I can easily trace the start of my interest in doing research into my family history. It started one evening in June 1999, when I had dinner with a group of international researchers at the end of an Experts’ Meeting on Self-Help at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I sat near two German researchers and my colleague and friend, David Bar-gal. We talked about the heterogeneity of the Israeli society, being a country of immigrants. Then, one of the German researchers asked me where my family came from, and I said that my mother was born in Berlin and my grand-mother was from Mogilno in the Posen region. David, who is a social psychologist, remarked dryly that Kurt Lewin too, was born in Mogilno. I got goose bumps, as the maiden name of my grand-mother was… Lewin and being possibly related to that great social scientist was an exciting proposition.
This dinner and the conversation around it were the trigger that got me interested in the origins of my family. Until then I wasn’t really interested. I grew up in Israel at a time when people were busy stressing their Israeli identity. We looked down on those who came from “The Diaspora” with their funny accents and clothes. We thought (and were taught) that their form of life was passé as now we were building a new way of life for the Jewish people in its independent state, and the Diaspora values and form of conduct was basically irrelevant to the task at hand.
But on a personal level, to disassociate oneself from the way of thinking and behavior of the past was not so easy in a family that came from Germany. The German immigrants brought to Israel not only professional know-how and skills, which turned out to be critical in building the societal, industrial, banking, legal and other professional infrastructures, but also cultural values and behavior patterns. In comparison to other immigrants – theirs clearly stood out. So, at home German was spoken, German literature was read, classical music was listened to on the radio and the meals consisted of Bratkartoffel, Kartoffelsalat, Kartoffelpuffer, Sauerkraut and Rotkohl rather than Hummus, Tahini and other spicier dishes. This dissonance between what we experienced at home and what the reality was outside obviously brought about inter-generational conflicts. When I grew up, this was not a unique situation for our family or for German immigrants – almost all children had immigrant parents then, so this type of incongruence was prevalent.
Still, it had different expressions in different families. I can only speak about my own. In many immigration countries parents speak the native language so that the children won’t understand what they say. We had quite the opposite situation – the parents spoke among themselves and to us in German so that we would understand and learn it, and they were disappointed when we answered back in Hebrew. Actually, growing up in my grand-parents’ home, I spoke no Hebrew until I went to Kindergarten at the age of 5. My Aunt Inge, who also lived in that small apartment in Haifa at the time, remembers that I corrected her German when she made grammar mistakes…
But while speaking, or at least understanding German was something we could not avoid if we wanted to communicate with the family members, when it came to hearing stories from “there”, I was not too interested. I remember family albums with pictures (in black and white) glued with special corner-stickers that my parents had and looked through from time to time. Naturally it contained pictures of their childhood in Germany, with other members of their extended family. The photographs of my mother with her parents and siblings (whom we knew), were of interest to me. Those of other members of the family, who I did not know, and, as I found out much much later, were (except one) already killed in the Holocaust by then, interested us much less. In Israel in the 1950’s and into the 1960’s, there was no open discussion as to what happened to individuals during the Nazi era. The discourse was about the collective – the six million who were killed. In this atmosphere, there was the difficulty of survivors to speak about what happened to them. Only later, starting in the 1970’s, did this attitude change and Israelis became more aware not only about “the murder of 6 million Jews” in general, but about the fate of specific individuals and families in Europe, their horrible experiences before they were killed and how and where they were killed. The Eichmann Trial (1961-62), the establishment of Yad Va’Shem, the Holocaust research and literature (Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, The Diary of Anne Frank) as well as high-schools’ trips to Auschwitz brought about a change of perspective. As an Israeli I lived, of course, through this change of orientation towards the Holocaust, but at the time, made no conscious connection to the fate of our family and that we too, had lost relatives there and then. In hindsight, maybe I wanted to suppress such ideas. And I guess I was not alone in this, as I do not recall even one case when the fate of our relatives (siblings of my grand-parents and their families – uncles, aunts and cousins of my mother and her brothers and sisters) was discussed in a family gathering of any type. Only in August 1999, some two months after the dinner that triggered my interest in my family, did I have, to the best of my recollection, the first conversation with my mother about that subject. It was in reaction to my telling her about the “discovery” that we might have some common roots with a very important social scientist. She was 80 at the time; two years later she started to develop the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease, which caused her death in December 2007, so the conversation took place just in time. She called me and said she wants to fill the Pages of Testimony for her relatives killed by the Nazis, to be deposited at Yad Va’Shem, and asked me to help her with it, which I did. She had a list of these relatives and their places of death. The information on the list regarding their place of death was only partially accurate, as I later found out from official documents, but it proves the point that the family had information about their murdered relatives yet did not discuss it with us.
When David Bar-gal set me on the road to look for a possible connection to Kurt Lewin, I still did not envisage an encounter with the Holocaust. After all, Kurt Lewin was born in 1890 in Mogilno, and my grand-mother Emma Gottfeld (nee Lewin) was born in 1895, long before the Nazi period. If we are related, I thought, I need to look for data prior to that period, where I might find a common ancestor; so, it basically looked like a historical project of the 19th, possibly the 18th century. I first focused on Isidor Lewin, my great-grand-father, Grandma Emma’s father, who had a clothing shop in Mogilno – that much I knew. I was trying to look for his ancestors in the hope of finding connection to those of Kurt Lewin. I went to Mogilno in September 2000 and on the way stopped in Berlin where I visited Isidor’s and his wife Jenny’s grave in the Weissensee Jewish cemetery, where they are buried.
In Mogilno, which is a small town in Poland, in the Posen (Poznan) region, with the help of a Polish guide, I looked for archival materials of vital statistics (births, marriages, deaths). These actually exist in adjacent larger towns such as Bydgoszcz (formerly Bromberg), Inowrclaw (Hohensalza) and Torun (Thorn). The Posen region used to be a part of the German Empire until the end of World War I, when it was transferred (back) to Poland. So, the records in those archives from that period are in German, very often written in Gothic letters. I realized that this line of inquiry would take me months to complete and that I would need the help of experts. I also realized the chances of finding the links to Kurt Lewin were very slim. I did not have time and resources for that. Furthermore, from materials I read about Kurt Lewin’s ancestors, I realized that although we might have some common ancestors dating back to the beginning of the 19th century, his immediate family members (father Leopold, grand-father Zadek), who resided in Mogilno, were notimmediately related to our Isidor Lewin. So, I concluded then, that the small town of Mogilno, with a Jewish population of about 150, there were two (unrelated)Lewin families. They may have been related by common ancestors (more on that later) but evidence for that will need proof.
At that juncture, when I came back from Poland in 2000, the link to Kurt Lewin lost its prime attraction and was no longer the base of my interest in the topic. My interest in the history of our family had its own value regardless of the possible connection to Kurt Lewin. It was not because our family possessed any special qualities – no rich people in the history, no famous rabbis or other great intellectual figures, no community leaders about which some families pride themselves. It interested me for the sole reason that it was my family.
By then I already had grand-children and I thought that it would be good for them to find out one day who their ancestors were and where they came from. Furthermore, I realized that I am in a unique position to embark on such a study, as I speak German (to an extent…) and am familiar and can connect to the German culture and reality. Leaving such a task for the next generation (should they be interested at all) will require a major effort on their part in understanding the cultural context. In addition, being a researcher myself (although not a historian), I hoped I possess the skills for such a task.
Unlike the period of my youth, when we scorned off our parents’ past, the history of my immediate family now attracted my curiosity. My mother and her siblings were born in Berlin; so, rather than looking for materials to guide me to a common ancestry with Kurt Lewin, which I put on “hold”, I became interested in what happened to Isidor Lewin and his large family, how they ended up in Berlin and what happened to them there.
I learned that the Posen region, which was in dispute between Germany and Poland for at least 400 years, changed hands several times during this period. When the Germans left the region as a result of the Versailles Agreement at the end of World War I and it became Polish again, most Jews left the region and went to Germany (mostly to Berlin and Dresden). This included my great-grand-father Isidor Lewin, his wife Jenny and their children, who came to Berlin in 1921; actually, his two older daughters, married by then, came to Berlin already during the war, before their parents.
Their move from Mogilno to Berlin, specifically to the Moabit neighborhood, where the extended family resided, helped me frame and focus my research on those two sites. It directed my attention to look into the two communities that were important in my mother’s family history. I was not only interested in community “frameworks” and “patterns” but in real people; I wanted to get an idea of how people who resided in those communities, including my family members, conducted their daily lives. This is when I discovered details about the tragic fate of six siblings of my Grandma Emma (Hermann, Paula, Rosa, Walter, Marie and Siegfried), as well as that of my Grandpa Sally’s brother Tobias and their families – altogether 23 persons – murdered by the Nazis between October 1941 and October 1944. This fact was never talked about in the many extended family gatherings during my youth and adult life.
Events that pertain to the Holocaust are well researched and I was able to obtain good data on how and when each of those family members was killed. This is important by itself, as those 23 relatives of mine – 7 men, 6 women, 5 boys and 5 girls had no other relatives except us; if we will not remember them, no one will. Those people, which I did not know – uncles, aunts and cousins of my mother, had a life before they were killed. They had professions and hobbies, they liked chocolate or ice-cream, the kids excelled in school or had lousy grades; in short – each of them had a face. I am sure that if one could have asked them (or for that matter, any other victim of the Holocaust) how he/she would want people to remember him or her, the answer would be by how they lived, not by the way they were killed. Thus, it was important for me to try to find out as much as I can about each of my family members’ life, not only about their death. Collecting materials with such a broad spectrum is an on-going task, as data of all sorts, are “hidden” in totally unexpected places. Unfortunately, most people who knew my relatives are no longer with us, and although some were still alive when I embarked on this task (see below), they were very young at the time and remember little. So, whatever I gathered here can be and hopefully will be augmented and supplemented by anyone who is interested to embark on such work. The Internet is a great help; I cannot visualize my finding out one tenth of what I did without it. Possibly, in the future, other, more advanced technologies and methods will be devised to help in this line of research, so here is a task for the next generation(s).
Working on this project brought me in contact with some amazing individuals in most unexpected and unusual situations. Especially moving were the meeting of persons who actually met and were in contact with my murdered relatives. It felt like “touching” those through them.
One of them was Inge Deutschkron, a Holocaust survivor from Berlin, who was Otto Weidt’s secretary in the Blindenwerkstatt during World War II (see below) – where Siegfried Lewin, the youngest brother of my Grandma Emma, who was blind, spent his last years before being deported to Auschwitz with his family in June 1943. Inge, 88 years old at the time, a former journalist in Ma’ariv (an Israeli newspaper) wrote a book about her life in hiding in Berlin during the Nazi era. I saw her three times, interviewed her and continued my contacts with her.
Another was Eveline Grasse (maiden name: Haucke), her grand-daughter Katja Stettin and her grand-son Matthias Bergmann. Eveline, 80 years old at the time, went to school with Ingeborg Silberberg [a cousin of my mother – Paula Silberberg’s (Lewin) daughter], and was her best friend. One day in 1938 Ingeborg disappeared (they were 8 years old) and she never heard from her again. Years later she found out what the Nazis did to the Jews, but hoped Ingeborg somehow survived. Her grand-children Katja and Matthias did a Google search and found my Family Tree website, where they learned about Ingeborg’s fate. Katja contacted me and I met the three of them in the neighborhood in Berlin where Eveline and Ingeborg spent their early childhood years. We were shown the house where Ingeborg Silberberg lived, the school, the neighborhood library , etc.
The way and circumstances that led me to meet those two ladies was most unusual and for a lack of a better word I will use the term “amazing”.
In the case of Inge Deutschkron and the Otto Weidt’s Blidenwerksttat, I had no idea that such an institution existed and that my relative worked in it. I was in Berlin for a conference in March 2008 and after a long day of lectures and debates, the evening before I flew home, I took a stroll along Unter den Linden, around Friedrichstrasse, where I saw a book store specializing in books on Berlin. I entered and looked around, when I saw a section devoted to the Jewish Community of Berlin, which naturally attracted me. As I was browsing the books there, my eyes fell on a small grey museum catalogue with a picture on the cover; in it I recognized my mother’s uncle Siegfried (Sigi) in a group with other blind persons around Otto Weidt! It was too late for me to visit the museum on that trip, but before I got to Berlin in 2009, I wrote the museum, telling them who I was and that I was interested in visiting and finding out about Siegfried Lewin. The staff of the museum was happy to meet a relative of one of the people they displayed at the museum, and Kai Gruzdz, the researcher, arranged for me to meet Inge Deutschkron.
My meeting with Mrs. Grasse was significant in and of itself, but it had a special significance because of its timing. I received the mail message from her grand-daughter Katja (who found Ingeborg Silberberg’s name connected to my family tree website), just a few days before I was scheduled to go to Berlin for the last time at the end of my stay of 4 months in Heidelberg. She could have written to me 3 months before or 2 weeks later. The timing of her message was some kind of a sign to me that my meeting Mrs. Grasse had to happen.
The Posen Years
The region of Posen, named after its largest city, Poznan in Polish, is the most western region in today’s Poland, bordering with the eastern border of today’s Germany in its Brandenburg region. The predominant aspect of the history of that region is that it changed hands between different configurations of Polish and German/Prussian regimes. It is therefore not surprising that its population was mixed until the end of World War II: Polish, German and Jewish. Nowadays, there are hardly any Jews living there and almost no Germans.
In the Middle Ages, the province was a part of the Kingdom of Poland. It was annexed by Prussia during Emperor Friedrich’s reign after the partition of Poland in 1772 and 1793. It had a German population along with the Slav, Polish population. The Germans, moving there already in the 13th century, had both economic and religious (fleeing religious persecution) reasons to do so. In the first half of the thirteenth century, when the Germans crossed the frontier and began to settle in the territory of Posen, a large number of Jews seem to have come with them. But even before that, Jewish migration to Posen started as early as the 11th century (and perhaps earlier), as Jews fled persecution by Crusaders in Germany. Later periods of migration followed anti-Semitic outbursts in Germany in the 12th through 15th centuries. During this time Poland was a haven for Jews, as the Polish crown granted Jews powers of self-government unheard of elsewhere in Europe (even in later years). Starting with the Statute of Kalisz in 1264, the power to settle disputes between Jews (both civil and criminal) was granted to Jewish elders. Poland was also one of the first countries to develop a parliamentary system of government, and a separate Jewish legislature, known as the Va’ad Arba Aratzot or Council of Four Lands, was founded in 1581. The “four lands” were Greater Poland (includes the Posen region), Little Poland, Podolia, and Galicia. The Va’ad Arba lasted until 1764, when it was dissolved by the Polish national parliament (Sejm). Alongside the Va’ad Arba was the Supreme Rabbinic Tribunal, which met while the Va’ad Arba was in session. The Rabbinic Tribunal heard appeals of disputes from the regional Rabbinic Tribunals.
In the course of centuries large numbers of German Jews fled to Poland from the hardships which they suffered in German territories; in 1474, emigrants went from Bamberg to Posen; in 1510 – from the electorate of Brandenburg to Meseritz; after 1670 – from Vienna to Schwersenz; and in 1700 – from Fulda to Schwerin-on-the-Warta.
When the southern part of Poland came under Prussian rule in 1793, one-twentieth of the population consisted of Jews. On the day on which homage was paid to the new ruler they recited a prayer in Hebrew and one in German. The status of the Jews was determined by the “General-Juden-Reglement” (1797), which aimed to make them, as mechanics and trades-men, useful members of the state. Still under the German rule they were not treated as equals: The monstrous kosher-meat tax was especially burdensome. After several years when Posen was under Polish rule (during Napoleon’s time), the Jews rejoiced in their reunion with Prussia in 1815 when Napoleon was defeated. However, they did not obtain their promised political equality until the enactment of the “Jews’ Law” (1833), which conferred citizenship upon the wealthy and educated classes, and that of 1847, which put the Jews on a par with their brethren of the older Prussian provinces. The population of Jews in the province (based on censuses) were as follows: 43,315 in 1797 and 1804; 9,690 families in 1809; 65,131 Jews in 1825; 77,102 in 1840; 76,757 in 1849; 62,438 in 1875; 44,346 in 1890; and 40,019 in 1900. The decrease is due to emigration to the west of Europe and to foreign countries. Starting in the 1850’s Germans living in East and West Prussia as well as the provinces of Silesia and Posen emigrated in large numbers to the Rhine and Ruhr Valleys, which developed quickly during the Industrial Revolution. This was called the Ostflucht (flight from the East). With them many Jews left those regions as well. As a counter-measure and in order not to tip the balance between Germans and Poles in those regions, Bismarck started in the 1880’s a program of resettlement of Germans in those territories. The government bought land from owners of large estates and used those to settle Germans.
The region of Posen then was a border area between Germany and Poland and included populations of both peoples as well as Jews. It was predominantly an agricultural area. It was a region where friction and conflicts between (Protestant) Germans and (Catholic) Poles were frequent over domination and power. The Jews were a third small minority and although mostly Germans in orientation and culture, were sometimes able to hold the difficult puzzle together in many of the towns where they resided in the 19th century.
Finally, from the region of Posen some famous and important personalities originated. We already talked about Kurt Lewin. A major German World War I hero and later a Weimar Republic President, Paul von Hindenburg was born in Posen (1847). Rabbi Akiva Eiger, the great Talmudic scholar was Posen’s rabbi and died there (1837). One of his students was Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Kalischer (1795-1874), born in Lissa and later moved to Torun (Thorn) in the Posen province; he advocated to settle the land of Israel. The famous historian Heinrich (Zvi) Graetz (1817-1891), the author of the monumental work The History of the Jews (11 volumes), was born in Xions, Posen. Arthur Ruppin (1876-1943), an economist and sociologist who later became an important Zionist thinker and leader, was born in Rawicz, Posen. Finally, Rabbi Leo Baeck, a philosopher and leader of German Jewry was born in the town of Lissa in 1873.
How did the Lewin and Gottfeld families fit into that reality?
Isidor Lewin was born in Walrubien (Warlubie in Polish) in 1867. His wife Jenny (nee Fabian) was born in 1871 in the same town. I was unable to find his or her birth certificates and therefore do not know their parents’ exact names and place of birth. On their tombstone in the Weissensee Cemetery in Berlin, Isidor’s Hebrew name is stated as יצחק – Itzhak and his father’s name אברהם – Abraham. We have no records of Abraham but have a picture. Jenny’s Hebrew name was stated as שיינה – Shayna (not exactly Hebrew…) and her father’s name was ישעיהו – Sheyer. We have birth records of five children of Sheyer Fabian and his wife Maria Skotska from Warlubie, children born between 1876 and 1883. Unfortunately, earlier records do not exist and therefore we do not have the birth certificates of Jenny, who was born in 1871. Neither do we have the birth certificates of her brother Wolf, apparently also born before 1876, but we have his picture. Thus, the birth certificates are of Jenny’s younger siblings: Pauline (born 1876; died a year later), Ernestine (1877), Simon (1879), Johanna (1881) and Rosa (1883). Jenny’s father, Sheyer Fabian is described in those birth certificates as a spediteur – a shipper.
We do not know Isidor and Jenny’s wedding date but we know that when he was 25 and she 21, in 1892, they were already married, and as a married couple went to the US, arriving in New York on July 19, on board of the ship Anchoria that sailed from Glasgow. Upon arrival, they state as their place of residence the city of Bromberg (today Bydgoszcz). In New York, according to family stories, Isidor worked in the textile industry sweatshops in the Lower East Side; according to another source (birth certificate of his oldest daughter), he states his occupation as a butcher. Their address was 187 Christie St. At any rate, they apparently had a tough life in New York, so much so that they decided to return. But before they did, they had their first child – Therese (we knew her as Tessy), born in New York in 1893. She was born at their home address. The fact that she was born in New York and not in Germany as her other siblings, saved her and her husband’s lives, as we will see. We have no information as to the exact date when they returned; according to one account they returned separately, as Jenny was already pregnant with her second daughter, Emma, my grand-mother, and may have returned before him. Emma was born in Bromberg almost 2 years after her older sister, in 1895. Bromberg at the time was a very “German” city in the province. While other towns in the Posen region had a German population of 20-30% at the most, Bromberg had a German population of over 70%. Thus, the young couple left Bromberg to go to the US and returned there, because several members of the Fabian family lived there.
A year after Emma, Isidor and Jenny had their third child, Hermann, who was born in 1896 in Lochowo, a suburb of Bromberg. Then there was a “pause” of almost 5 years between the birth of Hermann and that of their next child, after which they had 6 more children within 8 years in two separate locations. Paula (1901), Walter (1902) and Rosa (1904) were born in Trlong/Trelon (Trlag). Frieda (1905), Marie (1908) and Siegfried (1909), who was born blind, were born in Mogilno.
Isidor, with some experience already in the clothing business, made this his trade. We know from stories that initially he had a horse and cart, going around the villages in the region selling clothes. Furthermore, we know that his wife Jenny often accompanied him, and being a very good sales-person, she knew how to convince her customers; apparently, she was more successful than him in that. It seems that this quality, known today as marketing, has transpired to some of her grand-children and further on to the next generations… It turns out that they not only sold clothes but also sewing-machines, and Jenny would demonstrate to the peasants’ wives how to operate those. This pattern of a “salesman on the road” may explain their moves from one location to another. Mogilno however was their last stop (before leaving the region) and there Isidor was able to obtain a permanent presence in the form of a shop. In a picture (taken around 1913) in front of his shop, with his wife and possibly his mother at the back of the shop and 7 of his children (Therese and Hermann are missing), he looks quite happy and satisfied. As can be seen from the sign outside the shop it also sold sewing machines and… bicycles. The hanger from his shop states it was on Hauptstrasse (Main Street) 4 in Mogilno. The family lived in the apartment above the store. On a recent visit we easily identified the place – it is still on Main Street, which is now called Jagielly, but the number has changed to 16. It is a beautiful building, recently renovated. The building was not owned by Isidor: The owner of the lot on which the building stood during the years 1908 – 1917 was Kazimierz Olszewski (glazier), and then for two years (during the war 1917 – 1919) it was owned by Kasa Serwis (probably a bank). The shop was located on the same street, just a few houses down from Kurt Lewin’s place of birth, where a plaque in his memory was installed in 2004.
Thus, we know that my great-grand father Isidor Lewin and his family lived in Mogilno for at least 16 years (1905-1921) and his children grew up there. Mogilno belongs to one of the oldest settlements along the border of the Greater Poland and Kuyavia historical regions. Since the turn of the 8th and 9th century until the 10th century an early-mediaeval settlement existed there, at the long narrow headland surrounded by waters of Mogilno Lake from the west and south and marshes from the east. In 1065, a Benedictine abbey, Kloster Mogilno, with German monks was founded by Bolesław II Śmiały. North of the abbey a city developed, which in 1398 was granted a city-charter, and which was the abbey’s property until 1773. After the first Partition of Poland in 1772 the city became a part of the Kingdom of Prussia, and in 1920 it returned to Poland. Mogilno in the 19th century was a small town. It had a Jewish community of a few dozen families. It did not have a long history of Jewish presence: Jews were forbidden to reside there during the Polish rule (pre-1772). The first time Jews are mentioned in Mogilno was 1797 when a Schutzjude (protected Jew) Leyser Lewin and later his son Cohn Wolf Leyser Lewin and his son-in-law Moses Arend were included in the same letter of protection that was given to Jews by the local rulers. They were merchants. Later a Jewish surgeon named Hirsch Joseph moved to Mogilno. The Jewish community in Mogilno grew in the 19th century: In 1816 – there were 32 persons; 1889 – 170; 1898 – 173; 1905 – 134 and 1909 – 148. Until 1860 there was no synagogue in Mogilno and services were held in rented spaces. In 1874 a synagogue was designated in a building owned by Mar and Leopold Lewin (Kurt Lewin’s father) and it was declared officially as a synagogue in 1905. In 1833 a Jewish cemetery was opened. The Jewish community had a Bikur Cholim (visiting the sick) Association founded in 1872; Chevra Kadisha (burial society) founded in 1877 and a Women’s Association founded in 1894. Later a Tamhui (association to stop begging) was founded. The community had, since 1893, a rabbi, cantor and Schochet (Kosher slaughter) – all in one person: Hermann Singer; there was a religious school attended by 25 children. Since 1860 Jews were allowed to participate in municipal affairs and Leopold Lewin was elected to the city council in 1905. There were regular events to collect funds from community members to uphold those institutions as well as institutions in Eretz Israel (such as Esra) throughout the 1890’s and the first decade of the 20th century.
All in all, it seemed a small but very organized community; its leaders were a few prominent business-persons such as Leopold Lewin, L. London, L. Fuchs and M. Arnheim. Each of them was involved in one or more Jewish associations and they were also involved in the city life.
How did Isidor, Jenny and their children integrate into this reality? We have no information on that. I could not find their names mentioned in the records of the community activities that I was able to obtain. Obviously, if they would have had a leading role, their names would be mentioned, so apparently, they were not among the leaders in the community. We do have a picture of Grandma Emma’s dance teacher, Carl Flechtmann who had a Dance Institute in Mogilno, which gave dance performances, as can be seen from the invitation for such an event (1910). We also have a picture of Emma’s wedding in Mogilno (1917), which looks as if it was well attended with people well dressed and in good mood. A story my mother told me of those days has to do with her. She was born in 1919 in Berlin, apparently under-weight. Her grand-mother Jenny suggested to her mother (Emma) to send her the child to Mogilno, where there was clean air, trees and a lake, as opposed to the smoke and dirt in Berlin; this move would help her gain weight. The story goes that Jenny bought a goat and fed my mother with goat milk, which indeed helped her gain weight… We all know now about the qualities of goat milk and how popular it became lately among health seekers.
During the First World War (1914-17) the two older daughters – Tessy and Emma got married in Mogilno, both to veterans of the German army who took part in the war: Tessy, the oldest, married Elias Hirsch, a baker born in Otorowo in the district of Samter (in the Posen region) in 1914, Emma married my Grandpa Sally Gottfeld three years later. Upon marrying they left their home in Mogilno and moved to Berlin. Hermann, Isidor’s third child, who also took part in that war, went upon his release from service, to live in Berlin too. After the war, when the region became a part of Poland, the German citizens could opt to stay and become Polish citizens or leave for Germany. Isidor and his family opted to leave and move to Berlin. We know that on December 1921 Isidor, his wife Jenny and their younger children left Mogilno for Berlin. About a year before they left Mogilno they lost their daughter Frieda, at the age of 15, who died of an illness in 1920. She was buried in Mogilno’s Jewish cemetery, which no longer exists. It was located on a hill in the outskirts of the town and destroyed during the Nazi era; it is now a residential area.
My Grandpa Sally Gottfeld was born in 1891 in Culmsee (or Kulmsee, Chelmza in Polish), also in the Posen region.
After the first Partition of Poland (1772) Chełmża was taken over by the Kingdom of Prussia. At that time, it had only 600 inhabitants. For a short period in early 19th century, during Napoleon’s reign, it became part of Duchy of Warsaw, but returned to Prussia after the Congress of Vienna (1815). The city’s population was 1200 in 1831 and 3000 in 1871. Its economic situation improved as it became a center for local villages, which benefited from the good soil.The building of agricultural manufacturing plants as well as railway terminals, completed in 1882, further enhanced the city. The population rose from 3400 in 1880 to 10600 in 1910. The development of the city was halted by the start of the World War I. The living conditions declined and street riots became widespread. Poles rose up against Germans and protests took place against forced teaching of the German language in schools.
Jewsmade up 8 % of the local population around the last part of the 19th century; they built a synagoguein the 1880s. The Half-Hectare Jewish Cemetery was established in 1792 on a small hill (currently on 3 Maja Street). The cemetery, which was destroyed completely in 1939 by the Nazis, is now rebuilt. The site had a wall and a pre-burial house at the entrance. In 2004 the parcel was returned to the Union of Jewish Religious Communities.
Sally was 4 years older than his wife Emma. We have more data on his ancestors, going back to the beginning of the 19th century. Actually, we know who his great-grandfather was and some details about the Gottfelds.
Sally’s great-grand-father was Abraham Gottfeld, a glazer who married Vogel/Voegelche Salomon in Tuchel (Tuchola). They had 6 children, all born in Tuchel: Simon (1815), Baruch (1818) (who died at infancy), Nanke, (1819) Gelle, (1823), Salomon (1825) and Bune (1828). For Simon and Nanke there is a record they went to school in Tuchel in 1828.
Simon Gottfeld, the oldest of Abraham’s children and the grand-father of Sally, married Maria Stargardter in Tuchel. He and his brother Salomon were glaziers. Simon Gottfeld died before 1899, his wife Maria died after 1899 and before 1920 (records of exact dates are missing). Both Simon and his brother were members of the synagogue in Czersk. From 1854 to 1876 they lived in Karschin (Karszyn), and then in Bruss, where Isaak Gottfeld, Sally’s father was born in 1856.
Isaak moved from Bruss to Culmsee (Chelmza), where he was a member of the Jewish Community for many years. He married his first wife Minna Zadek (or Zadeck) –Sally’s mother, in Culmsee. Their address in Culmsee was Kirchenstrasse 9 and later Wilhelmstrasse 34. Minna Zadek was born in Bruchnowo in 1866 and died in 1898 (at the age of 32) in Culmsee. Her parents were Aron and Julie Zadek (maiden name Tobias). Aron Zadek was a merchant in Culmsee; he died after 1910 (exact year not found). His wife Julie was born in Fordon (today a part of Bydgoszcz – Bromberg) in 1834 and died in Culmsee in 1910.
Isaak & Minna had 8 children (records on only seven were found; Selma Gottfeld’s were not found but we know she was younger than Sally): The oldest, Tobias was born in 1889 in Plywaczewo. All the other children were born in Culmsee: Pauline (1890), who died at infancy; Sally, my Grandpa (1891); Simon (1893), Ella (1894) who died in infancy; Georg (1895) who died in infancy, and Leo (1897) who also died in infancy. Their mother Minna died that year, 4 months after giving birth to Leo.
Four of Isaak and Minna’s children died at infancy, a few weeks or months after birth. Given the fact that the mother died at the age of 32, it is very likely that either she was ill and was unable to care for her children or there were other circumstances that prevented the family to protect them. Thus, Sally lost his mother at the age of 7. According to a story told by a neighbor from Culmsee, Mrs. Steinhardt, when his mother died, Sally wore a sack and put ashes on his head, following an old custom in the Jewish tradition as a sign of mourning.
An interesting document is the will of Minna Zadek’s parents – Sally’s grandparents, signed in 1910 by Aron Zadek after his daughter already had died. The inheritors of his assets were their living children (Henriette, Wilhelm and Adolf) and their four grand-children – children of their deceased daughter Minna: Tobias Gottfeld, who was described as a tailor, son of glazer Isaak Gottfeld, living in Culmsee, Sally Gottfeld, living in Culmsee, Simon Gottfeld, described as a glazer-apprentice, living in Culmsee and Selma Gottfeld who lived in Bruss. Their son-in-law Isaak is not mentioned.
Sally’s father Isaak remarried in Unislaw in 1899 a woman 16 years younger than him. His second wife, Friede Cohn, was born in 1872 in Toporzysko. She was the daughter of Louis Lippmann Cohn. Isaak & Friede had no children together but she had at least one child (probably from a previous marriage) and he had four. From stories we heard, the second wife did not treat Isaak’s children well. according to one story she gave her own child more and better food to take to school for lunch than to Isaak’s children. They divorced in 1907. Isaak left Culmsee after World War I; he moved to Berlin in 1920. When he finished his primary education, around 1905, Sally moved out of his father’s home. He was sent to live as an apprentice at a house of a sheet metal “master” (Klempnermeister), where he would live, work and learn a trade. This was customary at the time among people living in small towns, who had no means to send their children to the schools in the larger cities. We have little information about that part of his life, except that he apparently learned the trade well and later became an excellent sheet-metal specialist. At the age of 19, in 1910, he left Culmsee and moved to Thorn (Torun). A few years later, in 1914, he joined the army and fought in WWI.