Ruby Family History Project Blog

Elly Ringel listed in new Holocaust database of revoked citizenship and property seizures

Elly Ringel listing in new Holocaust database.

A couple of days ago, I stumbled on this new Elly Ringel citation in the JewishGen Holocaust database. What do we learn from the database record? What is the source of the record and how did it recently show up on JewishGen?

First, the information itself. Besides the correct information listed for maiden name, gender, birth date and birthplace, the listing tells us her last residences were Berlin and Basel, and her "status" was "Reichsfluchtsteuer." The latter translates as "federal emigration tax."

To learn more about the term, here is the introduction to a comprehensive Wikipedia article about the history of the tax under German law.

The Reich Flight Tax (GermanReichsfluchtsteuer) was a capital control law implemented in order to stem capital flight from the Weimar Republic. The law was created through decree on 8 December 1931 by Reichspräsident Paul von Hindenburg. The Reich Flight Tax was assessed upon departure from the individual's German domicile, provided that the individual had assets exceeding 200,000 Reichsmark (ℛℳ) or had a yearly income over 20,000 ℛℳ. The tax rate was set at 25 percent. In 1931, the Reichsmark was fixed at an exchange rate of 4.2 ℛℳ per USD; 200,000 ℛℳ was equivalent to $47,600 USD (equivalent to $800,000 in 2019).

During the Third Reich, the use of the Reich Flight Tax shifted away from dissuading wealthy citizens from moving overseas and was instead used as a form of "legalized theft" to confiscate Jewish assets. The departure of Jewish citizens was desired and permitted by the Nazi government – even after the Invasion of Poland – until a decree from Heinrich Himmler forbade Jewish emigration on 23 October 1941. The tax was used as a "partial expropriation"[1]:12 to seize the assets of Jewish refugees who were persecuted and driven to flee their homeland.

Okay, it looks like our grandmother's citizenship was revoked for non-payment of the Reich Flight Tax. That is consistent with what we know of Elly's departure with Helga from Berlin in the months following Hermann Ringel's death in July 1938. However, it is significant to know that her flight was observed and recorded in an official government record. 

What about Basel? I want for Walter to weigh in on this. We know that reaching Switzerland offered a possible escape route for German Jews. We've heard about Elly and our family members attempting to get there via Lyon, France, in 1940, before encountering a Gestapo agent who was tracking them and caused them to change escape destinations. Could this Basel reference relate to that? Walter?

That is what we can read from the JewishGen database record itself. But what is the original source of the information and how did it just become available in a JewishGen search? I'll answer in the next post.


Family Story:

Hilda's marriage to Herbert Peiser

Another document that miraculously appeared on Ancestry is the April 12, 1928, marriage certificate of Hilda Wohlgemuth and Herbert Friedrich Peiser. Peiser is described as a merchant from Breslau. 

Family Story:

Heinrich Wohlgemuth death certificate

Heinrich Wohlgemuth died in Danzig at age 51.

We learned that Heinrich Wohlgemuth died in 1917 from Hilda's affidavit. But we did not have his actual death certificate until it showed up on Ancestry courtesy of the Berlin Landesarchiv. Here it is. The date is actually October 21, 1918. His death was reported by Wilhelm Cohn. Born in Preußisch Stargard. Living at the same address as at the time of his mother's death in 1910. I can't read the cause of death. 

Hilda's affidavit is very specific about his business activity. She says that Heinrich was the owner of the banking firm Meyer & Gelhorn. I have found information on the firm from a Polish encyclopedia. It was founded in 1867 by Aron Simon Meyer and Albert Christian Gelhorn (a Jew and a Christian), and after their deaths was jointly owned by their sons. "In 1917, the bank merged with Danziger Credit Bank, and in 1921, both of these institutions were transformed into the joint-stock Danziger Creditanstalt (Gdański Zakład Kredytowy), jointly dependent on Dresdner Bank, which ended its independent activity."

Heinrich Wohlgemuth is not mentioned, but given Hilda's specific mention he must have played a role in the company. Possibly he was involved in the 1917 bank merger, the year before he died.

BANKHAUS MEYER UND GELHORN , a banking company operating for the Gdańsk trade and craft, with headquarters at Langer Markt 40 (Długi Targ), after 1900 at no. 38/39. In 1920, she also owned a back house at Brotbänkengasse 9 (Chlebnicka Street). Established in 1867 by Aron Simon Meyer (1824 Gdańsk - June 6, 1887 Gdańsk), son of Samuel Simon (1791 - April 1, 1846 Gdańsk, with the surname given by the Prussian authorities in 1817), owner of a trading company at Heilige-Geist-Gasse 774 (ul. św. Ducha 27), and ► Albert Christian Gelhorn . After the founders died, the joint ownership of their sons: ► Albert Meyer and Erich Hermann Gelhorn (28 January 1876 Gdańsk - 24 July 1930 Gdańsk; see ► Albert Christian Gelhorn). In 1917, the bank merged with Danziger Credit Bank, and in 1921 both of these institutions were transformed into the joint-stock Danziger Creditanstalt (Gdański Zakład Kredytowy), jointly dependent on Dresdner Bank, which ended its independent activity. [ MrGl ]

Family Story:

Frederike Paechter Wohlgemuth died in Danzig in 1910

December 27, 1910 death certificate for Frederike Paechter Wohlgemuth. 

The mother of Isaac Wohlgemuth lived until age 72 and died in 1910 at the address in Danzig of the third Wohlgemuth brother, Heinrich. 

She was Frederike Wohlgemuth, nee Paechter, whose husband Leopold died in 1876 in Preußisch Stargard at age 42. She and four children (the eldest a sister Rosa and three sons in order Isaac, Heinrich and Julius) resettled in her original home town of Tiegenhof, near to Elbing. (Today it is Nowy Dor Gdanski.)

We knew that the brothers prospered as mill owners in Elbing and that later Isaac and Julius went into business in Danzig as shipping agents for the Prussian railway. We have been learning more about Heinrich, mainly from Hilda's affidavit, as an antique-collecting, unmarried  banker living and working in Danzig.

What this record shows is that their mother also relocated to Danzig and lived there in Heinrich's well furnished bachelor digs. (I can't quite read the address yet. But it is the same address given for Frederike and Heinrich.) I believe that the sister Rosa may have lived there, as well. We don't know of her marrying and she is the best candidate for the Rosa Wohlgemuth grave that we know about in Weissensee. 

The next few years after Frederike's death were eventful for the family. Hilda says they moved in 1911-12 to Stettin, where the company also did business. Julius died there suddenly in 1911, leaving a widow and son, Leopold, who went to Brazil after the war. The widow Rosa is the other candidate for the Berlin grave.

Isaac Wohlgemuth and family (Betty, Elly and Hilda) moved to Berlin in 1912, settling at Woelkspromenade 6 in Weißensee. The sale of the company may have happened before or after the move. According to Hilda, company operations in Danzig and Stettin were sold but for a time Isaac retained ownership of a Berlin franchise. 

He sold that as well before 1914. During the war, he served as a non-commissioned officer. After the war, he did well as a tobacco wholesaler and sales representative for a cognac brand. 

I'm guessing that Rosa stayed in Danzig until Heinrich's death in 1917, and then moved to Berlin Weissensee to be near to her one surviving brother. Rosa is mentioned in Hilda's affidavit but Frederika is not. Also, Hilda seems to have forgotten about Julius and his family.

Summary: Frederike's life seems pretty distant to us, but think about our grandmother Elly as a child. She was born in Elbing in 1900 and then grew up in Danzig until age 11. Besides her immediate family, the Wohlgemuth clan in Danzig during Ogi's childhood included her grandmother, Frederike, aunt Rosa and uncles Heinrich and Julius. 

Having never remarried, we think of Ogi in her New York single apartment. See started out in life with a strong family network, led by a matriarchal grandmother Frederike Paechter. 

Family Story:

Blog restarts with a precious image of Hilda'a restitution affidavit

Typescript affidavit submitted in 1958 by Hilda Wohlegmuth Leibman in her restitution case against the Germany government. 

This blog has been inactive for more than a year as I have been working on other things, primarily the publishing of a Holocaust memoir coauthored by Walter and myself. During that time I have not been documenting advances in what we know of our family roots. However, the information has continued to come in, so there is a bit of a backlog of material, as well as some new stuff, for me to work through as I start things back up.

To pick up the narrative, during my trip to Berlin in July 2018 I found at the Berlin Landesarchiv bulging record files on two matter related to our family history: a Ringel file containing documents concerning the dissolution of the Hermann Ringel business in 1939-1940, and a Wohlgemuth file of documents from the 1950s related to the restitution claims of Hilda and Elly. 

I spent two days with the material in Berlin but was prevented by the archive regulations from capturing an image of any of the documents. One of the treasures in the files that I was able to identify and then translate was the two-page typescript affidavit submitted in 1958 by Hilda Wohlegmuth Leibman in her restitution case against the Germany government. In it, she provides a detailed explanation of her mother's personal history and an accounting of the wealth that she accumulated during her lifetime, assets that were illegally seized by the Nazi authorities. 

The affidavit is a fascinating read, and I posted the translation here in the course of my hectic work during that trip. I urge you to read it again now while also gazing at the image of the original document, signed by our aunt Hilda. 

This document is just one highlight from the full Landesarchiv files. Several months after returning from my 2018 trip, I received digital scans of all the pages in the two files. I saved them to my genealogy case files and then pretty much forget about them until a few days ago. Along with my other backlogged items, there is a lot of knowledge to unpack as I work through the material. 

For now, the Hilda affidavit picks up the narrative thread regarding our Wohlgemuth family branch. I'll have a few more Woihlgemuth developments coming up. 

Family Story:

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.

Family Story:

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. 

Family Story: