Pondering whether Betty knew about Elly, and vice versa

The entrance to the clinic where Betty Wohlgemuth died, pictured in 2012, from an earlier blog report.

Here is a question for Ruby family members to ponder. Elly and Helga Ringel reached New York in April 1941. Betty Wohlgemuth died in Berlin in February 1942.

Was Elly able to send word to her mother that she and Helga had safely arrived in America? If so, it would have been a great cause of comfort to Betty in her last year of life.

And conversely, did Elly receive news of her mother's death? To have known that her mother died of natural causes in a Jewish clinic in Berlin would have provided a sense of resolution and perhaps even relief.

How could these messages have been sent and received? I  don't know. But there were certainly networks of Jewish operatives in Germany and around Europe, working with various international relief agencies, which could have relayed information from Berlin to New York.

We have strong reason to believe that Elly and Betty were in communication at least once during their flight through Europe, when the Ringels were in Nice and Elly was able to receive money sent somehow by Betty in Berlin.. Walt, is that right or are there other details you may have learned from Helga?

If it was possible to communicate in May 1940, it was harder in April 1941 when the Ringels reached New York, and much harder if at all possible in February 1942, right in the middle of the Berlin deportations.

It was Betty's first cousin Amalie Katz who settled Betty's affairs to the extent possible. Most importantly, she was able to arrange for a proper burial for Betty by the side of her predeceased husband at the still-operating Weißensee Cemetery. Whatever remained of the Berlin Jewish community recorded the facts (I found the burial record at the Centrum Judaicum, which holds the community records).

Is it possible that the death information could have been relayed from Berlin to New York via some kind of underground Jewish network? Yes, but it is highly speculative.

Joanne just stopped by for a visit as I was writing this. I put this to her, and she feels fairly certain that Helga believed that her grandmother Betty died in a concentration camp. If so, that would be strong evidence that she and Elly never learned the news of Betty's death by a natural cause, even until their own deaths. 

Joanne noted that while Helga never returned to Berlin, she might have researched her grandmother's fate when in Israel (in 1961 or on a later trip), but there is no evidence she did. If she had, she would not have found Betty Wohlgemuth listed in a Holocaust victims database, but she might have learned the fate of numerous Ringel relatives. And, if she even knew the name, she could have learned about Amalie Katz, the last family member to see and give comfort to Betty in her dying days.

If Walter or Joanne have further thoughts, they can enter them in comments or I'll paste in what they write in email.


Family Story: 


The best candidate for an organizational intermediary that could have communicated messages would have been the Joint Distribution Committee. I have just searched their document archive for Ringel and Wohlgemuth and did not find a match.

Dan, Thanks so much for posing these important questions about whether Elli Ringel managed to let her mother Betty Katz know through intermediaries that she, Hilda and Helga had managed to reach New York safely. One would like to believe that, but nothing I heard from Helga growing up or in her last interview would confirm that.

As Joanne said, Helga said to me as well that she believed Betty died in a concentration camp, and I seem to remember, specifically mentioning Theresienstadt as the likely camp. But she made clear that she and Elli never established how and where she died for certain and gave no indication they believed she could have died of natural causes in Berlin as you recently have managed to confirm.

I also believe knowing that would have been a consolation for her, and of course, for Elli as well, so I am sure Helga would have told us that if she had any indication. What I remember her always saying was that Elli tried to convince Betty to flee Germany with them in 1938, but she refused; saying that, despite everything, Germany was the land she loved and she would never leave it; and couldn't imagine starting life over somewhere else.

Earlier, she had often expressed the hope that the Germans would come to their senses and depose Hitler, but by 1938, she seemed more resigned to her fate. Ineffably tragic....


From the replies of Joanne and Walter, I conclude that my speculations are unfounded. If there had been any knowledge of the circumstances of Betty's death by Elly or Helga (or Hilda), surely we would all have known about that. That would also be true if Elly had learned the news on a later trip to Berlin (if she went there in, say, the 1970s), when she could have seen Betty's death information on the Weissensee gravestone. Therefore, we return to the interpretation we have had all along: that Elly and Helga went to their graves with the belief that Betty died at Theresienstadt or another camp. 

Thanks to my siblings for helping to think this through again. 

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