Ruby Family History Project Blog

LAD Summary

Michael Edelstein was headstrong and independent, a self-described mamzer. He was 10 years old when he escaped under the barbed wire fence of the compound into which the Jewish townspeople of Skala-Podolsk had been rounded up on the morning of Sukkoth 1942. 

Six months later, he escaped again from the Borszczow ghetto on the eve of its liquidation. Then he survived for another year of hiding in forest bunkers and the ruins of buildings until the Nazis were finally driven from western Ukraine in 1944.

Edelstein spent his adolescent years in refugee camps in postwar Germany, arriving penniless in New York in 1951. He served in the U.S. Army, built a business as a roofing contractor and raised a family in Brooklyn—achieving the middle-class American dream. Then, later in life, he amassed a fortune in New York real estate, while also giving back through philanthropy on behalf of Israel and Jewish causes. 

What gave Michael Edelstein the transcendent strength to survive the horrors of the Holocaust? How did those experiences shape the man he would become, and set him on a course for business achievement and personal fulfillment? How did he rediscover humanity in himself and the world? 

These are the underlying questions addressed in this compelling tale of Holocaust survival and triumphant personal reinvention. 

Now 84, Edelstein finally takes the opportunity to narrate the details of his fascinating life story. From his trials in the forests and bunkers, to the purgatory of post-war Poland and Germany, to his early years in the U.S. as a Korea-era GI and self-made small businessman, to his ultimate successes in real estate and philanthropy, Edelstein fills his story with richly remembered details and relates it with characteristic Yiddish humor. 

It is a tale of unimaginable losses endured, adversities overcome, changes experienced and opportunities embraced. The same mamzer qualities that allowed Edelstein to survive the Holocaust—his courage, determination and practical resourcefulness—were those that he put to work in the brass-knuckled world of New York real estate.

Michael Edelstein had to survive before he could thrive. In defying the odds to accomplish both, he also rediscovered his essential humanity—his menschlichkeit—the one thing even the Nazis couldn't kill.


The clinic at Trautenaustraße 5

Entrance to the building at Trautenaustraße 5 in 2012, with nine Stolpersteine in the sidewalk out front.

The two newly unearthed death records (see earlier posts) of our Wohlgemuth ancestors are not earth-shattering since we already had the closely related burial information for Isaak and Betty. Yet we pick up all kinds of additional clues studying the official registry office death records, especially manifestations of the Nazi persecutions that Betty endured in her final weeks and days of life.

When I visited Berlin last summer, the Zentrum Judaicum archive had burial information for Betty that revealed substantial details about her death, most especially that her cousin Amalie Katz, previously unknown to us, was the one who reported the death and arranged for her burial at Weißensee cemetery. Since then, I have learned more about Amalie, including her deportation from Berlin in August and death at Treblinka in September 1942. 

There was also a detail about Betty's place of death, which was not at her home but at a clinic located at Trautenaustraße 5, that I did not pay much attention to at the time. Now that I Google that address, I find that it is a well-known Stolpersteine site, with nine stones laid for Jews who were listed at the clinic address in a 1939 census and later perished in extermination camps. 

Digging a little deeper, I find that there were actually two hospitals operating at that address in a building that was Jewish-owned. A clinic serving German patients was on the lower floors and an illegal facility for Jewish patients on the upper floors. I say illegal because it was at this time forbidden to provide medical services to Jews, yet the Jewish clinic operated for years until 1942, as the Stolpersteine attest,

From the above link, we learn that in 1942, presumably after Betty's death in February, the building ownership was aryanized in a forced sale to a Gestapo-backed real estate operator Curt Pelny. Pelny is not super well-known but there are some interesting sources on him that I will translate and look at later. 

From Betty's record, we see that the Jewish clinic at Trautenaustraße 5 was still operating at the end of February 1942. We can infer that Betty had previously been a patient at the clinic. Her causes of death are Magenkrebs, stomach cancer, for which she must been treated for some time, and Herzschwäche, heart failure.

The clinic was located only about five blocks from her apartment in the heavily Jewish Bavarian district. I had thought Betty's Aschaffenburger address would be covered by the Berlin-Schöneberg registry office but it turned that her death was recorded at the adjacent Wilmersdorf office. Lucky for me that the Landesarchiv checked both Standesamten, since I had mistakenly specified Schöneberg.

I don't know if the ailing 67-year-old Betty Wohlgemuth was still able to get around in her last weeks. If she was, the clinic at Trautenaustraße was within easy walking distance. By that time, she may have been admitted as a in-patient due to her declining condition. No doubt her cancer was getting worse, and when she finally expired it was due to heart failure.

As mentioned, it was Amalie Katz who reported Betty's death to the authorities and signed her name to the certificate. Amalie also lived in the neighborhood and was Betty's first cousin, the daughter of the brother of Betty's father. They were both born in the Pomeranian city of Kolberg and both had lived in Berlin for many years. Betty had been a widow since 1929 and Amalie had never married. 

One thing about the death record that jumps out is that both women are listed with the middle name Sara. This is a result of the Nuremburg race law mandating the addition of the given name "Sara" or "Israel" to Jews with unrecognizably Jewish first names. Betty and Amalie were not Jewish-sounding, thus they got the Sara.

In my recent work with Danzig marriage records, I have seen many examples of records amended with the notation that the bride has added the name Sara or the groom has added Israel. Though the law dated to 1936, the notated records I have seen show the name being officially assigned in either 1939 or 1941. Betty's marriage record from Kolberg, which I have, is not notated, but she most likely was assigned the Sara name in 1939 or 1941. 

Notice that Amalie actually puts the Sara first in her signature. Also note the surprising missing details in the form for Betty's parents' names and the details of her previous marriage.

These were all facts that Amalie knew well, yet the registrar did not bother to ask her for the information. Does this suggest that the German registry official didn't much care about the details of Jewish deaths by this time in 1942.

He did get the exact details of Amalie's address and identity card. After all, she would be getting notice of her coming deportation soon enough. Thankfully, that's a fate that Betty escaped by succumbing to her illness in an illegal Jewish hospital a few months before all old ladies of the Bavarian district were boarded on trains.

Translation of Betty's death record

Here's the full translation. Comments to follow in another post. 

No. 331
Berlin-Wilmersdorf, 28 February 1942

Betty Sara Wohlgemuth, born Katz, Jewish, living in Berlin-Wilmersdorf, Aschaffenburger Straße 6, died on February 26, 1942 at 5:30 pm in Berlin-Wilmersdorf, Trautenaustrasse 5.
The deceased was born on 1 January 1875 in Kohlberg.
Father: unknown
Mother: unknown
The deceased was widowed, details can not be determined.

Registered on oral announcement of Amalie Sara Katz, nee Katz, residing in Berlin-Schöneberg, Landshuter Straße 13.
The informant indicated her identity card Berlin, no. A370973. She explained that she was aware of the death of her own knowledge.

Read, approved and signed
[Signature] Sara Amalie Katz, nee Katz

The registrar
In representation: [signature]

Cause of death: stomach cancer, heart failure

Family Story:

Wohlgemuth death certificates located in Berlin Landesarchiv

The record requests I put in last month with the Berlin Landesarchiv came through yesterday in the mail—copies of the official death records for Isaak and Betty Wohlgemuth. Hurrah!

The archive holds historical Berlin vital records that are at least 100 years old. More recent records such as the 1929 and 1942 deaths of our Wohlgemuth ancestors are held in the local registry offices in specific districts around the city. To locate these records, you need both the right district office (usually the residence location) and the date of the recorded event. 

After returning from Berlin last year, when I visited the archive, I took an inventory of vital records for our Wohlgemuth and Ringel relatives who lived in Berlin. This revealed a target list of missing documents. The big four on the list were the marriage record for Hermann and Elly and the death records of Schija Ringel and Isaak and Betty Wohlgemuth.

With the the first two on the list, I am missing a necessary piece of information, the date. For the Wohlgemuth death records, I realized that I had everything needed and I submitted my search request during the holiday period a month ago. 

I'll review Isaak's record here and then go on to Betty in the next post.

This rounded form of German handscript is something I have seen before, which doesn't make it any easier to make out. Fortunately, this is all fairly straightforward. The merchant Hermann Ringel reported the death of his father-in-law, the merchant Isaak Wohlgemuth, age 63, born in Preußisch Stargard, husband of Betty Wohlgemuth nee Katz.

Hermann lived at No. 5 and Isaak at No. 6 Woelckpromenade in Weißensee. This is significant because it means the Ringel move to Charlottenburg happened after Isaak's death, which makes sense. 

Maybe the most interesting thing on the record is Hermann's signature affixed at bottom, with its little flourish on the final letter. I think I have other documents with his signature, but this is the first time I've noticed that flourish. 

Family Story:

Research database for Danzig Jewish marriages goes online

A comprehensive database of Jewish surnames, marriages and marriage parties collected from historical civil marriage records for the city of Danzig is now live at Family History Machine.

It is a research tool for use of people working on an indexing project of the JewishGen Danzig Special Interest Group. Contact the adminstrator to request accsss. FHM hopes to make the data publicly available at a later date. 

Menk names search tool

Because of my interest in the Jewish history of Danzig, I have been contributing as a volunteer in a project to index Danzig marriage records. Among other things, this involves recognizing the surnames of Jewish brides and grooms written on documents in longhand German script. With some practice, this becomes fairly routine but sometimes you come up with a speculative spelling is not a commonly known name.

At these times, it is helpful to consult a comprehensive resource called A Dictionary of German-Jewish Surnames by Lars Menk. Many times, that weird name whose spelling you are not quite sure of turns out indeed to be among the more than 20,000 names in the directory. 

Menk's Dictionary includes extensive information for each surname entry, including geographical distribution, which would be helpful for my use. It is a costly reference book and I do not have a copy. However, the publisher provides a complete list of just the surnames available as a download. 

I took advantage of that and created a quick and handy tool for searching the Menk names list. You can quickly confirm that a spelling of a name is or isn't in the directory. You can also do complex searches like "Starts With" or "Contains" if you recognize part of the name but not all of it. 

The Menk Names search tool is available here on Family History Machine. 

Fanny Ringel was the familiar name of Feigla Kauffler

Also in the previous post was the question of the identity of Fanny Ringel Twiasschor, who is listed as the resident of a Ringel apartment in 1920. I looked up name derivations for Fanny and found that among Jews it was often a variant of Feiga. The directory listing was published in the year before the death of Feigla Kaufler Ringel.

So it must have been Feigla, Hermann's mother, who was living in the apartment and is listed in the directory as Fanny Ringel Twiasschor. She died in November 1921. It seems Helga got her middle name in 1924 in honor of her deceased grandmother. 

I just went and looked at Feigla's death certificate, which was one of the original documents Elly carried with her to America. I had previously misread the year of her death of 1925 when the date is really Novemeber 28, 1921. She was 67. Her address was Lothringerstraße 4a. Bingo!

I also reviewed the chronology of directory listings for Ringel family members at the address at Lothringerstraße 4. 

Table to come.

Discrepancy on Betty’s place of death

Following up the previous post to resolve discrepancies in the two Betty Twiasschor records, The two records are from distinct sources. The second one records the details of her Berlin deportation on April 4, 1942, where it says her destination is the Warsaw ghetto. It also shows a place of death as Majdanek, but that may be incorrect. The first record (I should swap the order) shows her second transport from Warsaw to Sobibor two months later on June 13, 1942. I would regard that as more likely to be accurate as to her place of death. 

Found! Hermann Ringel’s sister Betty Twiasschor

Until now, we didn't have much information about Hermann Ringel's sister Betty. We knew about Rosa Ringel Shatner, the mother of Zeev, who died with her daughter Margot after a roundup in Belgrade. We knew Betty had two daughters, Edith and Gena, who later lived in London. 

Today I was searching in the Yad Vashem database in order to mention it in my article, Searching on Ringel and Rzeszow, the eleven matching records included one name, Zierel Apfelbaum, that was familiar to me, and another, Betty Twiasschlor, that just seemed weird. I checked up on Zierel and saw she was a daughter of Schija Ringel's brother Judah, thus Hermann's first cousin. She also came to Berlin and married Josef Apfelbaum. She was deported from Berlin 9/27/1942 and perished at Auschwitz.

At first I paid no attention to Betty with the funny last name, but when I idly clicked through the detailed information I saw that her maiden name was Ringel and she was born in Rzeszow in 1880. There are actually two records about her in the YV database with slightly different information about her date and place of death. I will copy both records in full below. 

So then I started looking in Ancestry and JewishGen to see what I could find out about a Betty Twiasschor in Berlin. Well, there was another Twiasschor family in Berlin (the name goes back to several towns in east Galicia/Ukraine), so that made the search slightly difficult. This other Twiasschor was in business and had phone and address listings in many directories. He and his wife were also deported and their family sponsored a Stolpersteine for them, so most of the Google hits are about that. 

However, several of the directories had an address for another Twiasschor resident, possibly a widow, at an address on Lothringerstrasse that looked familiar. I checked and confirmed that it was indeed the same building as one of Hermann Ringel's old addresses. Several other directory listings had tantalizing bits. One listing was for the Geschwister Twiasschor, meaning siblings. Another listed Fanny Twiasschor, geboren Ringel, as the occupant. (I don't know if Fanny was another name for Betty or if that is someone else, but the name sure rings a bell.)

I didn't see anything about an Edith or Gina at first, but then this 1945 item in Die Aufbau showed up. The Aufbau was the German language Jewish paper that published lists of victims and survivors after the war. It also covered happier news, such as this paid announcement of the engagement of Edith Twiasshor and Rudi Krausz in London. I am not sure what "fly" means, but it seems to suggest the bride came originally from Berlin and the groom from Vienna. 

I am pretty sure this must be Helga's cousin Edith. I don't know if she was still married to Herr Krausz when we visited Edith and her sister for tea in 1961. I had the impression they were both unmarried but what did I know? 

Other than the Aufbau item, there wasn't any other information I could find about Edith or Gena. But now we have their birth surname and have learned of their mother's fate. Both of Hermann's sisters were killed in extermination camps. 

See the detailed info about Betty below. 

  Deportations from Berlin Murdered Jews from Germany
Last Name Twiasschor Twiaschor
First Name Betty Betty
Maiden Name Ringel Ringel
Gender Female Female
Date of Birth 03/05/1882 03/05/1882
Place of Birth Rzeszow,Rzeszow,Lwow,Poland Rzeszow,Rzeszow,Lwow,Poland
Citizenship Germany  
Permanent Place of Residence Berlin,Berlin (Berlin),City of Berlin,Germany Berlin,Berlin (Berlin),City of Berlin,Germany
Place during the War Berlin,Berlin (Berlin),City of Berlin,Germany Berlin,Berlin (Berlin),City of Berlin,Germany
Origin of Deportation Berlin,Berlin (Berlin),City of Berlin,
Berlin,Berlin (Berlin),City of Berlin,Germany
Destination of Deportation Sobibor,Extermination Camp,Poland Eastern Europe
Place of Death   Majdanek,Camp,Poland
Deporation Date and Details 13/06/1942 Transport from Berlin,Berlin (Berlin),City of Berlin,Germany to Warszawa,Ghetto,Poland on 14/04/1942
Status according to Source murdered missing
Source List of Jewish victims from the Memorial book "Victims of the Persecution of Jews under the National Socialist Tyranny in Germany 1933 - 1945" prepared by the German Federal Archives Source Gedenkbuch Berlins der jüdischen Opfer des Nazionalsozialismus, Freie Universität Berlin, Zentralinstitut für sozialwissenschaftliche Forschung, Edition Hentrich, Berlin 1995 (Memorial Book of the Jewish victims of National Socialism in Berlin, Free University of Berlin)
Type of material List of murdered Jews from Germany List of deportation from Berlin
Item ID 11647578 4137642

Family Story:

Video: Scant remains--my bittersweet visit to Starogard Gdanski