First Stop on Our Trip to Germany: Mainz

We spent our first day and a half in Germany in the beautiful and ancient city of Mainz, a city with a population of about 200,000 people and a city that was once an important center for Jewish learning and culture. Our visit there created some cognitive dissonance for me as we experienced such incredible beauty and also memories of such horrific ugliness.

We flew into Frankfurt Airport on May 2 and found the train to Mainz.  Once on the train, we were not entirely sure that we’d gotten on the right train.  Despite a full year of learning German online, I could not make out one word of the train announcements.  Fortunately, a very kind man sitting across from us realized we were confused and reassured us that we were on the right train and that he would tell us when to get off.  From the start, we were favorably impressed with the people in Germany.

Our hotel, the Mainz Hilton, was right on the Rhine; it is a large American-style hotel with large rooms and all the amenities.

The Rhine

We were exhausted after the overnight flight and took a short rest before meeting Wolfgang at 1:30.  And the adrenaline kept us going. I had so anticipated meeting my cousin Wolfgang.  We had been emailing each other for over two years on a regular basis, at first mostly about family history, but as time went on more often exchanging current information—about our families, our lives, politics, German and English, and life in general.  Meeting him in person for the first time, I felt as if I must have already met him and spent time with him. The connection was immediate, and he was just as I imagined based on his emails.  A warm and open person, sensitive and kind, intelligent and perceptive.  And with a delightful sense of humor.

My cousin Wolfgang and me

Wolfgang had planned a walk through the sights closest to our hotel and then a tram tour around the city to see some of the sites that were further out. We strolled along the Rhine for a bit.  The weather was rainy and quite cool, but it did not put a damper on my spirits. We passed a sculpture reflecting the division of Germany after World War II and its reunification in 1990.

We walked past a 15th century watch tower known as the Holzturm (“wooden tower); it was destroyed by bombing in World War II but reconstructed and restored to its original appearance.

Then Wolfgang showed us the house where Johanna Seligmann and Alfred Bielefeld had lived.  Johanna was my first cousin, three times removed.  She was the daughter of Hyronimus Seligmann, brother of my great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman.  Alfred, her husband, was a wine merchant in Mainz.  Both were killed in the Holocaust.  They were deported to Terezin first, where Alfred died in 1945; Johanna was then sent to Auschwitz, where she was killed in 1945.  Their children, Hans and Lily, survived and lived in the United States.  I wrote about Johanna and her family here and here.

Johanna Bielefeld nee Seligmann

Bielelfed house in Mainz

Just around the corner from where the Bielefelds lived was the so-called “Jew House” where the Nazis moved Jewish families before deporting them.  Although the house itself no longer exists, this is where it was located:

We then visited a beautiful 18th century church, St. Augustine, with an elaborately decorated interior:

St Augustine church in Mainz

Perhaps my favorite spot in Mainz was the Kirschgarten—a small square framed by several half-timber houses, some now restaurants.  This little square captured exactly what I expected an old German city or town to look like—something out of Hansel and Gretel or some other fairy tale. The oldest house in Mainz is located in the Kirschgarten:

Kirschgarten in Mainz

Everywhere we turned there were beautiful half-timber buildings, sometimes right next to a post-war building.

We then visited the Dom, or cathedral, a large Romanesque sandstone structure located on the main market square in Mainz. The cathedral’s oldest sections are a thousand years old with later additions over the years.  It was damaged by bombing in World War II, but restored afterwards.  The cloister is a peaceful place for contemplation, and the high vaulted ceiling in the main part of the cathedral forces you to look upwards.  It is an impressive and inspiring building.

Mainz Marktplatz

Cloister at the cathedral in Mainz

At this point we caught the little tram that took us on a tour around other parts of the city, passing the Rathaus (town hall), the Schloss (a palace more than a castle), the new synagogue, and the building where the Gestapo was housed during World War II. I couldn’t get any photos of these sites as we were moving too fast, but I was glad to be seated and not walking at that point. I asked Wolfgang if we could come back the next day to see the synagogue.

As I wrote here, our first stop on Wednesday was our visit with Wolfgang’s mother Annlis, a time I will never forget.

Then we continued our tour of Mainz.  We passed the location where Fritz/Fred Michel once owned a store.  Fred Michel was the son of Franzeska Seligmann and the grandson of August Seligmann, Wolfgang’s great-grandfather and another brother of my great-great-grandfather Bernard. Fred and his wife Ilse came to the US in the 1930s and settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  I wrote about Fred, his mother, and his family here.

Fred Michel and Franziska Seligmann Michel
Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Location of Fred Michel’s store in Mainz

We then walked up the steep hill to St. Stephen’s church, where there are a number of windows designed by Marc Chagall.  The contrast between the thousand year old medieval structure and the gorgeous blue Chagall windows is striking. Like so many other buildings in Mainz, this church was damaged by bombing during World War II.  According to Wikipedia, the priest at St. Stephens, Monsignor Klaus Mayer, was a friend of Marc Chagall and approached him in the 1970s to design new windows. This is the only church in Germany for which Chagall designed windows, and he saw it as a way of expressing his hope for peace between Christians and Jews.  To see the work of a Jewish artist and his depictions of figures from the Jewish bible inside a medieval Catholic church was very moving.

St Stephen’s church in Mainz with Chagall windows

We then walked back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and Wolfgang drove us to see the new synagogue.  I knew before coming that Mainz had a long and very important history as a Jewish community. According to several sources, Mainz had a Jewish community at least as early as the tenth century. Rabbi Gershom ben Judah, known as “the light of the diaspora,” was an early important leader of the Mainz Jewish community, and his codification of Jewish law was accepted in many other communities in Europe as well.

The Jews, however, were expelled from the city in the eleventh century; they returned later, but then a thousand were killed during the first Crusade during the twelfth century.  Later, many died from the Black Death and from persecution. For several centuries there was not much of a Jewish community in Mainz. The community began to grow again in the 18th and 19th centuries. Synagogues were constructed, and Jews for some time lived in peace in the community. By 1900, there were 3000 Jews living in Mainz, according to JewishGen.org

On November 9, 1938, the Mainz synagogues were attacked as part of Kristallnacht and burnt and in some cases destroyed; there were over 200 synagogues at that time in Mainz, including the largest synagogue, Neue Synagogue, which was completely destroyed. Most of the Jews who remained in Mainz, including my Bielefeld cousins, were eventually deported and killed.

But today there is hope.  A new synagogue was built on the site of the former Neue Synagogue in 2010, and it is an imposing structure.  As this article describes, it was consider a symbol of hope for the revival of Jewish life in Germany. Outside the synagogue stand pillars from the original synagogue, a permanent reminder of what had existed and what was destroyed. The city now has about a thousand Jews who are affiliated with the synagogue as well as many others who are not.

The website of Manuel Herz, the architect who designed the new synagogue, provides a great deal of information about the history and about the reasons for the choices made in naming and designing this new building.  The synagogue is called Meor Hagolah, which means “Light of the Diaspora,” the name used to refer to Gershom ben Judah because of his wisdom and his broad-reaching influence on the practice of Judaism. The Hebrew words on the door to the synagogue are translated as “Light of the Diaspora Synagogue Mainz.”

Meor Hagodah Synagogue Mainz

The building’s shape is supposed to evoke the Hebrew word Kedushah, meaning holiness and referring to one of the sections of the Amidah prayer. I must admit I could not see the letters no matter where I stood outside the building, but I like the concept. The building overall is quite imposing and, in my opinion, not very welcoming.  It looks more like a fortress than a house of prayer.  Maybe that is in part the point: that this is a safe place that will not be destroyed again.

We stopped at the historic Mainz cemetery on our way out of town.  I have no known family members there, and we could not go inside, but the age and number of the gravestones there are another reminder that there was once a large and important Jewish community there.

Mainz Jewish cemetery

Mainz is truly a beautiful city, and despite all the damage inflicted during the war, it retains its charm, its character, and its architectural beauty. It is hard to imagine, amidst all that beauty and all those churches, how the Jewish community that lived there so long could have been destroyed.  But it is also important to look forward. I left the city feeling hopeful, knowing that a new synagogue and a growing new Jewish community exist in the city of Mainz.

 

 

Annlis Schäfer Seligmann 1924-2017

We have returned from our trip to Germany, and I have many things to share about the experience.  It was a trip filled with many joyous moments as well as many sad and heartbreaking moments.  One of the greatest joys and definitely the saddest moment involved Annlis Seligmann, mother of my dear cousin Wolfgang.

Annlis and Wolfgang

When Wolfgang found my blog almost two and half years ago, it was the result of a family research project he was sharing with his mother.  Annlis was not born a Seligmann; she was born Annlis Schäfer on April 12, 1924.  But in 1965 she married Wolfgang’s father Walter Seligmann, who died in 1993, and she was fascinated with the history of his family.  When the Seligmann family discovered the “magic suitcase” that had belonged to Walter’s brother Herbert, Annlis and Wolfgang began to search through the documents to learn more about the Seligmann family history.  Because Wolfgang could not read the old German script, Annlis had to decipher many of the old records and documents for him.

At some point in this process, Wolfgang discovered my blog, and together the three of us—Annlis, Wolfgang, and I—all worked together to find many of the missing pieces of the Seligmann family.  We were able to figure out how many of the people named in those documents were related to us all.  Without their help, I would not have found many of the Seligmanns who died in the Holocaust or who, like my cousins Lotte Wiener Furst and Fred Michel, were able to escape Germany before it was too late.

So when I was planning my trip to Germany, one of my priorities was to meet not only Wolfgang, his wife Bärbel, and daughter Milena, but also his mother Annlis.  We arrived in Germany on May 2, and the first thing we were scheduled to do on May 3 was meet Annlis.  We went with Wolfgang to the senior residence where she was living in Mainz (like an assisted living facility in the US) first thing that morning. Annlis did not speak English, so I was able to test my baby German.  With Wolfgang’s help, we were able to communicate.

She and Wolfgang showed me some family photographs, and I shared with her photographs of my parents, children, and grandchildren.  We looked through the magic suitcase together (there are still hundreds of letters and postcards still to be translated). Despite the language obstacles, I felt a strong connection to Annlis and was sad to say goodbye when our visit ended.

Annlis had been in declining health in recent months.  Her vision had become so poor that she could no longer read and help translate the documents, but she remained very interested in the family history and, according to Wolfgang, had been very anxious to meet me.  After our visit, she expressed to Wolfgang how happy she had been to meet me.  I was so touched and, of course, felt the same way.

So you can imagine my shock when less than ten days later while still in Germany, I received a message from Wolfgang telling me that his mother had died.  I was stunned and so sad.  And heartbroken for Wolfgang and his family.

Annlis lived a long and full life.  From Wolfgang I know that she grew up in Mainz where she also lived for the last five years of her life.  During World War II, she was working in Bingen.  In September, 1944, she witnessed the murder of an American soldier, Odis Lee Apple, whose plane had been shot down and crashed nearby.  As described here by Wolfgang himself on the website for the radio station where he works, the caretaker for the building where Annlis worked notified the people in the office that an American soldier was walking on the street outside the building.

Annlis and three of her co-workers left the building and followed Apple, whom she described as a man with a friendly face.  Then suddenly the building’s caretaker rushed out onto the street in his SA uniform and shot Apple.  He did not die right away, but was suffering terribly from the gunshot wound.  At some point someone else shot him, and he died.

Street in Bingen where Annlis worked and witnessed the murder of Odis Lee Apple

After the war, the US Army investigated Apple’s death; Annlis provided testimony, and several people were sentenced to prison.  The caretaker, however, had died not long after the shooting during a bombing attack on Bingen.

According to Wolfgang, his mother never forgot this incident and was horrified by what she had witnessed. Even though at that point the US was at war against Germany, Annlis knew it was wrong to kill someone in cold blood like that.

Tribute to Odis Lee Apple at the spot where he was shot

It was not until twenty years after the war that Annlis married Walter Seligmann in 1965.  Together they raised their son Wolfgang in a neighborhood outside of Mainz in an apartment overlooking the valley.  She lived in that apartment until five years before her death when she moved to the building where I met with her on May 3.

Annlis Seligmann lived a good and long life; she had just turned 93 a month before her death.  I feel so privileged and fortunate that I was able to be a part of her life in the last two years and especially that I was able to meet her in person, share some time with her, and give her a hug.  My heart goes out to Wolfgang, Bärbel, Milena, and the entire extended family.  May her memory be a blessing.

 

 

Mathilde’s Brothers: Wilhelm, Isidor, and Karl Gross

Mathilde Gross Mayer, my distant cousin and the author of Die Alte und Die Neue Welt, had three younger brothers in addition to her younger sister Anna about whom I wrote in my last post.  In this post, I will tell what happened to the three brothers. In order to learn a little more about them, I decided to use my little bit of German (along with a dictionary and Google Translate) to try and read some of Mathilde’s book myself, in particular Chapter 4, which is entitled “Geschwister,” or siblings.  I also relied on the family biography on the Arbeitskreis Judische Bingen website  in addition to traditional genealogy sources.

Family View Report for Bertha Seligmann-page-001

Wilhelm, the third child of Bertha Seligmann and Bernhard Gross, was born on April 14, 1872, in Bingen.  He married Sophie Hirsch, who was a relative of his sister Anna’s husband, Wilhelm Lichter, and they, like Anna and her family, settled in Stuttgart. They had a son, Bernhard, born in Stuttgart in 1905; he was presumably named for his grandfather Bernhard, who had died from carbon monoxide poisoning in 1901.  According to Mathilde’s book (pp. 48-50), Wilhelm suffered from mental illness and was institutionalized for many years, dying in a sanatorium in Wurttemberg in 1928.

When Hitler came to power in 1933, Wilhelm’s widow Sophie  and son Bernhard Gross immigrated to Rio de Janeiros, Brazil, where Bernhard became a very successful and well-known physicist. He was appointed to the staff of the National Institute of Technology in Rio and eventually became the director.  He also served on various scientific committees of the United Nations and traveled all over the world serving on those committees; later, he was the director of the Brazilian National Commission of Nuclear Energy.  You can read more about his life and career here and here and here.  He died at age 97 in 2002 in Brazil.

Mathilde’s second brother Isidor, whom I’ve mentioned before for his role as a contributor to Mathilde’s book, was born on September 25, 1873, in Bingen.  He married Klara Emrich, and like his sister and her husband, Anna (Gross) and Wilhelm Lichter, Isidor and Klara settled in Stuttgart where Isidor worked as a banker. Isidor and Klara had one child born in 1903 and presumably also named for his grandfather; his name was Hans Bernard Gross.  When Wilhelm’s widow and son, Sophie and Bernard Gross, left for Brazil in 1933, they took Isidor’s son Hans with them as well, according to the Arbeitskreis Judische-Bingen website.  Hans was at that time a law student.

Isidor and Klara were not yet ready to leave Germany in 1933.  As indicated by a September, 1937 ship manifest, Isidor and Klara sailed from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Southampton, England; the manifest shows that their last permanent residence was in Germany and that they were going to stay at a hotel in London, but that their “country of intended future permanent residence” was a foreign country outside of the United Kingdom.  (It looks like the far right column says “..o de Jan,” so I assume that Isidor and Klara had been visiting Hans in Rio.)

Isidor and Klara (Emrich) Gross on 1937 ship manifest The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists.; Class: BT26; Piece: 1138; Item: 48

Isidor and Klara (Emrich) Gross on 1937 ship manifest
The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists.; Class: BT26; Piece: 1138; Item: 48

The immigration cards below indicate that Isidor and Klara moved to Brazil in June 1939:

isidor-gross-brazil-immigration-card-from-famsearch-p-1

Brasil, Cartões de Imigração, 1900-1965,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1951-22436-27549-86?cc=1932363 : 10 November 2014), Group 4 > 004914427 > image 44 of 203; Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (National Archives, Rio de Janeiro).

isidor-gross-brazil-immigration-card-p-2

Brasil, Cartões de Imigração, 1900-1965,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1951-22436-27549-86?cc=1932363 : 10 November 2014), Group 4 > 004914427 > image 44 of 203; Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (National Archives, Rio de Janeiro).

klara-emrich-gross-brazil-immigration-card-from-family-search

Brasil, Cartões de Imigração, 1900-1965,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-267-12579-62878-12?cc=1932363 : 10 November 2014), Group 1 > 004551542 > image 34 of 203; Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (National Archives, Rio de Janeiro)

klara-emrich-gross-brazil-immigration-card-from-family-search-p-2

Brasil, Cartões de Imigração, 1900-1965,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-267-12579-62878-12?cc=1932363 : 10 November 2014), Group 1 > 004551542 > image 34 of 203; Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (National Archives, Rio de Janeiro)

They both lived the rest of their lives in Brazil, as did their son Hans.  Isidor died and is buried in Petropolis in 1950; Klara is also buried there; she died in 1969.  Hans died in Rio de Janeiro in 1979.

(Thank you to Andre Convers of the LatAmSIG on JewishGen.org for finding the information about Klara and Isidor’s deaths and burial for me; they are listed in Egon and Frieda Wolff’s book, Sepulturas de Israelitas Il, p.100; Sophie Gross, widow of Wilhelm Gross, is listed on p. 101 and also buried in Petropolis, but her date of death says “19.5” so I assume it was partially illegible. There are also several people named Emrich on p. 100, presumably relatives of Klara Emrich Gross.)

Egon and Frieda Wolf, Sepulturas de Israelitas II, p. 100 (Petropolis Municipal Cemetery)

Egon and Frieda Wolf, Sepulturas de Israelitas II, p. 100 (Petropolis Municipal Cemetery)

cemetery-information-for-sophie-gross

Egon and Frieda Wolf, Sepulturas de Israelitas II, p. 101 (Petropolis Municipal Cemetery)

Unfortunately, the youngest child and third son of Bertha Seligmann and Bernhard Gross was not as fortunate as his older brother Isidor or his sister Mathilde.  Karl Gross was born on March 6, 1876, in Bingen, Germany.  According to the Arbeitskreis Judische Bingen page dedicated to Karl, he married Agnes Neuberger, and they had two daughters.  Bertha was born in 1906 and presumably named for Karl’s mother, Bertha Seligmann Gross, who had died with her husband in 1901 from carbon monoxide poisoning; sadly, Bertha suffered brain damage at birth and required special care.

A second daughter, Ilse, was born in 1921, after Karl returned from service in the Germany army during World War I. He had served from August, 1914, through the end of the war and was honored several times for his service.

After returning from the war, Karl worked in the Gross family winemaking business.  Two years Hitler’s rise to power, he and Agnes decided to send fourteen year old Ilse to the International School in Geneva, Switzerland in 1935. In 1938, when she was just seventeen, Ilse left Switzerland for England.

Karl and Agnes, however, stayed in Germany to be near their other daughter, Bertha. In December, 1940, the German Reich required that Bertha be admitted to the Israelite Hospital and Sanatorium in Bendorf-Sayn, also known as the Jacoby Institute. It had been founded almost a century before as a mental institution for Jewish patients.  Its role was altered terribly by the Nazis.

According to this website,

During the first years of National Socialism the Jacoby Institute was left in relative peace; probably as an acknowledgement of the fact that it was an important employer for Sayn and the region. ….A circular decree issued by the Ministry of the Interior on 12th December 1940 decreed that “mentally ill Jews” were only to be accommodated in Sayn because “a cohabitation of Germans and Jews is not acceptable in any length of time” (illustr. 7). The option of concentrating all the patients in one location served as preparation of their deportation. In the course of five transports (between March and November 1942) 573 people were taken to the death camps in the East.

Bertha Gross was one of those 573 people; she was deported to a concentration camp in Izbica, Poland, where she died.

Karl and Klara Gross also were killed in the Holocaust. They were sent to Theriesenstadt on July 27, 1942, where Karl worked as a stretcher-bearer until he died on February 1, 1944.  In October, 1944, Klara was deported from Theriesenstadt to Auschwitz where she was murdered.

karl-gross-and-family-stolpersteine-from-judische-bingen

Stolpersteins for Karl Gross, Agnes Gross, and Bertha Gross http://www.juedisches-bingen.de/?id=54

Their younger daughter Ilse, however, survived, and like so many in this family, she ultimately thrived. As described in her obituary, after leaving Switzerland for England in 1938, at first she worked as an unpaid mother’s helper.  After England was at war with Germany, however, Ilse, along with many other Jewish refugees from the Nazis, was imprisoned as an “enemy alien” in an internment camp on the Isle of Man, according to her obituary. 

Ilse, who had been writing poetry in German since she was a teenager, began writing short stories in English while in the camp and continued her writing after she was released in 1941.  In 1948, she married Kit Barker, a British artist.  Ilse began writing under the pseudonym Kathrine Talbot and published a number of well-regarded works, including three novels, many articles, and short stories.  She died in 2006, and her obituary in The Guardian includes an extensive description not only of her life but of her work.  “Ilse Barker,” The Guardian (June 2, 2006), located here.

Thus, Mathilde Gross Mayer lost both her sister Anna and her brother Karl in the Holocaust, as well as their spouses, Wilhelm Richter and Klara Emrich, respectively; her niece Bertha also was a victim of the Nazis.  Her brother Wilhelm had died years before, so Mathilde’s only surviving sibling after 1944 was her brother Isidor, who had immigrated to Brazil along with his wife and son and Wilhelm’s widow and son and thus lived a continent away from where Mathilde was in New Rochelle, New York.

Although Mathilde was fortunate that all of her children and grandchildren and almost all her nieces and nephews had survived the Holocaust, there is no overstating the tragedy she endured—from the loss of her parents in 1901, the loss of her husband in 1934, the uprooting of her children, grandchildren, and herself from their homeland, and the cruel deaths of a number of her family members at the hands of the Nazis.

Perhaps now you can better understand why I want to be able to read her book and get a feel for the real person who endured so much and lived so long.

 

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

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

Family View Report for Bertha Seligmann-page-001

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irma Lichter Wronker, courtesy of the Wronker family

Irma Lichter Wronker, courtesy of the Wronker family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sale-of-effects-cairo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

paul-lichter-ship-manifest-1938

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some members of the extended family years later.

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20160810_174631600_iOS

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

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

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

Pine, p. 7.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ernst Mayer WW1 military register 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pine, pp. 35-36.

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

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

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

Pine, p. 29

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

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

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

Pine, p. 32

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

According to the Whonamedit website:

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

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

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

Ernst Mayer passenger manifest 1935

Ernst Mayer passenger manifest 1935 page 2

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

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

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

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

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

Ernst Mayer and family August 1936 manifest

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

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

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

Mathilde Mayer passenger manifest October 1 1937

Mathilde Mayer passenger manifest October 1 1937 page 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other members of their extended family were not as fortunate.

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

Mathilde Mayer-Gross on passenger manifest February 1937

Mathilde Mayer-Gross on passenger manifest Feb 1937 page 2

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

Life in Bingen, Germany 1850-1901: The Family of Martha and Benjamin Seligmann

As I wrote last time, Mathilde Gross Mayer (known sometimes as Mathilde Mayer-Gross) lived a long life—a hundred years that spanned two centuries (1869-1969) and two countries—Germany until she was 68 and then the United States for the last 32 years of her life. Her autobiography, Die Alte and Die Neu Welt, records the story of her remarkable life.  I have read the small portion of her autobiography that I had translated by Ute Brandenburg.[1]  I hope to read the book in its entirety once I know enough German to make that possible.

Mathilde Mayer book cover

But from the excerpt I’ve read in translation along with information I obtained from other sources, I have learned quite a bit about Mathilde’s family and her early life in Germany.

First, a little background. As I wrote last time, Mathilde was my second cousin, three times removed. Her great-grandparents were my four-times great-grandparents, Jacob Seligmann and Martha Mayer.  Jacob and Martha had ten children, including Moritz Seligmann, my three-times great-grandfather, and Martha Seligmann, Mathilde’s grandmother.Relationship_ Amy Cohen to Mathilde Gross part 1

Relationship_ Amy Cohen to Mathilde Gross part 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have written about Moritz and his family in several places.  His son Bernhard (later Bernard), my great-great-grandfather, was one of the Seligmann brothers who came to the United States and settled in Santa Fe where they established the important trading business known as Seligman Brothers.

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Moritz Seligmann, Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Bernard Seligman

Bernard Seligman

I have also written about Martha and how I discovered, thanks to the family tree discovered by my cousin Wolfgang, that in 1824 she married her first cousin (and also my cousin) Benjamin Seligmann, son of Hirsch Seligmann, who was Jacob Seligmann’s brother.  Martha and Benjamin lived in Bingen, Germany, where they had seven children: Siegfried (1824), Emilia (1826), Hermann (1828), Karolina (1831), Ferdinand (1836), Lambert (1838), and Bertha (1841).

tree 2 pages 2 and 3

Emil Seligmann’s handwritten tree courtesy of Wolfgang Seligmann

The facts below are all based on Mathilde’s book, except where noted.  All quotations are from the translation by Ute Brandeburg of Chapter 2 of Mathilde’s book.

Benjamin Seligmann was initially in the scrap metal business and then later in the money changing business, but according to his grandson Isidor Gross (who contributed to his sister Mathilde’s book), Benjamin was actually more academically inclined by nature.  It was his wife Martha and their sons Lambert and Ferdinand who really ran the business. Benjamin and two of his sons, Lambert and Hermann, also served as accountants for the Jewish congregation in Bingen.

Isidor wrote about his uncle Ferdinand that he had traveled to Paris and when he returned, he brought home a top hat.  “He would promenade around Bingen, wearing this hat and using a skinny walking stick, just as he had in Paris.” (DADNW, p. 10).  As a result, he earned the nickname “Hat,” and Isidor and Mathilde referred to Ferdinand as “Uncle Hat.”

After their father Benjamin died in 1862, his sons Ferdinand and Lambert took over the business, which was eventually renamed “Ferdinand Seligmann.”  Neither Ferdinand nor Lambert ever married, and they lived together in Bingen and were known as Die Herren, or The Gentlemen.  A third brother, Hermann, also never married; he was for a time involved in the business, but ran into some financial troubles and was bought out by Ferdinand.

The oldest child of Martha and Benjamin, Siegfried, married his first cousin, Carolina, who was a daughter of Moritz Seligmann, my three-times great-grandfather.  Siegfried and Carolina had seven children together, including Emil, the one presumed to have recorded the family tree I discussed here.  Emilia, the second child of Benjamin and Martha Seligmann, married Salomon Lorch and had four children. Karolina Seligmann (Benjamin and Martha’s daughter, not the one who married Siegfried) married Sigmund Marx; I don’t have any record of children born to that couple.

Bertha Seligmann, the youngest child of Benjamin and Martha and the mother of Mathilde and Isidor, married Bernhard Gross on June 30, 1868.  Bernhard was the son of Wolfgang Gross and Fanny Nathan, who lived in Gau-Bickelheim where Wolfgang was in the wine business, working with his sons Bernhard, Moses, and Julius.

The marriage contract between Bertha Seligmann and Bernhard Gross is included in Mathilde’s book and reveals the contributions that each side made to the marriage. It is quite apparent that this couple came from families of some means.

Bertha brought clothing and personal items worth 850 gulden and house furnishings worth 350 gulden to the marriage as well as 2000 gulden in cash.  Her mother also made a gift of 3500 gulden to the couple (to be deducted from Bertha’s inheritance). Bertha’s brother Siegfried promised to pay the rent on the couple’s home in Bingen for two years, or a total of 260 gulden.

Bernhard also contributed to the marriage.  He brought 300 guldens’ worth of personal items and clothing and 418 gulden’s worth of home furnishings.  His parents provided a gift of 2000 gulden to the couple (also to be deducted from their son’s inheritance).

Thus, Bertha’s contribution amounted to 6,960 gulden, and Bernhard’s was 2,718 gulden.  As converted by Isidor Gross in 1938 as described in his sister’s book, that combined amount would have been equivalent to about 16,000 goldmarks in 1938.  According to one source, in 1938 there were 2.49 marks to a dollar, so that would mean that 16,000 marks was equivalent to $6425 in 1938.  Using an inflation calculator, I calculated that $6425 in 1938 would be worth about $108,000 today.  Not a bad start for a young couple.

When they married, Bertha and Bernhard moved to an apartment in Bingen where less than a year later their first child, Mathilde, was born on April 14, 1869.  She was followed by her sister Anna a year later, her brother Wilhelm in 1872, and then her brother Isidor in 1873.  By the time Isidor was born, the family had moved to a house of their own.  The prior owner, a baker, continued to occupy the first floor, which he used for his business, and a police officer lived on the third floor.  Isidor described the house as “a large building with a passageway to Eselgasse, where the driveway was located.  The courtyard and back buildings offered us children much space to play.” DADNW, p. 16  A sixth child was born to Bertha and Bernhard in March 1876, a son Karl.

Mathilde described her father Bernhard as “a highly respected citizen who had no enemies, did much for the common good, and helped however and wherever he could.  He supported the congregation in word and deed, and whenever possible he went to Saturday services.” DADNW, p.18  She continued:

Father was a hardworking, ambitious businessman.  He was well liked with the customers.  Nearly every morning, he would head out early to the train station, his bags heavy with wine samples.  But he never left the house without first bringing a little sample of his breakfast, bread rolls with egg, a “morsel.” As he called it, to the children’s bed….. Although he was often serious and judicious, he did have a cheerful disposition and was always in a good and light-hearted mood when attending social and family events….Despite his occupation, which had him taste alcohol on a daily basis, he always sought moderation in drinking.  He could not tolerate more than two or three glasses of good wine; then he would become exceedingly merry, climb onto chairs and tables, stretch out his arms, and exclaim: “My dear friends, this is the world!”

DADNW, p. 18

Mathilde’s portrait of her mother Bertha Seligmann Gross, is quite different:

She was serious and strict, with herself as well as others.  She rarely participated in fun and laughter. … Mother strove to manage the household with as much frugality as possible.  The boys often came home with holes in the bottoms of their pants and the knees of their socks.  [Heels?] Sometimes there would be a pat on the backside.  Then [I] would have to spend [my] Saturday evenings and Sundays mending the work day clothes and darning the socks instead of reading or going to visit [my] girlfriends. ….  There would many weeks where I had to polish the metal stove pipes with scouring paper until they shone before I could return to school at 2 o’clock.  Mother was a heavy-handed person who did not know how to make life easier for herself and others.

DADNW, pp.19-20

Mathilde also wrote about her brothers that they were “wild and spunky.  They were always up for pranks, didn’t spend much time in the books, and went outside the moment Mother looked the other way.”  DADNW, p. 18.

Obviously as the oldest child and daughter, Mathilde had a lot of responsibilities, but she did have some happy childhood memories.  She enjoyed ballroom dancing lessons, and she and her sister Anna spent school holidays with her mother’s brother Siegfried Seligmann and his family in nearby Mainz.  She also spent some time in 1885 when she was sixteen living with her Uncle Hat (Ferdinand) in Nancy in Alsace, but was not happy going to school there and returned to her family in Bingen.

The family of Bertha and Bernhard Gross moved a few times in Bingen to accommodate their growing family.  The second home was bigger, but needed work. Isidor wrote, “There was no gas, no plumbing, no electric light, and the toilets were very primitive.  They were outside the apartment, which was quite unpleasant in the winter and in bad weather.” DADNW, p. 17  Mathilde also described the house’s shortcomings: “only kerosene lamps that needed to be cleaned every morning, no warm water, and only much later running water—before that one had to fetch water in pails from the pump in the courtyard.  It was a lot of work to keep three or four stoves going in the wintertime.” DADNW, p. 20

 

On April 11, 1888, Mathilde married Marx Mayer, a man one of her aunts had introduced to her.  On the Judische-Bingen site I found Mathilde’s description of her husband:

My husband Marx was a cheerful person, a life-affirming character, who knew how to make friends everywhere.  He was a good dancer, loved to dance, and we seldom missed seeing the New Year begin at the New Year’s ball in Caecilienverein. 

Mathilde went on to describe the yearly three-day carnival celebration in Bingen, which Marx enjoyed greatly, often staying out until four in the morning.[2]

Mathilde and Marx had three children between 1889 and 1896: Wilhelm, Ernst, and Anna. Mathilde’s siblings also married in these years.  Her sister Anna married Willhelm Lichter; her brother Wilhelm married Sophie Hirsch.  Isidor married Clara Emmerich, and Karl married Agnes Neuberger.  They all would have at least one child.

With their children all grown, Bertha and Bernhard decided to purchase another home at Mainzer Strasse 16 in Bingen, though it needed substantial renovations.  Bertha and Bernard moved into the house in late 1898.  Sadly, they only lived in the house for a few years because on November 1, 1901, both Bernhard and Bertha were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning that had resulted from some faulty renovations being made on the house.  Bernhard was only 61, Bertha just 60 when they died.

Headstones for Bertha Seligmann Gross and Bernhard Gross in the Jewish cemetery in Bingen http://www.juedisches-bingen.de/43.0.html

Headstones for Bertha Seligmann Gross and Bernhard Gross in the Jewish cemetery in Bingen
http://www.juedisches-bingen.de/43.0.html

Mathilde wrote of how she learned the news of her parents’ awful death:

On that fateful Thursday morning when Emil Seligmann [son of Siegfried and Caroline Seligmann and Mathilde’s first cousin] came to get me and then told me, as we were walking, of the accident, he lead me over Schlossberg rather than through town where people already knew and would have stared at me.  I could not immediately comprehend the scale of the tragedy that had befallen us.  DADNW, p. 19.

Understandably, Mathilde was devastated.  She wrote that her father’s death “was a heavy blow that left a big void.”  DADNW, p. 19.

Thus, the new century did not begin well for the family of Bertha Seligmann and Bernhard Gross.  In fact, it was a century marked by a great deal of tragedy for the family.  Although I cannot yet read enough of Mathilde’s book to provide a reliable translation of her own words for the years that followed her parents’ deaths, I have been able to learn more about the fate of her family from other sources and will reveal what happened to them all in posts to follow.

Family View Report for Bertha Seligmann-page-001

 

 

 

 

[1] Ute Brandenburg provides professional translation services for German texts, including texts written in the old German script.  You can see her website at  https://germanscriptexperts.com/   References to translated quotes from the German version of Mathilde’s book are indicated by “DADNW” and the appropriate page numbers.  All translations of the book were done by Ute Brandenburg.

[2] Unfortunately, Google Translate’s translation of these pages is quite awful, so I am hoping to obtain a better translation.

Why I Am Studying German

Along with researching, blogging, working on my novel, and doing other ordinary things with my days, I have started studying German.  I took French in high school and college, and I learned some Italian from a travel experience I had after college, but I knew no German.  Well, other than a word here and there like Danke and Gesundheit.

So why, you might ask, did I decide to learn German? It certainly is a challenge.  Although I’ve been delighted to see how many words are similar to English (like wein/wine and bier/beer) or Yiddish (like schön/shayne and schmutzig/schmutzy), German grammar is tough.  The sentence structure is hard.  The various cases are confusing; the articles and pronouns are a constant source of bewilderment.  But I am enjoying the challenge.

But that doesn’t address the question of why German.  Sure, I have many ancestors with German roots, and yes, it would be helpful to read the birth, marriage, and death records without depending on the generosity of people like Matthias Steinke, Ute Brandenburg, Ralph Baer, Dorothee Lottmann-Kaeseler. and others.  But I had already figured out the words for birth, death, marriage, mother, father, and even the months of the year.  So why struggle to learn ordinary vocabulary and grammar?

Yes, I am planning a trip to Germany for next year, and I do want to be able to get by as much as possible without expecting people to know English.  But I also know that I won’t be fluent enough really to do that, and I know that most people in Germany involved in the tourist industry will speak English, just as they did in Prague, Budapest, Vienna, and Krakow.

So why bother trying to learn German? It all started with Mathilde Mayer-Gross.  Who was she? She was my second cousin, three times removed:

Relationship_ Amy Cohen to Mathilde Gross part 1

Relationship_ Amy Cohen to Mathilde Gross part 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That is, Mathilde’s grandmother Martha Seligmann and my three-time great-grandfather Moritz Seligmann were sister and brother.  We are both direct descendants of Jacob Seligmann

Mathilde is also related to me through her grandfather Benjamin Seligmann since he was his wife Martha’s first cousin; Martha’s grandfather Jacob Seligmann and Benjamin’s grandfather Hirsch Seligmann were brothers.

But I digress.

 

Mathilde was born in Bingen, Germany, in April 1869. She left 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, dying in September, 1969, when she was a hundred years old.  She wrote a book about her remarkable life called Die Alte und Die Neu Welt.  [The Old and The New World] (1951).

Mathilde Mayer book cover

And I want to read her book.  But I can only find it in German. Ute Brandenburg did a wonderful job of translating one of the chapters, but I can’t afford to pay what it would cost to translate the rest of the book.

I used Google Translate to read some other excerpts from Mathilde’s book that appear on the Arbeitskreis Judische- Bingen website. I also read the memoir written by Mathilde’s granddaughter Ellen Kann Pine, One Life in Two Worlds (2009). But I still want to read Mathilde’s book itself.

20160810_174631600_iOS

So I decided to learn German.  After about four months of using the Duolingo program online, I can write a simple sentence or two to my cousin Wolfgang and his young daughter Milena, and I can understand enough to read simple sentences.  The Duolingo program is wonderful; I study every day about 30 minutes a day, and I am having a lot of fun. But so far my ten year old fourth cousin Milena knows a lot more English than I know German.

duolingo icon

Will I ever be able to read Mathilde’s book? I don’t know.  I may never be fluent enough to read it without a dictionary in hand (and Google Translate), but perhaps I will be able to read and understand enough to satisfy my curiosity about her life.

In the meantime, in my next few posts, I will take a break from the Schoenthal clan, and I will share some of what I learned about Mathilde and her family from the other sources I mentioned, including Arbeitskreis Judische-Bingen, Ellen Kann Pine’s book, and Chapter 2 of Mathilde’s own book as translated by Ute Brandenburg.  Maybe someday I will be able to fill in the rest of the stories of her life.

 

Two More Generations Back! The Amazing Seligmanns

Get ready for a real brain twister here.

As I mentioned in my last post, my cousin Wolfgang sent me several new documents relating to our mutual Seligmann ancestors.  Wolfgang and his mother received these from Beate Goetz, who had also sent me several important documents over a year ago.  I continue to be amazed by how much information is available about my Seligmann forebears.

The first document is a death certificate for Jakob Seligmann, my four-times great-grandfather, father of Moritz Seligmann and grandfather of Bernard Seligman.  Until now Jakob was the earliest relative I had found in the Seligmann line; he was born in Gaulsheim, Germany in 1773 and died there in 1851.  His wife, my four-times great-grandmother, was Martha Mayer.

Jakob Seligmann death record

Jakob Seligmann death record

 

With help from Wolfgang, his mother, and my friend Matthias Steinke, I learned that this document says that Jakob Seligmann died on December 21, 1851, when he was 78 years old.  He was born in Gaulsheim, the son of Seligmann Hirsch, deceased, a merchant in Gaulsheim, and Mina nee Mayer.  The informants were his son Leopold Seligmann and Konrad Vollmer, not related.   What was most exciting about this document was that it revealed the names of Jakob’s parents: Seligmann Hirsch and Mina Mayer.

Seligmann Hirsch and Mina Mayer were thus my five-times great-grandparents.  I now had another generation back to add to my family tree.  And then something occurred to me.  When I saw that Mina’s birth name had been Mayer, I was puzzled.  Was she related to her daughter-in-law Martha Mayer? Of course, it could be.  But when I thought about it a bit more, I realized that when Mina was born in the mid-18th century, Jews were not using surnames.  Instead, they were using patronymics—Mina was probably the daughter of a man whose first name was Mayer, not whose surname was Mayer. She was Mina bat (daughter of) Mayer.

So if Jakob Seligmann’s father was Seligmann Hirsch, it meant that he was probably Seligmann ben (son of) Hirsch.  That meant that the Seligmann surname really came from Jakob’s father’s first name.  When Jakob had to adopt a surname in Napoleonic times, he must have taken his patronymic of Jakob ben (son of) Seligmann and compressed it into a first name and surname, creating Jakob Seligmann.  Seligmann ben Hirsch was thus the original source for the Seligmann surname that survives to this day in my family with Wolfgang himself.

And that meant that Seligmann ben Hirsch was the son of  a man named Hirsch, who was my six-times great-grandfather.

That hunch was corroborated by another bit of evidence that Wolfgang brought to my attention.  Back in July 2015, I posted about Moritz Seligmann’s sister, Martha Seligmann, who had married a man named Benjamin Seligmann, son of Isaac Seligmann and Felicitas Goetzel.  Martha and Benjamin’s son Siegfried had married Moritz and Eva Seligmann’s daughter Caroline.  Caroline and Siegfried were the parents of Emil Seligmann, who created that very long and detailed family tree I wrote about here.  That is, Emil was the grandson of both Moritz Seligmann AND his sister Martha Seligmann.  He was his own second cousin.

Here’s the chart I posted last time.  I know this is all confusing, but if I don’t write it down, I will never remember my own thought processes.

Pedigree Chart for Emil Seligmann

Pedigree Chart for Emil Seligmann

 

Or as I wrote then, “Emil’s father Siegfried was the son of Martha Seligmann; his mother Karoline was the daughter of Moritz Seligmann.  Moritz and Martha were siblings, so Siegfried and Karoline were first cousins.  Thus, Emil’s paternal grandmother Martha and his maternal grandfather Moritz were sister and brother.  Now if in fact Benjamin Seligmann, Martha’s husband, was also a cousin, there is truly a remarkable amount of inbreeding there.”

And I think that’s in fact the case: Benjamin and Martha were also first cousins.  Back in July I had thought that perhaps Benjamin Seligmann and his wife Martha Seligmann were cousins since both had the surname Seligmann.  I thought that their fathers, Isaac and Jakob, respectively, could have been brothers, but I had no way of proving it.  But now I know from Jakob’s death certificate that his father’s name was Seligmann ben Hirsch. Was that also the name of Isaac’s father?

A look at Isaac’s gravestone from the Steinheim Institute website revealed this, one of the most beautiful grave inscriptions I’ve ever seen:

 

האיש החשוב משכיל וטהור Here lies  the respected man wise and pure,
החבר ר’הירש בן כ”ה זעליגמאן the Torah Scholar Mr. Hirsch, son of the honored Mr. Seligmann of
גוילסהיים: למלאכתו מלאכת Gaulsheim. For his work was Heaven’s work.  As swift as 
שמים כצבי מהיר אור תורתו 5 a deer was the light of his Torah.  Like a sapphire. 
כספיר תאיר צדק קדמו פעמיו:  righteousness was before him.  A wholly righteous man, great in deeds, doing 
איש תמים ורב פעלי’ גומל חסדים many acts of lovingkindness  for the
רבים: לרעבים וצמאים hungry and thirsty.  
אורו נגנז יום וי”ו ך”ה ובא He died on six, 25 Iyar, and he came
למנוחתו כבוד יו’ א’ך”ו אייר 10 to his honored resting place Day 1, 27 Iyar.
לפרט יקר בעיני ד’המות’ לחסידי’ Especially dear in the eyes of the Lord is the death of the pious.
תנצב”ה May his soul be bound up in the bonds of eternal life.

 

(Thank you to Neil, Bracha, and Gerald from Tracing the Tribe on Facebook for help in translating the Hebrew; the original German translation on the Steinheim site did not translate well into English using Google Translate, so I decided it would be better to  get a translation of the Hebrew directly rather than getting a translation of the translation. If the lines of the translation do not line up exactly with the Hebrew text, that is my error, not that of my translators.)

And thank you to my friend Dorothee who told me about the link to the photograph of the headstone.

Hirsch "Isaac" ben Seligmann headstone Found at http://www.steinheim-institut.de/daten/picsbng/xl/0358_bng.jpg

Hirsch “Isaac” ben Seligmann headstone
Found at http://www.steinheim-institut.de/daten/picsbng/xl/0358_bng.jpg

“Isaac’s” Hebrew name was Hirsch, son of Seligmann. His father was thus named Seligmann, as was Jakob’s father.  Furthermore, Jewish naming patterns suggest that Isaac’s father could have been Seligmann son of Hirsch, the man who was also Jakob’s father. Hirsch/”Isaac” was older than Jakob; when Seligmann son of Hirsch had his first son, he named him for his own deceased father, Hirsch.  Jakob and Hirsch/“Isaac” were most likely brothers, both sons of Seligmann ben Hirsch.

Why then is Isaac referred to as Isaac, not Hirsch as his gravestone indicates? I don’t know.  The Steinheim Institute site notes that “Hirsch from Gaulsheim called Isaac Seligmann. He was a schoolteacher in Bingen,” without further explanation.  On the page for Hirsch/Isaac’s son Benjamin, the Steinheim site comments that “Benjamin Seligmann was in Gaulsheim (today district of Bingen), the son of school teacher Hirsch (later: Isaac) 1798 Seligmann and his wife Felicity born.” [Translation by Google Translate] Hirsch must have changed his name to Isaac.

So that means that Benjamin Seligmann, son of Hirsch/Isaac, and Martha Seligmann, daughter of Jakob, were first cousins.  Their son Siegfried was thus not only their son but also a first cousin removed from each of his parents.  Oy vey.  Siegfried then married his first cousin Caroline, daughter of his mother’s brother Moritz.  ENDOGAMY, anyone??  No wonder Emil’s tree was so convoluted!

Here is an updated pedigree chart for Emil Seligmann.  Notice that Seligmann ben Hirsch and Mina Mayer appear as his great-grandparents in three different places:

Extended Pedigree Chart for Emil Seligmann

Extended Pedigree Chart for Emil Seligmann

 

Where am I? Oh, right.  I now know that my six-times great-grandfather was named Hirsch and that he had a son named Seligmann, who had at least two children, Hirsch (who became Isaac) and Jakob.

But what about Jakob Seligmann’s wife Martha, daughter of Mayer, my four-times great-grandmother? The second document Wolfgang sent to me was her death certificate.  Martha died on December 17, 1849 in Gaulsheim when she was 76 years old.  She was born in Oberingelheim and was the daughter of Jakob Mayer, deceased, a merchant in Oberingelheim, and Odilia, nee Simon.  The informants were her husband, Jakob Seligmann, and Konrad Vollmer, who was not related to her.

Martha Seligmann nee Mayer death record

Martha Seligmann nee Mayer death record

Thus, I now know another set of five-times great-grandparents, Martha’s parents: Jakob Mayer (probably Jakob ben Mayer) and Odilia Simon (probably Odilia daughter of Simon).  And I know where to search for them: Oberlingelheim.  And if I am right about the patronymics, then I know two more of my sixth-great-grandfathers, Mayer, father of Jakob, and Simon, father of Odilia.

All that from two pieces of paper dating from the mid-nineteenth century.

Thank you, Beate Goetz, Wolfgang Seligmann and his mother Annlis, Matthias Steinke, and the members of Tracing the Tribe, for all your help.

 

Photo Analysis: Why You Should Ask an Expert

Sometimes you need to hire an expert to help with hard questions.  With the help of the genealogy village—my fellow bloggers and the members of the various Facebook groups and JewishGen—I have been able to find and learn more than I ever imagined.  But when it came to some of those mystery photos that bewildered and frustrated me, I decided it was time to find an expert, and the expert who came highly recommended—for good reason—is Ava Cohn, a/k/a Sherlock Cohn, the Photo Genealogist.

I had originally sent Ava this photo of my grandfather Isadore Goldschlager because I was curious about identifying the other people in the photograph.

Isadore Goldschlager and unknown others

Isadore Goldschlager and unknown others

But Ava and I discussed it, and she concluded that without more information and more photographs, it would be impossible to make much progress identifying total strangers who lived over a hundred years ago. I really appreciated Ava’s honesty, and when she asked if I had any other photographs that might be more amenable to her analysis, I looked back to consider some other options.

I sent her this photograph from Fred Michel’s album, which I had discussed here and here and here, but about which I remained somewhat mystified.

Uncle Adolf and Grandmother Gau Algesheim

I had concluded tentatively from my own analysis and comparison to other photographs and the inscriptions on the photograph that the older woman was probably my three-times great-grandmother Babetta Schoenfeld Seligmann, and the two men labeled Onkel Adolf and Onkel Jakob were probably Babetta’s sons, Adolf and James, brothers of my great-great grandfather Bernard Seligman.  Adolf, like my great-great-grandfather Bernard, had left Germany and settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and James had moved to Great Britain.  I had learned that James was not a common name for boys in Germany in the 19th century so it was likely that he was born Jakob and adopted the name James after emigrating.  Also, my cousin Lotte, who had met James Seligman when she was a young girl, thought that “Onkel Jakob” resembled the man she remembered as James Seligman.

But I was not at all sure who the two younger women were, especially the woman to the left in the photograph.  I’d asked on the blog if anyone could read the inscription near her picture, but no one was certain what it said.  The woman in the center appeared to be labeled Anna Oppenheimer, but I couldn’t understand why she would be in the photo.  Anna Oppenheimer was the daughter of Pauline Seligmann and Maier Oppenheimer and the granddaughter of Babetta.  But why of all the grandchildren would only she be in this photograph, especially since her mother was not included, just two of her uncles?

Ava studied the photograph as well as my blog posts, my family tree for the Seligmann family, and other photographs of the Seligmann family, and then sent me a detailed and thorough analysis of her own conclusions, which I found well-founded, fascinating, and persuasive.  With her permission, I am sharing some of her report.

I thought Ava’s analysis of the overall relationships among those in the photograph based on traditional posing in studio photographs of families was quite interesting:

In the mystery photograph, the family is posed in a typical family grouping of five individuals seated and standing around a large library table upon which is a dog, perhaps the family pet. The photo has been taken in a photographer’s studio with an appropriate backdrop for the time period. The two individuals on the left hand side appear to be a married couple while the elderly woman seated on the right could be mother or grandmother to one or more of the individuals in the photo. The man on the right, probably a son and the young woman in the center holding the dog could be related but are not married to each other.

Ava concluded that the photograph was taken in 1896-1897.  Here is part of the reasoning for her conclusion:

To establish a year for the photograph, I looked at the clothing worn. Since what we know of the family’s comfortable economic status, it is logical that they are wearing up-to-date fashions, for the most part. The elderly woman, as is customary for many older women, is not as fashionable as the two younger women. Her dress, with multiple small buttons down the bodice, is a typical style of the 1880s as is her bonnet. The other two women are wearing clothing from the latter half of the1890s, post 1895. By this point in time the enormous leg-o-mutton sleeves of the 1893-1895 time period have become less full with the vestige of fullness above the elbow.  The man on the left is wearing a high Imperial collar, common in the 1890s.

Ava agreed that it was reasonable to conclude that the elderly woman labeled “Grossmutter Gau Algesheim” was Babetta Schoenfeld Seligmann and that the man on the right, labeled Onkel Adolf, was her son Adolf Seligman, brother of Bernard and a resident of Santa Fe in the 1890s.  At that time Adolf was in his fifties (born in 1843) and unmarried.  Ava thought that the man labeled Onkel Adolf in the photo appeared to be in his mid-fifties. Ava did not think the woman in the center was Adolf’s wife, Lucy, since Lucy would have been only about fourteen in the mid-1890s and did not marry Adolf until 1902.

 

Onkle Adolf

Rather, Ava opined that the woman in the center was in fact Anna Oppenheimer as labeled.  She would have been nineteen or twenty in 1896-1897:

It appears that she is wearing a wedding or engagement ring in the photograph. The writer of the inscription has used Anna’s maiden name, Oppenheimer, as opposed to her married name, Anna Kaufman, so, along with the absence of Max Kaufman in the photograph, I believe that this photo was taken before her marriage to Max. Again, having a marriage certificate for Anna and Max could confirm why the writer used Anna’s maiden name here instead of her married name.

Unfortunately, I do not have a marriage record for Anna, and there is no record of any children born to her and her husband Max Kaufman so it is impossible to determine when exactly they married.

Anna Oppenheimer maybe

That left the two remaining people in the photograph: Onkel Jakob and the woman sitting on the left side of the picture whose name I could not decipher in the inscription.  Ava agreed that “Onkel Jakob” was James Seligman. So who was the other woman?

Ava believes that she was James/Jakob Seligman’s wife, Henrietta Walker Templeton, who was born in England in 1866 and married James Seligman in London in October 1887.  Ava read the inscription next to the woman to be “Tante Heni:”

Tante Glori

 

Heni is a nickname for Henrietta and clearly shows the relationship with the writer of the inscription because of the informal use of a nickname. Tante (Aunt) could be one by marriage not necessarily by blood. In the mystery photo Heni appears to be about age 30-31.

In addition, Ava interpreted the posing as indicative of a marital relationship between Jakob and the woman seated in front of him, saying, “The manner in which he is posed with his arm around the back of Heni’s chair suggests their relationship.”

This made perfect sense to me.  Ava speculated that perhaps James and Henrietta had come to Gau-Algesheim to celebrate their tenth anniversary with the Seligmann family, which would have been in 1897.  I also recalled that Lotte had mentioned in an email dated July 6, 2015, that James and his English wife (whom Lotte referred to as Hedy) had visited “the continent” once.  Lotte was born in 1921, so would not remember a visit in the 1890s, but the fact that James and his wife visited during Lotte’s lifetime in Germany makes it even more likely that they had in fact visited on earlier occasions.  Lotte also said that James returned after Henrietta’s death in 1928.

Ava even analyzed the dog in the photo.

Given that the same dog appears in both the mystery photograph and the one of Bettina Arnfeld nee Seligmann (born 1875), I thought I’d include that here. It is clearly the same dog. I had considered that the dog may have belonged to the photographer but given how calm he/she appears in the photographs, I believe he was a family pet. The photo of Bettina was taken roughly 3 years after this one, circa 1900. The photo of Bettina may have been an engagement picture as she and Adolf Arnfeld married in 1900.

Bettina Arnfeld nee Seligmann

Bettina Arnfeld nee Seligmann

Anna Oppenheimer maybe

Bettina Seligmann Arnfeld was the daughter of Hyronimus Seligmann, Babetta’s son and brother of Bernard, Adolf, and James, among others.  She was Anna Oppenheimer’s first cousin.  So whose dog was it? Certainly not James or Adolf since neither lived in Germany.  Perhaps the dog belonged to Babetta? She is the only common link between the two young women pictured with the dog.  Babetta died 1899; if Ava is correct and the photograph of Bettina was taken in 1900, perhaps Bettina inherited the dog from her grandmother?

I was quite satisfied and persuaded by Ava’s analysis of the family photograph.  But she didn’t stop there.  I had also supplied her with additional photographs to help with her analysis of the family photograph.  For example, I sent her this one, which I believed was a photograph of Babetta as a young woman.

Uncertain see ava report

I had based that conclusion on the fact that another photograph that I paired with the one of the woman was labeled Grossvatter and thus presumably was my three-times great-grandfather Moritz Seligmann.

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

But Ava disagreed about the identity of the young woman:

I did a comparison of the older photograph of a young woman that you supplied. This photograph is roughly dated circa 1859-1861 based on clothing and hairstyle as well as the type of image, most probably a daguerreotype popular in the 1850s and very early 1860s. The young woman appears to be in her teens and no more than 20 years of age. This eliminates the possibility that this earlier likeness is Babetta who would have been 49-51 years old. But there is a possibility given the provenance of the photograph and the resemblance to Babetta that this is one of her daughters, Pauline or Mathilde. It is unlikely to be her niece/stepdaughter, Caroline. Given that the photo was obtained from the Michel descendants, Pauline is the most likely candidate. Further research, documentation and comparison photographs would be needed to make a positive identification. 

Although I was quite disappointed to think that this was not Babetta, the more I considered Ava’s analysis and the more I looked at the photograph of the young woman and the one of Moritz, the more I realized my error.  The frames on the two photographs are quite different as is the style and the posing.  I had just jumped to the conclusion that because Suzanne had sent these two photographs in the same email that they were of a couple.  That’s why sometimes you need to hire an expert!

Finally, Ava also did an analysis of the wonderful photograph that my cousin Davita had sent of a man she said was her grandfather, Adolf Seligman, and his favorite sister, Minnie, riding camels in Egypt:

gramdfather Adolph and great aunt Minnie_rev

I was quite surprised but also persuaded by what Ava had to say about the identity of the people in this photograph; she is quite certain that the woman is in fact Henrietta Walker Templeton, and the more I studied the photograph, the more I agreed.

The Egypt photo is roughly dated based on her suit and hat as being taken in 1910. That would make Heni 44 years old. Her face has aged from the earlier photo and she’s put on a bit of weight, not uncommon approaching middle age.  She is very stylish in the 1897 photo and likewise in the 1910 one. In both, she has chosen an up-to-date suit rather than a dress. Her dark hair is the same style. Notice the “dip” in her bangs on the right side of her forehead. It’s the same as the earlier photo.  Her eyebrows, nose and mouth are the same as is the overall attitude captured by the photographer.

Tante Heni

Tante Heni

 

Minnie Seligmann

After I read Ava’s comment, I checked the emails that Lotte had sent me and saw that she had described James’ wife as “big and pompous.”  The woman Ava concluded was Henrietta certainly does have a certain air of superiority in both of the photographs.

Also, I have absolutely no record of any kind supporting the existence of a Seligmann sister named Minnie, so already had had questions about Davita’s description. Thus, I was open to the idea that it was not Minnie, but someone else.  I hadn’t considered Henrietta since I believed that the man was Adolf, as Davita said.  Why would Henrietta from England be riding a camel in Egypt with her brother-in-law Adolf, who lived in Santa Fe?

But Ava raised a question as to whether this was in fact Adolf. If the photograph was taken in 1910, why would Adolf, who had married in 1902 and had three children by 1910, be traveling to Egypt? The more I looked at the earlier photographs of Adolf and Jakob/James, the more I became convinced that the man on the camel is in fact James, not Adolf.  Ava also agreed that it seems quite likely that it is James, not Adolf, in the photograph, but that without more information, we can’t be entirely sure, especially since Davita, the source of the Egypt photograph, believed that it was her grandfather Adolf. (Adolf died before Davita was born, so she had never met him in person and only had this one photograph that she had been told was of her grandfather.)

Adolph Seligman in Egypt

James or Adolf?

Onkel Jakob

James Seligman

Onkle Adolf

Adolf Seligman

Thus, although without more photographs and/or records we cannot be 100% certain, I am persuaded that Ava’s conclusions are correct about the likely identities of the people in the group photograph, the portrait of the young woman, and the Egypt photograph.

It was well worth the fee I paid to have the benefit of Ava’s expertise.  I highly recommend her to anyone who has questions about an old photograph.  If you are interested, you can email Ava at Sherlock.cohn@comcast.net or check out her website at http://sherlockcohn.com/  You will probably have to wait quite a while because her services are very much in demand and she devotes a great deal of time to each project, but it will be worth the wait.

[I was not paid or required by my contract with Ava to advertise her services; I am writing this blog post as a service to others who might be interested.]

 

 

 

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The Memoirs of Lotte’s Sister Doris: Another Perspective on Life in Hitler’s Germany

Many of you enjoyed the memoirs and other writings of my cousin Lotte Furst, which are posted here, here, here, and here.  You will recall that Lotte and her family lived in Mannheim, Germany, and were living a comfortable life in a good home; Lotte’s father was a doctor, and her mother was the granddaughter of Hieronymous Seligmann, younger brother of my great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman.  When the Nazis came to power, Lotte’s life changed forever.  After suffering through years of anti-Semitism and deprivation of their rights, her family finally decided to leave Germany and came to the United States.  Lotte’s writings described in vivid terms her perspective on all of this as she experienced it as a young girl and then as a young woman.

I recently learned that Lotte’s older sister Doris also wrote a memoir.  Doris was four years older than Lotte, and thus I was curious as to how her perspective was like or different from that of her younger sister.  When Hitler came to power in 1933, Doris was seventeen and thus would have had a more adult-like view of things.  Doris died in 2007, and her daughter Ruth was kind enough to share her mother’s memoirs with me.  Much of it is quite personal, so I am going to focus on those sections that provide insights into the larger questions: what was life like before Hitler came to power, how did it change when he did, and what led to the decision to leave Germany? [All material quoted from Doris Gruenewald’s writings is protected by copyright and may not be used without the permission of her children.]

By Snapshots Of The Past (Parade Place and Kaufhaus Karlsruhe Baden Germany) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Snapshots Of The Past (Parade Place and Kaufhaus Karlsruhe Baden Germany) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Doris was born in October 1916 in Mannheim; Germany was in the midst of World War I, and her father, Joseph Wiener, was drafted into the German army as a medical officer soon after she was born.  Her mother, Annie Winter Wiener, went with Doris to live with her parents, Samuel and Laura (Seligmann) Winter in Neunkirchen, where Samuel owned a women’s clothing business.  Annie’s brother Ernst had recently been killed while serving in the German army after volunteering against his parents’ wishes.  Doris wrote:

He had been the apple of their eyes and his death dealt a terrible blow to both.  My grandmother wore only black from then on, and my grandfather’s health began to deteriorate.  They also lost their sizable fortune, having bought war bonds as their patriotic duty, which at the end of the war were not worth anything anymore.  My grandfather’s business was dissolved and then reestablished on a much smaller scale.

Ernst Winter Courtesy of Lotte Furst

Ernst Winter
Courtesy of Lotte Furst

Doris compared her grandparents’ home in Neunkirchen with her own home in Mannheim:

The house in Neunkirchen had a large garden in back of it, most of which was rented out.  The smallest part, directly behind the house, was used for growing some vegetables and flowers.  I remember loving to play in the garden and watching earthworms after a rain as well as other living creatures.  In Mannheim there was little opportunity for this kind of nature watching as we lived in a built-up urban area with little greenery, other than a well laid out park some distance from our apartment.

Neunkirchen

Neunkirchen

For several years while the French occupied parts of Germany after World War I, several family members housed French soldiers, and the neighborhood school Doris would have attended was also being used by the French military.  Thus, she had to go to a school somewhat further from her home for those years.  Like her sister Lotte, Doris pursued a highly academic path in school and was one of only six girls out of thirty students in her Gymnasium classes and then the only girl in her class when she reached the final years of her pre-university level education.

This excerpt provides a sense of the family’s lifestyle:

My parents employed a cook and a housemaid, and when my sister and I were still young, a “Kinderfraulein” who used to be an untrained young woman with an interest in children.  In other words, not quite a “governess.”  My father had help in his office and for some time also employed a driver after he developed a painful condition in his left arm, due to having to reach outside the car for shifting gears.  …. 

We had a Bechstein Grand piano in our living room. This instrument had been given to my mother as a young girl. She had really wanted to study music on a professional basis. But her parents felt that “proper” young ladies did not take up that kind of profession and did not allow her to pursue her wish. Instead, they bought her the Bechstein and let her have piano lessons.

I began taking piano lessons at age seven, with a teacher considered among the best in Mannheim. My mother, although an accomplished pianist, no longer played much. But occasionally, she and my father, who had learned to play the violin in his youth, would play duets together. That always was a special treat.

By Annaivanova (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Annaivanova (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I was particularly interested in what Doris wrote about the role of Judaism in the family’s life.

I grew up through the years with some awareness that we were Jewish, without knowing what significance that had then and later. Neither my parents nor my grandparents when I knew them observed any religious tenets. However, I was told that in past years my grandfather had been the head of the Jewish Congregation in Neunkirchen. My grandmother, who was president of the local Red Cross chapter for some time, used to fast on Yom Kippur. She reluctantly told me, when I kept asking her, that she had promised her dying mother to keep that tradition. As for me, I was kept home on the Jewish High Holy Days. My family did not attend any services.  …. 

At eight years of age I happened to be visiting my grandparents at the time of Passover. They had been invited by friends to a large Seder. Unfortunately, nobody thought of explaining to me what that was all about. My grandparents may have assumed that I knew, but I did not. I understood nothing of what was being read in Hebrew or spoken in German. I was utterly bored! Furthermore, when the ceremony asked for tasting the so-called bitter herbs, I bit off a piece of the horseradish on my plate and soon experienced the consequences of that act!

Unfortunately, I think far too many children, here in the US and elsewhere in the world, have that experience at seders.

The family was, however, required to provide some religious instruction because of the school system’s requirements:

There having been no separation of Church and State, religious instruction was part of the official curriculum. The students were separated one period per week according to their denominations. Most were Protestants, some were Catholics, and a few were Jewish. Since the number of Jewish children was so small, and in the case of my first-grade placement non-existent, my parents were required for that year to hire a private instructor in order to comply with the legal requirement. Thus, there suddenly appeared a not very clean looking young man with a greasy book, from which he proceeded to read and attempt to teach me-at six years of age-the Hebrew text. My recollection is that he came to our house only a very few times. I do not know how the religious instruction requirement was fulfilled after that disaster.

When, at fourth grade level, I changed schools, religion was taught by a little old man, a retired rabbi, who was very nice and even made some of what he taught rather interesting. But I developed no feeling for or interest in it at all, as it was totally divorced from the rest of my life.

Then, as Lotte also described, their father decided to withdraw from the Jewish community:

When I was fourteen, my father had some kind of a dispute with the Jewish Community, which was the official agency for collecting taxes. These taxes were legally mandated as a percentage of one’s general income tax obligation. I nearer knew exactly what the problem was, except that it had something to do with the amount owed, to which my father was apparently objecting. The Rabbi came to our house to straighten the matter out. Apparently he was not successful as subsequent events proved. (This rabbi became my brother-in-law at a much later time. He knew that I was far removed from religious observance, but he was always very tolerant and friendly to me.)

Whatever the problem had been, my father decided to leave the Jewish Congregation. Since I was already fourteen years old, I was required to state my personal intention. As I had no ties to the Jewish community, that was no problem for me. From then on I was without any religious affiliation, called “konfessionslos.” In practical terms it meant that I no longer had to attend religious instruction at school. I used the weekly free hour to visit the Art Gallery opposite the school building and saw a lot of very interesting, good art works.

Dr. Joseph Wiener

Dr. Joseph Wiener  Courtesy of Lotte Furst

Of course, the family’s withdrawal from the Jewish community and lack of religious involvement did not make any difference in the eyes of the Nazis once they came to power.  Doris wrote:

Between 1932 and 1935 I had a valid German passport, used during those years primarily for trips to the Saar to visit my grandparents and take the then permitted two hundred German marks to be deposited outside Germany. In those years the Saar was still under the administration of a French post-World-War I governing authority. My grandmother took care of such transactions. By the time I needed a new passport, the Nazis had decided that a big “J” had to be stamped on any so-called non-Aryan, meaning Jewish, person’s passport. Word had gotten around that one of the clerks in the passport office in Mannheim would issue a “clean” document without the dreaded J, for suitable consideration. I went to that office, saw the clerk in question, and for the small sum of five marks was issued a regular passport without the J. I still have this passport as a memento.

When the Nazis assumed power in 1933, we as a family re-joined the Jewish Congregation as a matter of honor. Not that it would have made any difference had we not done so as the Nazis classified people not necessarily by religion but by their so-called racial identity.

German Jewish passports could be used to leave...

An example of German Jewish passport. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Doris approached the end of her time in the local schools in the 1930s, she was both the only girl and the only Jew in her class.  She wrote that things did not change dramatically at school despite the political changes around them, but she did describe one troubling incident:

I entered the classroom in the morning, as usual. Upon approaching my desk, I saw that someone had pasted a viciously antisemitic sticker from the “Sturmer,” a rabidly anti-Jewish paper, on my desk. By that time, one of my classmates had begun wearing the SS uniform. I more or less assumed that he was the culprit, which in the end turned out not to have been the case. However, at that moment I decided not to confront him or anyone else. I sat down at another desk and waited for the right time to act. This came with the second period when the “Klassenlehrer”-the equivalent of our Home Room teacher-was due for his hour. … I waited for this teacher outside the classroom and told him my reason for doing so, adding that I knew there was nothing I could do about official policy and insults, but that I was not willing to put up with personal attacks.

This teacher, who, incidentally, had been an officer in World War I and had lost an arm, rose to the occasion. He and I entered the classroom together, and he immediately asked who had done this deed. Somewhat to my surprise, and perhaps his too, not one of the students admitted having put the sticker on my desk. There was nothing further he could have done: I do not remember whether he spoke to the class, but his earlier behavior had given ample proof of his opinion. … The incident occurred about one week before the final exam, the Abitur. It cast a pall over that important event.

Imagine being the only girl and the only Jew in the class and standing up for herself that way.  What courage it must have taken to do this.  What if her teacher had not been sympathetic?  Despite this stressful incident, Doris successfully passed the Abitur.  Although Doris was entitled to enroll in the university based on her father’s military service during World War I, Jews were prohibited from enrolling in either law school or medical school.  Instead, Doris decided to audit a few courses while awaiting a visa to leave Germany.  She wrote:

I had known for some time that I had to get out of Germany as there was no future there for me, and I was willing to take whichever came first [she had applied for both a US visa and a certificate to immigrate to Palestine]. However, I admit that I was relieved when the American visa materialized first.

The American Consulate closest to Mannheim was located in Stuttgart. In due course I was summoned for an interview with the American consular officials. I was in a somewhat unusual position in that my father had learned of a legal means of transferring money abroad, which was then discounted at the rate of fifty percent. The permissible amount was sufficient to enable me to show the U.S. Consulate that I had the requisite five thousand dollars for obtaining an immigration visa to the U.S. In this way I did not have to await my application number to come up in regular order, which would have taken a great deal more tame. I got my visa rather quickly. By that time I had also received a so-called Affidavit of Support from one of my grandmother’s cousins, whose father had emigrated in the nineteenth century and had settled in Cleveland, Ohio. This cousin was in very good financial circumstances and readily responded to our request for an affidavit.  …

I was very interested in determining who this cousin might have been.  If she was Laura Seligmann Winter’s cousin, she might have also been a cousin of mine, depending on whether she was a paternal cousin or not.  The only clues I had from Doris’ memoir were her married name (Irma Rosenfeld), her residence in Cleveland, her children: a son who was in his 20s in 1937, a daughter who was married, and another daughter who was a student at Vassar.

I found one Irma Rosenfeld living in Cleveland at that time who had two daughters and a son and was married to a man named Mortimer Centennial Rosenfeld (I assume the middle name was inspired by the fact that Mortimer was born in 1876, the centennial of the Declaration of Independence).  I sent Lotte the photo from that Irma’s passport application, but Lotte was unable to confirm from the photograph that it was the right Irma Rosenfeld.

Irma Rosenfeld and daughter passport photo 1924 Ancestry.com. U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2007. Original data: Selected Passports. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Irma Rosenfeld and daughter passport photo 1924
Ancestry.com. U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2007.
Original data: Selected Passports. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

After reading Doris’ memoir, I went back to all the documents I had for her and examined more closely the passenger manifest for her trip to the US in 1937.  I had not seen the second page of it my first time through, but this time I noticed that it not only named Irma Rosenfeld; it had her street address in Cleveland.  It only took a glance at the 1940 US census for me to confirm that I had in fact found the correct Irma.

Doris Wiener 1937 ship manifest

Doris Wiener 1937 ship manifest part one

 p2 Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897.

p2
Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897.

A little more research revealed that Irma’s birth name had been Irma Levi, daughter of Isaac Levi and Fanny Loeb.  Since Doris and Lotte’s great-grandfather (and my three-times great-uncle) Hieronymous Seligmann had married a woman named Anna Levi, I believe that that is the connection between Doris and Irma.  Anna Levi was a contemporary of Isaac Levi; perhaps they were siblings, and thus Irma Rosenfeld would have been a first cousin, twice removed, of Doris and Lotte, their grandmother Laura’s first cousin.  Obviously, the family had stayed in touch with these American cousins, and even though Irma was American-born and had never met Doris before, she reached out to help her escape the Nazi regime.

Continuing now with Doris and her emigration from Germany:

Necessary preliminaries having been taken care of and good-byes having been said, it was time to arrange for the journey to America. We bought a ticket for me on the SS Washington, a twenty-thousand ton ocean-going passenger boat, and also obtained railroad tickets for me and my mother who wanted to accompany me to Cherbourg, the place of embarkation. …

In Cherbourg I said good-bye to my mother, for whom the separation was very hard, more so than for me. For one thing, I was looking toward something new. But perhaps more importantly, I had unwittingly insulated myself to some degree from the impact of events. This condition lasted for a long time and to some extent gave me some emotional protection….

In contrast to so many, I confess that I had an easy time. Not only was the way for coming to America smoothed. My parents also were well able to pay for my ticket and whatever other expenses arose in connection with my leaving. I was twenty years old at that time.  …

Aenne Wiener and Doris

Doris Wiener and her mother Courtesy of Lotte Furst

Doris explained why her parents and sister did not come with her:

The question has often been asked why my parents and sister did not come at the same time. Like a great many people, my father kept believing that the Hitler episode was just that, and he refused for a long time to see the situation realistically. Not so my mother. She was instrumental in organizing their own as well as her parents’ emigration to Luxembourg, and later their own to America.

Doris wrote that she arrived in New York in 1937 with $400.  Her parents had arranged for friends to meet her at the boat, and Doris stayed with them for a week before moving to her own apartment on the top floor of a building at 96th Street and Central Park West.  Doris also described a visit to Cleveland to see her grandmother’s cousin, Irma Rosenfeld, the woman who had provided the affidavit in support of Doris’ visa, as discussed above. “The slightly more than four weeks I spent with the Rosenfelds were very pleasant, with visits to their country club and other social activities.”  But Doris preferred to remain in New York City.

After returning to New York, Doris soon found employment in a dentist’s office and also soon met her future husband, Ernst Gruenewald.  They were married in May 1938.  Her mother Annie came to New York for the wedding, not only to witness the wedding but also “to gain insight into the international situation uninfluenced by German propaganda.”

My mother had intended to stay in America for about six weeks. But as she listened to the broadcasts available to us, she became increasingly agitated and decided to cut her visit short in order to initiate their emigration from Luxembourg to the United States. She had always been a very intelligent woman capable of making important decisions, many of which were advantageous. She returned to Luxembourg and was able to convince my father that this was the right thing to do. They arrived in the U.S. in April 1939, three weeks after the birth of our first child and about half a year before the outbreak of World War II.

Her grandparents, as we know from Lotte’s memoirs, did not fare as well:

During my childhood I had spent a good deal of time with them in Neunkirchen and was very fond of my grandmother. I knew her only from her mid-forties on, when in my eyes she was an old lady. She was a very reserved but warm person and managed their life very competently. My grandfather was a short, slim man who from the time I knew him as a person, was not well. …  My grandparents had applied for a visa to the United States before the outbreak of World War II, but failed to be granted immigrant status. In retrospect, I am convinced that my grandfather’s condition was the reason, as they had enough money to qualify for a visa. My parents also could have vouched for them. My grandfather ended up in Theresienstadt, where he died of pneumonia, as we were told after the war. My grandmother had suffered a fatal heart attack while still living in Luxembourg.

Doris and her husband Ernst and their family ended up relocating from New York to Chicago for a business opportunity a few years after her parents and Lotte arrived .  During the 1950s, Doris went back to school and obtained her bachelor’s degree while also raising her children; in 1961 she received a masters’ degree in psychology as well.  She then went on to get a Ph.D. in psychology, specializing in neuropsychology, which was itself still a relatively new field.  After obtaining her degree, she worked at Michael Reese Hospital in the Adult Inpatient department where she eventually became the director. Sadly, after twenty years there, she found herself forced out on the basis of their mandatory retirement age.  She had just turned seventy.

By Zol87 from Chicago, Illinois, USA (Michael Reese Hospital) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Zol87 from Chicago, Illinois, USA (Michael Reese Hospital) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1987 Doris and Ernst moved to California, where the winters were milder and where her sister Lotte was living.  Doris had obtained a California license before moving and was able to continue to practice as a psychologist when they moved, but did so only for a short period before retiring.  Ernst died in 1989, and Doris died almost twenty years later in 2007.

It was fascinating to me to read Doris’ memoirs after reading Lotte’s; both sisters wrote so clearly and so powerfully about their lives.  I can see that they had much in common: great intelligence, dedication to hard work and to family, astute powers of observation, and a love of language.  Doris struck me as the more thick-skinned of the two sisters, often talking about her independence and emotional distance from others, even as a young child.  Doris wrote about being somewhat of a loner and keeping her thoughts and feelings to herself.  I would imagine that those qualities served her well as she endured her teen years in Hitler’s Germany and a voyage alone to America in 1937 as well as her adjustment to life in America.

Overall, I am struck by how strong these two women were, both as children in Germany, as new immigrants to the US, and as women experiencing all the changes that came in the years after World War II.    I’d like to think some of that is the Seligmann DNA that we share, but I doubt that I would have been as resilient and brave as they had to be, if I had had to endure the challenges and hardships they did.