A Schoenthal Update: More Photos from My Cousin Sally

Back on July 30, 2019, I posted some wonderful photographs that I’d received from my cousin Sally of her grandmother Etta Wolfe Wise and her family. Etta was my grandmother Eva Schoenthal Cohen’s first cousin. Sally recently located three additional photographs of Etta, her husband Max Wise, and their six children. She has graciously shared those photographs with me.

First is a photograph of Etta and Max and all of their children taken in 1934. Etta stands in the foreground with her youngest child, Warren (14) to her left and her second youngest child, Bob (15), to her right.  From left to right in the rear are Max, Jr. (17), Max, Sr., Richard (19), Florence (23), and Irving (22).

Courtesy of Sally Wise Myers

The second photograph must have been taken some years later. In the foreground are Florence Wise and her mother Etta Wolfe Wise (in polka dots). The other women are not known.

Courtesy of Sally Wise Myers

Finally, the third photograph includes the four sons of Max and Etta Wise as well as several unidentified men and a child. Irving Wise is to the far left; Richard Wise is at the far right. Max, Jr, stands in the center with his thumb hooked into his belt. In the center of the back row behind Max Jr.’s left shoulder is his brother Bob. The others Sally could not identify.1

I wonder whether this photo and the one above of all women were taken at the same event. Perhaps it was the wedding of one of the Wise children or a cousin?

Courtesy of Sally Wise Myers

Thank you once again to my cousin Sally for sharing these family photographs.


  1. Sally at first thought that the man next to Max, Jr. was his father Max, Sr., but since Max, Sr. died in 1934 and since this photograph was clearly taken a number of years after the one dated 1934 above based on the ages of the sons, that could not be Max, Sr. In addition, comparing this man to the other photo of Max, he appears much smaller with a different shaped head. 

Another Cousin Discovered: The Granddaughter of Etta Wolfe Wise, My Third Cousin Sally

For me, genetic genealogy has been disappointing as a tool for finding new ancestors and breaking down brickwalls, but it has occasionally been useful for confirming what I already knew through traditional research. For example, in March I contacted a DNA match named Sally who came up as a fourth cousin on Ancestry, and after contacting her and checking my tree and hers, we realized that we were both the great-great-granddaughters of Levi Schoenthal and Henrietta Hamberg.  That is, Sally is in fact my third cousin, even closer than the DNA estimate on Ancestry.

Sally is descended from Levi and Henrietta’s daughter Amalie Schoenthal, and I am descended through their son Isidore Schoenthal. Sally and I exchanged family stories and information and photographs, and she generously agreed to let me share those stories and photographs on the blog. As you will see, there are some apparent family resemblances traceable to our shared Schoenthal ancestry.

As I’ve already written about on the blog, Sally’s great-grandmother (and my great-great-aunt) Amalie Schoenthal married Elias Wolfe. Their daughter Etta Wolfe was Sally’s grandmother. Etta was my grandmother Eva Schoenthal Cohen’s first cousin.

Sally has no photographs of her great-grandparents, but shared with me photographs of her grandmother Etta, all taken when she was a grandmother.  I will start with this one as it is the clearest photograph of her and shows much of her personality, as described to me by Sally. Sally knew Etta well because she died when Sally was eight years old. She remembers her grandmother lovingly and described her as easy-going and soft spoken and as someone who always enjoyed family trips and outings. Sally remembers that when she was just four or five, her grandmother would share shrimp cocktails with her. Can’t you see that sweetness in her face in this photo?

Etta Wolfe Wise, Courtesy of her Granddaughter Sally

Etta Wolfe married Maximilian Wise in 1910 in Pittsburgh, as noted here on the blog. Etta and Max had six children, a daughter Florence and then five boys, Irving, Richard, Max Jr., Robert, and Warren. Sally’s father Robert was their fifth child and fourth son. Here are two pictures of Max and Etta’s children.

Courtesy of Sally Wise Myers

Irving, Richard, Max, Jr. Robert, and Warren Wise.  Courtesy of Sally Wise Myers

Sally told me that Etta and Max converted from Judaism to Christian Science because they believed that their daughter Florence’s clubfoot was cured by Christian Science. Unfortunately, according to Sally, several other members of the family were not so fortunate with their faith in Christian Science and died fairly young after refusing traditional medical care.

Sally’s father Robert Wise enlisted in the Army on April 19, 1943, and served until February 20, 1946.1 Sally told me that her father was an Army Staff Sergeant Engineer, Aviation Battalion, and was stationed most of his time in the service during World War II in the South Pacific, building an airport and serving in combat.  After the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki in August 1945, Bob drove two generals in his Jeep to see the devastation there and photographed what he saw. He also was at the airport when the Japanese planes landed for the signing of the peace treaty; he climbed over a wall and took pictures of the two planes. Unfortunately, Sally does not have access to those historically important photographs.

Bob Wise’s army experience was part of an exhibit about local veterans who served in World War II that was curated by the Middletown (Ohio) Historical Society and shown at the Fine Arts Center in Middletown in 2015.  These photographs of Robert were part of that exhibit, as was the one above of the six children of Max and Etta:

Robert Wise as a young boy in Middetown. Courtesy of Sally Wise Myers

Courtesy of Sally Wise Myers

Sally also shared these additional photographs of her father taken during his service in World War II:

Robert Wise. Courtesy of Sally Wise Myers

Robert Wise. Courtesy of Sally Wise Myers

After the war, Robert married Mildred Myers on January 10, 1948, in Ohio. Sally sent me this photograph from their wedding:

Courtesy of Sally Wise Myers

The next few photographs made me sit back with amazement at some of the family resemblances. Here are photographs of my father, his mother Eva Schoenthal Cohen, and his grandfather Isidore Schoenthal and then some of the photographs of Bob Wise and Sally.

Isidore Schoenthal

Eva Schoenthal and John Cohen, Sr. 1923

John Cohen, Jr.

Bob Wise and Sally. Courtesy of Sally Wise Myers

The family of Bob Wise. Courtesy of Sally Wise Myers

Mildred and Bob WIse, 1982. Courtesy of Sally Wise Myers

Look at the eyes. Do you see the resemblances that Sally and I see? Or are we just seeing what we want to see?

Finally, two photographs of Etta Wolfe and Max Wise’s descendants—their children and their grandchildren. What a legacy!

The grandchildren and children of Etta Wolfe Wise. Front Row includes Florence Wise Keuthan. The second row, lefet to right, is Bob Wise, Mary Stephenson Wise (Max, Jr’s wife), and Millie Lunford Wise (Richard’s wife). Last row, left to right, is Mildren Myers Wise (Bob’s wife) , Max Wise Jr.,e Fred Keuthan (husband of Florence Wise, Richard Wise and Irving Wise. Courtesy of Sally Wise Myers (The grandchildren are not named for privacy reasons).

Etta Wolfe Wise and all of her grandchildren. Courtesy of Sally Wise Myers.

Thank you, Sally, for sharing the stories and photographs with me. I am so glad we found each other.

 


  1. Ancestry.com. U.S., World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946; SSN: 277015114, Branch 1: AAC, Enlistment Date 1: 26 Apr 1943, Release Date 1: 20 Feb 1946, Ancestry.com. U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010 

A Life Well Lived

I am slowly emerging from the initial period of mourning and trying to re-enter the world. My father and my concern for my mother continue to fill almost all the spaces of my brain and heart. But Jewish tradition encourages one to return to a regular routine—to work, to school, to ordinary life—once the initial period of mourning is over. So I am going to try.  And that means returning to my family history work and to my blog. It also means picking up where I left off in reading the blogs I follow.

For today, let me just share a bit more biographical information about my father. I described his personality and interests a bit in my last post, but I’d like to tell a little more about his life, especially his early life.  Next time I will return to the Goldsmiths, my father’s cousins through his maternal great-grandmother Eva Goldschmidt Katzenstein.

My father was born on November 15, 1926, in Philadelphia, to Eva Schoenthal and John Nusbaum Cohen. He was named John Nusbaum Cohen, Junior, which is an unusual thing to do in Ashkenazi Jewish families where the tradition is to name a child for a deceased relative. But that break with tradition was consistent with the assimilation of his family. Although my father was confirmed in a Reform Jewish temple, his family was not religious or traditional in any way.

When he was just a young boy, both of his parents became ill and were unable to care for him. His father had multiple sclerosis and eventually was institutionalized; my father had no memory of him walking unassisted. His mother suffered a breakdown and also was hospitalized and then cared for by her parents. My father and his sister Eva were taken care of by their paternal grandmother Eva Seligman Cohen, whose kindness and generosity I’ve written about before.

Eva and John Cohen, Jr. (my father and his sister)

My father was an excellent student; he also loved music and art. One of his favorite childhood memories was playing the role of Buttercup in Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore when he was at an all-boys summer camp. He often sang his parts from that show to us when we were children. He also enjoyed summer trips to Atlantic City with his grandmother and sister.

Just weeks before his thirteenth birthday, his beloved grandmother died in Philadelphia. The doctor who came to attend to her at home had to tell my father and aunt that their grandmother had died. There was no one obvious to take care of the two children, and for quite a while they were shuttled back and forth among various cousins for a week or so at a time. Eventually their mother was healthy enough to come back and take care of them.

My father graduated from high school and started college, but on February 14, 1945, when he was eighteen, he was drafted into the US Navy to serve during World War II. He was based in Chicago and then in Newport News, Virginia, doing intelligence work, until he was honorably discharged on August 1, 1946. He returned to Philadelphia and to Temple University to continue his education, but later transferred to Columbia University’s School of Architecture to complete his degree. He was encouraged and inspired by his uncle, Harold Schoenthal, to pursue a career in architecture, a decision he never regretted.

In the Navy

During the summer of 1950 when he was still a student at Columbia, my father worked as a waiter at Camp Log Tavern, a resort in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania.  One weekend he spotted a young red-headed woman across the room and said to a fellow waiter, “That’s the girl I am going to marry.” Although she was more interested in another waiter during her stay, my father asked her for her number before she departed. She gave him the wrong number and a shortened version of her last name, which was Goldschlager. According to family lore, he searched the Bronx phone book until he found her. She was so impressed that she agreed to go out with him, and after that, they became inseparable.

They were married one year later on September 9, 1951. I came along eleven months later, just two months after my father’s graduation from Columbia.

My father and my grandmother at his college graduation in 1952

In the years that followed, my parents had two more children, moved to the suburbs, and lived a good life. Theirs was a true love match, and they adored each other through 67 years of marriage. Yes, there were hard times and harsh words at times, but I never once doubted that they were devoted to each other.

My father worked first for an architectural firm in New York City, commuting with all the other fathers. But not many years later he left the firm and established his own practice, a practice he maintained into his 90s, working with people and developers on houses, office buildings, additions, and other work.

Although my father had a hard childhood, his adult life was happy and fulfilling. He loved his family, and he loved his work. He was active in his local community, working as a volunteer fireman and as a member of the planning board.  When he died at age 92 on February 16, 2019, he was a well-loved and much respected member of his community and an adored husband, father, grandfather, uncle, and great-grandfather. His was truly a life well lived.

 

 

Why I Love Marriage Announcements: Guest Lists!

On August 29, 1911, my second cousin, twice removed, Lester Bensev married Jennie Winheim:

Ancestry.com. Colorado, County Marriage Records and State Index, 1862-2006

Lester was almost 38 years old when he married Jennie. Jennie was also born in Germany; she was born in about 1880, making her seven years younger than Lester, and according to the 1920 US census, she immigrated to the US in 1900. I was unable to find any other information about her background until I found this newspaper article about her wedding to Lester, proving once again how valuable newspapers are as a genealogy resource:

Denver Post, September 3, 1911, p. 17

From this article I knew that Jennie Winheim was the niece of a Mrs. A. Schlesinger, and I was able to find Jennie and her brother Sam living with the family of Abraham and Sarah Schlesinger and their children in Denver in 1910.1 Sarah was born in Ohio and Abraham in Miltonberg, Germany on August 10, 1851.2 According to his obituary,3 Abraham came to the US in about 1864 with an older brother and settled first in Indiana, then Kansas, and finally in Denver in the 1890s. Abraham died on April 10, 1910, and in his will he named Jennie as his niece and left her $1000.4

Thus, it appears to me that Jennie Winheim, who according to the 1910 census came to the US in 1895, must have been the daughter of a sister of Abraham Schlesinger. Her uncle had died a year before her wedding, but his widow hosted her wedding at their home.

But what made this wedding article particularly exciting to me were the names on the guest list because included on that list were my great-grandparents—Mr. and Mrs. I. Schoenthal—that is, Isidore Schoenthal and Hilda Katzenstein. Why would they have been attending this wedding?  Well, follow the bouncing ball.

Hilda Katzenstein was the daughter of Eva Goldschmidt Katzenstein. Eva was the sister of Sarah Goldschmidt Mansbach. Sarah was the mother of Breine Mansbach Bensew. Breine was the mother of Lester Bensev, the groom who married Jennie Winheim. In other words, Hilda Katzenstein Schoenthal was Lester’s first cousin, once removed—his mother Breine’s first cousin.

Isidore and Hilda had only recently moved to Denver in 1907 after their son Gerson was diagnosed with asthma. Imagine how happy Hilda must have been to find some cousins in Denver when she got there. When she married Isidore, she had relocated from Philadelphia where she was raised to the small town of Washington, Pennsylvania, and now she was moving 1300 miles further west. I had always thought that she and Isidore knew no one out in Denver, so I was quite excited to learn that she had family there and that she and Isidore were included in this wedding. In fact, now I know that not only did she have her cousin Lester Bensev living in Denver, her first cousin Amelia Mansbach Langer and her family were also living there.

However, it’s not very likely that Hilda knew these cousins well and possible she had never met them before moving to Denver since when they immigrated and settled in Colorado, she was married and living in Washington, Pennsylvania. She grew up in Philadelphia, they grew up in Germany. But family is family, and the fact that Hilda and Isidore were invited to this wedding demonstrates that these cousins were in fact in touch when Hilda and Isidore moved to Denver.

But Lester and Jennie Bensev did not stay in Denver for very long. By 1913 they had relocated to Cleveland, Ohio.5 Their daughter Hortense was born there on February 25, 1915.6 According to his World War I draft registration, Lester was employed as the store manager for Consumers Cigar Company in Cleveland in 1918. The 1920 census reported the same occupation. In 1930, Lester was working as an information clerk for a bank in Cleveland, but in 1940 he had returned to the cigar business.7

Lester Bensev, World War I draft registration, Registration State: Ohio; Registration County: Cuyahoga; Roll: 1831765; Draft Board: 07
Ancestry.com. U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918

On October 20, 1940, Lester and Jessie’s daughter Hortense married Robert W. Kabb in Cleveland. Robert was a Cleveland native, son of Samuel Kabatchnik and Lillian Fisher, born on March 1, 1913.8 In 1940 he was working as a furniture salesman.9

Marriage record for Hortense Bensev and Robert Kabb , Cuyahoga County Archive; Cleveland, Ohio; Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Marriage Records, 1810-1973; Volume: Vol 193-194; Page: 386; Year Range: 1940 Aug – 1941 Mar
Ancestry.com. Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Marriage Records and Indexes, 1810-1973

Lester died on March 13, 1953, in Cleveland, and his wife Jessie died three years later on August 16, 1956.10 He was 79 when he died, she was seventy. They were survived by their daughter Hortense and her family.

Ohio Deaths, 1908-1953,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-68JS-P5T?cc=1307272&wc=MD96-BP8%3A287602201%2C293606502 : 21 May 2014), 1953 > 13601-16300 > image 2835 of 3155.

Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 15, 1953, p. 59

Lester’s older brother William was still in Denver during the years my great-grandparents and my grandmother were living there and thereafter. By 1918, perhaps to help William after Lester left the area, their brother Heine Bensev moved to Denver from Chicago.  According to his World War I draft registration, Heine was working for his brother William as the manager of a cigar stand. In 1920, Heine was living with William and Jessie and their daughter Theodora:

Bensev household, 1920 US census, Census Place: Denver, Denver, Colorado; Roll: T625_162; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 267, Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census

But notice that here Heine is listed under the name Jack. At first I was thrown—was this yet another Bensev brother? According to the 1920 census, Jack Bensev was 39 years old so born in about 1879-1880. Heinemann Bensew was born in Malsfeld, Germany on March 14, 1879.

Heinemann Bensev birth record, Standesamt Malsfeld Geburtsnebenregister 1879 (HStAMR Best. 920 Nr. 4410)AutorHessisches Staatsarchiv MarburgErscheinungsortMalsfeld, p. 14

Heine’s draft registration reports his birth date as March 22, 1879, not the exact date, but still obviously the same person:

Heine Bensev, World War I draft registration, “United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-817R-9STQ?cc=1968530&wc=9FHB-BZS%3A928310401%2C928571801 : 14 May 2014), Colorado > Denver City no 5; A-Talom, William M. > image 229 of 3469; citing NARA microfilm publication M1509 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

The 1920 census also reported that both William and “Jack” immigrated in 1881 and were naturalized in 1885. This is plainly wrong. Even based on the facts in the same census, Jack would have been only toddler in 1881 and a kindergartner in 1885.

But what really threw me was that the 1920 Denver directory has a listing for both Jack Bensev and Heine Bensev, living at the same address as each other and William Bensev, both working as clerks, Jack for William Bensev. The 1925 and the 1940 Denver directories also have listings for both Jack and Heine, but other directories only list Jack.11

Title: Denver, Colorado, City Directory, 1920
Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995

In the end I concluded that Heine and Jack were in fact the same man and that the family called him Heine, but the outside world called him Jack—probably to appear more American. On the 1930 census, he was listed as Heine Bensev and was living with his brother William and his family. William was the proprietor of a cigar store, and Heine was a cigar salesman. Now he listed his immigration date as 1902, which is consistent with the date on Heine’s naturalization record.

William Bensev household, 1930 US census, Census Place: Denver, Denver, Colorado; Page: 24A; Enumeration District: 0108; FHL microfilm: 2339972
Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census

Roll Description: B-524 through B-550 Gustov Joseph
Ancestry.com. U.S. Naturalization Record Indexes, 1791-1992 (Indexed in World Archives Project)

Meanwhile, the other two Bensev brothers also eventually moved to Denver. Like Heine, Max was naturalized in Chicago in 191512 and was the only brother still in Chicago in 1920.13 He was then rooming with a family and working as a salesman for a clothing store. Julius had moved to Gary, Indiana by 1920 where he was rooming with a family and working as a manager for an oil company, perhaps Standard Oil where he, Max, and Heine had been working in 1910 when they were all living together in Chicago.14

But in 1923 Max and Julius sailed together on the SS Rotterdam from Rotterdam to New York, and both gave their address as 825 17th Street in Denver. If they were living in Denver for any extended period, it is strange that Julius is not listed in the Denver directories for any year. Max does appear once, in 1933, but that is also the only year he appears in the Denver directory.

Year: 1923; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 3247; Line: 1; Page Number: 34, Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957

However, on the 1940 census, the listing for the William Bensev household in Denver included William Bensev, his wife Jessie, daughter Theodora, nephew Edwin Stern, brother Heine and his brothers Julius and Max. Julius and Max are listed on a separate page in the census report , but at the same address and clearly in the same household. Julius and Max were now working as traveling salesman selling wholesale luggage. Heine and William were both still working in the cigar business.

William Bensev household 1940 US census, Census Place: Denver, Denver, Colorado; Roll: m-t0627-00488; Page: 14B; Enumeration District: 16-149
Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census

Julius and Max Bensev, 1940 US census, Census Place: Denver, Denver, Colorado; Roll: m-t0627-00488; Page: 61A; Enumeration District: 16-149
Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census

Thus, William had three of his brothers living in his household as well as a nephew, Edwin Stern, son of his sister Roschen, plus, of course, his wife Jessie and daughter Theodora.  And a maid.

UPDATE: An email written in 2009 to Franz Loewenherz by a relative who lived with Frieda and Emanuel Loewenherz in the 1940s included this additional information about the Bensev brothers: “[Julius and Max] were confirmed bachelors. Both were sales reps for Shwayder Bros, the originators of Samsonite luggage. They operated out of Denver. Max had a territory in North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Mantana and some other northern states. Julius had the lucrative Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Utah and California territory. Both spent several weeks in Winnetka during the winter when they wouldn’t travel. Julius was a very colorful character. He had spent several years in South Africa. He had a wagon drawn by two oxen and peddled “stu’ff” to the Boer farmers and some of the tribes in the area. He spoke Swahili fluently. He was also a good skater and loved it. One winter in Winnetka he and I went to the local skating rink and he took off skating some beautiful figure skating. Mind you he was 80 years old then.”

The younger Bensev siblings lost three family members in the next few years, first their oldest brother William, who had provided a home for so many of them. William died on January 13, 1944, at age 68.15 William’s wife Jessie died less than a year later on September 13, 1944, when she was 60.16 And then sadly William and Jessie’s daughter Theodora died October 5, 1946 when she was only forty.17 Theodora had not married or had children, so there are no descendants for William and Jessie Bensev or their daughter Theodora.

After William’s death, Julius, Heine, and Max all moved to San Diego. They are all listed at the same address in the 1947, 1948 and 1950 San Diego directories:18

Title: San Diego, California, City Directory, 1947
Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995

Max and Julius traveled together to Europe and other places many times in the 1950s. For example, in 1951, Julius and Max traveled to Israel for a three month stay:

The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Series Title: Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels and Airplanes Departing from New York, New York, 07/01/1948-12/31/1956; NAI Number: 3335533; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85; Series Number: A4169; NARA Roll Number: 115
Ancestry.com. U.S., Departing Passenger and Crew Lists, 1914-1966 , lines 7 and 8.

They also traveled to Oslo and on the SS Queen Elizabeth to Cherbourg, France. Their brother Heine never joined them on these trips, and I wonder whether that was due to lack of interest or poor health.19

In September 1954, Julius and Max again traveled together, this time on a transatlantic cruise from New York to LeHavre, France.20 Sadly, their brother Heine “Jack” died on September 22, 1954, in San Diego, shortly after his brothers’ return. He was 75 years old. 21 (NOTE: he is listed twice—once as Heine and also as Jack on the California death index.)

Search results for “Bensev” on the California Death Index database on Ancestry.com

I cannot find a death record for Julius Bensev, but I believe he died sometime between September 1954 and April 1956 because (1) only Max is listed in the 1956 San Diego directory and (2) Max traveled alone on April 25, 1956, for a five to six month visit to Germany.22 Max died on November 14, 1959, in San Diego.23 He was 77 years old. Julius must have predeceased him because Max’s death notice named only his sister Frieda and cousin Alfred as survivors. Julius must have died outside California as, unlike Max and Heine, he is not listed in the California Death Index.

San Diego Union, November 19, 1959, p. 11

Julius, Heine, and Max never married or had children, and thus, like their brother William, they have no living descendants. Of the five Bensev brothers, only Lester has living descendants.

What about the two sisters, Frieda Bensew Loewenherz and Roschen Bensew Stern? What happened to them in the 20th century? Stay tuned for the next post.

 

 

 

 

 

 


  1. Abraham Schlesinger household, 1910 US census, Census Place: Denver Ward 10, Denver, Colorado; Roll: T624_116; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 0122; FHL microfilm: 1374129, Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census 
  2.  JewishGen, comp. JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry  
  3. “Death Removes One of Denver’s Best Merchants,” The Denver Post, April 23, 1910, p. 11 
  4.  Probate Records, 1900-1946; Author: Denver County (Colorado). Clerk of the County Court; Probate Place: Denver, Colorado, Ancestry.com. Colorado, Wills and Probate Records, 1875-1974, Case Number: 13356. 
  5. Cleveland, Ohio, City Directory, 1913, Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 
  6. Ancestry.com. Ohio, Birth Index, 1908-1964, State File Number: 1915015448. 
  7. Lester Bensev, 1920 US census, Census Place: Cleveland Ward 22, Cuyahoga, Ohio; Roll: T625_1371; Page: 12B; Enumeration District: 431, Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census. Lester Bensev, 1930 US census, Census Place: Cleveland, Cuyahoga, Ohio; Page: 11B; Enumeration District: 0456; FHL microfilm: 2341510, Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census. Lester Bensev, 1940 US census, Census Place: Cleveland, Cuyahoga, Ohio; Roll: m-t0627-03228; Page: 4B; Enumeration District: 92-630, Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census. 
  8. Ancestry.com. U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010 
  9. Kabb household, 1940 US census, Census Place: Cleveland, Cuyahoga, Ohio; Roll: m-t0627-03228; Page: 9B; Enumeration District: 92-618, Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census. 
  10. Ancestry.com and Ohio Department of Health. Ohio, Death Records, 1908-1932, 1938-2007 
  11.  Denver, Colorado, City Directory, 1925, 1940, Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 
  12. Max Bensev, Year: 1923; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 3247; Line: 1; Page Number: 34, Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957 
  13. Max Bensev, 1920 US census, Census Place: Chicago Ward 12, Cook (Chicago), Illinois; Roll: T625_320; Page: 10B; Enumeration District: 685, Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census 
  14. Julius Bensev, 1920 US census, Census Place: Gary Ward 1, Lake, Indiana; Roll: T625_446; Page: 5B; Enumeration District: 239, Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census 
  15.  JewishGen, comp. JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR). 
  16. JewishGen, comp. JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR) 
  17. JewishGen, comp. JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR) 
  18.  San Diego, California, City Directory, 1947, 1948, 1950, Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 
  19. Passenger manifests, The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Series Title: Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels and Airplanes Departing from New York, New York, 07/01/1948-12/31/1956; NAI Number: 3335533; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85; Series Number: A4169; NARA Roll Number: 73, Ancestry.com. U.S., Departing Passenger and Crew Lists, 1914-1966. Year: 1951; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 8016; Line: 7; Page Number: 24, Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists 
  20.   Passenger manifest, Year: 1954; Arrival: New York, New York;Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957;Microfilm Roll: Roll 8504; Line: 1; Page Number: 270, Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957. 
  21. Ancestry.com. California, Death Index, 1940-1997. 
  22. San Diego city directory, 1956, Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995. Passenger manifest, Year: 1956; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 8792; Line: 4; Page Number: 21, Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957 
  23. Ancestry.com. California, Death Index, 1940-1997 (listed as Max Bensey on Ancestry) 

The Goldschmidts Come to America

I was all set to be logical and sequential and report on each of the children of my three-times great-grandparents Seligmann and Hincka (Alexander) Goldschmidt, starting with their oldest child Sarah Goldschmidt and her husband Abraham Mansbach II. I began their story in this post, but then I realized that I could not tell the rest of the story of the children of Sarah and Abraham without some background regarding the other members of the Goldschmidt family.

What triggered this realization was this ship manifest:

Henry Schoenthal and Helene Lilienfeld with Analie Mansbach on 1872 ship manifest lines 95 to 98
Year: 1872; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 359; Line: 1; List Number: 484

Notice that this is the 1872 manifest for Henry Schoenthal, the brother of my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal. Henry had settled in Washington, Pennsylvania, in 1866, but then returned to Germany to marry Helen Lilienfeld. Then on May 24, 1872, Henry and Helen returned to the US, as shown on this manifest.

Why am I talking about a Schoenthal in the context of telling the story of the Goldschmidts?

Because on that manifest (lines 6 and 7, above) were two eighteen-year-old women both named Amalie Mansbach who were apparently sailing with Henry and Helen (lines 5 and 8). I believe that one of those two Amalie Mansbachs was Merla Mansbach, the daughter of Sarah Goldschmidt and Abraham Mansbach II. Merla Mansbach was born on December 10, 1853, meaning she would have been eighteen in May, 1872.

Birth record of Merla Mansbach
HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 384, p. 55

But why would Merla Mansbach be sailing with Henry Schoenthal? He was from Sielen, his wife Helen was from Gudensberg, and Merla was from Maden—all towns within a reasonable distance of each other in the Hesse region of Germany, with Maden and Gudensberg being very near each other. There had to be a connection.

 

And that drove me back to my earlier posts about Henry Schoenthal and how he ended up in Washington, Pennsylvania, a small town in western Pennsylvania about 30 miles from Pittsburgh. And those posts reminded me that Henry was not the first Schoenthal to settle in western Pennsylvania—his father Levi’s sister (my three-times great-aunt) Fradchen Schoenthal had preceded him some twenty years before.

And Fradchen Schoenthal was married to Simon Falcke Goldschmidt, the brother of Seligmann Goldschmidt and great-uncle of Merla/Amalie Mansbach:

 

So I am going to digress a bit from the story of the family of my three-times great-grandfather Seligmann Goldschmidt to tell the story of his younger brother Simon Falcke Goldschmidt because telling the story of the Goldschmidt’s immigration to the United States has to start with Simon, who was the first to arrive.

Simon was the youngest of the four sons of Jacob Falcke Goldschmidt and Eva Reuben Seligmann; according to numerous US records, he was born in 1795. In 1822, he married Eveline Katzenstein of Grebenstein (no known familial connection to my Katzensteins). Together they had five children: Jacob (1825), Lena (1828), Hewa “Eva” (1836), Joseph (1837), and Jesajas (1839), all born in Oberlistingen.

Notice the large gap between Lena, born in 1828, and the next child Hewa born in 1836.[1]

David Baron located a record that perhaps provides a reason for that gap; it seems that in 1826 Simon was charged with burglary and attempted robbery. (HStAM Fonds 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No G 40.) I requested a copy of the file from the Marburg archives and learned that the file covers Simon’s appeal of a ten year sentence for his criminal activity. The listing online indicates that the date of appellate decision was December 24, 1830.

The contact person at the Marburg archives did not reveal the outcome of the appeal, so I am now hoping to find someone who might be able to go to Marburg and provide me with a summary (in English) of the judgment. (I could order a copy, but it would be costly and in German. My German has improved, but 130 pages of a legal decision would be too great a challenge!)

Since Simon and Eveline had three more children beginning in 1836, I suppose it’s possible he served some of that ten year sentence. Sadly, Simon and Eveline’s last two babies did not survive. Both Joseph and Jesajas died in infancy.

Joseph Goldschmidt death record
Sterberegister der Juden von Oberlistingen (Breuna) 1827-1852 (HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 671), p. 6

Josajas Goldschmidt death record
Sterberegister der Juden von Oberlistingen (Breuna) 1827-1852 (HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 671), p. 7

And then Simon lost his wife Eveline as well. She died on August 19, 1840, in Oberlistingen:

Eveline Katzenstein Goldschmidt death record
Sterberegister der Juden von Oberlistingen (Breuna) 1827-1852 (HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 671), p. 8

Simon was left on his own to raise his fifteen year old son Jacob, twelve year old daughter Lena, and four year old Hewa/Eva.

Four years after Eveline’s death he married my three-times great-aunt Fradchen Schoenthal on September 10, 1844. Fradchen, the daughter of my three-times great-grandparents Heinemann Schoenthal and Hendel Berenstein, was 37 years old when she married Simon. Thus, as early as 1844, my Schoenthal and Goldschmidt lines had merged, explaining why Merla/Amalia Mansbach would have been sailing with Henry Schoenthal in 1872.

Marriage of Simon Goldschmidt and Fradchen Schoenthal
HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 669, S. 11

A year after marrying, Simon and Fradchen left Germany for the United States, arriving in Baltimore with Simon’s youngest daughter Eva on September 20, 1845.

Passenger manifest for Simon Goldschmidt, Fanny Schoenthal and Eva Goldschmidt
Ancestry.com. Baltimore, Passenger Lists, 1820-1964 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006.
Original data: Selected Passenger and Crew Lists and Manifests. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

They must have settled first in Baltimore because Simon and Fradchen had two children who were born there, Henry on January 10, 1847, and Hannah on June 5, 1848. I assume that Henry was named for Heinemann Schoenthal and Hannah for Hendel Berenstein Schoenthal, their maternal grandparents and my three-times great-grandparents.

By 1850, Simon and Fradchen (also known as Fanny) were living in Pittsburgh with Henry and Hannah as well as two of Simon’s children from his first marriage, Lena and Eva. Simon was working as a tailor and had Americanized his surname to Goldsmith.[2]

Simon Goldschmidt and family 1850 census
Year: 1850; Census Place: Pittsburgh Ward 3, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: M432_745; Page: 135A; Image: 274

Simon lost his second wife Fradchen/Fanny soon thereafter; she died on August 11, 1850, at age 43. (The year on the headstone appears to be incorrect; based on the age given on both the marriage record and manifest, Fradchen’s birth year would have been 1807, not 1800. The 1850 census said she was then 39, not 50. Plus it’s unlikely she had children at ages 47 and 48.) She left behind two very young children, Henry and Hannah, as well as her three stepchildren, Jacob, Lena, and Eva, and her husband Simon.

 

Meanwhile, Simon’s son Jacob from his first marriage had settled in Washington, Pennsylvania, by 1850; he was working as a tailor and living with two other men who were tailors. Like his father Simon, Jacob had changed his surname to Goldsmith.

Jacob Goldsmith (Simon’s son) 1850 US census
Year: 1850; Census Place: Washington, Washington, Pennsylvania; Roll: M432_834; Page: 363A; Image: 244

Sometime after 1850 Jacob married Fannie Silverman. (The 1900 census reports that Jacob, who was then widowed, had been married 51 years, but given that he was still single in 1850, that seems unlikely).

Jacob and Fannie had thirteen children between 1853 and 1871—first, six daughters, then three sons, then another four daughters. Wow. I will report on them in more detail in a later post.  For now, I will only name those born between 1853 and 1860: Ellena (1853), Emma (1854), Anna (1855), Rachel (1857), Leonora (1858), and Celia (1860). Six daughters in seven years.

Sometime after Fradchen died, Simon moved to Washington, Pennsylvania, to be with his son Jacob. In 1860, Simon and his two youngest children, Henry and Hannah, were living with Simon’s son Jacob and Jacob’s wife Fannie and their six daughters. Henry and Hannah were only five and six years older than their oldest nieces, Emma and Anna. I assume that Simon needed Fannie and Jacob’s help in raising Henry and Hannah.

Jacob Goldsmith and family 1860 US census
Year: 1860; Census Place: Washington, Washington, Pennsylvania; Roll: M653_1192; Page: 1188; Image: 627; Family History Library Film: 805192

Simon’s other two children, Lena and Hewa/Eva, were married and on their own by 1860. Lena had married another German immigrant, Gustave Basch in 1856. In 1860, they were living in Connellsville, Pennsylvania, with their first two children, Frank (1858) and Jacob (1859).

Lena Goldschmidt and Gustave Basch and sons 1860 census Year: 1860; Census Place: Connellsville, Fayette, Pennsylvania; Roll: M653_1110; Page: 422; Family History Library Film: 805110

 

The story of Simon’s other daughter Eva has already been told. She married Marcus Bohm, an immigrant from Warsaw, Poland, and they had a daughter born in 1862 named Ella who married my great-great-uncle Jacob Katzenstein (son of Gerson Katzenstein and Eva Goldschmidt and thus also Ella’s cousin). Ella and one of her sons died in the Johnstown flood in 1889.  With Ella Bohm’s marriage to Jacob Katzenstein, my Goldschmidt and Katzenstein lines had merged.

I won’t repeat the research and story of Eva Goldsmith and Marcus Bohm, but despite further searching, I unfortunately have not yet found any record for either their marriage or Eva’s death. What I have concluded, however, is that Eva had died by 1870 because by then her daughter Ella was living with Eva’s brother Jacob Goldsmith.

Jacob Goldsmith and family on the 1870 census
Year: 1870; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 12 District 36, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Thus, by 1860, all the members of the family of Simon Goldschmidt were living in western Pennsylvania, most of them in Washington, Pennsylvania, where Fradchen’s nephew Henry Schoenthal would arrive six years later, soon followed by his siblings.

By the 1880s, there were thus familial connections between the Goldschmidt family and the Schoenthal family and also between the Goldschmidt family and the Katzenstein family.  These overlapping connections laid the groundwork for the 1888 marriage of my great-grandparents, Isidore Schoenthal and Hilda Katzenstein, whose mother was a Goldschmidt. It’s amazing to see how the many lines in the family came together in the pairing of two of my direct ancestors.

——

[1] I do not have German birth records for Jacob or Lena, only US records. For the last three children, I was able to locate Oberlistingen birth records.

[2] The names on this census are switched around. Simon’s wife was Fanny, not Lena, and his daughter was Eva, not Fanny. Another reminder of how unreliable census records can be.

Walking in Their Footsteps

About two months ago we did a crazy thing.  We drove five and a half hours from western Massachusetts to Philadelphia and spent just 24 hours in the City of Brotherly Love before turning around and returning home.

So how did this crazy thing happen? I had received an email from my third cousin Jan Sluizer. Her great-grandmother Elizabeth Cohen was the sister of my great-grandfather Emanuel Cohen.  We are both the great-great-granddaughters of Jacob Cohen and the three-time great-granddaughters of Hart Levy Cohen.  Jan lives now in California, but she grew up in Philadelphia and was coming east for a high school reunion.  She wanted to know if we could get together.

For several years I have wanted to visit Philadelphia—the place where my earliest American ancestors came in the 1840s, the place where my father was born and raised. Of course, I’d been to Philadelphia many times growing up to visit my grandmother and my aunt.  But I’d never seen where my ancestors lived or were buried. I’d never even seen the places where my father had lived. In fact, I’d never seen Independence Hall or the other historic sights in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia, City Hall

I knew that to do everything I wanted to do, I’d need more than 24 hours. But it has been a hectic fall with far too many weekends away from home.  The most we could do was get there on Saturday and leave on Sunday. And to top it off, a major storm was predicted for Sunday, meaning we’d have to hit the road even earlier than we had once hoped.

It was indeed crazy. But I am so glad we did it.

In the hours we had on Saturday, I managed to accomplish a few of the things I’d wanted to do. First, we took a tour of all the places where my Philadelphia ancestors had lived, starting with my great-great-grandparents Jacob Cohen and Sarah Jacobs and my three-times great-grandparents John Nusbaum and Jeanette Dreyfuss all the way to the last place my father lived in Philadelphia before moving to New York and marrying my mother in 1951.  Here in the order in which my family occupied these places (though not in the order we saw them) are my photographs from that day.

Jacob Cohen lived for many years at 136 South Street. His pawnshop was nearby. And this is where he and my great-great-grandmother Sarah Jacobs raised their thirteen children, including my great-grandfather Emanuel.  I do not think these are the same buildings that were there in the in the mid=19th century, but this is the street where they lived.

136 South Street, where Jacob Cohen and Sarah Jacobs raised their children

South Street, looking towards the river

For decades the Cohens lived in this neighborhood where many of the German Jewish immigrants lived.

But my other early-arriving ancestor John Nusbaum lived on the north side of Philadelphia during this same period at 433 Vine Street and 455 York Street. We drove down these streets, but again the buildings that were there in the era are long gone, and I didn’t take any photographs here. It was mostly warehouse buildings and abandoned or run-down buildings.

Since my Nusbaum ancestor was a successful merchant, I imagine that in his time this area was quite desirable, in fact more desirable than area south of the city where the Cohens lived.  Today, however, the South Street neighborhood is quite chic and inhabited by young professionals and clearly more desirable than the neighborhood where the Nusbaums lived.

Although my great-great-grandparents Bernard Seligman and Frances Nusbaum lived almost their whole married life in Santa Fe, their last years were spent in Philadelphia at 1606 Diamond Street. Bernard died in 1903, and Frances in 1905.  During that same period Bernard’s daughter Eva Seligman Cohen, my great-grandmother, and my great-grandfather Emanuel Cohen were also living on Diamond Street. That neighborhood is also in North Philadelphia.  Here is a Google Streetview of that street today. I don’t think these were the buildings that were there in the early 1900s, but I am not sure.

I had better luck as I moved further into the 20th century.  In 1920 Emanuel Cohen and Eva Seligman Cohen, my great-grandparents, were living on Green Street close to what is now the downtown district of Philadelphia.  It is a lovely tree-lined street with cafes and historic brick townhouses in what is clearly a gentrified neighborhood. I wonder what it was like when my great-grandparents and my grandfather John Cohen lived there in 1920.

2116 Green Street—where in 1920 my great-grandparents Emanuel and Eva Seligman Cohen lived as well as my grandfather John Nusbaum Cohen

We did not have time to get to the West Oak Lane neighborhood in North Philadelphia where my father lived with his parents in 1930 at 6625 North 17th Street, so that’s on my list for when we return.But here is a Google Streetview shot of that street:

6600 block of North 17th Street, Philadelphia

I did find the apartment building where my father and aunt were living with their grandmother Eva Seligman Cohen in 1939 when she died. It is in the downtown area of Philadelphia and still called the Westbury Apartments.

Westbury Apartments on 15th Street where my great-grandmother Eva Seligman Cohen lived with my father and aunt in 1939

In 1940, my father, aunt, and grandmother were living in North Philadelphia at 106 Venango Street.  That building is no longer there unfortunately.  It is now a commercial area with warehouses and factory-like buildings.

But In 1950 they were living on North 21st Street in this building—another lovely tree-lined street not far from the center of the city.

North 21 Street in Philadelphia where my father, aunt, and grandmother lived in 1950

136 North 21st Street, my father’s home in 1950

Touring the city this way was enlightening because it provided some insights into the patterns of gentrification and how they have changed since 1850.  My ancestors for the most part started in the southern part of the city and as they moved up the economic ladder, they moved north of the city to an area that was newer, less crowded, and more “gentrified.” But today that pattern has reversed. Young professionals want to live close to downtown and have returned to the neighborhoods closest to the center of the city like Green Street and South Street.  The neighborhoods around Venango Street and Diamond Street were long ago abandoned by those moving out to the suburbs in the post-World War II period and are now depressed sections of the city.

After a visit to the National Museum of American Jewish History and the Liberty Bell and a walk along Market Street, we met Jan for dinner in the area known as Rittenhouse Square, another gentrified neighborhood with lots of boutiques, bars, and restaurants. Meeting Jan was a delight. We had long ago connected by email when Jan shared all the stories about her father Mervyn Sluizer, Jr., and her grandfather Mervyn, Sr., and the rest of her family. Now we were able to meet face to face, share a meal together, and connect on a deeper level than email allows.

Independence Hall

The Liberty Bell

The following day the rain began, but I was determined to try and see where my ancestors were buried. Our first stop was Mikveh Israel synagogue, where we met Rabbi Albert Gabbai, who took us to the second oldest Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia. Mikveh Israel has been in Philadelphia since before the American Revolution and was where my earliest Cohen ancestors belonged. It was then located about a mile from 136 South Street where Jacob Cohen lived. Although the original building is long, long gone, the synagogue still is in that same neighborhood, now on North 4th Street.  According to the rabbi, it now attracts empty nesters who have moved into downtown Philadelphia. Another example of urban gentrification. Jews who long ago left downtown are now returning in their later years.

Rabbi Gabbai drove us to the Federal Street cemetery, the second oldest Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia, where he patiently and generously guided us with a map to see the gravestones of Jacob and Sarah Cohen as well as the location of Hart Levy Cohen’s grave (his stone has either sunk into the ground or otherwise disappeared).

Federal Street cemetery of Congregation Mikveh Israel

Location of Hart Levy Cohen’s grave. My 3x-great-grandfather

Jacob and Sarah’s grave is marked by one of the largest monuments in the cemetery:

While we walked through the cemetery, I also spotted the stones for Jan’s other great-great-grandparents, Bernard and Margaret Sluizer, and her three-times great-grandmother Jeanette Sluizer. I was very touched when I realized that Bernard and Margaret Sluizer are buried in the plots that abut Jacob and Sarah’s plots.

Grave of Meyer and Margaret Sluizer

I also found a stone for Joseph Jacobs, my 3-times great uncle, brother of Sarah Jacobs Cohen.

Joseph Jacobs, brother of Sarah Jacobs Cohen

Unfortunately, it was pouring by this time, and I could not find any small stones to put on the gravestones to mark my visit, which left me feeling as if I’d let my ancestors down.

After leaving Rabbi Gabbai, we drove north to the two other Philadelphia cemeteries where my ancestors are buried: Mount Sinai and Adath Jeshurun.  Fortunately they are located right next to each other, and I had carefully written down the location of the graves I wanted to visit at Mount Sinai from the records I found on Ancestry. (I did not have that information for Adath Jeshurun, but only a few ancestors are buried there as compared to Mount Sinai.)

Unfortunately, despite my good planning, I had no luck. There was no office and no one at the cemetery; there was no map posted of the cemetery. And there were no obvious markings in the cemetery identifying sections or plots. And it was pouring.

My ever-patient husband sat in the car and drove slowly around as I walked up and down the drives and walkways with an umbrella and in my orthopedic boot,[1] looking for Cohens, Nusbaums, Katzensteins, Schoenthals, and Seligmans.  This was the only one I could find for any of my known relatives:

Simon Schoenthal and family at Mt Sinai cemetery in Philadelphia

This is the stone for Simon Schoenthal, my great-grandfather’s brother, and his wife Rose Mansbach, who was also related to me by the marriage of her cousin Marum Mansbach to my great-great-grandfather Gerson Katzenstein’s sister Hannchen. It also marks the burial place of two of their children, Martin and Harry, as well as Harry’s wife Esther, and their son Norman. I was delighted that I had found this marker, but nevertheless disappointed that I could not find the place where my grandfather John Cohen is buried along with his parents, Emanuel Cohen and Eva Seligman. Nor did I find any of the others I had been hoping to visit.

From there we headed home, leaving Philadelphia exactly 24 hours after we’d arrived. It was a wet and long trip home, but I still was glad we had made this whirlwind visit. I was able to meet Jan, I saw places where my ancestors lived and are buried, and we were introduced to the city where so many of my relatives have lived. It was not enough, so we will have to return. Next time we will need to spend at least 48 hours!

 

[1] I had broken my ankle a few weeks before the trip. It’s better now.

One Mystery Laid to Rest: Baby Rose Schoenthal

One of the most frustrating brick walls I’ve encountered is the mystery of Baby Rose Schoenthal.  I have written several blog posts about Baby Rose, and I have never had any success in finding this child. I stopped looking because I was troubled by the possibility that if I did find her or a descendant, I might be stirring up trouble for some unknowing person.

Some background for those who may not remember the story. On the 1930 census, my grandmother’s first cousin Jacob Schoenthal and his wife Florence are listed with a 15 month old daughter named Rose, living in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Jacob Schoenthal and family 1930 US census Year: 1930; Census Place: Atlantic City, Atlantic, New Jersey; Roll: 1308; Page: 10B; Enumeration District: 0003; Image: 129.0; FHL microfilm: 2341043

But that there is not one whit of evidence to support the existence of that child aside from that census entry. I have searched for birth records, death records, marriage records. Nothing. I found Jacob’s will—no mention of a daughter. There was no daughter buried with Jacob and Florence. She would have been only eleven in 1940, but she does not appear on the 1940 census.

I had decided that either (1) she never existed or (2) she’d been given up for adoption or (3) she had been a foster child returned to her own parents.

Then in March 2017,  a Schoenthal cousin found me through the blog.  Barbara wrote that she was the granddaughter of Estella Schoenthal, who was my grandmother Eva Schoenthal’s first cousin and Jacob Schoenthal’s sister. Barbara and I are third cousins.

We exchanged information, and she filled me in on the names and dates of the descendants of Estella Schoenthal and Leon Klein. But perhaps most importantly, she gave me closure on that nagging question: Did Estella’s brother Jacob Schoenthal and his wife Florence Truempy have a daughter named Rose born in 1928 or 1929?

Barbara asked her mother, who said without hesitation that Jacob and Florence never had children. Could she be wrong? Of course.  Barbara’s mother might not have been born in 1930 and she definitely was not yet married to Barbara’s father in 1930, and so it’s entirely possible that IF Jacob and Florence had a child who was given up for adoption or only lived with them for a brief period, Barbara’s mother would never have known.

But I have chosen to believe that Barbara’s mother is right. I have chosen to believe that Baby Rose never existed. It never made sense to me that she’d been given up for adoption because she was already 15 months old (if she existed) in 1930, and there’s no reason to think her parents would have given her up at that point: they were mature adults and married, living comfortably, and had plenty of family around for support.

Also, the child’s name was Rose Maxine or Maime (it’s hard to read). Jacob’s mother’s name was Rose Mansbach Schoenthal. She had died in May, 1929, four months after the supposed birth of the child Rose in February, 1929. It seemed very unlikely that Jacob would have named a child for his mother before she died.

Rose Mansbach Schoenthal
courtesy of the family of Hettie Schoenthal Stein

I also didn’t buy that “Rose” had been a foster child. It seems quite an unlikely coincidence that a foster child would have the same name and middle initial as the mother of the man acting as her foster father.

So with the statement by Barbara’s mother that Jacob and Florence never had children, I am willing to close the door on the mystery of Baby Rose M Schoenthal. I think the census enumerator made a mistake. My working theory? That the enumerator was told that a Rose M had lived in the household until fifteen months before, and somehow the enumerator recorded that as meaning a fifteen month old child named Rose M was currently living in the household.

In addition to helping me with that mystery, Barbara also provided me with this handsome photograph of Sidney Schoenthal, her great-uncle and my grandmother’s first cousin.

Sidney Schoenthal

I see a resemblance to my grandmother (first photo below) and to my father (second photo below)—what do you think?

Eva Schoenthal and John Cohen, Sr. 1923

Florence and John Cohen, Jr., 1951

I am very grateful to Barbara for helping me get closure on Baby Rose. And for sharing this photograph of my cousin Sidney Schoenthal.

Another Mikveh, A Castle, A Museum, and A Search for Stones: Trendelburg, Hofgeismar, and Gudensberg

After our eventful morning in Sielen with Julia and Hans-Peter, we all headed to Trendelburg.  At one time the cemetery there had been used by the Jewish residents of Sielen, so I hoped that perhaps I’d find a Schoenthal ancestor buried there.  But that one had even fewer stones as it had been desecrated by the Nazis.  There were no Schoenthals there.

Marker describing destruction of the cemetery by the Nazis.

All that’s left of the Trendelburg cemetery

But Trendelburg itself was an interesting place to visit.  It was here that my great-great-uncle Henry Schoenthal had taught in the Jewish school after attending the seminary in Kassel.

First, Julia showed us another old mikveh that had been discovered in a basement like the one Ernst Klein had found in Volksmarsen.  This one was discovered in 2001 when an abandoned house was undergoing renovation. The mikveh is believed to have been closed sometime in the 19th century and perhaps replaced with another.  There had been a fire in the building at some point, but the basement and the mikveh had survived.

Trendelburg mikveh

Julia explained that it was believed that the mikveh dated to the late 18th century because there are documents dated 1782-1783 in which a man named Joseph Levi asked for permission to build a pipe to his cellar from the town well.  Although a mikveh is supposed to be fed by natural water—spring, groundwater, or rain—in this case it appeared that a conduit was necessary to supply the water for the ritual bath.

The other interesting landmark in Trendelburg is the castle believed to be the inspiration for the story of Rapunzel by the Brothers Grimm. I wrote more about the castle’s history here.

Rapunzel’s tower

OK, so I am no Rapunzel

In the castle’s restaurant with Hans-Peter

Now the castle is used as a hotel and a restaurant, and Julia, Hans-Peter, Harvey, and I went into the restaurant for coffee, and then after Hans-Peter left to teach a seminar in Kassel, Julia, Harvey, and I had lunch there.  It was lovely, and it gave us a chance to talk to Julia about her life (she is an artist) and her reasons for volunteering her time to preserve the Jewish history of these towns. Like the others, she also felt compelled to learn what had happened and to educate others about German Jewish history and the Holocaust.

While at lunch, Julia also presented me with wedding documents for a Rosa Hamberg from Breuna who married a man named Benjamin Cohn.  I did not know who she was or how she fit into my family tree, but after further help and research, Julia, Hans-Peter, and I figured it out.  More on that in a later post.

After lunch, we went with Julia to the town where she lives, Hofgeismar, to see the museum she and her colleagues have created in that town to educate others about its Jewish history.  We were really impressed by the museum.  Not only are there wonderful materials to teach about Judaism and the Holocaust, Julia and her colleagues have developed an extremely creative curriculum for high school students that has them engage in interactive ways to learn about the Jewish history of their region. For example, the students created a replica of the ark that once existed in the synagogue by using data about its measurements from old documents.  They also created a mural that depicts in detail what the Hofgeismar synagogue had looked like—again, using old plans and documents to be as accurate as possible.

Former synagogue in Hofgesmar

Mural created by students to depict the former synagogue of Hofgeismar

It was a curriculum so creative and thoughtful that we both felt that it was something that educators in the US could use effectively to teach students about Jewish history.  This is another project that deserves the support of anyone who is interested in preventing the ignorance and hatred that led to the Holocaust.  You can learn more at their website here.

After saying a grateful and emotional goodbye to Julia, we headed back to Kassel.  But our day was not over.  After a short break back in Kassel, Hans-Peter picked us up  at 5;30 for a trip to Gudensberg. I am not sure how Hans-Peter had the energy.  We were already exhausted and had had a break; he’d been in Sielen and Trendelburg with us and then had taught a class in Kassel and was now ready to drive us back out to Gudensberg, which is 25 kilometers south and another half hour drive away.

And I wasn’t even sure why we were going to Gudensberg.  As far as I knew, the only family connection I had to that village was through my great-grandfather’s brothers, Henry and Jakob Schoenthal, who had married Charlotte and Helen Lilienfeld, two sisters from Gudensberg.

So we piled into Hans-Peter’s car off for another adventure.  First we went to the cemetery in Obervorschuetz, just a few miles from Gudensberg. This is a huge cemetery—with close to 400 stones dating as far back as 1727. Hans-Peter had collected information about possible relatives of mine who were buried in this cemetery; he had photocopied the photographs of the relevant stones from the LAGIS website of Jewish gravestones. They were all members of the Mansbach family from Maden: Liebmann (1813-1874), Schoene (d. 1879), Chaja Mansbach (geb. Speier)(1787-1861), and Hannchen Mansbach (geb. Katzenstein) (1799-1840).  As I looked at the names, only the last was familiar.

But when I got home, I researched a few of the others and realized that Liebmann Mansbach was the father of Rose Mansbach, who married Simon Schoenthal, my great-grandfather’s brother. Schoene Mansbach was Liebmann’s daughter and Rose’s sister.  Chaja Speier Mansbach was Liebmann’s mother, Rose’s grandmother.  So they were all related to me, albeit only through marriage, but nevertheless all were in my family tree. Hans-Peter had noted the connections, but I guess my addled brain did not absorb it all at the time.

But Hannchen Mansbach geb. Katzenstein was in fact my blood relative.  She was the half-sister of my great-great-grandfather Gerson Katzenstein and the daughter of Scholem Katzenstein, my three-times great-grandfather.  As I wrote about here, she had married Marum Mansbach of Maden, with whom she’d had six children, including three who came to the US: Henrietta, Abraham, and H.H (Harry), about whom I’ve written extensively.  Hannchen had died after giving birth to Harry in 1840.  It was her stone I was most interested in seeing.

So we started on a treasure hunt, trying to find these stones.  It was a real challenge—almost 400 stones, and all we had were small photographs of the stones to use to locate the actual stone and a map filled with hundreds of square that Hans-Peter had highlighted, but that was not that easy to follow.

I believe that this is the stone for Chaja Speier Mansbach:

Chaja Mansbach geb Speier (maybe)

But the others we could not find for sure.  The stones were eroded, making it very difficult to read the Hebrew inscriptions and compare them to the sheets that Hans-Peter had printed. The sun was getting lower in the sky, creating a glare on the stones and making them even harder to read. And there were so many stones (and we had all had a long day already) that I was ready to give up.

And then I spotted this stone where the name was written in German on the reverse:

Hanchen Katzenstein Mansbach headstone

And this was on the Hebrew side:

Hanchen Katzenstein Mansbach headstone Hebrew side

It took some doing, but I was able to discern that this was in fact the stone for Hannchen Katzenstein Mansbach, whose sons had served on opposite sides of the US Civil War and who had both gone on to considerable success in America as had their sister Henrietta, who married Gabriel Gump.  Hannchen was my three-times great-aunt.  The Hebrew inscription on her stones is translated as:

A virtuous woman, she was like Abigail.

She noted that her trade was good. She was modest

In her speech. Her actions were pleasant. Of the king’s daughter

Would be her interior. She was a wise woman.

Her soul rose up into the sky. She changed her whole life

On straight paths. She kept the Lord’s commandments. Henchen,

Daughter of Shelom ha-Kohen, wife of Me’ir, son of

Elieser from Maden. She went into her world

And died on Saturday, the 2nd Tammuz, and was buried on Sunday [5] 600

After the small count. Her soul is bound up in the covenant of life

With all the other just women in the Garden of Eden,

Amen. Her soul was bound in covenant.

As you can see from the photographs, we left stones on her headstone, marking our visit and honoring not only her, but all her descendants.  I was now very glad that we had gone to visit this cemetery.

But our day was not yet over. We next went to the town of Gudensberg, home of Charlotte and Helen Lilienfeld, sisters and the wives of Jakob and Henry Schoenthal, my great-great-uncles. Henry Schoenthal had married Helen in Gudensberg in 1872 after immigrating to the US.  Jakob had married Charlotte in Gudensberg in 1879; they later settled in Cologne, as I wrote about here.

The principal thing that Hans-Peter wanted us to see in Gudensberg was the former synagogue.  He and his wife had been very active in preserving and restoring the synagogue, and it was that project that inspired him to go on to do so much work in preserving the records of the former Jewish communities in the Nordhessen region.  It is quite a beautiful restoration.

Former synagogue in Gudensberg

Memorial plaque outside former synagogue

Interior of former synagogue in Gudensberg; women’s section above

Rearview of synagogue from street in Gudensberg

Today the building is used primarily as a cultural center and music school, although I understand that at times it has been used for Jewish religious celebrations.

We also saw the former Jewish school and the stolpersteine there for the man who was the last head of the school and his family.

And we saw the house of Michael Lilienfeld, brother of Charlotte and Helen, the sisters who married two of my Schoenthal great-great-uncles.

House of Michael Lilienfeld

Hans-Peter then returned us to our hotel in Kassel. It had been a long and fascinating day, and my spirits were lifted after seeing all the incredible work that both Julia Drinnenberg and Hans-Peter Klein have done and are doing to preserve the history of the Jewish communities of the four towns we’d visited that day. It was a lot to process as we ate for a second night in the Italian restaurant across from our hotel.

The next morning we were heading to Jesberg, home of the Katzensteins.

 

 

 

 

Sielen: The Tiny Ancestral Home of the Schoenthals

After spending the prior day in Volksmarsen and Breuna, home of the Hambergs, I was excited to go to Sielen, the home of the Schoenthals.  We were going to meet two people in Sielen, Julia Drinnenberg, with whom I’d only exchanged a few emails, and Hans-Peter Klein, with whom I’d been in touch for a couple of years.  Hans-Peter and Ernst (not related to each other) created the Juden in Nordhessen website that has provided me with extensive information about my Hessen ancestors.  When I was researching the Schoenthals, Hans-Peter was a tremendous help.  He also knew my friend from home, Amanda, so I was looking forward to meeting him and Julia.

Sielen is about forty minutes from Kassel, the city where we were staying, and the drive was quite scenic.  We went over the mountain (hill?) where the Kassel fortress is, then along a winding and narrow road, and then through beautiful countryside.  As we approached Sielen, there was a flock of sheep grazing in the field on the edge of the village.  I decided to get out and take some photographs of the surrounding area.

Countryside outside of Sielen

As I was doing that, another car pulled up alongside me, and a man got out and asked me if I was Amy.  It was Hans-Peter, and we both laughed at the fact that he knew it had to be me, given how small and isolated Sielen is.  We both drove into the village where Julia soon appeared as well. She was also outgoing and friendly, and we all hit it off right away.

As in the other towns and villages, there was a marketplace and a church. But Sielen is much smaller.  Whereas Gau-Algesheim has a population of about 7000, Volksmarsen about the same, and Breuna almost 4000, Sielen’s population is only about 500 people.  It was the smallest village we visited.

While we were all getting acquainted, a man appeared in the marketplace where we had parked, yelling in German.  Harvey and I were both a bit intimidated, but after some discussion with Hans-Peter and Julia, the man left.  Apparently we had driven up to the marketplace the wrong way.

Sielen church and marktplatz

Julia had some historical information about Sielen to share with us.  According to a 1789 report on Sielen by J. Chr. Martin entitled “Topographical and Statistical News of Nether Hessen, Goettingen (1789, p. 103, as translated), at that time there were 114 homes in Sielen and about 500 residents: “106 men, 112 women, 128 sons and 123 daughters, 14 servants, 14 maidens.” In terms of livelihoods, the report noted that there were forty farmers, 76 peasants, seventeen “cloth-weathers,” one blacksmith, one wainwright, one tailor, and two carpenters.  The report adds, “Also there are two Jewish families who make their living by trading.” I had to wonder whether my Schoenthal ancestors were one of those two families.  Levi Schoenthal, my great-great-grandfather, was born there in 1812, so perhaps his father Heinemann was already living there by 1789.

As I wrote previously, according to the Alemannia-Judaica website, there was a very small Jewish community in Sielen at least from the early 19th century.  There was a synagogue in Sielen as early as 1817, and the village had its own Jewish cemetery starting in 1846.  In 1835, there were 38 Jewish residents; in 1861, there were 48.  By 1905, there were only fourteen Jewish residents, and by 1924, there were just four Jewish residents remaining.  My Schoenthal ancestors had left Sielen by the 1880s.

Julia’s papers also included a later report about Sielen, written in 1932-1934, around the time that Hitler came to power.  This document, written by Superintendent I.R. Brandt and titled “Chronicle of Sielen,” provides some insight into the status of Jews at that time.   There were two Jewish families left, one being an elderly woman named Perle Herzstein, whose house was attached to the old synagogue.

The report goes on (p. 109)(as translated in the document Julia gave me):

Inside it is desolate, there aren’t any church services for a long time. But the old keeper of bygone splendor [Ms. Herzstein] shows us proudly the marvelous tora-rolls, man-high and from thick parchment, lovely as on its first day. And she shows us the colorful embroidered silk ribbons twined around them, and other books and things. She sighs in remembrance of former, for her, better times!

The next few lines are confusing—I am not sure whether it’s the translation or it was as confusing in the original:

Yes, it’s true, the Jew misbehaved in Hesse in former times. He often contributed to his own pauperization by profiteering and Gueterschlaechterei, etc. (?) Nowhere else the antisemitism of National Socialism is carrying greater justification than in Hesse. But these ordinary harmless people scattered here and there in small villages for many a long year, who still belong to orthodox Judaism and whose integrity and strength of character…cannot be denied—they just belong to the colorful German nationhood.  It would leave a void if it were weeded out completely.

It seems that, on the one hand, the writer is condoning anti-Semitism, but on the other is praising the Jewish residents of the area and admitting that it would be a loss for the community if they were “weeded out completely.” I wish I knew more about this source; perhaps Julia can give me more information about it.

At any rate, today there are no Jews in Sielen. Julia told us that the house depicted below was where the last Jew in Sielen lived until the 1930s when at some point he was dragged from the house and beaten.

House where last Jewish resident of Sielen lived—right across from the church and on the marktplatz

When I asked Julia and Hans-Peter what people did for a living today in these little villages, they said many are employed in Kassel (there is a Volkswagen plant near Kassel) while some are tradespeople.  Not many are farmers any more.

We walked to where the synagogue once was and stood outside what is now a large home. We walked around the corner, looking for some indication of where the entrance had been, and as we stood outside, a man came out.

Section to left was the old synagogue in Sielen. Compare to photo above.

After our experience with the angry man in the marketplace, I was concerned that this man also was going to yell at us for loitering in front of his house. But instead he asked what we were doing, and when Hans-Peter and Julia explained, he became very interested, asking more questions.  He introduced himself to us (his name, Braun Rode, was on the beer sign outside the house—perhaps it is also a tavern).  He and his wife had lived in the house for 40 years.  And he was very happy that we had come to see it.

Then his wife came out and offered us all something to drink.  When we all declined, she returned with a book about the former synagogues in Germany and showed us the picture of their house when it had been the synagogue (see above).

These two people, who did not know us at all, could not have been nicer.  Herr Braun Rode insisted that we take photographs with him in front of the house and send him a copy (which Julia did).  When we said goodbye, he said to us in German to send regards to America. Once again, we were left with a very positive and warm feeling about the people in Germany.

Julia Drinnenberg, Hans-Peter Klein, Herr Braun Rode, and Harvey outside the former synagogue in Sielen

We then drove to the cemetery that lies outside the village up a rather steep hill.  It is hard to imagine how people from Sielen and the other nearby villages managed to get the bodies of the deceased to these cemeteries.

Looking down the hill from the cemetery to the road

There were not a lot of stones in the cemetery, and I looked at each one several times, hoping to find my great-great-grandfather Levi Schoenthal, or any other Schoenthal, but I had no luck. Some of the stones are completely eroded, and others are only in Hebrew and were extremely difficult to read. Julia had a transcription of the stones, and there was this one, which I had previously found in my research:

Transcription from Sielen cemetery, HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 774, p. 4

Thanks to the helpful people in the Tracing the Tribe Facebook group, I know that that translates as “Chaim Schoenthal from Sielen died 7 Nissan 5634,” or March 25, 1874, which is four days before the date I had for Levi’s funeral (the actual date of death was not legible in the death record).

Levi Schoenthal death record March 1874
HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 773, S. 9

The name as transcribed confused me since it was not Levi, but Chaim was probably his father Heinemann’s Hebrew name, so I think the transcriber could not read Levi’s own first name and transcribed only the patronym. It probably said “Levi ben Chaim Schoenthal.”

But even with that transcription, we could not find the actual stone.  The transcriptions were done over 30 years ago, so the stone must have badly eroded since then. I examined each stone, hoping to find an inscription that contained the name of my great-great-grandfather.  But it was not to be.

Sielen cemetery

Sielen cemetery

Sielen cemetery. I now think that the very eroded sign on the left could have been where Levi Schoenthal was buried.

Or maybe this one?

Although I was disappointed not to find the stone for my great-great-grandfather, it had been a great morning, meeting not only Hans-Peter and Julia, but also the friendly couple who live in the house which was once the synagogue.  Sielen is a tiny jewel with a long history, and it might have been a good and comfortable place to be a child growing up.  But  now I better understand why my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal and all his siblings left the village.  There was not much there to support a young adult who wanted to go out on his or her own.

Volkmarsen and Breuna: A Remarkable Day

On Monday morning, May 8, we picked up our rental car (a cute little Nissan Juke) and started our drive northeast from Cologne to the Kassel region where we would spend the next three days.  I must admit I had some trepidation about driving in Germany (well, about Harvey driving in Germany; I certainly wasn’t going to drive).  I’d heard about the absence of speed limits on the Autobahn, and being a nervous passenger under any circumstances, I had visions of a combination of bumper cars and roller coasters.  Add to that the fact that the signs would be in German and distances in kilometers, and I figured this would not be a relaxing experience.

But I was wrong.  Our GPS was excellent (with a delightful British accent), the signs were clear, the roads were smooth, and we somehow managed to keep up (to some extent) with the pace of the German drivers.  The only part I didn’t like was the fact that the vehicles in the right lane were going about 30 mph slower than those in the left lane, making changing lanes at times nerve-wracking (for me, not for Harvey).

We made one visit to a rest stop along the way where I ran from the car to try and get ahead of the three busloads of teenagers going on a school trip.  I was only partly successful and had to wait amid a bunch of chatty teens before paying 70 cents to use the facilities.  When I received a voucher back for 50 cents, I had to ask one of the girls what it was for.  I learned we could redeem it for items in the rest stop store, so we bought a pretzel for the road and re-entered the Autobahn.

Our destination was Volkmarsen where we were to meet Ernst Klein, who would be our guide for the towns we were visiting that day. We arrived on time, and Ernst promptly met us in front of the rathaus (town hall) in the pretty center of the village. I had only emailed a few times with Ernst beforehand, and he had told me that his English was not great, but he was wrong.  His English was excellent, and I immediately warmed to this friendly and modest man.

Ernst Klein and me

First, he showed us around Volkmarsen. I was at first not sure why I would be interested in Volkmarsen since, as far as I knew, I had no family from that town.  But Ernst pointed to a building right across from the rathaus and told us, showing us a photograph, that it had once been the store of Salomon Hamberg. I had to look him up to figure out the connection.  His father Juda Hamberg was a first cousin to my great-great-grandmother, Henrietta Hamberg, the mother of my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal. So Salomon was Isidore’s second cousin.

Salomon Hamberg’s store in Volkmarsen

 

Building where Salomon Hamberg once had a store

Ernst showed us the church in Volkmarsen and pointed out that several former Jewish homes were right nearby; he commented that before the Third Reich, Jews and Christians had lived and worked together peacefully as neighbors and friends. We then walked to one of the older homes in town where Ernst wanted to show us something special that he had discovered.

Rathaus in Volkmarsen

Church in Volkmarsen

Street in Volkmarsen where some Jewish families once lived

We went into the backyard of the home and entered a door into the basement at the back of the house.  It was dark inside, and I had no idea what we were going to see.  But Ernst turned on a spotlight that lit up a corner of the basement where we could see stone steps leading down into a rectangular opening—a mikveh!  A mikveh is a ritual bathing place where  traditional Jews go for a ritual purification at particular times in their lives—e.g., for women, before marriage and after each menstrual period. Ernst said he had had the stones dated by an expert and that it was believed that this mikveh was 500 years old, meaning Jews had been in this little town as early as 1500.  There is even visible water at the bottom, showing that natural waters could fill the mikveh.

Volkmarsen mikveh

He then told us how he had discovered the mikveh.  He had been looking for some evidence of an early Jewish community in Volkmarsen in the older buildings and homes in the village, and when he saw this decorative pillar in the basement of this home, he had a hunch that the basement had once been used for something special.

Pillar in basement where mikveh was found in Volkmarsen

He asked the owner for permission to remove the brick flooring to see what was underneath, and the owner agreed, as long as Ernst promised to restore the flooring if there was nothing below it.  But there was, and further investigation indicates the possibility that the front part of the basement was used for prayer services.  There are marks on the walls that look like hand prints and Hebrew letters as well as an opening in the wall that might have housed the Torah scrolls.

Handprints on wall in Volkmarsen

Hebrew lettering ?

Possible location of ark holding Torah scrolls

We were very excited to see this space and wondered what would happen to it since the home is privately owned. Ernst described his hope that his organization could raise the funds to buy the house and convert it into a Jewish museum. I am hoping to help them accomplish this goal, and if you are interested in learning more about this fascinating project, here is more information from their website. I believe that this museum will serve a very important purpose in education and preservation of the Jewish history of the region, and I hope some of you will consider making a donation.

After a quick lunch at yet another great German bakery, we went to see the Volkmarsen cemetery.  The cemetery had been damaged by the Nazis during the war, the headstones smashed to pieces.  A memorial has been established by assembling pieces of the stones together along with a large stone commemorating those who had been buried there.

Broken stones at the Volkmarsen cemetery

Memorial made of broken stones at the Volkmarsen cemetery

In addition, Ernst saw that a memorial wall was created to include the names of Volkmarsen residents who had been killed during the Holocaust.  The empty spaces in the wall are meant to represent the holes now missing from the community, a brilliant and very powerful visual statement.

Memorial to those killed in the Holocaust from Volkmarsen

Ernst then took us to the current Jewish museum in the town, and I could see why he needs more space. He and his colleagues have created an incredible little museum packed with information and Judaica and photographs and records of Jewish history in the area.  The museum is visited by children and adults from the region and also from all parts of the world. There are copies of photographs and letters of members of the Hamberg family, including some of Rob Meyers’ mother and her family. (Rob is my fifth cousin, the one with whom we have very good mutual friends as well as mutual cousins from my father’s Cohen side, the Goldweins.)

Irmgaard Hamberg

Then we left for Breuna, the village where my great-great-grandmother Henriette Hamberg was born. Henriette was the daughter of Moses Hamberg and Guetchen Rotenberg, both of whom had died in Breuna in the 1860s. Henriette was one of ten siblings and at least some of her siblings had stayed in Breuna and died there.   Although I have yet to delve too deeply into the Hamberg genealogy and story, I wanted to see where they’d lived and where they are buried.

On the way to Breuna, Ernst had us pull over to the side of the road so we could see the small mountain that was the inspiration for the family name.  In the early 1800s when the government ordered Jews to adopt surnames for tax-collecting purposes, many Jews picked names based on locations or places that they knew.  Moses Hamberg’s family chose the small mountain outside of Breuna that was and is known as Hamberg.

Hamberg mountain

Breuna is a small village not dissimilar from Volkmarsen or Gau-Algesheim.  There is a church, a small open square, a town hall, and then many individual houses surrounding those public buildings. Ernst showed us the former synagogue, noting its proximity to the church, and two houses that were once the homes of Hamberg family members.

Plaque on former synagogue in Breuna

Former synagogue in Breuna

Former synagogue, left, and church, right, in Breuna

Hamberg home

The weather that day was the coldest and wettest of our days in Germany, and unfortunately we were too uncomfortable to spend much time walking around.  So we headed to the cemetery.  Along the way we passed the street named for Susanne Hamberg, Rob Meyer’s aunt who was, along with her parents, killed in the Holocaust. Susanne was only thirteen years old; she was my fourth cousin, once removed.

Outside the cemetery was a sign telling the history of Breuna’s Jewish community. It includes the Hamberg family as one of the families that made up that community.

Inside the cemetery are many stones in about six or seven different rows.  It is quite a nice cemetery and very well maintained.  Many of the stones are only in Hebrew and somewhat eroded, so reading them was extremely difficult, but fortunately many stones also have German on the reverse side, revealing the secular name of the person buried in that spot. I looked at each stone, often seeing nothing that seemed relevant, and occasionally seeing a name that seemed a possible relative—a Goldschmidt or a Hamberg.

But my search was rewarded when I located these two stones:

Hebrew side of stone for Guetchen Rotenberg Hamberg

Hebrew side Moses Hamberg’s stone

On the reverse were their German names:

Guetchen Rotenberg, reverse side

Moses Hamberg stone reverse side

These were the stones for my three-times great-grandparents, Moses Hamberg and Guetchen Rotenberg, the parents of Henriette Hamberg, the grandparents of Isidore Schoenthal.  Seeing them took my breath away.  I had not expected to find stones for my own direct ancestors.  Because of my experience in Gau-Algesheim, I had kept my expectations low. Yet here were the stones for my ancestors, the grandparents of my father’s maternal grandfather.

I never knew these people and in fact knew almost nothing about them beyond their names, birth dates, and death dates.  The birth record of their daughter Hannchen revealed that Moses was a cattle merchant.  Despite this thin amount of personal information, somehow I felt a connection to these people who died almost a hundred years before I was born.

In the cemetery there were also a number of stones for other people on my Hamberg family tree:

Jettchen Gans Hamberg, wife of Seligmann Hamberg, brother of my great-great-grandmother Henriette Hamberg.  Jettchen and Seligmann were the parents of Malchen/Amalia Hamberg who married Jacob Baer and had the children who founded and worked for the Attleboro Manufacturing Company, the large jewelry business in Attleboro Massachusetts.

 

Levi Mollerich, husband of Miriam Hamberg, sister of my great-great-grandmother Henriette Hamberg.

Baruch Hamberg and his wife Sara Herzfeld.  Baruch was my second cousin, three times removed; more importantly, he and Sara were my cousin Rob Meyer’s great-grandparents.  Baruch was also related to Joel Goldwein as Baruch’s mother Breine Goldwein was the sister of Joel’s great-grandfather Markus Goldwein.

Rosa Hamberg Braunsberg.  She was Baruch Hamberg’s sister, so another second cousin, three times removed.

Fanny Herzfeld Goldwein and Markus Goldwein.  Great-grandparents of Joel Goldwein, who is my cousin through my Cohen line and Rob’s cousin through the Goldwein line.

In addition there were some stones with names that might be a part of my family and then others that I need to have translated.  But overall, visiting that cemetery on that very cold and very dreary day left me feeling uplifted and strangely happy.  My ancestors were there, and I had been there to pay tribute and to remember them.  It was a very moving experience.

We drove through Oberlistingen, the home of my Goldschmidt ancestors, and then we said goodbye to our new friend Ernst—he and I both with tears in our eyes—and drove to our hotel in Kassel.  It had been a remarkable day, beginning with a 500 year old mikveh and ending with the discovery of my 3x-great-grandparents’ gravestones.  The next day we would go to Sielen, the home of my Schoenthal ancestors.