Another Twisted Family Tree Story: The Goldsmiths/Goldschmidts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon Goldsmith 1850 US census

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

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

Fanny Schoenthal Goldsmith Troy Hill Pittsburgh

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Map of Washington County, Pennsylvania, United...

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

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

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

English: Map of Washington Pennsylvania from 1897

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

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

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

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

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

Relationship_ Henry Goldsmith to Eva Schoenthal

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

Relationship_ Henry Goldsmith to Eva GoldschmidtRelationship_ Eva Schoenthal to Eva Goldschmidt








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


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

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

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

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

Collection: Historic Pittsburgh General Text Collection

Small World Story: The Hambergs of Breuna

English: Location of Breuna in district Kassel...

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

I am just a bit overwhelmed.  Digging through the archives from Hessen has been quite an adventure.  Not only have I found a great deal of information about the family of my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal, but I’ve also been wading through the archives searching for records of my Hamberg ancestors—that is, the family of my great-great-grandmother Henrietta or Jhette Hamberg of Breuna, who married Levi Schoenthal, Isidore’s father.  These German records are amazing.  Unlike my experiences searching for records in Poland for my Brotman ancestors, I am just swamped with information about my German paternal ancestors from Hessen (and I haven’t even begun looking at the records for Isidore’s wife, my great-grandmother Hilda Katzenstein, whose family was also from Hessen).

I am still compiling and editing the Hamberg information, and I am ready to start writing more about what I know about the Schoenthals later this week.  But for now here’s a little bit of what I’ve learned about the Hamberg family.

As mentioned, they were from Breuna.  Breuna is another small town in the Kassel district of Hessen, not too far from Sielen (about 26 km), where the Schoenthals lived.  According to the town’s official website, as translated by Google Translate, Breuna is 758 years old.  I could not find much about its history, but according to the town website, it was under the control of various aristocratic families over the centuries.

Today the original small village of Breuna where my ancestors lived is incorporated into a larger town, also called Breuna, consisting of five districts, one of which is the smaller village of Breuna; another is Oberlistingen, where some of my other relatives not yet discussed lived.  The town’s website described the town as an “Arbeiter-Wohnsitz-Gemeinde” or “worker-resident community,” where most people commute to the larger cities for work.

The town’s website also states:

Particularly noteworthy are the natural, wooded, yet convenient position of the municipality. Pure nature with freeway access! The advantages of a rural environment without having to sacrifice the most important social and cultural institutions and the relative proximity to the North Hessian metropolis of Kassel, the beautiful half-timbered towns Hofgeismar, Wolf Hagen, the spa of Bad Arolsen and the East Westphalian town of Warburg.

The website goes on to point out that although once an agriculture-based economy, Breuna no longer is primarily agricultural.  There are only a few full-time farmers, and they focus on pigs, dairy, and grain.

The population of the larger Breuna town today is about 3700 people, with the smaller district of Breuna consisting of about 1500 people.

As for Breuna’s Jewish history, the Alemannia-Judaica reports that there were four Jewish families in Breuna in 1744 and 1776.  By 1833, there were 53 Jewish residents, and after that the Jewish population started to decline.  There were 29 in 1871, 40 in 1885, 33 in 1895, 23 in 1905, and 14 in 1910.  The overall population of the town was between 900 and 1000 during these years, so the Jewish population was quite a small percentage of the overall population. Most of the Jews were engaged in horse and cattle trading, and some were farmers.    There was a synagogue, a school, a mikvah, a chevra kadisha (burial society), and a cemetery.  There was still a small Jewish community in Breuna when the Nazis came to power in 1933.  Almost none of those who remained survived the Holocaust.

For close to fifty years, the leader of the Jewish community in Breuna was Baruch Hamberg, according to Alemannia-Judaica.  He was my second cousin, three times removed, as described below.   His 75th birthday celebration was written up in one of the local papers in an article describing his prudence and vigor and wishing him many years ahead.

Article about Baruch Hamberg's 75th birthday Jüdischen Wochenzeitung für Kassel, Kurhessen und Waldeck" vom 29. Mai 1931

Article about Baruch Hamberg’s 75th birthday
Jüdischen Wochenzeitung für Kassel, Kurhessen und Waldeck” vom 29. Mai 1931

How was Baruch related to me? From my research, I’ve learned that Henrietta Hamberg, my great-great-grandmother who married  Levi Schoenthal, was the daughter of Moses Hamberg and Guetchen Rosenberg.  According to at least one record, Moses was a cattle merchant. Moses and Guetchen had nine children (or at least that is how many I have located so far).  One family tree on Geni says that Moses was born in Burgsinn, Bavaria on June 12, 1777, but I’ve not found any definitive source to corroborate that.  That tree also says that Moses’ father was named Juda and that his mother was Rachel Simon, but I am still looking for corroboration of those facts as well.  One reason I am skeptical is that the Hessen archives have a transcription of Moses’ headstone, which indicates that he was born in 1785 and that his father’s name was Huna, not Juda.  On the other hand, the first son born to Moses and Guetchen was named Juda, and that would suggest that perhaps Moses’ father was named Juda.

UPDATE: I’ve now seen, thanks to Hans-Peter Klein, a birth registry for Moses which gives his father’s name as Juda Moses, his mother’s as Rachel Simon, and his birthdate as 1777.  Looking again at the headstone transcription, I now think it says he was 88 years old when he died, not 80, so 1777 as his birth year is consistent with the headstone.  I still cannot explain why it has his father’s name as Huna.

Headstone for Guetchen Rosenberg Hamberg (12) and Moses HambergHHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 97, S. 6

Headstone inscription for Guetchen Rosenberg Hamberg (12) and Moses Hamberg HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 97, S. 6

The Geni tree also asserts that Moses had a brother named Samuel, and I have found many records for Samuel Hamberg and his family.  According to the death record I found for him, he died on December 11, 1857, at age 80, so he would have been born in 1777.

(UPDATE: the same record that listed Moses’ parents and birth year lists Samuel’s birthdate as July 13, 1780.  I can’t explain the discrepancy between the birth registry and the death record except to say that one is incorrect.)

Samuel married Kreschen Baruch, and they had five children.  Their first-born son was also named Juda, lending further weight to the possibility that Juda was the name of the father of both Moses and Samuel.  As you might imagine, having two men named Juda Hamberg in one small town can be quite confusing when looking at birth, marriage, and death records.

To keep them straight, the Breuna records refer to Moses’ son as Juda I, since he was born first (on October 10, 1812, according to the synagogue registry page for Moses and his sons).  Samuel’s son, Juda II, was born in 1820, according to the synagogue registry page for Samuel and his sons.

Eine Vervielfältigung oder Verwendung dieser Seite in anderen elektronischen oder gedruckten Publikationen und deren Veröffentlichung (auch im Internet) ist nur nach vorheriger Genehmigung durch das Hessische Hauptstaatsarchiv, Mosbacher Straße 55, 65187 Wiesbaden, Germany gestattet.

Synagogue Registry for Moses Hamberg and his sons  HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 96, S. 5

Synagogue Registry for Samuel Hamberg and his sons HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 96, S. 6

Synagogue Registry for Samuel Hamberg and his sons
HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 96, S. 6


Juda I was a horse dealer, and he married a woman named Dina Sauer.  They had five children.  Juda II was a merchant, and he married a woman named Breinchein Goldwein.  They had five children also; one of them was the afore-mentioned Baruch Hamberg who led the Breuna Jewish community for almost half a century.

You might wonder why I am bothering to report all this since neither Juda is a direct ancestor of mine.  Well, it’s some background to the small world story referred to in the title of this post.

Stepping back a bit, when I first started researching the Hambergs, the first place I went was to the Jewish Family Finder on  I searched for the surname Hamberg in Breuna to see if anyone else was researching that family, and sure enough, there was someone listed, though he’d not been active for many years.  There was no name disclosed, just a researcher ID number, so I sent a message to that researcher, not expecting a response, given how long it had been since that person had used JewishGen.

Then I saw the Geni page for Moses Hamberg, referred to above, and I sent a message to the Profile Manager on that page.  Little did I know that I had in fact sent two messages to the same person since the Profile Manager on Geni was the same person as the researcher listed on the Family Finder on JewishGen.  That person, a man named Rob, contacted me by email later that day, and we began to exchange information.  We exchanged information about the Hambergs and tried to sort out how we were related. (Rob pointed out that someone had made changes to his Geni information since he’d last looked at it, which is one reason I don’t like Geni—complete strangers can go in and change your tree without leaving any sources or explanations for the change.)  We are still working on that, and it’s somewhat confusing because of the two men named Juda Hamberg discussed above.  Rob and I are either fourth or fifth cousins, depending on whether he is a descendant of Moses Hamberg or Samuel Hamberg.  At the moment I think he is the great-grandson of Baruch Hamberg, the renowned leader of the Breuna Jewish community, and thus a descendant of Samuel.

But in addition to exploring the family history, Rob and I also exchanged current information about ourselves.  I mentioned that I lived in western Massachusetts, and Rob said he lived in eastern Massachusetts.  He mentioned the town where he lived (Arlington), and I responded that I also had once lived in Arlington over thirty years ago.  He then said he also had been living in Arlington that far back, and in fact once we exchanged street addresses, we realized that we had lived less than a mile from each other.

Corner of Park Avenue and Mass Avenue in Arlington By John Phelan (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Corner of Park Avenue and Mass Avenue in Arlington
By John Phelan (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

I then mentioned that we had very good friends who had also lived for a few years in Arlington, but had since moved to a nearby town, and I mentioned their names.  Rob emailed me back, saying that I had to call him because the coincidences were getting just too crazy.  It turns out that our friends have been close friends with Rob and his family for over twenty years.  We had undoubtedly all been at the same family celebrations for our mutual friends, including their daughter’s wedding just last year.

As Rob and I spoke on the phone, I had goosebumps, and I have them again as I write down this story.  Here was someone I had once lived near and with whom I shared good friends and who I might have even met or at least passed by in town or at a wedding.  But we never knew we were cousins, linked as descendants of the Hambergs of Breuna.  Isn’t it a strange and small world?  I am now looking forward to having a chance to share all these crazy coincidences with Rob and his wife and our mutual friends over dinner sometime in the near future.


Quick Blog Update

I am deep into researching both the Schoenthals and the Hambergs, and I am not sure which way to turn first.  The resources are so rich, and I keep stepping further into both lines, going backwards, forwards, and sideways!  I've been so fascinated with the research that I've not had much time to write about what I am finding, but I will get there.  Right now my biggest question is---do I finish researching the Hambergs or spend time writing about the Schoenthals?  I am not good at being torn in two different directions.  I've got one post ready to go for tomorrow about the Hambergs, but I think after that I will go back to the Schoenthal side.

Anyway, in between digging through German birth, marriage, and death records, I realized that I had neglected to update the family tree pages on the blog.  I’ve now updated the Seligmann family tree page and added a family tree page for the Nusbaum and Dreyfuss lines.  I have also added a Schoenthal page, subject to more updating (as are they all), and eventually I will also add a Hamberg page.  These pages can all be found in the header at the top of the page.

Now back to struggling between more research or some writing….


The Genealogy Village Comes Through Once Again

As I mentioned in my last post, my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal was one of twelve children.  He and his siblings were born in Sielen, Germany, the children of Levi Schoenthal and Henrietta Hamberg.  The first helpful source I found about his family was a biography written about Isidore’s older brother Henry in 1893 as part of a commemorative book[1] celebrating Washington County in Pennsylvania, where Henry and Isidore both had settled after immigrating to the United States (the “Beers biography”).  Given that the Beers biography was written while both Henry and Isidore were still living in Washington, Pennsylvania, I was inclined to give it significant weight as a credible summary of Henry’s life to that point and of the background of his family.  I will refer to it in more depth when I focus on Henry himself, but for now I am referring to its assertions regarding the family of Levi and Henrietta (Hamberg) Schoenthal.

English: City Hall in Washington, Pennsylvania...

English: City Hall in Washington, Pennsylvania (in Washington County). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to the Beers biography, Levi Schoenthal was born in 1813 and worked as a shoemaker.  He and his wife Henrietta had twelve children—nine boys and three girls.  Two of their sons died in infancy, but the other ten children survived to adulthood.  Of those ten, nine immigrated to the United States, and eight stayed here.  (The youngest child, Rosalie, returned to Germany to marry, and one son, Jacob, never left Germany.)  Of those who stayed in the United States permanently, my great-grandfather Isidore was the youngest and arrived last, along with his mother and Rosalie, in 1881.

Despite believing that this biography was probably fairly accurate, given that it was written so close to the time of the events reported, I nevertheless wanted to find some original German sources to verify the information.  Fortunately, I was able to verify quite a bit (but not all of it) by searching through the Hessen Archives as well as US records.  I was very lucky to have help from Dorothee Lottmann-Kaeseler (who correctly reminded me after my last post that she had first mentioned Sielen as my Schoenthal ancestral town), Hans-Peter Klein, Matthias Steinke, JewishGen, and the Hessian Archives.

Based first on a search through JewishGen, I was able to find birth records for almost all of the children of Levi and Henrietta in the Hessian State Archives.  The archived birth records available start in 1846, so I could not find records for the three children born before 1846 (Hannah, 1841; Henry, 1843; Julius, 1845), but using JewishGen and then manually scanning through the records, I was able to find birth records for seven of the other nine, including one for one of the two baby boys who had died in infancy.  So far I had not found any birth record for the other baby who died in infancy according to the Beers biography or for Jacob.

The fact that I was able to locate birth records for seven of the children astounded me.  Here are six of the birth records I found:

Amelia (Malchen) Schoenthal birth record January 2, 1847 Hessen Archives HHStAW 365 No 772

Amelia (Malchen) Schoenthal birth record January 2, 1847
Hessen Archives HHStAW 365 No 772


Simon (Sieman) Schoenthal birth record February 14, 1849

Simon (Sieman) Schoenthal birth record February 14, 1849   Hessen Archives HHStAW 365 No 772


Marcus Schoenthal birth record January 26, 1853

Marcus Schoenthal birth record January 26, 1853 Hessen Archives HHStAW 365 No 772

Sadly, Marcus died just ten days later:

Marcus Schoenthal death record Febuary 5, 1853 HHStAW fonds 365 No 773

Marcus Schoenthal death record Febuary 5, 1853
HHStAW fonds 365 No 773


Nathan Schoenthal birth record August 6, 1854

Nathan Schoenthal birth record August 6, 1854 HHStAW 365 No 772


Felix birth for blog

Felix (Seligmann) Schoenthal birth record December 15, 1856 Hessen Archives HHStAW 365 No 772


Rosalie Schoenthal birth record August 17, 1863

Rosalie Schoenthal birth record August 17, 1863 Hessen Archives HHStAW 365 No 772

One of the last birth records I found was the one for my great-grandfather Isidore.  I had scanned through the pages several times looking for his birth record, the one that mattered the most to me, of course.  But I hadn’t seen it, and I started wondering whether he’d been born outside of Sielen.  But then, giving it one last chance, I looked at every baby born in 1858, the birth year I had for Isidore, and saw one with the birth date November 22, 1858.  That date seemed familiar (though first I thought only because that was the day of the year JFK was assassinated in 1963), and when I saw that in fact other records had Isidore’s birth as November 22, 1858, I looked more closely at the record.  The entry was written in more traditional German script than many of the others, but I thought I could make out a word that just might be Levi.

Isidore birth for blog

Isidore (Isaak) Schoenthal birth record November 22, 1858 Hessen Archives HHStAW 365 No 772

So I posted a snapshot of the record to the German Genealogy group on Facebook, and sure enough my always helpful friend Matthias Steinke jumped right in and translated it for me.  Matthias said that for the baby, it says, “Male Gender, Isaac,” and for the parents, “Lewie (??) Schonthal shoemaker and Aesther (??) born Hamberg, legitimate parents.”  It was clear to me that this was the birth record for my great-grandfather.  His Hebrew name must have been Isaac—his secular name Isidore.  My guess is that Henrietta’s Hebrew name was Esther or that it actually says Jhette, which was Henrietta’s name in Germany; and I assume that “Lewie” is actually Levi.  I was very excited that I now had my great-grandfather’s birth record as well as those of most of his siblings.

I was still searching for a birth record for Jacob, however.  I had scoured through the Sielen birth records now multiple times without finding it, but according to a genealogy report prepared by Hans-Peter Klein, Jacob was born in December, 1850.  I went back one more time and found this record:

Jacob Schoenthal birth record December 1850

Jacob Schoenthal birth record December 1850

As you can see, although this reports a baby boy named Jacob born in December, 1850, on the left side of the page, the page with the parents’ information on the right is illegible, at least as scanned by the archives.  But I thought that this must be the record that Hans-Peter relied upon to obtain Jacob’s birthdate.  In addition, however, Hans-Peter located a marriage certificate for Jacob Schoenthal and his wife Charlotte (Lottchen) Lilienfeld, and that also included his birth date as December 22, 1850, as translated by my Facebook friend Matthias Steinke:

Eine Vervielfältigung oder Verwendung dieser Seite in anderen elektronischen oder gedruckten Publikationen und deren Veröffentlichung (auch im Internet) ist nur nach vorheriger Genehmigung durch das Hessische Staatsarchivs Marburg, Friedrichsplatz 15, D-35037 Marburg, Germany gestattet.

Marriage record of Jacob Schoenthal and Charlotte (Lottechen) Lilienfeld HStAMR Best. 920 Nr. 2610 Standesamt Gudensberg Heiratsnebenregister 1879, S. 11

Marriage record of Jacob Schoenthal and Charlotte (Lottechen) Lilienfeld
HStAMR Best. 920 Nr. 2610 Standesamt Gudensberg Heiratsnebenregister 1879, S. 11

5 – Gudensberg the 1st September 1879 – To the below signing registrar came for a marriage 1. the merchant Jacob Schönthal, at the moment shop-assistant in Cologne, identified by the shown certificates and in person by the present Beisen(?) Engelbert, israelic religion, born the 22 December 1850 in Sielen, residing in Cologne, son of the in Sielen deceased shoemaker Levi Schönthal and his wife Jettchen nee Hamberg, residing in Sielen and 2. the Lottchen (called Charlotte) Lilienfeld, known personally, israelic religion, born the 6th April 1855 in Gudensberg in house nr. 215 at her parents. Daughter of the cantor Meyer Lilienfeld I and his wife Hannchen nee Meiberg, residing in Gudensberg. As witnesses were present: 3. the merchant Beisen (?) Engelbert, personally know, 59 years old, residing in Gudensberg in house nr. 218, 4. the shop-assistant Michel Lilienfeld, known personally, 23 years old, residing in Halberstadt. Followed by the sentence whether they intend to marry each other and the signatures.

But it wasn’t over.  Now that I had all these birth records for their children, I wanted to know more about Levi and Henrietta and their parents.  I was very fortunate that Dorothee had recommended that I contact Hans-Peter Klein because he was able to provide me with some of that additional information.  He sent me a copy of the marriage record for Levi Schoenthal and Henrietta Hamberg:

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

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

Once again, Matthias came through for me and translated this document:

nr 3, date of marriage 24 July 1839 – groom Levi Schönenthal, shoemaker in Sielen – bride: Jette Hamberg – unmarried in Bräuna(Breuna) age of the groom: 26 years, 9 month and 16 days – age of the bride: 22 years – parents of the groom: Heinemann Schönenthal, merchant in Sielen and Handel nee Beerenstein – parents of the bride: Moses Hamberg, merchant in Bräuna and Gutchen nee Rosenberg. entered in Breuna the 25th July 1839 by Itzig Eichholz

From this record I could now see that Levi (born October 8, 1812)  was the son of Heinemann Schoenthal and Handel Beerenstein, who lived in Sielen, and that Henrietta was the daughter of Moses Hamberg and Guetchen Rosenberg, who lived in Breuna, a town located less than 30 km from Sielen. (More on Breuna and the Hambergs in my next post.)

Now I had another family and three more surnames—Beerenstein, Hamberg, and Rosenberg— to add to my family tree, names I’d never known were those of my ancestors until now.  I now had the names of two more sets of my great-great-great-grandparents.  I now know the names and something about almost half of my great-great-great-grandparents.  I didn’t know any of their names at all when I first started doing genealogy. In fact, I only knew the names of two of my great-great-grandparents.

So thank you from the bottom of my heart to Matthias Steinke, Dorothee Lottmann-Kaeselar, and Hans-Peter Klein for helping me find another generation and another branch of my family.











[1] Beers, J. H. and Co., Commemorative Biographical Record of Washington County, Pennsylvania (Chicago: J. H. Beers & Co., 1893). Transcribed March 1997 by Neil and Marilyn Morton of Oswego, IL as part of the Beers Project. Published March 1997 on the Washington County, PA USGenWeb pages at  See

It’s My Blogiversary! Time to Reflect

It was two years ago tomorrow that I posted my first blog post.  It is also the 120th anniversary of my grandmother Gussie Brotman Goldschlager’s birth tomorrow.  And tonight is the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement and a long fast day for those who observe.  That’s a lot to process in one day!

It’s hard to believe I’ve been doing the blog for two years (although I really started doing genealogy about two years before that).  In some ways it feels much longer because it has become such a big part of my daily life—-doing the research, thinking about it, pulling my notes together, writing up the posts, editing them, adding photos and documents, responding to comments and questions, and reading the blogs of so many other wonderful people.  The blog has provided me with so many more benefits than I had imagined back in September 2013 when my cousin Judy got me started by setting up the template on WordPress.  Not only has it helped me organize my thoughts and record my research, it has made me focus on not just collecting names and dates on a family tree but on the larger questions: who were these people and what were their lives like? Where did they live, and what were those places like? What historical and economic conditions affected their lives? What legacy did they pass down to their descendants, and how has that affected the person I am today?

The blog also has been a magnet that has allowed others to find me.  Every time I get a comment from someone who just happened to find the blog while searching for their family history, I am amazed by what the internet can do. Imagine if my cousin Wolfgang had not found my blog?  I would not know even half of what I now know about the Seligmann family.

jeff gussie amy 1955 abt

My grandmother was born 120 years ago, and she died just over forty years ago.  She was the only grandparent I knew very well, and I loved her very much.  She had a hard and sad childhood, which scarred her in many ways for life, but with her grandchildren she was loving and funny and affectionate.  We probably brought out the best in her.  As I continue to write my novel about her life and that of my grandfather, I hope I am doing her justice and honoring her memory while also capturing the sad underside to her life.

Amy Gussie and Isadore

And as for Yom Kippur, it’s a day for me to contemplate the year gone by and the mistakes I’ve made along the way.  Although I try my best to respect and honor all my relatives, living and dead, when writing the blog, I always worry that someone will be offended or upset by something I have written.  If so, please accept my apologies.

Also, I hope I have expressed my appreciation to all those who have helped me with my research, and I hesitate to make a list for fear of forgetting someone who helped me months ago and whose name might slip through my ever-worsening memory (getting older does really stink).  But let me try to remember as best I can and thank some of those who have provided me with so much research support in the past year:

my wondeful cousins Lotte Furst, Wolfgang Seligmann, Bob Cohn, Steven Seligman, Suzanne and Stephen Michel, Pete Scott, Phyllis Rosner, and Angelika Oppenheimer,  all of whom have provided me with photographs, stories, and insights into our extended family in the past year (as well as all those who helped the year before);

my amazing contacts in Germany who helped me find and understand documents and other resources: Dorothee Lottman-Kaeseler, Matthias Steinke, Helmut Schmahl, Beate Goetz, Gerd Braun, as well as Ralph Baer here in the US;

my DNA tutors, Julie Mulroy, Svetlana Hensmann, and Leah Larkin;  the many people in the Tracing the Tribe and the German Genealogy groups on Facebook, and the members of the GerSig listserv on JewishGen. Also, thank you to my friend Rene Reich-Grafe for answering my endless questions about Germany, its history, culture, and geography.

To all of you, if I have not expressed my gratitude before sufficiently, I apologize.  You’ve really made this journey so much more meaningful and so much more interesting.

Finally, to my family, friends, fellow bloggers, and other readers, thank you for being there.  I would do what I am doing even if no one was paying attention, but it is so much better knowing that others are interested in these stories about people who really were strangers to us all.

For all of you who are observing Yom Kippur, may it be an easy fast and a meaningful and thoughtful day.



The Schoenthals: Where They Came From

Deutsch: Deutsche Bundesländer Karte.

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

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

Sielen, Germany

Sielen, Germany

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

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

Deutsch: Stadt Trendelburg

Deutsch: Stadt Trendelburg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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

Die Trendelburg - Gesamtansicht, Hessen, Germany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

English: Location of Trendelburg in district K...

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





I Am Still Here


I haven’t disappeared.  As I said in my last post, it’s a hectic time of year, and I have been busy with non-blog-related matters.  Like spending time with these two, the sweetest little boys you will ever meet (and I am not biased):

Sepia Remy and Nate kissing


And with these three:

Three cats



And with my two September birthday girls (back in the 1980s):

Rebecca and Maddy


And then there’s the holidays.  Lots of eating and catching up with friends, less contemplation and introspection than expected.  But that’s okay.  Yom Kippur is next week.  There’s still time.

But in between all those activities, I have been hard at work researching my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal and his family.  I’ve found an incredible amount of information in a fairly short time (though much of the groundwork had been done much earlier).  Some of that is due to the fact that others had already researched some of the family lines; some is due to the new databases that have become available since I first started doing family history research.  Today I even found online some digitized German records of the births and deaths of some of the Schoenthals.

So I am hoping to start being able to pull together my notes and my thoughts and start blogging about the Schoenthals within the next week.  From what I’ve already learned, I think they will prove to be an interesting group to write about and, I hope, to read about.

Be back soon.

Shana Tova—A Good Year to All

Once again I find myself in the midst of the early September craziness after a long, relaxing summer: several family birthdays and anniversaries, school starting (well, not for me anymore, but for my husband), and preparation for the Jewish holidays.  In my spare time, I am trying to put together the pieces of my Schoenthal research slowly but surely.  But for the next week or so, I won’t have much time to write anything coherent about my research, so I will be taking a short break.

That seems appropriate as this is the time of year when I am supposed to be contemplating the year past and making decisions about the year to come.  It’s a time to be thoughtful and thankful.  A time of making amends and making resolutions.

So I wish all who celebrate a wonderful holiday with time for your families and your thoughts.  And for everyone, I wish a new year filled with gratitude, happiness, good health, and love.  And for the world, I will hope for peace and for a way to protect and shelter all those people all over the world who have been uprooted and seen their lives and families destroyed by war, poverty, and hatred.  Today is the 14th anniversary of the day that showed us all what hatred can do. May we finally learn from it.

WTC memorial lights

WTC memorial lights (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

May it be a year when somehow people everywhere find a way to accept differences and respect and honor the humanity of each other.

Shana tova.  A good year to all.

My Grandmother, Eva Schoenthal Cohen

It’s time to turn another page in the history of my family, or I suppose I should say, to climb another branch on the family tree.  Thus far I have researched my mother’s maternal and paternal sides as far back as I’ve been able (not far enough yet, but as far as I can, given the lack of documentation) and my father’s paternal side as far as I’ve been able.  Now I turn my focus to my father’s maternal side—his mother’s parents and their ancestors.  His mother’s father was Isidore Schoenthal; his mother’s mother was Hilda Katzenstein.  I am going to start with the Schoenthal family and explore and learn what I can about my great-grandfather, his parents, his siblings, and his children, including my paternal grandmother Eva Schoenthal Cohen.

My Grandma Eva

My Grandma Eva

My grandmother Eva was a beautiful and refined woman.  She was born on March 4, 1904, in Washington, Pennsylvania, but the family moved to Denver, Colorado, by the time she was six years old because one of Eva’s brothers had allergies and the doctors had recommended the drier climate out West.  After graduating from high school in Denver in 1922, Eva traveled to Philadelphia to visit with some of her mother’s family who lived there.

Eva Schoenthal high school yearbook picture

Eva Schoenthal high school yearbook picture

My grandfather John Nusbaum Cohen, who was born and raised in Philadelphia, met her at a social event there, and he was so taken with her that he followed her back to Colorado to woo her and ask her to marry him.  She was very young when they met—only eighteen and right out of high school; my grandfather was nine years older.  Eva accepted his proposal, and they settled in Philadelphia after marrying in Denver on January 7, 1923.

Eva Schoenthal and John Cohen, Jr. 1923

Eva Schoenthal and John Nusbaum Cohen, Sr. 1923

John and Eva Cohen c. 1930

John and Eva (Schoenthal) Cohen
c. 1930

Their first child, my aunt Eva Hilda Cohen, was born a year later on January 13, 1924, and my father was born almost three years after that.

My grandmother Eva Schoenthal Cohen and my aunt Eval Hilda Cohen

My grandmother Eva Schoenthal Cohen and my aunt Eva Hilda Cohen

My grandmother and my father

My grandmother and my father

In 1930, they were living at 6625 17th Street in Philadelphia, and my grandfather was a merchant, selling jewelry and clothing at a store called The Commodore, as I’ve written about previously.  They even had a servant living with them named Frances Myers, according to the 1930 census.

Year: 1930; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: 2133; Page: 41B; Enumeration District: 1034; Image: 588.0; FHL microfilm: 2341867

Year: 1930; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: 2133; Page: 41B; Enumeration District: 1034; Image: 588.0; FHL microfilm: 2341867

But not long afterwards, their life as a family suffered two major blows.  My grandfather was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and by 1936 had to be admitted to a veteran’s hospital where he lived the rest of his life.  Meanwhile, my grandmother Eva, a fragile and sensitive woman probably overwhelmed by what was happening to her, had herself been hospitalized and when released was not able to take care of her two young children.  As I’ve written before, my father’s paternal grandmother Eva May Seligman Cohen took care of my father and my aunt for several years.  After my great-grandmother died in 1939, my grandmother was well enough to move back to Philadelphia to live with my father and aunt.  In 1940, the three of them were living at 2111 Venango Street, and my grandmother was employed as a saleswoman in the wholesale china business, according to the 1940 census.

Year: 1940; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: T627_3732; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 51-1431

Year: 1940; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: T627_3732; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 51-1431

The 1940s must have been very difficult for my grandmother.  Her mother died in 1941, her father the following year.  My father and my aunt both served in the military during World War II and went away to college.  My grandmother remarried after World War II.  Her second husband, Frank Crocker, was the only “grandfather” I knew on that side of my family.  He was a kind and talkative man, much more outgoing than my shy, reserved grandmother.

My father and my grandmother at his college graduation in 1952

My father and my grandmother at his college graduation in 1952

Even as a child, I sensed that that my grandmother was a bit insecure and unsure of herself and perhaps uncomfortable around her three grandchildren.  I found her beautiful and refined,  and also somewhat mysterious.  Of course, as a child I knew nothing about her life.  Only by stepping into the family history and asking my father more questions did I develop a better understanding of who she was.

My grandmother died on January 10, 1963, when I was ten years old.  Her death was the first one I ever experienced.  (Although my mother’s father Isadore Goldschlager died when I was four years old, I really have no memory of his death.)  I remember being frightened and worried about my father and also confused because no one really talked about it before she died or after.  We weren’t (and still aren’t) too good at those things.

So as I start to delve now more deeply into her family history, I do it with the perspective of trying to understand who my grandmother was, where she came from, what her family was like, and how that all fits with the woman I remember.

Lotte’s Story: A Post-Script

The response I received to the writings of my cousin Lotte was overwhelming.  People were very moved by her life story and by her writing. (You can find her story here, here, and here.)  Lotte has generously shared some additional writings and photographs about her family and her life, which I will share with you, with her consent.  (All of Lotte’s writings are protected by copyright and may not be reproduced without her permission.)

First, a reminder of how I am related to Lotte:

Lotte to me


For those who have not read the first installment of Lotte’s story, a brief recap:  Lotte grew up in Mannheim, Germany, with her parents, Joseph and Aennie (Winter) Wiener and her older sister Doris.  Her father Joseph was a doctor in Mannheim, and her family was living a comfortable life there.  Lotte was an excellent student and was enjoying a good life until the Nazis came to power in 1933.

Aenne Wiener and Doris

Aenne and Doris Wiener c. 1916

Joseph Wiener earlier picture

Dr. Joseph Wiener

Her grandparents, Laura (Seligmann) and Samuel Oscar Winter lived not too far away in Neunkirchen, where her grandfather was in business with his brother-in-law, Laura’s brother Jakob Seligmann.  Lotte described what it was like to visit her grandparents:



It was a foregone conclusion that I spent most of my Christmas and Easter and also a couple of summer vacations at my grandparents’ house. I never was asked whether I wanted to go there. If so, the answer would have been “yes”. I liked them.

They lived in Neunkirchen in the Saarland, an area of coal mining and steel production administered by the League of Nations at that time. Their three-story attached row house was at Moltkestrasse 23, a nice residential neighborhood. A buzzer would open the front door after which another door with a glass panel opened to a short corridor. To the right on the first floor, called parterre, there was a fairly large carpeted and well-furnished salon and a quite formal dining room. Both rooms were dark and hardly ever used. The smelled a bit dank and musty. But to the left of the dining room a glass-beaded curtain opened to a long, enclosed, bright veranda where my grandmother kept a number of house plants including some she called amaryllis, her pride and joy. And yes, there was a rope-operated dumb-waiter from the kitchen above to the dining room. I used to love pulling those ropes and playing with it.

A toilet with a small hand basin and a spindle full of squares of cut newspaper, hardly to be called toilet tissue, was located half-way up the stairway  to the middle floor, the actual living quarters. The living room was fairly bright and not anywhere as elegant as the downstairs salon. The main attraction were my grandfather’s rocking chair and the blue and white KKL (Jewish National Fund) box filled with a number of coins. I liked to manipulate them out with a knitting needle. Of course I replaced them immediately. I knew the money was for a far-away country called Palestine.

Gilabrand at en.wikipedia [CC BY 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Gilabrand at en.wikipedia [CC BY 3.0 (, from Wikimedia Commons

Next to the living room was the fairly spacious master bedroom, dark and gloomy and actually taboo for me. But the bathroom was bright and big and quite an attraction for me because I could come in while my grandfather was still brushing his teeth and whistling while doing so. He used to announce that he was the only person with that capacity because he had false teeth. Oh, and of course the kitchen was on that floor but I did not spend much time in it and don’t remember the details, except that it opened up to a balcony where we would sometimes eat. On those occasions we had to constantly wipe off the ever-present soot that came from the coal mines.

The landing half-way up to the third floor featured an ice box. Not much food was stored in it. Certainly nothing kept there tasted fresh. We had to watch out for the sound of drip-drip-dripping water which meant the molten ice had filled the basin below it almost to capacity.

I slept in the first of the three bedrooms on the third floor, up a creaky stairway. It was pretty dark too with a large bed and a dresser. It also smelled pretty musty and the bed springs were making all kinds of noises. A large limp rag doll with a porcelain head and eyes that would open and close greeted me on the bed. It was the ugliest thing I can remember, but my grandmother thought I would like to play with it since it had been my mother’s. I hated it and tucked it away in a drawer very quickly. Early in the morning I could hear the crowing of roosters. Kickeri-kee they went. Kickeri-kee. On Sunday mornings that sound was joined by the ringing of several church bells. After all, Neunkirchen means nine churches. It did not wake me since I was not asleep any more but had to stay upstairs until I could get into the bathroom. On the way downstairs I was greeted by the aroma of freshly brewed coffee.

Two more rooms were located on that floor. One was a large storage room, mostly unused. The other was the former bedroom of my uncle, my mother’s brother, who was killed early in World War I. I was not allowed to enter that room. Probably it was locked. I believe it was kept exactly the way my uncle had left it. My grandparents never talked about it but never got over it. My grandmother only wore black or grey clothes.

Of course the house also featured a basement. There were at least two parts to it, one a coal cellar, unpleasant with a dusty smell all of its own, and a fruit cellar. That was a delightful place. I loved to go downstairs and inhale the aroma of apples, yeast cakes, apple pies and other goodies which were stored in the cool basement room.

The house really was quite gloomy and I probably was bored during my visits. But I never felt unhappy there. That was the way it was. And my grandparents certainly loved my visits and I loved them for it.

Her writing is so vivid that I can easily picture this large and dark house that she visited as a small child.  It’s incredible to me how clearly she remembers this house and these visits.

Samuel, Laura, and Anna Winter and Jakob Seligmann

Lotte’s grandparents Samuel and Laura Winter, her mother Anna (Winter) Wiener, and her great-uncle Jakob Seligmann


Lotte also has painted a wonderful portrait in words of her great-uncle Jakob Seligmann, depicted above, far right:

Onkel Jakob

He was a good-looking man. Portly and erect. He had a rosy complexion, a well cared-for short white beard, short white hair surrounding his mostly bold pate, an aquiline nose. Portly, I said. His belly protruded just enough to display a heavy golden watch on a chain. That was Onkel Jakob, my grandmother’s brother and thus my mother’s uncle. He was my grandfather’s business partner.

He was very fastidious. His shoes were always shined and a crisp handkerchief was tucked in his left upper coat pocket. He spoke clearly and slowly in a baritone voice. He showed up at the office at exactly the same time every day. On Sundays at 10 o’clock he walked to the train station, about 20 minutes from where he lived, in order to check the correct time and reset his watch if necessary. He wanted to make sure his gold watch, so prominently displayed on his belly, was correct. Once the watch was set, he might pick me up at my grandparent’s house in Neunkirchen. He took me and perhaps my sister too for a walk in the nearby woods, right behind my grandparent’s store. Sometimes Herr Eisenbeis, the owner of the building, would join us. He was a hunter and carried a long rifle. He actually was looking for deer in the birch woods. I never saw him shooting any but I did see a number of deer. Herr Eisenbeis was stocky and short. He was dressed in a green hunter’s outfit. He spoke in staccato sentences and was very abrupt and very Prussian. I did not like him very much.

But back to Onkel Jakob. I did like him and I also liked Tante Anna, his wife, who was quite beautiful and a wonderful cook. She served different kinds of food from those my grandmother made because she was not Jewish and was born in Hamburg in northern Germany. She had a brother in Kalamazoo. I remember because that name sounded very funny.

Onkel Jakob’s life seemed to be run strictly by the rules. He was pedantic, to say the least. But something went utterly against those rules. He never brought Tante Anna to my grandparent’s house. Somehow I found out that she was not welcome there because she was a shikse and because she had been Onkel Jakob’s housekeeper for many years and that they had only recently been married. It was not fair. She was a good woman who went with Onkel Jakob when he had to leave Neunkirchen to move to Luxembourg during the Hitler years. She was the one who kept in touch with my mother as long as she could after World War II broke out. Through her we learned that my grandmother collapsed on the doorsteps and died when the Nazis marched in. That my grandfather had been deported. And that Onkel Jakob had died before the same fate could happen to him. That both he and my grandmother were buried in the Jewish cemetery in Luxembourg for which she supplied the address. She finally moved back to Hamburg where she had some family. After that we did not hear from her again.

I remember Onkel Jakob as a very pedantic man. But along with him I also remember Tante Anna who was a kind and good woman.

As she wrote in Part II of her story, her grandparents and her great-uncle all moved to Luxembourg around 1935 to escape the Nazis.  They were, however, unable to come to the United States when Lotte and her parents left in 1939, and all three died during the Holocaust.  There is a memorial stone for the three of them in Luxembourg.

Winter stone


Fortunately, Lotte, her sister, and her parents were able to move first from Germany to Luxembourg and then to the United States in 1939 where Lotte successfully completed nursing school.




I was curious about what had happened to her father Joseph Wiener after he came to the US.  He’d been a doctor in Germany, and I asked Lotte whether he had been able to continue practicing medicine after coming to the US to escape the Nazis.  She shared this essay:


Imagine having to learn a new language, having to take difficult tests in it, living in a completely new environment and under completely different circumstances, and making the best of it, all at the age of 56 which was considered “getting there” agewise at the time? That’s what happened to my father.

Under duress he had to give up his medical practice in Germany. Other than his native German he knew a little French and of course had studied Latin and Greek in highschool. In Luxembourg where we lived for a year he had no way of working in his profession. Knowing that it was just an interim stop he began to study English. “1000 Words of English” was his first textbook. It was over-simplified and actually quite hilarious. “Do you like this girl?” was the beginning of one of the dialogues. “I not only like her, I love her” it went on. “She has millions of dollars”. That kind of thing really was not adequate , but he learned. My mother who did speak English fairly well taught him some more. And then we left for America.

He felt very strange but he knew he had to make the best of it. He learned that he would have to take the New York State Boards in order to practice medicine. Anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, psychology, the whole works. He plowed right into it. The English language came “as you go” so to speak. He might have taken a course or two, I don’t quite remember. His pronunciation was not great, but then neither was mine.

Meanwhile I started nursing school. Since I had a few of the same courses, though in drastically abridged form, I helped him some whenever I had a chance to get home. He really worked hard at it. He also found time to play the stock market, thanks to two very good advisors whom he knew from before. Whatever little money my parents had managed to smuggle or take out of Germany needed to be augmented in order provide for a decent living. He had no illusions about the income from his medical practice, whenever that would materialize. But the war had started, the market was going up, and as I said, he had some very good advisors who went for safety and not for speculation.

After studying for almost two years my father applied for the State Boards. Miraculously he passed almost all of the difficult courses. All except one in a course called “Hygiene”. The Board, consisting of physicians eager to keep out the new competition g by German immigrants, could not in good conscience let him pass. So he had to take a refresher course and an additional exam, fortunately just in the one subject.

Now he would be able to hang out his shingle. My parents moved from apartment B61, on the sixth floor of the Park Chateau building at 8409 Talbot Street,  Kew Gardens, to a spacious five-room one on the ground floor in the A building. My sister, her husband and their little girl, who had been sharing the upstairs apartment with my parents, moved to their own place a  convenient distance away. My father bought second-hand equipment for his office. He posted a sign reading “Joseph Wiener, M.D. Physician” or something like that at the front of the building. I must explain that it was and probably still is quite customary for New York physicians to practice out of their living accommodations. No need to rent a special office space.

I remember the “Field of Dreams” movie with the theme “when you build it, they will come”. Well my father opened his office and a few patients came. Not too many, but at least it was a start. By now he was 58 or 59 years old and not too anxious to establish a large practice. He definitely did not to drive a car any more. His clients would have to live in walking distance. That worked out just fine. The neighborhood with its small homes and working-class occupants which started right behind the Park Chateau building turned out to be just what he needed. They did not come in droves. Just enough to keep him happily satisfied. He charged $3.00 for an office visit. Sometimes he did not charge anything. He made house calls by walking there. He joined the local AMA chapter and enjoyed going to their meetings. I suppose he was glad to get away from home once in a while. He also looked forward to what they called “collation” on the invitations. It took a while to figure out that meant refreshments. For several summers he worked  as the physician at a summer camp in the Catskills. The kids and also heir parents loved him and respected him. He had a great time there.

But then his health gave out. His arteriosclerotic heart grew weary. It took a few years before it went into failure. A few critical episodes followed. And yet he was determined to face this fact. Released after an early April stay in an oxygen tent at the local hospital, he proceeded to file his income tax. He knew his house was in order. He knew my mother was well provided for. And then he went to sleep. No longer did he have to face any difficulties.

Joseph Wiener MD

Dr. Joseph Wiener

You can see the sadness in Joseph’s eyes (as well as his strength) in this later photograph as compared to the one above that was taken in the pre-Hitler era.

I also asked Lotte about her own adjustment—in particular, how she was able to do so well in her studies, given that English was not even her first language.  She shared with me this essay:


It is obvious. The moment I open my mouth, people recognize my accent. “Charming”, they may say. “Annoying”, it seems to me. I can’t hear it myself, except when I listen to my own phone message. “That’s me?” It sure does not sound like it. It sounds like a stranger.

Whether I like it or not, German is my mother tongue. That’s what I spoke exclusively until I was seventeen. That’s what my schooling and much of my thinking are based on. That’s what influenced my formative years. But that’s not what I spoke for many years. After all, I left Germany under the pressure of the Hitler years. When I left, I was sure I would never look back, never return again and never want to be involved with anything German. I had to start a new life. And when I met my husband who was from Vienna which after all is not Germany, we hardly ever spoke German. It was during the war, and the language was not welcome. Besides, in Austria they use a number of different terms for everyday common things, and we would begin to argue who was right. So we dropped it and just spoke English.

Learning English was not difficult for me. For a while I took English as an elective in high school.At age sixteen I took some private lessons at a Berlitz School where you are immersed in the foreign language. My courses included conversation, shorthand  and commercial correspondence. With my German and a strong background in French it came easily. The study of Latin and Greek was very handy to understand grammar and vocabulary. But the pronunciation! German is a phonetic language while English is not. That caused – and causes – some trouble. While I pride myself in being completely fluent in English, I still may pronounce certain words the way I think they should be pronounced, the way I can sound them out. That is especially true with proper names many of which have been anglicized, for no good reason so it seems. Why for example should Verdi be pronounced “Voedy” when in Italian it is VERDI, or “Aphrodite” sound like “Aphrodaite” while the I in Greek is just that: “EE”? Well, so much for that.

I do think and figure almost exclusively in English. But sometimes an old German adage creeps in. And oh how many such words can be found in that language. There is a saying of wisdom for just about everything. And certain words simply cannot be translated – they are idiomatic. Just like the Yiddish schlemiel, or chutzpah. There is no English word for that.

I can still converse fairly fluently in my erstwhile mother tongue. People who did not know about my background would comment that for an American I spoke very good German. Little did they know. But when it comes to writing it becomes more difficult. For many years I had a lively correspondence with one of my high school friends who did not speak English. Often I would have to beat around the bush, so to speak, and find some alternate, perhaps awkward way to describe what I wanted to say. And reading German books or communications. Those convoluted intertwined interminably long sentences. English is much more direct.

Somehow I cannot think of English as being my mother tongue. It is not, although it is what I use almost exclusively. Somewhere, deep in the crevices of my brain my German background prevails. Sometimes it comes to the fore. After all, that is my mother tongue.

There is no question that Lotte has mastered the English language; very few of us for whom English is our mother tongue can express ourselves as well as she does in her adopted language.

Once again, I was and continue to be struck by how determined and how positive Lotte was as a young woman and how she has remained so to this day.  These more recent photographs of her show her indomitable spirit in her smile and in the light in her eyes.

Uli and Lotte 1988

Lotte and her husband Uli 1988

Lotte Furst in 2006

Lotte in 2006