Elly Ringel

Wolgemuth-Spektor connection?

One more quickie and then I have to get back to work. While we're waiting for Walter's trip report, I'll pass on this tidbit he shared with me by phone from Vilnius. While researching Rabbi Spektor in Kaunus, he learned of yet another person who claimed to be a descendant. That in itself is not surprising, but the kicker is that this gentleman's last name is Wolgemuth, which is also the maiden surname of our grandmother Elly on Helga's side of the family.

Now, Wolgemuth (with its various alternate spellings) is a fairly common name in those parts, but it does present an intriguing possibility. Our Wolgemuths came from Konigsberg in East Prussia, which is now Kaliningrad, a disconnected enclave of Russia. As I have pointed out to Walter in the past, Konigsberg and Rzeszow, where Elly's husband Herman Ringel's family originated, are not far removed from Grodno in Belarus, where the Spektor/Rabinowitz family was from.

Further, Kaliningrad is a short distance from the Lithuanian coastal city of Memel, which was an early outpost of Jewry in the region, and to which I had tentatively traced the history of our Wolgemuths. So that raises the interesting possibility that our Wolgemuths and our Spektors were actually related and that we modern-day Rubys are the result of some kind of extended family inbreeding (which could explain some things ).

The other thing interesting about it is the light it sheds on the disdain of many German Jews, including Elly Wolgemuth Ringel, for so-called ostjuden, supposedly less-cultured Jews from places like Poland and Russia. It seems that Elly's own family was separated from ostjuden-ness by a hair's-breadth accident of geography.

Elly's passport

A couple of days ago, Walter posted about HIAS and Helga and Elly's arrival in New York. He mentioned a scrap of paper with a birth date and birth place, and he surmised these would have been taken from Elly's false Polish passport.

We have that passport among our artifacts, and Walter is precisely correct about Katowice and the July 3, 1900 date--the place is fictitious but the date is accurate. Actually, there is a discrepancy regarding Elly's birth year in the two official death records that are accessible through Ancestry.com. The Social Security Death Record has her date of birth as July 3, 1900, but the State of California death record has it as July 3, 1901. We agree that 1900 is correct, right?

Here's an image from the passpost, followed by a closeup of the passport photos.

Visa stamps

Nice work, Walter. Too bad the full file is missing, but it is great that you found those records. The visa information and Ecuador story are consistent with the stamps in Elly's passport, which we have. Here is a page with a stamp for the transit visa in New York and a visa issued in Lisbon for Ecuador.

I don't see anything that shows they actually went to either Ecuador or Costa Rica. The next stamp (on the next page) is from the Cuban consulate in Nueva York, dated May 7, following a notation about a payment of $500 per person. Following that are two U.S. immigration visas issued to Elly and Helga on May 21, 1941, by the U.S. Consul in Havana. Finally, there are U.S. Immigration and Natularization Service stamps noting their arrival in Miami on May 23.

Why did the Wohlgemuths leave Danzig?

In all our writings so far, it has been said that the Wohlgemuth family relocated to Berlin from Danzig during or more likely after the First World War in order to find better prospects for their marriageable daughters Elly and Hilde. That's a nice story and no doubt partly true, but there were very likely other factors motivating the family's move. 

[By the way, I am spelling Hilde with an 'e' instead of the 'a' she used later because that is how I find her listed in some original records.]

Danzig was a cosmopolitan German city in Isaak Wohlgemuth's day. The city's considerable Jewish community tended toward assimilation with the German state. The leading synagogues and community leaders were liberal. Zionism took hold slowly and was rejected by most Danzig Jews in the early years. Also, eastern Jews from Russia were discouraged both by German law and the attitudes of German Jews from settling in Danzig. 

Families like the Wohlgemuths were prospering in business. They retained their Jewish identity but sought to fit in with the dominant Christian society. Danzig Jews volunteered patriotically for the Great War. [There are a number of Wohlgemuths on German WWI casualty lists, but I have not yet connected them to our family.]

The photo is not of the Wohlgemuths but of prominent Danzig businessman Franz Boss and his family, out for a Sunday stroll in pre-WWI Danzig. 

In 1920, under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, Danzig became a semi-autonomous city-state called the Free City of Danzig, created as a buffer between the reduced German republic and a new Polish nation. The city became a free trading zone and a point of embarkation for transit to the west. Tens of thousands of Polish and Russian Jews passed through the city on the way to England and America, and Danzig's own Jewish community swelled with the addition of eastern, orthodox, Zionist Jews who could now freely settle in the city. 

It must have come as a unwelcome change for long-time Jewish residents of Danzig. Our grandmother Elly grew up as a Jewish Danziger, perhaps until age 19 or 20. Possibly we can see here the formation of some of the attitudes she later projected: her disdain for östjuden and her disinterest in Zionism. 

Perhaps we also see here the real reason that Isaak Wohleguth pulled up stakes from the rapidly changing Danzig to a place, Berlin, where a more civilized and cosmopolitan Jewish lifestyle was practiced. If so, that explains why the Wohlgemuths chose to permanently leave their native city at the very time Danzig's Jewish population was dramatically on the rise.

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