Betty Gradwohl – My Grandmother

Betty Gradwohl was born on Aug. 27, 1891. We have no information on her childhood and youth. The next piece of information about her is that at the age of 20, in October 1911, she left Frankfurt and went to Berlin. This may be related to her father remarrying a year earlier, after the death of her mother, but it is plausible to assume there were other or at least additional reasons involved.

The next address we have for her in Berlin in 1913 is Invaliden St. 35. A year later (1914) she is registered by occupation as a trainee. That year she has the address of Unter Den Linden 61, which apparently was at that time a commercial location. Then, in 1916, she again is registered at Invaliden St. 35.

The most important thing that happened during those three years (1913-16) was that she gave birth to three children: Liselotte, born Jan. 11, 1913, Karl – my father, born Aug. 21, 1914 and Ilse, born March 18, 1916. We have the birth certificates of all three children – the births all took place at her residence in Invaliden St. 35. In all three births certificates the name of the father is missing. How the kids were initially raised is unknown, but at a young age Betty sent the two girls to foster care in families outside Berlin: Liselotte to Erfurt, at the Max Arenstein family and Ilse to Königshütte in Silesia (nowadays the town of Chorsow in Poland)at the Stiebel family. The boy Karl was sent at the age of 7 to a Jewish Kinderheim(orphanage) in Diez-an-der-Lahn, a small town not far from Frankfurt.

Next, about a decade after she gave birth to her third child, on Oct. 10, 1927, she left Germany and immigrated by herself to the US, following her sister Mathilde/Henny who has done so some two years earlier. She entered the US on an immigration visa by the invitation of a person who is depicted as a “friend”: William Neumann, of 75 Smith St., Perth Amboy, NJ. Then, after some 7 years, in 1934, she returned to Germany with her sister, for an extended visit; there are pictures of this visit with her children and her sister Henny. 

On June 21, 1935, she returns to New York, where her profession is listed as a “dressmaker”. Her residence is listed as 4508 41stSt. in Long Island City in New York. 

After returning to the US, Betty got married (1936) to James Strouss. According to Betty Gradwohl’s naturalization documents of Nov. 11, 1939 her husband James was born in Vytina, Greece in 1889 and came to New York in May 1906. He could not possibly be the father of Betty’s children. 

Actually, her naturalization document is interesting from this aspect: In this document, she lists her three children with their exact dates of birth and places of residence at the time she filled the form; she also states that the father of her children is “Charles Gradwohl who died in Germany”. She adds right after that statement that “I was legally married only once” (presumably to James Strouss). As a witness to the naturalization process Julia Neumann of Perth Amboy NJ, a storekeeper, is listed, probably the wife of William Neumann, who was listed 12 years earlier, when Betty first came to the US as the “friend” who invited her. 

There is a possibility that a “Charles Gradwohl” was the father of her children and “died in Germany” but we were unable to find a trace of such a person. Another possibility is that the father of the children, possibly a married man, called Charles/Karl but with a different family name, which she wanted to conceal because he may have supported her and her children until she went to the US. In my father’s marriage- as well as death-certificates, his father’s name is listed in Hebrew as שמואל – Shmuel (Samuel). Apparently, the Identity of my paternal grandfather will continue to remain a mystery.   

In 1939, Betty moved to 138 W 83rdSt. in New York. That year she was successful in bringing her older daughter, Liselotte to the US. Lilo (and later Lillian, as she was called in the US), was able to leave Germany and immigrate first to London some 8 months before the outbreak of the war in 1939, and from there, later that year went to New York. During that process, she changed her name to Strouss – her mother’s new name, apparently to enable her entry into the US. Betty’s two other children were also saved the Nazi atrocities. Karl was in Palestine since 1934 (see below) and Ilse managed to find a job in Basel, Switzerland in the late 1930’s, lived there during the war years and came to the US after the war. Although Betty left her children in Germany when they were in their early teens and went to the US, she maintained contact with them and the children had contact with one another. 

Betty Gradwohl died on April. 8, 1940, at the age of 49. We have a letter from her sister Henny, sent from Perth Amboy NJ to Karl in Haifa, in English, informing him on his mother’s death in a hospital in New York after a long illness. Both her sister Henny and her daughter Lilo were with her. At her request, she was cremated.