Sielen: The Tiny Ancestral Home of the Schoenthals

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

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

Countryside outside of Sielen

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

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

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

Sielen church and marktplatz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking down the hill from the cemetery to the road

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sielen cemetery

Sielen cemetery

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

Or maybe this one?

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

The Other Sister: Mina Schoenthal

It’s fascinating to me how finding one more ancestor—in this case, my great-great-grandfather’s younger sister Mina–leads to so many more descendants, so many more stories.  Sometimes I do think that eventually I will find myself related to every Jewish person I know if not every person I know.

While searching for Hamberg relatives in the Breuna marriage archives, I ran across a record for a “Minna Schoenthal” who married a Markus Rosenberg.  I was surprised to see the name Schoenthal in Breuna, but saved the document to study later.  I thought Minna could be a relative, but I was focused on the Hambergs at that moment, and I couldn’t decipher Minna’s parents’ names, so put it on the back burner.

Marriage of Minna Schoenthal and Markus Rosenberg September 1849 HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 92, S. 9

Marriage of Minna Schoenthal and Markus Rosenberg September 1849
HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 92, S. 9

I did the same when I saw a Breuna birth record for a child named Hendel whose mother’s birth name had been Mina Schoenthal, father Noah Braunsberg.  I was a bit confused—was this the same woman as the Minna married to Markus Rosenberg? Was this a relative?  Again, I put it on the back burner.

Birth of Hendel Braunsberg August 1847 HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 90, S. 12

Birth of Hendel Braunsberg
August 1847
HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 90, S. 12

 

When I returned to the children of Levi Schoenthal and Henrietta Hamberg, first David Baron and Roger Cibella shared their discovery of Levi Schoenthal’s sister Fradchen/Fanny, and her marriage to Simon Goldschmidt/Goldsmith.   That led to the discovery that more than twenty years before Henry Schoenthal had arrived in America in 1866, his aunt and uncle had settled in western Pennsylvania with their children Jacob and Hannah.  I had assumed that Henry had been the pioneer in the family, but in fact he was following in the footsteps of Fanny and Simon Goldsmith and their children.

Then Hans-Peter Klein informed me that Levi Schoenthal had had a third sister, Mina, and I recalled that I had seen the above-mentioned records in the Breuna archives.  I sent them to Hans-Peter, and he confirmed that both records were for Levi’s sister Mina; the marriage record to Markus Rosenberg indicated that her parents were Hienemann Schoenthal and Hendel Beerenstein, who were also the parents of Levi Schoenthal and Fanny Schoenthal Goldsmith.  That is, Mina, like Fanny, was my three-times great-aunt.

Hans-Peter also explained that Mina had first married Noah Braunsberg and had the child for whom I’d found the birth record, that is, Hendel, born in August 1847. Mina had then gotten married again, this time to Markus Rosenberg in September 1949, and they had also had a child, a daughter named Malchen who died two months after she was born in 1850.  Hans-Peter sent me Madchen’s birth and death records, and with some additional searching I found both the marriage record for Mina Schoenthal and Noah Braunsberg and the death record for Noah Braunsberg, who died in 1847, just a year after marrying Mina and months after the birth of their daughter Hendel.

Mina Schoenthal marriage to Noah Braunsberg June 10, 1846 HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 92, S. 8

Mina Schoenthal marriage to Noah Braunsberg June 10, 1846
HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 92, S. 8

Hans-Peter had concluded that Mina and Markus had not had any other children after Madchen died.  But after entering Markus Rosenberg into my family tree on Ancestry, a number of shaky leafs, as the hint system on Ancestry calls them, popped up.  I figured that they would be hints for a different man named Marcus Rosenberg, so I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that it was a US census report for a Marcus Rosenberg with a wife named Mena and several children.  I searched a bit further, and once I saw that this family had been living in Washington, Pennsylvania, in 1860, I knew that this had to be the same Markus and Mina Rosenberg from Breuna, Germany, and thus my three-times great-aunt and her husband. Marcus was working as a shoemaker, just like his father-in-law back in Germany, and he and Mina had in fact had a number of children after Madchen died—some born in Germany, some in the United States.

Markus Rosenberg and family 1860 US census Year: 1860; Census Place: Washington, Washington, Pennsylvania; Roll: M653_1192; Page: 1141; Image: 580; Family History Library Film: 805192

Markus Rosenberg and family 1860 US census
Year: 1860; Census Place: Washington, Washington, Pennsylvania; Roll: M653_1192; Page: 1141; Image: 580; Family History Library Film: 805192

From this advertisement, it appears that Marcus had been in business in Washington, Pennsylvania, for some time before 1860:

Advertisement Date: Thursday, July 19, 1860 Paper: Washington Reporter (Washington, Pennsylvania) Volume: LII Issue: 53 Page: 4

Advertisement
Date: Thursday, July 19, 1860 Paper: Washington Reporter (Washington, Pennsylvania) Volume: LII
Issue: 53 Page: 4

To figure out when they had immigrated to the US, I tried to find records for the children reported to have been born in Germany on the 1860 US census record: Hannah (1848) and Rachel (1852).  If the birth year for Hannah was really 1848, that would mean she was born before Mina married Marcus and that she was probably the child named Hendel born to Mina and her first husband Noah Braunsberg.  The birth year was inferred by Ancestry as 1848 because Hannah was reported to have been twelve on the 1860 census and 22 on the 1870 census, but she also could have been born in August, 1847, as Hendel had been, and just not yet have   celebrated her next birthday at the time of the census.  Although I cannot be sure, I am fairly certain that Hannah was in fact the daughter of Noah Braunsberg, not Marcus Rosenberg.  Rachel, born in 1852, would then be the first child born to Mina and Marcus Rosenberg.

But where was Rachel born? On the 1860 census, she is listed as nine years old and born in Germany, thus presumably born in 1851.  The 1870 census reports that Rachel was then nineteen, but that she was born in Maryland.  Using the closer in time rule, it would seem more likely that she was born in Germany as the 1860 census reports.  I’ve yet to find a German birth record for her, however.

Marcus Rosenberg 1870 US census Year: 1870; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 18 District 55, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: M593_1403; Page: 338B; Image: 356; Family History Library Film: 552902

Marcus Rosenberg 1870 US census
Year: 1870; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 18 District 55, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: M593_1403; Page: 338B; Image: 356; Family History Library Film: 552902

 

The next child listed as a child of Mina and Marcus Rosenberg was Julia, who according to the 1860 census was born in 1854 in Maryland.  Of course, there are inconsistencies in later records.  The 1870 census says she was born in Hesse-Darmstadt; the 1880 census says she was born in Pennsylvania.  Since two out of three say she was born in the US, and the closest in time to her birth (1860) says she was born in the US, I am willing to discount the 1870 census.  She was then living as a lodger with her sister Hannah, and the census taker could have gotten bad information from someone else in the household.

Thus, if in fact Julia was born in the US (whether Maryland or Pennsylvania) in 1854, that meant that Mina had herself immigrated by that time. If Rachel was born in the United States in 1851, then the family had immigrated even earlier.   Although I still have not found a passenger manifest for Mina or her two oldest children, Hannah and Rachel, I was able to find this one listing Marcus Rosenberg.   He arrived on the ship Ocean on August 9, 1850, five years after Fanny and Simon Goldsmith, and sixteen years before Henry Schoenthal.  If Rachel was born in 1851 in Germany, as one of the census records suggests, Mina must have been pregnant when Marcus left for the United States.

Marcus Rosenberg ship manifest National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, DC; Records of the US Customs Service, RG36; Series: M255; Roll: 8

Marcus Rosenberg ship manifest
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, DC; Records of the US Customs Service, RG36; Series: M255; Roll: 8

A fourth daughter named Mary was three in 1860 and fourteen in 1870 and born in Pennsylvania, according to the census records. (She is missing from the first enumeration of the 1870 census, but appears in the second enumeration.)  Thus, she was likely born in 1856. Mina and Marcus had another child, a son named Henry on the 1870 census, but listed as Harry on later records.  Harry was reported as nine years old on the 1870 census, so was born probably in 1861.

Thus, not only was Henry Schoenthal preceded by Fanny and Simon Goldsmith in coming to Washington, Pennsylvania; Fanny’s sister Mina and her husband Marcus Rosenberg had also gotten here before Henry and had also lived in Washington, Pennsylvania.

But the Rosenberg family did not stay in Washington.  By 1870 and perhaps earlier, they had relocated to Philadelphia, where Marcus was working as a tailor, according to the 1870 US census.  Rachel, Julia, Mary, and Henry were still living with them.  Their oldest daughter, Hannah, had married Herrman (later Herman) Hirsh on November 5, 1867, in Philadelphia, so it is possible that by 1867 the family as a whole had already moved to Philadelphia.  But Herman and Hannah moved back to the western part of Pennsylvania not too long after their marriage; their first child, Morris, was born in Pittsburgh on August 12, 1869, and his brother Nathan was born the following year.  In 1870, Herman and Hannah Hirsh and their two sons were living in Allegheny City (today part of Pittsburgh), and Herman was working in the retail clothing business.  Herman was also born in Germany and a fairly recent immigrant.

Herman Hirsh and family 1870 census Year: 1870; Census Place: Allegheny Ward 3, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: M593_1290; Page: 308A; Image: 617; Family History Library Film: 552789

Herman Hirsh and family 1870 census
Year: 1870; Census Place: Allegheny Ward 3, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: M593_1290; Page: 308A; Image: 617; Family History Library Film: 552789

During the 1870s, Herman and Hannah (Rosenberg) Hirsh had three more children, a daughter Carrie born in 1872, and two sons: Harry (1874) and Sidney (1878).

By 1880, Marcus and Mina only had Julia living with them at home in Elk City, Pennsylvania.  Marcus was working in the retail clothing business.  Elk City is about 90 miles northeast of Pittsburgh and over 300 miles from Philadelphia.  I am not sure what took Marcus, Mina and Julia back to the western part of Pennsylvania, yet to a place not close to their other family members in Pittsburgh and Washington, Pennsylvania.

Marcus Rosenberg and family 1880 US census Year: 1880; Census Place: Elk, Clarion, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1117; Family History Film: 1255117; Page: 131C; Enumeration District: 068; Image: 0267

Marcus Rosenberg and family 1880 US census
Year: 1880; Census Place: Elk, Clarion, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1117; Family History Film: 1255117; Page: 131C; Enumeration District: 068; Image: 0267

Their youngest daughter Mary had married Joseph Podolsky sometime between 1870 and 1878, when their first child Flora was born.  Harry followed in 1879, and Birdie in 1880.  According to the 1880 census, Joseph was a clothing dealer born in Prussia.  They were living in Millersburg, Ohio, about 120 miles from Pittsburgh, where Mary’s sister Hannah was living, and almost 170 miles from Elk City, where Mary’s parents and sister Julia were living.

Joseph Podolsky and family 1880 US census Year: 1880; Census Place: Millersburg, Holmes, Ohio; Roll: 1034; Family History Film: 1255034; Page: 292A; Enumeration District: 128; Image: 0305

Joseph Podolsky and family 1880 US census
Year: 1880; Census Place: Millersburg, Holmes, Ohio; Roll: 1034; Family History Film: 1255034; Page: 292A; Enumeration District: 128; Image: 0305

I cannot account for where the other two children of Mina and Marcus Rosenberg were in 1880. I cannot find Rachel or Harry on the 1880 census.  In fact, I can’t locate Rachel on any document after 1870.  Perhaps Rachel had married, but I can’t find her.  I think it is more likely that she died.  Harry would have been only 19 in 1880.  Where could he have gone? He does reappear later, but I’ve no idea where he was in 1880.

By 1880, my various Schoenthal relatives were thus getting more spread out, though still for the most part in Pennsylvania and mostly in the western part of the state.  The next two decades would bring new family members into the fold—both by birth and by immigration.

 

 

The Schoenthals Come to America: 1866-1880

One of the things that I have found touching in researching many of the lines in my family is the way that families stayed together even after settling in the United States.  Although family members would sometimes move away as their children grew up and the job opportunities changed, brothers and sisters and cousins and others tended to all end up near each other when they first migrated.  In the case of the Schoenthal family, it’s even more striking since almost all of them ended up in a relatively small city, Washington, Pennsylvania.

Washington, PA 1897 By Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler & James B. Moyer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Washington, PA 1897
By Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler & James B. Moyer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As I mentioned in my last post, my great-great-uncle Henry Schoenthal was the first sibling of my great-grandfather Isidore to emigrate from Germany to the United States. His aunt Fanny Schoenthal Goldsmith had preceded him with her husband Simon in 1845.  Henry was the second oldest child and the oldest son of Levi Schoenthal and Henrietta Hamberg, born on May 20, 1843, in Sielen.  His German name was Hienemann, named for Levi’s father, Hienemann Schoenthal, but he changed it to Henry after settling in the United States.

According to the Beers biography referred to here, “Henry Schoenthal attended the school of his native village up to his fourteenth year, at the same time learning his father’s trade [shoemaking], beginning when only ten and one-half years old, and working at the same until he was fifteen years old. For two years after this he took private literary instruction, and in the year 1859 was admitted into the Jewish Seminary in Cassel, Germany, an institution where young men were educated to become teachers in Jewish schools, and leaders of the service in the synagogue. At the end of the third year he passed an examination, and then taught school for three years in one place [Trendelburg].”[1]    His role as a teacher is also mentioned on the Alemannia-Judaica page for Trendelburg.

Despite being quite educated and having what would appear to be a good position, Henry must have decided that there were greater opportunities in America where his uncle Simon Goldsmith and his family had moved in 1845. Henry, still using the name Hienemann, sailed on the S.S. Hansa from Bremen, Germany, arriving in New York City on June 18, 1866.

Henry Schoenthal 1866 ship manifest, line 85 Year: 1866; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 267; Line: 1; List Number: 679

Henry Schoenthal 1866 ship manifest, line 85
Year: 1866; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 267; Line: 1; List Number: 679

As the Beers biography reports, Henry settled in Washington, Pennsylvania. “Selecting as his abiding place in the land of his adoption the thriving town of Washington, this county, he clerked for three years in the clothing store of [his first cousin] Jacob Goldsmith, at the sign of the “Golden Eagle,” in the room now occupied by C. A. House as a music store.”  Henry’s cousin had been well-established in Washington since at least 1854 as this August 23, 1854 article from the Washington Reporter (p. 2) reports:

Jacob Goldsmith ad 1854

On September 23, 1867, Henry’s younger brother Simon, born February 14, 1849, arrived in New York City on the S.S. D.H. Wagen, listing his occupation as a bookbinder and his destination as Pennsylvania.  Sailing with Simon was their sister Amalie, born Malchen on January 1, 1847, in Sielen. She also was headed to Pennsylvania.

Simon Schoenthal and Amalie Schoenthal 1867 ship manifest, lines 230 and 231 Year: 1867; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 286; Line: 1; List Number: 1004

Simon Schoenthal and Amalie Schoenthal 1867 ship manifest, lines 230 and 231
Year: 1867; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 286; Line: 1; List Number: 1004

The Beers biography continues, “Then in 1869, Mr. Schoenthal bought out the stationery business of Rev. James McFarland, at the “Green Tree Corner,” and has ever since conducted a prosperous and lucrative trade in books, stationery, notions, etc., at the same stand.”

Advertisement Date: Wednesday, June 7, 1871 Paper: Washington Reporter (Washington, Pennsylvania) Volume: LXIII

Advertisement
Date: Wednesday, June 7, 1871 Paper: Washington Reporter (Washington, Pennsylvania) Volume: LXIII

In 1870, Henry (now using Henry) and Simon were living together in Washington in what appears to be a hotel.  Henry was a book merchant, and Simon a bookbinder.

Henry and Simon Schoenthal 1870 census, lines 20 and 21 Year: 1870; Census Place: Washington, Washington, Pennsylvania; Roll: M593_1463; Page: 150B; Image: 290; Family History Library Film: 552962

Henry and Simon Schoenthal 1870 census, lines 20 and 21
Year: 1870; Census Place: Washington, Washington, Pennsylvania; Roll: M593_1463; Page: 150B; Image: 290; Family History Library Film: 552962

Simon book bindery 1870

Henry was also actively involved in the cultural life in Washington, bringing music to the people who lived there:

Henry Schoenthal music

 

In 1870, their sister Amalie Schoenthal was living in Pittsburgh with their uncle Simon Goldsmith, who had relocated to Pittsburgh by then.  His daughter Hannah had married Joseph Benedict, and they had a five month old baby Jacob at the time of the 1870 census.  Joseph was in the retail business (no product identified), and his father-in-law Simon was listed as a retired tailor.  Amalie’s occupation was reported as a “domestic.”  I don’t know whether that means she was working as a servant for her cousin or in the household of someone else.  I am curious as to who Eliza Brocksmith and her baby Jacob were, also listed in the household, but I’ve not yet found the connection.  Perhaps she was Joseph’s sister.

Amalie Schoenthal with Simon Goldsmith and the Benedict family 1870 census Year: 1870; Census Place: Pittsburgh Ward 5, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: M593_1295; Page: 567A; Image: 439; Family History Library Film: 552794

Amalie Schoenthal with Simon Goldsmith and the Benedict family 1870 census
Year: 1870; Census Place: Pittsburgh Ward 5, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: M593_1295; Page: 567A; Image: 439; Family History Library Film: 552794

Meanwhile, another sibling, Nathan arrived not long after the 1870 census.  Nathan, who was born August 6, 1854 in Sielen, was only sixteen years old when he sailed on the Frankfurt from Bremen to New York, arriving July 16, 1870.  He also settled in Washington, Pennsylvania, with his two older brothers.

Nathan Schoenthal 1870 ship manifest line 167 Year: 1870; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 332; Line: 1; List Number: 683

Nathan Schoenthal 1870 ship manifest line 167
Year: 1870; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 332; Line: 1; List Number: 683

In 1872, Henry returned to Germany where on May 8, 1872, he married Hewa (Helen) Lilienfeld of Gudensberg, the daughter of Meyer Lilienfeld and Malchen Engelbert.  Gudensberg is another town in the Kassel district of Hessen located about 55 km from Sielen.  I would love to know how that marriage was arranged.  Henry had been in the US for six years at that point and was 29 years old.  Had his parents made this arrangement for him?

Henry Schoenthal and Hewa Lilienfeld marriage record HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 386, S. 37

Henry Schoenthal and Hewa Lilienfeld marriage record
HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 386, S. 37

Henry and his new bride returned to the United States on May 24, 1872, sailing from Bremen on the Danae.  Strangely, Helen was listed under her birth name, Lilienfeld, not Schoenthal.  There are also two entries for Amalie Mannsbach, an eighteen year old, listed in between Helen(e) and Henry.  (I assume there were not two women with that name, but an error in the manifest.  Or maybe there were two cousins with the same name and of the same age.)  Since Henry’s brother Simon married a woman named Rose Mansbach in 1872, I am wondering whether Amalie became Rose in the US and whether Henry was bringing this young woman back for his younger brother.  But right now that is just speculation.

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

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

Meanwhile, a fifth Schoenthal sibling had arrived in western Pennsylvania while Henry was in Germany, getting married.  Felix, born Seligmann Schoenthal on December 15, 1856, in Sielen, arrived on May 11, 1872, according to the passport application he filed in 1919.  Although I scanned the entire ship manifest for the ship that arrived on that date from Bremen, I could not find his name.  Felix also asserted on his passport application that he was naturalized in the Court of Common Pleas in Pittsburgh on August 17, 1878. In 1880, he was living with his wife of two years, Maggie (or Margaret), in West Newton, Pennsylvania, and working as a clerk in the paper mill.  West Newton is about 32 miles east of Washington and about 25 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, so he was not too far from his siblings.

Felix Schoenthal 1880 US census Year: 1880; Census Place: West Newton, Westmoreland, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1204; Family History Film: 1255204; Page: 8C; Enumeration District: 109

Felix Schoenthal 1880 US census
Year: 1880; Census Place: West Newton, Westmoreland, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1204; Family History Film: 1255204; Page: 8C; Enumeration District: 109

A sixth Schoenthal sibling also had arrived from Germany by 1880—Julius.  He, however, has proven to be more difficult to pin down.  I have been unable to locate a passenger manifest that includes him, and if it weren’t for the fact that the Beers biography mentioned a brother named Julius who lived in Washington, DC, I probably would not have assumed that the Julius Schoenthal that I found in DC was related to my Schoenthal family.  When I found Julius on the 1880 census, the only clue I had to support the conclusion that he was related was the fact that, like Levi Schoenthal, he was a shoemaker.

Julius Schoenthal 1880 US census Year: 1880; Census Place: Georgetown, Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia; Roll: 121; Family History Film: 1254121; Page: 9A; Enumeration District: 012; Image: 0498

Julius Schoenthal 1880 US census
Year: 1880; Census Place: Georgetown, Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia; Roll: 121; Family History Film: 1254121; Page: 9A; Enumeration District: 012; Image: 0498

I didn’t have a German birth record for Julius so I assumed he was born before 1846 when the Breuna birth records that are available online began. Things got even more confusing when I tried to find information about when Julius arrived in the US and what he was doing in the 1870s.  What a hodge-podge of confusing and conflicting clues.

First, the 1910 census reports that Julius arrived in 1869, but the 1900 census said he arrived in 1875.  According to the District of Columbia, Select Marriages, 1830-1921, database on Ancestry, Julius married Minnie Dahl on March 15, 1874, in DC., so I knew Julius had to have been in the US by 1874 and that the 1900 census could not be right.  Then I found an entry for a Julius Schoenthal in the U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934, on Ancestry that indicated that Julius had filed a claim for a pension in 1897 as an invalid; it also indicated that Julius had served in the Signal Corps, but there were no dates of service indicated on the index card in that database.

Julius Schoenthal pension index card U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934

Julius Schoenthal pension index card
U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934

I was confused.  If Julius arrived in 1869 or 1875, how could he have served in the Civil War, which ended in 1865?

I decided to look for news articles, hoping I’d find something to shed light on when Julius had immigrated, and I found an article dated September 14, 1914, from the Washington Evening Star (p. 12) that added one more fact to the mix, bewildering me even further.

Julius Schoenthal news article re Germany WW I

If Julius had served in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-1871, how could he have served in the US Civil War?  Had he immigrated to the US, enlisted in the US Army, and then returned to Germany to serve in that country’s army against France?  I thought maybe I should order his service file from the National Archives, but  it was fairly expensive, so I decided to hold off and see what else I could find.

I turned once again to the genealogy village and the Ancestry.com Facebook group to see if there was someone who was more expert with the U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 database.  I was very fortunate to get tremendous help from a member there named Lillian.  First, she informed me that the so-called Civil War Pension Index covers more than just Civil War veterans, a fact that had not been clear to me when I read the database description.  Then Lillian pointed me to a document on Fold3, a genealogy website primarily focused on military records.  That document stated that Julius had enlisted in the US Army in 1873, eight years after the Civil War ended.

I’d seen this document earlier, but had dismissed it for a couple of reasons.  First, it said that Julius was born in Berlin.  That seemed not likely to be the right person since all of my great-grandfather’s other siblings were born in Sielen, not anywhere close to Berlin.  Secondly, it said he enlisted from Chicago.  I couldn’t imagine that my Julius would have enlisted from Chicago since no one else in the family was there, so I had dismissed this record.  Looking a second time at Lillian’s suggestion, I saw that Julius had been discharged in Washington, DC, on June 5, 1874, making it more likely that this could be my Julius.  But I was and am not 100% certain that it is.

It would make more sense, however, for Julius to have enlisted in 1873, not during the Civil War.  Maybe he had arrived in 1869 and had returned home to fight for Germany in the Franco-Prussian War.  Or maybe the 1910 census does not accurately record his arrival date and Julius had arrived after serving in the Franco-Prussian War, perhaps in 1872, and then enlisted in the US Army from Chicago.  He married Minnie Dahl, who was born in Germany, but I don’t know where he met her.  Assuming it was in Washington, that might explain why they settled there once he was discharged from the army in 1874 less than two months after they were married.

English: Pres. U.S. Grant (between 1870 and 18...

English: Pres. U.S. Grant (between 1870 and 1880) Français : Le président américain Ulysses Grant (Photo prise entre 1870 and 1880) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lillian found one more piece of evidence that may provide more answers.  On May 12, 1873, a man named Julius Schoenthal wrote a letter to then US President Ulysses S. Grant, and that letter is in the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Collection at Mississippi State University.  I have ordered a copy of the letter and hope to receive it within a week or so.  I am hoping that perhaps it will be the right Julius Schoenthal and that it will reveal something about his life before being discharged from the army and marrying Minnie Dahl.  Maybe I will find some clue, some evidence that ties him to my Schoenthals and explains some of the confusing and conflicting evidence I’ve found so far. And now I am curious enough about Julius that I broke down and ordered his pension file, but found someone who could retrieve it for me for a more reasonable price.

Assuming that Julius was in fact my great-grandfather’s brother, it would mean that by 1880 five of the seven surviving sons and one of the three daughters of Levi Schoenthal and Jette Hamberg had left Sielen, Germany, and moved to the United States.  All but Julius were living in western Pennsylvania in 1880. As the Beers biography points out, by 1880, Henry and Helen Schoenthal had had three children, “Madaline, born March 16, 1873, died in infancy; Hilda, born June 25, 1874; Lionel, born April 14, 1877.”  Amalie and her husband Elias Wolfe had had three: Maurice (1873), Florence (1875), and Lionel (Lee) (1877).  I assume the two Lionels were named for their grandfather Levi Schoenthal, who had died back in Sielen in 1874. Simon and his wife Rose had had five children in the 1870s: Ida (1873), Harry (1873), Gertrude (1875), Louis (1877—probably also named for Levi), and Maurice (1878).  Julius and his wife Minnie had four children in the 1870s: Leo (1875—also probably for Levi), Rosalia (1876), Sylvester (1878), and Moretto (1879).  Thus, in one decade the Schoenthal siblings had produced fifteen new American born children.

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

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

 

In the next decade, my great-grandfather Isidore would arrive as well as his mother and two other sisters.  There would be only one Schoenthal left in Germany, at least for a while.  Almost all the descendants of Levi and Henrietta (Hamberg) Schoenthal would be born in the United States.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Text taken from page 1057 of:

Beers, J. H. and Co., Commemorative Biographical Record of Washington County, Pennsylvania (Chicago: J. H. Beers & Co., 1893).

Transcribed March 1997 by Neil and Marilyn Morton of Oswego, IL as part of the Beers Project.

Published March 1997 on the Washington County, PA USGenWeb pages at http://www.chartiers.com/.

Another Twisted Family Tree Story: The Goldsmiths/Goldschmidts

One thing that has amazed me before in my research is how often various lines in my family interconnect, like the Hano, Nusbaums, and Cohens in Philadelphia.  In researching the Schoenthals, I’ve once again encountered one of those twists in my family tree.

In my September 25 post I shared the numerous records I was able to find, with the help of several others, for my Schoenthal ancestors, including the marriage record of my great-great-grandparents, Levi Schoenthal and Jhette (or Henrietta) Hamberg in 1839.  That record revealed that Levi’s father was Heinemann Schoenthal and his mother Hendel (or Handel) Beerenstein.  For the moment that is as far back as I’ve been able to go with my Schoenthal line, though I hope to be able to find more about the earlier history of both the Schoenthal line and the Beerenstein line.

Marriage record for Levi Schoenthal and Jhette Hamberg HHStAW, 365, 386

Marriage record for Levi Schoenthal and Jhette Hamberg
HHStAW, 365, 386

Thanks to the research done by David Baron and my third cousin Roger Cibella, I now know that Heinemann and Hendel had at least one other child, a daughter named Fradchen or Fanny, who was born in 1800 in Sielen, making her twelve years older than her brother Levi. (Hans-Peter Klein has uncovered another sibling, Minna, but that’s a story for another day.)

Unfortunately I’ve not yet found a birth record for Fanny, but there is a marriage record to support that conclusion.  David and Roger sent me a copy of this marriage record dated September 10, 1844 from Oberlistingen, a town very close to Breuna (and now one of the districts of the town Breuna).

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

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

As translated for me by Matthais Steinke, the record records the marriage of Fradchen Schoenthal, daughter of Heinemann Schoenthal and Hendel Beerentstein, to Simon Goldschmidt, son of Jacob Goldschmidt and Hewa Seligmann.  (No, I do not think Hewa Seligmann was related to my Seligmanns, but who knows? But that’s not the twist here.)  The record lists Fanny as 37 years old in 1844, thus born in 1807.  Simon is listed as 42 on the marriage record and is described as a master tailor.

According to David and Roger’s research, Simon had been married once before to Edeline or Ella Katzenstein. (I also don’t know if Simon’s first wife was related to my Katzensteins, but I am looking into that.  But that also is not the twist here.)  Simon and Ella had five children before Ella died in 1840. Their children ranged from Jacob, who was 16 when his mother died, down to Josias, who was only a year old when Ella died. There were also two daughters, Lena and Hewa (Eva), and another son, Joseph.  Four years after Ella died, Simon married Fanny.

Almost exactly a year after their wedding, Simon, Fanny, and Simon’s nine year old daughter Eva (Hewa) from his first marriage emigrated from Germany to the United States, arriving in Baltimore on the ship Marianne on September 20, 1845. Simon listed his occupation as a tailor on the ship manifest.

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

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

On January 10, 1847, Fanny gave birth to a son, Henry.  One year later Fanny and Simon had another child, a daughter named Hannah, born on June 5, 1848.  Both Henry and Hannah were born in Baltimore, Maryland.[1]  In 1850, the family was living in Pittsburgh along with Simon’s two daughters from his first marriage, Eva and Lena.  (The census record has many errors, but it is clear that this is Simon and Fanny’s family even though the record has the names mixed up and the ages inaccurate.)

Simon Goldsmith 1850 US census

Simon Goldsmith and family 1950 US Census Year: 1850; Census Place: Pittsburgh Ward 3, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: M432_745; Page: 135A; Image: 274

Tragically for the family, just two years after giving birth to Hannah, Fanny died in 1850.  She was buried at Troy Hill Jewish Cemetery in Pittsburgh.   Some readers might remember that that is also where the elusive Fanny Wiler is buried, another mother who left young children behind after an untimely death.

Fanny Schoenthal Goldsmith Troy Hill Pittsburgh

By 1860, Simon Goldsmith had moved with his two young children to Washington, Pennsylvania, a town about 28 miles to the southwest of Pittsburgh.    Simon, Henry, and Hannah were living with Simon’s son from his first marriage, Jacob, who was now 35 years old, according to the 1860 census, and working as a merchant.  Jacob and his wife had six young daughters of their own by 1860, so it must have been quite a crowded household.[2]

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

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

 

Washington, Pennsylvania (called “Little Washington” by some locals) was then a town of 3,587 people, according to the 1860 census reports, and had grown by 34% since the prior census in 1850. There was not yet a railroad line to the town at that time.  What drew all those people to this town?  The town’s website does not provide many clues in its history section:

With immigrants from the west of Scotland and the north of Ireland, and with many transferring their homes from the eastern and central parts of Virginia, the vicinity of Washington was settled in 1768. The Pennsylvania legislature passed an act on March 28, 1781, erecting the County of Washington and naming Catfish Camp as the place for holding the first election. This was the first county in the U.S. to bear the name of Washington.

David Hoge laid out a plan of lots immediately after the action of the legislature. His original plot bears the name “Bassett, alias Dandridge Town,” but before the plot was recorded, lines were drawn through “Bassett, alias Dandridge Town” with ink, and the word “Washington” was written above.

The town started with every evidence of progressive tendencies, as the original plot dedicated a tract of ground to the people for recreational purposes. A lot was given for a courthouse where the current building now stands, and Lots 43 and 102, according to the plan, were presented by Mr. Hoge to “His Excellency, General Washington, and Mrs. Washington.” Part of the townsite had been the camp of Tingoocqua, who was a chief in the Kuskuskee tribe of Indians.

The town was incorporated as a borough on February 13, 1810, and became a city of the third class in 1924.

Map of Washington County, Pennsylvania, United...

Map of Washington County, Pennsylvania, United States Public School Districts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a very detailed history[3] of Washington, Pennsylvania, available online through the University of Pittsburgh Historic Pittsburgh websiteOne tidbit I picked up from this history was that Jacob Goldsmith served on the town council in 1858.

Unfortunately, most of this text is devoted to describing the political history of the area and the individuals who were political leaders, and I could not get a sense of what drew people to the area initially.  Was it the proximity to Pittsburgh? Was it a good location for trade? Was agriculture the primary source of income? Whatever the reason that drew people there initially, the town had existed for many years by the time my relatives arrived.   From the 1860 census, I know that Jacob was a merchant, and I assume that with a town of over 3,500 people, there would have been a large enough population to support many merchants.

English: Map of Washington Pennsylvania from 1897

English: Map of Washington Pennsylvania from 1897 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One thing seems clear, however.  When Simon Goldsmith lived in Washington, Pennsylvania, in 1860, there was no synagogue there.  The first synagogue in all of Washington County, Beth Israel, was not founded until 1891. Although my ancestors had lived in small towns in Germany with very small Jewish communities, they had at least had synagogues and schools and cemeteries for their community.  I am not sure that when Simon arrived, there were any such facilities.

Why, you might wonder, am I dwelling on this town in western Pennsylvania where the widower of my great-great-grandfather’s sister lived with his two children? Because six years later, my great-grandfather’s brother Henry Schoenthal arrived in Washington with his wife and children, and some of his siblings followed in the years after.  Last to come in 1881 was my great-grandfather Isidore, accompanied by his mother Henrietta and his sister Rosalie.  And 23 years later in 1904, my grandmother Eva Schoenthal was born in Washington, Pennsylvania, the youngest child and only daughter of Isidore Schoenthal and Hilda Katzenstein.  It seems to me that Henry did not choose Washington randomly, but rather based on the fact that his first cousin Jacob Goldsmith and his aunt’s widower Simon Goldsmith were living there.

But I promised you a twist, and I still haven’t delivered.  Here it is. Simon Goldsmith was not only my great-great-aunt’s husband; he was also my four-times great-uncle himself.   Simon Goldsmith, husband of Fanny Schoenthal, had a brother named Seligmann Goldschmidt.  Seligmann had a daughter named Eva, just as his brother Simon did (both named for their grandmother, Simon and Seligmann’s mother Hewa).  Seligmann’s daughter Eva Goldschmidt was my great-great-grandmother; she married Gerson Katzenstein, my great-great-grandfather, and they were the parents of Hilda Katzenstein, who married Isidore Schoenthal, nephew of Fanny Schoenthal. Hilda Katzenstein and Isidore Schoenthal were my great-grandparents.

Stated as simply as possible, Simon Goldsmith was my four times great-uncle.  His wife Fanny Schoenthal was my three times great-aunt.   My grandmother Eva Schoenthal was a first cousin once removed from Henry Goldsmith, Simon and Fanny’s son, through her father’s side and his mother’s side:

Relationship_ Henry Goldsmith to Eva Schoenthal

She was also his first cousin twice removed through her mother’s side and his father’s side:

Relationship_ Henry Goldsmith to Eva GoldschmidtRelationship_ Eva Schoenthal to Eva Goldschmidt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They may have all left Germany, but they were still marrying within families they knew from back home.  Just another twist in my increasingly twisted family tree.  And more evidence of the limited gene pool created by endogamy and of the limited value of DNA predictions for Ashkenazi Jews.

 

[1] Fanny’s headstone says she was born in 1800.  I think it’s unlikely that Fanny had two children at ages 47 and 48, which is what she would have been if born in 1800 as her headstone indicates.  If, as her marriage record and the passenger manifest suggest, she was born in 1807, then she would have been having children at 40 and 41, which seems much more realistic.

[2] One thing that bothers me is that I cannot find out what happened to some of the other children of Simon Goldsmith and Ella Katzenstein.  Lena moved to Columbus, Ohio, after marrying Gustav Basch, and Joseph had died as a baby in Germany even before Ella died.  Eva immigrated with her father and step-mother, but then disappeared after the 1850 census; I assume she married. I’ve no idea what happened to Josias; perhaps he died before Simon left Germany, or maybe Simon left him behind with another family member.  Since they are not directly related to me, I am trying not to get too distracted looking for them, but eventually I will have to try and find out what happened to Josias and Eva.

[3] Title: History of Washington County, Pennsylvania: with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men

Authors: Crumrine, Boyd, 1838-1916, Ellis, Franklin, 1828-1885, Hungerford, Austin N.

Collection: Historic Pittsburgh General Text Collection

The Schoenthals: Where They Came From

Deutsch: Deutsche Bundesländer Karte.

Deutsch: Deutsche Bundesländer Karte. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) (Note the location of Hessen in blue on this map.)

My great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal came to the United States in 1881; he arrived in New York City on September 3 of that year on the ship Rhein when he was 22 years old.  I had known that he came from Germany, but not exactly where.  His death certificate said he was born in “Celand, Hess, Germany,” and from various other sources about him and his siblings, I concluded that the town where he was born was in fact Sielen, a small town in the Kassel district in the Hesse region of Germany.  Today’s post will focus on what I’ve learned about Sielen, the home town of my Schoenthal ancestors.

Sielen, Germany

Sielen, Germany

It was not that easy to find out very much about Sielen.  The town is so small (510 inhabitants as of 2011[1]) that it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry.  The closest major city is Frankfurt, and it is over 200 kilometers away, as are Dusseldorf and Cologne.  From what I can see on Google Maps, Sielen is surrounded for miles and miles by farmland.  The closest town is Trendelburg, which is about four kilometers away. It merits its own Wikipedia page, though that entry is all of three sentences and tells nothing of the history of the town.

Wikipedia reports that the population of Trendelburg was over 5000 people as of 2011, based on this website.  But according to the town’s official website, that number reflects not just the village of Trendelburg itself but the neighboring towns, including Sielen.  Trendelburg proper has just over 1100 residents.   Sielen has 552. Sielen is now considered a district within the larger town of Trendelburg.

Deutsch: Stadt Trendelburg

Deutsch: Stadt Trendelburg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

From the Trendelburg official website, I was able to learn some information about the history of the town, though relying on Google Translate makes reading the German always somewhat bewildering.  Assuming I am reading most of the general information correctly, the history of Trendelburg as a separate entity began when a castle was built there in the 13th century by Konrad the III, Schoeneburg .  The location was already an important trade center for that region as it was close to a good fording spot on the Diemel River.   Over the next several centuries, the castle was used for many different purposes: a hunting lodge, the offices of the Prussian Forestry Department, and today as a privately-owned hotel and restaurant.

Die Trendelburg - Gesamtansicht, Hessen, Germany

Die Trendelburg – Gesamtansicht, Hessen, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The hotel’s website includes some more detailed history of the castle:

With many twists and turns, the Diemel River meanders towards the Weser River. Right by Trendelburg Castle, there is a sharp bend around a rocky ridge which the locals called “Trindirberg” many years ago, probably naming the “mountain” after the village Trende, at the time situated to the west of the ridge but now completely vanished.

Sometime before 1300, Konrad the III of Schöneberg constructed a castle on this “mountain” to protect the main road from Kassel to Bremen. The settlement outside the castle also dates from this period.

Around 1305, Landgrave Heinrich I and the Bishop of Paderborn each purchased one half of the castle. The part belonging to Hessen was a Paderborn fief; the town’s official representatives were the Stoghusens, who lived in the castle for four generations.

In 1443 and 1456, the fortifications were renewed following serious fires. After their reconstruction, Trendelburg Castle was also changed, taking on the shape you see today. The fortifications were extended by a 38 metre high keep with four bretèches and a curtain wall in the shape of a pentagon with four small round towers. In the living quarters, which were erected in the 15th and the 17th century respectively, the remains of a late Gothic chapel with ribbed vaults have been preserved; the Trendelburg register office now uses this space for its civil wedding ceremonies. 

In the Thirty Years’ War, the castle was occupied by Tilly’s troops, and in 1637, it was destroyed by the Croats. In the Seven Years’ War, Trendelburg Castle was occupied by the French until they were driven off by Ferdinand V, the Duke of Brunswick, through artillery fire.

In 1901, military man Oberst Adalbert von Stockhausen, in all likelihood a descendant of the Stoghusens of old, bought the castle.

Taken over by the Dr. Lohbeck Group in 1996, the castle’s long-term future was secured by its conversion into a hotel for discerning visitors.

According to the hotel’s website, this is the castle where Rapunzel lived and let down her hair.  There is even a weekly “re-enactment” of this fairy tale at the castle.

The Trendelburg official website also contains some information about the history of Sielen itself. The village is bordered on one side by the Diemel River and surrounded by limestone hills. According to the website, a stone ax found in Sielen dated back to 6000 years ago, and a cemetery back to 1000 B.C.E.  A mill dating from 1243 remains as a ruin.

So what were my ancestors doing in this tiny village back in the 19th century and maybe before?  What kind of Jewish life could there have been? According to the Alemannia-Judaica website, there was a very small Jewish community in Sielen at least from the early 19th century.  In 1835, there were 38 Jewish residents; in 1861, there were 48.  By 1905, there were only fourteen Jewish residents, and by 1924, there were just four Jewish residents remaining. Like my own relatives, the Jewish residents either had emigrated outside of Germany or moved to the bigger cities.  During the Nazi era, those few remaining Jews in Sielen either left the area or were killed during the Holocaust.

Despite the tiny size of the Jewish community, there was a synagogue in Sielen from about 1817.  Originally a home owned by Moses Herzbach was used for prayer services, but in 1817, seven Jewish families sought permission from town officials to build a synagogue as an addition to Herzbach’s home.  Permission was granted, and Herzbach financed the construction of the synagogue.

There was also a Jewish school and a cemetery.  According to Alemannia-Judaica, at first Jews were buried in a cemetery in Trendelburg, but around 1846, a separate cemetery was established in Sielen on the road between Sielen and Trendelburg.  There are 26 graves there, including that of my great-great-grandfather Levi Schoenthal, as I will discuss in a later post.

Down the road in Trendelburg there was also a Jewish community with its own synagogue, cemetery, and school.  That community dates back to 1676, but also was quite small.  In 1731 there were 21 Jewish residents; the Jewish population peaked in 1827 at 31, but was down to just 12 by 1895.  There was a Jewish school in Trendelburg, where my great-grandfather’s brother Henry Schoenthal was a teacher before he immigrated to the United States.  There was also a mikveh, the ruins of which were discovered in 2001 during renovations and which can now be seen as a tourist attraction.  By Hitler’s time, there were only a handful of Jews remaining in Trendelburg, and they died in the Holocaust.

How did these Jews make a living in these small towns where the number of Jewish residents was so small? What were their lives like? I can’t say that I am surprised that my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal and almost all of his siblings left Sielen by the 1880s; my great-grandfather had ten siblings who survived to adulthood.  What kind of opportunities could they find in this small, rural town? Probably very few, and so they left and ended up all over the United States: Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Colorado, Arizona, California, Illinois, Ohio, Florida, and so on.  They learned English, they worked hard and survived, and they became Americans.    Like Joseph and Bessie Brotman, Isadore Goldschlager, Bernard Seligman, John Nusbaum and Jeanette Dreyfuss, and Jacob Cohen and Sarah Jacobs, they took the risk of leaving behind what they knew so that they could make a better life for themselves and their descendants.  How fortunate I am to be one of those descendants.

English: Location of Trendelburg in district K...

English: Location of Trendelburg in district Kassel, Hesse, Germany Deutsch: Lage von Trendelburg im Landkreis Kassel, Hessen, Deutschland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

[1]   http://www.citypopulation.de/php/germany-settlements-hessen.php?cityid=06633025_0B18

[i] http://www.citypopulation.de/php/germany-settlements-hessen.php?cityid=06633025_0B18