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POST 21: MY AUNT SUSANNE, NÉE BRUCK, & HER HUSBAND DR. FRANZ MÜLLER, THE FIESOLE YEARS

Note:  This post is the next chapter in my Aunt Susanne and Uncle Franz’s story, following their departure in late 1935 or early 1936 from Berlin to escape the increasingly repressive National Socialist regime, when they sought refuge in Fiesole, Italy.  There are certain family history stories I look forward to writing and sharing with readers, and this is one such tale, when, albeit briefly, my relatives held out hope they might survive the homicidal madmen threatening Europe in the lead-up to WWII and lead normal lives.  Much about the roughly two-and-a-half years my aunt and uncle spent in Fiesole remains unknown, including why they decided to immigrate here.  Still, some of what I’ve learned as recently as 2016 provides a sound basis to speculate why they may have moved here.

In Post 1, I introduced readers to a quote by the brainy, former executive of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Branch Rickey, who once said that “Luck is the residue of design.”  The story I’m about to relate about my Aunt Susanne and her esteemed husband, Dr. Franz Müller, and the discoveries I made about their years in Fiesole, Italy, speaks volumes to this truth.

Figure 1-Roman amphitheater in Fiesole

I can’t remember exactly when I first learned that my aunt and uncle had lived in Fiesole, a gorgeous Tuscan town, founded by the Etruscans in the 9th-8th centuries B.C., located on the scenic heights to the northeast of Firenze (Florence).  However, I recall when I first visited Fiesole.  It was in the 1990’s, long before I became interested in family history, when I was a mere archaeologist and my aim was simply to visit the Roman ruins that are the town’s main tourist attraction. (Figure 1)  I’ve always imagined the tawny landscape and gently rolling hills of Tuscany as an inviting billowy pillow in which to do a face-plant.  So, it’s easy to comprehend the attraction Tuscany might have held for Jewish immigrants in the face of the malign forces that surrounded them.

The current post organizes chronologically all the information I’ve collected about my aunt and uncle during three visits to Fiesole, in 2014, 2015, and again in 2016.  Before starting my family investigations, I had no idea, for example, when my aunt and uncle departed Berlin, nor when they arrived in Fiesole.  But, as I explained in the previous post, I learned from the Grundbuch, or “real estate register” for the property my uncle owned in Berlin-Charlottenburg, that he sold his house there in November or December 1935, and likely departed with my aunt soon afterwards.  Similarly, in conjunction with what I eventually discovered in Fiesole, I place their arrival there in the first quarter of 1936.

Figure 2-My father with two cousins, Eva Bruck & Eva Goldenring, and his sister Susanne (right) on May 10, 1938 after he arrived in Fiesole

Judging from the dated pictures in my father’s photo albums, he too departed Germany, likely from Berlin, two years later, in early March 1938.  Between March 5th and March 9th, my father spent several days visiting the tourist attractions in Vienna, Austria, seemingly in the company of other Jewish émigrés.  Having lost his profession, and bewildered as to what the future held, he headed for Fiesole.  Along the way, my father stopped to do some skiing and hiking in the Dolomite Mountains and passed through a town in Alto Adige, Italy, named Bolzano or Bozen; this is a place my wife and I have visited on several occasions for reasons having nothing to do with family history, and everything to do with the famed 5,000-year old “Ötzi the Iceman,” discovered in the Tyrolean Alps, who is displayed at the Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano.  Eventually, my father arrived in Fiesole, his pictures never specifying exactly when though I ultimately worked this out. (Figure 2)

Figure 3-1938 Fiesole Emigration Register with my aunt & uncle’s names listed

Knowing of my family’s association with Fiesole, I decided to contact the Municipio,” or City Hall there, and inquire about any documentary evidence they might possess on my aunt and uncle.  When I accessed their website, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a branch of the Municipio called “Archivio Storico Comunale,” the “Municipal Historic Archive.”  I immediately contacted them on March 27, 2014, explained my family’s connection to Fiesole, provided my aunt and uncle’s names, and the street name where they’d lived, Via del Salviatino, and asked for any relevant information.  Amazingly, the very next day the town’s archivist, Ms. Lucia Nadetti, responded by sending me a page from Fiesole’s emigration register from 1938 with my aunt and uncle’s names listed. (Figure 3)  The speed with which I was able to find evidence of my aunt and uncle’s presence in Fiesole left me breathless.

Fiesole’s emigration register placed my aunt and uncle’s arrival in Fiesole as April 30, 1936, and their departure to France as September 16, 1938; the register, among other things, showed they lived at Via del Salviatino 14, a place I only later learned was named the “Villa Primavera” (Figures 4a & 4b), and shared living accommodations with an Austrian woman named Lucia von Jacobi.  For reasons I will get into below, I actually place my aunt and uncle’s arrival in Fiesole a month earlier, on March 31, 1936.  Lucia Nadetti further explained there was no evidence my aunt and uncle paid taxes on their residence, and concluded they were probably renting the house, a question I resolved to answer when I visited Fiesole in 2014. 

Figure 4b-Photo of the Villa Primavera taken in 1938 by my father
Figure 4a-Postcard illustrating the Villa Primavera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After studying the 1938 emigration register (see Figure 3), I followed up with a few questions related to abbreviations and Italian words I could not make out.  Ms. Nadetti explained my aunt was shown as “coniugi,” married to Franz, and identified as “a.c.,” or “Atta a casa,” namely, a housewife.  By contrast, Ms. Jacobi was described as “benestante,” or well-to-do, and registered as a “vedova,” or widow. 

Figure 5-Ms. Lucia Nadetti, our friend and archivist at the “Archivio Storico Comunale”

I told Ms. Nadetti of our plans to vacation in Fiesole later in 2104, and she promised to show me everything she’d found when we came.  My wife and I eventually turned up at the “Archivio Storico Comunale” in Fiesole in June 2014, the year we spent 13 weeks visiting places associated with my family’s diaspora, traveling from Gdansk, Poland to Valencia, Spain.  By the time we showed up, Ms. Nadetti (Figure 5) had collected the registration logs listing all my aunt and uncle’s guests.   During Italy’s Fascist era, all out-of-town visitors were required to appear with their hosts at the Municipio, provide their names, show their identity papers, indicate their anticipated length of stay, and complete what was called a “Soggiorno degli Stranieri in Italia,” or “Stay of Foreigners in Italy.”  I was a bit surprised at the rather large number of guests my aunt and uncle had hosted, but simply attributed this to my relatives offering accommodations to Jews fleeing Germany.

Figure 6- The “Soggiorno degli Stranieri in Italia” for my great-aunt Franziska Bruck who eventually returned to Berlin and committed suicide in January 1942

These registration forms, while highly intrusive, are enormously informative for doing genealogical research, uncovering names of visitors, and establishing timelines for these guests. When completing the “Soggiorno” forms (Figure 6), guests were required to provide the names of both their parents, including the mother’s maiden name, plus their own date and place of birth.  While these forms have not survived for all the guests who stayed with my aunt and uncle, those that remain are particularly useful.  In a future Blog post, I will relate the stories of some guests whose fate I’ve been able to determine.

 

Figure 7-The immigration log showing my father Otto Bruck’s arrival in Italy on May 10, 1938, and his registration in Fiesole on May 26, 1938

The immigration log recorded my father’s arrival in Italy, following his departure from Vienna, as May 10, 1938 (Figure 7), and his registration at the Comunale in Fiesole as May 26th.  Given that my father had been in Vienna as late as May 9th, I surmise he arrived in Italy by an overnight train.  The immigration register records a second visit by my father in September 1938, which I’ll discuss below.

Initially, I didn’t know whether my uncle ever owned Via del Salvaitino 14, so upon our arrival in Fiesole, Ms. Nadetti directed me to the “Conservatorio Dei Registri Immobiliari” in nearby Firenze to check ownership records.  Here, we learned the descendants of a former obstetrician/gynecologist, named Dr. Gino Frascani, own two houses along Via Del Salviatino, numbered 12 and 14; my uncle, it turns out, never owned the Villa Primavera.  Naturally, I assumed Via del Salviatino 14 was the house where my aunt and uncle had once lived, an erroneous supposition as it turned out.

Figure 8-Our Italian friend Ms. Giuditta Melli

The visit to the Conservatorio turned out to be fortuitous, but not simply for what we learned there.  In 2014, my wife and I were staying at a bed-and-breakfast on the outskirts of Fiesole, and rather than deal with the city traffic to get to the Conservatorio, we took the bus there.  By happenstance, while trying to ascertain where to catch the return bus at the end of the day, a delightful English-speaking Italian woman, Ms. Giuditta Melli (Figure 8), noticed our confusion and confirmed we were in the right place.  She was headed on the same bus, so we exchanged pleasantries on the ride, and she invited us to visit the ceramic shop near the Conservatorio where she teaches.  Two days later we dropped by and mentioned in passing the reason for our visit to Fiesole.  Giuditta was moved to tears because she’d recently learned that her great-uncle was Jewish and had been deported to Buchenwald from Firenze by the Fascists and murdered there.  As we prepared to leave, we exchanged emails and promised to stay in touch.  This turned into an exceptionally productive friendship.

Figure 9-The Fiesole immigration log showing my aunt and uncle were guests of Dr. Gino Frascani beginning on March 31, 1936

After our visit to the Conservatorio, my wife and I paid a return visit to Ms. Nadetti at the Archivio Storico Comunale to update her on our findings.  Reminded of Dr. Frascani’s connection to properties along Via del Salviatino, Ms. Nadetti consulted an immigration register from 1936, similar to ones she’d shown us from 1937 and 1938.  In it, she discovered my aunt and uncle initially were guests of Dr. Frascani at Via del Salviatino 14, the house they ultimately leased from him; this document shows my aunt and uncle arrived in Fiesole on March 31, 1936, and registered at the Municipio on April 7th, in other words, a month earlier than the emigration register that placed their arrival there on April 30, 1936. (Figure 9)

Figure 10-The results of Fiesole’s mayoral election of October 17, 1920 showing Dr. Gino Frascani won by two votes

Having definitively linked my Uncle Franz to Dr. Gino Frascani, Ms. Nadetti found and shared a few documents about the doctor, and, eventually even compiled a summary of Dr. Frascani’s activities as a City Councilman for Fiesole through four legislative terms, 1905, 1910, 1914 and 1920.  We also learned Dr. Frascani had been Mayor of Fiesole (Figure 10) for a time but forced to quit after being threatened by the Fascists on account of his socialist leanings.  Interestingly, the roster of mayors listed on a placard in the Municipio does not even include Dr. Frascani.

 

Figure 11-Dr. Gino Frascani, right, on the steps of the Istituto di Cura Chirurgica del Salviatino ca. 1909

One document given to us by Ms. Nadetti showed Dr. Frascani (Figure 11) paid for construction of an “Istituto di Cura Chirurgica del Salviatino,” dedicated to his mother, Ersilia Frascani, built in 1908-09 along Via del Salviatino in Firenze. (Figure 12)  The sanatorium was divided into sections for: general and special surgery; gynecology; obstetrics; and medical services.  Dr. Frascani, a truly remarkable man whose life story begs to be told, even maintained free beds in the institute’s common infirmary for “charity.”  The Istituto still stands today, regrettably no longer as a hospital, but rather as exclusive condominiums.

 

Figure 12-The “Istituto di Cura Chirurgica del Salviatino”

Having for the moment learned as much as we could from the various archives and city offices, my wife and I set out to locate Via del Salviatino 14.  One could almost characterize this search as a comedy of errors.  Prior to visiting Fiesole, I had located the house on Google Earth, so assumed I knew what I was looking for. 

Figure 13-My wife Ann standing in front of Via del Salviatino 14 in Firenze we mistook for the house where my aunt and uncle once lived

Via del Salviatino 14 is situated in an exclusive section of town, and when we finally located the address, the street-facing side of the apartment building did not appear as it had in my father’s pictures. (Figure 13) Coincidentally, the day we first visited, two black SUVs with tinted windows and burly guards, obviously protecting a high-ranking government official, refused to let us access the rear of the building to check.  Confronted with this obstacle, we were forced to strategically retreat.  When we returned the next day, the portly guards were gone, and we were able to access the building’s backside.  Clearly, this was not the house my aunt and uncle had lived in.

Figure 14-Street sign along Via del Salviatino indicating boundary between Fiesole & Firenze

Puzzled, I returned to the street, and discovered my mistake.  Via del Salviatino begins in Firenze (Florence), almost at the point where the “Sanatorio Frascani” is located, BUT, continues into Fiesole; in other words, Via del Salviatino transects both towns, and as fate would have it, the divide between Fiesole and Firenze is directly in front of the Via del Salviatino 14 we were standing at in Firenze. (Figure 14)

Figure 15-Mailboxes along Via del Salviatino, including #14, that also was not the Villa Primavera

Having resolved this issue, we quickly found the Via del Salviatino 14, in Fiesole, a short distance up the street.  On one of three mailboxes at this location with house numbers 12, 14 and 14a (Figure 15), is the name “R. FRASCANI.”  Naturally, we concluded this was a descendant of Dr. Frascani, and that he resides in the house where my aunt and uncle had once lived.  We drove up the dirt road, rang the bell at the gated entrance to his bed-and-breakfast, but no one answered.  However, we ran into a young man riding a Moped, a childhood friend of Mr. Frascani, as it happens; he called Ranieri on his cellphone and we spoke briefly.  However, since neither of us spoke the other’s language well, we agreed I would send him an email with my questions upon my return to the states, which is in fact what I did.  Regardless, it would be another year before we met in person and I got answers to some of my queries.

In the interim, I maintained contact with Giuditta Melli.  One day, she discovered a fleeting reference in a German article saying my Aunt Susanne Müller-Bruck and her housemate, Lucia von Jacobi, had co-managed a pension.  Given the large number of guests that had stayed at the Villa Primavera, this should have been obvious from the start.

Figure 16-Maria Agata Frascani, Giuditta Melli, myself and Ranieri Frascani, October 2016, Fiesole

In anticipation of our 2015 visit to Fiesole, Giuditta invited my wife and I to stay with her and her family at their large villa in Firenze, only a short distance from Via del Salviatino.  Giuditta also arranged and served as translator for our meeting with Ranieri, the grandson of Dr. Gino Frascani, and his mother, Ms. Maria Agata Frascani, née Mannelli, the daughter-in-law of Dr. Frascani. (Figure 16)  It was

Figure 17-Sign for the Villa Primavera, today numbered Via del Salviatino 16

during this get-together that we finally learned the house where Ranieri lives and has his B&B is not the Villa Primavera.  In fact, as we found out at the Conservatorio the year before, his family owns both Via del Salviatino 12 and 14.  However, sometime after 1940, houses along Via del Salviatino were renumbered, and the Villa Primavera (Figure 17) reassigned the number “16.”  Ranieri showed us the adjacent Villa Primavera from his property and told us the house no longer belongs to his family. 

After our get-together with Ranieri Frascani, his mother invited us to her home (Figure 18) and showed us the thick album with photos and articles related to the construction and opening of the Istituto di Cura Chirurgica del Salviatino in 1908-09. (Figure 19)

Figure 18-The former house of Dr. Frascani, Via del Salviatino 18, where his daughter-in-law currently resides
Figure 19-Copy of letter addressed to Doctor Frascani

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having finally resolved that the Villa Primavera where my aunt and uncle had once resided was now numbered Via del Salviatino 16, I’ve tried on several occasions to contact the current owners, to no avail.

Figure 20-Dr. Irene Below, author of a book on Ms. Lucia von Jacobi, at Parco di Monte Ceceri, Firenze, October 2016

Following our visit to Fiesole in 2015, my wife and I had not anticipated returning in 2016.  However, Giuditta made a surprising discovery while researching Lucia von Jacobi, the Austrian lady with whom my aunt ran the Pension Villa Primavera, and our plans changed.  She learned of a professor, Dr. Irene Below (Figure 20), from Werther, Germany, who’d written a full-length book about Ms. Jacobi.  Giuditta immediately contacted Dr. Below, explained her interest in Lucia, told her of my aunt and uncle, and mentioned she was in touch and assisting Dr. Franz Müller’s nephew.

Dr. Below was surprised to hear from Giuditta and learn of her interest in people Irene had studied and knew about.  Dr. Below related a fascinating tale.  She came to Firenze in 1964 as a student intending to write about the history of art.  While researching this topic, however, she came across magazines and diaries of an unknown person who turned out to be Lucia von Jacobi, a woman with very famous friends (e.g., Heinrich and Thomas Mann, Gustaf Gründgens, etc.), and decided instead to write about her.  Then, amazingly, in 1966, Dr. Below walked into an antiquarian shop in Firenze and discovered the bulk of Ms. Jacobi’s personal papers, which she soon purchased with her parents’ financial assistance.  For those aware of events in Firenze in 1966, great floods along the Arno in November resulted in countless treasures being swept away and destroyed; if not for Dr. Below’s fortuitous discovery, the same would likely have happened to Ms. Jacobi’s papers.

Figure 21-Ms. Lucia von Jacobi at the Villa Primavera in 1936 or 1937 (Photo courtesy of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin & Dr. Below)

Dr. Below explained that beginning in 1936, Lucia von Jacobi (Figure 21), together with my aunt and uncle rented the Villa Primavera, and soon after began to take in guests.  Because Ms. Jacobi arrived in Firenze in December 1934, via Vienna, Prague, Meran, and Ascona, it seems likely she first met my aunt and uncle in Firenze.  Perhaps, Dr. Frascani was responsible for introducing them.

 As to the relationship of my uncle to Dr. Frascani, I’ve been unable to discover how they met.  However, since both were doctors, I assume they worked together professionally before my aunt and uncle moved to Fiesole. While it’s likely Dr. Müller worked in Dr. Frascani’s sanatorium, there’s some uncertainty about this as I discuss below.

Dr. Below sent Giuditta a PowerPoint presentation and scientific paper she delivered in 2009 at the “Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz,” entitled “Florenz 1935-1938: Zuflucht – Treffpunkt – Sehnsuchtsort.  Lucy von Jacobi (1887-1956) und ihre Pension Villa Primavera,” translated roughly as “Florence 1935-1938: Refuge – Meeting – Longing.  Lucy von Jacobi (1887-1956) and Her Pension Villa Primavera.”  Seemingly, for a brief period between 1935 and 1938, German refugees, especially those interested in arts and culture, found refuge in Firenze, and gathered with friends and like-minded people at the Villa Primavera for recreation and conversation, brought together by Ms. Jacobi.  Immigrants and guests mingled with locals to discuss Florentine art, Tuscan cuisine, the landscape, architecture from near and far, and more.  I imagine my aunt and uncle may have been attracted to Fiesole for the same reasons other Jewish émigrés were, the intellectual milieu and attractive setting; in the case of my uncle, the ability to continue working as a doctor may also have been a factor.

Figure 22-Ms. Lucia Nadetti & Dr. Irene Below at the at the “Archivio Storico Comunale”

At Giuditta’s invitation, Dr. Below, as well as my wife and me, all gathered in Firenze in October 2016. (Figure 22)  This gave us an opportunity to discuss other things Dr. Below had learned from Lucia’s papers.  Regarding my aunt and uncle, there were several remarkable items found in Lucia’s belongings.  Dr. Below discovered a photograph of Ms. Jacobi with my Uncle Franz seated on the same chairs as a photo I possess showing my aunt and uncle. (Figures 23 & 24) She also found a card written by my Aunt Susanne to Lucia on July 31, 1938, from Champoluc in the Aosta Valley, Italy, where my aunt and uncle had gone to rest.

Figure 23-Ms. Lucia von Jacobi and my Uncle Franz at the Villa Primavera (Photo courtesy of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin & Dr. Below)
Figure 24-In 1938, my Aunt Susanne & Uncle Franz at the Villa Primavera seated on the same chairs shown in Fig. 23

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps, most interesting is the second page of a letter my Aunt Susanne wrote when Lucia traveled to Palestine for three months in the latter half of 1938.  This trip may have been prompted by Hitler and Mussolini’s visit to Firenze on May 9, 1938, soon after resulting in Mussolini’s embrace of the “Manifesto of the Racial Scientists” on July 14, 1938.  Basically, this Manifesto declared the Italian civilization to be of Aryan origin and claimed the existence of a “pure” Italian race to which Jews did not belong.  Between September 2, 1938 and November 17, 1938, Italy enacted a series of racial laws, including one forbidding foreign Jews from settling in Italy.  Ms. Jacobi had just returned to Firenze, but after passage of the racial laws, she escaped in October 1938 to Switzerland, forced to leave all her possessions behind.  Dr. Below surmises that Lucia’s personal papers remained in the Villa Primavera until Dr. Frascani’s descendants sold the house, likely shortly before they wound up in the antiquarian shop.

Dr. Below explained that following Ms. Jacobi’s return from Palestine, she was constantly being watched and her mail monitored.  Curious as to whether the same might have applied to my uncle, I asked Dr. Below about this and she gave me the name of a German researcher, Mr. Klaus Voigt, who has examined the files at the “Archivio centrale dello Stato” (“Central Archives of the State”) in Rome on people who were monitored during Italy’s Fascist era. 

Mr. Voigt explained that monitoring of people like my uncle would have been done by the local Questura, that’s to say, the police in the province of Firenze, and that he never found a file on my uncle in the archives in Rome.  He further revealed all these local files, stored in the basement of the Uffizi, were destroyed in the 1966 inundations in Firenze, previously mentioned.  Seemingly, the only files that survive at the Archivio centrale dello Stato in Rome were for important opponents of Fascism.

Mr. Voigt shared another interesting fact about my uncle.  Dr. Franz Müller’s name was familiar to Mr. Voigt as a teacher at the Landschulheim Florenz, which was directed by two German-Jewish émigrés.  During his stay in Firenze, my Uncle Franz taught a special course there for medical-technical assistants.  For this reason, I’m uncertain whether he also worked in the “Sanatorio Frascani” during his years in Firenze.

 

Figure 25-The Fiesole immigration log showing my father registered a second time on September 15, 1938

I began this post with mention of the 1938 emigration log sent to me by Ms. Nadetti, indicating my aunt and uncle departed Firenze on September 16, 1938.  Previously, I also mentioned that my father’s name, Otto Bruck, was recorded in the immigration log a second time.  He registered on September 15, 1938 (Figure 25), for a stay of two weeks, but I surmise he left with my aunt and uncle, and, as it happens, my grandmother the next day. 

Figure 26-Fiesole’s immigration log for May 1938 listing my uncle, grandmother and Lucia von Jacobi

Within two weeks of Hitler and Mussolini’s visit to Firenze on May 9, 1938, Jewish immigrants who’d not previously registered with the Municipio were required to do so.  This included my Uncle Franz, my grandmother Else Bruck, née Berliner, and Lucia von Jacobi, but, oddly, not my Aunt Susanne. (Figure 26)  Their names all appear in the registration logs in May 1938, their length of stays shown as “per sempre,” that’s to say, forever.  Clearly, forever lasted only a few more months.

 

REFERENCE

Below, Irene and Ruth Oelze

2009  Lucy von Jacobi: Jouranlistin: mit Aufsätzen und Kritaken.  Deutsche Kinemathek (Berlin).  München Ed. Text + Kritik.  Film & Schrift, Band 9.

Figure 27-The Tuscan landscape as seen from the Villa Primavera in 1936 (Photo courtesy of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin & Dr. Below)

POST 20: MY AUNT SUSANNE, NÉE BRUCK, & HER HUSBAND DR. FRANZ MÜLLER, THE BERLIN YEARS

Note:  The next three Blog posts will be about my father’s beloved older sister, Susanne, and her husband, the esteemed Dr. Franz Robert Müller.  I’ll talk about three phases of their lives, their years in Berlin, Germany, followed by their time in Fiesole, Italy, and their final years together in Fayence, France.  In a small way, my aunt and uncle’s story and their movements from one country to another provide a broad perspective on the events that were going on in Europe during the era of the National Socialists, and the aspects of the war they were exposed to, including the ultimate and tragic outcome.  I hope in this manner to tell a more personal story.  For many readers, I expect the discussion of my aunt and uncle’s years in Berlin will be of only passing interest.  Nevertheless, this story lays the groundwork for the years they spent in Fiesole, Italy and Fayence, France, and details the forensic genealogical work that went into partially reconstructing their story in the places they lived.  This analysis may inform readers on how to approach their own family research.

Figure 1-My father Otto with his beloved older sister Susanne, as children in Ratibor

Often, when I begin to investigate my ancestors, I have little to go on except for names, and possibly dates and places of some vital events.  If the individuals were accomplished, which is sometimes the case in my extended family, I can typically learn a little about them by doing a web search.  There are no longer any surviving members of my father’s generation who can fill in the narrative on my aunt and uncle, so their stories are perforce very sketchy and incomplete.  Add to this the fact that my father very rarely spoke to me of his sister, likely because this was a gaping wound in his psyche following her premature death. (Figure 1)  I clearly remember being on a lengthy road-trip with my father in his later years, asking him whether he ever thought about his sister, only to have him burst into tears.  It was heart-rending.

Figure 2-My Aunt Susanne around the time she married Dr. Franz Müller
Figure 3-My Uncle Franz around the time he married my aunt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 4-One version of my aunt and uncle’s “Heiratsurkunde,” or marriage certificate

My Aunt Susanne (Figure 2) was the second wife of Dr. Franz Robert Müller (Figure 3), whom she married on April 18, 1931, in Berlin-Charlottenburg. (Figure 4) According to their marriage certificate, my aunt’s profession at the time was “Geschäftsführer,” or Managing Director (Figure 5), a position she held in her Aunt Franziska’s flower shop, the renowned aunt discussed in Post 15. (Figure 6)  In a separate post, Post 12, I explained how I discovered my aunt and father’s birth certificates at the “Archiwum Państwowe w Katowicach Oddział w Raciborzu” (Polish State Archives in Katowice Branch in Racibórz); this confirmed my Aunt Susanne was born in Ratibor on April 20, 1904.  Beyond this, sadly, I know very little of my aunt’s life in Ratibor or Berlin prior to her marriage, nor when she emigrated to Berlin. 

Figure 5-The second version of my aunt and uncle’s certificate of marriage identifying my aunt’s profession as “Geschäftsführer,” or Managing Director
Figure 6-My great-aunt Franziska Bruck in her flower shop in Berlin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By contrast, I have found numerous traces of Dr. Müller in various Berlin address and telephone directories from 1903 to 1936; in German military registers available online at ancestry.com; at Berlin’s “Centrum Judaicum Archiv”; in the “Humboldt Universität zu Berlin Archiv“; and in the “Grundbuch,” or “real estate register,” on file at the “Dienststelle Lichterfelde Grundbuchamt,” for the property he once owned in Berlin-Charlottenburg. 

Figure 7-1903 Berlin Address Book identifying Dr. Müller as “Dr. rer. nat. [i.e., “Doctor rerum naturalium]”], Priv. Docent”
The 1903 Berlin Adressbuch (Figure 7), identifies Dr. Müller as “Dr. rer. nat. [i.e., “Doctor rerum naturalium]”], Priv. Docent” or a doctor of natural sciences, as well as a private lecturer, while a 1928 document provides a more detailed title, “Professor an der Universität Berlin, Dr. rer. nat. et med. [i.e., “Doctor rerum naturalium and Doctor rerum medicarum”], a doctor of both natural sciences and medicine, as well as a university professor. (Figure 8) Franz Müller studied medicine at Ruprecht-Karls-Universität (Heidelberg University) and the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität (Humboldt University of Berlin).  In 1902, Dr. Müller was appointed a lecturer to the medical faculty of Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, a position that was a stepping-stone to the professorship he eventually attained in 1912 (Figure 9), when he was elevated to a nontenured position of professor of pharmacology.

Figure 8-1928 document further detailing Dr. Franz Müller’s professional titles
Figure 9-Dr. Franz Müller ca. 1912

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 10-Klaus-Peter Wilhelm Müller’s (Dr. Müller’s son) 1904 birth certificate with 1930 notation indicating his surname was changed to Müller-Munk

Dr. Müller, born on December 31, 1871, was 33 years my aunt’s senior, and had two children by his first wife, Gertrud Munk, whom he married on December 14, 1901.  Their son, Klaus-Peter Wilhelm Müller, was born in Berlin on June 25, 1904, and their daughter, Karin Margit Müller, on September 23, 1908.  After Dr. Müller and his wife divorced, the surname of the children was changed to “Müller-Munk,” as footnoted on Peter Müller-Munk’s birth certificate on September 29, 1930 (Figure 10), many years after his birth.  Both of Dr. Müller’s children will be discussed in future Blog posts.  Given the 33-year age difference between my aunt and uncle, my aunt was roughly the same age as her step-children.

Figure 11-German military register with information on Dr. Müller

From the German military registers, we learn that in 1892 Dr. Müller was initially a “Feldwebel,” or Sargeant, in the 14th Regiment of Baden, but by 1893 was promoted to “Unteroffizier,” or non-commissioned officer, and by 1898 was a junior medical doctor in Heidelberg before becoming a reservist in the medical corps. (Figure 11)  After the start of WWI, he re-enlisted as a “Unterarzt,” or junior physician, but was quickly promoted to “Oberarzt,” or senior physician.  By June 1918, he was transferred to Nürnberg, and a month later assigned to the military academy there. 

Figure 12-Email from “Stiftung Neue Synagogue Berlin-Centrum Judaicum Archiv” indicating that Dr. Müller converted from Judaism on November 25, 1901, but that no record of my aunt’s conversion could be found

The “Stiftung Neue Synagoge Berlin-Centrum Judaicum Archiv,” or the archive of the New Synagogue Berlin – Centrum Judaicum Foundation, contains a record indicating that on November 25, 1901, less than a month before his marriage to Gertrud Munk, Dr. Müller converted to Protestantism from Judaism. (Figure 12) Incredibly, this did not prevent his being fired from Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität on September 14, 1933, almost 32 years later!  This happened after the National Socialists enacted the “Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” (“Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums”) on April 7, 1933, which excluded “non-Aryans” from Government employment, and resulted in Jewish civil servants, including university professors and school teachers, being fired. (Figure 13) 

Figure 13-Page from “Humboldt Universität zu Berlin Archiv” showing Dr. Müller was terminated from the University of Berlin on September 14, 1933

 

Figure 14-Architectural plan for house Dr. Müller had built at Kastanienallee 39 in Berlin’s Westend, highlighting entrance and alcove shown in subsequent pictures

In conjunction with the Berlin address and telephone directories, the “Grundbuch,” or “real estate register,” on file at the “Dienststelle Lichterfelde Grundbuchamt,” chronicles the various addresses where Dr. Müller lived between 1903 and 1936.  Interestingly, the Grundbuch contains the original floor plan for the house Dr. Müller had built at Kastanienallee 39 in Berlin’s Westend, Berlin-Charlottenburg, between 1908-09 (Figure 14), a house he probably moved into in late 1909.  Dr. Müller’s mother died in late 1908, and likely Franz’s inheritance paid for the construction of the house which was 844 m2 in size, or more than 9,000 square feet!  Depending on the size of his inheritance, he may not even have had a mortgage.

Figure 15-Document dated December 5, 1935 showing the sale of Kastanienallee 39 to Dr. Ludwig Weber

The Grundbuch contains a few documents from November and December 1935 (Figure 15) showing a contract for sale of the house was entered into on November 29, 1933, to a Dr. Ludwig Weber, a retired “Staatssekretär,” or undersecretary of state in the Prussian Ministry of Finance and commissioner at the Rentenbank.  Dr. Müller formally transferred Kastanienallee 39 to Dr. Weber two years later, on November 29, 1935, for 30,000 Reichmark (RM). 

 

 

One of my German cousins translated a few of the documents found in the Grundbuch and explained their significance within the context of the time period.  As students of European history know, Germany went through a bout of hyperinflation between 1922-23 that eventually resulted around 1924 in the old RM being devalued so that 1 new RM was equivalent to roughly 4,200,000 old RM.  While this devaluation impoverished average Germans, property owners suddenly became wealthy.  The 30,000 RM my uncle realized on the sale of his home in 1935, likely more than it would have been if not for hyperinflation, represented a significant amount of money.  How much of my uncle’s wealth was left behind, as a result of the “exit tax” imposed on Jews departing Germany in the 1930’s, is unknown but was likely at least 25 percent.

As discussed in Post 15, according to family accounts, my aunt and uncle left Germany with the help of Italy’s Ambassador to Germany from 1932-1935, Vittorio Cerruti, who was married to a Hungarian Jew. Possibly, my aunt met the ambassador’s wife, Elisabetta Cerruti, in her Aunt Franziska’s flower shop.  For reasons that remain unclear, my aunt and uncle decided to relocate to Fiesole, Italy, an Etruscan town above Firenze [Florence].  By March 31, 1936, a scant four months after Kastanienallee 39 was sold, my aunt and uncle were the guests of a noted Socialist doctor living in Fiesole, Dr. Gino Frascani, a gentleman who rented them one of his homes and employed my uncle in his medical clinic.  In the following post, I’ll discuss how I was able to unearth information about my aunt and uncle’s years in Fiesole and speculate on why they may have emigrated there.

Figure 16-Co-owner, Dr. Georg-Andreas Finck, left, with his downstairs tenant, Wörner Schütze, standing inside what would have been the “Speise Zimmer,” or dining room, at Kastanienallee 39
Figure 17-Inside Kastanienallee 39 in the 1930’s showing the same view as Figure 16 with the “Speise Zimmer” (dining room) in the foreground and the “Bibliothek” (library) in the background

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Numerous photos of my aunt and uncle’s home in Charlottenburg as it looked in the 1930’s survive in my father’s photo albums. The house still stands today.  With the assistance of a friend who works for the equivalent of Germany’s Internal Revenue Service, I was able to contact and meet the current owners of Kastanienallee 39 (Figures 16 & 17), who gave me a tour of their home and told me a little of its post-WWII history.  The destruction wrought upon Berlin during the war meant housing was at a premium in the immediate post-war era.  Consequently, the large single-family home was converted into numerous small flats that housed upwards of 40 people.  The alterations mean that few original interior structural elements survive today (Figures 18 & 19), although the exterior looks much as it did when my uncle had it constructed between 1908-09, judging from the surviving architectural plans. (Figures 20 & 21)

Figure 19-Inside Kastanienallee 39 in 2014 showing the alcove seen in Figure 18
Figure 18-Inside Kastanienallee 39 in the 1930’s showing alcove

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 20-My Uncle Franz, my Aunt Susanne & my grandmother Else Bruck, née Berliner, Easter 1935, standing in front of Kastanienallee 39
Figure 21-In 2014, me standing in front of Kastanienallee 39 in virtually the same spot as my relatives stood in 1935

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Readers can draw their own conclusions on how the decrees issued by the National Socialists, following Adolf Hitler’s appointment as German Chancellor in 1933, affected my aunt and uncle.  Clearly, however, they resulted in my uncle being dismissed as professor from Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität (Humboldt University of Berlin), then likely compelled my aunt and uncle to sell their home and eventually emigrate after paying an “exit tax.”  As the two subsequent Blog posts will make clear, my aunt and uncle’s nightmare at the hands of the Third Reich did not end with their departure from Berlin.

REFERENCE

Delphia, Rachel and Jewel Stern

2015    Silver to Steel: The Modern Designs of Peter Muller-Munk.  Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh & Prestel Verlag, Munich/London/New York.

 

POST 19: “GAME ON!” GERMANY’S 1929 DAVIS CUP TEAM VS. CZECHOSLOVAKIA

NOTE:  This Blog post discusses what I consider one of the most interesting items found among my father’s surviving personal papers, a postcard dated June 21, 1929 from Prague, then-Czechoslovakia.  It relates to my family only insofar as it is connected to the “Tennis Club E.V.B. Schwarz-Weiß,” of which my father was a member during the late 1920’s when he lived in Berlin while attending dental school there.  The postcard is a unique piece of tennis memorabilia because it is signed by three members of Germany’s 1929 Davis Cup tennis team, as well as six other members of the team’s entourage.  Notwithstanding Otto von Bismarck’s insistence that signatures on formal letters and official documents should be readable without the slightest effort, deciphering some of the signatures on the postcard required the aid of two German tennis history specialists to whom I’m enormously indebted for their persistent and gracious assistance.

Figure 1a-Front of postcard signed by Germany’s 1929 Davis Cup team and its entourage, mailed from the Grand-Hotel Steiner, Prague
Figure 1b-Back of postcard signed by Germany’s 1929 Davis Cup team and its entourage, mailed from the Grand-Hotel Steiner, Prague

 

 

 

 

 

 

Among my father’s surviving personal papers is a card postmarked June 21, 1929, mailed from the Grand-Hotel Steiner in Prague (Figures 1a & 1b) to the “Tennis Club E.V.B. Schwarz-Weiß” in Berlin-Schöneberg. (Figure 2)  I gleaned it was related to Germany’s Davis Cup 1929 team based on what I could partially read and later learned was written: “Der Davis Cup lüft grüßen.  Ich auch.  Micheler,” translated “The Davis Cup sends greetings.  Me too.  Micheler.” (Figure 3)

Figure 2-Members of Berlin’s “Tennis Club E.V.B. Schwarz-Weiß” on 24 August 1930, from l. to r., Rudi Rüster, Otto Bruck, Walter Roedelius, Paul Rüster, Karl Pützer, Otto __, Günther Weyhe
Figure 3-Writing on postcard, “Der Davis Cup lüft grüßen. Ich auch. Micheler,” translated “The Davis Cup sends greetings. Me too. Micheler.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The story told here is not chronological in terms of how I gathered information, but is better suited for explicating things.

On a website that no longer exists, based in England, I found historical data of all Davis Cup matches played since 1900, when the first Davis Cup competition took place between the USA and Great Britain.  The website confirmed that in 1929, Germany’s Davis Cup team traveled to Prague to play then-Czechoslovakia in the European Zone semi-finals, and defeated them by a score of 4 to 1.  The historical website included the names of Germany’s three Davis Cup players that year, Daniel Prenn, Hans Moldenauer, and Heinz Landmann. 

My untrained eye could only decipher David Prenn and Heinz Landmann’s names on the postcard, although the English website administrator also found Hans Moldenauer’s signature.  The administrator suggested I follow-up with two other organizations, the International Tennis Hall of Fame (ITHOF) in Newport, Rhode Island, and the “Deutscher Tennis Bund (DTB)” in Hamburg, Germany, to inquire about the other signatories.  I sent emails with a scan of the postcard to both, but only ITHOF responded.  Ms. Meredith Miller from ITHOF was unable to interpret any additional names, but asked my permission to forward the scan to Dr. Heiner Gillmeister, a world authority on the history of ball games, and author of “Tennis: A Cultural History.”  Anxious to learn about more names on the postcard, I eagerly consented.

Very shortly thereafter, in April 2012, Dr. Gillmeister responded to Ms. Meredith’s request for assistance on my behalf.  He was able to make out three more names, specifically, that of “Hage Lindenstaedt,” and those of “B v. (=Burghard von) Reznicek” and his wife “Paula R. (=Reznicek).”  Dr. Gillmeister told me a little about these individuals, and at the bottom of this post I briefly summarize what I have learned about them.

I would not again be in contact with Dr. Gillmeister until October 2013.  By then, my German first cousin had been able to read another name, that of the “Micheler,” who wrote the greeting on behalf of the German Davis Cup team, quoted above.  In the intervening period, I had also contacted the German “Tennis MAGAZIN,” hoping to entice them into writing a short human-interest article on the postcard given its uniqueness.  While the editor initially expressed some curiosity, ultimately this did not pan out.  Still, this was not for naught.  When I reestablished contact in late 2013 hoping to decipher the last three signatures, Dr. Gillmeister enlisted the aid of a friend and another tennis historian, Mr. Friedrich “Plick” Plickert; this turned out to be the key to ferreting out the remaining names.

Figure 4-My father, Otto Bruck, and his doubles partner, Walter Roedelius, at the Tennis Club E.V.B. Schwarz-Weiß with some of the club’s buildings in the background

Tennis Club E.V.B.,” where the postcard was mailed, refers to the tennis club associated with the Berlin Skating Club, in German “Eislauf -Verein Berlin (EVB).”  The headquarters of the Berlin “Sclittschuh-Klub,” as the Skating Club was known, opened on May 25, 1921, and consisted of some stately mansions seen in the background of my father’s photos. (Figure 4)  The club was originally located in Berlin-Schöneberg, but in 1938, the city asked the club to move so that large government buildings could be constructed on the site.  Thus, “Schwarz-Weiß” relocated to a different Berlin district, Berlin-Schmargendorf, and opened in early 1939.  In the few months before the start of WWII, the club had no opportunity to establish a new tradition, and with the outbreak of hostilities, organized tennis everywhere in the country came to a halt.  After the war, the Allied Military Government closed, as one of its first measures, all clubs in Berlin, which spelled the demise of “Schwarz-Weiß.”  In 1951, a former director of the club had it re-registered in an attempt to revive it, but to no avail.  By 1956, the “Vereinsregister bei dem Amtsgericht,” or the club register at the District Court, permanently closed the file.  Today, nothing remains of “Schwarz-Weiß,” either at Berlin-Schöneberg or at Berlin-Schmargendorf. 

As far as this Blog post is concerned, the important thing is that a file entitled “Tennis Club Schwarz-Weiß” survives at the local court, the “Vereinsregister, Amtsgericht Berlin-Charlottenburg,” as it is called.  Mr. Plickert discovered this and ordered it to conclusively determine the last few names on the postcard dated 1929.  He confirmed the name “MICHELER” was correct, although the club documents do not mention his first name.  Still, the Berlin phone directory for 1930 lists two individuals with this surname in Berlin, and Mr. Plickert is reasonably certain that a “M. FRANZ MICHELER,” a “Sportschriftsteller,” or sports writer, living in Berlin-Schöneberg, was the gentleman in question.  From the club file, it is certain that Micheler was a prominent club member of the “Ehrenrat,” the esteemed group that advised the club executives.

Mr. Plickert also figured out another signatory, a name he had initially misread as “WOLF.”  It turned out to have been a man named “DR. ADOLF LÜPKE,” who for several years belonged to the tennis club’s “Vorstand,” or Board of Directors; Dr. Lüpke’s signature, certified by a Notary Public, survives in the club file.

Earlier, Mr. Plickert had suggested to Dr. Gillmeister that the signature at the very top of the postcard might be that of “DR. W. SCHOMBURGK,” the former President or “Bundesleiter” of the “Deutscher Tennis Bund (DTB),” the German Tennis Federation.  Dr. Gillmeister consulted the following report on Germany’s 1929 match against Czechoslovakia:

C. Weiß, “Deutschland – Tschoslowakei in Prag im Gange,” in Tennis und Golf, Vol. 6, No. 17, 21 June 1929, p. 439 f.

And, sure enough, language on page 439 of this report provides proof that Dr. W. Schomburgk attended the Davis Cup match, but that he did not captain the German team.  That role was taken over by a “C. Weiß,” believed to be Conrad Weiss.  Regrettably, Conrad did not sign the postcard mailed from Prague.

Finally, after a two-year long enterprise and the unflagging efforts of two German tennis history specialists, all nine individuals who signed their names to the postcard my father saved were identified.  Below, I provide brief bios of the people and show pictures of them, where I’ve been able to find them.  In one instance, I provide a hyperlink to an image for sale of the individual discussed.

GERMAN 1929 DAVIS CUP PLAYERS

Figure 5-Daniel Prenn’s signature, signed “D. Prenn”

 

 

 

Figure 6-Daniel Prenn in 1929 (photo courtesy of Dr. Heiner Gillmeister)

Daniel Prenn  (b. 7 September 1904 in Vilna, Russian Empire-d. 3 September 1991 in Dorking, Great Britain). (Figures 5, 6, 7 & 8) Daniel Prenn was a Jewish-born tennis player who played for Poland, German, and Great Britain.  He was at the top of his game when he played for Germany and was a member of the “LTCC (Lawn Tennis Tournament Club) Rot-Weiß Tennis Club of Berlin; Prenn was Germany’s number one ranked player from 1928 to 1932.  When the Nazis came to power in 1933, he was barred from competition.  Despite his success on the court, the Deutscher Tennis Bund passed a series of resolutions in April 1933 barring Jews from the national team and official club positions, and included a specific resolution targeted towards Prenn, stating: “The player Dr. Prenn (a Jew) will not be selected for the Davis Cup team in 1933.”  Shortly thereafter, he moved to England and became a British subject.  He continued to play competitively but never again garnered the same level of success as he had in Germany.

Figure 7-Daniel Prenn, again in 1929 (photo courtesy of Dr. Heiner Gillmeister)

 

 

Figure 8-Tennis card showing Daniel Prenn in action

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 9-Hans Moldenauer’s signature

 

 

 

Hans Moldenauer  (b. 10 April 1901-d. 29 December 1929 in Berlin, Germany). (Figures 9, 10 & 11)  Like Prenn, Moldenauer was a member of the Rot-Weiß Tennis Club of Berlin.  He was Germany’s first major international tennis player, and competed in Wimbledon, Davis Cup, and the French Open.  He died at a young age when his motor car was struck by a tram in Berlin.

Figure 11-Hans Moldenauer, again in 1929 (photo courtesy of Dr. Heiner Gillmeister)
Figure 10-Hans Moldenauer in 1929 (photo courtesy of Dr. Heiner Gillmeister)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 12-Heinz Landmann’s signature

 

 

 

Figure 13-Heinz Landmann in action (photo courtesy of Dr. Heiner Gillmeister)

Heinz Landmann (Figures 12 & 13)  Heinz Landmann was the third member of Germany’s 1929 Davis Cup Team.  He won the German Open Tennis Championship in 1923.

 

 

 

 

 

 

GERMAN 1929 DAVIS CUP TEAM ENTOURAGE

Figure 14-Paula Reznicek’s signature, signed “Paula R.”

 

 

 

Figure 15-Paula von Reznicek in 1929 (photo courtesy of Dr. Heiner Gillmeister)

Freifrau (Baroness) Paula von Reznicek, née Heimann  (b. 17 October 1898 in Breslau, Germany-d. 12 October 1976 in Munich, Germany). (Figures 14, 15, 16 & 17)  Paula von Reznicek was an internationally-ranked tennis player, journalist, and writer.  In 1928, Ms. Reznicek published “Auferstehung der Dame” [Resurrection of a Lady], an illustrated book that was a summary of sorts of contemporary views on feminine identity.  In 1929, she won the German Open Tennis Championship in Berlin, the year she was ranked number 8 in the world.  Paula married Burghard von Reznicek around 1925, although by 1932, she was married to Hans Stuck, the famous German race-car driver, a marriage that lasted until 1948.  Because her grandfather had been Jewish, Paula’s marriage to Hans Stuck probably saved her life since Hans had established a personal relationship with Hitler, whom he had met by chance on a hunting trip in 1925.

 

Figure 17-Tennis card showing Paula von Reznicek in action
Figure 16-Paula von Reznicek in 1932 (photo courtesy of Dr. Heiner Gillmeister)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 18-Burghard von Reznicek’s signature, signed “B v. Reznicek”

 

 

 

Burghard Freiherr (Baron) von Reznicek  (b. 1896 in Mannheim, Germany-d. 1971). (Figure 18)  Burghard von Reznicek was a journalist and author of “Tennis: Das Spiel der Völker (Marburg, 1932),” a book dedicated to his wife, Paula von Reznicek.

Figure 19-Hans-Georg Lindenstaedt’s signature, signed “Hage Lindenstaedt”

 

 

 

Figure 20-Hage Lindenstaedt in action in 1929  (photo courtesy of Dr. Heiner Gillmeister)

Hans-George “Hage” Lindenstaedt  (b. 20 August 1904 in Berlin, Germany-d. 24 December 1975). (Figures 19 & 20) Hage Lindenstaedt was an excellent tennis and table tennis player.  He played with Daniel Prenn on Germany’s Table Tennis team at the first World Cup in 1926.  He was also a sports journalist.  During the 1930’s, he emigrated to Switzerland for political reasons, but returned to Berlin after WWII and ran a printing company.

 

Figure 21-M. Franz Micheler’s signature, signed “Micheler”

 

 

 

Figure 22-Page from Berlin’s 1930 phone directory identifying M. Franz Micheler as a “Sportschriftsteller,” or sports writer, living in Berlin-Schöneberg

M. Franz Micheler (Figures 21 & 22) Little is known about Mr. Micheler, although Mr. Friedrick Plickert is certain that he is the Micheler listed in Berlin’s 1930 phone directory, identified as a “Sportschriftsteller,” or sports writer, living in Berlin-Schöneberg.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 23-Dr. Wilhelm Schomburgk’s signature, signed “Dr. W. Schomburgk”

 

 

 

 

Figure 24-Dr. Wilhelm Schomburgk, President of the Deutscher Tennis Bund, in 1927 (photo courtesy of Dr. Heiner Gillmeister)

Dr. Wilhelm Schomburgk  (b. 1 March 1882 in Leipzig, Germany-d. 15 December 1959 in Leipzig, Germany). (Figures 23, 24 & 25) As a young man, Dr. Schomburgk was an avid athlete, playing football, tennis, field and ice hockey.  In 1902, he co-founded the “Deutscher Tennis Bund (DTB),” the German Tennis Federation, an organization he was President of between 1934 and 1937.  His belief as to the proper role of sports, as voluntary and not as a duty, diverged from that of the National Socialists and caused him to resign from the DTB in October 1937.  During the war, Dr. Schomburgk belonged to the conservative resistance to the Third Reich, some of whose members were famously associated with the failed 20 July 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler.

Figure 25-The Deutscher Tennis Bund in 1927 with Dr. Wilhelm Schomburgk shown circled (photo courtesy of Dr. Heiner Gillmeister)

 

Figure 26-Dr. Adolf Lüpke’s signature

 

 

 

Dr. Adolf Lüpke (Figure 26)  According to what Mr. Friedrich Plickert discovered from reviewing the file entitled “Tennis Club Schwarz-Weiß” at the local court, the “Vereinsregister, Amtsgericht Berlin-Charlottenburg,” for several years, belonged to the tennis club’s “Vorstand,” or Board of Directors. 

Figure 27-The Grand Hotel Bohemia, formerly the Grand-Hotel Steiner, as it looks today

The Grand-Hotel Steiner, where Germany’s 1929 Davis Cup stayed along with their entourage, still exists today and is known as the Grand Hotel Bohemia. (Figure 27)  It opened on February 25, 1927, and was owned and operated by an experienced hotelier, Mr. Josef Steiner.  The hotel offered the highest level of luxury, and the hotel lobby was decorated in English Art Deco style.  After the Communist takeover in 1948, all private properties were nationalized and private ownership of businesses became illegal.  Believing Communist rule would be short-lived and hoping to watch over his property. Mr. Steiner offered the Communist Party his hotel for representation purposes, asking only that he be allowed to remain as an employee.  Unfortunately, Communist rule lasted 40 years, and the hotel was returned to the Steiner family only after the Velvet Revolution in 1989, at which point the family sold it.

POST 18: REMEMBERING MY GREAT-AUNT CHARLOTTE “LOTTE” BERLINER, NÉE ROTHE, VICTIM OF THE HOLOCAUST

“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”—Elie Wiesel

 “To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”—Elie Wiesel

NOTE:  This article tiers off my previous post dealing with my Uncle Fedor, and a postcard he mailed on his 14th birthday from Breslau, Germany.  For most of my readers, I expect this article will be of limited interest, so briefly let me explain why I’ve written it.  With the exception of my Uncle Fedor, I had never heard of the other people whose names appear on the postcard.  I had low expectations when I started gumshoeing, so was pleasantly surprised when I figured out all their identities.  I was even more delighted when I found pictures of the person to whom the card had been mailed.  Sadly, I also felt an obligation to share with readers the fate of my great-aunt Charlotte Berliner, and in a small way remember that she once existed.  And, finally, I wanted to tell about the various databases I checked to uncover the vital events of the named people.

In the previous Blog post dealing with my Uncle Fedor Bruck, readers will recall that on his 14th birthday on August 17, 1909, my uncle went on a hot-air balloon ride in Breslau (today: Wrocław, Poland).  Along with “Alfred & Lotte,” all signed a card postmarked from a mail train, copied here (Figures 1a & 1b), addressed to “Fräulein Helene Rothe” and sent to the attention of “Martin Rothe” in Meseritz in the province of Posen, Prussia (today: Miedzyrzecz, Poland).  This was the first time I came across the surname “Rothe” in my family research.

Figure 1a-Front of postcard dated August 17, 1909 showing Rathaus (Town Hall) in Leipzig

 

Figure 1b-Back of postcard dated August 17, 1909, with names of people discussed in Blog post circled

 

 

 

 

 

I had been told by my parents that members of my grandmother Else Berliner’s (Figure 2) family had immigrated to New York.  While I’d never met them growing up, my parents had occasional contact with them in America.  These included two of my father’s first cousins, Peter Berliner and his sister (Figure 3); Ilse’s husband, Walter Goetzel, was even a witness at my parent’s wedding. (Figure 4)  Gradually, though, our families lost contact.  Still, without too much difficulty I was able to find Peter Berliner’s ancestors, though too late to meet Peter who died in 2000.  It was while researching him in ancestry.com, however, that I learned his parents were Alfred Berliner and Lotte Berliner, née Rothe, thus, the great-uncle and -aunt “Alfred & Lotte,” who, along with my Uncle Fedor, signed the card postmarked in 1909 from Breslau, Germany.  Hence, the Rothe family is related to the Berliner family by marriage.

Figure 2-My grandmother Else Bruck, née Berliner (1873-1957)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 3-My father Otto Bruck with one of his first cousins, Ilse Goetzel, née Berliner
Figure 4-My Uncle Fedor, my mother Paulette Brook, née Bruyere, & Walter Goetzel, husband of Ilse Goetzel, on my parents wedding day on October 22, 1949

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During a visit to the Polish State Archives in Raciborz in 2014, I discovered the certificates for two of Alfred and Lotte Berliner’s three known children, Peter Berliner and his sister, Ilse Goetzel, née Berliner.  Both of these documents confirmed that Lotte Berliner, née Rothe, was their mother. 

I discovered additional information about my great-uncle Alfred Berliner from familysearch.org, the Mormon Church website.  Microfilm roll 1184448, containing Jewish death records from Ratibor, confirmed Alfred died there on February 19, 1921, and that his wife Lotte Berliner was present. (Figure 5)  Readers may remember Alfred Berliner was a brewer and the owner of the “M. Braun Brauerei” in Ratibor.  Alfred was interred in the former Jewish Cemetery in Ratibor, and a photo of his tombstone exists among the photos archived at the Muzeum Raciborzu that I examined in 2015. (Figure 6)

Figure 5-Jewish death register from Ratibor, confirming Alfred Berliner died there on February 19, 1921 (source: LDS Microfilm 1184448)

 

Figure 6-Tombstone of Alfred Berliner (1875-1921) from the former Jewish Cemetery in Ratibor, with birth year incorrectly inscribed as 1876

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While all these documents provided conclusive evidence of when and where Alfred Berliner died, I did not yet know his wife’s fate.  Previously, I’ve made mention of the database: Östliche preußische Provinzen, Polen, Personenstandsregister 1874-1945 (Eastern Prussian Provinces, Germany [Poland], Selected Civil Vitals, 1874-1945).  Not only was I able to locate Alfred and Lotte Berliner’s marriage certificate here (Figures 7a & 7b), but I also was able to find Lotte Berliner’s birth certificate (she was born Charlotte Henriette Rothe) (Figures 8a & 8b), that of two of her siblings, Helene Lina Rothe (Figure 9) and Curt Isidor Rothe (Figure 10), the names of her parents, Martin Rothe and Babette Pinner, and the death certificate of her father Martin. (Figure 11)  Thus, with the historic documents found in the “Eastern Prussian Provinces” database, I was now certain that the 1909 postcard had been sent to Lotte Berliner’s sister, Helene Rothe, to the attention of Lotte and Helene’s father, Martin Rothe.

Figure 7b-Alfred & Lotte Berliner’s marriage certificate (source: Östliche preußische Provinzen, Polen, Personenstandsregister 1874-1945)
Figure 7a-Alfred & Lotte Berliner’s marriage certificate (source: Östliche preußische Provinzen, Polen, Personenstandsregister 1874-1945)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 8a-Lotte Berliner’s (née Charlotte Henriette Rothe) birth certificate #1 (source: Östliche preußische Provinzen, Polen, Personenstandsregister 1874-1945)
Figure 8b-Lotte Berliner’s (née Charlotte Henriette Rothe) birth certificate #2 (source: Östliche preußische Provinzen, Polen, Personenstandsregister 1874-1945)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 9-Helene Schönhöfer, née Rothe, birth certificate (source: Östliche preußische Provinzen, Polen, Personenstandsregister 1874-1945)
Figure 10-Curt Isidor Rothe birth certificate (source: Östliche preußische Provinzen, Polen, Personenstandsregister 1874-1945)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 11-Martin Rothe death certificate (source: Östliche preußische Provinzen, Polen, Personenstandsregister 1874-1945)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 12-March 1964 passport picture of Helene Rothe to whom 1909 postcard was sent by her sister Lotte and brother-in-law Alfred Berliner

I previously mentioned I was able to locate descendants of Peter Berliner and his sister Ilse, in America.  Through them, I even obtained photos of the Helene Rothe to whom the 1909 postcard had been sent. (Figure 12)  I also learned a little about “Tante Lena,” as she was affectionately known; members of the Goetzel and Berliner families visited her a few times in Landau in der Pfalz, Germany, where she then lived.  They learned that her husband, Dr. jur. (lawyer) Johann Alois Schönhöfer, a non-Jew, hid her in a basement and protected her throughout WWII, and that she emerged severely malnourished, with a deformed back.  Knowing where Helene Rothe had lived, I contacted the Rathaus, basically City Hall, in Landau, and obtained a copy of her death certificate and learned she died there on January 17, 1981. (Figure 13)

 

Figure 13-Death certificate of Helene Rothe, who died as Helene Schönhöffer (source: Stadtverwaltung Landau in der Pfalz, Germany)

Lotte Berliner was the last name on the 1909 postcard whose fate I had still to work out.  When researching one’s Jewish relatives during the Nazi era, at some point one must consider they may have been murdered in the Holocaust, and search their names in the database of victims.  Such was the case with my great-aunt Lotte Berliner.  She is listed in Yad Vashem, as having been deported from Berlin, Germany to Auschwitz-Birkenau aboard “Transport 27, Train Da 13 on January 29, 1943,” arriving there a day later (Figure 14); whether Lotte relocated to Berlin after her husband’s death is unknown.  A recently added feature on Yad Vashem allows users to view the route trains took to transport their victims to the extermination camps, in the case of my great-aunt Lotte, Auschwitz-Birkenau. (Figure 15) 

Figure 14-Cattle car on display at Auschwitz-Birkenau of the type used to transport my great-aunt Lotte and many other Jews to their death
Figure 15-The route Transport 27, carrying my great-aunt Lotte Berliner between Berlin and Auschwitz, followed between January 29-20, 1943 (source: Yad Vashem)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below is a summary of the vital events of the five people whose names appear on the postcard mailed on August 17, 1909 from Breslau, Germany:

 

NAME EVENT DATE PLACE
       
Alfred Max Berliner Birth November 6, 1875 Ratibor, Germany (today: Racibórz, Poland)
Death February 19, 1921 Ratibor, Germany (today: Racibórz, Poland)
Charlotte (“Lotte”) Henriette Berliner, née Rothe Birth April 2, 1886 Meseritz, Prussia, Germany (today: Miedzyrzecz, Lubuskie, Poland)
Death January 30, 1943 Auschwitz-Birkenau, Extermination Camp, Poland
Adolf & Charlotte Berliner Marriage January 17, 1909 Meseritz, Prussia, Germany (today: Miedzyrzecz, Lubuskie, Poland)
Fedor Bruck (died as Theodore Brook) Birth August 17, 1895 Leobschütz, Germany (today: Głubczyce, Poland)
Death February 20, 1982 Yonkers, New York
Helene Lina Rothe (died as Helene Lina Schönhöfer) Birth January 4, 1892 Meseritz, Prussia, Germany (today: Miedzyrzecz, Lubuskie, Poland)
Death January 17, 1981 Landau in der Pfalz, Germany
Martin Rothe Birth ~1858  
Death June 20, 1933 Meseritz, Prussia, Germany (today: Miedzyrzecz, Lubuskie, Poland)

 

 

POST 17: SURVIVING IN BERLIN IN THE TIME OF HITLER: MY UNCLE FEDOR’S STORY

NOTE:  The last two Blog posts have dealt with three of my grandfather Felix Bruck’s sisters, two renowned personages and a third who gave birth to a well-known artist.  My grandfather had two additional surviving siblings, both of whom fled Berlin during the Third Reich never to return, and their stories will be the subject of upcoming posts.  However, in this Blog post, I will talk about my father’s oldest brother, Dr. Fedor Bruck, and, tell his life story and relate his compelling tale of survival in Berlin during the era of the National Socialists.  This is a story I’ve looked forward to relating to readers on account of some of the historic figures who played a direct and indirect role in my uncle’s life.

Figure 1-My Uncle Fedor as a child with his two surviving siblings, my Aunt Susanne and my father Otto

Fedor Bruck was the eldest of the four known children of Felix and Else Bruck, well-to-do owners of the Bruck’s “Prinz von Preußen” Hotel in Ratibor (today: Racibórz, Poland). (Figure 1)  He was born on August 17, 1895, in Leobschütz, Upper Silesia, Germany (today: Głubczyce, Poland), unlike his younger siblings all born in Ratibor, 22 miles (35km) to the southeast.  I was eventually able to locate my uncle’s birth certificate in the database: Östliche preußische Provinzen, Polen, Personenstandsregister 1874-1945 (Eastern Prussian Provinces, Germany [Poland], Selected Civil Vitals, 1874-1945), with the assistance of a German archivist.

 

Figure 2a-Front of postcard dated August 17, 1909 showing Rathaus (Town Hall) in Leipzig
Figure 2b-Back of postcard signed by my Uncle Fedor, dated August 17, 1909, with items discussed in text highlighted

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a child, my Uncle Fedor was interested in hot-air balloons.  Among my father’s surviving personal papers, there exists a postcard sent by my uncle to his maternal aunt’s sister on his 14th birthday, that’s to say on August 17, 1909, when his aunt and uncle, Alfred & Charlotte (“Lotte”) Berliner, took him on a hot-air balloon ride in Breslau, Germany (today: Wrocław, Poland). (Figures 2a & 2b)  By researching the names on the postcard, I was able to entirely reconstruct a branch of my family I had previously been unaware using the “Eastern Prussian Provinces” database cited above.

Beyond the names, however, the postcard is interesting for multiple reasons.  It came from an association (“des Artillerie-Vereins 1908, Ratibor und Umgegund”) founded in 1908 by former artillery soldiers from Ratibor and the surrounding area; the club’s stamp appears in the upper right-hand corner of the card.  The artillery association partially supported itself by offering hot-air balloon rides, and the balloon pilots, Ulrich Gaebel and Hans Zynwi (?), signed their names.  The oval cancellation mark, “Breslau-Oderberg,” specifically indicates the postcard was stamped and postmarked aboard a mail train, traveling the 256 miles between these locations; such mail trains were apparently common in Germany until 1945.  The photo was taken from a hot-air balloon at a height of 150 meters, and shows the new Town Hall in Leipzig, a city in Saxony 231 miles to the west of Breslau.  “Luftschiffer,” printed on the backside of the postcard, refers to German airship (balloon) units.

Figure 3-My Uncle Fedor Bruck in his WWI uniform

My Uncle Fedor fought for the German Army in World War I, and was assigned to the 89th Infantry Division as part of their fire brigade. (Figure 3)  For a time in 1916, he was stationed in the Ukraine on the Eastern Front.  A postcard written by my Uncle Fedor during his deployment there also survives among my father’s personal papers.  This one is one dated September 3, 1916, and was written by my uncle to his Aunt Franziska Bruck in Berlin, the famed florist, in which he proudly tells her he has been promoted to the rank of a non-commissioned officer. (Figures 4a & 4b) My uncle’s duties on the Front ended when he was wounded, wounds from which he fully recovered.

Figure 4a-Front of postcard dated September 3, 1916, sent by my Uncle Fedor to his Aunt Franziska Bruck from the Eastern Front
Figure 4b-Back of postcard dated September 3, 1916, sent by my Uncle Fedor from the Eastern Front to his Aunt Franziska Bruck at her flower shop in Berlin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 5-Contemporary map of Poland showing where my Uncle Fedor was born (Ratibor/Raciborz), educated (Breslau/Wroclaw), and practiced dentistry (Liegnitz/Legnica)

By 1921, my Uncle Fedor had obtained a dental license from the University of Breslau.  He owned his practice in Liegnitz (today: Legnica, Poland) (Figure 5) from November 1924 through April 1936 (Figure 6), when he was forced out of business by the National Socialists.  Already, by March 1932, they had relieved my uncle of his responsibilities as municipal school dentist (“Schulzahnarzt”) for schools in small communities surrounding Liegnitz (Figures 7 & 8); a Schulzahnarzt merely examined pupils‘ teeth, advising them on whether a followup with a dentist was required.  There was widespread support among German dentists for the National Socialist ideology, so in expectation of their rise to power many dental organizations displaced their Jewish colleagues as a sign of “anticipatory obedience.“  Since my uncle could no longer practice dentistry in Liegnitz, he left for Berlin in 1936. 

Figure 6-Document indicating that my Uncle Fedor owned his practice in Liegnitz from November 1924 until April 1936

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 7-Document dated March 1932 from Liegnitz’s Magistrate notifying my Uncle Fedor that he was being relieved of his duties as Schulzahnarzt for communities surrounding Liegnitz
Figure 8-Document dated April 1936 from Breslau listing the communities for which my Uncle Fedor had formerly been Schulzahnarzt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 9-My Uncle Fedor with Irmgard Lutze, the married lady with whom he had two children

During his time in Liegnitz, my uncle had an illicit love affair with a married non-Jewish woman (Figure 9) by whom he fathered two children, my first cousins.  As offspring of a Jewish man, this could have been dangerous to the children and their mother, but because the cuckolded husband never betrayed them both children survived into old age.

 

 

 

After leaving for Berlin, for a period of time at least, my uncle could still work there, though under very trying circumstances.  He continued to have his own practice at Fasanenstraße 20 in Berlin-Charlottenburg for a while.  However, as a result of the “Regulation for the Elimination of the Jews from the Economic Life of Germany,” after February 1939, my uncle had his dental license revoked.   Only in November 1939 was he again certified, but then only as a “Zahnbehandler,” which meant he could only treat Jews and relatives. 

Interestingly, the archives at the Centrum Judaicum Berlin show that during this period, specifically on June 11, 1939, he converted from Judaism at the Messiah Chapel in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg, Kastanienallee 22.  My Uncle Fedor must still have believed even at this late date that conversion from Judaism would alter his fate.; my theory is that as a wounded veteran of WWI, it was totally inconceivable to him that the Germans would incarcerate or murder him.

Figure 10-My Uncle Fedor’s “Holocaust Badge” of the specific design that Jews living in Germany, Alsace, Bohemia and Moravia were required to wear during the Nazi era

For several months starting in March 1941, my uncle had the good fortune of managing the practice of a colleague preparing to emigrate, and then, again, in June 1941, he took over a well-equipped practice located in the Kürfurstendamm.  As a result, for a period of time he was better off economically than other Jews still in Germany, although by January 1942, he had been permanently displaced from this last office by a National Socialist colleague. (Figure 10)

 

 

Eventually, in a letter dated October 12, 1942, my uncle was summoned by the Gestapo to present himself to an “age transport.”  Realizing this was a death sentence, he fled to a friend in Berlin-Dahlem and went underground.  Roger Moorhouse, in his book entitled “Berlin at War: Life and Death in Hitler’s Capital 1939-1945,” estimates that of the 11,000 Jews who went underground in Berlin during the war years of 1939-45, only about 1400 survived the war, of which my uncle was one.  Time and again, Uncle Fedor had good fortune.  When his friend, Dr. Sieber, was arrested on February 15, 1943, by the Gestapo in his presence, he miraculously escaped.  In the ensuing months, my uncle found refuge with a cousin or hid in “green belts,” coal cellars, and parks. 

Figure 11-The story at Berlin’s “Silent Heroes Memorial Center” about Dr. Otto Berger, a right-minded German who enabled my uncle to survive in Berlin during the Nazi era

Most helpful to him during his underground odyssey was a dentist by the name of Otto Berger, a right-minded individual who was adamantly opposed to National Socialism. (Figure 11)  Berger somehow was able to illegally procure papers for Fedor in the name of Dr. Friedrich Burkhardt, matching my uncle’s own initials; without these papers, it is certain that Fedor would not have survived the war.  In March 1944, both Berger and Fedor were among nine survivors from a group of 44 people who had sought refuge in a basement destroyed by Allied bombers.  Following this narrow escape, for a short period Fedor again hid with his cousin before returning to live with Berger, first in Berlin-Zehlendorf, then in Berlin-Steglitz.  The last apartment was destroyed by fire on the eve of the Russian capture of Steglitz on April 26, 1945.

Figure 12-My Uncle Fedor in Liegnitz with his dental assistant, Käthe Heusermann, née Reiss, who went on to became Hitler’s dentist’s assistant

The capture of this part of Berlin marked the beginning of the next phase of my uncle’s life.  When Fedor had his own practice in Liegnitz, he trained as one of his dental assistants a woman named Käthe Heusermann, née Reiss. (Figure 12)  After Fedor was forced to close shop in Liegnitz and move to Berlin, she too moved there, and from 1937 on, she was in the employ of Dr. Hugo Blaschke, Hitler’s American-trained dentist. (Figure 13)  Following the Russian capture of Berlin, on May 4, 1945, Fedor visited his former dental assistant Käthe Heusermann in the Pariserstraße in Berlin-Wilmersdorf, and she encouraged him to apply to take over Dr. Blaschke’s dental office, which had only been lightly damaged.  As a victim of National Socialism, he was entitled to such consideration.

Figure 13-Dr. Hugo Johannes Blaschke (1881-1959), Hitler’s American-trained dentist from 1933-1945

 

Figure 14-Entrance as it looks today to the office building where Hitler’s dentist, Dr. Blaschke, once had his practice at Kurfustendamm 213 that my Uncle Fedor took over after WWII

Dr. Blaschke’s dental office was located at Kürfurstendamm 213 (Figure 14), and was at the time situated in the Russian sector of Berlin.  With the approval of the Russian commandant, Fedor Bruck was assigned Blaschke’s office and living quarters.  Post-war Berlin phone directories for both 1946 (Figure 15) and 1948 list Fedor Bruck as a “Zahnarzt” (dentist) occupying these premises, as indeed he did until he left for America in 1947 (his name continues to show up in the 1948 phone directory even though he was no longer in Berlin).

 

 

Figure 15-1946 Berlin Phone Directory listing my uncle Dr. Fedor Bruck, as a zahnarzt (dentist) at Kurfurstendamm 213

My uncle’s former close association with Käthe Heusermann allowed him to become a “witness” to history.  As Dr. Blaschke’s dental assistant, Käthe had always been present when Hitler was undergoing dental treatment.  Because the dental records describing the work performed on Hitler had been lost or destroyed, Käthe Heusermann was questioned by the Russians and asked to give her opinion on the basis of memory whether the parts of the jaw found in the Reich Chancellery garden were those of Hitler.  She recognized the dental work and affirmed they were indeed Hitler’s remains.  Several days later, she conveyed this information to my uncle, which inadvertently placed him at risk.

Eventually, both Käthe Heusermann, and Dr. Blaschke’s dental technician, Fritz Echtmann, were captured by the Russians and imprisoned for some years.  Stalin seemingly did not want any witnesses who could confirm Hitler’s fate, perhaps wishing to perpetuate the myth that Hitler had survived the war and was an ever-present danger.  Since my uncle also knew of Hitler’s death, he too was in jeopardy of being kidnapped by the Russians, so, forewarned by the Americans, he decided to emigrate to the United States in July 1947.

Fedor Bruck never met Dr. Blaschke because he had already fled to the southern part of Germany by the time Fedor was assigned his dental practice.  Blaschke was eventually captured and interrogated by the Americans, and imprisoned for a period of time.  Fedor was able to salvage the abandoned dental records of some Nazis treated by Dr. Blaschke, although the records dealing with more prominent figures such as Himmler, Ley, Göring, Goebbels, and others were taken away by the Russians when they searched the premises.  The salvaged records survive in the estate of Fedor’s grandson. (Figures 16a & 16b)

Figure 16a-Among the records salvaged by my Uncle Fedor from Dr. Blaschke’s office is an invitation for Blaschke & his wife to a social event hosted by Hermann Göring & his wife

 

Figure 16b-The invitation to Dr. Blaschke & his wife to attend a social event hosted by Hermann Göring & his wife salvaged by my Uncle Fedor from Blaschke’s dental office

 

 

 

 

 

 

The events described above, including Fedor Bruck’s knowledge of some of these happenings, are documented in at least three books and one newspaper account.  These include H.R. Trevor-Roper’s “The Last Days of Hitler,” Lev Bezymenski’s “The Death of Adolf Hitler,” and Jelena Rshewskaja’s German-language book “Hitlers Ende Ohne Mythos.” 

Trevor-Roper’s book was initially published in 1947, and this edition makes no mention of Fedor Bruck.  However, in the Third Edition of this book published in 1956, a lengthy introduction was added by the author.  This was made possible by the release, in that year, of Russian prisoners whom Trevor-Roper had been unable to question during his initial inquiries in 1945.  Fedor Bruck’s name and witness to the events described above are discussed on pages 32-33.  In Lev Bezymenski’s book, the events are described on pages 53-57, and my uncle Dr. Bruck’s name is cited on page 53.   Ms. Rshewskaja’s book mentions Dr. Bruck on page 120 and following.  In addition, Fedor Bruck was visited on July 7, 1945, in the former office of Dr. Blaschke by three British correspondents, including William Forrest of the “News Chronicle.”  Relying on the account provided by Fedor Bruck, William Forrest chronicled in an article published on July 9th the positive identification of Hitler’s remains.

Figure 17-My Uncle Fedor and my Aunt Verena Bruck, née Dick, on their wedding day on March 4, 1958

 Like my father, my Uncle Fedor never again practiced dentistry after he arrived in America.  In December 1952, Fedor Bruck became a citizen of the United States, and legally changed his name to Theodore A. Brook.   He married for the first time on March 4, 1958. (Figure 17)

 

Figure 18-My Uncle Fedor, as a toll-collector on the Tappan Zee Bridge, featured in a 1964 advertisement for a Plymouth Savoy

For a period of time after his arrival in American, my uncle worked as a night watchman in a church in the Upper Westside of Manhattan, although he eventually landed a job with the State of New York as a toll-collector on the Tappan Zee Bridge. (Figure 18)  Unlike many Jews who’d been professionals in their countries of origin, my uncle never bemoaned the fact he’d had to change his vocation in America; I remember my uncle as a boundless optimist for whom the glass was always half-full.  He loved his job as a toll-collector because it allowed him to engage in another of his lifelong passions, namely, coin collecting.  His wife, my Aunt Verena, once recounted to me the time my uncle approached her about buying a coin book to identify valuable coins and estimate their worth.  While she initially balked at the “extravagance“ of such an expense, she quickly changed her tune when my uncle regularly came home from his job with valuable coins exchanged for those of lesser value.

 

Figure 19-My Uncle Fedor on September 12, 1981, five months before he passed away

My Uncle Fedor passed away in Bronxville, outside New York City, in February 1982. (Figures 19, 20 & 21)

 

Figure 20-My Uncle Fedor astride a horse in Liegnitz in 1926 dressed as an “English Gentleman”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 21-My Uncle Fedor astride a horse in Liegnitz in 1926 dressed as “Frederick the Great”

 

REFERENCES

Bezymenski, Lev

1968    The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives.  Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. New York.

Brook, Richard

2013    Prinz von Preußen—Hotel rodziny Bruck.  Almanach Prowincjonalny 1/2013 (17) (p. 58-73).

Lutze, Kay

2006    Die Lebensgeschichte des jüdischen Zahnarztes Fedor Bruck (1895-1982) Von Liegnitz nach New York.  Zahnärztliche Mitteilungen 96, Nr. 10, 16.5 (p. 124-127)

Moorhouse, Roger

2010    Berlin at War.  Basic Books. New York

Rshewskaja, Jelena

2005    Hitlers Ende Ohne Mythos.  Neues Leben, Verlag. (120 ff.)

Trevor, Roper, H.R.

1947    The Last Days of Hitler.  The Macmillan Company. New York.

1987    The Last Days of Hitler (Sixth Edition).  The University of Chicago Press. Chicago (p. 32-33)

 

POST 16: TRACKING MY GREAT-AUNT HEDWIG LÖWENSTEIN, NÉE BRUCK, & HER FAMILY THROUGH FIVE COUNTRIES

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.

REMINDER ABOUT FIGURES:  HYPERLINKS ARE FOUND BELOW SOME FIGURES AND MAPS ALLOWING READERS TO OPEN THESE ITEMS IN A SEPARATE WINDOW AND VIEW THEM AT FULL SIZE

Figure 1-Hedwig Löwenstein, née Bruck (1870-1949)

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.

Figure 2-Jewish birth register from Ratibor recording Hedwig Bruck’s birth on March 22, 1870 (Microfilm Roll # 1184449, LDS Church)

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.

Figure 3-Hedwig Löwenstein with her three children, Fedor (seated), Jeanne (“Hansi”) & Heinz in Nice, France

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. 

Figure 4-Central Europe in 1914 with Kingdom of Bohemia (red), Austro-Hungarian Empire (green), & German Empire (black) circled (Source: Putzger Historischer Weltatlas)

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 (mestys@chodovaplana.cz) 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:

http://www.badatelna.eu/reprodukce/?fondId=1073&zaznamId=1110446&reproId=3664792

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. 

Figure 5-Register from Kuttenplan recording Rudolf Löwenstein’s birth on January 17, 1872
Figure 6-Register from Kuttenplan recording Ernst Löwenstein’s birth on August 23, 1869

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 7-A “Page of Testimony,” submitted in 1990 to Yad Vashem by Ernst Löwenstein’s daughter, Charlotte Fišerová

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. 

Figure 8-Death Register listing for Fedor Löwenstein, with his surname inadvertently spelled “Lowenstein”

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.

Figure 9-Reception Bureau at Cimitiere Caucade

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. 

 

Figure 10-Hedwig Löwenstein, née Bruck’s (1870-1949) headstone
Figure 11-Fedor Löwenstein’s (1901-1946) headstone, his surname correctly spelled

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Figure 12-Mary-Jo Fischer in 2014, Nice, France

 

Figure 13-Mary-Jo Fischer’s late husband, Erich Fischer (1910-1991)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 14-Jeanne “Hansi” Goff, née Löwenstein on March 8, 1929, at the seaside town of Zoppot in the Free State of Danzig

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.

 

Figure 15-1927 Danzig Address Book listing Rudolf Löwenstein’s “Annoncen-Expedition und Reklamebüro” business

 

Figure 16-Heinz Löwenstein’s birth register listing (March 8, 1905) (Source: Microfilm Roll # 1184407, LDS Church)
Figure 17-Rudolf Löwenstein’s death register listing (March 22, 1930) (Source: Microfilm Roll # 1184408, LDS Church)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 18-Two distant Bruck cousins, Ronny, left, from Alicante, Spain & Michael, right, from Haifa, Israel in 2014 in Hilden, Germany

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)

Figure 19-November 27, 1965 letter from Heinz Löwenstein to his aunt Elsbeth Bruck announcing his new Hebrew name, “Hanoch Avinary”
Figure 20-My parents in Haifa, Israel in 1973 with Heinz Löwenstein, my father’s first cousin

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:

 

NAME EVENT DATE PLACE
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

 

POST 15: BERLIN & MY GREAT-AUNTS FRANZISKA & ELSBETH BRUCK

NOTE:  This Blog post will mark the beginning of a series of articles dealing with the Bruck family’s indelible connection to Berlin.  My grandfather, his five siblings, along with my father, his two siblings and most of his cousins, as well as many extended family members lived in Berlin during the 19th or 20th centuries.  A good starting point for this conversation begins with two of my great-aunts, their links to Berlin, and their eventual fates.

Figure 1-My great-grandfather, Fedor Bruck

On multiple occasions over the years, I have ordered from the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City, Utah, the three rolls of microfilm records for the town of Ratibor, Germany, where my father, Dr. Otto Bruck, was born in 1907.  These rolls, once only available on temporary loan to local Mormon Family History Centers, are now accessible on-line through familysearch.org.  One microfilm roll includes Jewish birth records covering the period from roughly 1817 through 1874.  Here, I discovered that my paternal great-grandparents, Fedor Bruck (Figure 1) and Friederike Bruck, née Mockrauer (Figure 2), had seven children born in Ratibor, although I was aware of an eighth child whose birth record I eventually located in the Polish State Archives in Raciborz, as discussed in an earlier post.  The oldest child was my grandfather, Felix Bruck, born in 1864, followed by Charlotte (born 1865), Franziska (born 1866), Elise (born 1868), Hedwig (born 1870), Robert Samuel (born 1871), Wilhelm (1872), and, finally, Elsbeth (born 1874). (Figure 3)  Growing up, I rarely heard my father mention any of these great-aunts and-uncles, but I most definitely never heard Elise and Robert mentioned and have found no documentary evidence to suggest they survived into adulthood, so presume they died young.

Figure 2-My great-grandmother, Friederike Bruck, née Mockrauer
Figure 3-My great-aunt Elsbeth with her older brother, Wilhelm “Willy” Bruck

 

 

 

 

 

Many years ago, my now-deceased German cousin told me the personal things, mostly papers, of two of my renowned great-aunts, Franziska and Elsbeth Bruck, are archived at the Stadtmuseum (Figure 4), then located in Berlin.  It wasn’t until 2014 that the museum, by then moved to Spandau on the outskirts of Berlin, had organized my great-aunts’ papers and that I could thoroughly review them. (Figure 5)  Being particularly interested in my paternal grandfather and his five surviving siblings, as well as their respective offspring, my great-aunts’ documents provided an ideal point of departure for learning more about these relatives and beginning to unravel my family’s diaspora.

Figure 4-Stadtmuseum in Spandau, on the outskirts of Berlin
Figure 5-My great-aunts Franziska & Elsbeth’s personal papers

 

 

The family items at the Statdtmuseum include academic papers, diaries, numerous professional and personal letters, family photographs, awards, and miscellaneous belongings.  The articles of primary interest to me were naturally the family letters and photographs, particularly those from and showing people I had encountered growing up or had learned about from my father.  The letters came in several forms: handwritten in Sütterlin; handwritten in standard German; typewritten in standard German; or occasionally hand-or-typewritten in English.  My wife and I took high resolution photographs of all the letters and pictures for future reference, although, to this day, most have not been translated.  However, I have transcribed a few of the typewritten letters written by one of my father’s first cousins using Google Translate, and, while the translations are horrid, I can understand the gist of the letters.  The matters discussed are often mundane in nature, although on occasion I’ve uncovered a real gem, some of which will be the topics of future Blog posts.

It goes without saying that Franziska and Elsbeth’s personal papers are the basis of some of what I learned about them, but as relatively prominent personages, I have been able to supplement, albeit limitedly, their bios from other sources.  Below I provide a succinct summary of their lives, inasmuch as I’ve uncovered, illustrated with items from the Stadtmuseum or places associated with them.

 

Figure 6-Franziska Bruck

Franziska Bruck (1866-1942) (Figure 6)

Franziska, born on December 29, 1866 in Ratibor, Germany, was the second daughter of the owners of Bruck’s “Prinz von Preußen” Hotel, Fedor and Friederike Bruck (the Bruck’s Hotel has been the subject of a previous post).  Little is known of Franziska’s early years in Ratibor.  Her father, Fedor Bruck, passed away in 1892 when she was 26 years old, so as one of the three oldest children, it is likely that along with her mother, and older brother and sister, they together ran the Bruck’s Hotel in Ratibor for a time.

Figure 7-My grandparents, Felix & Else Bruck, on their wedding day in 1894

Regardless, Franziska, along with her mother Friederike and her youngest sister Elsbeth, eventually left for Berlin in 1902, leaving the Bruck’s “Prinz von Preußen” Hotel in Ratibor to be managed by my grandfather and his wife, Felix and Else Bruck. (Figure 7)  A February 1915 article, in a German journal entitled “Die Bindekunst,” featured Franziska and mentioned she had gotten her start in Berlin 10 years earlier, so roughly in 1905.  She introduced into Germany a form of Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement, that was not initially taken seriously.  It wasn’t until her first public show in 1907 at a special flower exhibition that her artistry and excellent taste began to be appreciated.  And, in fact, a 1907 Berlin Address Book shows she was already in the flower business, first at Lützowstraße 27, and, no later than 1914, at nearby Potsdamer Str. 31a, both prestigious locations in central Berlin.  By 1915, the Berlin Address Book shows she had both a “Blumenbinderei,” a flower shop, as well as a “Schule für Blumenschmuck,”

Figure 8-Franziska Bruck in her “Schule für Blumenschmuck”

a school where she taught her unique form of flower decoration. (Figure 8)  By 1929, Franziska appears to have moved her flower shop and school to Charlottenburg in Berlin’s Westend, eventually running her shop from my aunt and uncle’s private home as the Nuremberg Laws took effect.

Family lore says the last German Emperor (Kaiser) and King of Prussia, who ruled until November 1918, was one of my great-aunt’s clients.  There can be no arguing that Franziska had an illustrious cadre of clients.  One of the pictures taken in her flower shop shows the last Crown Princess of Germany and Prussia, Princess Cecilie, touring her school. (Figures 9-10) Lyrical thank you letters (front & back of envelope, Page 1, Page 2, Translation) to Franziska from the renowned German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, also survive indicating he too was an enthusiastic client of my great-aunt.  My great-aunt wrote two beautifully illustrated books, one in 1919, entitled “Blumen and Ranken,” the second in 1927, called “Blumenschmuck,” that eloquently speak to her artistry and skill as a proponent of Ikebana.

 

Figure 9-Last Crown Princess of Germany & Prussia, Princess Cecilie, visiting Franziska’s “Schule für Blumenschmuck”
Figure 10-Princess Cecilie of Germany & Prussia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post 11-Prinzregentenstraße 75, Franziska Bruck’s last domicile in Berlin

The last year in which Franziska’s flower shop is listed in the Berlin Phone Directory is 1936, by which time my aunt Susanne Mueller, nee Bruck, and uncle Dr. Franz Müller had departed Germany.  My great-aunt Franziska last lived at Prinzregentenstraße 75 (Figure 11), also in Berlin’s Westend, where she likely committed suicide on January 2, 1942 only days after turning 76 years of age, no doubt after she was told by Nazi officials to report for deportation.  She is buried in the Weissensee Jewish Cemetery in East Berlin (Figure 12), and a stolpersteine, or a small, cobble-sized memorial (Figure 13), recognizes her as a victim of Nazi oppression at her last known address. 

Figure 12-Franziska Bruck’s grave in the Weissensee Jewish Cemetery in East Berlin
Figure 13-“Stolpersteine” for Franziska Bruck recognizing her as a victim of Nazi oppression

 

 

 

As previously mentioned, my aunt Susanne Mueller, née Bruck, and her husband, Dr. Franz Müller, left Berlin in 1936 in favor of Fiesole, Italy, an Etruscan hill town just above Florence.  My aunt and uncle’s 1931 Marriage License states that my aunt was a Managing Director in her aunt Franziska’s flower shop, suggesting my aunt and great-aunt were close to one another.  According to family accounts, my aunt and uncle were able to emigrate to Italy through the intercession of the Italian Ambassador to Germany (1932-1935), Vittorio Cerruti.  Perhaps, Elisabetta Cerruti (Figure 14), the beautiful Hungarian and Jewish wife of the ambassador, played some role in facilitating Susanne and Franz Müller’s emigration through contact they initiated in Franziska’s flower shop.

Figure 14-Elisabetta Cerruti, wife of Italy’s Ambassador to Germany, Vittorio Cerruti

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following my aunt and uncle’s departure from Berlin, my great-aunt Franziska Bruck went to visit them in Fiesole, Italy in 1937.  I discovered at the “Archivio Comunale Di Fiesole,” that’s to say, the Communal Archive in Fiesole, a document entitled “Soggiorno degli Stranieri in Italia,” or “Stay of Foreigners in Italy,” dated October 11, 1937, granting Franziska a tourist visa good for two months.  Given my great-aunt’s ultimate fate, one can only wonder how events might otherwise have played out had she abandoned her life in Berlin and stayed in Italy or emigrated elsewhere.

 

Figure 15-Elsbeth Bruck

Elsbeth Bruck (1874-1970) (Figure 15)

On the occasion of my great-aunt’s 95th birthday, the “Berliner Zeitung,” a Berlin daily founded in East Germany in 1945 that continued publication after German reunification, did a feature story on Elsbeth; this article provides some of my great-aunt’s own words to describe her life, which she documented in an unpublished autobiography.  By her own admission, Elsbeth was the family’s black sheep, which ultimately lead to her being booted from the house.  As the daughter of the owners of the Bruck’s Hotel, she chafed against their middle-class values and became an actress; by 1904, she was employed by the famous German movie director, Max Reinhardt.  She had an out-of-wedlock child in 1907, a son that sadly passed away after only two-and-a-half months

Elsbeth became a peace activist during WWI and joined the pacifist “Bund Neues Vaterland” (New Fatherland League), leading to her being charged with high treason and spying and jailed in 1916 and 1918.  During the era of the Weimar Republic between 1918 and 1933, she was involved in many social, cultural and pacifist activities, and by 1931 she was a member of the managing committee of the pacifist “Universal League of Mothers and Educators.”  By January 30, 1933, when Adolf Hitler was appointed Germany’s Chancellor, Elsbeth fled first to Heidelberg, then to Stuttgart, and finally in 1934 to Prague.  Here, she was supported by a variety of aid organizations, including the Jewish relief committee and a committee set up exclusively to help pacifist refugees, augmented by a small stipend from the latter organization; by 1938, when it became evident that WWII would not come to a quick end, she was offered refuge by an English Quaker settlement and provided an exit visa from Czechoslovakia to England, where she rode out the war.

Figure 16-Walter Ulbricht, former East German head of state

Elsbeth did not return to Germany until 1946, at which time she settled in East Berlin.  While Elsbeth’s ascent into the upper ranks of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) are unknown to me, there are a few clues as to her influence as a Communist apparatchik.  One of my cousins accompanied her father to visit Elsbeth in East Berlin in 1969, and clearly remembers my great-aunt describing her role as “logopäde” to Walter Ulbricht (Figure 16), a German Communist politician and the East German head of state until his death in 1973.  Having no idea as to the significance of this term, I had to turn to my German relatives to explain it to me.  The literal translation is “speech therapist,” although there is no indication Mr. Ulbricht had a speech impediment, akin to the stutter suffered by King George VI of England, made famous in the movie “The King’s Speech.”   Rather, Mr. Ulbricht was widely derided in West Germany at the time for his use of Saxonian colloquialisms, expressions no modern-day politician wishing to further his political career would today employ.  Possibly, Elsbeth’s role was as advisor on elocution and public speaking.  As an aside, Mr. Ulbricht is infamous for his lie, “Niemand hat die Absicht eine Mauer zu bauen,” or “no one has any intention to build a wall (between the East and West halves of Berlin),” uttered only days before construction of the Berlin Wall began overnight on August 13, 1961.

Figure 17-The “Vaterländischer Verdienstorden in Silber,” or “Patriotic Order of Merit in Silver” given to Elsbeth

There are two other things that attest to the high esteem with which Elsbeth was regarded within the former GDR.  First, she was awarded the “Vaterländischer Verdienstorden in Silber,” the “Patriotic Order of Merit in Silver,” for “special services to the state and to the society.” (Figure 17)  Perhaps, equally impressive, Elsbeth is buried in East Berlin’s “Friedrichsfelde Socialist Cemetery” (Figure 18, 19), only feet away from the central obelisk of the “Memorial to the Socialists” (Figure 20); ten graves surround

Figure 18-Entrance to the “Friedrichsfelde Socialist Cemetery” where Elsbeth is buried

this central obelisk, including that of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg, founders of the German Communist Party, as well as that of the aforementioned Walter Ulbricht.  Clearly, in death, Elsbeth is in lofty company.

 

Figure 19-Elsbeth Bruck’s grave
Figure 20-The central obelisk, “Memorial to the Socialists,” in East Berlin’s “Friedrichsfelde Socialist Cemetery”

 

 

 

In upcoming Blog posts, I will often refer to discoveries emanating from a closer examination of my great-aunts’ personal papers and photographs.  Some stories will provide telling indications as to the circle of friends and acquaintances with whom family members interacted, while others will chronicle the involved path I followed in uncovering more of my family’s history.

POST 14: RATIBOR & THE BRAUER (BREWER) M. BRAUN “LINK” TO AMERICA

My father, Otto Bruck, arrived in America aboard the Queen Elizabeth in 1948, and eventually came to be known as Gary Otto Brook after he became a naturalized U.S. citizen.  The first job my father had was working at Childs Restaurants near Times Square in Manhattan, which was one of the first national dining chains in the United States and Canada; it was a contemporary of the better-known Horn & Hardart and preceded McDonalds.

Figure 1-Franz Kayser with his nephew Walter Leyser (middle) and son John Kayser atop Rockefeller Center in 1945 (photo courtesy Larry Leyser)

After a summer stint as a tennis pro at Grossinger’s Catskill Resort Hotel in 1949, my father went to work for one of his cousins, a gentleman by the name of Franz Mantheim Kayser (Figure 1), who then operated a small import firm.  Franz and his then-wife, Catherine “Ulrike” Kayser nee Birkholz (Figure 2), had had one son born in 1938 in London, John Kayser. (Figure 3)  After John Kayser’s mother passed away in 2005 in New Jersey, by then long married to another man, who had predeceased her, and known as Catherine Sterner, John asked whether I knew how we are related.  At the time, I had absolutely no idea.  John and I would return to the question in 2010.  While the intervening years had given neither of us further insight, John thought our ancestral connection went back to Ratibor; he also told me his grandmother’s maiden name was “Elly Schueck,” which he thought might help unravel the mystery.  So, armed with these seemingly opaque clues, I set myself to work.

Figure 2-John Kayser’s mother in 1992, then known as Catherine Sterner
Figure 3-John Kayser in 2014 in Berlin at the entrance to 22 Kaiserdam Strasse, the apartment building his parents last lived before fleeing Germany in 1938

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 4-John Kayser’s great-grandfather, Adolph Schueck (photo courtesy Larry Leyser)

Until just this year, most microfilm records available from the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS), could only be ordered and viewed for a limited time at a local Mormon-operated Family History Center, or physically examined at the main LDS Library in Salt Lake City.  Over the years, I had ordered the Jewish records from Ratibor on several occasions, and eventually created a partial database of births, marriages and deaths of people of possible interest to me.  After John Kayser told me his grandmother’s maiden name and our possible connection to Ratibor, I reviewed the database I’d created and, lo and behold, I found Elly Schueck’s name; she had been born in Ratibor on September 7, 1874, and her parents’ names were Adolf Schueck and Alma Schueck, nee Braun. (Figures 4, 5, 6)  For me, this cracked the code because my own great-grandmother on my grandmother’s side was born Olga Braun, so I concluded John and I have an ancestral link related to the Braun family.  The database I had created from the Jewish microfilm records also included the birth information for John Kayser’s great-grandmother, Alma Braun, born on June 12, 1851 to Markus Braun and Caroline Braun, nee Spiegel.  Wanting to confirm all of this, I re-ordered the Jewish microfilm for Ratibor.

Figure 5-John Kayser’s great-grandmother, Alma Schueck nee Braun (photo courtesy Larry Leyser)
Figure 6-Adolph & Alma Schueck with fellow travelers in front of the Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt (photo courtesy Larry Leyser)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After receiving the relevant microfilm, I focused on Markus Braun (1817-1870) and Caroline Braun, nee Spiegel.  Ultimately, I identified twelve children they had together, born between 1847 and 1860, and established that John Kayser and I are third cousins (i.e., our respective great-grandmothers were sisters).  As an aside, Caroline Braun likely died before Markus Braun because he re-married a woman named Johanna Braun nee Goldstein, with whom he had two more children, including a son named Markus, who appears to have been born in 1870 shortly after the father Markus Braun died.

Figure 7-Postcard of M. Braun Brewery (front)

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 8-Postcard dated July 28, 1912 written by my great-grandmother Olga Berliner nee Braun, sister of Alma Schueck nee Braun, to my great-aunt Franziska Bruck (back)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 9-My great-grandfather, Hermann Berliner, Ratibor brewery owner

My father’s surviving personal papers include a postcard dated July 28, 1912 (Figures 7, 8) written by my great-grandmother, the aforementioned Olga Berliner, nee Braun, to her niece Franziska Bruck in Berlin, the famed florist mentioned in earlier Blog posts.  The postcard illustrates the brewery first owned by M. Braun in Ratibor.  There exists a virtually complete listing of historic German breweries entitled “Das historische Brauereiverzeichnis der ehem. Ostgebiete und Polen,” which translates as “The historical breweries of the former Eastern Territories and Poland,” at the following URL: http://www.klausehm.de/Pagepolenr.htmlOstgebiete refers to the areas of Silesia, Pomerania, Brandenburg, and East and West Prussia.  For Ratibor, there once existed 32 breweries, including one owned by “M. Braun,” and two connected to my great-grandfather, Hermann Berliner (Figure 9), his wife Olga Berliner, nee Braun, and their son, Alfred Berliner. 

Ratibor now Raciborz 1a Brauerei M. Braun 1622
Ratibor now Raciborz 1b Herm. Berliner, vorm. M. Braun`sche Braunbierbrauerei 1910
Ratibor now Raciborz 1c Brauerei Herm. Berliner, Inh. Alfred & Olga Berliner 1920

According to this database, the brewery owned by the original “M. Braun” dated to 1622 and appears to have been the second oldest in Ratibor after the “Ratiborer Schloßbrauerei Freund & Co.,” dated to 1567. (Figures 10, 11)  Hermann Berliner, who died in 1910, owned the brewery originally held by “M. Braun.”  His wife passed away in 1920, followed shortly thereafter by the death of their son, Alfred, in 1921.  It’s unclear whether the brewery continued to be owned by either Braun or Berliner descendants following the deaths of Hermann, Olga and Alfred Berliner within a relatively short 11-year period.

Figure 11-The “Ratiborer Schloßbrauerei Freund & Co.” established 1567, known today as the Browar Raciborz
Figure 10-1927-1928 plan map of Ratibor with town ‘s oldest brewery (dated 1567), the “Schloßbrauerei” circled

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 12-M. Braun Brauerei with name of brewery and H. Berliner circled

There are a few things to observe from a close look at the front side of the postcard. (Figure 12) The business sign above the carriages reads “vorm. (=original owner) M. Braun.”  By the time the photo was taken, prior to 1912 (the year the postcard was written), the brewery was already owned by Hermann Berliner as the “Berliner Brauerei, Ratibor” caption on the postcard tells us.  Also, the carriage on the left has the name “H. Berliner” on its side, more evidence the brewery was already operated by Hermann Berliner and his descendants at the time the photo was taken.

Coupling the information from the postcard with data gleaned from both the microfilm of Jewish records and ancestry.com, one finds a gentleman named “Moises or Moses Braun,” coincidentally married to a Fanny Bruck.  A definite link to Markus Braun has not yet been established although the years his children were born between 1843 and 1855 strongly suggests he may have been Markus Braun’s older brother.  Moses Braun’s occupation at the time his first two children were born, respectively in 1843 and 1844, is “brauereipachter” or “tenant brewer”; this means that Moses Braun rented the house or factory where he had a license to produce beer.  Interestingly, by 1849, his occupation was “partikulier,” or someone who lived without working, perhaps as a result of rental income.  By 1853, his occupation is shown as “makler,” or estate agent, possibly a real estate agent or middleman of sorts.  By contrast, Markus Braun is always identified as a “kaufmann” or businessman at the time of his children were born; perhaps, this included tenant brewer.  In fact, on his son Markus Braun’s marriage certificate from 1900, long after the father had died, the father’s occupation was definitively specified as “brewery owner.”  I surmise that the brothers together or sequentially operated the brewery, and, eventually, Markus Braun’s daughter Olga and her husband Hermann, and, ultimately, their son Alfred, inherited the operation. 

The exercise I went through to pinpoint the family connection between John Kayser and myself revealed something unexpected.  Again, utilizing the Jewish microfilm records from Ratibor, I identified another branch of the family who are descendants of Elly Schueck’s (John Kayser’s grandmother) sister, Auguste “Guste” Schueck. (Figure 13)  The significance of this is that various surnames I heard my father mention while growing up in New York also had links extending back to Ratibor.  I was eventually able to track this branch to Cleveland, Ohio, and many of the photos included in this Blog post come from the collection of Larry Leyser, a third cousin, once-removed. (Figure 14)

Figure 13-John Kayser’s great-aunt, Auguste “Guste” Schueck, with her granddaughter, Doerte Zweig (photo courtesy of Larry Leyser)
Figure 14-Larry Leyser, my third cousin once-removed, and the great-grandson of Auguste “Guste” Schueck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pressed on the matter, my father would never have been able to explain to me how all the various families that wound up in America after WWII were related to us nor would he have had any interest in doing so.  Nonetheless, as an exercise in doing forensic genealogy, this has been endlessly entertaining finding the family connections to people living in America today whose roots go back to Ratibor, where the original brewer M. Braun first established his business in 1622.  Going forward, I will touch on some of these people and their connections to my family, both in America as well as harkening back to Europe.

POSTSCRIPT:  A Polish gentleman, Mr. Grzegorz Miczek, contacted me after seeing this Blog post on the Braun & Berliner brewery.  He asked whether I had any additional documents related to the brewery as  reference for a book he’s writing on the “Raciborskie Brewery.”  He mentioned he possessed a few bottles from the brewery, and graciously sent me images of them which he’s allowing me to share with the readers.  These elegant old beer bottles speak for themselves.  (Figures 15-18)

Figure 15.
Figure 16.

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 17.
Figure 18.

 

 

 

 

POST 13: THE FORMER JEWISH CEMETERY IN RATIBOR (RACIBÓRZ)

Figure 1-1927-1928 plan map of Ratibor showing location of former Jewish Cemetery along Leobschützerstrasse

After my wife and I examined the records at the Polish State Archives in Racibórz, our English-speaking research guide, Ms. Malgosia Ploszaj, suggested we visit the site of the former Jewish Cemetery once located on Leobschützerstrasse [today: Wilczej Górze and Fojcik głubczycki streets] on the outskirts of Raciborz. (Figure 1)  Knowing family members had

Figure 2-Fragment of headstone with Hebrew script

once been buried here, I was particularly intrigued to see their final resting place.  Malgosia had already warned my wife and me that the Jewish Cemetery no longer exists as such but consists merely of ivy-covered pathways meandering through a forested area scattered with fragmentary pieces of headstones (Figure 2), a cemetery originally 5 acres in extent.  Beyond the occasional piece of headstone, the only original element of the former Jewish cemetery is the front entrance gate.

According to the International Jewish Cemetery Project (IJCP), this cemetery served the Jewish Community from about 1817 until the last two burials were placed here, respectively, in 1940 and 1941; by their estimate, no more than 200 Jews remained at the time of the “Final Solution” in Ratibor in 1942.  While it may ultimately have been the intention of the Nazis to systematically destroy all Jewish cemeteries, by the end of the Third Reich some were still left intact, including the one in Ratibor.  The reasons for this are not entirely clear, although its location on the outskirts of town may partially explain why it was not destroyed.  However, with no surviving postwar Jewish community to tend the graveyard, nature was in effect gradually reclaiming it.  Consequently, by 1973, a decision was taken by the Communist authorities to, in the words of the IJCP, “decommission the cemetery [and allow] masons from the surrounding area . . .to reuse them [the headstones] in Catholic cemeteries.”  IJCP describes the gravestones dating from the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries as “. . .black, white or pink marble or granite and sandstone. . .in traditional shapes or obelisks, boulders and more artistic forms with a wide array of decoration.”  The inscriptions were a combination of Hebrew and German.  Supposedly, following the Jewish cemetery’s decommissioning, it was used as a community garden.

Tangentially, I became intrigued about the destruction of Jewish culture.  There is a widely circulated notion that once having exterminated the Jews, the Nazis planned a “Museum to an Extinct Race”; in 2015, while on a walking tour of WWII sites in Prague, our tour guide in fact brought this up.  Prague is widely associated as the place where this museum was to be located because upwards of 100,000 Jewish liturgical, religious, historical, and archival objects were archived there at the Central Jewish Museum.  Suffice it to say, the idea of such a museum is a myth and there never existed a Nazi plan to create such a museum.  The phrase “Museum to an Extinct Race” was in fact coined by Jews following WWII.  For readers interested in reading about this myth, I direct them to a video of a fascinating lecture given by Dale Bluestein, former Director of the “Memorial Scrolls Trust”:  https://vimeo.com/120373842

 

Figure 3-Cover of booklet entitled “Vergessene Geschichte der Juden aus dem Ratiborer Lande”

In recent years, the Polish schools have apparently taken an interest in re-discovering their Jewish history.  Malgosia showed me the product of one such endeavor, a booklet prepared by local students and published by the European Union, written in both Polish and German.  This booklet is entitled in German “Vergessene Geschichte der Juden aus dem Ratiborer Lande,” which translates roughly as “Forgotten history of the Jews from the land of Ratibor.” (Figure 3) The cover page includes a hand-tinted drawing of the former Jewish synagogue, along with additional pictures inside showing the conflagration as it was destroyed on Kristallnacht, November 9-10, 1938. 

Figure 4-Moorish-style Jewish synagogue as it looked in 1889 when it opened

Following Kristallnacht, the Moorish synagogue (Figure 4), which had originally been built in 1889, survived as a ruin until 1958, when Communist authorities demolished it.

 

 

Figure 5-Headstone of my great-grandparents, Hermann & Olga Berliner, in former Ratibor Jewish cemetery

Inside this publication are multiple photographs of the headstones of the former Jewish cemetery, amazingly, including one of my great-grandparents grave, Hermann Berliner (1840-1910) and Olga Berliner, nee Braun (1853-1920). (Figures 5, 6)  Malgosia graciously obtained an original copy of this booklet for me, and explained that the majority of the headstones from the former Jewish cemetery were photographed before the gravestones were disposed of.  It remains unclear whether these photographs were taken by a well-intentioned individual

Figure 6-My great-grandfather Hermann Berliner (1840-1910)

interested in documenting history, or by the Polish Security Services with some nefarious purpose in mind to further “torment” dead Jews and their descendants come back to reclaim stolen Jewish property.

 

The most remarkable thing, I came to discover, is that the original photographs of all the headstones from the former Jewish cemetery are archived at the Muzeum Raciborzu. (Figure 7)  My wife and I learned of their existence too late to actually schedule a visit there in 2014, but immediately upon my return to the States that year, I contacted one of the curators at the museum and asked

Figure 7-Curator Adam Knura at entrance to Muzeum Raciborzu

if we could examine these photos on a subsequent visit; the archivist indicated this would present no problem.  So, upon our return to Raciborz in 2015, again in the company of Malgosia, we examined and photographed all the pictures. (Figures 8, 9)

 

 

 

Figure 8-Example of plan map of Jewish Cemetery with colored highlight indicating section where photos in each of seven albums were taken
Figure 9-Page from one album with three pictures of headstones

 

 

 

 

 

 

The curators at the museum have created an Excel spreadsheet with the names of all the people once interred at the Jewish cemetery, along with their dates of birth and death, where this information can be gleaned from the pictures.  A copy of this database was given to me.  Over the years, I’ve had occasion to compare the birth and death information obtained for a few individuals from the headstones with comparable information obtained from original birth or death certificates for these same people, and, interestingly,  I’ve found some discrepancies not owing to archival errors but, ironically, to incorrect dates being inscribed in stone.  One can only wonder whether surviving relatives “lost track” of the year their ancestors had been born.  In any case, the Excel spreadsheet with the names of the entombed has provided a wealth of useful family history information.

Figure 10-Headstones from section of former Jewish Cemetery with graves of children

The previously discussed booklet included a touching photo of “small” headstones once belonging to the graves of children who’d perished at birth or shortly thereafter. (Figure 10) I knew that my great-grandparents on my grandfather’s side had eight children but had only been able to track the fate of six of them.  I was hoping these headstones would shed some light on the fate of the other two, but this was not to be.

POST 12: “STATE ARCHIVES IN KATOWICE BRANCH IN RACIBÓRZ (RATIBOR)”

Figure 1-Entrance to the “Archiwum Państwowe w Katowicach Oddział w Raciborzu“

In the previous Blog post dealing with the Bruck’s Hotel “Prinz von Preußen,” the hotel in Ratibor owned by the Bruck family for three generations, the reader learned about the “Archiwum Państwowe w Katowicach Oddział w Raciborzu” (“State Archives in Katowice Branch in Raciborz”) where civil records of births, marriages, and deaths from the 1870’s onward are to be found. (Figure 1)  I explained to the reader the genesis of this situation, namely, that the Imperial Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and the liberal nationalists in Germany saw the existence of a Church loyal to the Pope as a threat to national unity, and, for this reason, sought to bring the Church under the control of the Prussian state.  This conflict with the Church was known as the Kulturkampf (“Cultural Struggle“).  Among other things, this resulted in mandating that births, marriages, and deaths be recorded as civil events.  Consequently, today, a researcher is compelled to show up in person to access these records at the State Archives. 

Figure 2-Ms. Malgosia Ploszaj from Rybnik, Poland examining the civil records at the State Archives in Raciborz

In the previous Blog post, I explained I’d been referred to an English-speaking Polish lady, Ms. Malgosia Ploszaj, who is studying the former Jews of her hometown of Rybnik, about a half-hour from Raciborz.  Prior to our visit to Raciborz in May 2014, Malgosia had already visited the State Archives there and discovered the existence of an inch-thick portfolio of administrative documents related to management of the Bruck’s Hotel from about 1912 to 1928.; these have been discussed in the previous Blog post.  When my wife and I visited Raciborz in May 2014, Malgosia accompanied us to the State Archives and helped us efficiently navigate the plethora of civil documents. (Figure 2) 

My father’s older sister, Susanne, was born in Ratibor in 1904, and my father, Otto, three years later in 1907. (Figure 3)  Once I understood their birth documents would not be among the Jewish religious records found on Mormon Church microfilms, it became a priority to find them with the civil records at the State Archives.  I knew my father’s older brother Fedor had been born in 1895 in the nearby town of Leobschütz [today: Głubczyce, Opole Voivodeship, Poland], so had no expectation of uncovering his birth certificate.  With Malgosia’s assistance, we were very quickly able to locate the birth records of both my father and my aunt. (Figure 4)

Figure 3-My Aunt Susanne, my father Otto and my Uncle Fedor as children in Ratibor
Figure 4-Birth Register (“Urodzenia”) for the period 1874-1902 found at the State Archives in Raciborz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In former times, it was quite common for parents to have many children, so I often wondered why nine years (1895 to 1904) had transpired before my grandparents had a second child.  This question was promptly answered by a careful examination of the birth certificates for these years; it turns out my grandparents indeed had a second child in this intervening period, a son by the name of Walter Bruck, who was born in August 1900 but died shortly thereafter in April 1901.  The existence of another older brother was never mentioned by my father when I was growing up.  As to the Birth Certificate for my Uncle Fedor born in 1895, I did eventually locate it in the Eastern Prussian Provinces database: Östliche preußische Provinzen, Polen, Personenstandsregister 1874-1945 (Eastern Prussian Provinces, Germany [Poland], Selected Civil Vitals, 1874-1945).  

Figure 5-My great-aunt Elsbeth Bruck, right, with her older brother Wilhelm “Willy” Bruck as children in Ratibor

I found several other original family documents at the Polish State Archives in Raciborz that ultimately provided context for artifacts in my possession, and also pointed me to other towns and countries to find additional historic family records.  At the State Archives in Raciborz, I also found the Birth Certificate for my great-aunt, Elsbeth Bruck. (Figure 5)  Previously, I’d located the birth record for Elsbeth’s seven older siblings, born to my great-grandparents Fedor Bruck and Friederike Bruck, nee Mockrauer, on the Jewish microfilm records from Ratibor, but was puzzled as to why I’d never found hers.  When I eventually learned that Elsbeth was born in the midst of the Kulturkampf, it became obvious her record would be with the civil documents, which is where I ultimately found it and where I also discovered her given name was not Elsbeth but “Elisabeth.” 

Figure 6-My grandparents, Felix “Lixel” Bruck and Else Bruck, nee Berliner, on their wedding day, February 11, 1894

A particularly interesting document I found was the marriage certificate for my grandparents (Page 1 & Page 2), Felix Bruck and Else Bruck, nee Berliner, dated February 11, 1894; prior to the discovery of this certificate, I didn’t know when my grandparents got married although I have photos of them on their wedding day. (Figure 6)  This document was interesting principally because it provided context for an “erinnerung,” or remembrance, I’d found among my father’s papers.  The name on the cover page of this remembrance, written in difficult-to-decipher Gothic font, said “Willy Bruck,” and was dated “February 11, 1894.”  I incorrectly assumed it related to a ceremony or rite in honor of a relative who’d died on this date; unfortunately, I could think of no relative by this name who’d died on this day.  After a German cousin recently examined this remembrance, all became clear.  Felix’s younger brother was Wilhelm or “Willy” Bruck, and the remembrance I thought was a death announcement was actually an ode or poem Willy had written on the occasion of his brother’s marriage, “in brotherly love.” (Figure 7) While I never knew my grandfather, and my father only spoke sparingly of him when I was growing up, from this remembrance I also learned Felix’s nickname was “Lixel.”

Figure 7-Cover of remembrance poem written by Wilhelm “Willy” Bruck for his brother Felix’s wedding “in brotherly love”
Figure 8-Wilhelm “Willy” Bruck standing next to his velocipede in 1889 in Ratibor, possibly the same bike his brother once fell off of

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the poem Willy Bruck wrote in honor of his brother Felix’s marriage, he teased his brother about a few incidents that occurred to him as a young lad, such as the time he threw a stone through an expensive window and when he fell off his velocipede.  Coincidentally, among the family pictures is one of Willy Bruck himself standing next to his own velocipede, perhaps a hand-me-down from his older brother! (Figure 8) 

In addition to the marriage certificate I found for Felix Bruck, I also located the marriage certificates for two of his younger sisters, Charlotte Mockrauer, nee Bruck (1865-1965) (Page 1 & Page 2), and Hedwig Loewenstein, nee Bruck (1870-1949) (Page 1 & Page 2).  These historic documents are of interest primarily because they eventually helped me unravel the complete family tree for these branches of my family, and, in turn, lead to some compelling discoveries.  In time, I will relate to the reader these tales which are rather involved and span multiple countries.