Once again, a new cousin found my blog and helped me find information that I could not find through traditional research, this time because the family had ended up in Brazil. Not speaking Portuguese and thus not having easy access to any Brazilian sources, I had hit a brick wall when it came to the family of my cousin, Hilde Blumenfeld Meinrath, whom I wrote about here back on May 31, 2022.
On January 30, 2023, I heard from Ana Gabriela Meinrath, my fifth cousin, once removed, who left the a comment on my blog, telling me that she is the granddaughter of Hilde Blumenfeld Meinrath. Here is a chart showing my father’s connection to Hilde:
Hilde was the youngest of the three daughters of Salomon Blumenfeld and Malchen Levi: Gretel (born 1906), Jenny (born 1907), and Hilde (born 1911). Gabriela shared this wonderful photograph of the three sisters:
Gabriela shared some family stories and many photographs and connected me to her uncle Roberto Meinrath, who added more information and stories about Hilde and her family. Roberto then connected me to Michael Katz, grandson of Gretel Blumenfeld Katz. Michael shared this photograph of Salomon and Malchen with all three of their daughters:
First, a summary of what I knew before Gabriela found me: I knew from my research that Salomon and Malchen and all three of their daughters survived the Holocaust by leaving Germany in time. Hilde, in fact, had left Germany as a seventeen year old in 1929, years before Hitler came to power. Later, she married Ludwig Meinrath, and eventually they immigrated to Brazil. Her parents followed her there, but later immigrated to the US where their second daughter Gretel and her family were living. The third daughter Jenny ended up in Israel.
But I had many questions left unanswered when I published that post on May 31, 2022, including why Hilde had left Germany in 1929 when she was only seventeen, how Hilde had met Ludwig and when they had married, why they had gone to Brazil, and whether Hilde and Ludwig had had more than one child. I also had questions about Hilde’s sister Jenny: had she married Siegmund Warburg, as many trees reported, and did she have children? And I knew few details about Gretel and her family.
Hilde had been interviewed by the Shoah Foundation, but unfortunately it was in Portuguese, and I couldn’t find anyone to translate it.
Most of my unanswered questions have now been answered, and I’ve learned a great deal more about the family from my cousins Roberto, Gabriela, Michael, and Simeon Spier. In addition, I’ve once again been working with my cousin Richard Bloomfield, and he was able to find someone to translate Hilde’s Shoah Foundation interview.
First, let me share the new information I have about Salomon Blumenfeld and his wife Malchen or Amalie Levi and their youngest daughter Hilde Blumenfeld Meinrath.
I learned from Hilde’s Shoah Foundation interview1 (as translated by Manuel Steccanella from Portuguese to German and then translated by Richard Bloomfield from German into English) that her father Salomon had served in the German military and fought for Germany during World War I, serving in France and Belgium, and leaving behind his wife and three young daughters. According to Hilde, when her father returned to Kirchhain from the war, he brought a hundred prisoners with him. Salomon owned a large hotel in Kirchhain, and the prisoners lived in the hotel and worked in Kirchhain. Hilde said that on Sundays, the prisoners butchered small animals and once made her a doublet from the fur to wear in the cold weather. They also shared with her the cookies and other baked goods they received from their families back in France and Belgium.
Gabriela shared this photograph of her great-grandfather’s hotel in Kirchhain:
Hilde reported that although her father was liberal in his Jewish observances, her mother was more orthodox. They would all go to synagogue on shabbat and on holidays, however. On Sundays, the children had religious instruction. But during the week they went to a non-religious school attended by Jews and non-Jews. Hilde would play with the non-Jewish children next door, and she recalled that their family was the only Jewish family on their street.2
After ten years at the local school in Kirchhain, Hilde went to study at the Elisabethschule in Marburg an der Lahn to study to become a librarian. She then worked at the Jewish library in Kassel for a year. At that time (1929), Hilde’s maternal uncle suggested that she come with him to the US to continue her studies.3 Hilde’s son Roberto had an additional insight into Hilde’s reason for going to the US. 4 he wrote that she left home at seventeen because she had socialist political opinions that created conflicts with her religious parents. Her parents permitted her to go for a year.
Hilde lived with her uncle and his wife in New York for a year, learning English and secretarial skills. But when that year was up, Hilde did not return to Germany. By then she had saved enough money from working while going to school to get her own rented room, and she then got a job doing German-English translation for Siemens-Schuckert in their patent department. (According to Britannica, at that time Siemens was making medical diagnostic and therapeutic equipment, especially X-ray machines and electron microscopes.) She worked there for three years. At night she continued her studies.5
Hilde had serious intentions of staying in the US, as seen in her Declaration of Intention to become a US citizen, filed in 1931.
But her life changed when she went back to Germany in 1932 to visit her family; she at first intended to stay for only six months and then return to New York, but then she met her future husband, Ludwig Meinrath, at a Purim ball and decided to stay in Germany longer.6 Here is a photograph of Hilde with Ludwig:
Hilde began working for an American author named William March; Roberto told me that she was helping him with his manuscript for his book Company K. According to the description on Amazon.com, Company K is the “greatest First World War novel to come out of America[.] Company K is the unforgettable account of one US Marine company, from initial training, through to the trenches in France and post-war rehabilitation. Written in 1933 by a decorated Marine hero, this is an unflinching, visceral depiction of the brutal reality of war.”
William March was apparently quite fond of Hilde. Richard Bloomfield found this quote from a letter written by William March to John B. Waterman on February 18, 1933, as quoted in an article about March from the Fall 1977 issue of The Mississippi Quarterly written by R. S. Simmons (warning—it is quite sexist, but typical of its times): 7
[March] had this to say about the German secretary he had engaged: “As a matter of interest for the company’s records, Miss Blumenfeld is quite in the tradition of the Waterman Line not only for beauty but for intelligence.” He added whimsically: “Of course, the latter was merely a happy accident.”
It appeared that Hilde was not planning to leave Germany now that she was married and happily employed. But, of course, everything changed when Hitler came to power. More on that in the post to follow.
- The references in this post to the interview of Hilde Meinrath and the information contained therein are from her interview with the Shoah Foundation, March 18, 1998, which is in the archive of the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education. For more information: http://dornsife.usc.edu/vhi ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- All the information in this post attributed to Roberto Meinrath as well as the quotations were shared through emails sent between February 11 and February 16, 2023. ↩
- See Note 1, supra. ↩
- See Note 1, supra. ↩
- R.S. Simmons, “William March’s ‘Personal Letter:’ Fact into Fiction,” The Mississippi Quarterly (Fall 1977), p. 625, 629, found at https://www.jstor.org/stable/26474519 ↩