead of providing an in-depth and historical view of the Jewish Quarter.  Over and over his message seemed to be that Poland had always been tolerant and accepting of its Jewish citizens and that the Polish people were also victims of the Holocaust.  What he said is historically accurate in many ways, but it was the way he delivered his message and his seeming defensiveness that troubled me.

After about the first hour, I started to think that (a) I didn’t want to go on the Old Town afternoon tour with this guide, and (b) I didn’t want to continue on the Jewish Quarter tour with this guide.  When we realized that his tour would not give us a chance to enter into any of the synagogues we passed (which he did describe, but at times showed us only the back or side of the building), we made a decision to leave the tour and explained to the guide that we wanted to spend more time in the Quarter rather than continue with the group.

Unfortunately, I had made one serious error in planning our itinerary—I had failed to check a Jewish calendar beforehand, and I had not realized that our one day in Krakow would be the holiday of Shavuot.  That meant that many of the synagogues, at least those still operating as synagogues, would not be open to the public for tours that day.  (It was also the Catholic holiday Pentecost, meaning that many stores and offices were also closed that day.)  If I could have changed one thing on our trip itinerary, I would have added at least another day to our stay in Krakow—not only because of the conflict with Shavuot, but also because we just did not have enough time to do the city justice.

But when you are traveling, you do what you can do.  So over lunch, we realized that we did not have time to see many of the sites in Krakow outside the Jewish Quarter—the Wawel Castle and the churches and other buildings we’d only glimpsed in Old Town.  We also realized that our sleepless night was catching up with us.  So we spent the afternoon wandering through the Jewish Quarter, soaking up what we could, and visiting the places we could enter.  I hope that someday we can return to Krakow and see the city in more depth.

Unlike the Jewish Quarter in Prague, which as I wrote was substantially torn down in the late 19th century, most of the structures from the original Jewish Quarter in Krakow are still standing—the winding cobblestones streets and old worn buildings have been there for hundreds of years.  As our guide said, Krakow’s Jewish quarter is much more “authentic” than that in Prague because it reflects the way the ghetto looked when it was a ghetto. It also reflects more of the wear and tear of time, neglect, and the war.  Here are some photos of the square where the Jewish market once operated; it still operates as a market—a flea market when we were there, although, of course, there are no Jewish vendors or customers today.

IMG_2631 former Jewish marketplace, still a market 5 24 IMG_2633 former Jewish marketplace

We saw six still-existing buildings in the Krakow Jewish Quarter that were once operating synagogues. As with the synagogues in Prague, the only reason they are still standing is that the Nazis found the spaces useful for storage.  The oldest of the existing synagogue buildings, appropriately referred to as the Old Synagogue, was built at the beginning of the 15th century.  Its interior was destroyed by the Nazis, and it was then used for storage during their occupation of Poland.  Today the building is operated as a museum, displaying Jewish ritual objects and a historical exhibition of Krakow before and during the Nazi occupation.

IMG_2641 Old Synagogue IMG_2642 front of Old Synagogue old synagogue 2 old synagogue krakow

The second oldest synagogue still standing is the Remu’h Synagogue.  It is still an active congregation, so we were not able to enter it during our visit, nor we could enter the Old Jewish cemetery that is located adjacent to the synagogue building.  All I could get was the one photograph through the gate.  The Remu’h synagogue was built in the mid-16th century, and its interior also was substantially destroyed by the Nazis and then used for storage.

Remu'h Synagogue

Remu’h Synagogue

Both the Old and the Remu’h synagogues are located on what was the main square in the Jewish quarter where today there are numerous restaurants, many providing “Jewish” dishes on their menus (but not kosher) and klezmer music at night.  It’s a very pretty square, but the faux Jewishness is clearly intended to manipulate Jewish tourists like us, coming to see a world that no longer exists.

IMG_2643 main square in Jewish Quarter Krakow 5 24 IMG_2644 Jewish Quarter Krakow

The High Synagogue was the third synagogue built in Krakow, sometime after the Remu’h but also in the 16th century.  It was called the High Synagogue because the prayer hall was located upstairs.  We were able to climb those stairs and visit the former prayer hall because today it is a museum.  The exhibit there was very moving.  Several families of former Krakow Jews provided photographs to the museum of their families, depicting what their lives were like in the 1920s and 1930s before the Nazis arrived.  I was surprised to see very modern-looking families, engaged in activities like skiing and boating, as opposed to the images I had had in my head of ultra-Orthodox men with payes and long black coats.  As in Prague, by the early 20th century Jews in Krakow were full citizens, no longer required to live in a ghetto.  Many were quite successful merchants, and their families lived very comfortable and modern lives.

IMG_2639 High Synagogue IMG_2640 Jewish quarter Jewish school

Of course, it doesn’t matter whether they were Hasidim or assimilated, but I have to admit it made it easier for me to identify with these people, knowing their lives were not unlike mine.  Reading the stories of what happened to these families was heartbreaking.  Even though someone survived in these families and was thus able to preserve the photographs and the stories, each of these families lost many members during the Holocaust.

The only other synagogue building we could enter was that of the former Kupa Synagogue.  It was built in the 17th century, and like the other synagogues, was severely damaged by the Nazis.  We were able to enter the building and see the prayer hall, where people seemed to be setting up for some event.  We are not sure exactly how this synagogue is used today since it was open for visitors on the holiday.

Back of Kupa Synagogue

Back of Kupa Synagogue showing the ghetto wall

 

We also stopped to see the outside of the Isaac Synagogue, also built in the 17th century and now the headquarters for Chabad in Krakow, and the newest of the synagogues, the Tempel Synagogue, a Reform synagogue built in the mid-19th century.  Neither was open to visitors.

Tempel Synagogue

Tempel Synagogue

IMG_2638 Izaak Synagogue now Chabad

Isaac Synagogue

 

But next to the Tempel Synagogue is the JCC of Krakow, which was open and where we spoke with a woman at the reception desk.  She told us that they have 500 members, although only 120 are “registered” Jews.  The JCC provides educational and cultural programming, Shabbat dinners, and holiday celebrations, and aims to revive a Jewish community in Krakow.  It was uplifting to be in this new building and see some signs of hope for the very small Jewish community that exists today in Krakow.

jcc krakow

We ended our walk through the Jewish Quarter on that somewhat high note.  We later returned for dinner at the Klezmer Huis, where we ate “Jewish-style” food and listened to Klezmer music (sung by three young people who I assume are not Jewish, but who were excellent).

IMG_2646 Klezmer Huis IMG_2648 Klezmer Huis harvey IMG_2649 interior of Klezmer Huis IMG_2650 IMG_2652 Klezmer peformers

But although that was fun (if somewhat corny), it did not really cover up the reality.  Before World War II, there were about 65,000 Jews in Krakow, and they made up about 25% of the city’s population.  Today, as I said, there are 120 Jews living in Krakow.  Walking those streets and seeing the old houses once occupied by Jewish families, entering those once flourishing synagogues that are now just museums, seeing those photographs of the families who were destroyed, I could not help but feel thousands of ghosts following us around.  What would Krakow be like today if the descendants of those 65,000 people were alive? My day in Krakow left me angry and very sad.

The second day of our visit to Poland we learned more about what happened to those people.  More on that in my next post.

 

 

Putting The Puzzle Together:  Too Many Missing Pieces

Sometimes it is amazing to me how much information you can get from one document—an obituary, a death certificate, a news article.  This time it was a document my cousin Wolfgang Seligmann found in a suitcase.  In fact, I learned so much from this document that I have to divide this post into two separate posts to make each a reasonable length.

What Wolfgang found was a list of names of the heirs to the estate of James Seligman, the son of Moritz and Babetta who had moved to England. (I will refer to him as English James Seligman to distinguish him from the US James Seligman, my great-grandmother’s brother.)   The document is entitled: “J. Seligman Deceased: Statement as of 1st January 1950 of Nephews and Nieces and their Issue, who may take an interest under the Intestacy in the above Estate.”  There are 21 principals named on the document as well as the names of several of the children or relatives of those 21 who might inherit in their place, if the principals were deceased.

heirs list p 1

Heirs List p 2

I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out who these 21 people were and how they were related to English James and also thus to me.  Some of them were very easy to identify.  Number 21 was the easiest:  Mrs. Eva Cohen of Philadelphia was my great-grandmother.  She was deceased by 1950, and unfortunately there was no listing on the document of her heirs, which would have included my father, my aunt, my great-uncle Stanley, and the sons of Maurice Cohen, Buddy and Junior.

Numbers 19 and 20 were also easily identified: Arthur and US James Seligman, my great-grandmother’s brothers and the two other surviving children of Bernard Seligman, English James Seligman’s older brother.  For US James Seligman, Morton is listed as his surviving son.  For Arthur, there is mention of his “oldest son” (he had only one, Otis), and a note that he had been “Governor of Santa Fe” and might be able to find other relatives.  By 1950, however, Arthur and his son Otis were both deceased.  (These careless errors made me a bit skeptical of the Bank’s attention to detail.)

I also knew who Numbers 15 and 16 were: Emil and Eugen Seligmann were the sons of Carolina Seligmann, the half-sister of James, Bernard, and the others, and they were the grandsons of Moritz Seligmann and Eva Schoenfeld.  Emil had died from heart disease in 1942, and Eugen had died at Thierenstadt concentration camp in 1942.  Emil’s son also died during the Holocaust at Buchenwald in 1945.   His daughter Christine was still alive in 1950 when this document was created.

Number 6 is Wolfgang’s grandfather Julius, a son of August Seligmann and grandson of Moritz and Babetta.  He was still alive in 1950.  Number 7 is Moritz Seligmann, the brother of Julius about whom I wrote here.  He had served in World War I for Germany and been awarded the Cross of Honor, but was nevertheless killed during the Holocaust.  Number 8 is Franziska or Frances Seligmann Michel, the mother of Fred Michel, about whom I wrote here.  She was also the child of August Seligmann and the granddaughter of Moritz and Babetta, and had died in 1933.  Her son Fritz (Fred) is also mentioned on the heirs list.

Number 9 is Anna Seligmann Goldmann, the sister of Julius, Moritz, and Franziska and husband of Hugo Goldmann.  Anna, Hugo, and their three young children, Ruth, Grete, and Heinz, were all killed in Thieresenstadt in 1942.

The next four people, Numbers 10 through 13, are all from the Oppenheimer family, written about here.  Joseph, Martha, and Ella were the children of Paulina Seligmann and Meier Oppenheimer.  Paulina was the sister of Bernard, August, and James, and the daughter of Moritz and Babetta Seligmann.  Joseph and Ella both died during the Holocaust.  Martha survived, but her two children Gertrud and Paul did not.  With this document, I now learned that Martha’s married name was Floersheimer, and was able to find Gertrud and Paul in the Yad Vashem database.  Gertrud died at an unknown camp in 1942 after being deported on June 10 of that year from Wiesbaden, and her brother Paul died at a camp in Majdanek, Poland, on August 16, 1942.

Emma Oppenheimer, Number 13, I assume was Emma Neuhoff, the widow of Moritz James Oppenheimer, son of Paulina and a brother of Joseph, Martha, and Ella.  Moritz Oppenheimer, discussed here, had been a successful business person and horse breeder; he was reported to have committed suicide after being visited by the Gestapo in 1942.

That left me with eight unknowns: Numbers 1 through 5 and Numbers 14, 17 and 18.  Some of these I believe I have figured out; others I am not as certain about.  For example, Jack Seligmann, Number 1, has to be the son of a brother of James to have the Seligmann surname.  I knew he was not the son of Sigmund (never married, lived in the US), Bernard (lived in the US), or Adolph (lived in the US).  I assumed I had all the sons of August Seligmann from the records I found and records Wolfgang shared with me.  Salomon Seligmann died when he was 21, so I eliminated him.  That left only two of James’ brothers: Benjamin, a half-brother, and Hyronimus, a full-brother.  I had no records other than birth records for either Benjamin or Hyronimus, and thus, I had no way to determine whether Jack was a son of Benjamin or Hyronimus, but assumed he was the son of one or the other.

Then, while I was trying to puzzle this out, Wolfgang found another document.  It was a letter written in 1984 by Elsa Oppenheimer to the National Westminster Bank regarding the estate of English James Seligman.   (I think Elsa Oppenheimer was the daughter of Jur Oppenheimer, son of Moritz James Oppenheimer, based on the family tree I received from Wolfgang a few weeks ago.)  In her letter to the bank on July 9, 1984, Elsa attempted to correct some errors she felt the bank had made in identifying heirs of English James.    She claimed, for example, that the Bank had incorrectly listed Adolph as a son of Moritz and Babetta because she could not locate a birth record for him; she was wrong about that, however, as here is a copy of his birth record, naming Moritz and Babetta as his parents.

adolph seligman birth record

 

Elsa also claimed that she knew of all of the children of Hieronymous Seligmann based on birth records, and that they were Jacob and Auguste, twins born on April 8, 1869; Mathilde, born October 4, 1872; and Rosina Laura, born June 9, 1878.  Elsa asserted that Hieronymous did not have daughters named Elizabeth or Johanna.

Elsa Oppenheimer 1984 letter-page-001

Elsa Oppenheimer 1984 letter-page-002

From this letter, I am assuming that Jack Seligmann, Number 1 on the heirs’ list, was Jacob Seligmann, son of Hieronymous Seligmann and thus a grandson of Moritz and Babetta and a nephew of English James Seligman.  His wife Anna is named here as living in Luxembourg as of 1950, so I looked on Yad Vashem and found an entry for a Jacob Seligmann, born on April 8, 1869, married to Anna, a clear match to my Jacob Seligmann.  He was killed in Luxembourg in 1941, according to the Yad Vashem site.    I don’t know whether Jacob and Anna had had any children.

That brings me to Number 2, Laura Winter.  I am assuming that Laura Winter was born Rosina Laura, a daughter of Hieronymous, and married a man named Winter.  The document names a Frau Aennie Wiener as her next of kin and states that Laura and her husband also died in Luxembourg, reinforcing my assumption that she and Jacob were siblings.  Aennie Wiener is listed as residing at 8409 Talbot Street, Kew Gardens, Long Island.

For a while I didn’t know what had happened to Laura Seligmann Winter or her husband, although they were deceased by 1950 according to the list of heirs.  Included, however, in the Ilse and Fritz Michel Collection at the Leo Baeck Institute is one handwritten note that provided some clues.  The note has no title, but is just a list of names: Anna Goldmann, Hugo Goldmann, Grete Goldmann, Heinz Goldmann, Ruth Goldmann, Helene Hess [mother of Ilse Hess Michel], Max Michel, Sophie Michel, Moritz Seligmann, Jacob Seligmann, S Winter, Laura Winter, Martha Florsheimer, Paul Florsheimer, Trude Florsheimer.

Handwritten list of names Fred Michel

What can I infer from this list? I know that Ilse and Fred Michel were actively involved in trying to find family members who were missing after the war.  I know that the Goldmann family, Helene Hess, Moritz Seligmann, Jacob Seligmann, and Paul and Trude Florsheimer were all killed in the Holocaust.  Martha was not, but nevertheless my guess is that these were all people whom Fred and Ilse could not locate after the war.  My hunch was that since the Winters were listed as deceased on the list of heirs document that they also were killed in the Holocaust.

I then searched Yad Vashem’s database again, this time for anyone named Winter living in Luxembourg, and found just one listing—for a Samuel Winter.  It said he was born on October 27, 1863, in Dusseldorf, Germany, and that he was married to Martha Seligmann.  Could Martha Seligmann really be Laura Seligmann? Could there really be two German men with the surname Winter and first initial S living in Luxembourg and married to a woman whose birth name was Seligmann?  I thought the odds were slim, so I used the Related Search function on the Yad Vashem database, searching for anyone with the same surname and from the same residence.

This time I got a list of other Winters from Luxembourg, including a Laura Winter.  The entry did not have a birth date or birth place for Laura, but it said she was the widow of Samuel and that she had been murdered on August 28, 1940. But the entry for Samuel said he was not deported until April, 1943, and died on April 21, 1943, at Thieresenstadt.  So how could Laura have been a widow in 1940?  Was this a different Samuel Winter who was really married to a Martha Seligmann?  I don’t know.

Fortunately, it was not very difficult to find their daughter, Aennie Wiener since I had her address at 8409 Talbot Avenue in Kew Gardens, a section of Queens in New York City, was listed on the heirs’ document.  Searching for her on Ancestry quickly uncovered Anna and Joseph Wiener living at 8409 Talbot Avenue in Queens.  Their residence in 1935 had been Mannheim, Germany, and they were now 46 and 58 years old, respectively.  Living with them were their daughter Doris Grunewald, her husband Ernst Grunewald, also both German immigrants, and their one year old daughter, Hannah Grunewald, born in New York.

Year: 1940; Census Place: New York, Queens, New York; Roll: T627_2746; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 41-1373

Year: 1940; Census Place: New York, Queens, New York; Roll: T627_2746; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 41-1373

I also was able to find ship manifests for Anna, Doris, and Ernst, all of whom came between 1937 and 1938.  Four more who escaped from Nazi Germany. I’ve not yet found any records for any of them after the 1940 census, but I am still looking.  I am particularly interested in finding Hannah.

 

To be continued…

 

Two Who Got Away

Way back on November 22, 2014, I wrote very briefly about a cousin named Fred Michel.   He was mentioned in Ludwig Hellriegel’s book about the Jews of Gau-Algesheim as the son of Frances (Franziska) Seligmann and Max (Adolf?) Michel. Frances was the daughter of August Seligmann.  Since August Seligmann was my great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman’s brother, his grandson Fred Michel would be my second cousin, twice removed.  According to Hellriegel’s book, Fred had escaped to the United States in 1937 after his mother died in 1933.  That was all I knew, and the name Fred Michel was common enough in the US that I had no way of narrowing it down to the right person based on the name alone.

Well, one email from my cousin Wolfgang opened up an entirely new door of research for me.  In his email, Wolfgang mentioned Fred Michel, the nephew of his grandfather Julius.  In that email, Wolfgang said that Fred had settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  From that one additional bit of information, I was able to find Fred and his wife Ilse on the 1940 census in Scranton living as boarders in the household of other German immigrants.  I also found them in several Scranton directories.

Year: 1940; Census Place: Scranton, Lackawanna, Pennsylvania; Roll: T627_3685; Page: 7A; Enumeration District: 71-106

Year: 1940; Census Place: Scranton, Lackawanna, Pennsylvania; Roll: T627_3685; Page: 7A; Enumeration District: 71-106

I also found Fred’s enlistment record in the US army in July 1943 on the Ancestry index.   That led me to his Veteran’s Burial Card, showing that he had served from July 1943 until September 1945 and that he had died on August 5, 1992, and was buried at Temple Hesed cemetery in Scranton.

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania Veterans Burial Cards, 1929-1990; Archive Collection Number: Series 2-4; Folder Number: 655

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania Veterans Burial Cards, 1929-1990; Archive Collection Number: Series 2-4; Folder Number: 655

Since I also had learned that his wife’s name was Ilse, I researched what I could about Ilse.  She was also born in Germany, and at least according to the 1940 census, she’d been living in Frankfort, Germany in 1935.  I found various public records indicating that Ilse and Fred were still living in Scranton as of 1989, and I also found Ilse on the Social Security Death Index, indicating that she had died on July 22, 2002.

But I wanted to know more, and so I googled their names, Fred and Ilse Michel, with Scranton, and I found a gold mine.  Fred and Ilse donated their papers to the Leo Baeck Institute, and the papers have been digitized and are available online.   This is the description provided for the Michel papers, known as the Ilse and Fritz Michel Family Collection, AR 25502, at the Leo Baeck Institute:

“This collection contains personal and official documents pertaining to the family’s immigration to the United States and their situation in Germany as the political climate deteriorated. Included are a large amount of personal letters, supplemented by various other documents from government and military offices, some genealogical and tracing certificates, as well as other various material.”

In addition, the Leo Baeck Institute provided this biographical note for Ilse and Fred Michel:

Fritz (Fred) Michel (1902-1992) was born in Bingen am Rhein, Germany, the son of Adolf Michel and Franziska Michel, née Seligmann. Fred Michel’s wife, Ilse Hess (1911-2003), was born in Leipzig, daughter of Hermann Hess and Helene Hess, née Hirschfeld (1866-1943). Hermann Hess died in 1922 in Frankfurt am Main. After having been denied immigration to the U.S., Ilse’s mother Helene was deported to Theresienstadt in 1942, where she died in 1943.

Fritz (Fred) Michel emigrated from Frankfurt am Main to the U.S. via Antwerp, Belgium, in 1937. In the U.S. he changed his name to Fred. Ilse emigrated a year after that, via Hamburg, in 1938. Upon immigration Fred and Ilse remained separated for about two years, working in various areas in the state of New York, before they eventually settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1939, where they were married in 1940. There, Ilse started up a millinery business, while Fred maintained a position as bartender. They became naturalized citizens in 1943. The same year Fritz joined the U.S. army and served until 1945. They remained in Scranton for the rest of their lives.

There is truly a treasure trove in the collection—letters, documents, passports, photographs.  Many of the letters are in German, and I am hoping to find some way to translate them.  I also want to obtain permission to post some of the documents included in the collection if I can.

For now I can highlight some of the facts I was able to learn from the documents that are in English. Before coming to the United States in 1937, Fred had worked for Bamberger and Hertz, a men’s clothing store with several locations in Germany; Fred had worked for them in Cologne, Frankfort, and Munich between 1931 and 1936. On the website for the Jewish Museum in Berlin,  I found an article and photograph about Bamberger and Hertz and the effect Nazism had on the business.  The photograph depicts Nazi storm troopers posting leaflets on the store windows, warning people not to patronize this Jewish-owned business.

 

 

The article reports:

After the April Boycott sales declined at all the stores. The Saarbrücken branch closed in 1934 and a buyer was found for the Frankfurt store in 1935. The branches in Cologne, Stuttgart and Leipzig were forcibly sold or dissolved in 1938. In October of the same year Siegfried Bamberger managed to sell the Munich business to his trusted long-time employee Johann Hirmer. Although the transaction aroused the Nazis’ suspicions, it was carried out within the bounds of the law.

It is thus not surprising that Fred Michel would have left his home and his long-time employer in 1937.

According to Fred’s application for naturalization as a US citizen, he arrived in the United States on September 24, 1937, aboard the SS Koenigstein, departing from Antwerp, Belgium, and traveling tourist class. He had been examined by US immigration officials in Stuttgart before departing.

Of great interest to me was that Fred listed his sponsor as James Seligman of 324 Hillside Drive in Santa Fe, New MexicoJames Seligman.  This must have been my great-grandmother Eva Seligman’s younger brother James.  How did Fred Michel know him? To me, this makes it evident that my great-grandmother’s family was very much in touch with their relatives still in Germany when Hitler came to power.  What were they thinking about Hitler and the Nazis? How did James get involved with helping Fred?  Perhaps one of those letters in German will reveal more.[1]

James Seligman in Swarthmore register 1920

After arriving in the United States, Fred first lived in New York City and worked at a business called Burrus and Burrus for a year.  He then worked at the Hebrew National Orphan House in Yonkers, New York.  After that, he worked for a furniture company in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, for a year, and then finally settled in Scranton in June, 1939. He worked in a couple of dress shops and then as a bartender at various clubs up to the time of his citizenship application in 1942.

Washington Avenue, Scranton, Pennsylvania, Uni...

Washington Avenue, Scranton, Pennsylvania, United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fred and Ilse were married by a rabbi on January 16, 1940, in Scranton.  As of September, 1942, when they applied for citizenship, Fred and Ilse did not have any children.  After studying at night school, Fred became a naturalized citizen in June, 1943, shortly before he enlisted in the Army, as described above.  According to Fred’s honorable discharge papers from the Army in 1945, he served in Panama during World War II and received a Good Conduct medal, an American Theater Medal, and a World War II Victory medal.  He was responsible for handling secret documents, correspondence, and publications during the war.

World War II Victory Medal.

World War II Victory Medal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ilse became a naturalized citizen in December, 1943.  She had arrived in New York in April, 1938, after being examined by US immigration in Stuttgart.  She had lived in Woodmere, Long Island, New York, and Mt. Vernon, New York, and New York City before settling in Scranton in December, 1939.  She had worked as a bank teller and for various millinery houses during that time.  Like Fred, she had attended night school to become a US citizen.

After the war, Fred and Ilse attempted to learn what had happened to their family members back home.  Since most of these documents are in German and need to be translated, I will report on their heart-breaking efforts once I can be sure I am reading the documents correctly.

I don’t know from the collection much about Fred and Ilse’s life after the war.  I did find a Letter to the Editor of Life Magazine in the July 20, 1962, issue; it reveals some of the obstacles Fred had to overcome as a young boy and also some of his own nostalgia for his native country, even after all the horrors of the Holocaust:

Wolfgang has a number of letters written by Fred to Walter Seligmann, Wolfgang’s uncle, and he is going to translate those for me.  Wolfgang also sent me a copy of a letter that Fred received from the National Westminster Bank in England in December, 1982, regarding the estate of the other James Seligman, brother of Bernard and August and the other children of Moritz Seligmann and Babetta Schoenfeld.  Like Pete’s family and Wolfgang’s family, Fred received notification of his rights to inherit some of James estate.

Bank to Fred 1

Bank to Fred 2 Bank to Fred 3

I don’t know whether or not Fred ever obtained his share of the estate.  He died ten years after receiving this letter. From Fred’s death certificate, I learned that he had been a quality control officer for a clothing manufacturer.  He and Ilse were members of Temple Hesed in Scranton, and both are buried in its cemetery.

I  have written to the Leo Baeck Institute and am hoping they can help me as well as give me permission to post some of the documents included in the collection.  From what I have read, I only know the surface of what is obviously a much deeper story, a story of two people who escaped and survived, tearing themselves away from their homeland and their family just in time.  What was it like for them to leave? What did they know of what was happening in Germany once they left? How did they adjust to living in the United States? How were they received?

There are so many questions, and I am hoping that the materials I cannot yet read in the collection will answer some of them.

 

[1] This is also the same James Seligman whose son was Morton Tinslar Seligman, the Navy Commander whose career I described extensively here, here, and here.

The Lost Oppenheimers

My Seligman-Schoenfeld family tree continues to grow, and it continues to break my heart.  Thanks to my cousin Wolfgang, I now know more about another line in the family.  I already knew that my great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman, who left Germany in the late 1850s and settled in Santa Fe, had a younger sister Paulina.  She was born in Gau-Algesheim in 1847, the daughter of Babetta Schoenfeld and Moritz Seligman.  I had received her birth records several months ago:

paulina seligmann birth record better

I had no record for Paulina aside from this one until I connected with Wolfgang.  It seems that Wolfgang’s family, like my cousin Pete’s family, had been contacted back in the 1980s by the National Westminster Bank in England, the bank handling the estate of James Seligman and looking for his heirs in order to distribute his estate after his wife died.  Just as they had provided Pete’s family with a family tree showing how they were related to James, the bank also provided Wolfgang’s family with a similar tree.  (I still don’t know why my father and his sister were not contacted, but that’s water under the bridge.)  James was, of course, a brother of Paulina and of Wolfgang’s great-grandfather August  just as he was a brother of Bernard.

You can see a PDF of Paulina’s section of the family tree provided to Wolfgang’s family by clicking here:

Pauline Seligmann Oppenheimer family tree

As you can see, it identifies the husband and descendants of Paulina Seligmann (here called Pauline).[1]  Paulina had married Maier Oppenheimer, and they had had five children:  Joseph (November 22, 1874), Martha (March 1, 1876), Anna (March 14, 1877), Ella (June 24, 1878), and Moritz James (June 10, 1879).  Her husband Maier died on June 8, 1900; he was 51 years old.  Although it is hard to read clearly, it looks like their daughter Anna died when she was only 31 years old in 1908.  She had married Max Kaufman, but did not have any children.  Paulina died April 10, 1926 when she was 79 years old.

Fortunately, Paulina did not live to see what happened to her children.  Although the other four children survived into the Nazi era, only one of the four was alive after the war had ended.  Ella, who never married, died in an “unknown concentration camp,” according to the bank’s tree.  Joseph died on October 21, 1940; one record on Ancestry.com shows that a Joseph Oppenheimer with the same birth and death dates shown on the bank’s family tree died as a prisoner at the Dachau concentration camp.  Joseph was married to Marie Johanna, but they had not had any children, according to the bank’s tree.  Martha, who did survive the war and died in 1967 when she was 91 years old according to the tree, lost two children in the Holocaust: Trude and Paul.  The bank’s tree did not include a name of a husband.

English: View of prisoners' barracks soon afte...

English: View of prisoners’ barracks soon after the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp Deutsch: Blick auf die Gefangenen Baracken kurz nach der Befreifung des KZs-Dachau. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wolfgang was able to provide me with a little more information about the youngest child, Moritz James Oppenheimer, as gleaned from these two sources: a 1952 article from Der Spiegel and a website for a German company that supplies horse dressage and other equipment.   (Although both articles are in German, Wolfgang translated them for me.)  Moritz had owned a paper factory in Frankfort before the war as well as a successful horse stud farm where thoroughbred horses were raised and sold. I found this website about the stud farm as it exists today.  Obviously, Moritz Oppenheimer was quite well-to-do. In fact, Wolfgang’s grandfather Julius had written to his cousin Moritz for financial help after he lost his store in Gau-Algesheim.

The horse farm once owned by MJ Oppenheimer as it looks today

The horse farm once owned by MJ Oppenheimer as it looks today

After the Nazis came to power, Moritz had his marriage dissolved in 1936 because his wife, Emma Katherine Neuhoff, was not Jewish.  Wolfgang explained that this was often done under Nazi rule to those in interfaith marriages.  Then Moritz had his factory seized by the Nazis under the Nuremberg Laws, forcing him into bankruptcy.  As a result, he had to sell his horse farm in order to raise money.  The horse farm was sold to Baron Dr. Heinrich von Thyssen-Bornemisza, who was able to purchase the land, many valuable stallions and mares, and much more for just a few hundred thousand Deutsche marks.[2]  On May 9, 1941, the Gestapo visited Moritz in his apartment in Wiesbaden; shortly thereafter he was found dead in the apartment.  It was ruled a suicide.

Moritz had two children who survived him: a son Jur Georg Emil Walter Oppenheimer (born July 10, 1904) and Paula Herta Oppenheimer (April 11, 1902). The son married Elsa Lina, and they had one child, Angelika Emma Sybille, born in 1946.  Paula married someone named Spiegler and was still alive at the time that the bank prepared the family tree in the 1980s.

A stolpersteine was placed in front of Moritz’s residence in Frankfort at Schumannstrasse 15, depicted below.

By Karsten Ratzke (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Karsten Ratzke (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Moritz, Ella, Joseph, Anna, and Martha: These were my great-grandmother Eva Seligman Cohen’s first cousins.  I wonder if she knew of them and her other German cousins.   Did her sons know of them? Did they know that Hitler had murdered many of these cousins?  Certainly my father didn’t know of them, nor did I.  Until now.

 

 

 

[1] I have not yet been able to find records to verify most of the facts on this family tree, but am trying to locate sources.

 

[2] According to one source, a US dollar in 1940 was worth about 2.5 deutsche marks, so 200,000 DM would have been equivalent to $80,000.  That would be worth about $1.3 million dollars today.    http://www.history.ucsb.edu/faculty/marcuse/projects/currency.htm#infcalc     http://www.westegg.com/inflation/   One prize thoroughbred horse today can command much more than that.