Emancipation of the Jews

Wohlgemuth headstone in Starogard's disused Jewish cemetery

Isaak Wohlgemuth, the father of Elly, was born in 1865 in what was then the German town of Preußisch Stargardt. He descended from one of two brothers who had first adopted the Wohlgemuth name in Stargardt in 1812 at the time of the emancipation of Jews in West Prussia.

For centuries, Jews had lived in Prussia just as they had in neighboring Russian and Austrian territories, in their insular communities without legal status and protection. They lived according to their own customs, including their style of patronymic naming without the use of surnames. In a period of liberalization following the Napoleonic wars, Jews in West Prussia were made eligible for full citizenship if they met certain criteria and adopted required customs, including the use of a western-style surname. 

Thus in a database of Jews who gained Prussian citizenship in 1812 we find the name of Moses Wohlgemuth and two of his sons, Herz and Solomon, all living in Preußisch Stargardt. This is when they legally acquired that name, which I presume they selected from a list of suggestions. It translates as something like “good natured,” and was used fairly commonly by German Jews and gentiles alike.

There are Wohlgemuths from other towns also in the database, but these three became important when Isaak’s 1898 marriage certificate later turned up and it showed his birthplace as Preußisch Stargardt. Stargardt was a milling center on the river 30 miles south of Gdansk, called Danzig in those days. We can presume that Isaak's father Leopold, who is named in the marriage certificate, was a son or grandson to one of the brothers in the database, Herz or Solomon, though I have not yet established the precise connection.