Leo Baeck Institute works to preserve and promote the history and culture of German-speaking Jews.
"Refuge in the Heights" Exhibition Opening with Rob Snyder
Refuge in the Heights: The German Jews of Washington Heights
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Jane Vogel-Kohai, Moshav Mesillat Tziyon, Israel
When I began my genealogical research about 17 years ago, I was excited to learn that my grandfather’s papers were preserved at LBI. My grandfather, Rabbi Dr. Leo Baerwald, was an early member and leader of LBI, which has preserved his documents in the Leo Baerwald collection. Two months after my discovery, I traveled to NY (from Israel) and combed through the treasure trove that is my grandfather’s own genealogy research. It includes documentation going back to 1798 that shows that my great-great-great-grandfather was Leyser Lewin Baerwald, born in 1770. His papers showed Leyser Lewin’s children, whose descendants I have since contacted. I also found some old family portraits which were mislabeled; the faces of these ancestors were so distinctive that I could easily identify them based on old photos that I had. After I contacted these distant cousins, some of them sent me their own amazing documents. Among them was a journal recording all the births, deaths, and marriages of the descendants from 1800 on. One of the descendants was the philanthropist Paul Baerwald of the Joint Distribution Committee, my grandfather’s second cousin who helped him escape Germany to NY. Three years ago, about 100 Baerwald descendants met in Oakland for a family reunion, commemorating the centennial of the 50TH wedding anniversary of Lesser and Pauline Baerwald in 1913. A copy of the book commemorating the history of the Baerwald family is also part of my grandfather’ collection.
Leo Baerwald Collection, AR 3677.old.lbi.org/leobaerwald
John Lowens, Point Lookout, New York
It was about 1995. I’d just read Dan Rottenberg’s book, Finding Our Fathers, in which the LBI was listed as an important source of information for German-Jewish genealogical research. I went to LBI and asked if they could help me trace my Lowenstein family from Wallau near Wiesbaden. Karen Franklin, LBI’s director of family research, quickly found a book by Franz Luschberger entitled Juden in Hochheim: Eine heimatgeschichtliche Exkursion(Zechnersche Buchdruckerei, Speyer: 1988). In the book’s index I found my greatgrandfather’s name! I did not know that he had been the leader of his local Jewish Community. Opposite the page that mentioned my great-grandfather was a photo and story about a certain Ludwig Schwarzschild from the same Jewish Community. Ludwig was a member of the crew of the commercial submarine, “U-Boot Deutschland”. I’d been told by two Lowenstein cousins that their fathers visited the “Deutschland” when it was docked in Baltimore in July, 1916. It became clear that the old family story was true and why. The book Karen found for me that day is one of hundreds of detailed histories of Jewish communities in Germany in the LBI’s collections. In 1995, before the internet provided easy access, those books were invaluable sources. They are still a great source of detailed Jewish history for small towns in Germany.
Luschberger, Franz. Juden in Hochheim: Eine heimatgeschichtlicheExkursion (Zechnersche Buchdruckerei, Speyer: 1988). LBI LibraryCall Number DS 135 G4 H616L8.
Gina Burgess Winning, Surrey, England
In a bundle of German papers I’d been given, many of them faintly copied, I found the text of a letter sent to the LBI in 1956 by Wilhelm (later William) Buchheim, one of my grandmother’s cousins. In the letter, Wilhelm stated that his great-grandfather Levi had come from Buchheim near Cologne and taken the name of his native town after moving to Wohra near Marburg. Since I was working on a chapter for a German memorial book to commemorate the Jews deported from Marburg in 1942, including my grandparents and uncle, I was very interested to know the source for William’s claim. Did the LBI have any evidence that Levi had come from Buchheim? Indeed. William Buchheim’s digitized papers at the LBI include his memoir The Story of the Buchheim Family 1780–1957, his WWI and WWII diaries, and several photographs. William’s evidence that Levi was born in Buchheim turned out not to be very compelling but, more importantly, his memoir included recollections of his uncles, including Hirsch, my great-grandfather. Having grown up with next to no information about even my immediate German-Jewish relations, it was astonishingly enriching to learn about Hirsch. He was imprisoned twice for standing up to antisemitism; my admiration for his courage mingles with dismay at his treatment. William’s memoir also provides firsthand accounts of the antisemitism he experienced in the 1890s as a small child in Germany, which sheds light on the possible experiences of my own grandmother. A former teacher, William includes a potted history of the Hessian region of Germany, outlining the fluctuating tides of emancipation and antisemitism during the late 18TH and 19TH centuries, an invaluable context for the lives of countless relatives across my family tree.
Wilhelm Buchheim Collection, 1902-1956, AR 2078.
Joyce Goldberg Gaines, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
My mother’s parents fled Nazi Germany with her in 1936 when she was just 18 months old. To my knowledge, all immediate family was able to leave barring one or two aunts and a delay for some which resulted in a stay in the Gurs detention camp. I started my search by looking up the names of the cities where my grandparents were born. To my utter amazement and delight, I found a book in LBI’s collection all about the small town of Spiesen where my grandfather was born. The book is written in German but contains huge genealogical listings. Even with my limited German, I was able to understand some of the story. This book opened up my world! Not only did it tell me who my great-great grandparents were, but it extended back five generations to the mid 1700s. I learned that I had connections to nearly the entire Jewish population of the town. I was also astonished to discover that my great-grandfather was the youngest of 9 siblings. He was the only one to remain in Germany while the other 8 emigrated to the US in the mid 1800s, settling in St. Louis. This was unknown to both my mother and me. I have since purchased the book and have developed an e-mail correspondence with the author, Mr. Stephan Friedrich, who is delighted to help me learn more. I am providing him with information about the family in the USA while he conducts research in Germany. He is also instrumental in the current Stolpersteine project in St. Ingbert, Germany, where my family will be remembered with memorial stones.
Friedrich, Stephan. Wir sind Dornen geworden in fremden Augen: DieGeschichte der Juden von Spiesen (Conte Verlag, Saarbrücken: 2011).
LBI Library, Call number q782.
Irene Peters, Berlin, Germany / Dallas, Texas
I knew that my great-great-great-great-grandfather was Mordechai Schiff from Wollstein in Posen Province, but for many years I was not able to find any information on him. One evening in 2013, I adjusted my search to look for ‘Marcus Schiff’ instead and suddenly, there he was: Marcus Schiff from Wollstein, married to Johanna Salomon. The approximate dates fit as well. I quickly wrote to the person who had posted this information on a genealogy site and his response was that it had come from a digital collection at the LBI, the Frieda Friedlander Collection, 1891–1981. Most interesting to me were three folders in the collection, which contained family trees from 1901 and 1910. In them, I found not only my 4x great-grandfather who had eluded me for more than a decade of research, but also my previously unknown 4x great-grandmother Johanna along with information on both and even portraits of the two. I was elated! To see pictures of one’s ancestors who passed away almost 200 years ago is pretty special. But it didn’t end there. The family trees also listed the children of Marcus and Johanna, enabling me to link most of the Wollstein Schiffs I had come across in years of researching my family. I had always suspected that they were somehow related but until then had never been able to link them conclusively. Now I could, and in one instant my family tree had grown exponentially!
Frieda Friedlander Collection, 1891-1981, AR 4994.old.lbi.org/friedafriedlander