I have written several posts about my cousin, Moritz Oppenheimer, the nephew of my great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman. Moritz was an extremely successful business owner and also racehorse breeder and owner who ended up committing suicide as a result of the persecution he experienced by the Nazis.
My cousin Wolfgang Seligmann recently discovered additional information about Moritz and his family, including an application filed in 1966 in Wiesbaden by Moritz Oppenheimer’s widow Emma Neuhoff, seeking compensation for the harm done to her husband and the financial losses suffered.
In reviewing those documents (with invaluable help from Wolfgang), I focused on two questions that had been raised by readers who commented on my earlier posts about Moritz Oppenheimer. First, were Moritz and his non-Jewish wife Emma forced to divorce by the Nazis in 1936, or did they choose to divorce? Second, was Moritz forced into bankruptcy by the Nazis in 1933, or were his businesses already failing before the Nazis came to power?
The first question is addressed by the court in its opinion approving the settlement between Emma and the government. The court recognized that Emma and Moritz had only divorced to protect Emma and their two children, who were not Jewish.
I used DeepL to translate this language and for the other translations in this post:
The marriage of the applicant with the persecuted person was divorced by judgment of the regional court Giessen 2 R 51/1935 of June 25, 1936 through his fault. In the judgment of the regional court Giessen 4 R 585/50 dated 6 October 1950 it was determined that the divorce judgment was incorrect because the divorce had actually taken place in order to protect the non-Jewish wife and children from persecution — but its legal validity remained unaffected.
With respect to Emma’s application for compensation, the court concluded that even if Emma was no longer legally married to Moritz at the time of his death and thus not technically his widow, she was nevertheless entitled to pursue her claim for compensation for the harm done to her husband and her family.
The applicant is entitled to claim. It can be left open whether she is the widow of the deceased, … or this is treated as a blameless divorced wife.
Thus, Emma and Moritz chose to divorce to protect Emma and their two children. It was a decision based on love, not a lack of it. Although the Nazis did not require the Oppenheimers to divorce, the circumstances the Nazis created compelled the couple to divorce.
The question regarding the bankruptcy is more complicated. Emma contended that Moritz was forced into bankruptcy by the Nazis when he was arrested in September, 1933, the first of many arrests that eventually drove him to suicide in 1941, as has been described in earlier posts. Emma wrote in the third paragraph of her statement in support of her application for compensation in 1966:
In the prison in Hammelgasse, my husband was forced to file for bankruptcy on his property. In my opinion, this was pure Nazi harassment. There was never a reason for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy was actually carried out afterwards.
But a man named August Hartmann filed an accusation against Moritz with the Nazi party in which he claimed that Moritz had defrauded a family from Frankfurt out of almost one and a half million Reich Marks; these fraud claims were never fully litigated because Moritz died before that could happen. Hartmann also claimed that the businesses owned by Moritz were heavily in debt and that Moritz was a flight risk.
Here is the DeepL translation of Hartmann’s statement:
The well-known industrialist and racing stable owner Consul Moritz Oppenheimer has lived for many years only on credit fraud. In the years 1931 and 1932 he swindled a very respectable Frankfurt family out of the round sum of one and three-quarter million Reichsmark in cash under false pretences. This case is all the more blatant because this amount of money came from assets confiscated during the war in America. That was only released at the end of 1929 and taken to Germany by the family, out of national interest in making this large amount of money available to the ailing German economy. Despite the fact that this fraudulently damaged creditor has known for half a year now how the finances of Consul Oppenheimer are, he has now refrained from taking radical steps which were in his personal interest, in order not to make more than 250 German workers unemployed. But because of the great expenses of Mr. Consul O., for example maintenance of the Erlenhof Stud Farm, which requires a monthly subsidy of about 15,000, financial conditions have deteriorated to such an extent that bankruptcy is only a question of time, the strong suspicion arises that this Jew wants to run off to a foreign country where he in all probability has stashed a considerable fortune.
It was this letter from August Hartmann that led to the arrest of Moritz Oppenheimer in September 1933 and then to his alleged forced bankruptcy. Thus, Moritz may have been pushed into bankruptcy proceedings, but if Hartmann’s letter is true, Moritz was already in serious financial trouble.
Moritz’s son Walter Oppenheimer, in his affidavit in 1966, admitted that his father had incurred a great deal of debt by 1929, but argued that he would have been able to overcome these financial reversals but for the Nazis. He wrote in part (and translated as best I could, with help from DeepL and Google Translate):
If my father’s business got into financial difficulties in the years after 1929, it was because the racing stable required unexpectedly large sums. My father was the founder of the stud and racing stable Erlenhof, which he had also created out of nothing and brought to world fame. The most successful German racehorses were bred at Erlenhof. Erlenhof was also the first German stud farm which was able to export breeding horses to the United States, and to which, for example, the stud farm of the English king sent mares.
The economic crisis at that time hit the paper trade particularly hard, so that the whole industry was in dire straits. But without the advent of National Socialism, my father could have certainly overcome these difficulties perfectly. The President of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce, Honorary Professor Karl Heinrich August Luhr, himself an economic expert of his time, admitted that without the advent of National Socialism, my father could have overcome all the financial difficulties of the time far beyond the borders of Germany, thanks to his organizational gifts and, above all, thanks to his enormous expertise. … So that if a so-called standstill agreement was maintained, the companies could have recovered quickly from the good economic developments that had already begun and had brought large profits. Especially the last months from the middle of 1932 onwards showed this very clearly in the business development of my father’s factories. Professor Luhr also told Mr. Allecke, who was an accountant at the time, very clearly that it was only for political reasons that it became impossible to put things back on a level playing field.
Where the truth lies is impossible to determine. It certainly appears that Moritz was having serious financial troubles before 1933, but were they serious enough to require bankruptcy? Would the business have recovered if he had not been arrested and persecuted by the Nazis? If he had been given more time, could he have turned around his companies’ financial situation?
In the end, the 1966 court approved a settlement that provided Emma with some compensation for the loss of her husband and the suffering he endured as well as for her own economic losses. It was less than what she wanted, but it did recognize that despite the divorce, she was entitled to compensation, implicitly recognizing that they had not freely chosen to divorce. But the settlement did not compensate her for the failure of her husband’s businesses.
Almost twenty years later in 1984, the descendants of Moritz and Emma Oppenheimer filed another claim, this time with the District President in Darmstadt, seeking compensation for the economic damage sustained to the business of Moritz Oppenheimer, according to another set of documents that Wolfgang discovered in the Wiesbaden archives. As Wolfgang explained to me, the Germany government adopted new laws over time that updated the process for obtaining reparations by those who suffered harm because of the Nazis. This new claim was presented under a statute called Bundesentschadeugungsgesetz-Schlussgesetz or Federal Compensation Act-Final Act.
As with the claim filed back in 1966, this claim for compensation for the financial losses suffered by Moritz’s business was rejected. The district president found that Moritz would not have been able to sell the stables or racehorses to cover his business losses, given the economic conditions of that period and the extent of his business liabiltiies. Thus, he concluded that the economic damage was not the result of Nazi persecution. In addition, the district president concluded that Moritz’s medical condition disabled him from seeking other employment, not the Nazis, so there would be no compensation for lost income from such potential employment.
Of course, Moritz’s medical condition could very well have been and probably was caused by or at least exacerbated by his arrest and persecution. And no one can know with absolute certainty that he would not have been able to rescue his business but for that arrest and persecution. But at least two different decision-making bodies concluded otherwise and rejected the family’s claims.
Just about four years ago in the summer of 2016, I decided to learn German. It’s been an interesting and mostly enjoyable challenge. First, I used the app Duolingo for almost a year. I learned a fair amount of German vocabulary. I was disciplined and practiced every day. It was fun.
But then I tried to read some simple texts written in German, and I realized Duolingo was fine for vocabulary building, but it wasn’t enough if I really want to read, write, and speak German. We were going to Germany in the spring of 2017 and I wanted to be able to speak to the people in their own language, so I bought a few German textbooks to learn how to conjugate verbs and some other basic grammar.
But that also wasn’t enough. That became glaringly obvious when I tried to speak German on our trip. I couldn’t string together a grammatically correct sentence, and often I would get blank stares when I tried to ask a simple question in a German store or restaurant. And if someone answered me in German? I had no idea what they were saying. So in the fall of 2017, I signed up for a German class offered by a local adult education program.
That course was good for grammar. Lots of grammar. Lots and lots of grammar. Rules, rules, rules. But no conversation and no opportunities to read texts or ask questions. So I formed a German conversation group with people from the class. That’s been lots of fun, but I remain the worst German speaker in the group. My reading has improved, my writing is coming along (with help from Google Translate), but it still is very hard for me to speak or understand spoken German. Mark Twain was right. Learning German is not for the faint of heart.Why am I writing about this now, you may wonder?
Well, I’ve had reason recently to reminisce about why I started learning German. Why did I want to learn German? Of course, it was related to genealogy. My paternal roots in Germany are deep and wide. Knowing German would therefore be helpful. But to be honest, most of what I need to know for genealogy purposes can be reduced to some very basic terms: geboren (born), heiratet (married), gestorben (died). Really, you don’t need to know much more than that to read German vital records for basic information. And even knowing those terms won’t help much unless you can also read German script. Which I can’t.
No, it wasn’t a desire to read German vital records or even longer letters or texts that motivated me to learn German. It was rather a particular book that I very much wanted to read: Die Alte und Die Neu Welt, written by my cousin Mathilde Gross Mayer in 1951, as I discussed here.
Mathilde was born in Bingen, Germany, in April 1869. Mathilde’s grandmother Martha Seligmann and my three-time great-grandfather Moritz Seligmann were sister and brother, so we were second cousins, three times removed, both being direct descendants of Jacob Seligmann and Martha Mayer. Mathilde left Germany in 1937 to escape from Nazi persecution when she was almost 68 years old and a grandmother; she lived over thirty years in the United States after leaving Germany, dying in September, 1969, when she was a hundred years old. I was fascinated by her life and wanted to read her book. So I started learning German.
But despite studying for four years and having a fairly decent basic German vocabulary, every time I picked up Mathilde’s book, I got frustrated. I still had to look up so many words that I could not just read this book. It was exhausting and too time consuming. Using Google Translate to translate one letter is one thing, but a whole book? So I gave up.
And then? Then my cousin Elizabeth found me this spring. Elizabeth is Mathilde Mayer’s great-granddaughter. She found my blog and contacted me. We exchanged a number of emails, finding many common interests and places in our lives as well as our shared family roots. And in the course of those emails Elizabeth shared with me that she had an ENGLISH version of Mathilde’s book in pdf format. And that she would send it to me. Which she did.
So one day a couple of weeks ago I sat at my computer and read Mathilde’s book in English. And I am so glad that I did rather than ruining it by trying to read it in German. It is just a wonderfully touching book—full of colorful portraits of many of my Seligmann cousins and warm and loving anecdotes about Mathilde’s life growing up in Bingen and then raising a family in Bingen. She shares the tragedies and challenges her family suffered as well as many of their joys and successes. I never would have been able to get the feel for her personality if I’d suffered through reading her book in German.
Sure, if I were fluent in German, that would have been even better—to read it as she wrote it. But to butcher it by reading it all chopped up would have been a terrible mistake. Elizabeth has asked me not to share the book on the blog, and so, of course, I am respecting her wishes. But I am so grateful that she shared the English version with me. Mathilde’s story will now always be with me.
So do I regret four years of struggling to learn German? Not one bit! I will continue studying it as best I can, and maybe someday I will actually be able to read Mathilde’s story in her native tongue.
Last time I shared the documents my cousin Wolfgang Seligmann found at the Wiesbaden archives about our mutual cousin Martha Oppenheimer Florsheimer. Today I want to share the documents Wolfgang found about Martha’s brother Moritz James Oppenheimer. Martha and Moritz were my great-grandmother Eva Seligman Cohen’s first cousins; they were the children of Pauline Seligmann, the sister of my great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman.
As I’ve previously written, Moritz Oppenheimer was born on June 10, 1879, in Butzbach, Germany. Sometime before 1902, Moritz married Emma Katherina Neuhoff, who was not Jewish. Moritz and Emma had two children: Paula (1902) and Walter (1904). Moritz owned a paper factory in Frankfurt before the war as well as a large and very successful horse stud farm where thoroughbred horses were raised and sold. As his granddaughter Angelika reported to me, Moritz was a member of the board of directors of several companies throughout Germany. He was a very successful and wealthy man.
Moritz was arrested in the autumn of 1933. His marriage to Emma was dissolved because mixed marriages were not legal under the Nazi regime. Then his assets including his horse farm were confiscated and put into the hands of an administrator, who sold them at far below their market value. According to his son Walter, Moritz had been in good health up to this time, but these actions caused him to become quite ill. After being visited by Gestapo, he reportedly took his own life on May 4, 1941.
Wolfgang found three documents that illustrate just how desperate Moritz’s situation was. I am deeply grateful to Cathy Meder-Dempsey of the blog, Opening Doors in Brick Walls, who translated all three of these documents.
The first is a letter written by Moritz in early 1941 regarding his taxes for the year 1940.
Transcribing and translating this letter presented some real challenges because, as you can see, the first several letters of the first word on the left side of the letter were not visible, but somehow Cathy was able to make sense of it all.
Here is her transcription and her translation of the letter:
[…] 10.6.1879 in Butzbach (Hessen)
[…]kenkarte H 0240/39
An das Finanzamt Wiesbaden
Im Jahre 1933 wurde über mein Vermögen das Konkurs
[verfahren] eröffnet (Frankfurt a. Main)
[Ich] besitze weder irgend welches Vermögen noch Wertgegen-
[stande], noch Möbel, Wäsche, etc.
Im Jahre 1934 wurde ich in Folge schwerer Erkrankung,
[…Er]weiterung und Verlagerung, Wasserbildung, Angina pektoris
[…auf]störungen, Kopfbeschwerden etc. nach Bad-Nanheim
[…] Dort war ich bis vergangenes Jahr in ärztlicher
behandlung und Aufsicht.
[…] schwerer Gelenkrheumatismus hinzutrat, kam ich
[ein art]ztliche Verordnung nach Wiesbaden zur Kur.
[Einko]mmen aus irgend welchen Möglichkeiten habe ich
[nicht]. Ich wohne möbliert.
[…]welche Neuanschaffungen habe nicht seit 1933 in Folge
meiner Mittellosigkeit nicht gemacht.
[Meine]Lebensunterhalt sowie Arzt, Apotheke, Zimmer und Kur
hatte ich aus Unterstützungen von ?200 Mk (monatlich)
[nur] von Verwandten gegeben werden.
[Diese] Zuwendungen stammen aus bereits versteuerten
[…]gen, Einkünfte meiner Verwandten.
Nach wie vor bin ich schwer erkrankt
[Meine] Ehe was Mischehe, Frau Arierin. Meine Kinder sind
[…]ft, konfirmiert und gelten nicht als Juden.
[…] ich eine andere Steuerklärung abgeben müssen,
[…] um Zusendung eines Formulares.
Moritz Israel Oppenheimer
Pagenstecherstrasse 4 (?? Marx)
Zur Abgabe einer (Einkommen) Eink. Erklarung
fur 1940 aufgefordert.
To the tax office in Wiesbaden
In 1933, bankruptcy was declared on my assets (Frankfurt a. Main). I have neither assets nor other things of value, furniture, laundry, etc. In 1934, as a result of serious illness, (enlargement and relocation – ??), water retention, angina pectoris, (other) disorders, headache etc. I was sent to Bad-Nanheim. Until last year I was there under medical treatment and supervision. As severe rheumatoid arthritis set in, I received medical orders to take a cure in Wiesbaden. I don’t have any income possibilities and live in a furnished place. No new acquisitions have been made since 1933 as I am penniless. My livelihood as well as doctor, pharmacy, room and spa expenses have been supported with [?] 200 Mk (monthly) from my relatives. This support came from already taxed income of my relatives. I am still seriously ill.
My marriage was a mixed marriage, my wife was Aryan. My children are ____, confirmed and are not considered Jews. [I assume that the word that we cannot see was Mischling.]
I have to file another tax return, and request a form be sent.
Signature and address
Notation in pencil: He was asked to submit a declaration of income for the year 1940.
Cathy thought he was writing to get the correct tax form for someone in his financial position.
Although I had read his son Walter’s description of Moritz’s financial and medical condition, reading this letter written by Moritz himself was just heartbreaking. Here was a man who had found incredible success in business brought down to being very sick and penniless.
The second document I received from Wolfgang was a letter written by Walter Oppenheimer, Moritz’s son.
Cathy translated the typed section, written by Walter, as follows:
In an immediate polite reply to your letter of the 15th of this month that I received only today, I inform you that my father died on May 4th, 1941. Who the legal heirs are now I am not able to tell you as the two children, my sister and I, refused the inheritance in a publicly certified declaration before the local court.
Walter Georg Oppenheimer
I was very disturbed to see that Walter had used “Heil Hitler” in this letter, but Cathy explained that that was to be expected in a letter to officials during Hitler’s reign. Nevertheless, it made the hair on my arms stand to see a relative of mine use that expression.
I wondered why Walter and his sister Paula would have refused the inheritance, and Cathy suggested that it was a means of avoiding taking on their father’s debts since there were apparently no assets to inherit.
The handwritten notes on the bottom of the letter appear to have been made by some official commenting on the status of Moritz’s inheritance, as transcribed and translated by Cathy:
Anfrage beim Amtsgericht Frankfurt am Main
wer Nachlassverwalter ist, und
wer die gesetzlichen Erben sind,
nachdem die Kinder ausgeschlagen
Inquiry to the district court Frankfurt am Main
who is administrator, and who are the legal heirs, after the children refused inheritance.
An das Amtsgericht ffm (Frankfurt am Main)
Der fruher dort wohnhaft gewesene Moritz Israel Oppenheimer
geb. am 10.6.1879 ist hier am 4.5.41 verstorben.
Der Sohn des selbend Dr. Walter Georg Oppenheimer ffm. Schumannstr. 47 wohnhaft, hat mitgeteilt daß seine Schwester und er ? haben.
Ich bitte nur ____ von 2 zu 4 Wochen.
To the district court Frankfurt am Main
Moritz Israel Oppenheimer, who previously lived there, born on June 10, 1879 died here on May 4, 1941. The son of the same, Dr. Walter Georg Oppenheimer, a resident of Frankfurt am Main, Schumannstrasse 47, announced that his sister and he (symbols? probably mean disclaimed inheritance). I only ask ____ from 2 to 4 weeks.
Finally, the third document Wolfgang found in the Wiesbaden archives about Moritz is this handwritten page of notes about Moritz’s “income” for the first few months of 1941 before his death:
Oppenheimer ist am 4.5.41 gestorben.
Eink. 41 wurde geschätzt und wie folgt errechnet: freiwillige zuwandungen seines Sohnes 1940 = 4060 Rm : 12 = 338
von 1.1 – 30.4.41 je 338 Rm = 1352 Rm
./. Sondereingaben 4 x 15 = 60 1292
-60 1432 Rm
angaben des Nachlasspflegers Spring: Bl. 22
Oppenheimer died on 4.5.41. Income for 1941 was estimated and calculated as follows: voluntary contributions of his son 1940 = 4060 Rm : 12 = 338 per monthfrom 1.1 – 30.4.41 338 Rm = 1352 Rm
./. Special income 4 x 15 – 60
-60 1432 Rm
information from the estate administrator Spring: Bl. 22
I’m not really sure what to make of all the numbers or the value in today’s money. I also have no idea what were the practical consequences of these calculations. Did Moritz (or his estate) owe taxes based on the money he was getting from his son?
What I think I can safely infer from these last two documents is that even after seizing all of the assets of Moritz Oppenheimer and driving him into bankruptcy, poor health, and ultimately suicide, the German government was still looking for some way to collect more money from his family.
Thank you again to Cathy Meder-Dempsey for her hard work in transcribing and translating these difficult to read documents. They add insights into the awful suffering of my cousin Moritz Oppenheimer.
UPDATE: A few readers asked me what I know about Emma Neuhoff-Oppenheimer’s life after Moritz died in 1941. I asked Angelika, Emma’s granddaughter, and she sent me this article:
Most of it is about her life as a horseback rider, but the last part of the article addresses her life during and after the Nazi era. I will translate just that section:
“Ms. Emma never lost her dignity and discipline. Even in the bitter years of the ghost, when the beloved man fell victim to the Nazi regime, when her life became dark, often lonely. A courage deeply rooted in her and the quiet cheerfulness accompanied her to the age that she now enjoys with good reading with the two children and children-in-law, the two grandchildren, and many loyal friends.”
Emma Neuhoff-Oppenheimer died on February 2, 1968, at the age of 86, three years after this article was written. Angelika also told me that her grandmother owned a shop in Frankfurt and played the piano.
Turning for a bit from the Goldschmidt family, I need to discuss some updates involving the Seligmann family. Some of this information came from my cousin Wolfgang, some from Aaron Knappstein. In this post I will look at some documents that Wolfgang located about Martha Oppenheimer Florsheimer, and then in the next post some relating to her brother Moritz Oppenheimer.
Martha and Moritz were the children of Pauline Seligmann and Maier Oppenheimer. Pauline was the sister of my great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman and Wolfgang’s great-grandfather August Seligmann. So Martha and Moritz were my first cousins, three times removed, or the first cousins of my great-grandmother Eva Seligman Cohen. I’ve written about them both before.
Martha married Heinrich Florsheimer on September 18, 1902, in Butzbach, Germany. They had two children, Gertrud and Paul. Martha and Heinrich were divorced on April 12, 1913. Martha was sent to the concentration camp at Theriesenstadt on September 2, 1942, and was released from there on July 8, 1945. She returned to Wiesbaden, where she’d been living before the Holocaust, only to learn that both of her children had been murdered by the Nazis, Gertrud at Sobibor and Paul at Majdanek.
The earliest of the new documents that Wolfgang located at the archives in Wiesbaden about Martha was dated March 7, 1940, and appears to be a form Martha submitted to report her assets and expenses. She appears to have reported no assets, and under expenses she reported 78.50 Reich Marks a month (I’m not sure what the 65 refers to) for rent, heat, gas, electricity, and water.
On page 2 of this document, Martha wrote the following note:
Ich werde unterstützt von meiner bis jetzt beschäftigte Tochter und meinem beschäftigt gewesenen Sohn.
Matthias Steinke of the German Genealogy group kindly translated this for me as, “I am supported by my still working daughter and my formerly employed son.”
On December 6, 1940, Martha wrote this note in Wiesbaden:
Thank you to the members of the German Genealogy group who worked to decipher this difficult handwriting. This was the translation done by Matthias Steinke:
Wiesbaden, 6th December 40
Kaiser Friedrich Ring 20
I am at the 1st march 1876 in Offenbach/Main born and the wife of the at the 7th January 1921 in Cologne deceased merchant Heinrich Flörsheimer.
My daughter Gertrude Sara Flörsheimer was born at the 24th january 1904 in Gross Gerau. Her at the 12th May 1927 in Wiesbaden happened matrimony with the administrator Fr. Heitmann was at the 10th January 1930 in Wiesbaden divorced. My daughter took her maiden-name back later.
Martha Sara Flörsheimer
I am not sure who this note was written to or for what purpose, except perhaps to register their names and marital status with the officials in Wiesbaden. Or perhaps it was a follow-up to the earlier document seen above.
This typewritten letter is dated March 23, 1943, three years later:
We hereby indicate that the aforementioned Jewish woman has been restricted due to your security order from 9 14 40 to 25 8 42, because she expected the receipt of a larger payment, coming from furniture sales. On 4 9 42, the only entry received the amount of RM 594. Due to the disposition of the Governmental Practitioner Wiesbaden from 27 8 42 I 9-337 / 42, the fortune of this Jewish woman has been confiscated in favor of the Reich. We have therefore transferred the above amount to Finanzkasse Wiesbaden under file number O. 5205/494. Heil Hitler.
I am not sure what all of this means, but I got the gist of this—that all of Martha’s assets had been confiscated by the Nazis.
Aaron Knappstein located Martha’s death record:
One thing of note on these forms is that Martha is identified as a widow, not as a divorcee, even though her marriage record records the divorce:
And interestingly she did not hide her daughter’s status as a divorcee, as seen above. So why hide hers?
Finally, Aaron also sent me a photograph of Heinrich Florsheimer’s headstone, which confirms the date of death reported by his ex-wife Martha in 1940:
These extra documents fill in some of the gaps in Martha’s life. The documents from the Nazi era are particularly poignant. Martha lost so much. Of course, losing her children was the most horrific loss, but she also lost all her property to the Nazis.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the mystery of the marriage of Marcus Morreau and Alice Weinmann—when and where had they met? When and where had they married? We may never know the answer to the first set of questions, but I now have the answer to the second set. I received two days ago a certified copy of their marriage certificate.
This is not a copy of an original certificate, but rather a transcription of the facts in the original record created and certified by the General Register Office of England on September 6, 2019. Nevertheless, it is considered proof of the facts related to the marriage.
Marcus Morreau and Alice Weinmann were married on May 24, 1899, at the British Consulate in Calais, France. Marcus was 39 and a merchant and gave his residence at the time of marriage as the Hotel Terminus in Calais. Alice was 18 and living at 23 Rue St. Denis in Calais. I was not surprised to read that Marcus was a naturalized British subject, but I was surprised to read that Alice was as well, but I then learned that because her father Joseph Weinmann was a naturalized citizen, his children were as well.
The other interesting information on this record are the names of the witnesses, Philippe Weinmann (brother of Joseph Weinmann1) and Isidor Aschaffenburg. Isidor Aschaffenburg was married to Bertha/Barbara Morreau, Marcus Morreau’s sister. They were still residents of Germany in 1899. I wrote about Bertha/Barbara and Isidor here.
And so finally we have more of the answers. But there are always more questions. How had a 39 year old man living in England met an 18 year old woman living in France? Was he in fact living in Calais for some period of time at the hotel, or was he just staying there while the wedding was taking place? Unfortunately I don’t think I will be able to find answers to all those questions.
Philippe Weinmann birth record, Stadt Frankfurt, Page Number: 690;691,
Custodian: Evangelisches Kirchenbuchamt Hannover, Frankfurt, Author: Evangelische Kirche Frankfurt (Main), Ancestry.com. Rhineland, Prussia, Lutheran Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1533-1950 ↩
Although I still don’t know exactly when Marcus Morreau married Alice Weinmann, I have narrowed it down to the years from 1896 to 1900 based on the information I found on FindMyPast. It also appears that they were married in Calais, France, perhaps at the British consulate there. I won’t know more until I see a copy of their marriage certificate.
But what I do know is that Marcus and Alice had three children, all born in England. First born was Rene Leopold Morreau on October 14, 1902, in Chorlton, Lancashire.1 Then came Cecil in the spring of 1905,2 and finally Madeline in the fall of 1908.3
My cousin Mark, Marcus and Alice’s great-grandson, shared some wonderful photographs of the Morreau family. Here are some photographs of the three beautiful children of Marcus and Alice Morreau when they were very young:
Marcus must have already been quite a successful shipping merchant because in 1911, he and Alice were living in Didsbury in South Manchester, England, with their three children, two nurses, and three servants—a cook, a waitress, and a maid.
The children continued to grow, as seen in these photographs taken in about 1916:
Then Marcus died at the age of 60 on March 6, 1920, in Conway, Wales.4 His children were still teenagers living at home, and his wife Alice was a widow at the age of forty. I could not locate an obituary, but did find this news article regarding the estate left behind by Marcus Morreau.
In today’s currency, that amount would be worth over £4,248,616.60, according to one inflation calculator, or over five million dollars in US currency.
Cecil was the first of Marcus and Alice’s children to marry. He married Cicely Josephine O’Flanagan in 1933 when he was 28 years old.5 (I can only imagine how much confusion there must have been with a Cecil married to a Cicely.) Cicely was born on November 7, 1907, in Manchester, the daughter of Martin O’Flanagan.6 Cecil and Cicely had three children between 1934 and 1938. According to his granddaughter Jo, Cecil was a graduate of Cambridge University where he played hockey and trained to be an architect.
Then tragically Cecil died from a burst appendix on March 2, 1939.7 He was only 34 years old and left behind three children under the age of ten and his widow Cicely, who was only 32. Just as Cecil had lost his father when he was still young, Cecil’s children lost their father when they were even younger children.
According to Cecil and Cicely’s granddaughter Jo, after Cecil’s death, Cicely moved with her three young children to Ireland to be with family friends; Jo said that Cicely and Cecil had planned the move in the event that there was a war, and so she followed through with that plan. Cicely remarried in 1950,8 and she and her second husband, Henry “Harry” Collett, eventually returned to England, where she died on March 2, 1995.9
The other two children of Marcus and Alice lived longer lives than their brother Cecil. Rene married Beryl Scawen Blunt on January 21, 1937.10 Beryl was born November 27, 1911, to Arthur Scawen Blunt and Ada Hudson.11 Rene and Beryl had two children and lived into their seventies. Rene was 79 when he died on March 1, 1982, 12 and Beryl was 75 when she died on September 23, 1987.13
Madeline Morreau, the youngest child of Marcus and Alice, married Emanuel Phillip Nathan on June 19, 1941, in Kensington, England. 14 Emanuel was the son of Phillip Nathan of Johannesburg, South Africa, and as far as I can tell, it appears that Madeline and Phillip settled in Johannesburg after they married.
Alice Weinmann Morreau died in Guldford, England, in December, 1971, at the age of 91.15 Her granddaughter Annette shared with me the family story of how Alice died, as told by Alice’s companion—Alice was at the top of her stairs with Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ playing on the radio; she commented on the beauty of the music and then collapsed.
How fortunate I am to have made these connections with my Morreau cousins and to be able to learn more about the family and to see these wonderful photographs. Thank you, Mark, Annette, and Jo.
- England & Wales Deaths 1837-2007 First name(s) RENE LEOPOLD Last name MORREAU Gender Male Birth day 14 Birth month 10 Birth year 1902 Age – Death quarter 1 Death year 1982 District Bexley County Kent Volume 11 Page 0502 Country England Record set England & Wales Deaths 1837-2007 Category Birth, Marriage, Death & Parish Records Subcategory Civil Deaths & Burials Collections from Great Britain, England ↩
- England & Wales Births 1837-2006, First name(s) CECIL JOSEPH, Last name MORREAU, Birth year 1905, Birth quarter 2, District Chorlton, County Lancashire, Country England, Volume 8C, Page 718, Record set England & Wales Births 1837-2006, Category Birth, Marriage, Death & Parish Records, Subcategory Civil Births, Collections from Great Britain, England ↩
- Madeleine R J Morreau, Registration Year: 1908, Registration Quarter: Oct-Nov-Dec, Registration district: Chorlton, Inferred County: Lancashire, Volume: 8c, Page: 660, FreeBMD. England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915 ↩
- Name: Marcus Morreau, Death Date: 6 Mar 1920, Death Place: Manchester, England, Probate Date: 29 Oct 1920, Probate Registry: London, England, Ancestry.com. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995 ↩
First name(s) CECIL J, Last name MORREAU, Marriage quarter 3, Marriage year 1933, Spouse’s last name O’flanagan, District Manchester South, County Lancashire
Country England, Volume 8D, Volume as transcribed 8D, Page number 648, Record set England & Wales Marriages 1837-2005, Category Birth, Marriage, Death & Parish Records, Subcategory Civil Marriage & Divorce, Collections from Great Britain, England ↩
- Cicely Josephine Collett, Death Age: 87, Birth Date: 7 Nov 1907, Registration Date: Apr 1995, Registration district: Ipswich, Inferred County: Suffolk, Register Number: A14B, District and Subdistrict: 7471A, Entry Number: 257, General Register Office; United Kingdom, Ancestry.com. England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1916-2007 ↩
- Name: Cecil Joseph Morreau, Death Date: 2 Mar 1939, Death Place: Guildford, Surrey, England, Probate Date: 7 Jun 1939, Probate Registry: London, England, Ancestry.com. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995 ↩
- Name: Cicely J Morreau, Registration Date: Oct 1950,Registration Quarter: Oct-Nov-Dec, Registration district: Marylebone, Inferred County: Middlesex, Spouse: Henry B Collett, Volume Number: 5d, Page Number: 605, General Register Office; United Kingdom; Volume: 5d; Page: 605, Ancestry.com. England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1916-2005 ↩
Name: Cicely Josephine Collett, Death Age: 87, Birth Date: 7 Nov 1907, Registration Date: Apr 1995, Registration district: Ipswich, Inferred County: Suffolk
Register Number: A14B, District and Subdistrict: 7471A, Entry Number: 257,
General Register Office; United Kingdom, Ancestry.com. England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1916-2007 ↩
- Name: Rene L Morreau, Registration Date: Jan 1937, Registration Quarter: Jan-Feb-Mar, Registration district: Westminster, Inferred County: Middlesex, Spouse: Beryl S Blunt, Volume Number: 1a, Page Number: 870, General Register Office; United Kingdom; Volume: 1a; Page: 870, Ancestry.com. England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1916-2005 ↩
- First name(s) BERYL S Last name BLUNT Birth year 1911 Birth quarter 4 Registration month – Mother’s maiden name Hudson District Canterbury County Kent Country England Volume 2A Page 1734 Record set England & Wales Births 1837-2006 Category Birth, Marriage, Death & Parish Records Subcategory Civil Births Collections from Great Britain, England ↩
Rene Leopold Morreau, Death Age: 79, Birth Date: 14 Oct 1902, Registration Date: Jan 1982, Registration Quarter: Jan-Feb-Mar, Registration district: Bexley
Inferred County: Greater London, Volume: 11, Page: 0502, General Register Office; United Kingdom; Volume: 11; Page: 0502, Ancestry.com. England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1916-2007 ↩
Name: Beryl Scawen Morreau, Death Age: 75, Birth Date: 27 Nov 1911
Registration Date: Sep 1987, Registration district: Lambeth, Inferred County: Greater London, Volume: 14, Page: 317, General Register Office; United Kingdom; Volume: 14; Page: 317, Ancestry.com. England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1916-2007 ↩
Name: Madeleine R J Morreau, Registration Date: Apr 1941, Registration Quarter: Apr-May-Jun, Registration district: Kensington, Inferred County: London
Spouse: Emanuel P Nathan, Volume Number: 1a, Page Number: 430, General Register Office; United Kingdom; Volume: 1a; Page: 430, Ancestry.com. England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1916-2005 ↩
- Alice Frederique Morreau, Death Age: 91, Birth Date: 15 Jun 1880, Registration Quarter: Oct-Nov-Dec, Registration district: Surrey South Western Inferred County: Surrey, Volume: 5g, Page: 1177. General Register Office; United Kingdom; Volume: 5g; Page: 1177, Ancestry.com. England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1916-2007 ↩
Emanuel Philip Nathan, Death Year: 1973, Death Country: South Africa
Title: Transvaal Estates Death Index (Master of the Supreme Court, Pretoria)
Source: National Archives, Pretoria, Reference Number: 11990/73, Ancestry.com. Transvaal Province, South Africa, Estates Death Notice Index, 1855-1976 ↩
- Source: Mark Morreau, Madeline’s great-nephew. ↩
As seen in my prior post, my cousin Marcus Morreau left his home in Worrstadt, Germany, as a young man and was living and working as a merchant in Withington, England by 1881, as seen on the 1881 census.
By 1901, he was a shipping merchant and married and living with his wife Alice in Didsbury, England, as seen on the 1901 English census:
Thus, sometime between 1881 and 1901, Marcus married a woman named Alice. I was curious about their marriage, especially since Alice was 21 years younger than Marcus and French-born, as indicated on the census record. Where did they meet? When and where did they marry?
I knew from my cousin Mark, the great-grandson of Marcus and Alice, that Alice was the child of Joseph Weinmann and Helene Rothschild, both of whom were German-born, but were living in Calais, France, when Alice was born there on June 15, 1880. Sherri of the Tracing the Tribe group on Facebook generously offered to help me locate Alice’s birth record from Calais:
The records from Calais also show that Joseph and Helen Weinmann’s youngest child, Jacques, was born in 1895, in Calais,1 so the Weinmanns were living in Calais from at least 1880 when Alice, their first-born child, was born until at least 1895 when Jacques was born.
Mark shared these two wonderful photographs of his great-grandmother Alice as a young girl and as a young woman:
So how did Marcus, a German immigrant living in England since at least 1881, meet a much younger woman who was born in France in 1880 and living in France until at least 1895?
One theory was that Marcus was introduced to Alice through his work with Edward Wihl. Mark found a directory for Manchester in the 1880s showing that Marcus was working for Edward Wihl & Company, and I found one from 1895 showing that he was still working for Edward Wihl & Company.
Alice’s sister Estelle was married to Edward Wihl’s nephew Joseph Wihl,2 and we postulated that Estelle Weinmann and Joseph Wihl introduced Alice and Marcus. But that theory did not hold up because Estelle married Joseph Wihl in 1906, at least five years after Alice and Marcus were married. It would seem more likely that Alice introduced Estelle to Joseph Wihl than Estelle introducing Alice to Marcus.
Mark was quite certain that Alice and Marcus had married in Calais, but despite help from numerous members of the French SIG on JewishGen and from Sherri on Facebook, I could not locate a marriage record for Marcus and Alice in Calais. One of the members of the French SIG group also looked at Alice’s birth record and opined that if in fact Alice had later married in Calais, there would have been a notation on her birth record to that effect. There was, in fact, no such notation.
Then I wondered if they had married in England, not France. What if the Weinmanns had left Calais after Jacques was born in 1895 and moved to Manchester, facilitating the meeting of Alice and Marcus and their marriage in England?
So I searched to see if the Weinmanns had moved to England before Alice and Marcus married, and I learned that Alice’s father Joseph Weinmann had lived in England, but before Alice’s birth in 1880.
Records show that in 1870, Joseph Weinmann became a naturalized citizen of the United Kingdom, then residing in Ireland, meaning that he had lived in the UK for at least five of the preceding eight years. In 1871, Joseph Weinmann, born in Frankfurt, Germany, was working as a commercial lace clerk and living in Nottingham, England.3
This photograph is labeled by the family as “Joseph Weinmann, Nottingham, c.1868, age 20.”
When I saw that, I recalled something else that Mark had mentioned: that both the Wihl family and Joseph Weinmann were somehow connected to the lace trade in Nottingham. Mark wondered whether Marcus also had at some point been in Nottingham. All of that made some sense as a theory—that Marcus met Joseph Weinman in the 1870s in Nottingham before Joseph moved to Calais and Marcus moved to Manchester.
But I had and have no proof. In fact, I have no English records for Joseph Weinmann after the 1871 England Census until a 1909 directory showing him living in Manchester and working for Morreau, Spiegelberg & Company.4
When I first saw the two photographs below, I thought these might be wedding portraits. They were both taken in Manchester, and the one of Alice is dated 1901. But since they were taken by different photographers in Manchester, they were probably not wedding portraits.
I was about to give up on ever finding a marriage record for Marcus and Alice when I decided to search FindMyPast, the genealogy website that is best for research in Great Britain. There were several records for Marcus Morreau on the site, but the one that most interested me was from a database called “British Armed Forces and Overseas Banns and Marriages.” The entry for Marcus was described as “Marcus Morreau 1896-1900 Calais France MCON Gro Consular Marriages (1849-1965)(emphasis added).” But I could not see the actual document or the transcription without subscribing to FindMyPast.
I debated whether or not to spend the money (about $15) for a one month subscription. Finally my curiosity got the better of me, so I took out my credit card and subscribed. I was excited to click on the icon to see the record, but this is all it showed:
The transcription didn’t help much either. It said:
|Marcus Morreau married one of these people
Alice Frederique Weinmann, Agnes Mary Matthews
|Source||Gro Consular Marriages (1849-1965)|
|Records year range||1896-1900|
General Register Office
|Record set||British Armed Forces And Overseas Banns And Marriages|
|Category||Birth, Marriage & Death (Parish Registers)|
|Subcategory||Civil Marriage & Divorce|
|Collections from||Great Britain, UK None|
There was no wedding date date provided, just the range of 1896-1900. But it certainly appears that Marcus and Alice were indeed married in Calais as Mark had believed. But when? And how did they meet if they were living in different countries and 21 years apart in age?
It seems more and more likely that somehow there was a prior connection between Marcus and his father-in-law-to-be, Joseph Weinmann, and perhaps an ongoing business connection.
The next step is to try and get the actual marriage record. I’ve sent away to the GRO in England with the hope that they will find it and that it will at least provide a wedding date. Now I wait.
UPDATE: Mystery solved! The GRO sent the record, and the answers are here.
- Jacques Weinmann birth record, found at http://archivesenligne.pasdecalais.fr/cg62v2/registre.php ↩
Marriage of Joseph Wihl and Estelle Weinmann,Registration Year: 1906
Registration Quarter: Jul-Aug-Sep, Registration district: Prestwich Inferred County: Lancashire, Volume: 8d, Page: 818, Records on Page: FreeBMD. England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915 ↩
- Joseph Weinmann, 1871 England Census, The National Archives; Kew, London, England; 1871 England Census; Class: RG10; Piece: 3530; Folio: 28; Page: 13; GSU roll: 839753, Enumeration District: 2, Ancestry.com. 1871 England Census ↩
- 1909 Slater’s Manchester, Salford & Suburban Directory (Pt 2); Publisher: Slater’s Directory Ltd (Manchester) and Kelly’s Directories Ltd (London), Ancestry.com. UK, City and County Directories, 1766 – 1946 ↩
When we were in London, I was very fortunate to meet two of my Seligmann cousins, Annette Morreau, my fourth cousin, once removed, and Mark Morreau, my fifth cousin; I wrote about our meeting here. Since then, Mark and I have stayed in touch and shared some of our research into our shared family.
Before I delve into what I’ve learned from Mark, let me first explain how we are connected. Mark and I are both descended from our four-times great-grandparents Jacob Seligmann and Martha Mayer, Mark through their daughter Caroline, me through their son Moritz, my third great-grandfather.
Caroline Seligmann married Moses Morreau on October 8, 1830 in Worrstadt, Germany:
They had two children, Levi (1831) and Klara (1838), about whom I wrote here. Levi Morreau married Emilia Levi and had five children, including Markus, who was born in Worrstadt on August 27, 1859:
Here is a photograph of Emilia Levi Morreau, the mother of Markus Morreau:
Markus married Alice Weinmann, and they had three children all born in England. Their first child Cecil, Mark’s grandfather, was born in April, 1905.1 Cecil married Cicely Josephine O’Flanagan in 1933 in Manchester, England,2 and they had three children, including Mark’s father Patrick, born in 1934.3
When I met Mark, his father Patrick was scheduled for surgery within a few weeks after our meeting on June 1, 2019. Patrick made it through the surgery, but then unexpectedly died not long afterwards on June 30, 2019. He was 85. I was heartbroken for Mark and his family and very sad that I had missed the opportunity to meet Patrick myself, especially after Mark shared some of his stories with me. I am grateful, however, to have met Mark and also our cousin Annette, and very glad that Mark was able to share with Patrick some of what we had discussed and to ask a few more questions about the family history.
So in memory of and in honor of Patrick Morreau, let me tell some of that history and those stories.
I will start with Mark’s great-grandfather Markus Morreau. As mentioned above, Markus was one of five children of Levi and Emilia (Levi) Morreau. He had four younger siblings: Albert, Adolf (who died as a child), Bertha, and Alice. I’ve written about them all here and here. In fact, my discovery of the Morreau cousins really started when my cousin Shyanne Morreau found my blog and we together put the various pieces together. Shyanne is descended from Albert Morreau, who left Germany for the United States in 1883 when he was 22 and settled in Cleveland. Albert’s older brother Markus also left Germany as a young man and was living in Withington, a suburb of Manchester, England in 1881; by then he had adopted the more English spelling of his name, Marcus. 4
Here is a photograph of Marcus taken in 1880 when he was 21. It appears it was taken in Frankfurt, either before he emigrated to England or during a visit back to Germany:
I don’t have a photograph of Albert as a young man, but this photo from his 1915 passport with his wife Leonora shows the family resemblance:
Marcus was living in Manchester when he became a naturalized British citizen in 1892.
Two of the questions that Mark and I had were why Marcus and Albert left Germany in the 1870s and 1880s and why one went to England and the other to America. As for the first part of that question, the answer seems answered in part by what was happening in Germany in the 1870s and 1880s. According to several sources, Germany was substantially affected by the worldwide depression that began in 1873. Britannica.com reports that:
The prices for agricultural and industrial goods fell precipitously; for six successive years the net national product declined. A sharp decline in profits and investment opportunities persisted until the mid-1890s. About 20 percent of the recently founded corporations went bankrupt.
In agriculture, the deeply indebted Junker elite now faced severe competition as surplus American and Russian grain flooded the German market. Among the more immediate consequences of the crash was a burst of emigration from the depressed provinces of rural Prussia. During the 1870s some 600,000 people departed for North and South America; this number more than doubled in the 1880s.
Lynn Abrams, a scholar writing about this same period, noted that one of the other consequences of the depression of 1873 was an increase in anti-Semitism:5
The Depression, which did not recede until 1879, had profound consequences. The period beginning in 1873 saw the organization of economic interest groups, nationalism of a rather chauvinistic nature, militarism and modern anti-semitism.The Depression caused the landed and industrial interests to mobilize behind the policy of protective tariffs in order to retain their economic and political base. Thus, they succeeded in maintaining their power and the political status quo.
Ironically, the unification of Germany under Bismarck in 1871 led to some increased rights for Jews, but also increased anti-Semitism, as the Center for Israel Education described on its website:
In July 1869, Prussian King Wilhelm I promulgated the North German Confederation Constitution, which gave Jews civil and political rights in twenty-two German states. This Constitution was adopted by the new German empire upon its establishment on April 14, 1871. On April 22, 1871, the Jews in all of Germany were finally given emancipation when the Constitution was extended to Bavaria.
The process of Jewish emancipation led to many changes in both Jewish and non-Jewish society. Some Jews continued religious identification with non-Orthodox Judaism, seeking to remain Jewish but more like their Christian peers; some converted to Christianity because the Emancipation of 1871 still prevented Jews from gaining access to certain high profile social positions; others simply assimilated. Emancipation also led to new and more virulent forms of anti-Semitism, a term that was coined in 1879 in a pamphlet by Wilhelm Marr. Marr became the father of virulent racial anti-Semitism, singling out Jews as inferior because of their racial impurity.
Another website, Jewish History Online, further elaborated on the increased anti-Semitism that occurred in the 1870s and thereafter:
With the onset of the economic crisis of the early 1870s known as “Gründerkrach”, the atmosphere in the newly founded German Kaiserreich started to change. Reich Chancellor Bismarck reacted with a protectionist economic policy and changed his political course to join the conservative camp. As supporters of liberalism and Social Democracy, the Jews now found themselves on the side of the political enemy. They were accused of being responsible for the economic crisis and the ever more pressing “social question.”
There were thus multiple reasons why Marcus and Albert Morreau would have left Germany during this time period—to seek better economic opportunities and to escape anti-Semitism.
As for why one went to England and the other America, we can only speculate. Perhaps they were hedging their bets as to which country would give them more opportunities. Maybe they didn’t get along and wanted to put an ocean between them. Or maybe they each just found a specific job opportunity that led them to settle in two different countries.
More to come…
Inferred County: Lancashire, Volume: 8c, Page: 718, Source Information
FreeBMD. England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915 ↩
Inferred County: Lancashire, Spouse: O’flanagan, Volume Number: 8d
Page Number: 648, General Register Office; United Kingdom; Volume: 8d; Page: 648,
Ancestry.com. England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1916-2005 ↩
- Registration district: Watford, Inferred County: Hertfordshire, Mother’s Maiden Name: O’Flanagan, Volume Number: 3a, Page Number: 1485, General Register Office; United Kingdom; Reference: Volume 3a, Page 1485, Ancestry.com. England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1916-2007 ↩
- Marcus Morreau, 1881 England Census, Class: RG11; Piece: 3892; Folio: 79; Page: 37; GSU roll: 1341930, Enumeration District: 12a, Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. ↩
- Lynn Abrams, Bismarck and The German Empire 1871-1918 ( Routledge, 1995), found at https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/3c20/c71ec7760438fd5651738e40dea8a81a8c19.pdf ↩
My last post told the tragic story of Emil-Jacob Seligmann, Jr., the great-grandson of my three-times great-grandfather Moritz Seligmann. This post will tell the story of his sister, Christine, known by the family as Christel. Emil, Jr. and Christel were the children of Emil Seligmann, Sr., who was Jewish, and Anna Maria Angelika Illian, who was Catholic, and they were raised as Catholics. But, as we saw in the prior post, Nazis treated those who had two Jewish grandparents as Mischlings in the First Degree. Although they were not thus identified as wholly Jewish, they were nevertheless not Aryan either and, as we saw with Emil, often persecuted. Emil was sent to Buchenwald in August 1944 and died there six months later on February 14, 1945, from poor health and a heart attack.
Christel was not sent to a concentration camp, but she faced persecution as well. In going through various papers that were found in Christel’s apartment after she died in 1982, my cousin Wolfgang located documents that revealed that Christel had applied for reparations from the German government for the harm and losses she suffered during the Nazi era. Those documents (which he has shared with me) reveal what Christel experienced and endured at the hands of the Nazis. The documents are all in German, but with a lot of help from Wolfgang and my elementary understanding of German, I have been able to piece together Christel’s story. You can see the documents I received here: Christine Seligmann dox
The first document was written by Christel on January 3, 1947, outlining her life in Wiesbaden before and during the Nazi era and World War II. She wrote that she was born on July 30, 1903 in Erbach, Germany. Her parents were quite wealthy, so Christel did not need to work. But in 1933 she became a certified baby nurse and began working for mostly Jewish families in that capacity. She was out of work due to poor health (rheumatism) from 1938 to 1942, but in 1942 returned to work for various families.
After losing both of her parents in 1942, Christel stopped working as a baby nurse and instead made a living by renting rooms in her family home. But in August 1944, her situation became much worse. Her brother Emil was arrested and sent to Buchenwald, where he died six months later.
Wolfgang found among Christel’s papers two cards that she received from her brother Emil while he was at Buchenwald. Wolfgang translated and summarized these cards for me.
The first card is dated September 10, 1944. At the top of the page are pre-printed instructions regarding written communications to and from prisoners. Prisoners were allowed to send and receive just two letters a month. The letters had to be written clearly. The rules also state that prisoners were allowed to receive food.
In the body of his message, Emil informed Christel that he was living at Buchenwald and that he was doing well, but he made several requests that he considered urgent. He asked her to send him money (30 Reichsmarken) and a long list of food items: marmalade, canned blackberries and raspberries, sugar, salt, cigarettes, and some cutlery. He also asked for something to treat fleas. He thanked her several times.
His second letter sounded more desperate. It was written in December, 1944, and it is obvious that the conditions and weather had become worse since his first card two months earlier. We can’t tell whether the siblings had exchanged other letters between September and December, but from the content of Emil’s December letter, we know that Christel had at least sent him one package. He wrote that he was happy to have received the package from her because he had been very worried and was glad to know that she was alive. He asked her to write him a letter—so perhaps she had not written to him, just sent the package.
He said that everything in that package was perfect, but that he now needed more money (50 Reichsmarken) and some winter clothing—gloves, earflaps (like ear muffs, I assume), and a winter jacket. He also asked for towels, handkerchiefs, a pen, a spoon, salt, cigarettes, glasses, and marmalade. Emil acknowledged that Christel might be too busy with work to get the items to him quickly and said she should ask the other women in her house for help. He closed by wishing her a good Christmas and sending her kisses.
We don’t know whether Emil heard from Christel again or whether she heard from him. He died less than two months after Christmas on February 14, 1945.
Meanwhile, Christel was having her own problems with the Nazis. On the same day that Emil was arrested in August, 1944, the Gestapo raided their family’s apartment and forced her to move out on one day’s notice at great cost and with no help. They told her that if her furniture was not removed by the next morning, she would find it on the street. She was able to salvage some, but not all, of her belongings.
From October 1944 until December 1944, she was able to work as a nanny for a Christian woman, but then the Gestapo forced her to take a job in a cardboard factory. She found this work very difficult, and the long walk back and forth every day made matters even worse. Her feet became frostbitten and she developed bladder problems, but despite consulting three different doctors, she was unable to get any of them to give her a medical note to excuse her from work.
Once the war ended and the US army occupied Wiesbaden, Christel’s home was returned to her, but then was soon taken back by the US army to use as living quarters for American soldiers. Christel had just one room to live in. Nine months later her home was returned to her.
Christel filed a claim for reparations from the German government in November, 1953, for the loss of income and value she suffered by being forced from her home by the Gestapo, for the loss of her profession, for the damage to her health, and for the insults and humiliation she endured. She also claimed that a possible marriage was thwarted by the laws imposed by the Nazis. Wolfgang located in Christel’s papers a five-page petition filed by her attorney, Georg Marx, detailing her claims. Unfortunately, the copy I received is a bit too blurry (making it even more difficult to translate the German), but Wolfgang told me that it reiterates much of what Christel herself wrote in 1947 but with more details about her medical ailments.
According to Wolfgang, Christel did receive some money for reparations, but not very much. She continued to live in her apartment in Wiesbaden for the rest of her life. When she died in 1982, Wolfgang and his father and uncle cleaned out the apartment. Christel was a bit of a hoarder, and there were many, many papers that were simply thrown away, papers that today might tell more of her story and that of her family.
Fortunately, however, Wolfgang’s uncle Herbert saved the “magic suitcase” that was in Christel’s apartment and that has become so critical to the family research that Wolfgang and his mother have done and have shared with me.