We have returned from our trip to Germany, and I have many things to share about the experience. It was a trip filled with many joyous moments as well as many sad and heartbreaking moments. One of the greatest joys and definitely the saddest moment involved Annlis Seligmann, mother of my dear cousin Wolfgang.
When Wolfgang found my blog almost two and half years ago, it was the result of a family research project he was sharing with his mother. Annlis was not born a Seligmann; she was born Annlis Schäfer on April 12, 1924. But in 1965 she married Wolfgang’s father Walter Seligmann, who died in 1993, and she was fascinated with the history of his family. When the Seligmann family discovered the “magic suitcase” that had belonged to Walter’s brother Herbert, Annlis and Wolfgang began to search through the documents to learn more about the Seligmann family history. Because Wolfgang could not read the old German script, Annlis had to decipher many of the old records and documents for him.
At some point in this process, Wolfgang discovered my blog, and together the three of us—Annlis, Wolfgang, and I—all worked together to find many of the missing pieces of the Seligmann family. We were able to figure out how many of the people named in those documents were related to us all. Without their help, I would not have found many of the Seligmanns who died in the Holocaust or who, like my cousins Lotte Wiener Furst and Fred Michel, were able to escape Germany before it was too late.
So when I was planning my trip to Germany, one of my priorities was to meet not only Wolfgang, his wife Bärbel, and daughter Milena, but also his mother Annlis. We arrived in Germany on May 2, and the first thing we were scheduled to do on May 3 was meet Annlis. We went with Wolfgang to the senior residence where she was living in Mainz (like an assisted living facility in the US) first thing that morning. Annlis did not speak English, so I was able to test my baby German. With Wolfgang’s help, we were able to communicate.
She and Wolfgang showed me some family photographs, and I shared with her photographs of my parents, children, and grandchildren. We looked through the magic suitcase together (there are still hundreds of letters and postcards still to be translated). Despite the language obstacles, I felt a strong connection to Annlis and was sad to say goodbye when our visit ended.
Annlis had been in declining health in recent months. Her vision had become so poor that she could no longer read and help translate the documents, but she remained very interested in the family history and, according to Wolfgang, had been very anxious to meet me. After our visit, she expressed to Wolfgang how happy she had been to meet me. I was so touched and, of course, felt the same way.
So you can imagine my shock when less than ten days later while still in Germany, I received a message from Wolfgang telling me that his mother had died. I was stunned and so sad. And heartbroken for Wolfgang and his family.
Annlis lived a long and full life. From Wolfgang I know that she grew up in Mainz where she also lived for the last five years of her life. During World War II, she was working in Bingen. In September, 1944, she witnessed the murder of an American soldier, Odis Lee Apple, whose plane had been shot down and crashed nearby. As described here by Wolfgang himself on the website for the radio station where he works, the caretaker for the building where Annlis worked notified the people in the office that an American soldier was walking on the street outside the building.
Annlis and three of her co-workers left the building and followed Apple, whom she described as a man with a friendly face. Then suddenly the building’s caretaker rushed out onto the street in his SA uniform and shot Apple. He did not die right away, but was suffering terribly from the gunshot wound. At some point someone else shot him, and he died.
After the war, the US Army investigated Apple’s death; Annlis provided testimony, and several people were sentenced to prison. The caretaker, however, had died not long after the shooting during a bombing attack on Bingen.
According to Wolfgang, his mother never forgot this incident and was horrified by what she had witnessed. Even though at that point the US was at war against Germany, Annlis knew it was wrong to kill someone in cold blood like that.
It was not until twenty years after the war that Annlis married Walter Seligmann in 1965. Together they raised their son Wolfgang in a neighborhood outside of Mainz in an apartment overlooking the valley. She lived in that apartment until five years before her death when she moved to the building where I met with her on May 3.
Annlis Seligmann lived a good and long life; she had just turned 93 a month before her death. I feel so privileged and fortunate that I was able to be a part of her life in the last two years and especially that I was able to meet her in person, share some time with her, and give her a hug. My heart goes out to Wolfgang, Bärbel, Milena, and the entire extended family. May her memory be a blessing.