Ruby Family History Project Blog

Hermann Ringel’s partner is identified

A couple of years ago, I found the names of two clothing businesses owned by our grandfather Hermann Ringel listed in a database of Jewish businesses expropriated by the Nazis. One was his own outerwear manufacturing company, Hermann Ringel & Co. The other, an export-import menswear wholesaler, was co-owned with a partner. The database gave us something we hadn’t known—the name of the wholesale business.

The company was Reichenthal & Ringel, with addresses in the heart of the Scheunenviertal, first on the Spandauer Bridge and then at Schönhauser Allee 8. We never knew much about this partner, except for his own treacherous act of stealing the money Hermann had set aside to get his family out of Germany. Walter recorded our mother Helga’s account of the thievery in his Ruby Family Histories.

But we never had a name for the partner who took Hermann’s money after he died in 1938, and nearly scuttled the desperate escape of Hermann’s widow and daughter. The database told us his name was Reichenthal, but I had not tried to identify him precisely. 

Today, in compiling a list of Berlin addresses associated with Hermann Ringel, I looked for the first time for a telephone directory listing for Reichenthal & Ringel. I found several listings, dating back to 1921. In each case the business listing was associated with a residential listing for Isser Reichenthal.

So now we have the full name of the man who helped to establish Hermann in business, but who betrayed him in the end when it was a matter of life and death. I’ll be looking further into the life and postwar fate of Isser Reichenthal during my upcoming trip to Berlin.

Family Story:

upcoming trip to Berlin, Warsaw and Gdansk

i’m getting ready for a journey of discovery to Germany and Poland coming up in a few weeks. Here is the itinerary.

I will have 10 days in my mother’s birthplace, Berlin, with hopes to uncover more information about her family’s life before and during the Nazi persecutions. The top items on my research agenda are learning more about the Nazi expropriation of my grandfather’s clothing business and learning the cause of death of my great grandmother’s death in 1942.

Then I’ll attend the annual Jewish genealology conference, held this year in Warsaw for the first time in Eastern Europe. I have a magazine assignment to blog about the conference, part of an article package about Ashkenazi genealogy. I’ve been to two IAJGS conferences before, and have made great strides forward as a result of the people I have met and the knowledge gleaned. I expect all that and more at the Warsaw conference.

For an add-on adventure after the conference I had several options in Poland and Belarus. I decided to go to the former West Prussian region when one side of my Berlin family, the Wohlgemuths, originated. I’ll go first to Starogard Gdanski (at one time, Preussich Stargardt), where the family resided for most of the 19th century. Then I will have two ads in Gdansk, formerly Danzig, where Isaac and Julius Wohlgemuth prospered in the hauling business.

I hope to be blogging regularly with updates before and during the trip. The magazine has asked me for some video blog items, so I am going to try out that format as well.

Family Story:

Wohlgemuth family left Danzig in 1911-12

This post was written as an email on September 24, 2016, but was not previously posted to Family History Machine.

I looked at more of the directories and found that the Julius Wohlgemuth (Fa.) limited-liability freight and moving company is listed by that name but under new ownership, Regehr & Drabandt, beginning in 1912. Later it was owned solely by Peter Regehr and it continued in business at the same address and phone number all the way to the last available directory in 1942. 

Throughout most of those years, there is an advertisement displayed for the business in addition to its standard listing. The attachment shows the display ad.

It is interesting that the company name was apparently important to the new owners. Instead of rebranding as Regehr and Drabandt, they were buying a going concern with a name, reputation, customer relationships, etc. By the 1930s, the name must have sounded vaguely Jewish but not definitively so, since there were also Christian Wohlgemuths.

For our family history, what this means is we can now place the relocation of the family to Berlin before World War I instead of after. There are no more residential listings for Isaak after 1911. Julius continued to have a residential address in Danzig until 1915 but not after.

As for when the family came to Danzig from Elbing, The directory files listed for 1905 and earlier won't open for me—some technical problem. So whether it is 1902 or up to 1906 we still don't know.

No responses necessary unless you want to. Writing these emails is my blogging process. Later I post them on the site.

Family Story:

The Wohlgemuths *were* in the moving business in Danzig

This post was written September 24, 2016 but was not published (with minor edits) on Family History Machine until today. 

I have been skeptical for several reasons of the detail from Walter's "Helga's Story" that Elly's father Isaak had been in the moving business in Danzig before moving to Berline. For one, Isaak's profession is given as "mill owner" on his 1898 marriage certificate. Also, it didn't make sense he was anti-Ostjuden, as we've been told, since they would have been a big part of a mover's clientele in Danzig as they came through the city on the way to the west. 

Also, there has been this lingering question about just who was Julius Wohlgemuth, whom we originally believed was Elly's father. 

I have just discovered a trove of address books from Danzig at many-roads.com that answers both questions. So far I looked only at 1907 but immediately hit paydirt. Attached are images of the Wohlgemuth listings in the 1907 address books. 

Both Isaak and Julius are listed as co-owners ("Mitinhaber") of the firm Julius Wohlgemuth, which is called a "carrier" ("Spediteur") and provides "furniture transport, residential and office." The business address is on a major Danzig street, Poggenpfuhl Straße. Julius's listing shows a graphic image for a telephone. His telephone number is 611. 

Clearly, Julius is the older brother of Isaak and the senior partner in the business since it uses his name and the business listing is given under Julius. 

I thought you'd want to hear about this development right away. I've been holding back on further news of the Katz family. Betty's father Louis was born not in Kolberg but the East Prussian town of Heilberg (now Linzbark Warminski in Poland). His parents were Hirsch Levin Katz and Taube Conrad. 

Family Story:

Betty Katz Wohlgemuth record in a Nazi card file

Julius Wohlgemuth death certificate

I will give a full translation later. 

Family Story:

Leopold Wohlgemuth went to Brazil

Having updated Ancestry with the name of Julius Wohlgemuth's son, I next ran a search on Leopold Meyer Wohlgemuth. The first hit was definitive. 

He received a immigration permit from the United States of Brazil in September of 1960. The permit was issued at Brazil's consulate in Beunos Aires, suggesting that Wohlgemuth had been living in Argentina before that. His nationality is listed as German; perhaps he has already reclaimed German citizenship under the post-War administration.

It is definitely our relative because his birth date and location are right, as are the names of his mother and father. His professional is listed as merchant. He has no wife or children

I wonder what kind of life he made for himself in Brazil. I will dig deeper to see what else I can learn. Meanwhile, it is thrilling to look at the picture of Elly's first cousin as he begins life in 1960 as a Brazilian immigrant.  

Family Story:

New Wohlgemuth discoveries

If I travel to Germany and Poland this summer, one of the subjects of interest will be the history of the Wohlgemuth family in Starogard, Danzig (Gdansk), and Berlin. I am plotting an itinerary that would give me two days in Gdansk including a sidetrip to nearby Starogard Gdansk, from where the Wohlgemuths originally came. One question that I had was the address of the moving company that the two Wohlgemuth brothers, Julius and Isaak, operated in Danzig. 

I knew I had that info in my files at home, contained in several Danzig telephone directory listings that I saved some time ago. But I was away from home just on my mobile and I tapped in Wohlgemuth to the Danzig Database on JewishGen. I don't think I had ever seen these results before. 

Name
(Maiden Name)
Record Type
Date
Age
Father
Mother
Residence Community
Source
Leopold Meyer 
24-AUG-1910 
Julius WOHLGEMUTH 
Rosa SITTENFELDT 
Poggenpfuhl 73 [Poggenpfuhl73]  Danzig 
FHL 1184407/2, p 33, l 258, r 3336 
Hilde 
30-JAN-1906 
Isaak WOHLGEMUTH 
Betty KATZ 
Abbeggasse 1 a [Abbegg1a]  Danzig 
FHL 1184407/2, p 08, l 57, r 534 

The second one is Aunt Hilda's birth record, showing the names of her parents, Isaak and Betty Wohlgemuth, and their address, as well as a record locator/identifier. The first one gives the name of a wife and son of Isaak's brother and business partner Julius Wohlgemuth. Previous to this, we have not had any information about Julius' family. 

I got home and checked the old phone directory images. Yes! Both the business location and Julius' residence were at the same address at Poggenpfuhl 73, right in the heart of the commercial district near to the wharves. Today Poggenpfuhl is called Zabi Kruk, and it remains a busy thoroughfare. Abbeggasse has been harder so far to place. There were several Jewish neighborhoods in 1910 Danzig were Isaak's family might have lived. I'll keep working to locate that address. 

So then I popped over to Ancestry in order to update my tree with the new names. I navigated to Julius and noticed there was a new Ancestry hint (leaf) showing for him. Many times these don't check out but I clicked and was immediately shown a February 1912 death certificate from Stettin, Prussia. My German is getting better and I could read the names of his parents and wife on the document. I'll post it in a separate file so it doesn't take up too much space here.

It is too bad that Julius died young, age 41, leaving a widow and young child. The place of death is interesting, Stettin being another Prussian commercial center. Perhaps he died there while on business. It also helps to explain why the moving company in Danzig was sold to a German buyer the following year, and that was when Isaak moved his family to Berlin.

Quite possibly, the widow Rosa Wohlgemuth and her young son Leo also went to Berlin at that time. One of the Wohlgemuth gravesites at the Weissensee Cemetery in Berlin is for Rosa Wohlgemuth, and we were never sure who that was. Now we know it was Julius's widow. And what became of young Leopold Wohlgemuth? Read on in the next post. 

Family Story:

Toolbox: Sources and download

Resources referenced in the It's Legendary! article

Articles

Patti S. Borda, "Myth buster’ uncovers family's real Civil War story," Frederick News Post, April 2013. 

Connie Lenzen, "Heritage Books and Family Lore: A Jackson Test in Missouri and Idaho," NGS Quarterly, March 1998

Kimberly Powell, Family Legends - Fiction or Fact?, About.com Genealogy web site

Daniel Ruby and Walter Ruby, Spektor-Rabinowitz blog postings, Ruby Family History Project on Family History Machine web site <>

Walter Ruby, “A Few Things Are Illuminated: A Wild and Crazy Roots Trip to the Old Country,” archived at Worldpress.org from an original publication in Long Island Jewish Week, Jan. 22, 2008

Snopes.com, “To Hatch a Thief,” Snopes.com 

Lindsay Swadling, “Family Legends - can they be trusted?,” archived on RootsWeb from an original publication in Descent, December 1984 

Rabbi Meir Wunder, "The Reliability of Genealogical Research in Modern Rabbinic Literature,” republished at Rav-SIG Online Journal from an original publication in Avotaynu: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy, Winter 1995.

Books

Board for Certification of Genealogists, The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Ancestry Inc., 2000)

Robert Todd Carroll, Becoming a Critical Thinker (Prentice Hall, 2000)

Robert Todd Carroll, Unnatural Acts: Critical Thinking, Skepticism, and Science Exposed (James Randi Educational Foundation, 2011)

Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (National Genealogical Society. 2013)

Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to 

Cyberspace (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007)

Milton Rubicam, Pitfalls in Genealogical Research (Ancestry Inc., 1987)

Ephraim Shimoff, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Spektor—Life and Letters, (Sura Institute, 1959)

Organizations

Rabbi Isaac Elchanon Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University, The Story of RIETS video

Board for Certification of Genealogists, The Genealogical Proof Standard

National Genealogical Society, Genealogical Standards and Guidelines

Download

Download a PDF of the Family Tree published article

Demo Home | Main Article | Sidebar | Tutorial | Sources

Sidebar: Getting down to cases

This sidebar is part of an article originally published in Family Tree Magazine's special issue "Discover Your Roots" in Summer 2014.

¶ In 2013 during the lead up to the 150th Gettysburg anniversary, Marcia Hahn of Frederick, Md. submitted her family heirloom—a Confederate cavalry officer's sword that had belonged to her ancestor—for display in an exhibit. Based on the sword, the family legend was that the ancestor was a horseman and Southern officer. The experts pointed her to military pension records that showed that the ancestor was actually an enlisted infantryman on the Union side. He had probably scavenged the sword as a battlefield memento.

“My quest to discover the story of my Civil War ancestor proved to be a fascinating journey. Along the way I unwittingly refuted almost every element of the story as it had been told for generations,” Hahn told a reporter.

¶ Conversely, when Australian genealogist Lindsay Swadling set out to document an elderly relative's story about an ancestor's role in the colonial history of New South Wales, she found that the basic points of a legend passed down by word of mouth for 160 years were mostly accurate, except for modifications to conceal convict ancestry, common in Australian genealogy. Her investigation did not contradict the legend but flushed out details that yielded a richer understanding of what had happened and why.

"Our culture, unlike many others, places very little trust in oral history.…We are told that family legends are unreliable, as they can in fact be. The lesson I have learned is that such stories should not be discarded without investigation—there may be more than a grain of truth in them,” Swadling concludes in her journal publication.

¶ Most often, an investigation will reveal at least some basis in truth but with many key points distorted, as in genealogist Connie Lenzen’s detailed study of an Idaho settler family. Contrary to three separate accounts published in a 1992 “heritage book” covering a county in Missouri, the George W. Jackson that came to Idaho from Missouri in 1862 did not strike it rich as a gold miner. She found that after several failed mining ventures he left Idaho in 1870 but returned years later to support his family as a butcher and small-time rancher. Several other points referenced in the heritage book—a divorce, a snowbound accident—turned out to be inaccurate when fact-checked against other sources.

"Traditions are one of the oldest sources of family history and one of the least reliable,” cautions Lenzen. She found that the accounts in the heritage books displayed “typical errors and discrepancies — claims to descent from famous people, conflicting and incomplete lists of children, and erroneous citation of birth order.”

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