Day 8: Jackpot!

Day 8: Jackpot!

The Landesarchiv held two precious tranches of family history--files about our relatives' restitution case against the German government, and official records of the forced sale of Hermann Ringel's business 

When I arrived at the Landesarchiv on Thursday shortly after its 10 am opening, I found that there were five file folders of original documents waiting for me in the reading room. However, I first showed Carmen the long list of family vital records that I do not already have. She kindly gave me a tutorial on using the archive’s online resources to track down particular records (if you know the date and location of the event), and demonstrated that by locating one of the records on my list, the 1888 marriage certificate of Schija Ringel and Feigel Kaufler. 

I paid a 30€ fee that will give me access to images of any vital records I can identify and request in this calendar year. So far I have just this one, and it confirmed a few facts I knew and added some important new information. Because time is short on Friday morning as I write this, I won’t go into great detail about this or the paper files I examined (except for the one document translated in full below), but will summarize the high points.   

Hermann was the youngest of the three Ringel children and the only one born in Berlin. The eldest was born with the name Pessel, though she was later known as Bette, in Rzeszow on May 5, 1882. Reisl Blume, later called Rosa Schattner, nee Ringel, was born October 6, 1883 in the Galician town Podgorze, which is now a district of Krakow.

The marriage record is from June 1888, and in it Schija acknowledges his paternity of all three children who had been born out of wedlock. My guess is that Schija and Feigel had been married in a synagogue in Rzeszow before the children arrived, but that the marriage had not been recorded civilly. It was to their advantage to make the union legal after they settled in Berlin. 

This information changes my understanding of the circumstances of their lives together. I used to think both arrived in Berlin independently, and that they met when she came to work for him as a housekeeper. Now we know that they first met in Rzeszow, Schija’s birthplace, and that they later spent time near her family home in Krakow before moving together to Berlin in 1884 or ‘85. Hermann was born in Berlin on November 5, 1885. By the way, Feigel’s occupation is given as “housekeeper,” so they may have met in the way I imagined but in Rzeszow, not Berlin.

A few other items of interest in the document. Schija’s father, Moses Ringel from Rzeszow, is described as a butcher, and thus was not in the garment trade as I had speculated. Also, one of the two witnesses given in the marriage record (the other was a neighbor in their apartment building who was a fish dealer) was Schija’s brother Lieb Ringel. I can’t quite make out the spelling of his occupational description, but Carmen translated it as “slayer,” which possibly is a kosher butcher. I still have to figure that one out. 

But on to the main event. The five folders waiting for me in the reading room had three concerning the restitution case that Elly pursued together with her sister Hilda Liebmann and two about the anyanization of Hermann’s two businesses. As I said in yesterday’s post, I was surprised to learn that the restitution did not concern Hermann’s business interests but was all about the considerable assets left by Betty Wohlgemuth. 

The archive has an obnoxious policy of not permitted documents to be photographed. Instead you have to order copies to be made at half a Euro per page, which can add up and which takes several months to arrive. When I came across one critical document, a lengthy affidavit with details of family history submitted by Hilda in 1958, I tried to surreptitiously snap a couple of images and was given a serious scolding by the reading room attendant. 

So I spent more than an hour carefully typing in the text of Hilda’s statement and then using Google Translate to work out a rough translation. I will reproduce that in full in a separate post after this one. In it, I believe Hilda has a few facts wrong, but there is much new data that paints a picture of Betty Wohlgemuth’s privileged life and sorrowful end. This is just three pages of more than 100 in the file that I was able to capture. Most of it concerns Betty’s jewelry collection. For example, there is another statement by a close friend of Betty’s who says they attended concerts and the theater together and is able to remember specific details about Betty’s jewels. I submitted a request to have the entire file scanned, which will end up costing about 60€, but it is the only way I will be able to later study the file in depth.

I also ordered a few of the pages from the Ringel aryanization files, but decided not to ask for all of it. I’ll just cover a few of the revelations here. On the subject of Hermann’s business partner, there were indeed two of them, one for each of the businesses. Isser Reichenthal was the senior partner in Reichenthal and Ringel, first registered in the Berlin commercial registry in 1919. Erich Ignaz Wasserreich was the junior partner in Hermann Ringel & Co., which was registered in 1924. I can’t yet say for sure, but I think the likely culprit in the theft of Hermann’s escape money was Wasserreich. 

There is not a lot of detail about the operations of the companies. Most of the contents are from 1938 to 1940 and concern the forced sale and subsequent dissolution of the companies under the Nazi aryanization laws. They fill out the details behind the short listings I had previously obtained from the Database of Jewish Businesses in Berlin. Here I will review the chronology of events concerning the H. Ringel & Co. business.

 As I mentioned, the firm was registered as Hermann Ringel & Co. in 1924 and given the registration number 66805. After Hermann’s death, Wasserreich changed to Ringel & Co.and obtained a new registration number. 

On June 23, 1938, the day before Hermann’s death, an official of the Nazi commercial oversight authority wrote that the company was still fully operational (despite earlier notifications that it must be sold to an aryan owner or else dissolved. On August 4, Wasserreich wrote to inform the authorities that Hermann had died and requesting that it now be listed as solely owned by him. On January 8, 1939, a new name Georg Boucher, who was apparently acting as the appointed administrator to handle the sale or closure of the firm, wrote that the two previous owners were now non-resident, one having died and the other fled the country to Montevideo in Uruguay. Thus, management of the firm was now transferred to him. Boucher signs his letter with “Heil Hitler.”

There is also an important letter signed by a Police Obermeister relating to Hermann’s widow Elly Ringel, which I will quote in full. “The Frau Elly Ringel, born Wohlgemut in on 3.7.1900 in Elbing and resident here at Schlütterstraße 12, was the lawful heir of the estate, but her whereabouts are unknown. Since the beginning October 1938, she left her apartment without supervision. At the end of October, the contents of the apartment were auctioned off to satisfy the tax debt. The current address of Frau Ringel is not known.”

Then in April 1939, Boucher writes again to say that the assets of the firm have been auctioned off to satisfy a tax debt. These tax debts for the business and the home were likely a special Nazi levy against Jewish businesses and individuals. Following that, Boucher declares that the firm is now “geschlossen”—closed. 

That’s the gist of it. The other business had already be dissolved by this time, with no intermediate transfer of ownership. There is much more to glean from a closer inspection of these files. I hope that the selection of pages that I ordered will let me do that without the pressure of time. 

Check out the following post for a rough translation of the full text of Hilda’s sworn statement about Betty’s estate.