No matter how experienced we are as genealogists, we probably all have brick walls in our personal genealogical research. Here is a short article about one of my genealogy brick walls. So far I have not managed to make any significant progress with this area of my personal family history research.
Tante Fanni was my paternal Grandfather’s sister, my Great Aunt. She lived in Israel, and when I was a young girl I can remember my parents receiving blue airmail letters from her on crinkled and very fragile see-through paper. The letters were all handwritten, on both sides of the page and in very spidery looped writing, in German. To be honest, I never really paid too much attention to the letters which arrived seemingly fairly regularly, at least as far as I recall, because I was unable to read them, let alone to understand what they said.
Once when I asked my parents about Tante Fanni, I was told that even though I did not remember her personally, I had met her when I was almost 3 years old, when I visited Israel in 1967 with my parents and maternal KRACKO grandparents. My Dad told me that we had been in Israel visiting his paternal cousins just at the start of the Six Day War.
At some time (before I became interested in genealogy), Tante Fanni died. This would have been sometime after the mid-1960s since I can remember her letters arriving, but before 1994, when I first started getting interested in my family history. My task now is to find out what I can about her accurately identify her, and then to put her story into my family tree.
What do I know?
Since Tante Fanni was my paternal grandfather’s sister and I know that he was born in Czernowitz, Rumania, now Chernivitsi, Ukraine, it is likely that was as well. However I don’t know exactly when she was born. According to Uncle Joe, my Dad’s older brother who was born in 1922, who is 10 years older than Dad, and who can usually be relied upon for all the important facts about the family, my grandfather, Opa Markus was born on 16 August 1883. He was the son of Jona Mechel MERFELD and Jette or Jutte ROSENBERG. Unfortunately, even Uncle Joe couldn’t help me with detailed information about Tante Fanni.
The MERFELD or MEERFELD or MEHRFELD and ROSENBERG and TRESSER families lived in Czernowitz and, according to the family, there are multiple connections among the 3 families. For example, cousin Aharon TRESSER in Israel is a cousin twice over, and cousin Fifi SEGALL born in Israel as Sofia ROSENBERG, is her own cousin twice, because her parents were first cousins on both sides of their family.
Also, our family name should be MERFELD (or MEERFELD or MEHRFELD) and not ROSENBERG. Opa Markus’s parents had only a Jewish marriage which required their offspring to bear their mother’s surname rather than that of their father. I am told that having only a religious marriage and not a civil one, is called a “Stille Chuppah”.
When Tante Fanni died, she was known to the family as Fanni LANDESMANN , who lived in Benei Brak with or near her late second husband Anschel LANDESMANN’s grown up married daughter from his first marriage.
Asking other older members of the family for more information didn’t help much. Nobody had any information; nobody knew the name of Tante Fanni’s step-daughter; nobody remembered the address where she had lived nor exactly where she was buried. Looking for Fanni LANDESMANN, who had lived in Bnei Brak and was buried somewhere in Israel, was becoming impossible. However, I know she existed, I have her photo:
This version of her photo is scanned and much enlarged from a larger photo of her standing with her brothers.
What else could I find out?
Uncle Joe gave me some old documents, including information about Opa Markus’s family that he had written down many years ago.
The document, which is quite hard to read, but not as hard as I remember Tante Fanni’s letters to have been, contains a list of Opa Markus’s siblings, including Tante Fanni.
The key part of the document is this:
Roughly translated it says:
My parents had 7 children, 4 are living and 3 are dead. The 3 girls who died in Czernowitz were Gusta, Rosel and Cilli, and the living children were Markus, Maier Abram, Moses, and Fanni.
Someone, most likely Uncle Joe, told me that Tante Fanni was married and had been sent with her family during the war to Transnistria, and that her first husband and children died there. My next task was to find out if there were Pages of Testimony [PoT] for her dead family. I searched repeatedly for PoTs submitted by Fanni LANDESMANN, but found nothing. Then I found PoTs for members of the MERFELD, TRESSER and ROSENBERG families submitted in Hebrew by Sidonie or Sidonia LANDESMAN. By using the advanced search facility, I discovered that the same submitter had submitted no less than 47 names on Pages of Testimony. The last names on all the PoTs are as follows:
Through various PoTs, I have worked out that Fanni and Sidonie or Sidonia are the same person. When I asked others in the family about this, they have consistently denied ever knowing about it before I told them!
When I got as far as the MERFELD PoTs, I found one submitted by her for Tzvi MERFELD who was born in Cernauti, Romania in 1898 to Arie and Etel. He was a wood merchant and married. Prior to WWII he lived in Cernauti, Romania. During the war he was in Cernauti, Romania. Tzvi was murdered in 1943 in Transnistria, Ukraine (USSR). This information is based on a Page of Testimony (displayed) submitted by his wife. Here was proof of what previously I had been told about Tante Fanni’s family.
The wife’s name on the POT was shown as Sidonia LANDESMAN. The same POT gives details of the couple’s 4 children, who had all died in Transnistria in 1943. This was Tante Fanni’s family who had died in the Holocaust. She had lost her husband and all 4 of her children:
Michael Yona, aged 16
Rivke aged 12
Lea aged 7
Etel aged 2
This saddened me terribly, but I was also pleased that the entire family was recorded at Yad Vashem, so that they will always be remembered. Finding the PoT that she submitted made me even more determined to find out about Tante Fanni.
For a long time that was all that I could find, but during mid-2012, some of the Czernowitz birth record indices went online. [see: Czernowitz BMD Index Database http://czernowitz.ehpes.com/ then choose databases.]
I found my grandfather Marcus’s birth record, and those of all his siblings, including those who had died. Here is the reference for my Grandfather’s birth record: Czernowitz Birth Record for 1883 Marcus MEERFELD son of Jona Mechel 1883 Page 258 Entry No 381. For Tante Fanni, the record index read: Czernowitz Birth Record for Sidonie MEHRFELD, daughter of Ioine Mechel, Volume XIV, 1899, Page 292, Entry No 124. As I write this, I await my copies of the 8 children’s birth records, ordered through a professional genealogist who will copy them for me from microfilms in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. I will then know Tante Fanni’s exact date of birth. Perhaps after that I might locate something more about her.
Where else have I looked?
I have researched in quite a number of different places to find out more about Tante Fanni. When the Israeli cemeteries went online, I tried to see what I could find. I found nothing. I even had some help from a native Israeli professional genealogist who looked on the cemeteries websites in Hebrew for me, and she found nothing either. Since I am sure that Tante Fanni is buried somewhere in Israel, I have to assume that maybe she is buried in one of the cemeteries where the records are not yet online. I also attended a webinar about how to use the Israel Genealogy Research Association (IGRA) online databases in Hebrew and in English [see http://genealogy.org.il/] but again, I found nothing, neither about Tante Fanni nor about her second husband, Anschel LANDESMANN.
What other information exists about Tante Fanni?
Cousin Avital SAMOCHA has put the following on her family tree at MyHeritage, http://www.myheritage.com.
My (very basic) Hebrew tells me this photo is of Anshel LANDESMANN, who was Tante Fanni’s second husband. But, I don’t know if I can rely on this because she also labeled him Herman LANDESMANN in another photo.
Cousin Avital does, however, have a copy of the same photo of Tante Fanni as I do. I can’t help wondering if perhaps it was I who sent it to her in the first place, since I am now sole custodian for all of our family’s old photos, as far as I am aware. I know that much of Avital’s original data and quite a few of the photos she has on the website were taken from information I sent her.
Since I began writing about Tante Fanni, the Czernowitz Birth records I had ordered have arrived. The records were clearly written by someone who never contemplated having anyone read them afterwards. They are a yet another example of totally illegible handwriting.
The index had already told me that Tante Fanni was the youngest of the 8 children born to her parents. Her birth record, above, notes the following, as far as I can tell:
Birth Record for Sidonie MEHRFELD, daughter of Ioine Mechel, Volume XIV, 1899, Page 292, Entry No 124. LDS Film Reference: 2395738-1897-66-Mehrfeld. Born 5 August 1899, registered 10 August 1899. Address Kalizanka 297, Czernowitz. Daughter of Jütte, daughter of the late Mordche ROSENBERG and Rifke. Ioine Mechel MEHRFELD attested that he was the father of the child.
My work in reassessing all my papers and looking again for information about Tante Fanni suggests that one of my cousins in Israel believes that she died in 1968, which is much earlier than I would have thought, and that she is, according to one of her other nieces in Israel, most likely to have been buried in Zichron Meir Cemetery at Bnei Brak. The same cousin suggests that Tante Fanni had 5 or 6 children, rather than the 4 listed on the PoT she wrote for her family. This may well be true, given the high mortality rates of that time in Czernowitz. If that is the case, then at least 2 would have died as infants, since they were not named on the PoT. The search goes on.
I still don’t know when Tante Fanni died nor exactly where she was buried, and I would still like to contact her step daughter’s family, if only I knew her name. Can you help? If you can help me to find out more about Tante Fanni, I would love to hear from you.
Phone: +44 208 958 5249
Jeanette Rosenberg is a professional genealogist & member of AGRA,(Association of Genealogists & Researchers in Archives) and holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Genealogical Studies from Strathclyde University. She’s a frequent researcher at archives in Germany, where
she’s participated in local history seminars. Jeanette is also a popular Jewish genealogy speaker around the UK. She was appointed a GerSig Director in 2009 & leads for JGS Great Britain on Education & Mentoring, managing exhibitions, & is chair of the German SIG. Jeanette is a member of the Society of Genealogists, Anglo-German Family History Society & Guild of One Name Studies.