Note: The previous Blog post dealt with two of my renowned great-aunts, Franziska and Elsbeth Bruck, whose connection to Berlin is indisputable. This post discusses the third of four great-aunts on my paternal side who appears never to have resided in Berlin, but about whom I learned much from examining Franziska and Elsbeth’s personal papers archived at Berlin’s Stadtmuseum; for this reason, I will talk about her now. By contrast with her sisters, Hedwig was not a renowned personage, although I came to learn about one of her sons who was an exceptionally gifted and well-known artist who will be the subject of a future Blog post. On account of Hedwig’s renowned son, and because I was able to partially trace and reconstruct Hedwig’s life through archival records discovered in five different countries, her story is interesting. The far-reaching forensic evidence I found for this great-aunt speaks to my family’s diaspora and also informs the reader how they may need to approach their own family investigations.
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Insofar as I remember, my father, Dr. Otto Bruck, never once spoke of his great-aunt, Hedwig Löwenstein, née Bruck (Figure 1), when I was growing up. Whilst I didn’t know it at the time, as a child, I met two of Hedwig’s three children, Jeanne (“Hansi”) and Heinz, in Nice, France. Nice is where my parents first met in the late 1940’s, and where I spent many summers with my maternal grandmother. Coincidentally, my mother was introduced to my great-aunt Hedwig after she started dating my father, but remembers only that she was a large woman.
I will relate the story of my great-aunt Hedwig chronologically, although how I learned what I learned was far from neat and linear. I first learned of Hedwig’s existence from the register of Jewish births from Ratibor, Germany, and found she was born there on March 22, 1870 (Figure 2); the Jewish records from Ratibor are now available on-line through familysearch.org. In 2014, when I examined the personal papers of Hedwig’s two sisters archived at Berlin’s Stadtmuseum, I only knew that Hedwig’s parents had given birth to eight children; I suspected two had died at birth or shortly thereafter, and nothing I’ve learned since refutes this.
Included among my great-aunts’ personal papers were numerous letters written by two of Hedwig’s children to my great-aunt Elsbeth Bruck, along with various photos of Hedwig and her three children. (Figure 3) From captions on the back of the photos, I eventually discovered that Hedwig’s third child was named Fedor (“Fidel” or “Fedya”) Löwenstein. I would eventually learn a lot more about Fedor.
Our next planned stop in 2014 after visiting Berlin’s Stadtmuseum was the Polish State Archives in Racibórz, Poland, where most birth, marriage, and death records from the 1870’s onward are archived. Among the documents I unearthed there was Hedwig’s Marriage Certificate where I discovered she was married in Ratibor to a Rudolf Löwenstein on September 17, 1899.
For readers who have accessed and studied vital event records, such as marriage certificates, you are well-aware they contain a wealth of valuable family information. Typically, they include the spouse and groom’s dates and places of birth; their religion(s); their occupations; their residence; the names and occupations of their in-laws; often, where their in-laws live and whether they are still alive; and the names of any witnesses. A copy of Rudolf & Hedwig’s two-page Marriage Certificate is attached here (Page 1 & Page 2), along with the translation of the document.
According to the Marriage Certificate, Rudolf Löwenstein was born on January 17, 1872 in a place then-called Kuttenplan, in the former Kingdom of Bohemia. (Figure 4) At the time, the Kingdom of Bohemia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; after WWI, Bohemia became the core part of the newly formed Czechoslovak Republic. On January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia became two separate countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Since the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire following WWI, Kuttenplan has been known as Chodová Planá, Czech Republic. It is located in Western Bohemia and was once considered part of the Western Sudetenland, which was annexed in 1938 by the Nazis following the Munich Agreement because it had a predominantly German population.
Hedwig’s Marriage Certificate thus pointed me to a third country, namely, the Czech Republic, to learn more about she and her family. First, I contacted the City of Chodová Planá (email@example.com) asking them where I could obtain a copy of Rudolf’s birth certificate. They directed me to the town of Plzeň (called Pilsen in English and German) in Western Bohemia, who in turn sent me to the National Archives in Prague. The vital records for former Jewish communities are archived there, and are also available on-line:
Suffice it to say, the National Archives in Prague is efficient and helpful, so for any readers who may need to access Jewish records from the Czech Republic, the process is seamless. Not only was I easily able to obtain Rudolf Löwenstein’s birth register listing (Figure 5), but I was also able to retrieve that of his brother, Ernst Löwenstein (Figure 6), who was a witness at Rudolf’s wedding in Ratibor in 1899.
I later learned Ernst Löwenstein died in the Shoah. A “Page of Testimony” (Figure 7), submitted in 1990 to Yad Vashem by Ernst Löwenstein’s daughter, Charlotte Fišerová, indicates he was murdered in 1941 in the Łódź Ghetto in German-occupied Poland. I tried to locate descendants of Charlotte Fišerová, acting under the assumption she was no longer alive (this was entirely logical as her father was born in 1869), by contacting the “Ministerstvo Vnitra České Republiky,” or the Czech Department of Administrative Affairs; however, as often happens in countries with an authoritarian history, only direct relatives are entitled to access vital records.
I learned a few other interesting things from Hedwig and Rudolf’s Marriage Certificate beyond dates of events. First, at the time they got married in Ratibor in 1899, Rudolf was a “kaufmann” or “merchant” in Munich. Second, my grandfather, Felix Bruck, was one of the witnesses at his sister’s wedding. And, third, as just mentioned, Ernst Löwenstein was also a witness at his brother’s wedding. I suspected at least one or more of Hedwig and Rudolf’s children had been born in Munich, and eventually confirmed their oldest child, Fedor, was born there on April 13, 1901. At the time, I had yet to work out the order in which their three children had been born. (See table at the bottom of this post for the summary of vital events for Hedwig, her husband, her three children, and her brother-in-law.)
Aware of my great-aunt’s connection to Nice, France, and knowing her daughter Hansi Goff (Jeanne Löwenstein) had spent much of her life there, another planned stop in 2014 was l’Hôtel de Ville in Nice, basically City Hall, where many of the city’s recent administrative records are housed. The reason why Hedwig decided to relocate to Nice from Danzig after her husband’s death (see below) is unknown. Regardless, France was the fourth country where I was able to obtain vital record information on Hedwig Löwenstein and her immediate family. I clearly remember arriving at l’Hôtel de Ville early on a Monday morning before the office got busy, which, in retrospect, was a veritable stroke of luck. We were assisted by Monsieur Jean-Jacques Delmonte whose official title is “Pour le Maire, L’Officier de l’Etat Civil délégué” or “For the Mayor, the Registrar Delegate.” Because the bureau was relatively quiet, and because Monsieur Delmonte was impressed that I spoke fluent French, he set me loose in the room with the voluminous books containing death certificates while he collected and certified the other records I’d requested. This enabled me to unearth records I would not otherwise have found.
As naturally happens when foreigners emigrate elsewhere, their prenames and surnames are often changed. Thus, in the case of my great-aunt Hedwig’s “l’acte de décès,” or Death Certificate, she was identified as “Edwige Bruck”; while it made no difference in my great-aunt’s case, death registers and death certificates in Nice are alphabetized using a woman’s maiden name, which family researchers may not always know.
I was also able to find the death certificates for two of Hedwig’s three children, specifically, for Jeanne (“l’acte de décès”) and Fedor (“l’acte de décès”). Because the German “ö” with an “umlaut” in “Löwenstein” is typically written in English or French as “oe,” it would normally be filed under “Loewenstein”; however, in Fedor’s case, his name in the death register was inadvertently alphabetized under “Lowenstein” (Figure 8), a situation that almost resulted in my not finding his death certificate. During my visit to l’Hôtel de Ville in Nice, I uncovered death certificates for a few other individuals unrelated to my great-aunt and these will be the subject of future Blog posts.
Having discovered my great-aunt Hedwig’s death record, I next inquired where she might be buried, operating under the assumption she’d been interred. I was directed to another branch of City Hall, La Mairie de Nice, specifically, the “Service De L’administration Funéraire.” Here, they graciously informed me that my great-aunt had been entombed at the Cimitiere Caucade (Figure 9), on the outskirts of Nice, and gave me the “Concession” or “tomb” number. Armed with this information, we next paid a visit to the graveyard, and quickly located my great-aunt’s headstone (Figure 10) in the Jewish section of the cemetery; her son Fedor Loewenstein’s headstone (Figure 11), his name correctly spelled, sits alongside that of his mother, although it is clear their bones are no longer interred. It is not uncommon for bones to be disinterred and placed in a charnel house if a family stops annual payments for tomb maintenance.
While Fedor’s headstone lies alongside that of his mother, I found no indication nor was I given any information on where his sister Hansi’s tomb might be located. Let me explain how I discovered what happened with Hansi’s remains. Among my great-aunt Elsbeth’s personal papers at the Stadtmuseum there exist letters from a married couple from Nice by the name of Erich and Mary-Jo Fischer, who, as it turns out, were Hansi’s best friends. My parents were acquainted with them through my father’s first cousin, and met them on a few occasions in Nice. At l’Hôtel de Ville in Nice, I obtained Erich Fischer’s “l’acte de décès,” so knew he was no longer alive. Because I did not find his wife’s death certificate, I thought she might still be alive though quite old. So, using the address I found on the letters sent to my great-aunt in Berlin from Nice, on the spur of the moment, my wife and I went to the address. Imagine our surprise when Mary Jo Fischer answered the door, still residing in the same apartment!! In 2014, she was 89 and her memory was beginning to fail. (Figure 12) While she clearly remembered my father’s cousin, the only other thing of note she mentioned was that she and her husband (Figure 13) had always intended to have Hansi buried alongside their family in “La Trinite Cimetiere” in Nice; unfortunately, her body was removed and cremated before this could happen. I had hoped that Mary-Jo would have photos of Hansi and her family, in particular of Rudolf Löwenstein, but this hope went unrealized.
Jeanne Löwenstein’s (Hansi Goff) “l‘acte de décès” provided a key piece of information. It told me that she’d been born on September 9, 1902 in Danzig, at the time a part of West Prussia. After learning this, I actually found a photo she’d sent of herself to my father taken on March 8, 1929 in Zoppot (today: Sopot, Poland) in the Free State of Danzig. (Figure 14) With a known connection to Danzig, I checked familysearch.org for Jewish vital records from there, and found two pertinent rolls of microfilm. I made an educated guess they might contain information on when Hedwig and Rudolf’s third child was born, and also when Hedwig Löwenstein’s husband, Rudolf, died. I already knew from Danzig’s Address and Phonebooks from the 1920’s and 1930’s that Rudolf had owned a “Annoncen-Expedition und Reklamebüro” in Danzig, that’s to say, an office for placing advertisements. (Figure 15) Both of my educated guesses paid off handsomely. Roll number 1184407, including Danzig births between 1905 and 1939, listed Heinz Löwenstein’s birth as March 8, 1905 (Figure 16), while roll number 1184408, listing deaths in Danzig between 1889 and 1940, recorded the death of Hedwig Löwenstein’s husband, Rudolf, as August 22, 1930. (Figure 17) Because of the way registers were typically photographed by the Mormon Church, the most recent births are usually found first, and the oldest at the end. For this reason, I discovered Heinz’s birth listing on the very last line of the very last page of the register, having by then give up any hope of finding him listed! As an aside, I later learned the original birth, marriage and death records from Danzig were destroyed during WWII, making the microfilms the only surviving copies.
Readers will learn in an upcoming Blog post about Hedwig’s younger brother, Wilhelm “Willy” Bruck; during the 1930’s, he was able to escape to Barcelona, Spain with his family. While seeking my great-uncle Willy’s descendants, early in 2014, I discovered distant cousins, one of whom named Michael Bruck lives outside Haifa, Israel. (Figure 18) Israel was the fifth country where I was able to locate information on Hedwig’s family, namely, for her son Heinz Löwenstein. Following WWII, and for reasons that remain opaque, Heinz moved to Israel, eventually winding up in Haifa. Many letters he wrote to his aunt Elsbeth Bruck survive and are archived at Berlin’s Stadtmuseum. In one letter Heinz writes that he has changed his name to “Hanoch Avinary.” Because the letter is typed, there is no mistaking Heinz’s Hebrew name. (Figure 19)
I enlisted Michael Bruck’s assistance to try and obtain Hanoch Avinary’s Death Certificate. I assumed this would be relatively straight-forward since I had both his Hebrew name and address in Haifa. This was not the case, although Michael eventually obtained a copy of Hanoch’s “Burial Certificate,” not to be confused with a Death Certificate, from the Chevra Kadisha in Haifa. Mysteriously, the Burial Certificate shows his name as “HANOCH AVNERI.” Much of the information on this certificate is either missing or incorrect, suggesting there was no next-of-kin to provide accurate information. I knew from my parents that Hanoch was never married. (Figure 20) Regardless, from the Burial Certificate, I was able to learn that Hanoch died on August 10, 1979, and was buried ten days later in the “Sde Yehoshua Cemetery” in Haifa. Obtaining death certificates in Israel for recently deceased individuals is restricted to direct descendants.
Much of Hanoch’s life remains a mystery to me although there are tantalizing clues I am still trying to track down. Clearly, Heinz survived WWII in France, either in captivity, as a member of the French Resistance, or both. Growing up, I heard Heinz would “intentionally” allow himself to be arrested by the Vichy French and taken to a detention center where he would help interned Jews escape. I have written to a French organization that retains a list of French Resistance members from WWII but they find no evidence that Heinz was a member; possibly, as a Jew, he was given an alias which may explain why no trace of him can be found. I suspect, but may never confirm, that Heinz’s decision to immigrate to Israel after the war may be tied to the role he played in France during the war and/or, possibly, to the Vichy government’s collaboration with Nazi Germany during WWII, which Heinz was a witness to.
As previously mentioned, among my great-aunt Elsbeth’s personal papers at Berlin’s Stadtmuseum are letters written by Hedwig’s daughter, Hansi Goff. Since many of these letters were typed, albeit in German, I retyped many into Google Translate trying to understand more about Hansi’s life. I had low expectations, but one letter that stood among all the others was written on October 30, 1946. Hansi’s brother, Fidel Löwenstein, the accomplished artist mentioned earlier, had passed away in Nice from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma on August 4, 1986. Several months later, Hansi wrote to her Aunt Elsbeth that one of Fidel’s paintings had posthumously sold for 90,000 French Francs. Aware this was a significant sum in those days, I contacted an acquaintance from l’Hôtel de Ville in Nice, asking how I might obtain a copy of Fidel’s obituary hoping to learn more about him. Realizing how curious I was about Fidel Löwenstein, she sent me links to several contemporary articles about him. Suffice it for the moment to say, what I have learned about Fidel has sent my family research in a direction I would never have anticipated. This story will be the topic of an intriguing future Blog post.
From knowing virtually nothing about vital dates and places for my great-aunt Hedwig and her relatives, by accessing archives in five different countries (Germany, Poland, France, Czech Republic, and Israel), I have now pieced together most of this information (this does not include the microfilm of Jewish vital records I accessed through the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City). I summarize what I learned in the following table:
|Hedwig Löwenstein, née Bruck||Birth||March 22, 1870||Ratibor, Germany (today: Racibórz, Poland)|
|Death||January 15, 1949||Nice, France|
|Rudolf Löwenstein||Birth||January 17, 1872||Kuttenplan, Bohemia, Austro-Hungarian Empire (today: Chodová Planá, Czech Republic)|
|Death||March 22, 1930||Danzig, Free City of Danzig (today: Gdańsk, Poland)|
|Rudolf & Hedwig Löwenstein||Marriage||September 17, 1899||Ratibor, Germany (today: Racibórz, Poland)|
|Wilhelm Fedor (“Fidel” “Fedya”) Löwenstein||Birth||April 13, 1901||Munich, Germany|
|Death||August 4, 1946||Nice, France|
|Jeanne (“Hansi”) Goff, née Löwenstein||Birth||September 9, 1902||Danzig, Free City of Danzig (today: Gdańsk, Poland)|
|Death||May 5, 1986||Nice, France|
|Heinz Löwenstein (died as “Hanoch Avinary” but recorded as “Hanoch Avneri”)||Birth||March 8, 1905||Danzig, Free City of Danzig (today: Gdańsk, Poland)|
|Death||August 10, 1979||Haifa, Israel|
|Ernst Löwenstein||Birth||August 23, 1869||Kuttenplan, Bohemia, Austro-Hungarian Empire (today: Chodová Planá, Czech Republic)|
|Death||1941||Łódź Ghetto, Poland|