Last but Not Least, Levi Katzenstein and His Heroic Great-Grandson, Arye Katzenstein

How painful it must have been for this family to lose a son to terrorism in Germany in 1970 after escaping from the Nazis in Germany less than forty years before.  This is the story of the family of Levi Katzenstein, the youngest child of the nine children of my three-times great-uncle Jakob Katzenstein and his wife Sarchen Lion. With this post I will have covered as best I can at this point the lives of all the descendants of Scholem Katzensten, my 4-times great-grandfather.

In some ways Levi’s story reflects the stories of all his siblings; there are children who died young or who were stillborn. There are children who were killed in the Holocaust. And there are children who escaped from Nazi Germany and whose descendants are alive today in various places in the world. And in this family, there was a hero who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect other people.

Levi was born on May 29, 1851, in Jesberg. He married Jeanette Bendheim on August 13, 1878.  Jeanette was born July 17, 1858, in Friedberg, Germany, daughter of Wolf Bendheim and Johanette Schering or maybe Schwarz (the mother’s birth name is very hard to read; these were the possibilities given by members of the Jekkes group on Facebook. I can’t read it at all.).

Marriage record for Levi Katzenstein

Marriage record of Levi Katzenstein and Jeanette Bendheim Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Heiratsregister; Signatur: 924; Laufende Nummer: 546

Levi and Jeanette had six children, four sons and two daughters. Their firstborn was Kathinka, born on November 25, 1879, in Jesberg.

Kathinka Katzenstein birth record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Geburtsregister; Signatur: 920; Laufende Nummer: 3810

Then came two sons, Jakob and David. Jakob was born February 25, 1882, six years after the death of his grandfather Jakob for whom he must have been named.

Jakob Katzenstein birth record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Geburtsregister; Signatur: 920; Laufende Nummer: 3813

David was born two years later on March 3, 1884.

David Katzenstein birth record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Geburtsregister; Signatur: 920; Laufende Nummer: 3815

Sadly, the fourth child did not make it to her first birthday. Sara was born July 14, 1886, and died on May 11, 1887.

Sara Katzenstein death record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 920; Laufende Nummer: 3885

The last two children were boys. Sally Katzenstein was born on April 10, 1890, and Max Katzenstein was born on May 15, 1893.

Sally Katzenstein birth record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Geburtsregister; Signatur: 920; Laufende Nummer: 3821

Max Katzenstein birth record
HStAMR Best. 920 Nr. 3824 Standesamt Jesberg Geburtsnebenregister 1893, S. 29

Thanks to Barbara Greve, I can share this photograph of the house in Jesberg where Levi and Jeanette Katzenstein raised their children:

Home of Levi Katzenstein in Jesberg

Four of the five children of Levi and Jeanette Katzenstein married and had children. Kathinka married Meier Bamberger on August 8, 1905, in Jesberg. Meier was born on June 8, 1878, in Holzheim, Germany, the son of Joseph Bamberger and Settchen Meier.

Kathinka Katzenstein and Meier Bamberger marriage record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Heiratsregister; Signatur: 920; Laufende Nummer: 3860

Kathinka and Meier Bamberger had one child who survived, a daughter Gertrud born in Holzheim on May 7, 1910, and also had a stillborn child on December 9, 1915.

stillborn child of Kathinka and Meier Bamberger
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 905; Laufende Nummer: 796

Kathinka’s brother Jacob married Auguste Wallach on February 11, 1908, in Oberaula, Germany. Auguste was the daughter of Manus Wallach and Roschen Stern, and she was born on August 7, 1882, in Oberaula.

Marriage record of Jakob Katzenstein and Auguste Wallach
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Heiratsregister; Signatur: 920; Laufende Nummer: 6351

Jacob and Auguste had one child, a son named Benjamin Willi born in Jesberg on November 18, 1908, according to the research done by Barbara Greve.

David Katzenstein married Gertrude Spier on January 7, 1912 in Merzhausen, Germany. Gertrude, the daughter of Juda Spier and Jeanette Rothschild, was born in Willinghausen, Merzhausen, Germany, on December 10, 1887.

Marriage record of David Katzenstein and Gertrude Spier
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Heiratsregister; Signatur: 920; Laufende Nummer: 8870

David and Gertrude had a stillborn baby on October 27, 1912, and then three more children: Heinz (1913), Erich (1919), and Ursula (1923). Here is David Katzenstein’s house, as provided to me by Barbara Greve:

David Katzenstein’s house in Jesberg

The fourth surviving child of Levi and Jeanette was Sally Katzenstein. He married Gretha Nussbaum on December 24, 1913, in Wurda, Germany. She was the daughter of Joseph Nussbaum and Rickchen  Stein, born in Rhina, Germany, on August 5, 1991.

Marriage record of Sally Katzenstein and Gretha Nussbaum
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Heiratsregister; Signatur: 907; Laufende Nummer: 6935

Sally and Gretha had two daughters, Elfriede (1914) and Ruth-Rika (1924).

The youngest child of Levi Katzenstein and Jeanette Bendheim was their son Max. Tragically, Max was killed fighting for Germany in World War I on June 4, 1915. According to Barbara Greve’s research, Max served as a musketeer in the Third Company of the 7th Infantry, Regiment No. 142. He was 22 years old. Given what happened to some of his siblings, his sacrifice for Germany is especially tragic.

Max Katzenstein death record
HStAMR Best. 920 Nr. 3913 Standesamt Jesberg Sterbenebenregister 1915, S. 27

Levi and Jeanette Katzenstein had thus already lost two of their children—their daughter Sara and their son Max. Then on May 17, 1921, they lost yet another child, their only other daughter Kathinka Katzenstein Bamberger. She was only 41 years old and left behind her husband Meier and their eleven year old daughter Gertrud.

Kathinka Katzenstein Bamberger death record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 905; Laufende Nummer: 797

Meier remarried seven months later on December 23, 1921; his second wife was Zerline Kahn, stepmother to little Gertrud.

After Kathinka’s death, Levi and Jeanette had only their three sons Jakob, David, and Sally surviving as well as their grandchildren. Levi died on April 3, 1929, and Jeanette died a year later on July 22, 1930.

Levi Katzenstein death record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 920; Laufende Nummer: 3920

Jeanette Bendheim Katzenstein death record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 920; Laufende Nummer: 3921

They are both buried in Jesberg, as seen in this photograph I took while in Jesberg in May:

Levi Katzenstein and Jeanette Bendheim Katzenstein, Jesberg cemetery

Levi and Jeanette’s remaining family did not get to stay in their ancestral town of Jesberg. According to Barbara Greve, David Katzenstein was forced to sell his home and farm after the Nazis came to power. He and his family left for Palestine in 1934. His brother Jakob left three years later in 1937.

Jakob and David and their families survived the Holocaust and settled in Palestine where, as these documents reveal, they became naturalized citizens.

Naturalization petition and citizenship order in Palestine for David Katzenstein and
Gertrude Spier
http://www.archives.gov.il/en/

Naturalization petition and citizenship order in Palestine for David Katzenstein and Gertrude Spier http://www.archives.gov.il/en/

Palestine Application for Naturalization for Jakob Katzenstein and Auguste Wallach http://www.archives.gov.il/en/

Palestine Citizenship Order for Jakob Katzenstein and Auguste Wallach http://www.archives.gov.il/en/

Their younger brother Sally and his wife Gretha as well as their niece Gertrud Bamberger and her father and stepmother were not as fortunate.  They were all murdered by the Nazis. Gertrud Bamberger, her father Meier Bamberger and stepmother Zerline Kahn Bamberger were deported to the concentration camp at Treblinka on September 30, 1942, where they were killed. (The links are to their entries in the Yad Vashem database.)

The fate of Sally Katzenstein and his wife Greta Nussbaum Katzenstein and their two daughters was described in detail on this website describing the Stolpersteine for the village of Minden, Germany. I will quote from this website, which tells in chilling terms the story of this Katzenstein family:

Sally Katzenstein was a teacher and a preacher. He taught in an Israeli school in Breitenbach, North Hessen, from 1911 and from 1921 until 1934 at the state school in Soest. At both schools he also had the responsibility for teaching four hours each week at a school for further education. In Soest he was [a] preacher to the Synagogue congregation.

Shortly after the National Socialists took over power on the 7th April, 1933, the law for the Reinstatement of the Career Civil Servants was passed. This was to enable the removal of unwanted officials, especially Jews, from governmental posts. Sally Katzstein also fell foul of this law and on 29th March, 1934, lost his occupation as a teacher.

On 1st September, 1935, the family moved to Minden and found a home in Wilhelmstrasse 18. Sally Katzenstein became the local representative for the National Association of Jews in Germany and later preacher to the Synagogue Community. As Jewish children were banned from State schools he held lessons in private rooms.

After the November Pogrom of 1938 Sally Katzenstein was required to pay 1.400 Reichsmark tax on his fortune. These taxes were cynically called ‘Jewish Punishment Tax’. With this money the Jews had to pay for damage that had been done to their property, by others, during the Pogrom.

In 1939 the family tried to emigrate to Palestine but only their daughter, Ruth Rika, was given permission to leave. Her sister, Elfriede, had emigrated in 1936. In 1941 Sally and Gretha submitted an application to emigrate to the USA and permission was granted but then was foiled by the USA entering the war.

In 1941 the Katzensteins were forced to leave their home and to move into the so called Jewish house in Kampstrasse 6, The Jewish community house together with lots of other Jews, in very cramped conditions.

In the spring of 1943 Sally and Gretha Katzenstein were the last Jews living in Minden but they were arrested and taken to Bielefeld and from there were deported to Teresienstadt. From there they were taken separately to Auschwitz where they were both murdered in October 1944.

Fortunately, both of Sally and Gretha’s daughters survived. Elfriede, their older daughter, married to Siegfried Berliner, settled in Palestine, now Israel, where she died on December 8, 2011, according to this obituary. She was 97 years old and had three children.  Her sister Ruth Rika Katzenstein married Harold Rosenberg and settled in Scotland where Ruth was registered as a nurse for many years. I have not yet found a death record for Ruth nor do I know whether she had any children.

There is one final tragic story to tell about the descendants of Levi Katzenstein. As noted above, two of his sons, Jacob and David, immigrated to Palestine in the 1930s. David and his wife Gertrude had three children: Heinz, Erich, and Ursula. Heinz had a son named Arye born in Haifa, Israel, in 1937.

On February 10, 1970, Heinz was seriously injured and Arye was killed during a terrorist attack on a bus that was supposed to take them from the Munich Airport terminal to an El Al jet they were planning to board. The details were described in a September 6, 2015, obituary for Uriel Cohen, an El Al pilot who had tried to stop the attack:

The attack in Germany occurred on February 10, 1970, at 12:50pm. An El Al plane on Flight 435 from Israel had landed at the airport shortly before. Some passengers intended to continue to London, [and] were on their way to a bus that would take them to a connecting flight. A scream was suddenly heard and three young Arab men came from the direction of the transit hall stairs, shouting and running towards the bus, ordering passengers to put their hands up.

The captain tackled the assailants, but they managed to toss two hand grenades at the bus. One of the terrorists pulled out a gun, and another grenade was thrown. Arye Katzenstein of Haifa, 32 at the time, was on the bus with his father and sprinted towards one of the grenades. He used his body to prevent other passengers from being wounded. He died at the scene and his father was severely wounded.

Arye Katzenstein, my fourth cousin, was a hero. His family had left Germany to escape from the Nazis, and almost forty years later he was killed in Germany while trying to protect others from a terrorist attack.

It does make me wonder whether hate will ever end.  It also makes me realize that there will always be good people who will fight that hate and provide us all with hope and inspiration.

 

Two of The Less Fortunate Children of Jakob Katzenstein: Schalum and Rebecca

I will now return to the children of Jakob Katzenstein and Sarchen Lion. I had already discussed their first two children and their descendants: Gelle and Mina.

Mina Katzenstein’s children and descendants were remarkably fortunate in many ways. They survived the Holocaust by escaping from Germany during the 1930s. Some went to the United States, some to South America, and some to South Africa. I don’t mean to say they were lucky. They were all torn from their homes and all that they knew and undoubtedly subjected to harassment and discrimination before they left and some painful adjustments after they left. But they did survive.  As we’ve seen, that was not true for many of the descendants of Mina’s sibling Gelle.

Now we can explore the fate of the other seven children of Jakob Katzenstein and Sarchen Lion. Unfortunately, many of them do not have happy endings.

The third child of my great-great-grandfather’s brother Jakob Katzenstein and his wife Sarchen Lion was their first son, Schalum Abraham Katzenstein, named for his grandfather, Jakob’s father and my three-times great-grandfather, Scholem Katzenstein. Jakob and Sarchen’s son Schalum was born in February, 1834, in Jesberg, according to the report of Reverend Bach provided to me by Barbara Greve.

Reverend Bach family sheet for Jakob Katzenstein

Schalum only lived to be 25. He died on July 7, 1859, in Jesberg. He is buried at Haarhausen cemetery, where I visited in May and took this photograph of his gravestone:

Jacob Katzenstein’s son, Schalum Katzenstein

The inscription was very faded, but it had been transcribed years ago on the LAGIS site from Hebrew to German, and Barbara Greve translated the German translation of inscription on the headstone for me into English. It describes Schalum as “a lovable youth of a beautiful stature who avoided evil and was attached to the good. He was quick and nimble in his work in the short time of his work. And there came death, and gathered him there in the blossom of his youth.” How bittersweet.

Jakob and Sarchen’s fourth child was Rebecca Katzenstein. According to her death certificate and the report of Reverend Bach, Rebecca was born on July 6, 1836. I was not able to locate a marriage record for Rebecca, but sometime before August, 1866, Rebecca married Wolf Lamm of Ober-Gleen, Germany. According to his death record, Wolf was the son of Joseph Lamm and Hanna Goldschmidt and was born in Ober-Glenn in about 1833.

Rebecca and Wolf had two children, Karoline, born August 4, 1866, in Ober-Gleen, and Joseph (obviously named for his paternal grandfather), born July 9, 1870, in Ober-Gleen.

Wolf died before either of his children married.  He died on March 13, 1897, in Ober-Gleen. He was 64 years old.

Wolf Lamm death record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 921; Laufende Nummer: 717

Their daughter Karoline married Seligmann Hoexter on March 3, 1908, in Ober-Gleen; he was born February 7, 1858, in Gemuenden, Germany, and had been previously married and widowed. Karoline was 41 when she married Seligmann, and he was fifty. They did not have any children.

Karoline Lamm andSeligmann Hoexter marriage record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Heiratsregister; Signatur: 921; Laufende Nummer: 715

Joseph Lamm, Karoline’s brother, married Bertha Baum on November 24, 1901. Bertha was born June 10, 1877, in Gielhausen, daughter of Abraham Baum and Gretchen Kaiser.

Marriage record of Joseph Lamm and Bertha Baum
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Heiratsregister; Signatur: 905; Laufende Nummer: 317

Joseph and Bertha had two sons, Willi, born November 15, 1902, in Ober-Gleen, and Nathan, born December 21, 1903, also in Ober-Gleen.

Rebecca Katzenstein Lamm lived to see her children marry and her two grandsons born. She died on February 20, 1915, in Ober-Gleen at age 74.

Rebekka Katzenstein Lamm death record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 921; Laufende Nummer: 717

Just three years later, Rebecca’s daughter Karoline died on January 11, 1918, making her husband Seligmann a widower for the second time. Karoline was only 51 years old.

Karoline Lamm Hoexter death record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 922; Signatur: 4233

Seligmann Hoexter died twenty years later on October 12, 1938. He was eighty years old and died at the Jewish community hospital in Frankfurt.

Unfortunately, all but one of the remaining family members were killed in the Holocaust. Joseph Lamm and his wife Bertha Baum Lamm were deported first to Theriesenstadt on September 1, 1942. Joseph was then taken to Treblinka, where he was murdered on September 29, 1942. Bertha died at Theriesenstadt on December 17, 1942.

Their older son, Willi, was killed at the concentration camp in Majdanek, Poland, on July 16, 1942. He was thirty-nine years old. Thanks to Linda Silverman Shefler, who is also related to the Lamm family of Ober-Gleen, I was able to learn that Willi had married Berta Dub, and she also was killed at Majdanek.  Neither Linda nor I have been able to find any children born to Willi and Berta, although I did find Berta’s sister’s family and hope to learn more from them. (The links are all to their entries in the Yad Vashem database.)

The only descendant of Rebecca Katzenstein and Wolf Lamm to survive the Holocaust was their younger grandson, Nathan, Willi’s brother. Nathan had left Germany before Hitler even came to power. He had arrived in New York on November 27, 1927, reporting that he was a tailor and that he was going to a friend in Buffalo named Henry Geissler, who had been in the US since 1923 and was also from Ober-Gleen.

Nathan Lamm 1927 passenger manifest Year: 1927; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 4175; Line: 1; Page Number: 35 Description Ship or Roll Number : Roll 4175 Source Information Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957

At first I had no luck finding Nathan on the 1930 census, but then I found his naturalization papers, which indicated that he was using the name Max Nathan Lamm:

Nathan Max Lamm naturalization papers
The National Archives at Atlanta; Morrow, Georgia, USA; 2217062; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States; Record Group Number: 21
Description
Description : Greenville Petitions 1911-1965 (Box 6)
Source Information
Ancestry.com. South Carolina, Naturalization Records, 1868-1991

Using the name Max Lamm to search for him, I found him in Buffalo in 1930, working as a laborer in a bakery and living as a boarder with two other men who were also working in the bakery:

Max Lamm 1930 census
Year: 1930; Census Place: Buffalo, Erie, New York; Roll: 1428; Page: 22A; Enumeration District: 0182; FHL microfilm: 2341163

In 1940, Max Lamm was still in Buffalo, living in a large guest house and working as a laborer in building construction.

Max Lamm 1940 census
Year: 1940; Census Place: Buffalo, Erie, New York; Roll: T627_2824; Page: 82A; Enumeration District: 64-73

He enlisted in the US Army on December 1, 1942, and while in the army, he petitioned for citizenship, as the document above reveals. He was apparently stationed in South Carolina when he filed his petition.

After serving in the military for the United States during World War II, Max Nathan Lamm returned to Buffalo, New York; he is listed in Buffalo directories for 1957 and  1960, working as an employee of the Red Star Express, a trucking company.

Max Nathan Lamm died in 1968 and is buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo. He was 64 years old. It does not appear that he ever married or had children, and he had lost his brother and both his parents during the Holocaust. He was the only surviving descendant of Rebecca Katzenstein and Wolf Lamm, and he died without survivors.

Courtesy of Jay Boone
Find A Grave Memorial# 82841920

Thus, neither Schalum or Rebecca Katzenstein has any living descendants.

The fifth child of Jakob Katzenstein and Sarchen Lion was their daughter Johanna. Her story is covered in my next post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sisters and Cousins

This is a brief addendum to my last post (which I have also updated). I wanted to share two new images I received from Martin Abrahams after he read the post about his aunt Mali Katz Baumann and her family.

First, Martin sent me his mother Senta’s passport from Germany. The photograph of Senta reveals the strong family resemblance between Senta and her sister Mali in the 1930s:

Mali Katz Baumann Courtesy of her grandchildren

Senta Katz Abraham Courtesy of Martin Abrahams

The second photograph was taken before the families left Germany in the 1930s.  In the front row are Eva Baumann, Fred Abrahams, Martin Abrahams, and Margot Baumann, first cousins. After leaving Germany, the Baumanns lived in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and the Abrahams in New York City.

Front row: Eva Baumann, Fred Abrahams, Martin Abrahams, Margot Baumann. Courtesy of Martin Abrahams

Such happy, innocent children whose lives were about to be changed forever.

Days of Wine and Sichels

You might want to open a bottle of wine as you read this post.

As I wrote last time, Caroline Seligmann (my 4x-great-aunt) and Moses Morreau had two children, Levi and Klara. This post will focus on Klara and her descendants.

Klara was born in Worrstadt on July 9, 1838:

Klara Morreau birth record, July 9 1838
Morreau birth records 1838-29

 

I have not had success in finding a marriage record for Klara, but I know from her death record and her son’s birth record that she married Adolph (sometimes Adolf) Sichel. I have neither a birth nor a death record for Adolph, but I do have a photograph of Adolph’s gravestone in Bingen, which identifies his birth date as April 10, 1834. [1]

Adolph Sichel was the son of Hermann Sichel and Mathilde Neustadt of Sprendlingen, later Mainz. Hermann Sichel was the founder of the renowned wine producing and trading business, H. Sichel Sohne. Although it is beyond the scope of my blog to delve too deeply into the story of the Sichel wine business, a little background helps to shed light on Adolph, Klara, and their descendants. According to several sources, Hermann Sichel started the family wine business with his sons in 1856 in Mainz, Germany.

In 1883, the company expanded to Bordeaux, France, where it established an office to procure wines for sales by Sichel in Mainz, London, and New York City. The sons and eventually the grandsons worked in various branches of the business, some working in the French office, some in London, and some in Mainz. The business continued to expand and is still in business today; it is perhaps best known in popular culture as the maker of Blue Nun, a wine that was quite successful in the 1970s and 1980s. One writer described it as “a single, perfectly positioned product, a Liebfraumilch whose blandness seemed just the ticket for the hundreds of thousands of new wine drinkers, not just in the US but also in the UK. “

Adolph was not one of the sons who relocated from Germany. He and Klara had two children born and raised in Germany. Their daughter Camilla Margaretha Sichel was born on February 4, 1864, in Sprendlingen, according to Nazi documentation:

Camilla Sichel Blum info from Nazi files from MP

UPDATE: Aaron Knappstein was able to get a copy of Camilla’s birth record:

Camilla Alice Morreau birth record

Camilla Sichel married Jakob Blum, who was born April 3, 1853, in Nierstein, Germany. They had four children, all born in Mainz: Paul (1884), Willy (1886), Richard (1889), and Walter (1893):

Paul Blum birth record, September 7, 1884
Ancestry.com. Mainz, Germany, Birth Records, 1872-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
Original data: Personenstandsregister Geburtenregister 1876-1900. Digital images. Stadtarchiv Mainz, Mainz, Germany.

Willy Blum birth record
February 21, 1886
Ancestry.com. Mainz, Germany, Birth Records, 1872-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
Original data: Personenstandsregister Geburtenregister 1876-1900. Digital images. Stadtarchiv Mainz, Mainz, Germany.

Richard Blum birth record
June 8, 1889
Ancestry.com. Mainz, Germany, Birth Records, 1872-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
Original data: Personenstandsregister Geburtenregister 1876-1900. Digital images. Stadtarchiv Mainz, Mainz, Germany.

Walter Blum birth record
August 4, 1893
Ancestry.com. Mainz, Germany, Birth Records, 1872-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
Original data: Personenstandsregister Geburtenregister 1876-1900. Digital images. Stadtarchiv Mainz, Mainz, Germany.

Paul died as a young boy in 1890 and is buried in the Jewish cemetery in Mainz.

Paul Blum, Mainz Jewish Cemetery Courtesy of Camicalm Find A Grave Memorial# 176111502

Camilla Sichel Blum’s husband Jakob Blum died August 22, 1914; he was 61 years old:

Jakob Blum death record
Ancestry.com. Mainz, Germany, Deaths, 1876-1950 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
Original data: Personenstandsregister, Sterberegister, 1876-1950. Mainz Stadtarchiv.

He was buried in the Mainz Jewish cemetery where his young son Paul had also been buried:

Jakob Blum gravestone, Mainz Jewish Cemetery
Courtesy of Camicalm
Find A Grave Memorial# 177633476

His wife Camilla would survive him by almost thirrty years.

Adolph Sichel and Klara Morreau also had a son named Hermann. I found Hermann’s birth date and place, June 24, 1869, in Sprendlingen, in the Name Index of Jews Whose German Nationality Was Annulled by the Nazi Regime database on Ancestry, a horrifying but presumably reliable source, given the meticulousness with which the Nazis kept records on Jews:

Hermann Sichel in Ancestry.com. Germany, Index of Jews Whose German Nationality was Annulled by Nazi Regime, 1935-1944 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

On April 14, 1905, Hermann married Maria Franziska Trier, who was born on May 11, 1883, in Darmstadt, Germany, to Eugen Trier and Mathilde Neustadt. Maria was 21, and Hermann was 35.

Marriage record of Hermann Sichel and Maria Trier
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Heiratsregister; Signatur: 901; Laufende Nummer: 98

Hermann and Maria had two sons, Walter Adolph (1906) and Ernst Otto (1907).

Camilla and Hermann’s father Adolph Sichel died on April 30, 1900, as seen above on his gravestone; Hermann’s older son Walter Adolph was obviously named at least in part for Adolph. Klara Morreau Sichel died on April 2, 1919. Adolph and Klara are buried in Bingen.

Klara Morreau Sichel death record, Apr 2, 1919
Ancestry.com. Mainz, Germany, Deaths, 1876-1950 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
Original data: Personenstandsregister, Sterberegister, 1876-1950. Mainz Stadtarchiv.

Klara Morreau Sichel gravestone at Bingen Jewish cemetery
http://www.steinheim-institut.de/cgi-bin/epidat?id=bng-818&lang=de

The families of both Camilla Sichel Blum and Hermann Sichel remained in Germany until after Hitler came to power in 1933. Then they all left for either England or the United States.

Two of Camilla’s sons, Richard and Walter, ended up in the US. Walter arrived first—on April 27, 1939.

Walter Blum ship manifest 1939
Year: 1939; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 6319; Line: 1; Page Number: 42
Description
Ship or Roll Number : Roll 6319
Source Information
Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line].

(Walter had actually visited the US many years before in 1921 when he was 27 years old; the ship manifest indicates that he was going to visit his “uncle” Albert Morreau in Cleveland. Albert was in fact his first cousin, once removed, his mother Klara Morreau’s first cousin.)

Walter Blum 1921 ship manifest
Ancestry.com. New Orleans, Passenger Lists, 1813-1963 [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.View all sources.

Richard arrived a few months after Walter on August 29, 1939, listing his brother Walter as the person he was going to:

Richard Blum 1939 ship 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. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C.

On the 1940 census, both Richard and Walter were living in the Harper-Surf Hotel in Chicago. Richard was fifty, Walter 46. Both were unmarried and listed their occupations as liquor salesmen. Walter had changed his surname to Morrow, I assume to appear less German. It seems he chose a form of his grandmother Klara’s birth name, Morreau:

Richard Blum and Walter Morrow on 1940 US census
Year: 1940; Census Place: Chicago, Cook, Illinois; Roll: T627_929; Page: 81A; Enumeration District: 103-268
CHICAGO CITY WARD 5 (TRACT 613 – PART)
Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line]

Walter had his name legally changed to Morrow on February 7, 1944, in Chicago, according to this notation on his birth record:

Notation on Walter Blum’s birth record regarding his name change; Walter Blum birth record
August 4, 1893
Ancestry.com. Mainz, Germany, Birth Records, 1872-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
Original data: Personenstandsregister Geburtenregister 1876-1900. Digital images. Stadtarchiv Mainz, Mainz, Germany.

Both brothers registered for the World War II draft in 1942.  Richard was now living at the Hotel Aragon in Chicago and working for Geeting & Fromm, a Chicago wine importing business.

Richard Blum World War II draft registration
The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; World War II Draft Cards (Fourth Registration), for The State of Illinois; Record Group Title: Records of the Selective Service System, 1926-1975; Record Group Number: 147; Series Number: M2097

Walter was still living at the Harper-Surf Hotel and working for Schenley Import Corporation, a liquor importing business.

Walter Blum Morrow draft registration World War II
The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; World War II Draft Cards (Fourth Registration), for The State of Illinois; Record Group Title: Records of the Selective Service System, 1926-1975; Record Group Number: 147; Series Number: M2097

Both brothers also became naturalized citizens of the United States in 1944.

Richard died in 1961; his death notice reported that he was still a sales representative for Getting & Fromm at the time of his death.

Richard Blum death notice
July 9, 1961 Chicago Tribune, p. 71

Walter died on October 26, 1978, in Wiesbaden, German, according to a notation on his birth record; interestingly, he apparently had returned to live in Germany, as the US Social Security Death Index reported his last residence as Frankfurt, Germany.

Snip from Walter Blum Morrow’s birth record; Walter Blum birth record
August 4, 1893
Ancestry.com. Mainz, Germany, Birth Records, 1872-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
Original data: Personenstandsregister Geburtenregister 1876-1900. Digital images. Stadtarchiv Mainz, Mainz, Germany.

Meanwhile, their older brother Willy, known as Wilhlem and then William, had immigrated to England. Although I don’t have any records showing when William left Germany, I believe that he must have been living in England before 1943, as his mother Camilla Sichel Blum died in York, England, in 1943 (England & Wales, Death Index, 1916-2006).  William is listed as living in York on a 1956 UK passenger ship manifest for a ship departing from New York and sailing to Southampton, England. I assume that Camilla had been living in York with her oldest son, William, at the time of her death in 1943.

Willliam Blum 1956 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: 1364; Item: 65

That 1956 manifest reports that William was married, a wine merchant, living at 13 Maple Grove, Fulford Road, York, England, and a citizen and permanent resident of England. I also found him listed in several phone books at the same address from 1958 until 1964. Aside from that I have no records of his whereabouts or his family or his death. I don’t know whether he was involved in the Sichel wine business or a different wine company. I also don’t know whether he was married or had children. I have contacted the York library and have requested a search of the newspapers and other records there, so hope to have an update soon.

As for the sons of Hermann Sichel and Maria Trier, they appear to have remained more directly connected to the Sichel wine business than their Blum cousins. Walter Adolph Sichel, the older brother, was in charge of the British side of the Sichel import business.  According to an article from the January 31, 1986 edition of The (London) Guardian (p. 10), Walter first came to England in 1928:

Anti-German feeling still lingered when young Sichel came to Britain in 1928 and travelled the country with his case of sample bottles from the family firm, H. Sichel Sohne of Mainz. Youthful persistence apart, he was lucky to have with him some of “the vintage of the century,” 1921. Potential customers found his wines easy to like, but impossible to pronounce.

(“The nun in the blue habit with something to smile about,” The (London) Guardian, January 31, 1986, p. 10)

Walter had moved permanently to England by 1935, as he is listed in the London Electoral Register for that year; also, he gave a London address on a ship manifest dated January 16, 1935.

Walter Sichel, 1935 ship manifest,
Year: 1935; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 5597; Line: 1; Page Number: 93
Description
Ship or Roll Number : Roll 5597
Source Information
Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957

In December 1936, Walter Sichel married Johanna Tuchler in Marylebone, England; Johanna (known as Thea) was born in 1913 in Berlin. (Ancestry.com. England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1916-2005)

Walter Sichel’s younger brother, Ernst Otto Sichel (generally known as Otto), immigrated to the US.. He first arrived for a four month visit in October 1936, entering the country in Buffalo; he listed agents of the Taylor Company as those he was coming to see, so I assume this was a business trip with the Taylor Wine Company in upstate New York.

Ernst Otto Sichel 1936 arrival in Buffalo, NY
The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Manifests of Alien Arrivals at Buffalo, Lewiston, Niagara Falls, and Rochester, New York, 1902-1954; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787 – 2004; Record Group Number: 85; Series Number: M1480; Roll Number: 127

But Otto returned to settle permanently in the US on September 30, 1937.

Otto Sichel 1937 ship manifest
Year: 1937; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 6054; Line: 1; Page Number: 8
Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957

By May 1938, Hermann Sichel and Maria Trier, Otto and Walter Sichel’s parents, had also left Germany as they listed themselves as residing in London on a ship manifest when they traveled to New York on that date. In August 1939, Otto listed them on a ship manifest as residing in Buckinghamshire, England, when he sailed from New York to England at that time.

Hermann and Maria Sichel on 1938 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.

Otto Sichel 1939 ship manifest—address of parents in England
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.

Hermann Sichel died on August 22, 1940, in Buckinghamshire. He was 71 years old; his wife Maria died in London in June 1967; she was 84. (England & Wales, Death Index, 1916-2006)

In 1940, their son Otto was listed on the US census as a paying guest in a home on East 84th Street in New York City. There was a notation on his entry that I’ve never seen before: “No response to this after many calls.” Was Otto avoiding the enumerator? Or was he just away on business?

Otto Sichel, 1940 US census
Year: 1940; Census Place: New York, New York, New York; Roll: T627_2655; Page: 2A; Enumeration District: 31-1339
Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census

Perhaps this seeming evasiveness created some suspicion about Otto because in 1943 a request was sent by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service to the FBI to request clearance for Otto because he was “pro-German but anti-Hitler, and may be guilty of subversive activity.” I consider myself pro-American even when I do not like my country’s leaders or actions at certain times; I assume that that was how Otto felt—affection for the country of his birth, but opposed to its actions under the Nazis.

Inquiry into Otto Sichel
Ancestry.com. U.S. Subject Index to Correspondence and Case Files of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1903-1959 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010

Otto must have passed the FBI investigation because on August 15, 1944, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States:

Ernst Otto Sichel naturalization papers 1944
Ancestry.com. Selected U.S. Naturalization Records – Original Documents, 1790-1974 [

On January 3, 1942, Otto married Margarete Frances Chalon in Westwood, New Jersey; Margarete was born in New York in 1919; she was 22 when they married, and Otto was 34. The marriage did not last, and they were divorced in Florida in 1949. The following year Otto married again; his second wife was Anne Marie Mayer. She was born in Germany in 1921. Otto and Anne Marie eventually moved to Port Washington, New York.

Otto died on May 10, 1972, in San Francisco. He was 65 years old. According to his obituary, he was the vice-president of Fromm & Sichel, a subsidiary of Jos. E. Seagram & Sons, at the time of his death and had been working for that company for twenty years. “E. Otto Sichel Dies; Wine Expert Was 65,” The New York Times, May 13, 1972 (p. 34).

Without going into the full corporate history, there are obvious links here between the various Sichel/Blum cousins—Richard Blum worked for the Chicago wine distributor Geeting & Fromm, which was founded in part by Paul Fromm, whose brother Alfred Fromm and Franz Sichel, first cousin of Walter Sichel and Richard Blum, founded the company where Walter Sichel worked, the San Francisco wine distributor Fromm & Sichel .

Finally, to bring this story back to its beginning, both Walter Blum and Otto Sichel listed a Mr. I(saac) Heller (“Hella” as spelled on Walter’s manifest) as the person sponsoring them in the US when they immigrated to the US in the 1930s:

Walter Blum 1939 manifest naming I Hella as friend going to in US
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

Isaac Heller named as person Otto Sichel was going to on 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. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C.

Who was this friend Isaac Heller?

He was the brother of Leanora Heller Morreau. Yes, the Leanora I had researched back in 2014 to try and understand why she had tried to rescue Bettina Seligmann Arnfeld from Nazi Germany.  The same Leanora whose husband Albert was the grandson of Caroline Seligmann Morreau and a first cousin of Camilla Sichel Blum, Walter’s mother, and Hermann Sichel, Otto’s father.

Leanora may not have been able to help her late husband’s cousin Bettina Seligmann Arnfeld, but obviously she and her brother Isaac were able to help Albert’s cousins Walter Blum and Otto Sichel.

And so I lift a glass of wine (not Blue Nun, preferably a prosecco) to toast Leanora Heller Morreau! L’chaim!

by tracy ducasse (Flickr: [1]) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

[1] Unfortunately, the online records for Sprendlingen do not cover the years before 1870, and although there are some death records for the 1900s, the year 1900 is not included.

Fred’s Story: A Boyhood in Jesberg in the 1930s

As I wrote in my last post, many of the descendants of Rahel Katzenstein and Jacob Katz were still living in Germany when Hitler came to power. One of those was Manfred Katz, son of Karl Katz, grandson of Meier Katz, and great-grandson of Rahel and Jacob.  Fred, as he is known, is my third cousin, once removed, and he was a young boy in the 1930s.

Relationship of Fred Katz to Amy Cohen

Before I left for Germany, I had a long conversation with Fred.  Years ago he had written a memoir about his years in Jesberg and his family’s experience after the Nazis came to power.  I asked Fred if I could reprint his memoir on my blog. Fred graciously granted me permission to post his story.  In addition, he and his family have provided me with some wonderful photographs, some of which are included in this post, and others will be added to those to come.

The family of Karl Katz and Jettchen Oppenheimer, from left to right: Fred, Karl, Walter, Max, Jettchen, c. 1933
Courtesy of the family of Fred Katz

Fred’s story is very moving, and having now been to Jesberg, I can visualize this young boy growing up in the small village with a beautiful brook running through it, surrounded by his brothers and cousins, his parents, and his aunt and uncle.  It should have been an idyllic boyhood, but as you will see, it was not.

Please read this and remember what happened to innocent children like Fred:

My Childhood in Germany[1]

By Fred Katz

I was born [in] 1929, in Giesen, Germany.  My parents actually lived in Jesberg, a small village in the state of Hessen, with a population of about 1000, of which about 70 were Jews.  ….  Since there was no hospital in Jesberg and my mother was 40 years old, she opted to go to Giesen, where she lived with her sister until it was time for her to go to the hospital to deliver me.  She took me to Jesberg when I was a week old to meet my two older brothers, 9 year old Walter and 8 year old Max. 

We lived in a large two story house with an attached barn.  We lived downstairs and my uncle, aunt and son lived upstairs.  My dad and uncle were partners in a very successful cattle business. 

The Katz home, 1930s
Courtesy of the family of Fred Katz

I was told that the winter of 1929 was one of the coldest and longest on record.  My brothers always told me that they had to go every morning to a small stream, the Gilsa, in back of our house, to break the ice with an axe and bring buckets of water for use in the house and livestock in the barn since all the water pipes in the house were broken. 

The stream behind the Katz house in Jesberg

I actually have very pleasant memories of my childhood until I started the 3rd grade of public school.  My playmates up to that time included non-Jewish and Jewish.  I enjoyed being with my older brothers when they did chores, and especially harvesting potatoes and making hay.  It was great riding home on top of a load of hay being pulled by a team of horses.

Riding the family horse, Ella, c. 1933: Walter to the left, Julius to the right, Fred and Max on the horse.

Fred Katz, c. 1936
Courtesy of the family of Fred Katz

 I fondly remember all the festivities associated with my brothers’ Bar Mitzvahs.  We had a small synagogue with about 20 families in 1934.  I always went with my father and brothers to Friday evening and Saturday morning and afternoon services, as well as all holidays.  We had a religious school that must have been rather informal because I can remember tagging along with my brothers when I was surely no more than 3 years old.  My exposure to religious school ended when I was 8 years old, but by that time, I knew most of the Bible stories and could read prayer book Hebrew. 

Starting in 1934, the number of Jewish families in Jesberg slowly decreased as they emigrated due to the ever more severe restrictions being imposed by the Nazis.  I started first grade in 1935.  There were 3 teachers in the Volkschule [public school].  One for the first 2 grades and one each for grade 3 through 5 and 6 through 8.  My first teacher was not a Nazi and I had no problems in his classroom or in the playground. 

However, the 3rd through 5th grade teacher was a real Nazi who instructed the students in Nazi doctrine while 3 of us Jewish students had to stand outside of the classroom as long as 2 hours, while they were supposedly discussing Christianity.  There were only 3 of us left in 1937 because others had already emigrated with their families or had been sent to Jewish schools in large cities.  My memories of the 3rd grade and part of the 4th that I attended until the 9th of November 1938 are not very pleasant.  I don’t know what hurt more, the taunts being thrown at me or the stones. 

We, my parents and two brothers, tried to immigrate to the United States already in the fall of 1935.  We traveled by train to the American consulate in Stuttgart, but they refused to give us a visa.  We tried again a year later, and this time they were willing to give my parents and myself a visa, but not to my brothers, who they claimed had tuberculosis.  My parents did not want to leave without my brothers so they declined the visa. On the return from Stuttgart, we stopped in Frankfurt so my brothers could be examined by a specialist, who found no trace of TB. 

Shortly after that, my father had a severe cerebral hemorrhage.  His entire right side was paralyzed, and he could not speak.  He slowly regained some ability to speak and move his limbs while under a doctor’s care in our home in Jesberg.  About 6 weeks after he had the stroke, it was recommended that he be moved to a Jewish rehab hospital in Frankfurt.  He made good progress there so that when he came home about 6 weeks later he was able to speak clearly and walk with the use of a cane. 

After my father had the stroke, mother decided to get separate visas for Walter and Max.  Walter went by himself to the American consulate, and they issued him a visa.  He left by himself in the fall of 1937 for Stillwater, Oklahoma.  Then Max went to the American consulate, and they granted him a visa.  He left for Stillwater in the spring of 1938.  [Stillwater was the home of Jake Katz, brother of Fred’s father Karl and by that time a very successful business owner in Oklahoma, as discussed in earlier blog posts.]

By then, our father was able to get around fairly well with a cane but was not able to do any physical work.  Uncle Jake knew one of Oklahoma’s senators, Elmer Thomas, quite well, and they were able to pull some strings at the State Department so that when my parents and I went back to the American consulate for the third time in early fall of 1938, we were granted a visa.  Preparations were then made for us to leave Germany in the middle of December. 

Alas, November comes before December, so I therefore experienced the Kristallnacht of November 9, 1938.  Not every German was a Nazi and an anti-Semite.  The son of a neighbor who had the only car in the village and who drove some of the Nazis heard of the plan and told my parents.  By this time, there were only 4 other Jewish families left in Jesberg, and my parents told them.  All left their homes that night to hide in the fields except us.

My father still had difficulty walking in fields so we went to the house of a Jewish family who had recently sold it for use as a municipal building.   We thought that we would be safe there, and this turned out to be the case.  We heard the mob hooting and hollering as they ransacked our little synagogue, destroying the one remaining Jewish store, and then went on to our house. 

Katz home in Jesberg today

The devastation we found on returning to our house in the morning was indeed sad.  Furniture had been severely damaged, glasses and dishes broken, beds soiled with urine, and they also left behind a cat of 9 tails, which really scared me.  However, I was also angry and decided to go by myself to the synagogue to find my wimpel, which I wanted to take with us when we left for America. 

I am sure that most of you never heard of a wimpel since it is strictly a German Jewish tradition.  A wimpel is about a 10 foot long linen sash made from the cloth from swaddling a boy at his Brit and is used to bind the two scrolls of the Torah together.  It is made by cutting the washed swaddling clothes into strips about 7 inches wide and sewing them together.  The child’s Hebrew name and date of birth are painted or embroidered into the cloth, along with a traditional blessing in Hebrew and, “May God raise him up to a life of Torah, a successful marriage, and good deeds, Amen.”  Additional color images of animals, bride and groom under the Chuppa etc are also added. 

Wimpel, By Center for Jewish History, NYC [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

The synagogue was in terrible condition.  Prayer books, prayer shawls, wimpels, Torah scrolls and mantels had all been thrown into a large pike and then set on fire.  However, the fire only scorched some of the items before it went out.  Searching through the rubble, I did not find my wimpel but found a Torah which had been torn apart at the seam, but was otherwise undamaged.  I went home to ask my parents if I could bring this Torah home.

Not Jesberg, but an example of the destruction of a small synagogue on Kristallnacht, this one in Hechingen.
http://www.holocaustandhumanity.org/kristallnacht/kristallnacht-november-9-10/

When I got home, there was an Army truck with a canvas cover along with about half a dozen SA troopers, the ones wearing the light brown uniforms, in front of our house. The doctor from our village was also there, and he told the SA leader that my father was in no condition to go with him since my father was still recovering from his stroke and that my uncle could not be taken because of his heart condition.  We found out later that the men picked up in Hessen were taken to the Buchenwald concentration camp.  They were all released over the next 2 to 6 weeks.  None were intentionally killed or severely hurt.  The idea was to scare the remaining Jews to leave Germany. 

My uncle [Aron], who had been a soldier in the German army in World War I, had no intention of leaving, but changed his mind after Kristallnacht.  He was fortunate that he and his wife got a visa and arrived in Stillwater, Oklahoma in September 1939. 

The family of Aron Katz and Sara Leiser: rear, Julius, Aron, Jack; front, Sara. 1933
Courtesy of the family of Fred Katz

My mother gave her ok for me to take our hand wagon to pick up the two scrolls of the Torah.  About a month later, the scrolls were packed with our household belongings into a large wooden box called a Lift and shipped to Stillwater. 

So it was with this background that we left Germany for Hamburg on an American ship, the SS Washington, the middle of December, 1938.  We came into NY harbor standing at the rail, looking at the Statue of Liberty.  After a week in NY city, visiting with relatives, we left by train for our new home and life in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

SS Washington in NY harbor

The Torah [scroll I had rescued] could not be used, being torn apart at the seam, so [it] remained unused until 1956, when my brother Walter brought it to his synagogue in Wichita, Kansas.  There, it was repaired to make it kosher and useable.  My niece, Ellen, Walter’s daughter, read from it at her Bat Mitzvah.  Our son Harold brought the Torah to Tulsa, Oklahoma for each of our three grandsons’ Bar Mitzvahs, so they could read from it.  Ethan, the oldest, … and I shared the same Torah portion, Terumah.  The rabbi asked if I would like to read the first section, which I had read at my Bar Mitzvah, followed by Ethan reading the next sections.  As you can imagine, this was quite an emotional moment for me.

Tulsa World, February 24, 1996

I can’t even begin to imagine what that must have felt like, linking the generations, the traditions, and the places he loved.

Looking at those old family photographs and reading Fred’s story made it very clear to me how much was lost because of the Nazis. Here was a family, living a comfortable and happy life in a small town in Germany—a family where children grew up feeling safe and loved. All of that was stolen from them.  Although they were among the very fortunate ones who were able to escape, it remains remarkable to me that they were able to rebuild their lives, continue their traditions, and create a place for themselves in a new country that they could call home.

More on that in posts to come. First, a look at what happened to the other Katz/Katzenstein family members who were still in Germany in the 1930s.

 

 

 

 

[1] I have done only a small bit of editing here, deleting some background on Jesberg already discussed in the blog and some personal information about birth dates of those who are still living. I’ve also added a few editorial explanations. I otherwise did not want to alter in any way Fred’s voice or the content of his story.

Schopfloch: A Lesson in Gravestone Symbols

The last ancestral town we visited on our trip was Schopfloch in Bavaria where my three-times great-grandfather John (born Josua) Nussbaum was born in 1814.  I wrote a long post about Schopfloch when I was doing my research of my Nussbaum relatives.  The town dates back to the 13th century, and there was a Jewish community there in the 14th century.  As early as the 17th century, there was a synagogue, a mikveh, and a school in Schopfloch. In 1867, there were almost 400 Jews in the town out of almost 2000 residents. Today Schopfloch is a small town of about 3000 people, about half the size of Gau-Algesheim and slightly larger than Jesberg, but four times the size of Sielen.  There is no Jewish community there now.

My 4x-great-grandparents, Amson Nussbaum and Voegele Welsch, died in 1836 and 1842, respectively, and I thought they were likely the last family members to have died in Schopfloch. Six of their eight children immigrated to the United States before 1860; there were two additional daughters for whom I had birth information, but no information as to whether they had married or had children or where or when they had died. I am still searching for the documents Angelika Brosig used to document this Nussbaum family.  But, as far as I knew, there was no one left in Schopfloch from my Nussbaum family after 1860.  Would I find anything relating to my ancestors in this town?

I had arranged for Jutta Breittinger, who works at the Schopfloch town hall, to be our guide; since Frau Breittinger said she did not speak English well, she had recommended that we also hire a translator. When we met Frau Breittinger, we were soon joined by the translator and his wife, whose names I never quite caught. They were all very helpful and very earnest in their desire to help us and inform us about the Jewish history of Schopfloch.

Our three guides told us the same thing we had heard in the other small towns we’d visited: before the Nazi era, Jews and Christians had worked and lived together without any problems. As described by our translator, Lachoudisch, the secret language developed in Schopfloch, is evidence of this co-operative relationship.  Most Jews in Schopfloch were involved in horse and cattle trading, and market day was on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath. The Jewish traders relied on their Christian neighbors to assist with business on Saturdays, using their “secret language” as a way of communicating with them in confidence.

Frau Breittinger told us that she and a number of other Schopfloch residents were now studying Lachoudisch to keep the language alive.  At the end of our visit, we purchased Lachoudisch Sprechen by Hans-Rainer Hofmann, a small book about the language which includes a list of Lachoudisch words and their German equivalents.  It was very interesting to see some of the Lachoudisch words—-some derived from Hebrew like yes (“kenn”) and no (“lou”) and night (“Laila”) and please (“bewackasha”), some from sources I can’t determine like “kiss” for the word “kiss,” which is neither German nor Hebrew for the word we use for kiss in English.  It’s all rather fascinating and also amazing that people in Schopfloch are trying to keep this language alive.

We walked around the corner from the Rathaus to what is now called Bahnhofstrasse but was once called Judengasse.  It was here that the synagogue once stood.  Here is an old photograph of Judengasse with the synagogue on the far right. Below is a photograph of a model of the way the synagogue once looked:

Judengasse before the Holocaust

Model of old synagogue

There is no building now where the synagogue once stood; it is essentially an empty lot between two other buildings.  A plaque marks where it once stood. As I wrote in my earlier post, this synagogue, like so many throughout Germany, was destroyed on Kristallnacht in November, 1938, and by then all the Jews had left the town.  The town, which once had almost 400 Jewish residents, had become “Judenfrei.”

Plaque marking the location of the former synagogue

Empty lot where synagogue once stood

Judengasse today (now called Bahnhofstrasse)

Across the street from the location of the former synagogue was the building which was once the Jewish school.

Former Jewish school

We then walked through the town and up the hill to get to the Jewish cemetery.  I was very surprised to see how large the cemetery was, given how small the town was (and still is).  There are almost 1200 stones there, making it larger than any of the synagogues we had seen in the Hessen region, but it served not just Schopfloch but also several other towns nearby.  The cemetery is actually quite beautiful.  There is a stone wall that surrounds the entire cemetery.

But sadly many of the stones, especially the older ones, are not at all legible.  Some are sinking into the soft ground or already have disappeared.  And the further back we went in the cemetery to reach the oldest stones, the harder it was to find stones that were legible.  The oldest legible stones I could find were from the 1880s, and thus I knew I was not going to find the stones for my 4x-great-grandparents who died before 1850.

Once I came to that realization, I decided instead to focus on the stones I could read, and there were some very interesting ones there. Several people had asked about the hand symbols in one of my earlier posts:

Scholem Katzenstein, my 3x great-grandfather, Haarhausen cemetery

As I explained, those are the symbols indicating that the person buried there descended from the tribe of the high priests, the Cohanim.  But there were other symbols in the Schopfloch cemetery that I’d not seen before.

For example this one shaped like a tree trunk, which symbolizes a premature death—someone whose life was cut short.

Or this one with a palm tree. I was unfamiliar with this as a Jewish gravestone symbol, so I asked the members of the Tracing the Tribe group on Facebook.  I got wonderfully helpful responses, including a translation of the text.  What we deduced from the text and from Psalm 92 (“the righteous shall flourish like a palm tree”)  is that the date palm is a symbol of righteousness; the man buried here was probably a rabbi, and the text refers to his philanthropy and his scholarliness.  He’s not my relative, but I am glad I looked into the meaning of his stone.  His name was David Ballenberger 1815-1881.

This one interested me because of the unusual way the Hebrew letters were carved. Notice also the two completely eroded stones behind it. Could those be the stones for my Nussbaum 4x-great-grandparents? I don’t know.

Finally, I found this one very interesting:

It has three symbols on it: a butcher’s knife, a shofar (the horn blown on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), and a knife used for circumcision. I asked my friend Brett Levi to translate this for me, and he confirmed that the text indicated that the man buried there had been a shochet (kosher butcher), a shofar blower, and a mohel (person trained to do ritual circumcisions).

After visiting the cemetery, we walked back to town hall, where we saw the model of the former synagogue depicted above. After purchasing the Lachoudisch book, we said goodbye to our guides and headed out of Schopfloch.

We were excited to be going to our last stop, Heidelberg.  I have no genealogical connection to the city, and these last three days of our trip were going to be days to relax, enjoy a beautiful city, and look back on everything we’d seen. I had scheduled a walking tour of Worms for part of one of the days, but otherwise, we were going to be on our own.

So we took a deep breath, got back into our Nissan Juke, and set the GPS to take us to Heidelberg. We were ready for the last leg of our trip and had plenty of time to get to Heidelberg and return our rental car before 6 pm when the Hertz office closed.

But it was not to be.

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

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

Marker describing destruction of the cemetery by the Nazis.

All that’s left of the Trendelburg cemetery

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

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

Trendelburg mikveh

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

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

Rapunzel’s tower

OK, so I am no Rapunzel

In the castle’s restaurant with Hans-Peter

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

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

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

Former synagogue in Hofgesmar

Mural created by students to depict the former synagogue of Hofgeismar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chaja Mansbach geb Speier (maybe)

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

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

Hanchen Katzenstein Mansbach headstone

And this was on the Hebrew side:

Hanchen Katzenstein Mansbach headstone Hebrew side

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

A virtuous woman, she was like Abigail.

She noted that her trade was good. She was modest

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

Would be her interior. She was a wise woman.

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

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

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

Elieser from Maden. She went into her world

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

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

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

Amen. Her soul was bound in covenant.

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

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

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

Former synagogue in Gudensberg

Memorial plaque outside former synagogue

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

Rearview of synagogue from street in Gudensberg

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

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

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

House of Michael Lilienfeld

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

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

 

 

 

 

Sielen: The Tiny Ancestral Home of the Schoenthals

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

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

Countryside outside of Sielen

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

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

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

Sielen church and marktplatz

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, it’s true, the Jew misbehaved in Hesse in former times. He often contributed to his own pauperization by profiteering and Gueterschlaechterei, etc. (?)

Nowhere else the antisemitism of National Socialism is carrying greater justification than in Hesse. But these ordinary harmless people scattered here and there in small villages for many a long year, who still belong to orthodox Judaism and whose integrity and strength of character…cannot be denied—they just belong to the colorful German nationhood.  It would leave a void if it were weeded out completely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking down the hill from the cemetery to the road

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sielen cemetery

Sielen cemetery

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

Or maybe this one?

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

Volkmarsen and Breuna: A Remarkable Day

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

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

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

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

Ernst Klein and me

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

Salomon Hamberg’s store in Volkmarsen

 

Building where Salomon Hamberg once had a store

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

Rathaus in Volkmarsen

Church in Volkmarsen

Street in Volkmarsen where some Jewish families once lived

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

Volkmarsen mikveh

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

Pillar in basement where mikveh was found in Volkmarsen

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

Handprints on wall in Volkmarsen

Hebrew lettering ?

Possible location of ark holding Torah scrolls

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

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

Broken stones at the Volkmarsen cemetery

Memorial made of broken stones at the Volkmarsen cemetery

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

Memorial to those killed in the Holocaust from Volkmarsen

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

Irmgaard Hamberg

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

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

Hamberg mountain

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

Plaque on former synagogue in Breuna

Former synagogue in Breuna

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

Hamberg home

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

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

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

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

Hebrew side of stone for Guetchen Rotenberg Hamberg

Hebrew side Moses Hamberg’s stone

On the reverse were their German names:

Guetchen Rotenberg, reverse side

Moses Hamberg stone reverse side

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bingen: The Early Home and the Last Home in Germany for Many in the Seligmann Family


After lunch in Mainz on May 3, Wolfgang drove us to Bingen, where we were scheduled to meet Beate Goetz.  Beate, who volunteers at the Arbeitskreis Judische in Bingen, is one of the many German researchers who have helped me with my research.  Over the last two years she has sent  many records of our Seligmann relatives from the Bingen region, and she has been extremely helpful so I was looking forward to meeting her.  She had volunteered to show us around Bingen.  It was wonderful to meet her and spend time with her; she is one of the many dedicated people working to preserve the Jewish history of Germany.

Beate Goetz, Wolfgang, and me

In researching my Seligmann family, I had learned that my 4x-great-grandfather Jacob Seligmann and my three-times great-grandfather Moritz Seligmann were both born in Gaulsheim, a village that is now a part of Bingen.  I had wanted to see Gaulsheim, but Beate assured me that there was really nothing to see as all the old houses were gone.  Now it is just a residential area outside the main center of Bingen. So we focused instead on the center of the city itself.

https://www.google.com/maps/dir/Mainz,+Germany/Bingen,+Germany/@49.9832962,7.93582,11z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m14!4m13!1m5!1m1!1s0x47bd912e33df1379:0x422d4d510db1ba0!2m2!1d8.2472526!2d49.9928617!1m5!1m1!1s0x47bdefacf3e6e303:0x422d4d510db4180!2m2!1d7.904596!2d49.9667396!3e0

Bingen is located at the junction of two rivers—the Rhine and the Nahe.  It is a small city; today its population is about 25,000 people.  Our hotel, the Roemerhof, overlooked the Nahe river (which we could see if we peered between two buildings outside our window).  While walking along the river, we saw ducks swimming along.  The region is known for wine-making, and we could see vineyards in the hills surrounding the city.

There is evidence that Bingen was settled as early as Roman times, and its location gave it strategic importance as a gateway to the Rhine Valley region.  There was a Jewish community in Bingen at least as early as the 12th century. Although the Jews were expelled from Bingen in both the late 12th century and the 16th century, they returned and resettled.  Jews worked as money lenders in the earliest times, but in later times, Jews like my own relatives were merchants and wine traders. In 1933 there were 465 Jews living in Bingen. Half left by 1939, and those who remained were deported. Only four returned. Today there is a small number of Jews from Russia living in Bingen, but no real synagogue or formal Jewish community.

Jews being deported from Bingen. Courtesy of the Arbeitskreis Judische Bingen.

Bingen suffered extensive damage by Allied bombing during the war, and parts of the the city today are not particularly pretty, although there are still lovely winding streets and open squares throughout the city, some lined with older buildings and homes.  Many of the buildings, however, are post-war concrete construction that do not have much aesthetic appeal.

Catholic Church in Bingen

Beate took us to see two former synagogue buildings.  The first had been closed by the Jewish community itself in 1905 because the community, numbering at that time about 700 people, needed a larger space.  Today it is used as a youth center.

Old synagogue in Bingen

The second synagogue, which opened in 1905, was once quite a grand building. Here are some photographs from the Arbeitskreis Judsiche Bingen of what it looked like before 1938 as well as a model showing what the exterior looked like:

Courtesy of the Arbeitskreis Judische Bingen.

Courtesy of the Arbeitskreis Judische Bingen.

Courtesy of the Arbeitskreis Judische Bingen.

Like so many synagogues across Germany, it was partially destroyed by fire in November, 1938, on Kristallnacht. After the war the building was sold, as there was no longer a Jewish community that needed it. Most of the building was taken down, but part remains.  Today part of it houses the Arbeitskreis Judische and provides a meeting space for the Russian Jews who live in Bingen.

1905 Bingen synagogue

Beate also took us to several homes where some of our Seligmann cousins had once lived.  We saw the house that had belonged to Bernhard Gross and his wife, Bertha Seligmann.  Bertha was my first cousin, four times removed. Her grandparents were Jacob Seligmann and Martha Mayer, my 4x-great-grandparents; her mother, Martha Seligmann, was the sister of Moritz Seligmann, my three-times great-grandfather. Bertha and Bernard died from carbon monoxide poisoning in their own home in 1901, as I wrote about here.

Home of Bertha Seligmann and Bernhard Gross

We also saw the former home of Bertha and Bernard’s daughter Mathilde Gross and her husband Marx Mayer.  Mathilde is the cousin whose memoir inspired me to start learning German. (I still am not fluent enough to read it with much ease, however.) Her husband Marx died in 1934, but Mathilde and all their children emigrated from Germany in the 1930s and were able to survive the war.

House of Marx Mayer and Mathilde Gross

As you might imagine, seeing these two stately and large homes made me realize how successful the family had been and thus how much they had lost when they left Germany.

We also saw a number of stolpersteine, including these three for the family of Karl Gross, who was Mathilde Gross Mayer’s brother. Karl Gross, his wife Agnes Neuberger, and their daughter Bertha Gross were all killed in the Holocaust.  Karl was was my second cousin, three times removed. His grandparents, Jacob Seligmann and Martha Mayer, were my 4x great-grandparents. I wrote about the Gross family here.

Stolpersteins for Karl Gross and his family

Finally, Beate pointed out to us the location of the former shoe store owned by the family of Joseph Wiener.  Joseph Wiener married my cousin Anna Winter, daughter of Samuel Oskar Wiener and Rosina Laura Seligmann.  Rosina was the daughter of Hyronimus Seligmann, brother of my great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman.  Rosina was thus also the sister of Johanna Seligmann Bielefeld, whose house in Mainz I’d seen the day before.  Rosina and her husband were both murdered in the Holocaust; their only son had been killed serving Germany in World War I.  Anna and Joseph survived and immigrated to the US in 1938.  Their daughters, Doris and Lotte, wrote the moving memoirs I was honored to excerpt on my blog here, here, here, and here.

Thus, as we left the downtown area of Bingen to drive to the Jewish cemetery up the steep hill from the town, I had the thoughts of all these cousins in my head. The people behind the names and stories I’d researched and studied suddenly felt very close and very real. Seeing some of the additional names in the cemetery made me appreciate how deeply connected my Seligmann relatives had been to the Bingen community.

The cemetery is a large and peaceful place.  There are about a thousand headstones there in a beautiful wooded area overlooking the valley below.  It was overwhelming. I took many photographs, and I hope to be able to get some of them translated.  Here are just a few of the stones we saw for my Seligmann relatives.

Marx Mayer, husband of Mathilde Gross, granddaughter of Jacob Seligmann and Martha Mayer, my 4x-great-grandparents:

Marx Mayer

Ferdinand Seligmann and Lambert Seligmann: brothers of Bertha Seligmann. My first cousins, four times removed.

Graves of Ferdinand Seligmann and his brother Lambert Seligmann

Hermann Seligmann, brother of Ferdinand, Lambert, and Bertha.

Headstone of Hermann Seligmann

Ludwig or Louis Seligmann, son of Isaak Seligmann and another grandson of Jacob Seligmann and Martha Mayer.  Another first cousin, four times removed.

Louis Seligmann

Wife of Louis Seligmann, Auguste Gumbel

Auguste Seligmann geb. Gumbel

Emilie Seligmann Lorch. daughter of Benjamin Seligmann and Martha Seligmann (who were first cousins).  Martha Seligmann was the sister of Moritz Seligmann, my 3x-great-grandfather. She was my 4x great-aunt.

Emilie Seligmann Lorch

There were probably many, many more of my Seligmann cousins buried in Bingen’s Jewish cemetery, but many stones were impossible to read, and the sheer volume of stones made it overwhelming to think about searching for more.  I took some additional photographs of stones that would need translating from Hebrew, but I had to accept that there was no way to find and photograph every headstone in the cemetery in the limited time we had.

By the end of our afternoon in Bingen, it was clear to me that this city had been at one time the place where most of my Seligmann relatives and ancestors had lived.  Although I had not found the gravesites or homes of any of my direct ancestors, I knew that many of my cousins had lived and died in Bingen, sadly some at the hands of the Nazis.  Bingen was the home of the earliest Seligmann ancestors I’ve found, Jacob and Martha (Mayer) Seligmann back in late 18th century, and there were Seligmann descendants still living there in the 20th century.

We would return to Bingen the following evening for dinner, but first on the following day we were to visit Gau-Algesheim, where my great-great-grandfather Bernard was born and lived until he came to America in the1840s.