citizenship article

Schija Ringel in Berlin

Galitzianers who came to Berlin in the 1880s thought themselves modern and progressive relative to the places they came from, but they were viewed quite oppositely by polite Berlin society. They lived and did business in the Spandauer district and most especially in the eastern half of it called the Scheunenviertel, where the sight of pushcarts in the streets and men in strange dress gave the feel of a shtetl right in the middle of cosmopolitan Berlin. 

This was the world that Schija Ringel came to in the early 1880s. Extending my speculation, Schija was connected to the Rzeszów garment trade and may have been representing a combine of Rzeszów makers in the Berlin market. Maybe he was sent there by business interests or maybe he put it together himself.  

In any event, he moved to Berlin and established himself in business. From two original certificates that we have, we know that he lived first at Koblancker Straße 14 and later at Rückerstraße 2, both addresses in the Scheunenviertel. Later on, Hermann’s own business address was just around the corner on Alte Schönhauser Straße. 

Feigel Kaufler from Krakow

As a single Jewish man, Schija would have needed help to keep house and cook for him. He found what he was looking for in an efficient and personable young woman from Kraków. 

Feigel Kaufler was about twenty-five years old when she arrived in Berlin from Kraków, not a blooming rose but still with prospects to find a suitable husband, she hoped. She was the second daughter of of Abraham-Mojzesz and Esther Chaya. In years past, a Jewish girl in the shtetl waited at home for a proper match to be arranged. But this was a new era. Now  a single girl with limited means could take herself to the big city with plans first to secure employment and then to land a husband. 

Feigel fulfilled both objectives with one man, Schija Ringel, for whom she became a live-in housekeeper. Things got a little messy when she found herself pregnant with Schija’s child without the benefit of marriage. But Schija owned up to his paternity in the 1885 birth record, and he made Feigel an honest woman in 1888, as a record amendment attests.

Hermann Ringel’s citizenship status

Now let’s take a step back and look at the citizenship question for the Ringel family members in Berlin. Schija and Feigel were not German citizens but permanent residents from the neighboring state of Austria-Hungary. Baby Hermann had a slightly different status since he was born on German soil but of non-citizen parents. At this time, the relevant citizenship law was that of the State of Brandenburg, of which Berlin was a part. (The confederated German states honored each others’ laws but there was not a federal citizenship law until 1913, the same law that with amendments remains in effect today.) 

I have not yet determined the Brandenburg law governing Hermann’s circumstances, but his later actions suggest it allowed for a native-born child of alien parents to obtain German citizenship upon reaching the age of majority. Such a child would have lived continuously in Germany since birth and would become eligible for citizenship at the age of twenty-one.

Since my mother’s death in 2005, I have had in my possession precious original documents including Hermann Ringel’s birth and death certificate, Feigel Kaufler’s death certificate and Helga Ringel’s birth certificate. I studied them during earlier phases of my research but only now have realized that two of them were not from the original dates but were copies obtained by my family members at a later date. 

To be specific, Hermann’s birth certificate documents his 1885 birth and includes a handwritten update about the parents’ 1888 marriage, but the copy of it that I have was actually issued in December 1906. Similarly, the copy of Helga’s 1924 birth certificate that I have was actually issued in 1936. 

Hermann obtains full rights at age 21

So what Hermann was up to in 1906? Among the documentation I have there is also a fascinating Polish language document that is a certification of Hermann’s place of origin. This is dated on August 13, 1906, a few months before Hermann’s twenty-first birthday. This document will play an important role again later when Elly uses it in 1940 to obtain a Polish passport during her flight from Europe. 

But in 1906 it seems that Hermann had a need to document his legal status as the German-born son of Austrian parents. He must have applied to the municipal authorities in Rzeszów, his father’s ancestral home, and received this formal certificate of his status as a citizen of (or depending on translation, “a national of” or “belonging to”) the municipality of Rzeszów in the kingdom of Galicia. Around the border we see all the geographical designations: Royal Free City of Rzeszów, District of Rzeszów, Kingdom of Galicia, Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy. 

This document provided proof of Hermann’s legal status at the time of his birth. Together with a copy of his 1885 birth certificate with the 1888 amendment, which Hermann obtained four months later, he now— shortly after reaching his twenty-first birthday—had the necessary documents to satisfy the Brandenburg legal requirements to obtain German citizenship. 


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