Wohlgemuths of West Prussia

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From the Blog

August 27, 2016 - 09:10

In all our writings so far, it has been said that the Wohlgemuth family relocated to Berlin from Danzig during or more likely after the First World War in order to find better prospects for their marriageable daughters Elly and Hilde. That's a nice story and no doubt partly true, but there were very likely other factors motivating the family's move. 

[By the way, I am spelling Hilde with an 'e' instead of the 'a' she used later because that is how I find her listed in some original records.]

Danzig was a cosmopolitan German city in Isaak Wohlgemuth's day. The city's considerable Jewish community tended toward assimilation with the German state. The leading synagogues and community leaders were liberal. Zionism took hold slowly and was rejected by most Danzig Jews in the early years. Also, eastern... more

August 27, 2016 - 09:10

In all our writings so far, it has been said that the Wohlgemuth family relocated to Berlin from Danzig during or more likely after the First World War in order to find better prospects for their marriageable daughters Elly and Hilde. That's a nice story and no doubt partly true, but there were very likely other factors motivating the family's move. 

[By the way, I am spelling Hilde with an 'e' instead of the 'a' she used later because that is how I find her listed in some original records.]

Danzig was a cosmopolitan German city in Isaak Wohlgemuth's day. The city's considerable Jewish community tended toward assimilation with the German state. The leading synagogues and community leaders were liberal. Zionism took hold slowly and was rejected by most Danzig Jews in the early years. Also, eastern... more

August 26, 2016 - 16:33

A German-American Jewish historian, Gerhard Salinger, who is the author of detailed studies of the Jewish communities of Pomerania and West Prussia, has collected the available Jewish records for  the town where our Wohlgemuth family originated.

We learn this from a December 2010 review of Salinger's West Prussia book by Dorothea Shefer-Vanson in the Journal of the Assoiation of Jewish Refugees, in which she describes Salinger's methods using his work in Stargard as an example. Here is the relevant passage from the review.

So how has he set about his seemingly overwhelming task? Take the town of Preussisch Stargard (now Starogard Gdanskie) as an example (see Part I). What can the reader expect to... more

August 24, 2016 - 10:01

I annotated this map of the northeastern section of the German Empire under Kaiser Wilhelm II between the years 1871 and 1918 with what we have learned about the Wohlgemuth family movements during that time period.

The map shows the provincial  borders between East and West Prussia and neighboring Pomerania. I was wrong earlier when I said that Elbing was in East Prussia; it was within the boundaries of West Prussia. Also, Kolberg was in Pomerania, not West Prussia. 

August 21, 2016 - 07:10

Virtual Shtetl has lists of Jewish Households and Individuals in Elbing for a few random years in the 1890s and 1900s. Following is the list for 1893, where we find Isaac Wohlgemuth listed as "Kaufmann" (merchant) along with two other Wohlemuths, Witwe and Heinrich. (I'm not sure, but you may need to be logged in to the site to access the page.)

http://www.sztetl.org.pl/en/article/elblag/10,people-lists-of-names-genealogy/34432,j-dische-haushalte-und-einzelpersonen-im-jahr-1893/

There are also lists for 1900-1 and 1905-6. On the 1900 list the same three Wohlgemuths are listed using first initials only (Isaac is identified as "J.... more

August 20, 2016 - 13:51

Here is a better view of the relevant records of three of our Wohlgemuth ancestors in Stargardt. This records the very moment they took on the Wohlgemuth surname as a condition for acquiring legal citizenship in West Prussia. 

At the time of this action, they were among a small number of Jews from rural areas who established homes and businesses in the town. Without citizenship, they were subject to various punitive measures up to expulsion.

Previously, Jewish men were identified by the combination of given names, their own and their father's. So in the first record we see Moses, the son of Salomon, who now adopts Moses Wohlgemuth as his legal name. 

The next two records have original names identifying them as the sons of Moses, so we see the family tree developing. We know that our great-... more

August 20, 2016 - 12:59
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At Virtual Shtetl, there are photos of the destroyed Jewish cemetery of Starogard Gdansk. Just a few headstones are intact, but see here the one for a Wohlgemuth woman buried in 1890. She could be an aunt by marriage of Isaac's father Leopold. 

The Nazis killed very few Jews in Starogard for the simple reason that almost everybody had left the town before 1939. The Jewish population of Starogard peaked at around 600 in 1875, when Isaak was a boy, and then began to decline for economic reasons. We know that Isaak left there for Elbing at a time that many young people were leaving shtetl life for larger cities. 

There was an atrocity in the fields outside of Starogard, but they were Poles that were gunned down, not Jews. The Nazis occupied the synagogue building after 1939. The building is still... more

August 20, 2016 - 12:01

Review what was written here about the Wohlgemuths in April 2012. 

http://familyhistorymachine.com/content/family-video-powwow-and-new-wohlgemuth-developments

http://familyhistorymachine.com/content/looking-isaak-wohlgemuth-west-prussia

The second post concerns a West Prussian citizenship law of 1812 that affected the lives of area Jews in important ways. The law made some Jews eligible for Prussian citizenship, giving them legal status and protection from persecution. Among the requirements to qualify, Jewish families were required to take on Western-style... more

August 20, 2016 - 10:29

Betty Katz Wohlgemuth, Helga Ringel, Elly Wohlgemuth Ringel

August 19, 2016 - 12:44

From Joanne in Berlin:

I  just dizzy with joy. I was looking for the Wohlgemuth plot but the area was much overgrown. Then it just popped out suddenly, Isaak's stone and Betty there with him. She did not perish in a camp but is buried with her spouse, like mom and dad with a vertical stone. I guess we didn't find the Wohlgemuth stone the last time we visited, or else my memory is gone.

 

Big rush now. Off to the Jewish Museum and then Shabbat services at Hermann's shul. Also have to clean the apartment and pack.

August 19, 2016 - 01:59

I also re-read mom's story and saw that it was the German Red Cross who notified them of Bette's capture by the Gestapo. When I Google about it, I end up at the archives of the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, which is the international center for documentation of Nazi war crimes. Here's the link: https://www.its-arolsen.org/en/archives/

The archive is not in Berlin but there are several memorials to the deportaion of Berlin Jews, besides the Stolper stones that are everyone. I may try to go to the actual deportation office today after visiting Weissensee. — Joanne
 

August 18, 2016 - 09:38

Why did the Wohlgemuth-Katz records recently become available? For two wonderful reasons. 

First, a 2009 amendment to civil status law designated the Berlin Landesarchiv as the agency to centralize disparate historical records and make them available to the public. Second, a Landesarchiv project begun in 2014 to put many records online via a partnership with the German office of Ancestry.com. 

So all the info I found yesterday was made available on Ancestry beginning sometime in 2015. The same information is also available on a German genealogy site, probably also recently published.

The Landesarchiv has reading rooms open to the public at their building in a former munitions factory in Borsigwalde in North Berlin near the Eichborndamm S-Bahn stop. This is also the place where the German... more

August 17, 2016 - 21:38

Here's a summary of the new Wohlgemuth-Katz information. 

Elly Ringel's father was Isaak Wohlgemuth, born 1865 in Stargard near Danzig. His parents were Leopold Wohlgemuth (dates unknown) and Friederike Paechter (1938-1910, died in Danzig). Isaak had a sister Rosa (or Roza). 

Elly's mother was Betty Katz, born 1875 in Kolberg, West Prussia, about 150 miles west of Danzig on the Baltic coast. Betty's parents were Kolberg merchant Louis Levin Katz (b. 1839) and Henriette Müllerheim (b. 1849). Betty had a sister Klara born a year later and then Henriette died the year after that at age 28. Louis remarried and the children were raised by the second wife Paula Perl Lewy. Paula also died when Betty was 18 and Louis took a third wife, Bertha. 

Betty and Isaak were married in Kolberg in April 1898... more

August 17, 2016 - 14:38

Following up on Joanne's question about Bette Wohlgemuth, I just found the March 28 1898 marriage certificate for Isaak Wohlgemuth and Betty Katz. Wow! It has names of both of their parents. The marriage took place in Kolberg in West Pomerania, Prussia, today Kolobrzeg in Poland. There is also a new town, Stargard, for the Wohlgemuth family.

The image is attached in a large size so you can make out the names and places. None of this was available when I have looked previously. Some new collection must have recently been added (hat tip to Ancestry). 

Here is the vital info. Look at those new ancestor names! I'll put this in context in an upcoming post.

Isaak Wohlgemuth
Gender: männlich (Male)
Marriage Age: 32
Event Type: Heirat (Marriage)
Birth Date: 29 Okt 1865 (29... more

August 17, 2016 - 13:59

Jo, Great to read your reflections. Quick answer on the Wohlgemuth history. That's the one family branch I have been able to discover very little about. We don't have any vital records for Isaak or Bette (nee Katz). I have looked and have not found a record of Bette as a Holocaust victim, so the Auschwitz info is unproven. Do you recall Helga saying that or something similar? I have not recently reread Walter's version of Helga's story to see if it is covered there. I doubt that Isaak lived on Schlüterstr. Maybe Bette did when she was widowed. 

If you will be at the cemetery, it would be helpful to ask at the office for any information they have about Isaak. (Same for the third grave there for another Wohlgemuth relative, possibly a Tante Rose.)  I'll think about any other searches you could do and will... more

August 17, 2016 - 12:10

Here I am finally with some quiet time [at our house swap in Berlin], after Lani and Bill have left for Copenhagen and my friend Gina and her daughter have also departed.  I'm still very low from this lousy viral infection that hit me 19 days ago after my second visit to Budapest's most glorious bathhouse (photos to follow).  

This city is amazing.  To feel the history at every turn, and to see and learn about changing neighborhoods, to see the vibrant creative communities, the crazy club scene, talk about old and new immigrant issues, to see the tolerance out there, like graffiti and signs saying, 'immigrants welcome' yesterday in east Kruetzberg.  As I hung out at the Turkish market, swaying to the tunes of a Mayan Hip Hop band, and taking in the stalls, I was reminded of my love of the east Jerusalem... more

April 7, 2012 - 18:34

I recounted in the previous post how I discovered that we have been using the wrong name for our great-grandfather on our mother's mother's side. Also, in the post before that I mentioned the probability that our Wohlgemuth family must have come from West Prussia instead of the East Prussian areas I had favored earlier.

So with Isaak's correct name, as well as exact birth and death dates from the headstone, I hopefully dove into the various Jewish genealogy resources that could be helpful, particularly the JRI-Poland and the German SIG and databases, as well as into Ancestry.com, which sometimes has sources that JewishGen.org does not.

So first the bad news. There is no magic hit that says this is our Isaac. Lots of Wohlgemuths all over Poland and Germany, plenty of Isaac Wohlgemuths, but none... more

April 7, 2012 - 11:50

Last night, Joanne organized a wonderful sort-of seder for the three of us by Skype, or I should say four since Tanya was with Walter in Montclair while Joanne was with me in my dining room in Piedmont. She had decided a few days ago to call off her planned full seder, and instead instigated an family video powwow over wine and matzoh to discuss the recent developments regarding the citizenship question.

We learned much on that score and as the evening developed shared even more surprises. I will leave it at that for now and encourage both Walter and Joanne to post their thoughts. Meanwhile, this post is on a related tangent and grows out of last night's meeting.

... more

January 21, 2011 - 16:09

You may remember Eli Wohlgemuth, one of the fellow travelers we have met during our genealogical journey into our parents' roots. Eli checked in by email the other day to update us on his progress with his labor of love, an exhaustive history of the family of Yeshayah Wohlgemuth, the famous rabbi of Memel.

"I will soon be ready to publish my book, 'And that you shall relate into your son's ears and your son's son's......' This unique timeline, history on the Wohlgemuth family and much more will be a three volume book, 2400 pages, with color illustrations," he writes.

Eli wonders if some of the readers of this blog might be interested in purchasing a copy. I warned him that our overall readership is low, but there are a few Wohlgemuth researchers among them. Rather than publish Eli's email address... more

August 3, 2008 - 21:42

Video of Feb. 10, 2008, shloshim observance in memory of Rabbi Isaiah Wohlgemuth of Brookline MA, including presentation of Wohlgemuth genealogy by Eli Wohgemuth of Montreal.

The segment with Eli begins about 27 minutes into the video. Depending on your connection speed, you'll have to let the download run for 10 to 15 minutes before you will be able to advance to the 27:00 minute marker.

August 21, 2007 - 16:09

This is the first draft of a piece I expect will show up soon in the New York Jewish media--probably in shortened form. I thought I'll put the full version up here first.

A FEW THINGS ARE ILLUMINATED: A WILD AND CRAZY ROOTS TRIP TO THE OLD COUNTRY

By Walter Ruby

“Searching for family roots is like snorting crack cocaine. The rush it gives will hook you for the rest of your life.”

If someone had said something like that to me after the deaths of my parents, Helga and Stanley Ruby, three years ago, when I began working on a modest family history project together with my siblings Dan and Joanne, I would have found the analogy ridiculous and more than a little sacrilegious. Yet my fascination with our ongoing search for generations of lost ancestors has grown exponentially since then... more

August 9, 2007 - 13:47

Ugh! Down with the flu and/or severe jetlag, so am taking it easy today. Let me use this opportunity to clarify some of what Tanya and I learned, starting with the Wolgemuth-Spektor connection. In fact, Eli Wohlgemuth of Montreal did NOT claim that the two families were related. Rather, he said that his great-great grandfather, Rabbi Yishai Wohlgamuth (the name, by the way, means 'good natured' in German) (1809-1898), the chief rabbi of Memel from 1836-1881, was a good friend of our great-great-great grandfather, Rabbi Yitzhak Elchanan Spektor, the rabbi or Gaon of Kovno (Kaunus). We already know that Spektor turned for help to Jews in Memel (just across the German (East Prussian) border from Russian-controlled Lithuania in getting the message about the danger to Russian Jewry when pogroms started in 1881 to... more

August 8, 2007 - 12:50

One more quickie and then I have to get back to work. While we're waiting for Walter's trip report, I'll pass on this tidbit he shared with me by phone from Vilnius. While researching Rabbi Spektor in Kaunus, he learned of yet another person who claimed to be a descendant. That in itself is not surprising, but the kicker is that this gentleman's last name is Wolgemuth, which is also the maiden surname of our grandmother Elly on Helga's side of the family.

Now, Wolgemuth (with its various alternate spellings) is a fairly common name in those parts, but it does present an intriguing possibility. Our Wolgemuths came from Konigsberg in East Prussia, which is now Kaliningrad, a disconnected enclave of Russia. As I have pointed out to Walter in the past, Konigsberg and Rzeszow, where Elly's husband Herman... more

July 30, 2006 - 00:44

This was an unexpected small step forward. The death record for Elly Ringel lists her mother Bette Wohlgemuth's maiden name as Katz. Bette was the one in Walter's narrative who kisses Elly and Helga goodbye at the Berlin train station, never to see them again.