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.
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)
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).
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.”
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.”
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.