Ruby Family History Project Blog

Interpreting the Wohlgemuth headstone

On the right is the photo Joanne snapped yesterday at Weissensee Cemetery in Berlin. It is the headstone of Helga's grandparents Isaak and Betty Wohlgemuth. 

Note Betty's death date of February 26, 1942. Also note her maiden name Katz and birth date, which match up with newly available records on that reveal the Katz family history in the town of Kolberg, West Prussia, and the Wohlgemuth family in Stargardt, West Prussia. 

The photo at left is the one carried by Elly Ringel, the daughter of Isaak and Betty, on her journey to America, and thus was made before late August or early September of 1938 when Elly and Helga left Berlin. It shows the same headstone with Isaak's inscription (he died in 1929) but obviously is without the inscription for Betty (since she was still living in 1938).

Until yesterday, we had not known Betty's fate after 1940, when we know she was in touch with Elly while she and Helga were refugees in France and Betty sent them the money that enabled them to escape Europe. There had been much speculation among the Ruby siblings that Betty had suffered deportation to the camps, perhaps Auschwitz, as did tens of thousands of Jews from Berlin between October 1941 and early 1945. 

The fact that Betty was apparently laid to rest at Weissensee in February 1942 strongly suggests this is not the case. The surprising history of Weissensee is that the cemeter continued in operation throughout the war. According to an article I read yesterday, there were more than 3200 burials (almost 10 per day) during 1942. This dropped to 931 and 244 in 1943 and 1944. 

The history suggests that the Nazis allowed Weissensee and also a Berlin Jewish hospital to remain in operation throughout the worst years of Jewish persecution, probably as a public relations ploy to portray the regime as sympathetic to the plight of the local Jewish population. In reality, they began a systematic roundup and deportation of Berlin Jews in October 1941.

Betty Wohlgemuth would have been 66 years old at the time. Joanne believes she was living in an upstairs apartment at the Schlüterstrasse 12 address, though I want to review her evidence for that. As an older, female, widowed Jew with proven German citizenship (by virtue of her father's birth in West Prussia) she was not included in the early transports of Berlin Jews during 1941.

I was asked yesterday if Betty could have died in a camp and the inscription made later, perhaps even with some ashes interred. While it is true that ashes of some concentration camp victims are interred at Weissensee, I understand they were in a mass grave that was destroyed by bombardments in the last days of the war. (While the historic cemetery was thankfully mostly undamaged, one section sustained heavy damage.) 

If Betty had been killed in a camp and later a stone was inscribed, I believe there would have been some reference to the place and manner of her death. Since there is not, the more logical explanation is that she died in Berlin and was buried by the still-functioning Jewish community. 

At this point, we don't know how she died at age 67 in February 1942. Nor do we yet know who arranged and paid for the headstone inscription. Her age and circumstances certainly allow for any number of natural causes. Another possibility is suicide.

The article I referenced above says that 811 of the burials in 1942 were suicides, up from 254 in 1941. Presumably the 300 percent increase can be explained by the new deportation orders that went into effect in late 1941. Could our great-grandmother have been among that statistic, or did she die of a natural cause? There may be more we can find out. 

One more matter to consider here is the cause of our misinformation. Several family members have visited the cemetery before and not seen the Wohlgemuth headstone. This is because the main focus of their visits was the Hermann Ringel headstone in a different section of the cemetery. Joanne said yesterday that she doesn't think she saw the Wohlgemuth grave on her earlier visit. 

This explains our recent ignorance of the Betty Katz data on the headstone. I am wondering now what Elly and Helga knew about Betty's fate. Was Elly ever able to communicate with her mother after she and Helga arrived in America in April 1941? Did she learn of her mother's death at the time or at any time later? I don't believe Elly was ever able to visit the grave during her lifetime (she died in 1981). Though she traveled to Germany in the 60s and 70s, Weissensee was in East Berlin and she would probably not have obtained permission to go there. So she probably never saw the headstone. As to whether she could have been informed of Betty's death by the remaining Jewish community, that is an open question. 

If Elly did know what had happened to Betty, then Helga would have known too. Helga traveled to Berlin in the post-wall period and I'm pretty sure she visited the cemetery at the time. In her interviews with Walter near the end of her life, she gave the impression that she believed Betty died in a camp. 

So we are left uncertain for the moment about whether Elly and/or Helga knew of Betty's true fate, and thus whether our recent finds are true discoveries or perhaps a rediscovery of forgotten family history. That headstone has been standing there with Betty's information since 1942 but our generation just learned of it in August 2016.

Better late than never. 

Joanne discovers Betty at Weißensee

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.

Family Story:

Lovely photo of martyred Margot

I missed this when I posted about Margot yesterday. Her full name was Margueritte Shattner.

Family Story:

Margot's mother, Rosa Ringel, was a victim too

OMG! Rosa Ringel is in the Names database, too. She is the mother of Ze'ev and Margot and Hermann's sister. She and Margot were both taken in Belgrade, where Rosa's deceased husband David Shattner had come from. I think they were likely living with their Shattner in-laws in Belgrade after fleeing Berlin. As with Margot, there are testimony forms submitted in Israel by Ze'ev and by Artur Hendel, a Shattner cousin. The forms are handwritten in Hebrew and German so I have not deciphered them. This photo was included with the Ze'ev form. 

Family Story:

Was Bette deported?

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:

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

Family Story:

Margot Shattner in the Yad Vashem victims database

Yesterday, I mentioned searching for Betty Katz in the Yad Vashem Names Database, which is a consolidated collection of all information about Holocaust victims. I did find several entries that were close (a Betty Katz from Berlin with with the right birth year, for example) but they did not match up on other details (our Betty should be Wohlgemuth and the birth location and exact date were wrong). 

Today I reread "Helga's Story" from the Ruby Family History and came upon references to Ze'ev Sharon's younger sister, Margot Shattner, having been killed by the Nazis in Yugoslavia. I looked for her in the Names database and she immediately came up in four records. Two are personal testimony forms, one by Ze'ev and another by a Shattner cousin named Artur Hendel. She is also on the 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. 

See for yourself by following the link. Click on the gray triangle to the left of each entry to see the detail. Click on the pointer icons to the right for Google maps with Margot's locations shown.

Family Story:

Berlin Landesarchiv collected the new family records

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 

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 liquidated-business database project was conducted. I don't think there is any reason for Jo to go there on her last day. Probably I would spend time in these archives if I visit next year.

Wohlgemuth-Katz family names and towns

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. By now, he was living in Elbing near to Danzig, and that is where they began married life together. Their first child was Elly Wohlgemuth, born July 3, 1901 in Elbing. A second daughter Hilda Wohlgemuth was born Jan. 20, 1906 in Danzig. 

Betty's sister Klara married Siegfried Jacobson in 1904, but there is no record of children. 

We had heard information that Isaak was in business in Königsberg, 100 miles to the east, and that the family lived there. That is possible, but pending some evidence about Königsberg I'm inclined to believe the family stayed in either Elbing or Danzig until they later moved to Berlin when Elly was of marriageable age. 

Isaak died in 1929 and is buried at Wiessensee. I am pretty sure his sister Rosa is buried near to him. 

Yad Vashem has a centralized database of Shoah victims that includes all or most of those deported on more than 60 transports from Berlin to the east between October 1941 and early 1945. I can't find our Betty Katz Wohlgemuth in the database. 

Found! Wohlgemuth-Katz marriage certificate

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 Oct 1865)
Marriage Date: 28 Mrz 1898 (28 Mar 1898)
Marriage Place: Kolberg, Preußen (Germany) [Polen (Poland)] 
Civil Registration Office: Kolberg, Krs Kolberg-Körlin
Father: Leopold Wohlgemuth
Mother: Friederike Paechter
Spouse: Bettÿ Katz
Certificate Number:    23

Name: Bettÿ Katz
Gender: weiblich (Female)
Marriage Age: 23
Event Type: Heirat (Marriage)
Birth Date: 1 Jan 1875
Marriage Date: 28 Mrz 1898 (28 Mar 1898)
Marriage Place: Kolberg, Preußen (Germany) [Polen (Poland)] 
Civil Registration Office: Kolberg, Krs Kolberg-Körlin
Father: Louis Katz
Mother: Henriette Müllerheim
Spouse: Isaak Wohlgemuth
Certificate Number:    23

Dan's quick reply: What we know of Wohlgemuth history

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 write to you directly. Glad you're having a fun, busy time. - Dan

Reply from Joanne 8/17 at 2:19 PST

Didn't Bette live upstairs on Schluterstasse?.  Thought for sure it was an upstairs/downstairs thing. - Jo