Wohlgemuths of Prussia

Julius Wohlgemuth death certificate

I will give a full translation later. 

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. 

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.

Gerhard Salinger study of Jewish Stargard

A German-American Jewish historian, Gerhard Salinger, who is the author of detailed studies of the Jewish communities of Pomerania and West Prussia, has collected the available Jewish records for  the town where our Wohlgemuth family originated.

We learn this from a December 2010 review of Salinger's West Prussia book by Dorothea Shefer-Vanson in the Journal of the Assoiation of Jewish Refugees, in which she describes Salinger's methods using his work in Stargard as an example. Here is the relevant passage from the review.

So how has he set about his seemingly overwhelming task? Take the town of Preussisch Stargard (now Starogard Gdanskie) as an example (see Part I). What can the reader expect to find here? Apart from a brief potted history, Salinger notes that two Jews, Mendel Salomon and Alex Baruch, were permitted to settle there in 1774 because they possessed more than 1,000 Taler. By 1812 there were 112 Jewish households, and individual names - both original and adopted later - are listed. 

The population had grown to 597 by 1840, to 688 by 1849, and to its highest number (802, 13.7 per cent of the population) by 1870. There was a synagogue, a rabbi and a school. 

Salinger goes on to list all those Jews who paid taxes in 1883, stating their names, occupations and places of residence. There is also a list of tax-payers in 1911. The names of two men who lost their lives in action during the First World War are given, as are extracts from the Secret State Archives in Berlin concerning the election of Jewish officials and other matters. 

There is a list of deaths, giving names and age, going back to 1848, and a long list of deaths from 1857 until the community ceased to exist. It is striking that many died at a relatively young age. There is no information on where and how they died, but it is nonetheless an extraordinarily detailed survey.

On his visit to the town, Salinger discovered that the synagogue is now used as a shopping centre and that the greatly neglected cemetery has a number of gravestones, many severely damaged but five still standing upright, with the names of Mendelsohn and Wohlgemuth recognisable. Photographs of the former synagogue and the cemetery are provided.

How wonderful that he has called out the recognizable Wohlgemuth headstone that we have already discovered among the resources at Virtual Shtetl. More importantly are the multiple lists of residents, taxpayers, deaths, and war casualties for various years between 1812 and 1918. Undoubtedly we wiill be able to find more about our Wohlgemuth ancestors in Stargard by examining the actual book.

It is written in German in three volumes and evidently there are very few copies in existence. I will be trying to track it down. 

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