Wohlgemuths of Berlin

Family video powwow and new Wohlgemuth developments

Last night, Joanne organized a wonderful sort-of seder for the three of us by Skype, or I should say four since Tanya was with Walter in Montclair while Joanne was with me in my dining room in Piedmont. She had decided a few days ago to call off her planned full seder, and instead instigated an family video powwow over wine and matzoh to discuss the recent developments regarding the citizenship question.

We learned much on that score and as the evening developed shared even more surprises. I will leave it at that for now and encourage both Walter and Joanne to post their thoughts. Meanwhile, this post is on a related tangent and grows out of last night's meeting.

I was sharing the various birth and death records that I have in my collection for members of my mother's family, the very documents that will substantiate our claims (if we proceed with them) to birthright German citizenship. Most importantly, I showed our mother's birth certificate showing her October 1924 birth to German parents in a Berlin hospital. I also showed the 1888 birth and 1938 death certificate for her father Hermann Ringel, and the 1921 death certificate of Hermann's mother Feigla Ringel nee Kaufler.

And there were more items among the collection. My own original 1952 birth certificate was in a file drawer. By now, people's eyes were glazing over and we didn't look closely at the items in the drawer with items about Elly Ringel, Hermann's wife, Helga's mother, the grandmother we knew as Ogi.

Later after the call, Jo and I looked at those items, including her amazing refugee travel documents and  photos in a worn leather pouch that she carried with her on long journey to America. All this was familiar to us from our earlier discovery of this material. The photos included headstones from the Weissensee Cemetery in Berlin for Hermann Ringel and for two Wohlgemuth family members, Isaak and Rose. Here they are (sorry for the quality, these are quick iPad snaps while my scanner is out of commission).

Joanne who had been in Berlin and visited Hermann's grave several years ago, looked hard at the photo and said that it looks just as it does now. Then she said that at the time she wondered who had arranged for the headstone, since under ordinary Jewish custom that would not have been placed until his first jahrzeit, anniversary of his death. From our mom we knew that Elly and Helga fled Berlin three months after Hermann's death.

And now Joanne is realizing that the photo she is holding was taken in 1938 between the time of Hermann's death and Elly's flight from Germany. So now she has the answer to her earlier question, that under the emergency circumstances of the time ordinary religious customs were sidestepped.

Then we turned our attention to Elly's death certificate, issued October 4, 1981 in Santa Clara County, California. When I looked at this document that I had studied several years earlier (it was the source of our knowledge of Elly's mother's name, Betty Katz) I suddenly realized that I have been mistaken for the last years of my research about Elly's father's name.

It is not, as I have written in this blog and posted in my family tree, and as Walter transcribed Helga's account in his family narrative, it is not Julius Wohlgemuth. It is Isaac Wohlgemuth. It says it right there on Elly's death certificate. And that's why she is carries headstone photos for Isaak and Rose Wohlgemuth, but nothing for Julius.

Doh. Earlier in this adventure, Walter described his Alex Haley moment of discovery. Well, this must be our Homer Simpson moment. A stupid mistake.

For years, I have been looking for Julius Wohlgemuth, constantly stumbling over several other worthies by that name, including a well known biochemist who worked in Berlin and published an important text in 1913. It was the name Julius that led me to my hypothesis that our Wohlgemuths might have come from the town of Angerberg in East Prussia (now Wegorzewo in Poland).

I haven't yet spoken with Walter since realizing our error, but we'll have to reconstruct where we went wrong. There is another Julius on our father's side in our story. And I was finding these tidbits on Juliuses in the records. At this point, I'm thinking Elly's father Isaac, spelled Isaak on the gravestone, had just one sibling, Rose, and there is no Julius at all.

So now I've started looking for Isaac and have some preliminary things to report in the next post.

Joanne's reflections from Berlin

Here I am finally with some quiet time [at our house swap in Berlin], after Lani and Bill have left for Copenhagen and my friend Gina and her daughter have also departed.  I'm still very low from this lousy viral infection that hit me 19 days ago after my second visit to Budapest's most glorious bathhouse (photos to follow).  

This city is amazing.  To feel the history at every turn, and to see and learn about changing neighborhoods, to see the vibrant creative communities, the crazy club scene, talk about old and new immigrant issues, to see the tolerance out there, like graffiti and signs saying, 'immigrants welcome' yesterday in east Kruetzberg.  As I hung out at the Turkish market, swaying to the tunes of a Mayan Hip Hop band, and taking in the stalls, I was reminded of my love of the east Jerusalem markets, and markets in general.   This one ranks:  people from everywhere, and people loving who and what others are and have to offer.  As I meandered, I got the hit that had maybe been coming:  we really, really should rent an apt here for a while and all of us hang. 

Twyla, if your plans come to be, the Max Plank Institute in two years, some of us should be here too.  Dan, I can so see you here.  I think it should be sooner rather than later, as the healthcare is an issue, as I've discovered.  I would have to apply for German national healthcare [to be eligible for benefits even with citizenship].

Meeting Donna was a joy.  She is moving forward with her book, no publisher yet, and would love our contribution.  She sees it as contributing to educating and providing history about how the citizenship law works, and has been changed.  She feels it could help build the argument for a change, i.e. Eliminating the arbitrary date, eliminating split decisions within families.  At the same time she feels this will be a way off, with a new Chancellor.  She sees it and believes it's important as part of the overall changing face of the country, the acceptance and move toward greater diversity.  She confirms that the law was not about reaching out to Jewish community, or reparations or the like.  She has data on number who have reclaimed citizenship under Article 116 since 2000 (when records became public) but did not tell me.  Says the Israeli population is ~15-20K now.

As for individual cases like ours, she suggests that others have hired an attorney.  She offered her attorney, who could see if there might be anything in our case that is compelling and be enough to allow for Dan/Walt to become citizens.  I told her of Twyla's interest, and she said she is happy to introduce her attorney to you, Twyla, if you are coming to Berlin next month.  At the same time, I am meeting all kinds of people who are living, studying, working here, who don't have citizenship.  It is very exciting to think of you here, Twyla.  Feels like a fit.  I encourage you to contact Donna.  So easy going, and informative and involved.

Dan, Walt: I have a few of my own family history questions and is there something you want me to do next two days to shed light on anything? Do we have death record of Betty and Isaak?  Couldn't remember why we believe she died in Auschwitz? Was she deported from Schluterstasse 12?  Or did she sell the house (was Isaak long dead?).  Did we think about doing a Stolpersteine block? I am going inside the house tomorrow morning! I will take what you gave me, Dan, and take photos of course. Any questions outstanding about Herman's grave:  I may go to cemetery on Friday.

Walt, a funny little story that was not funny at the time.  Bill got taken by a sheister outside the currency exchange at Prague train station.  Nice and simple, gave the guy 40 euro for some Check Republic currency.  Handed it to me; it didn't work in the ticket machine; showed it to agent who said, 'not Check money, from Belarus.'  So Walt, on your next visit back to do family history on the Tulbowitz clan, you've got some cash...

Going to take short walk, maybe you will get this, and we can write more before I go to bed in 2-3 hours.  Love from Helga's beautiful Charlottenberg,


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

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: https://www.its-arolsen.org/en/archives/

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


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