Ruby Family History Project Blog

Contacted by a Kleemann descendant

The recent Paechter discoveries that showed us related to the Australian Peter Nash has netted another interested genealogist, and a further story that may expand our knowledge of family life in Danzig in the early years of the 20th century and in Berlin during the terrible 1930s.

Sue Key, who was tipped off about our Paechter information by Peter Nash, is another Berlin refugee, born Susanne Feidt, who was sent to England in 1939 at two years of age to join her parents who were already there. She has recently authored her memoir and social history, titled Another Time, Another Place, which I have ordered in paperback and will be writing about in the future.

Sue is interested in the Paechter story because she is related to the Kleemann family from Danzig. Jakob Kleemann, a Danzig importer of tea and coffee, was the husband of Rosa Paechter. Jakob's sister Emilie Kleemann married Hugo Lewi, and that is the branch that Sue comes from.

The Lewi family produced some remarkable offspring, including a composer, painter and mathematician, all of whom were persecuted during the Nazi regime. Sue's grandmother Rosa Lewi Feidt, who also went to England, is the only one of the Lewi siblings who survived.

Even though Sue is not a direct relation, her Kleemann-Lewi family were in-laws to our Paechter-Wohlgemuths. The two families' experiences exactly overlapped in Danzig and in Berlin. I expect to learn quite a lot from Sue's book that will give context to our family story. 

Family Story: 

Resetting the Carioca Rum narrative

One of the benefits of publicly sharing the results of my research the way I do on this blog is that occasionally interested parties will find the information and then get in touch with me. 

Such was the case a month ago, when I received an email from Dr. Michael M. Topp, a professor of history at the University of Texas El Paso. He had read my decade-old old blog reports about our grandfather's history at the American Spirits Co. and about the various characters involved in the related story about Carioca Rum. 

It turns out that Professor Topp's grandfather was another character in the story. I'll tell more about him in time, but the capsule summary is that Isidor Topp from Bayonne, N.J., was brought in by Sidney Kessler in 1936 to oversee the building of the Carioca Rum distillery facilities in Puerto Rico. He then stayed on for some years to manage the distillery operations until Kessler sold the company in 1947.

There are a number of things to learn here, but let's begin by picking up where we left off in 2010. Carioca Rum was a flagship liquor brand for The American Spirits Co. Walter Ruby the elder was the marketing man in New York who devised cocktail recipes and advertising slogans the company. In 1938, he resigned suddenly after the company was apparently sued by Coca Cola Co. for trademark infringement. 

American Spirits grew its brands and market share in the following years. The Carioca Zombie was a hit. Walter's brother-in-law Lee Klein still worked at the company. Sidney Kessler owned the rum company that was the company's major brand, and was part owner of the parent company. 

In 1943 a Congressional committee led by Missouri Democrat C. Jasper Bell investigated the wartime economic conditions in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, including allegations of graft and corruption in the island administration. Ten years ago, I had run across a small excerpt from the Congressional testimony that mentioned Carioca Rum and Sidney Kessler in connection with an apparent scheme to evade wartime shipping regulations.

There was not enough of the testimony then available online to understand what it was really about. What Michael Topp was bringing to my attention, among other things, was that the full text of the Bell Committee hearings is now available as a free Google ebook. I could now learn the full story about the allegations that had been lodged against Sidney Kessler and Carioca Rum. 

I'll come back in a day or two with more on that, and then get on to what else I learned from Michael Topp.


Family Story: 

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: 

Mea culpa: Isaak Paechter did live in Crossen

Rosa Frank's marriage record shows her father died in Crossen.

About a week ago, I wrote that a profile for Isaak (Yitzhak) Paechter on Geni had led me down a rabbit hole, because that Isaak lived in Crossen-on-the-Oder, which is not very near to Tiegenhof. I thought I knew that he and his family remained in Crossen until later resettling in Berlin. How could he have been in Tiegenhof in 1898 when the Paechter department store was attacked? 

However, one important connection I had just made, the Australian Peter Nash, was also making the same claim. Peter knew all about the life of Isaak's daughter Rosa Paechter Frank. He was quite sure that this Rosa was the neice of his ancestor Rosa Paechter Kleemann, whom I had just established was the sister of our ancestor Friederike Paechter Wohlgmuth. 

So I went back and looked at the dates known for Paechter family in Crossen. It turned out the records were all from the 1880s but not the 1890s. Remember that the Unzer Danzig article about the fire mentioned that Meyer Paechter, the store co-owner and manager, had died in 1891. Quite possibly, Isaak could have moved back to Tiegenhof after that to take over the running of the store. Then he would have spent most of that decade back in his original hometown, until he decided to close the store in 1898.

Then Rodney Down Under checked in with a breakthrough contribution. Through some clever database sleuthing, he had located Meyer Paechter's death record, registered in Danzig on February 23, 1891, showing his father as Julius Paechter of Tiegenhof. Not only that, he had found three sons of Meyer, all of whom were born in Tiegenhof and married in Berlin between 1902 and 1908. 

Rodney had also examined Rosa Paechter Frank's 1909 Berlin marriage record and it showed that her father Isaak had previously passed away in Crossen but her mother Friederike Meyer Paechter lived in Berlin at the time of the marriage. 

Even though we have not yet turned up Isaak's actual birth or death record that would prove he was the fourth child of Julius and Rahel Paechter from Tiegenhof (likely the third in order), this and other evidence all lines up to support that conclusion.

I am now convinced that Isaak was a fourth Paechter sibling, and, while having moved away and started a family in Crossen, he did return to Tiegenhof with his family after the death of Meyer in 1891. Rosa, the daughter, would have been eight years old and her brother, Kurt Julius, just two, when they came to live in Tiegenhof for the next eight years. 

So my apologies to the Geni managers for initially doubting their information. I have gone ahead and merged all the Paechter profiles on Geni and I intend to add in all the children of Rosa and Meyer. Then Geni will correctly represent three generations of descendants of Julius and Rahel Paechter. 

Family Story: 

Paechter's store pinpointed on a vintage map of Tiegenhof

Referring again to the Unzer Danzig article, it is possible to follow along on Otto Stobbe's boyhood path as he walks to the steamship landing. 

We lived in the Lindenallee, in the Freiwaldschen house, next to the Kinderchen print shop of the "Tiegenhöfer Wochenblatt". When I now visualize the path that we had to take to meet the steamer, memories of people and events come to me that bring my old hometown, which hardly exists today, to life again before my eyes.

You can see Lindenstraße, which he calls Lindenallee, following the S-curve of the Tiege River as it comes into town from the south. The landing is at the north end of town, at location 24 on the map, labeled as Dampfer Anleg., or steamboat landing.

(The red markings on the map show the locations of the Protestant and Catholic churches, and were already on the source map I used. However, the blue marking is mine. More on that in a moment.)

Over there, on the left bank [of the river], in front of my grandparents' garden, Nitsch, the giant with gigantic boots, marked out his ice rink lined with straw every year and always kept it swept. The adults paid one or two "Ditschen" [10-pfennig piece], for which the ice skates were also strapped on. We students only needed to pay five pfennigs, I think...

You can picture the ice rink at the bend in the river with Otto's relatives' home and garden on the left bank.

The owner of the Stobbe brewery, had ice sawed before he had his Ice machine was set up. Columns of workers came and first sawed strips and then these into cubes.... With the help of hooks they were pulled out of the water, pushed off... and piled into an elongated pyramid on a free space between the grandfather's wall and the "high school", as the secondary school was popularly called. The ice lasted until late autumn and even until the next winter and supplied the brewery.

You see Bier Stobbe and Gymnasium on the map at numbers 6 and 7. 

But if it was possible, we children ran up the Schwente to the beautiful, wide place where there was brick barn on one side, the Janzen'sche restaurant with the beautiful shady garden, which was already a popular excursion destination for our grandparents. and behind it the brickworks.... On the right-hand side, already on the market square, was the Pächter'sche department store....

The Schwente was another name for the southern reaches of the Tiege. So he is continuing around the bend on the Lindenallee, past the brick barn and the restaurant with the brickworks behind it. Then further along, right at the corner as you come to the market square, on the right side was Paechter's. I marked it with the blue star in the image. 

A few years later, in the fall of 1898, the terrible fire began here, which then left half of Bahnhofstrasse in ruins.

You can see how a conflagration at this location could have easily spread to the buildings behind it on Bahnhofstraße.  

Unfortunately, my image in the previous post does not seem to match this location. The building in that image is on Marktstraße, so I must conclude it is not our ancestor's department store. However, the yellow-brick half-timber contstruction must be very similar in style to the Paechter store.  

Below is another beautiful image looking from the square to the west along Marktstraße. Notice the clock in the center of the square is also shown on the map.

Family Story: 

Was this the Paechter's store?

In Otto Stobbe's article about Tiegenhof in which he describes the fire at Paechter's Kaufhaus, here is where he describes the building and marks the location.

On the right-hand side, already on the market square, was the Pächter'sche department store.... It was a large half-timbered building with yellow bricks. A few years later, in the fall of 1898, the terrible fire began here, which then left half of Bahnhofstrasse in ruins.

I have been examining street maps and postcards of old Tiegenhof, and I think that the yellow-brick half-timbered building in the image could be the Paechter store. If not, it looked very much like this one. Here is a page with some detail on half-timbered buildings.

Half-timbering is a way of constructing wood frame structures with the structural timbers exposed. This medieval method of construction is called timber framing. A half-timbered building wears its wood frame on its sleeve, so to speak. The wooden wall framing — studs, cross beams, and braces — are exposed to the outside, and the spaces between the wooden timbers are filled with plaster, brick, or stone.

In the next post, I will place the location on a vintage street map of the town. Below is a closeup detail of another brick half-timbered building.

Family Story: 

Both of our German branches are getting bigger

There were two significant breakthroughs in the last 24 hours. It may take me a while to write them up fully, so I will just give the summaries for now. 

• The Paechter family in Tiegenhof included two sons, Meier and Isaak, in addition to our great-grandmother Friederike Wohlgemuth and her sister Rosalie Kleemann. Meier ran the department store in Tiegenhof until his death in 1891, after which several of his sons took over. Isaak had relocated to Crossen in the early 1880s. His two children had children that went to every continent during the war. There are descendants in Israel, Australia, South Africa, South America, and the United States. 

• Our Ringel family from Rzeszow has three additional siblings that we did not know of. Many of them and their children also went to Berlin, so the Ringel family in Berlin just got much bigger. Hirsch Zvi Ringel, the brother of our ancestor Schija Ringel, was a Berlin rabbi. Schija also gets a middle name. He was Schija Wolf Ringel, significant because his grandson Wolf Schattner (aka Ze'ev Sharon) was probably named for him. Zeev was born in 1917, so that suggests that Schifa Wolf may have died during the preceding year (his death date is one of our remaining unanswered questions).

So both sides of our German family are suddenly considerably larger than we used to think they were. I will write up the details when I get the time. 


Family Story:

Family Story: 

Writings on the Hommel River detail how hydro power ran Elbing's flour mills

Here is a great page on the Elblag, My City site all about the Kumiel River, previously called the Hommel. These excerpts from historical writings about the Kumiel presented on the page give a pretty good picture of the location of the Elbing mills on a diverted section of the river.   

Co-director Grundmann, 1924 

The lower pond is separated from the Kumiela gorge, which is here called Pulvergrund, by a large dam. From here, the water of Kumiela is led through a canal at the upper edge of the ravine to four mills located in the city. This canal flows in large pipes underground along the Äußerer Mühlendamm.In the city, it splits into several branches and once supplied the moats of the city and the castle, as well as 67 open and 38 closed wells of the Old and New Town, to finally flow into the Elbląg River in several places. 

Prof. Baseler, 1925 

Closer to the city the channel from Kumiela drives the mills on Äußerer Mühlendamm and its water was led through the city through underground channels during the times of the Order.

Emil Kreuger, 1930

 Part of the water follows a canal that stretches north of Grund, then turns south and runs along Äußerer Mühlendamm, where it feeds the Scheeder-, Notsack-, Ober- and Untermühle mills.Below the Notsackmühle, the channel consists of large pipes lying underground. It is then divided into several channels that lead the water from Kumiela to Elbląg. Previously, they supplied the moats of the city and the castle, as well as many open and closed wells, from which the Elbląg inhabitants covered part of the water demand. 

So our family flour mill was one of four mills situated on Äuserdem Mühlendamm on a channel of water diverted from the original course of the Hommel. 


Family Story:

The Wohlgemuth mill was on a branch of the Hommel River

I had expected to find the Wohlgemuth's mill building near to the Elbing River that flows north-sourth on the west side of the city. Instead the address books placed them inland to the east of the center city. 

I looked for a period street map that might let me identify the location of Mühlendamm 8/9. The image above is from 1911 and gave just enough clues to point to the answer. 

On the map, the street going down on a diagonal from the upper right is Outer Mühlendamm. Just past the intersection of Hohe Zinn Str., it changes to Inner Mühlendamm. Right around there on the map you see a small section of river, Die Hommel. The main part of Die Hommel nearby to the south. The small channel that runs by Mühlendamm must have connected to the main river in an underground culvert, and perhaps flowed at the other end under the city into the Elbing River. 

Near as I could tell, our Wohlgemuth's mill must have been right at Mühlendamm where the Hommel comes to an apparent dead end. 

In the next post, I will quote a 1924 article about the Hommel, by then known by its Polish name Kumiela. 

Family Story:

Elbing address books from 1898 and 1900 list the Wohlgemuth residences and business

The collection of West Prussian address books linked in the last post includes a substantial number of directories from the city of Elbing, 39 years of them between 1820 and 1942. We know that our Wohlgemuth family lived there in the late 1890s. Isaac was listed as a mill owner living in Elbing on his 1898 marriage record. Our grandmother, Elly Wohlgemuth Ringel, was born in Elbing in July 1900. 

There are directories available on the site for the years 1890, 1892, 1894, 1898, 1900, 1902, and later years. The Wohlgemuth listings you see above are in the 1900 directory, and a very similar listing appears in 1898. They are not in any of the earlier or later books. 

Let's take a close look at the listings. Underneath the surname heading, each listing begins with an occupation, followed by a first name and street address.

The listing for Mühlenbesitzer (mill owner) is two of our Wohlgemuth brothers, Heinrich and Isaac. They both live on the major Elbing avenue Außerdem (Outer) Mühlendamm at numbers 8/9 and 5a. 

Two lines down is the Rentiere Friedericke Wohlgemuth, living at up the street at Auß Mühlendamm 59c. The occupation tells us she is a female retiree living off her investments. 

At the bottom of the listing is the family business listing for L. Wohlgemuth & Co., milling and flour. The address is the same Aus. Mühlendamm 8/9 where Isaac resides. The initial L must be for Leopold, their late father's name. 

Friederike's other two grown children, Rosa and Julius, are not listed but one or both may live with the listed family members.

It is interesting that Isaac and Heinrich are listed as the mill operators. Contrast that with the spediteur business Isaac would later open in Danzig together with brother Julius,  while Heinrich went into a different business.

These address book listings amplify what we knew about our family's years in Danzig. Thanks for the tip from Rodney Down Under. 

Family Story: