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 11: RATIBOR & BRUCK’S “PRINZ VON PREUßEN“ HOTEL

NOTE: This Blog post marks a transition from stories about Tiegenhof, the town  in the Free State of Danzig where my father, Dr. Otto Bruck, was a dentist, to Ratibor in Upper Silesia, Germany [today: Raciborz, Silesian Voivodeship, Poland], the town where my father was born in 1907.  The next series of posts will cover the Bruck family’s association and connection to Ratibor, although future posts will likely take me back to Tiegenhof, as I uncover more information about my father’s circle of acquaintances and friends there.  This post will detail the Bruck family’s historic ties to Ratibor, but will also discuss the available documentary evidence, unearthed in both in Ratibor and elsewhere, that inspired and guided much of the research I later undertook related to my family. 

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

Figure 1-Map of Central Europe (1815-1866) with location of Ratibor circled (source: Putzger Historischer Weltatlas)

The Bruck family’s most enduring link to the former German town of Ratibor, Upper Silesia (Figure 1), was its long-standing ownership of the Bruck’s “Prinz von Preußen“ Hotel.  (Figures 2, 3)  Family control of the hotel appears to have extended through three generations, beginning no later than the mid-19th Century and continuing through the first quarter of the 20th Century.  Samuel Bruck (1808-1863) (Figure 4) and his wife Charlotte Bruck, nee Marle (1811-1861) (Figure 5) were the original family owners of the Prinz von Preußen.  In time, Samuel’s son, Fedor Bruck (1837-1894) (Figure 6) and his wife Friederike Bruck, nee Mockrauer (1836-1924) (Figure 7) took over the hotel.  Following Fedor’s death in 1892, his widow Friederike, and two of her daughters, Franziska Bruck (1866-1942) and Elsbeth Bruck (1874-1970), ran the hotel.  When Friederike, Franziska and Elsbeth left for Berlin in 1902, the hotel passed into the hands of the oldest of Fedor and Friederike’s children, Felix Bruck (1864-1927) (Figure 8) and his wife, Else Bruck, nee Berliner (1873-1927) (Figure 9), that’s to say, my grandparents.  None of Felix and Else’s children ever managed the hotel, although I recall my father telling stories of working in the hotel as a young boy fetching wine from the cellar, a sommelier in training.

Figure 2-Bruck’s Hotel as it looked at the time the hotel was owned by Ernst Exner in the 1930’s
Figure 3-Front entrance to Bruck’s Hotel ca. 1920’s-1930’s
Figure 4-Samuel Bruck (1808-63)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 5-Charlotte Bruck, nee Marle (1811-61)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 6-Fedor Bruck (1837-92)
Figure 7-Friederike Bruck, nee Mockrauer (1836-1924)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 8-Felix Bruck (1864-1927)
Figure 9-Else Bruck, nee Berliner (1873-1957)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are indirect clues as to when Samuel Bruck acquired the Prinz von Preußen.  Jewish birth records available for Ratibor on-line through the Mormon Church’s website at familysearch.org (Microfilm Roll #1184448), cover the period from approximately 1817 through 1874.  Charlotte Bruck is known to have given birth to at least nine children between 1831 and 1849.  Birth records of the time recorded the profession or occupation of the father, and in all instances for Samuel Bruck, either “Kaufmann” or “Handelsmann” (merchant, tradesman, or businessman) is documented; Samuel Bruck is known to have been a successful wood merchant before he purchased the Prinz von Preußen.  By contrast, the birth records for his son, Fedor Bruck, always registered his occupation as “Gastwirt” or “Gasthofbesitzer” (innkeeper).  This suggests that Samuel Bruck bought the Prinz von Preußen following the birth of his last child in 1849 after his career as a wood merchant.

Figure 10-Plan map of Ratibor from 1927-28 with location of Bruck’s Hotel circled

While no longer in existence, the Bruck’s Hotel Prinz von Preußen once stood at Oderstraße 16 [today: ulica Odrzanska], at the corner of Oderstraße and Niederwallstraße [today: 3 Maja, Sawickiej, Podwale] (Figure 10), only a short distance from the River Oder.  John Murray’s English-language “A Handbook for Travelers on the Continent,” a traveler’s guidebook published in 1850, touted the “Prinz von Preußen” as a very comfortable hotel;  later editions characterized the hotel as the best one in Ratibor.  At the time, a town of 6,000 inhabitants, Ratibor was described as an ideal place for persons traveling by rail between Breslau [today: Wroclaw,Poland] and Vienna, then part of the Austrian Empire, to spend the night.  The journey by rail from Ratibor to Breslau was a six hour trip, while the train ride from Ratibor to Vienna took 12 to 13 hours.

Figure 11-King Leopold I of Belgium who spent a night at the Prinz von Preußen in 1853

The “Prinz von Preußen” must have been one of the most fashionable hotels to stay at in this part of Prussia because in a book on Ratibor, entitled “Geschichte der Stadt Ratibor“ by Augustin Weltzel, the author records that on May 10, 1853, King Leopold I of Belgium spent the night. (Figure 11)  King Leopold I was a German prince who became the first king of the Belgians following their independence in 1830, and reigned between July 1831 and December 1865; he was the uncle of Queen Victoria.

A historian, Ms. Katrin Griebel from Zittau, Saxony, who has studied the surviving personal papers of Franziska Bruck (Figure 12) and Elsbeth Bruck (Figure 13) archived at the Stadtmuseum in Spandau outside Berlin, to which future Blog posts will be devoted, has gleaned some anecdotes about the Bruck family and the hotel from the personal papers of these two great-aunts.  According to Ms. Griebel, the building occupied by the Bruck’s Hotel was the former palace of a marquis.  Upon the nobleman’s death, the palace became known as the “Prinz von Preußen.”

Figure 12-Franziska Bruck (1866-1942), renowned Berlin florist
Figure 13-Elsbeth Bruck (1874-1970), ardent lifelong Socialist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 14-Grave of Elsbeth Bruck

Personal family papers also tell us that Fedor Bruck, son of Samuel Bruck, did not enjoy working in the hospitality industry, preferring to be a musician.  He took violin lessons, and is reputed to have spent a goodly sum of money honing this craft.  His daughter, Elsbeth Bruck, was an ardent socialist her entire life.  When she was working in the Prinz von Preußen, she is reputed to have been engaged to a Polish cook working in the kitchen there.  Her parents were not at all amused, and sent her to the Riesengebirge [today: Krkonoše (Czech), Karkonosze (Polish); mountain range in the north of the Czech Republic and the southwest of Poland] to “get some fresh air and clear her head.”  Later, Elsbeth was an actress and peace-activist, and was imprisoned in Görlitz in 1916 and, again, in 1918, for her activism.  When she lived in Munich, she gave birth out-of-wedlock to a child who died in infancy (Wolfgang Bruck’s Death Certificate No. 448).  Her family is known to have disapproved of Elsbeth’s free-spirited lifestyle.  During the Nazi era, she was in exile first in Czechoslovakia, then in London.  After the war, she returned to Germany and spent the remainder of her life in the German Democratic Republic, formerly East Germany.  She is buried in the Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde in the former East Berlin, adjacent the “Memorial to the Socialists.” (Figure 14)

In March 2014, I attended a presentation, sponsored by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles, by Mr. Roger Lustig, a specialist on genealogical records from the former Prussian state.  Following his presentation, I contacted Roger, and narrated my family’s connection to Ratibor.  I described the microfilm records I’d been able to find for Ratibor through familysearch.org, records very familiar to Roger, that broadly cover the period from 1814 to 1940, but indicated there appear to be gaps; I asked Roger whether some of the documents were to be found elsewhere or had been destroyed during WWII. 

Figure 15-Entrance to the „Archiwum Państwowe w Katowicach Oddział w Raciborzu“

Because Roger also has ancestors from Ratibor, he was anxious to help me out.  He made clear that most of the birth, marriage, and death records from Ratibor from roughly the 1870’s onward would be found in the “Archiwum Państwowe w Katowicach Oddział w Raciborzu“ (Polish State Archives in Raciborz) (Figure 15), that’s to say, as civil rather than religious documents.  The basis for this situation is rooted in the 19th Century when the Roman Catholic Church was under frequent attack by liberal nationalists in Germany and elsewhere in Europe who saw the existence of a Church loyal to the Pope as a threat to national unity.  The most hostile of these attacks on the Church took place in Germany, and was known as the Kulturkampf (“Cultural Struggle“).  The Imperial Chancellor Otto von Bismarck sought to break the influence of the Catholic Church which he saw as a threat to the recently established German Empire.  While the Kulturkampf was primarily a dispute between the Roman Catholic Church and the Prussian state, clearly, when recording of Catholic marriages and other vital events at a registry office of the state became mandatory, other religious denominations were affected.

In any event, the Church of Latter Day Saints, has not yet gotten around to making copies of the registers in the civil archives, so the only way to view them is to personally visit these repositories across Poland.  My wife and I already had plans to spend thirteen weeks in Europe in 2014 visiting places from Poland to Spain associated with the Bruck family diaspora, so decided to incorporate another visit to Raciborz. 

To facilitate my investigations, Roger offered to put me in touch with an English-speaking Polish researcher, Ms. Malgosia Ploszaj, who has spent many years researching the Jews from her hometown of Rybnik, located only a half-hour from Raciborz; he explained she could help me navigate the State Archives in Raciborz.  Roger quickly sent Malgosia an email telling her about our planned visit and our interest in examining the archival records there.  Within hours, Malgosia sent an introductory email offering her assistance during our upcoming visit.  Since our scheduled trip to Raciborz was still several months away, Malgosia even offered to visit the Polish State Archives in Raciborz in advance to scope out what might be available on the Bruck family’s ties to Ratibor.

Imagine my surprise when barely a week later Malgosia recounted her visit to the State Archives, and told me she‘d found a portfolio of documents related to the Bruck’s Hotel “Prinz von Preußen,“ covering the period from roughly 1912-1928; needless to say, I was amazed such documents would have survived the destruction wrought by WWII.  Eventually Malgosia photographed and sent me all these documents, and I forwarded them to German relatives who reviewed and gleaned interesting tidbits from them. 

While most of the handwritten documents related to the Bruck‘s Hotel are penned in Sütterlin, the signatures, including several by my grandfather, Felix Bruck, are Latinized.  The subject of the documents are primarily administrative, and record dealings with the local police who apparently handled such matters as approving extended business hours to accommodate returning WWI veterans; undertaking inspections of the hotel and recording violations; authorizing sale of alcoholic beverages; reviewing and approving proposed hotel renovations; and authorizing subleasing of the hotel’s restaurant under the auspices of the Bruck name.

Figure 16-Bruck’s Hotel floor plan from archival dossier

Of particular interest in the portfolio are the hotel’s floor plans. (Figure 16)  The hotel is known to have had two kitchens, one to prepare normal meals and another to deliver kosher fare to its Jewish guests.  In published advertisements of the hotel, respectively, from 1925 (Figure 17), 1926 (Figure 18), and 1931 (Figure 19), numerous amenities were noted.  These included 40 well-appointed hotel rooms with running warm and cold water, a conference room, an exhibition area, a secretarial pool, a hotel phone as well as a phone to call other parts of Germany, a first class kitchen, good cultivated wine and beer, “real” liquor, local access to hockey and tennis arenas and more.

 

Figure 17-1925 Bruck’s Hotel advertisement showing hotel then owned by Max Kunzer

 

Figure 18-1926 hotel advertisement indicating Hugo Eulenstein was the owner at the time

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 19-By 1931, an advertisement shows that Ernst Exner was the current owner

 

 

 

 

It is not entirely clear when the Prinz von Preußen was sold by my grandfather, Felix Bruck.  The archival dossier includes a August 1925 document in which the entrepreneur “Max Kunzer” is allowed to install a beer pressure device using carbolic acid rather than compressed air.  However, by August 1926, the owner of record is a “Hugo Eulenstein” who requests and is granted permission to sell alcoholic beverages in the Bruck’s Hotel.  Mr. Eulenstein‘s association with the hotel may have been brief.  By 1931, the Bruck’s Hotel had a new “Geschaftsleitung” or “executive board,” headed by an “Ernst Exner,” formerly of the Sachs Hotel in Patschkau [today: Paczków, Nysa County, Opole Voivodeship, Poland]. 

Figure 20-Worker’s demonstration on Ratibor’s main square in the late 1940’s-early 1950’s showing the Bruck’s Hotel still standing after WWII

The length of Mr. Exner’s ownership of the Bruck’s Hotel is unknown, although it is certain the Bruck’s Hotel was damaged in the latter throes of World War II by the Russian Army, although how badly remains unclear.  One of the curators at the Muzeum Raciborzu sent me an outstanding photo of Ratibor’s main square, probably taken towards the end of the 1940’s or early 1950‘s, showing workers demonstrating around the Virgin Mary’s Column with St. Jacob’s Church seen along the right side; squarely in the center of the picture in the background can be seen the Bruck’s Hotel still standing tall. (Figure 20)

The decision to tear down the Bruck’s Hotel and other brick structures once located along Oderstrasse appears related to at least two things.  While the structural integrity of the hotel may have been compromised during the war, it appears that Polish authorities were also looking to scavenge bricks throughout Poland to rebuild Warsaw and, perhaps, at the same time eradicate some traces of the German-era.  Regardless, today the Bruck’s Hotel no longer stands and the cultural landscape of the area where it once stood looks vastly different.

Felix Bruck’s name appears in a 1916 Berlin phone directory, and shows him living in Berlin-Charlottenburg in the same area as his sister Franziska Bruck (Figure 12), a famous florist about whom more will be said in future posts.  Even if the sale of the Bruck’s Hotel did not take place until the early 1920’s, quite possibly my grandfather had ceded management of the hotel to another family member or it was being co-managed with a potential buyer.  Felix Bruck is known to have suffered from diabetes, a disease which may have been better treated in Berlin but which, ultimately, was the cause of my grandfather’s demise in 1927.

Figure 21-Hotel knives variously embossed with “Bruck’s Hotel” and “Prinz von Preußen”

The Bruck’s Hotel “Prinz von Preußen” Hotel was probably referred to as either the “F. Bruck’s Hotel” or the “Prinz von Preußen.”  This is borne out by silverware (knives, forks, spoons) in my possession, some of which have written on them “Prinz von Preußen,” and others which are inscribed with the name “F. Bruck’s Hotel.” (Figure 21)  It seems likely that these items were taken as “souvenirs” by Felix and Else Bruck upon their sale of the hotel, and reflected the silverware in use in the dining room at that time.  Regardless, the monogram of the three generations of Bruck family to have owned the hotel are reflected in the surviving silverware.

By now, readers have perhaps divined that where possible I enjoy illustrating my Blog posts with photos and artifacts related to the topic at hand that come from a variety of sources.  In a future post, I’ll eventually relate to the reader the challenging process I went through to find two of my second cousins, that’s to say, my great-uncle’s grandchildren.  Suffice it to say for now, that this great-uncle, Wilhelm Bruck visited his brother Felix at the Prinz von Preußen in Ratibor in June 1914, and wrote an endearing postcard to his wife Antonie „Toni“ Bruck who’d stayed behind in Berlin with their two children.  (Figures 22, 23)  A copy of this postcard was given to me by Wilhelm’s grandchildren after I eventually located them.  The translation of this postcard can be found here.

Figure 22-Front of Bruck’s Hotel postcard written by Wilhelm Bruck to his wife “Toni” in June 1914
Figure 23-Postcard dated June 30, 1914 written by Wilhelm Bruck to his wife from the Bruck’s Hotel in Ratibor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REFERENCES 

Murray, John

1850    Handbook for Travelers on the Continent: Being a Guide Through Holland, Belgium, Prussia and Northern Germany, and Along the Rhine From Holland to Switzerland (Seventh Edition).  John Murray, Albemarle Street. London (p. 437)

1856    Handbook for Travelers on the Continent: Being a Guide to Holland, Belgium, Prussia, Northern Germany, and the Rhine from Holland to Switzerland (Eleventh Edition).  John Murray, Albemarle Street, London (p. 426)

Weltzel, Augustin

2010    Geschichte Der Stadt Ratibor (1861).  Kessenger Legacy Reprints.  Kessenger Publishing.