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Beginning with the history of my maternal ancestors In Hesse, I will follow my maternal family though generations, and migrations, until my parents, Lorry Brenn and Hy Goldenberg, who lived in Huntington, Indiana. This family history has much in common with other families who immigrated in the mid-19th Century and lived in small towns of the Middle West. Many such communities have since disappeared, as younger generations migrated to larger cities. Much has been said about transnational immigrations, but the internal migrations were also quite common and significant.

My family came from five modern countries, but the German ancestry has been the easiest and most rewarding to research.

From Hesse to Nashville, Tennessee

In the beginning of my genealogical research in 1995, I had a few notes from my mother’s family about her German ancestors. There wasn’t much, but we knew that they had immigrated from somewhere in Germany to Nashville, TN. One of the first bits of information was a scribble about three marriages among three sets of brothers and sisters, which my uncle Earl Brenn had copied down from a book during a visit to Nashville. He had visited one of the distant Werthan cousins living there. My great great grandfather Wolf Werthan married Henriette Godhelp in 1866. His half brother Meier Werthan married Minnie Liebman in 1873. And Minnie’s sister Bertha Liebman married Sigmund Godhelp in 1870.

A few words about Nashville in 1860

The population of Nashville in 1860 was 17,000. There were 105 Jewish households, or about 400 people. Of these, only seven had slaves, and of these seven, none had more than one. Still, the Jews of Nashville by and large supported the Confederacy. On the other hand, when President Lincoln died in 1865, Nashville Jews mourned his death, with the local B’nai B’rith lodge draping its meeting hall in mourning for thirty days and local congregations holding special memorial services. There was a tremendous turnover of Jews moving to Nashville and leaving for elsewhere in the early years. In 1870, only 44 families remained of the 105 there ten years earlier in 1860. In the 1850s the railroad reached Nashville, facilitating this mobility. [These details come from the encyclopedia of the Institute of Southern Jewish Life, online.]

Altogether three Gotthelf siblings and four Werthan brothers and half-brothers made their way to Nashville in the 1850s and 1860s. But fairly soon most of them left for other places. One of the interesting characters among these Nashville residents was the younger brother of Wolf and Meier, Levi Werthan. He later lost some toes to frostbite in the Alaska Gold Rush, which took place between 1896-1899. Two sons of his served time in a federal penitentiary. But otherwise he is not part of this story.

Finding Ancestral Towns

It took me a few years to identify the towns from which my German ancestors came. But, after cranking microfilms in the Allen County Public Library in Indiana, I was able to add a lot of information about my ancestral families in general, but still not the hometown of my great great grandfather Wolf. His brother Meier had immigrated from Hamburg in September 1865, but the microfilmed copy of his ship manifest was mostly illegible. Others of the family immigrated through the port of Bremen, for which no ship’s manifests remain.

So the only thing I knew to do was to book a place on Gary Mokotoff’s annual genealogy event at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.  Gary called this the “candy store” of genealogy. And what a candy store it was! Unlike nowadays, in 2001, one couldn’t do very much research seated in a chair at home.

First of all, I found a much better copy of the microfilm for Meier Werthan’s immigration from Hamburg. For hometown it said Rothenburg, Cur Hessen. Luckily the Family History Library had people who were able to help identify places and read Gothic German. There were “only” about twelve Rotenburgs of various spellings in Germany, so I would have been lost otherwise. When a young woman found that the town was Rotenburg an der Fulda (meaning Rotenburg on the Fulda River), I was off and running. Microfilm after microfilm filled in my knowledge of the Werthan family. I taught myself to recognize the surname in German gothic handwriting, made copies, and then brought a few of them to the young woman to decipher. I was also able to research my great great grandmother Henriette Godhelf’s (original name Jette Gotthelf) family in the town of Hofgeismar. This surname and this town name were found on the ship’s manifests for both Sigmund and Henriette.CAHJP And I had an amazing moment upon discovering that my great great grandparents, Wolf Werthan and Henriette Gotthelf were first cousins. Her mother Roschen, born in Rotenburg, and his father Geisel were brother and sister! This fact had been forgotten over the years. Later I learned that these two ancestral towns, Rotenburg and Hofgeismar, are about an hour and a half’s drive from each other, which must have been considered far in the 1830s.

Soon after my return from Salt Lake City, I traveled to Jerusalem to the CAHJP, the Central Archives of the History of the Jewish People, where I was able to add a lot more people to the family tree. There were treasures in this Archive not found elsewhere, but today the records in the tiny books of photos I found have been copied, and are available as the Hessen Gaterman records at JewishGen.org. Geisel with his two wives had eleven children, as far as I know: nine sons, some of who did not survive infancy, and then two daughters.

The woman at the library recommended that I contact the municipality of Rotenburg, which I did. The response was not long in coming. Only it was not from the city itself but from Dr. Heinrich Nuhn, a former history teacher, and a man who has devoted both his teaching and his retirement years to researching the former Jewish community in his town—and, no less important, the behavior of the local Nazi supporters in the village. And no less important, his activities preserve the memory of the Jewish community of hundreds of years. Dr. Nuhn warmly invited us to his village, and to stay with him and his wife Inge. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. So, soon after receiving this invitation, my husband Zvi and I found ourselves in a village which looked like it belonged in a fairytale.

A main street in the center of Rotenburg an der Fulda

And I was actually able to enter the house of my 4X great grandparents, Sussman and Elckel and their family. For perspective, Sussman David Werthan lived from 1762 to 1828. This house was right across Brotstrasse (meaning Bread Street) from the village Jewish school and synagogue, which were badly damaged on Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) in November 1938, and destroyed after the War. Sussman’s epitaph refers to him as “Rabbi”, which may help explain his living across the street from the synagogue.

Former Werthan House at 22 Brotgasse

At first Dr. Nuhn had encountered much opposition to his projects from the townspeople, who did not want to deal with this dark period of their history, and in fact, denied it. But by the time we arrived for our first visit in 2002, excavations were going on in the former mikve (ritual bath) building of the Jewish community. There were two levels of mikves, one on top of the other, the oldest dating from about 1738. There were plans in place to establish a Jewish Museum in the mikve building, which were realized in 2006.

The Jewish Museum in the former mikve building
A statue of Moses stands in front of it

One of the first and most important documents I received from a German researcher, Wolfgang Fritzsche, was an 1808 surname adoption list. At that time Napoleon had conquered large parts of Europe, including Hesse, and required the local people to adopt surnames, which would be passed down from generation to generation. A simple list of Jewish families and the surnames they took was chock full of useful information, and enabled building an early family tree. It was from this list that I found that the name of my 4X great grandfather was Sussman David (or Sussman son of David). The names of his mother and siblings also appear in this list. Before surnames were required for Jews, the father’s given name served as a kind of surname.

With our recommendation, and that of others, Dr. Nuhn won the Obermayer German Jewish History Award in 2005. We are very proud of this and know it is well deserved. This prestigious prize was endowed by the late American entrepreneur and philanthropist Arthur Obermayer, and it is given annually to five German non-Jews researching German Jewish heritage. We attended the awards ceremony at the regional Berlin Parliament.

One of the best things we did was to take our children to Rotenburg and Hofgeismar in 2009. Dr. Nuhn is open and was willing to answer any of their questions.

A historical sign, below, marks the site at 19 Brotgasse, where the former school and synagogue were located.

Following is information from part of the Surname Adoption list of 1808 for Rotenburg. It shows members of the WERTHAN family. I have added some information from later dates, and the grave number from the cemetery documentation, where I could find it.

From a List of the Jewish Population of Rotenburg/Fulda 1808

   Surname       First name                 Status              Date/birth     Date/death   Grave #

Werthan Elckel Widow of David Salomon 3 8 1738
(Gumpel) Marcus David Son 10 8 1775
Werthan Susmann David Head of Household 7.9.1762 4.11.1828 166
Elke Wife; daughter of Lucas Susmann [Apfel]; from Bebra 20.3.1766
Lucas Son; handelsman (merchant), shamash 8 4 1794 27.12.1859
Gumpel Son 21.4.1796 17.8.1866
Reisgen/Roschen Daughter; married Itzig Gotthelf, died Hofgeismar 4.3.1802 1879 Hofg.
Geisel Son, shoemaker; synagogendiener

(shamash)

13.6.1806 10.1.1888 265
Salomon Son 20.4.1808
Werthan Eisermann David Head of Household

Rabbi, mohel

3 6 1763 185
Beile Wife; Daughter of Susmann Katz; from Wanfried 1772
David Son, shoemaker 8.5.1799
Mundel Son 4.11.1802
Sussmann Son, mohel 4.8.1806 21 10 1862 72
Werthan Judemann David (Yehuda) Head of Household

Rabbi, handelsman (merchant)

12.5.1768 25 11 1847 53
Judel (Gitel) Wife; Hess… from Wanfried 8.6.1776 24.3.1864 3
Reichel Daughter 4.5.1804 26 9 1888
David Son of hochgeschatzten (highly esteemed) Rabbi 24.8.1806 18.5.1881 84

A shamash is one who assists in the running of a synagogue or its religious services.

In the local Jewish cemetery there were several mostly legible old gravestones for members of my own family and their cousins, under large trees. With my previous experience of ancestral towns in Eastern Europe, most without a single gravestone remaining in the local Jewish cemetery, this was exciting. In Communist countries, the Jewish cemeteries were dismantled to provide cheap building material for sidewalks, steps and more.

Gravestone of Geisel (Yosef) Werthan, 1802-1888

Geisel was my third great grandfather

To make a long story short, Dr. Nuhn found sharp correspondence of my great great great grandfather, Geisel Sussman Werthan, master shoemaker, with the municipality from June 1831 to January 1832. In these letters he insisted that he had completed all of the years of apprenticeship and had “legally achieved the status of meister”, and that his father had been a citizen of Rotenburg from June 1808, which the town tried to deny. In addition, he mentioned that he was in danger of losing his well-to-do fiancée of seven months, because without residence rights, he would be unable to marry. Geisel finally succeeded in receiving his schutzbrief (known in English as a Letter of Protection), and in marrying his bride.  His wife Teresa Apfel was from the neighboring community of Bebra. She did not live long. Geisel remarried and had more children, and so some of Wolf’s brothers were actually half brothers.

One of the things I’ve learned is the importance of the name David in the early generations of the Werthan family. In all the three branches of sons of Sussman, there were many sons bearing the name David. If a David died soon after birth, the next son would also be given the name David, until one survived.

Although he is a historian, not a genealogist, in his historical research, Dr. Nuhn eventually found other documents which confirmed that my ancestors had had schutzbriefe, meaning that they had been legal residents of Rotenburg, for a few generations before Geisel. My earliest known ancestor was David, born ca. 1665. In an aside, I wish to say that in Germany in particular, but also in other countries, Dr. Nuhn is not alone: many localities have local people dedicating much time and effort to the former Jewish communities of their towns, and it is worth investigating this possibility.

A very old document:

“David Salomon, Salomon David’s son [sohn]”,

was recognized in 1756 as a citizen of Rotenburg, and was to pay

a sum of 7 reichsthalers annually for this privilege

4.28 was the amount due for the remainder of the year 1756

 

 

This status came with a few benefits, aside from residence in the town, and the ability to marry. One of them was receiving wood for heat in the winter.

One of the earliest members of my families to immigrate to the US from Bremen to Baltimore was Sigmund Sussman Gotthelf in 1854. He Americanized his surname to Godhelp, as did all the other Gotthelfs in my family. In the 1860 US census, he was recorded as living in Chattanooga, Hamilton County, Tennessee. He enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1861 from Knoxville, TN. Tennessee was a Confederate state, but unlike other southern states, there were soldiers on both sides of the Civil War. Many of the soldiers were themselves immigrants.

I won’t go into much detail about the war, but to say that Tennessee was the last state to secede the United States, and had the most battles of any Confederate state except Virginia. Near Chattanooga, Sigmund was taken prisoner in 1863. He pledged an oath of allegiance to the United States, and was released. This was common in those times. At the beginning of the Civil War, over 300 US officers resigned to join the Confederacy, as did numerous clerks and officials. So President Lincoln instituted a loyalty oath for those who remained.

In 1862, my great great grandmother, Henriette Gotthelf immigrated to the US, arriving in the port of New York, but how and when she made her way to Nashville, remains a mystery. Even though Nashville was liberated early in the War, it is hard to imagine her going there upon her arrival.

In the US Presidential elections of 1868, Jacob Godhelp was appointed to a Nashville committee against the election of Ulysses S. Grant, who one member called “Haman”. Grant had been the Chief of Staff of the US Army during the Civil War. Grant’s anti-Semitism is well documented: he issued the infamous Order no. 11, which required Jews to be expelled immediately from a vast territory extending from Mississippi to Illinois. After a prominent Jewish resident of Paducah, Kentucky appealed to President Lincoln against this order, the President, who had a good relationship with Jewish people, immediately ordered it to be rescinded.

Some of the information I have about the Jews of Nashville comes from a book entitled Beginnings on Market Street, by Fedora Small Frank, written for the US bicentennial in 1976.

Sigmund Godhelp and his brother Jacob became US citizens on 30 November 1864. They received their “final papers” in the “Popular Circuit Court”. The War hadn’t ended but presumably the United States was in control of Tennessee.

At first, I assume that nobody in the families had any money to speak of. In the 1869 King’s Nashville City Directory is an advertisement placed by my great great grandfather Wolf Werthan, dealing in second hand goods. He must have spent all his money on this ad. Since he soon left Nashville for Chicago; obviously the ad was not successful.

Wolf’s cousin and brother-in-law, Sigmund, remained in Nashville and established a company also dealing in second-hand goods, S. Godhelp & Co., which became M. Werthan and Co., after Sigmund’s death in 1895. The company remains in the family until this day, and is known as Werthan Industries.

In Nashville family members were members and were involved in Reform Jewish congregations and organizations.

Incidentally, the movie Driving Miss Daisy is actually about Alfred Uhry’s family from Georgia, but all of the names in the movie are from the Werthan family, including the surname and nicknames. Alfred had met someone from the Werthan family at summer camp, and they must have remained friends.

From Nashville to Chicago

Ca. 1870, the year of the Chicago fire, my great great grandparents moved from Nashville to Chicago. Why Chicago? Presumably, the main reason was economic. One brother, Lucas Werthan, had moved there previously from Nashville. According to a Chicago City Directory, Wolf worked as a clerk in the “hats and caps” store belonging to Lucas.

When I began my genealogical research, two people from the family still remembered Henriette, who had lived a long life. She wore black long after Wolf had died (in 1901), and she used to sit around the stove in the house in Chicago, drinking coffee all day. To quote my uncle Earl: “I thought she was a witch, so I would run from the kitchen and pass her by as fast as I could run.” Earl was about eight years old when Henriette died in 1925.

Next Generation

In the next generation, my great grandfather, Nathan Feldman, immigrated from Lodz (Poland) in 1886, as did his brother Baruch. We know nothing of the history of their family in Lodz. Soon after his immigration, Nathan enlisted in the US Army. He served in companies K and L, 7th Cavalry, from 1888 to 1891. Part of this time, he was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas. Fortunately, at the battle of Wounded Knee Creek, on 29 December 1890, the soldiers counted out by fours. Nathan was number four, and therefore he was spared taking part in the fighting. This was the last major battle—or should I say massacre—of the Indian Wars. And it ended forever any hopes of the Indians for a revival of their former way of life.  At the very same time as the battle, Nathan accompanied an officer to the Pine Ridge Agency. It is described as a very fast ride on horseback through “hostile territory.” Nathan was awarded a Certificate of Merit, which would have been signed by President Taft, but the original certificate, along with his sword and other keepsakes, were lost in a flood of the basement of his house in Chicago. (Incidentally, this battle was perhaps intended at the time to avenge the defeat of the 7th Cavalry, and the death of General Custer in the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1976.)

Two documents follow about the Certificate of Merit Awarded to Nathan Fellman [sic] for bravery after the Battle of Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota.

 

 

Nathan and his brother Baruch, who called himself Bennet or Barnett, both settled in Chicago, and married two Werthan sisters. Bennet’s wife was Theresa, and they married in 1888. Nathan’s wife was Emma; they married in 1892.

Nathan was a picture framer, and we have a few lovely frames made by him. However, he could not make a living from framing pictures, so he and his wife had a small corner grocery and sold sandwiches at lunchtime to children from the school across the street. The family lived behind their store. The great grandchildren of Geisel the master shoemaker did not have enough shoes, and had to share them. The irony carries into the next generation. My great uncle Hurley Feldman, son of Nathan and Emma, and father of three daughters, insisted on buying a shoe store for each of his sons-in-law, whether they cared for that or not. Having lived through the Great Depression, people will always need shoes, he must have thought.

Nathan Feldman (ca 1870-1954)

 

Emma (Werthan) Feldman (1871-1939), ca. 1936

Nathan and Emma Feldman had five children. Emma became ill with diabetes, and a doctor recommended that she have more children as a remedy. So two more came into being. Of course this didn’t prevent her later suffering from the damages of diabetes. Emma, for whom I was named, died in 1939.

Above: Nathan and his five daughters: From left: Fannie, Tillie, Irene, Theresa, and Esther

As a young child, I remember sitting in the grass at my grandparents’ cottage at Lake Wawasee in northern Indiana, in the summer, and listening to “Indian stories” told me by my great grandfather. Too bad I can’t remember them, but in any case, this was in the days of “cowboys and Indians”, and before the days of political correctness with regard to the native Americans.

In Chicago a close neighbor of the Feldman family was Jacob Brenn, born in Pinsk, which was then in Russia. He had immigrated in 1907, at the age of 12. Jake was very tall, good looking, and bright, and Nathan decided that Jake should marry one of his daughters. He got his wish. Jake married Fannie, who was the same age as himself, in 1915. Fannie was Nathan and Emma’s second oldest child.

Jake and Fannie Brenn ca. 1960

Jacob studied chemistry at Valparaiso University, in Valparaiso, Indiana. Whether or not he graduated, I do not know.

How Did the Brenn Family Come to Live in Huntington, Indiana?

Following is an account of the founding of a manufacturing company in Huntington, Indiana, which my grandfather managed, from my uncle Earl Brenn:

“The Huntington Brewing Company on East Tipton Street in Huntington, was about to be closed by law under the national prohibition amendment to the Constitution. There was nearly a year left until enactment (on 19 February 1919), when the company was reorganized into the Huntington Chemical Company. A chemist named West was hired to manage the new business. The first products were doomed to failure. One of them was decaffeinating coffee for caffeine as a pain reliever. Aspirin was developed at about the same time, and was of course much more effective. The other failed product was soap from seaweed. West then sold his stockholdings to local persons and left the city.” [end quote] However, I’m not writing for a newspaper, and reading between the lines, the idea of producing caffeine was a bad one in the first place and this published story was not entirely true.

According to another, unpublished version of the history of the company, the “promoters” from Toledo, Ohio, absconded with most of the investment money. They never stood trial. Editor of the local newspaper Huntington Herald Press, Howard Houghton wrote in an article in “The Village”, that the company was reorganized once more. “Robert Polachek, who was in Huntington to call on his customers as salesman for the U.S. Sanitary Company, was sitting [on a bench] on the sidewalk in front of the Hotel Huntington one evening. He fell into conversation with Mr. [Louis] Trixler, a member of the Board of Directors of the Huntington Chemical Company. Trixler told Polacheck about the chemical company’s manufacturing problems. Polachek said he knew a man who could take over the plant’s operations.”

At that time Jake Brenn was also working for the U.S. Sanitary Co., and he knew about the chemical business. He was hired on August 16, 1920, at the age of twenty-five. The company name was changed to Huntington Laboratories, Inc. Robert Polachek became one of the first salesmen of the new firm.

The population of Huntington when I was growing up there was about 16,000. The town’s population has been pretty steady for the last 100 years and more. As in other small towns around the Midwest, late in the 19th and early in the 20th century there were a few Jewish families in Huntington, mostly of German origin, and there had even been a minyan; but as their children grew up, they moved away, some of them leaving their aging parents behind. Now there is one Jewish resident, living just outside of town, but I still count my sister as the one Jewish resident. As kids, we attended Sunday school in the Reform Jewish Congregation Achduth Vesholem in Fort Wayne, over half an hour’s drive away. I can’t say that we learned much, or that this was a totally positive experience, but without it, our Jewish identity would probably have been less significant.

In 1922, the year my mother Lorraine Brenn was born in Huntington, Jake returned to Chicago for the completion of his naturalization process. At that time, Fannie, who was born in the US [as was her mother], and her children, too, all had to be naturalized, because in those days citizenship was defined according to the father of the family. This situation soon changed.

During the Great Depression, one of my grandmother’s sisters and her family were about to lose their home, because they owed taxes on it. So my great uncle Hurley and his wife Ida and my grandparents stepped in to help, but they had a stipulation: the family must take in the elders of the family. So, their home became a kind of old-age home. Their daughter told me that even in the dining room there were beds, when the home was its most crowded. She obviously suffered from this situation. And she threw out every single photo of the ancestors. Therefore, we don’t have photos of many of them.

My grandparents lived a prosperous, happy life together, and raised three children in Huntington. Jake was a community leader among the city at large. In 1966 my grandfather offered to send me to Israel for the summer. I turned him down. He didn’t live long enough to know that in 1968, I did go to Israel, and have lived there since 1969.

My Parents

Members of the next generation of the family, including my uncle Earl Brenn, and my father Hy Goldenberg, worked for the company. My parents Hy and Lorry, met in Denver, Colorado during World War II. Dad was training for the 10th Mountain Division, and Mom was working for the Denver branch of Huntington Laboratories. They married exactly three months after meeting at a dance at the Jewish Community. Dad faced fierce fighting in northern Italy. After the War, my father, then managing his father’s fur business in Lawrence, Massachusetts, was offered a job with Huntington Laboratories. So was a second cousin of my mother’s from Chicago, who had married my mother’s best friend from the University. In this way, my grandfather ensured that my parents’ best friends also lived in little Huntington. Huntington Laboratories had become largely a family company, and remained so until the company was sold in 1991.

Hy and Lorry Goldenberg on their wedding day in June 1944

My parents became very active community leaders. From PTA President (Mom), to the Girl Scouts of America (both of my parents), to running the United Fund, Library building, and Humane Center campaigns (Dad), and many other activities. Dad was an amateur artist. Mom was a knitter and a weaver of the highest level. Both were avid nature lovers, and made their home in a wooded area outside of Huntington, where they moved in 1965. Dad had a hobby which I doubt anyone else ever had: collecting outhouses, which was published far and wide.

Mom never thought she would end up living in Huntington, after graduating from the University of Wisconsin, but she and Dad were not typical small-town people. They had friends from near and far. And after Dad retired, they spent five months of each year in Israel, where they bought a house in Zichron Yaakov.

Dad’s drawing of his favorite outhouse

 

Hy and Lorry ca 1988 by their home in the woods

My younger brother and sister stayed in northeastern Indiana, but I found myself living in Israel, where I have lived for the past 50 years. Of course, this is a whole other story.

Growing up in a small Middle Western town in the 1950s and 60s had its drawbacks, but also its advantages. Things have changed since then, however, and I wish I could say for the better. But globalization has come to small towns, and some manufacturing plants have left.

 

Ellen Stepak

Ellen (Goldenberg) Stepak

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1969 Ellen moved to Israel, and lived on a kibbutz for over a year. It was her second time in Israel. When she left the kibbutz, she moved to Jerusalem; for 46 years, she lived in Ramat Gan. Currently she lives in Tel Aviv.

When her husband Zvi decided to go into business for himself, and started an investment business, she became a “silent partner”.

She has three children: Avner, Amir, who lives in Washington D.C., and Raquel; four granddaughters and two grandsons; and one cat.

Since 1995, Ellen has been actively researching her family’s roots, with ancestors from five modern-day countries. This has included traveling to ancestral towns, documenting old Jewish cemeteries in Lithuania and Germany, writing articles on topics related to her research, and translating material from Hebrew to English. It has been a rewarding, educational experience, involving contacts on four continents, not including Israel, which is in Asia. Ellen has published three family history books: We Were All Klutzes, about the Klots (and Kling) families of Lithuania; The Werthans of Rotenburg an der Fulda; and The Brenn Family of Pinsk.

 

 

Until the founding of the State of Israel the Jewish and Arab populations had separate ruling bodies under the British government. This is the reason why separate censuses and voters’ lists for the Jewish population can be found for the period up through 1948. These documents are found in different archives, usually depending on the type of the document. This article includes a limited survey of those documents in places that are considered to be “urban settlements” today. This information is based on the collection of the Israel Genealogy Research Association’s “All Israel Databases”. Most of these documents are already searchable in either Hebrew or English on the IGRA website.[1]  IGRA believes there are more documents to be found in the various archives and will endeavor to find them.

In addition to documents of the governing bodies, in the 19th century, Sir Moses Montefiore had five censuses conducted in 1839, 1849, 1855, 1866 and 1875 in Eretz Israel. The original censuses, which are in Hebrew, are found in London at The Montefiore Endowment.  A database of these censuses has been built and can be searched in Hebrew or English at the following site.[2] All the settlements mentioned in the censuses are part of Eretz Israel, except for some settlements that are not part of Israel today such as Alexandria, Beirut, and Sidon.

At the same time during the Turkish rule, up until the end of World War I, various types of lists were kept by the Turkish administration. These are known by the name Nufus and scans of the microfilms of these are available on the website of the Israel State Archives.[3] Most of the information about the Jewish communities is in Turkish, though there are a few instances of lists in Hebrew. A comprehensive survey can be found in Hebrew.[4]

Under the British Mandate of Palestine the Jewish population had its own ruling bodies that were responsible for their self-government. Three types of documents can be found for this period: censuses, voters’ lists on the national level for Knesset Israel and voters’ lists on the local level. The voters’ lists for Knesset Israel are found mainly in the Central Zionist Archives, whereas the voters’ lists for local government and the censuses are found either in the Israel State Archives or in the local municipal archives.

Distribution by Type of Archive

The documents can be divided into three types: censuses, voters’ lists for local government and voters’ lists for Knesset Israel or the national governing body for the Jewish population. In the 19th century the main documentation was the five Montefiore censuses. The four holy cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and Tiberias appear in all five censuses, whereas other urban settlements mentioned may appear in only some of the censuses.  The first census conducted during the British Mandate period was in 1922, but all that remains are the sections of Tel Aviv and Petah Tikva. IGRA has found some censuses that were conducted on a local level. The largest collection of voters’ list for Knesset Israel is for 1942 and includes over 150 towns and settlements. Since this includes citizens of the age of 18 and above, it can be considered as a substitute for a census. But there is no way to estimate how many people refused to participate in the elections for ideological reasons. There is also a census of the Shomer Hazair kibbutzim that was conducted in 1942 but it is not included in this analysis as they are not urban settlements. Each document for each urban settlement is counted individually.

With the growth of the Jewish population, new lists and updates were prepared for election held on both the local and national level. This is reflected in the growth of the number of documents already found by IGRA during the British Mandate period.  In 1942 elections for Knesset Israel, 22 of the 33 urban settlements in this survey have voters’ lists that were found in the Central Zionist Archives. There are more files at the CZA that include updates to the voters’ lists and these have not been included in the IGRA collection as of the time of the writing of this article. In addition new towns were founded after World War II, which then had elections. A few of the smaller settlements that were included in the Montefiore censuses may not have had enough Jewish residents in 1942 to have their own list or had been incorporated in a nearby larger Jewish settlement, such as Jarmak, Shef-‘Amr and Peki’in.

 

The following is a list of the 33 urban settlements and the type of document and year of the document that IGRA has found so far.

IGRA knows that this list does not include all the lists for the above settlements, and that there are probably other urban settlements that have lists that are not mentioned. An example would be small independent neighborhoods that were later incorporated into larger local councils or towns. The aim of this list was to develop a benchmark for IGRA to find additional lists of these three types to include in its collection.

[1] All Israel Databases (AID) https://genealogy.org.il/AID/index.php

[2] Search the Montefiore Censuses http://www.montefiorecensuses.org/

[3] Israel State Archives website http://www.archives.gov.il/en/

[4]מפקדי האוכלוסין העות’מאנית בארץ ישראל 1918-1875, ערך והקים מבוא יונתן פגיס, דפוס אחוה, 1997

 

Rose Feldman

Born in Chicago, Rose has lived in Israel over 47 years. She has a Master’s Degree in Research Methods and Measurement from the School of Education at Tel-Aviv University. Rose Feldman is on twitter as jewdatagengirlIsrael Genealogy, and IGRA_Hebrew, one of the administrators of the IGRA facebook, and in charge of developing new databases for the Israel Genealogy Research Association (IGRA). She was the webmistress of the Israel Genealogical Society for nine years. She has lectured at 12 IAJGS conferences starting in 2003, at the annual seminars of the Israel Genealogical Society and their branch meetings. She is coordinator of the databases on the IGRA website and participated in the Montefiore Censuses Project. Rose was also the webmistress for the 2004 International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies’ conference which took place in Jerusalem and has four Kehilalinks sites on JewishGen for MscibowRuzhany & and neighboring Kossovo in Belarus, Litin and Kalinovka in the Ukraine. She has a website.

The Jews are known as the People of the Book = עם הספר = Ahlil-Kitab. Are they worthy to be called also “The People of the Books and Libraries”.

This is the English translation of original article in Hebrew that was published by

ספרית הרמב”ם – באתר של איגוד ספרני היהדות – בגליון לה’ ב-7/9/2015

To view the article, read here or follow the link below to download to your computer:

Download (PDF, 1.77MB)

ד”ר חנן רפפורט

Dr. Chanan Rapaport, born in 1928, served as an officer in the underground of the Hagana during Israel’s War of Independence. When the war ended, he studied psychology and sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and thereafter continued his studies in the United States. Upon earning his degree as a Doctor of Clinical Psychology he completed a post doctorate in psychoanalysis, psychotherapy and research.
Dr. Rapaport returned home to Israel as Chairman and Chief Scientist of the “Henrietta Szold Institute” –the national institute for the research in behavioral sciences. He held that position from 1965 to 1982.
During those years Dr. Rapaport additionally was an advisor on social matters to two Prime Ministers: Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin. He served as the psychological advisor to the Minister of Education and Culture and the head of all research at the Ministry of Education and Culture. Since the passing of Dr. Paul Jacoby, the renowned genealogist, he has been faithful to his scientific legacy.
Today he is the director of the Center for the Study of the Rapaport Family and a member of the board of the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy and Paul Jacobi Center of the National Library of Israel.

 

My father Max KNISBACHER (Menahem Mordechai) of blessed memory, born April 7, 1913 in Berlin, passed away on June 2, 1995 in Baltimore. Amazingly he managed to keep and left behind various pictures, letters and documents from all the stops on the odyssey that led him to France, Palestine, England and finally the U.S. after fleeing Germany and the Nazis in 1933. Needless to say these documents were in a variety of languages: German, French, Hebrew, Polish, and a smattering of Yiddish. Since I had the good fortune to have worked as a translator and analyst for most of my career, in most of those languages, I felt it a personal duty to preserve my father’s memory and the memory of his immediate forebears, most of whom he never knew. In particular I grew up with an early memory, at age six, of the family gathered around the radio and cheering in late 1947 when the UN announced the partition of Palestine, meaning the recreation of a sovereign Jewish state after 2,000 years. At that time I certainly didn’t know the history but did know that my father had been in the war and that members of both my father’s and mother’s family had been killed. In later years the horror of the Holocaust was something that was always in the back of my mind, something I could never comprehend and yet felt a compelling need to come to terms with. The way I am doing that is what I might call my “genealogical imperative.”

I was still working at the time so my investigations came in fits and starts. Where to begin?  Apart from pictures and documents, my father also left behind a name I had never heard before, the name of his father’s birthplace, a shtetl called Lysiec. Since my job sometimes required morning meetings in DC, I decided to take those afternoons off and visit either the National Archives or the Library of Congress. It was at the latter venue that I found the first printed reference to Lysiec on a map, in Russian, about 10 km southwest of Stanislawow. The place actually existed! (Remember that back in 1995 we didn’t have all the Internet resources that are so convenient today.)

Before going any further, you might well ask why my father had never mentioned Lysiec previously? The answer is that his father Isak Moses (Yitzhak Moshe), for whom I am named, had died in the worldwide flu epidemic in 1918 at the end of WWI, when my father was just five years old. Dad was raised in a large family, but it was his mother’s family. Most of his father’s relatives remained in Poland and he never met them. What he knew about them was from two pictures that included his father, a brief contact with a paternal uncle Hermann (Hirsch), who arrived once from Königsberg to present my father with a red bicycle for his eleventh birthday; and whatever his mother knew. But she was from the big city of Tarnow, not the shtetl of Lysiec, and her knowledge was largely second hand. Still when Dad was in his last days with a terminal illness, it was important to him that we know where all of his folks had come from.

Cilli and Isak KNISBACHER

The first picture my father had of my grandfather was this undated picture of his parents together, probably taken early in their married life:

 

KNISBACHER marriage certificate

Dad had once told me many years before that his parents were married in London. He never said why, and after his passing I began to wonder if it were even true. After a successful search for a British records source, I eventually received the marriage certificate below in October of 1997:

Isak Moses KNISBACHER and Cilli SZYDLOW were indeed married in London, on 27 February 1911. And there was more. He was 23 years old; she, 24. His occupation was listed as “General dealer”. Their “condition”: he was a bachelor; she, a spinster. They were residing at the time at 27 Tredegar Square. His father was Berl KNISBACHER, whose occupation was “Hotel Keeper.” Her father was Meier SZYDLOW, whose occupation was “Fishmonger.” I suddenly had basic information on the family.

The second picture my father had was of his father and his father’s sister Sarah with their parents, Dov and Cirl (née BONNER or BANNER). That picture was taken in Stanislawow, as indicated on the back, which implies that it was from before Yitzhak Moshe married his wife Cilli in London, in 1911.

Isak, Sarah, Cirl and Dov KNISBACHER

 

The back of the photo, apparently “enhanced” by some childhood scribbling, lists the following:

Max Tannenbaum, Artistic photography establishment, City of Stanislawow, 8 Kazimierzowska Street,
Enlargements can be made for each image, Plates are kept for future orders.

So the initial map, these pictures, and the marriage certificate were the only physical evidence I had at that point. Where to go from there? The more I pondered, the more old memories came flooding back. Dad had once mentioned a very old “Aunt Shoshana” in Israel who was the widow of one of his father’s brothers.  On another occasion he enthralled us with the tale that one of his uncles, unnamed at the time, was in China, which sounded very exotic when we first heard it as young kids. In my childhood fantasy I imagined that my father had a pigtailed Chinaman for an uncle! During the course of this research I learned that this was the same uncle Hirsch (Hermann) who had come from Königsberg to Berlin for Dad’s birthday in 1924. Much more recently the evidence of that journey has become available on the Web, via a Bremen passenger index, which provides more information about brother Hermann:

Herman Knisbacher

 in Web: Brem, Deutschland, Passagierlistenindex, 1907-1939

Name: Hermann Knisbacher
Geburts­jahr: ca. 1938
Geschlecht: Männlich
Wohnort: Königsberg
Jahr des Wohnortes: 1939
Datum der Abreise: 30. Mai 1939
Abreiseort: Bremen
Alter bei der Abreise: 03.04.1890
Zielort: Shanghai, China
Zivilstand: verheiratet
Nationalität: Staatenlos
Beruf: Kaufmann
Name des Schiffs:

Marburg

Schifffahrts­gesellschaft: Nordd. Lloyd, Bremen
Reiseklasse: Kajüte
Passagiernummer: 11
Archivnummer: AIII15-30.05.1939-3_N
Anmerkungen: geb. in Lysiec/Polen
URL:

It confirms what my father had told me, that Hermann was living in Königsberg and provides, as well, his date of birth, April 3, 1890, in Lysiec. Furthermore we learn that he was lucky enough to get out of Germany just in time (shortly before the start of WWII), headed for the safe haven of Shanghai. From the 1939 Shanghai business directory, on p. 76, in yet another valuable new source, the Genealogy Indexer, we even have the exact address for Hermann in that city, 43 Chusan, where he is listed as a merchant.

Aunt Shoshana’s letter, p. 1

So by 1997 I had learned a lot more about my paternal grandfather and now knew who my “Chinese” connection was. I then set my sights on the next order of business: locating Aunt Shoshana in Israel. She turned out to be the mother lode. During an overseas phone call with her, she provided an outline of almost the entire family. Although she was already in her 90s, she followed up with a typed letter, the first page of which I reproduce below (and then summarize in English).

Shoshana (née SCHREIER) was the widow of my father’s uncle Eliezer. The fifth paragraph of the letter above lists six of Eliezer’s siblings as follows: Frieda, Sarah, Tova, Shikl (aka Szykl,Yehoshua, Ossias), Hirsch, and Isak, my grandfather. Of course my father knew of Sarah from the picture he had of her that I reproduced above. Just this year I learned that he had left a brief listing of his father’s family with my brother back in 1995, but I had never seen it. Apparently my father knew all the names except for Tova. Interestingly, Shoshana left off Leib, who was on my brother’s list, but, as I discovered later, that was probably because he had been living in Berlin since 1922 and she must never have met him. We later learned that he and his wife had tried in vain to flee Germany and were later murdered in the Holocaust.

Shoshana’s family lived in Stanislawow but her father worked in Lysiec from Monday through Thursday, in a shoe leather factory that he owned, returning home only on Friday. He would regularly eat at the KNISBACHER restaurant (presumably an actual inn since father Berl’s occupation on Isak Moses’ marriage certificate was listed as “hotel keeper”). Shoshana tells the delightful story how, at age 16, she came to a party in Lysiec and Sarah KNISBACHER was so taken with her that she told Shoshana’s father she should marry Shikl (then 18) in two years, when Shoshana turned 18. But her father David SCHREIER became ill, closed his Lysiec factory, and contact with the KNISBACHERs was broken off.

Her actual husband-to-be, Eliezer, whom Sarah hadn’t mentioned, was in the Austrian army in WWI and then went to live with his brother Hirsch in Berlin. When he came back home for Passover in 1931, still a bachelor, his sister Sarah remembered Shoshana and sent someone to find out if she was still unmarried. Eliezer and Shoshana were engaged within the week and three weeks later, Aug. 2, 1931 were married. They moved to Königsberg and opened a restaurant. When Hitler came to power in 1933, they closed the restaurant and returned to Stanislawow and from there immigrated to Israel in 1935.

Here is the picture of the couple from their Polish passport, as shown on their immigration papers to Palestine, and a much later picture of Eliezer alone from the GENI website:

Shoshana and Eliezer KNISBACHER

From Shoshana’s letter, I had learned my first bit of information about my grandfather’s sister Sarah; she was the matchmaker for her brother Eliezer! But there was more to follow. My next break came from a trip to the National Archives in Washington, DC, also in the late 1990s. Toward the end of WWII, as the Red Army was pushing back the German invaders, a “Soviet Extraordinary Commission” was documenting the Nazi atrocities in the liberated areas. A difficult search of often hard to read microfilm turned up this report of a “KNIZBAKHER” family from Lysiec (only readable when you zoom in):

KNIZBAKHERs in Soviet atrocities reported

The entries in this list are written in Ukrainian. There is a bare minimum of information here, just the names and relationships, but it is enough to tell us something we would not otherwise have known. Starting on line 79 the people are:

79 Tsirlya         grandmother (stara matya in Ukrainian)

80 Simon         head

81 Sura            wife

82 Genka         daughter

83 Montzya     daughter  (very faded, name uncertain)

This was clearly one family, and part of my father’s family since Tsirl (or Cirl) was his grandmother, whom we saw on the earlier picture of Isak and Sarah with their parents. On the other hand, Simon here was new to me, possibly a KNISBACHER son that neither Dad nor Shoshana knew about. In fact Sura was Dad’s aunt Sarah. She was the KNISBACHER, not Simon, whose real surname, we would later find out, was GOLDSTEIN (from Yad Vashem pages of testimony filled out by a Meshullam GOLDSTEIN, as well as by uncle Eliezer). As happened so often in Galicia, the Jewish husband wound up taking his wife’s surname. So now we knew Sura’s husband’s name, that she had two children, and that they were still living with her mother at the time of Holocaust. Since Sura’s father Dov was not mentioned, we could surmise that he had passed away previously.

But in 2016 we learned even more about Sura and also about some of the other siblings whom Shoshana had written about. Hirsch’s granddaughter Atara in Israel was going through her mother Dina’s effects when she came across a trove of undated pictures. Apparently Uncle Hirsch had sent his twin daughters Dina and Frieda on at least one summer vacation from Königsberg back to Hirsch’s home town of Lysiec. The two girls were born in September, 1918. From their appearance in the photos below, we can probably date the pictures that include them to the mid 1930s. So now we have some pictures of these lost family members. Here is a picture of Hermann’s twin sisters Dina and Frieda with their first cousins, Aunt Sura’s daughters Henya (the older) and Bronya (the younger), listed in the Ukrainian page above as Genka and (a merely possible) Montzya.. (The Yiddish ‘h’ for Henya, a diminutive of Hannah, does not have an exact equivalent in Ukrainian and is often replaced with a ‘g’ sound, as it almost always is in Russian.)

Dina is on the left, her twin Frieda on the right. In between them are the older girl Henya, in the white blouse, and the younger girl,

Dina and Frieda KNISBACHER, Sarah and Henya GOLDSTEIN

Dina is on the left, her twin Frieda on the right. In between them are the older girl Henya, in the white blouse, and the younger girl, Bronya. And there is another picture, apparently taken at the same time and similarly posed:

Dina and Frieda are in the same relative positions as before, with Henya now on the right. The woman in the middle is presumably Henya and Bronya’s mother, my father’s Aunt Sura, thus a much later picture of her than the one my father had.

Shikl and Dov KNISBACHER

 

Remember Shoshana’s story that this same Sura had been taken with her and originally wanted her to marry brother Shikl when Shoshana turned 18? Well Dina and Frieda also brought back with them a picture of their uncle Shikl with his son Dov when the latter was very young.

Dov KNISBACHER

And here is a later picture of Dov alone, probably already in school:

From other information, we know that Dov was born in 1927. Presumably he was named for his grandfather, Dov BANNER, which corroborates our guess above that the elder Dov had passed away before the Holocaust.

GROCH Yad Vashem Page of Testimony

The next sister of my grandfather’s that Shoshana mentioned was Tova (married to a GROCH), In 1998, at about the same time I got in contact with Shoshana, I was sharing research with a friend in Israel. One of his findings was of a GROCH family on a page of testimony submitted by a KNISBACHER. Years later I found that page on the Web:

Yitzhak GROCH

Submitted by uncle Eliezer KNISBACHER, it lists a Yitzhak GROCH, his parents Natan and Toiva, with Yitzhak born in Horen, Czechoslovakia in the year 1914. Clearly Toibe was my father’s aunt Tova. From other later information, I now know that the birthplace of “Horen” was a misunderstanding of the second half of Teplitz-Türn, where Türn was a suburb of today’s Teplice, in the Czech Republic. Lysiec was in the line of fire at the outbreak of WWI, with Russian troops invading, so many Jews fled west to get away from the fighting. Of course Teplitz at the time was still Austria-Hungary, not Czechoslovakia, which only came into being after the war. Although Dina and Frieda did not have a picture of Tova, they did have two of their first cousin Yitzhak. Here is a picture of Yitzhak alone:

From notations on the back of the photo we know that he went by the nickname Izo (pronounced Eetso)

Frieda KNISBACHER and Yitzhak GROCH

And here is another of him with his first cousin, Hermann’s daughter Frieda:

Now the oldest sibling in my grandfather’s generation was his sister Frieda, whom my father would only meet when he arrived in the States in October, 1938, a few weeks before Kristallnacht. She had left Germany in 1907, before my father was born. Here is her arrival document:

Now the oldest sibling in my grandfather’s generation was his sister Frieda, whom my father would only meet when he arrived in the States in October, 1938, a few weeks before Kristallnacht. She had left Germany in 1907, before my father was born. Here is her arrival document:

A separate Ellis Island document shows her arriving with an infant son, also named Max, like my father.

To conclude, we now know at least a little bit about my Lysiec family, who they were and what some of them looked like, and in that limited way, can honor their memory!

 

 

 

Jeffrey (Yitzkhaq Moshe) KNISBACHER was born in 1941, Baltimore, Maryland of Galician descent on my father’s side and Ukrainian, on my mother’s. His education includes a BA from Johns Hopkins University, BHK from Baltimore Hebrew College, MA and PhD from Brown University.

He has worked at the IBM Research Center, University of Pittsburgh, and as a teacher and analyst for the US government. Jeffrey has published widely.

I recently re-read The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal and gave a wry chuckle when I read that one day, when de Waal is quite advanced in his family research, his father comes down to his studio to join him for lunch and produces a small white book from a supermarket bag. His father doesn’t know what the book is all about but feels his son should have it ‘for his archive’. In this album are beautiful pen-and-ink images of family members from 1878-1903 – a real family treasure.

De Waal remonstrates with his father asking him how he could possibly not know he had this and says: ‘What else have you got in the suitcase under your bed’?

We are all familiar with similar stories when vital family information is being kept by a family member, sometimes disappearing after the family member dies.

I recently had such an experience.

I was bitten by the genealogy bug almost 20 years ago and did much initial research and created family trees with all the information I had, but always knew there was a lot more to find out.

Having retired last year I decided to go back to my genealogical research and write up as much as possible for the next generations of my family.

I have extensive information about my mother’s side and am in contact with various second cousins from that side of my family. However, I know very little about my father’s family. My paternal grandfather died two years before I was born and, growing up, we didn’t see too much of my paternal grandmother, who hardly spoke English, and did not live near us.

All my four grandparents immigrated to England from Poland before WWI as well as both my grandfathers’ parents.

During WWII my extended family was evacuated out of London to a small country village in Surrey. The family remained there for some 5/6 years after the War, before moving back to London. However, my father’s oldest brother remained there, living in the family home with his widowed mother.

Recently I decided to concentrate on my paternal side and contacted two first cousins who I thought might be able to help. I am still waiting for one to reply, but the other one did – and this is what she said:

“I can only tell you that Uncle Joe and I had a ritual.  Every time I went to visit him he would get out some large old brown carrier bags, and in them were photographs of our whole family from many years before.  We would go through them every single time. He explained who everyone was, and their fate. The bags contained so many treasures of the past family from many many years before, from the countries they came from, how many of them ended up in France, how they were rounded up by the Germans and murdered.  There was one family in particular that was so beautiful; the woman was very heavily pregnant, and there was another young child in the family photo.  This whole family was wiped out in the war.  Murdered. We had quite a lot of family in France.  

Schneider Grandparents

Some time after Uncle Joe  died, I asked Uncle Haim (Joe’s brother) what happened to those bags.  He wasn’t sure what I was talking about, but he was not very good at passing anything on. A few years later after Ray, Joe’s wife, died and the house was being cleared, I asked Ray’s brother if he had come across them and he said they were long gone – his granddaughter had used them in a university project about past families.  My goodness, Ingrid, they would have been a huge help for what you are doing now.  There were loads of letters, documents and photos in those bags – information about our family’s past.” 

Family Schneider

Although Uncle Joe was the oldest of the five siblings, (my father was the youngest) he was the last to get married – around the age of 40 I think – and they did not have any children. So Ray obviously gave the bags to her niece without thinking that they should remain in our family!

You can imagine how I felt on receiving this email! Thanks to today’s technology and help from some genners in the UK, I did manage to trace this aunt’s family – but alas no one remembered those bags or using the contents for a university project.

I said to my cousin that I was sure our uncle showed her all this material as he meant her to have that family history after he passed away.

I know all this has been said before, but here is my message: if you are one of the older family members, make sure someone knows who is to ‘inherit’ your family photos, documents and genealogical material, including passwords etc., to your on-line trees.

And if you are one of the younger family members, ask all your ‘older’ relatives – parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins etc…what family photos and documents they might have hidden away and what is to be done with them “when the time comes”, as my mother used to say!

Oh – one more thing – make sure all the family photos have identification of the people on the back of the photo. When my mother passed away, my brothers and I divided all the photos in her possession. Not one had anything written on the back. Fortunately with the help of various cousins we have identified most of them.

NB – names changed to protect privacy

Ingrid Rockberger and her family came to live in Israel in 1981. Ingrid worked as Managing Editor and Publisher of an English-language magazine, and later as a ghost-writer for people’s memoirs and family histories, including some publications for Yad Vashem. Now in her ‘so-called’ retirement she is volunteer Editor of WIZO’s (Women’s International Zionist Organization) international magazine – WIZO REVIEW. Ingrid has been interested in genealogy for some 15 years as has done extensive research on various branches of her family – but still much to do. She has been Chair of the Raanana Genealogy group for 12 years.

Ingrid and her husband Michael live in Raanana, have three children and seven grandchildren.