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 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.