citizenship article

The good times in Berlin

Isaak took this opportunity to move his family once again, this time to the cultured capital city of the one-time German Empire. He was forty-eight in 1914 and most likely didn’t serve in the Great War. Most Jewish men of age from Isaak’s class and background proudly did their service. Some paid the ultimate price, including several Wohlgemuths from West Prussia who are found on German casualty lists. 

The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 altered the map. Prussian territories including West Prussia were ceded to Poland, and Danzig was made an autonomous “free city.” For the Wohlgemuths in postwar, early Weimar Berlin, life was beset by inflation and political unrest, but Isaak and Betty nevertheless found Berlin to be a more congenial locale for their style of cosmopolitan Jewishness. They lived in the suburb of Weißensee. As their two daughters came of age, there was no shortage of eligible suitors.

A match was made for Elly with a handsome Jewish war veteran, Hermann Ringel, who was fifteen years her senior. Hermann was already successful in business as a wholesaler of ready-made outerwear for men and boys. He also ran a separate import-export clothing business together with a partner.

Hermann and Elly lived at first in Weißensee and later moved to the fashionable Charlottenburg neighborhood. They enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle even though their marriage was not an entirely happy one. Their only child, whom they named Helga Fanny Ringel, was born at Empress Auguste Victoria Hospital in Charlottenburg on October 20, 1924. Elly’s sister Hilde, who was six years younger, later married another eligible Jewish businessman, Herbert Peiser, and little Helga was a flower girl at the wedding.

The Ringel side of the family

Unlike the Wohlgemuth girls, Hermann was a native Berliner, having been born in the city’s Spandauer district in 1885. At the time of Hermann’s birth, his parents Schija Ringel and Feigel Kaufler were not yet married. They officially wed two years later and had two other children after that. 

Schija was very likely also in the garment trade. He had come to make his living in Berlin during the socially mobile 1880s, having been born into a Galician shtetl family from the city of Rzeszów. He hired Feigel Kaufler, a young woman from Kraków, as his housekeeper. Evidently, they fell in love.

Thanks to the fantastic records kept by JewishGen/JRI-Poland and also to the Geni.com Jewish Families of Krakow project, I am able to trace both the Ringel and Kaufler lines back several more generations.

With the Kaufler family, we see that Fiegla Kaufler (1854-1921) was the daughter of Abraham-Moyzesz  Kaufler (b. 1829) and Chaja Esther Gruenberg (b. 1826). We can trace Abraham’s line to his father Schulim (b. 1798), his grandfather Isaak (b. 1771) and all the way to his great-grandfather Nachman Kaufler (b. 1755), who seems to have been the original Kaufler in Kraków. 

For the record, Nachman is nine generations back on my direct family lineage. He started a family that multiplied in Kraków for five generations before Feigel picked up and left to make her future in Berlin.

We know less about the Ringel genealogy in Rzeszów, going just one generation back before Schija Ringel. Schija was born in 1856 to Moses Ringel and Rose Lea née Reichman, the first of five or six other children, two of whom also show up in later German records. A brother Jakob Schia Ringel went to Hamburg and raised a family there, and a sister Basze Sure Ringel came to Berlin and married Josef Herzig in 1894.

Jewish migration from Galicia

If this Ringel family was typical, we are getting a picture of movement of young Jewish people migrating from their family towns in Galicia to cosmopolitan centers in Germany. This is happening at the same time that a far greater migration of Galician Jews is underway to the United States and other countries, so the inter-European migratory patterns happening at the same time are sometimes overlooked. 
 
Rzeszów was a midsize Galician city midway between Kraków and Lemberg, as the present-day city of Lviv was known by its German name. As many as 6,000 Jews lived in Rzeszów in the years of Schija’s youth, about two-fifths of the city’s population. The Jews of Reishe, as it was called in Yiddish, lived in the old quarter and followed a mostly traditional shtetl life focused around religion, family and commerce. 

Previously a part of Poland, Galicia was attached to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1871. The region still ran like a feudal state, with the true power exercised by a handful of Polish landowners. Jews made their living under the economy and laws set by these overlords. Over the previous centuries, through recurring cycles of repression and liberalization, Jews gradually obtained more and more rights.

The garment trade in Rzeszow

By the time of Schija’s birth, Jews in Rzeszow region enjoyed full citizenship rights in the dual Austro-Hungarian Empire. They could own land, enter the professions, and even vote.  

Austrian citizenship law considered Judaism to be a religion but not a nationality, as Germans, Poles, Ukrainians and others were considered to be. Jews that absorbed in the culture were identified first by some other nationality and only secondly by their Jewish faith. Thus, a Galician Jew at the turn of the century was typically referred to as a "German [or Pole] of Mosaic persuasion"—a designation that subordinated their true Jewish national identity.

Emancipated Austrian Jews could freely engage in commerce with Christian businesses. In Rzeszów, these interactions took place in the markets, bustling with activity as farmers and craftsmen brought their products to the city’s regional fairs. Rzeszów gold- and silversmiths were renowned across the region. In textiles, Jews sold every imaginable kind of garment—furs, leather, shoes, hats, coats and, of course, wonderful fabrics for custom tailoring. 

Our Ringel family was probably involved in the garment trade in Rzeszów. Moses Ringel could have been a tailor or other craftsman but more likely was involved in the trading aspect of the business—retail, wholesale, supplies or something similar. This is entirely speculative but is inferred from the subsequent history of Moses’s son and grandson, as we will see. 

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - citizenship article