Friday, April 13, 2012

Role of HIAS in the Ringel connection

Walter called to remind me that we have already written about the role played by the immigration agency HIAS in helping our travelers in New York and quite likely in Lisbon and Marseilles before that. In particular, credit for the idea for finding a Ringel relation in New York, and then actually doing so, almost certainly goes to HIAS and its case worker Neubau.

Some of the details are here in this 2006 post.  More embarrassing is that in my recent reconstruction I overlooked the HIAS information and many other details in Walter's write up of Helga's account of her refugee experience. That is part of this blog's founding document, The Early Lives of Stanley and Helga Ruby.

We have always hosted that paper in the blog sidebar as a downloadable PDF, but never posted its content as regular blog material. I plan to correct that in the coming days, by posting installments of the original document with added images and commentary.

You definitely have a treat in store. Or if you can't wait, get the PDF now.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

More photos from Life's Lisbon refugee article

A little more flavor for different aspects of refugee life. Again, go here for the full text.

Life Magazine on "Lisbon: Europe's Bottleneck," April 26, 1941

The article "Lisbon: Europe's Bottleneck" from the April 26, 1941 issue of Life Magazine is too delicious not to reproduce in whole. You can also view it in full in Google Books' incredible Life Magazine Archive.

Well, I'll pause here and make you click the link above to keep reading. But a few more of the great photos in the next post. 

Curaçoa visas were happening in Lithuania too.

It turns out that another hero Dutch diplomat was issuing Curaçao visas in Kaunus, Lithuania, too. Then Japan would give a transit visa based on that. Many of those people ended up in Shanghai. Note this is happening about a week later than the Toulouse Curaçao visas we know about. Read about it here.

Pessla Lewin, born in Amsterdam, became a naturalized Polish citizen through marriage to Issac Levin in 1940 and was stranded in Kaunas, Lithuania, when the Soviets annexed the country in July of that year. It seemed that there was no escape from persecution, but Pessla decided to apply to the Dutch Embassy of the Baltic States, whose headquarters were in Riga, Latvia. 
In July 1940, the Ambassador, Mr. L.P.J. de Decker, wrote in her passport, in French, “The Consulate of the Netherlands, Riga, hereby declares that for the admission into Surinam, Curaçao, and other possessions of the Netherlands in the Americas, no entry visa is required.” 
After his wife had successfully obtained this quasi-visa notation in her passport, Pessla’s husband, Dr. Isaac Lewin, approached the Dutch Consul, Jan Zwartendijk, in Kaunas, Lithuania, and asked him to write the same in his Leidimas (safe-conduct) papers which served as his identity card. He received this notation on July 22, 1940, and his was the first such “visa” issued in Kaunas. With this Curaçao “visa,” the Japanese consul, Chiune Sugihara, was prepared to stamp passports with the notation,“TRANSIT VISA”. 
In July 1940, Jan Zwartendijk had been asked to replace the Dutch Consul in Kaunas. Actually, Zwartendijk was not a professional diplomat at all. He was simply the representative of Philips in Lithuania, but he was a Dutchman and he was not a Nazi sympathizer. Having agreed to take on the position of Acting Dutch Consul, Zwartendijk could hardly have guessed what his short diplomatic career would have in store for him. 
After having granted Isaac Lewin the Curaçao “visa” that served as the key to the Japanese transit visa and a Soviet exit visa, two Dutch students at talmudic academies in Poland, Nathan Gutwirth and Chaim Nussbaum, who had also become fugitives in Lithuania, obtained the same “visa” from Zwartendijk and spread the word. In a matter of hours, hundreds of panic-stricken Jews lined up at the Dutch Consulate to obtain the same Curaçao-stamp from Zwartendijk. 
From July 23, 1940, until August 3, when the Soviets closed the embassies and consulates in Kaunas, Zwartendijk managed to issue between 1,200 and 1,400 “visas” to Curaçao. The Japanese Consulate issued close to 2,000 transit visas and some of these were re-used when sent back to relatives from Japan. 
Altogether, between 2,100 and 2,200 Jewish refugees arrived in Japan with these visas, where they remained for three to eight months. None of the refugees arrived in Curaçao, but more than half went on to free countries, while about 1,000 were transported by the Japanese to Shanghai, in China, where they survived the war. 
Zwartendijk was forced to close down the Consulate in Kaunas on August 3, 1940. He spent the rest of the month trying to get back to the Netherlands, but, before that, he burned all official papers, removing any trace of the illegal transactions he had initiated on behalf of the Jews. He spent the rest of the war in Holland, working for Philips. He never told anyone about his wartime deeds. The Dutch government first became aware of his activities in 1963.

Colorful 1999 obituary for Judge William Ringel

Here is wonderful information about the man who was Elly Ringel's benefactor in 1941. Helga said he was not related, but it is quite possible that he was distantly related. Note that he was born in Vienna of Polish Galician parents in 1901. I found his family's 1920 census record and found that his father Joseph was born in 1875 of parents from what is listed as Russian Galicia.

I looked in Poland databases at Jewish Gen and ran the same Ringel search that turns up Hermann's parents and grandparents in Rzeszow and I find by far the most Ringels in the same section of Galicia. No Joseph or Yosef born around 1875, however. Still it is not a stretch to think that Wilhelm Ringel's upwardly mobile father had moved his family to the cosmopolitan Vienna from somewhere in the vicinity of Rzeszow.

Note that his oldest daughter, Barbara Mendenhall, is the woman Helga became friendly with later in life.

William Ringel Is Dead at 97; A Zesty Figure on the Bench
Published: June 1, 1999    

William E. Ringel, who ruled Andy Warhol's ''Blue Movie'' obscene, lectured civil rights protesters on the evils of anarchy and sent a parade of slumlords, thieves and vagrants to jail in 25 years as a judge in Criminal Court and other lower courts in New York, died on Thursday at his apartment in Manhattan. He was 97.

The Austrian-born jurist was the United States Army's chief counterintelligence officer in Austria and Italy during World War II, helped organize the food-and-fuel relief effort for his native Vienna after the war, and later was active in German-American affairs. He helped found New York's Steuben Day Parade, celebrating German-American culture, and was its grand marshal for many years.

On the bench, his rulings set no major precedents and he did not preside over the big murder or corruption cases of his day. But from 1940 until his retirement in 1971 -- with time out for service in two wars -- Judge Ringel was a familiar and zesty figure in the workaday world of jurisprudence in Manhattan.

He sat in Criminal Court, Special Sessions Court, Traffic Court, Probation Court, Homeless Men's Court, Magistrates Court, Auto Accident Court and other courts of unlofty jurisdiction, often presiding over simple bail hearings or arraignments, or judging the misdemeanors of gamblers, loan sharks, brawlers, drunks, pickpockets, prostitutes, stowaways and other malefactors.

His cases often made headlines, however, as in 1969 when he was part of a three-judge panel that called Mr. Warhol's ''Blue Movie'' obscene. The judges, after viewing the film, said that its graphic sex was portrayed ''with no redeeming social value.''

In the social-political upheavals of the 1960's, protesters charged with disorderly conduct often faced Judge Ringel, who typically handed them stern lectures and suspended sentences. ''You cannot decide what laws to obey and what laws to disobey,'' he told seven clergymen, a seminarian and a social worker arrested in a 1963 protest against racial discrimination. ''If you don't like a law, the remedy is to go to the Legislature.'' But he let them go.

Eccentricity seemed indigenous to his courtroom. Not long after his 1940 appointment by Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia, for example, Magistrate Ringel fined himself $2 for a parking violation. ''Guilty as charged,'' he announced, pulling his black robe aside to dig out two $1 bills for the court clerk.

Amid the anguished cries of a half-dozen devotees of monkeys as house pets, he ruled in 1949 that five monkeys were ''wild beasts'' that could not be kept in a midtown apartment, but he suspended a workhouse term against their sobbing owner when he agreed to place them in a zoo.

And when 43 men in a bewildering array of costumes appeared before him in 1962, he dismissed charges of ''masquerading to conceal identity,'' a form of disorderly conduct, on the ground that they had been seized in a raid at the National Variety Artists Annual Ball, a real masquerade.

William Edmund Ringel was born in Vienna on Dec. 17, 1901, and as an infant was brought to New York by his parents and raised in Yorkville, a section of Manhattan where German was as common as English. He graduated from City College in 1923, became a city schoolteacher and attended night courses at New York University to earn his law degree in 1929.

He practiced law for 11 years before being named to the bench. His judicial career spanned 31 years, but was interrupted twice -- for four years during and just after World War II, and for two years in the Korean conflict. He retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

While his courts were frequently reorganized and renamed, Judge Ringel became a courthouse regular, reappointed by Mayors William O'Dwyer, Robert F. Wagner and John V. Lindsay.

Judge Ringel taught law at the New York Police Academy, and was the author of numerous articles on the law and several textbooks, including ''Searches and Seizures, Arrests and Confessions,'' (Clark Boardman Callaghan, 1972, 1981). He was also active in veterans and German-American organizations and helped found the Steuben Day Parade in 1958 and was its grand marshal for 14 years.

After his retirement from the bench, Judge Ringel was a hearing officer for the New York State retirement system, and also worked for the state as an arbitrator/mediator and a judicial hearing officer.
His wife, the former Irma Marie Saxl, whom he married in 1926, died in 1989. He is survived by his daughter, Barbara Simner Mendenhall, of Saratoga, Calif.; two sisters, Claire Rifkin, of Yonkers, and Nettie Fishman, of Long Beach, N.Y.; two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

The document chain from Lisbon to Miami

Arriving in Lisbon in the last days of July 1940, Elly and Helga, and also Elly's sister Hilda and her husband Herbert Peiser, had solved the first of their goals in escaping immediate danger of being captured by Nazis. But they were no closer to achieving their second goal, to gain entrance to the United States as legal immigrants.

They were setting out on a eight-month process of learning the ropes, queuing up at endless consulates, sharing tips with other refugees at cafes, finding suitable lodging for a refugee family with dwindling means. As before, we can follow the documents to see how they come to the desired conclusion.

I imagine that they visited the United States consulate in Lisbon soon after their arrival. There they learned that the United States would issue immigration visas only to those with documented family members in the U.S. They also learned that it might be possible to get a temporary visa to stop in New York if you had a legitimate visa from another country.

So they didn't have the first, but already they must have had the idea that they might be able to find someone named Ringel who would vouch for them. As I wrote before, this could have been in her mind since Nice but it was certainly now.

What we see next is that in October Elly obtains two visas from the governments of Costa Rica and Venezuela. Like the Curaçao visa that had gotten them this far, these two permits were for visitation only, not immigration. I'm thinking Elly presents these stamps at the American embassy, but again comes away empty as she is told that she needs an immigration visa from another country to get the stopover visit in New York.

Then on February 27, she gets an immigration visa from the government of Ecuador. This will prove to be needed document to get on the boat to New York. I imagine she gets confirmation from the consulate sooner, but Elly finally gets her U.S. transit visa no. 786 on March 31, the day before they set sail.

So now they have achieved the next part of the plan. They are crossing the ocean, getting farther away from the madness in Europe. They have a sort of far-fetched plan for Elly to find a magic Ringel relative, but otherwise are ticketed for Ecuador. I'm thinking that she may already have some decent leads of possible Ringels in New York. Also, how is Hilda trying to qualify since she isn't a Ringel?

Anyway, as you know, the long shot comes through and Elly is able to find a Ringel in New York to vouch for her, a judge no less though we think one not actually related to Hermann Ringel. Joanne knows more of this story and about Helga's later acquaintance in California with the daughter of that very Judge Ringel.

Unfortunately, we don't have a record of Judge Ringel's affadavit, but we know that Elly changes her travel plans. With just five days left on her bonded New York stay, she gets a travel visa to visit Cuba and then sails with Helga for Havana, arriving May 19 or 20.

The reason for going to Cuba is that you have to be outside of the United States to apply for immigration. Even though they were already in New York and had the needed Ringel affadavit, they had to be somewhere else to present it. Walter has suggested that they might have gone to Quebec, and I wonder about places like Bermuda, but evidently the place to go was Havana.

There on May 21, with the Ringel paperwork and under whatever quotas may have applied according to their status, they got the coveted U.S. immigration visa that they had been seeking for so long.

From Hermann's domicile certificate to the INS Miami entry stamp, our chain of documents tells the story of our loved ones' inspiring exodus to America.

Following the chain of documents, with help from a runaway Nazi

The unraveling of the visa trail from Toulouse to Miami lets us now analyze how each credential led to the next one and speculate as to how many steps ahead Elly may have been thinking at each point.

On May 10, 1940, the war takes a bad turn as Germany invades Netherlands and Belgium and moves into France. In a second, campaign beginning June 5, Germany crosses the Maginot line and pushes deep into France. Nazis roll into Paris on June 14. A surge of refugees heads to port cities, especially Bordeaux, but soon shipping activity there will be shut down.

Now the best hope for refugees to escape from Europe is through Lisbon, Portugal, officially neutral in the War and where at least a trickle of refugees are getting out for U.S. or other foreign immigration.

With that bit of background and what we know from what Helga told Walter, we can imagine our Elly and Helga on the alert for Gestapo agents in Nice as panic is rising about where to go next. We think they may have been among the many that rushed to Bordeaux, but before leaving Nice, on May 28, Elly secures a French translation of a Polish domicile record for her deceased husband that she has been carrying among her papers since leaving Berlin.

Here is the original document and then the certified French translation:

So reconstructing Elly's thought process, she knew before leaving Berlin that her husband's domicile of origin record could be helpful in obtaining Polish credentials later. But she hasn't pursued that angle up until now, when it has become urgent to get away from Nice.

One thing to mention here is that I am mainly talking about Elly and Helga in these posts, but I think they are with Hilda and Peiser in Nice and for the rest of the way. Walter's write up has them considering going to Palestine or to exotic locations around the world, but clearly having a preference to get to the United States. 

So I would say the thought process at the end of May 1940 was first to try to get to Lisbon and from there find a way into the United States or failing that a South American country. The details of how that would be done must still be unclear, though Elly may have already known enough U.S. immigration law to have a working plan of finding a New York Ringel family to vouch for her. Or that may have come later. 

But back to the document chain. On July 5, she presents her domicile information to the Polish consulate in Toulouse and secures the all-important Polish passport that we have discussed and displayed in prior posts. 

Next, with that document in hand, six days later she is able to secure the Netherlands visa for Curaçao and the Portugal transit visa, and one day after that also the Spanish transit visa. 

The question here is how and when the idea of the Dutch Curaçao ploy came to them. As I mentioned yesterday, we find the answer to that in the account by Otto Strasser, the purged Nazi leader who was trying to escape from France in June 1940. After failing to get out through Bordeaux and Bayonne, he describes arriving next in Toulouse.
Eight days passed before we found, at last, a lodging in that humanity-flooded city. Ten days passed before we could obtain even a card of admission to an inteniew with the Portuguese consul. For I had now to obtain the following things in the following order: first, a vise to enter Portugal; second, a transit vise to travel through Spain; third, a French exit permit to ' enable me to leave France. 
Do you know what it means to wait in the street every day from eight o'clock to noon, in blazing summer heat, before a consulate guarded by soldiers who continually beat back the throng that surges against the doors ? Yet at last I stood before the little, portly Portuguese, who told me in the most friendly way that I would first of all need the entrance vise of some American country, before Portugal would grant a transit vise.
Next he describes why it is not possible in his circumstances to get an American entrance visa, and how his situation is increasingly dire.
In utter despair, I was walking one night - my only time to venture into the open - along the quiet bank of the canal when I ran into the friendly man from the Portuguese consulate who had interviewed me in the first place. To him I again told my tale of frustration after repeated effort, without revealing my identity, of course. And, miraculously, the man knew a way out! 
"Go tomorrow to number eight Avenue Strassbourg and get a tourist's vise for Curacao; then we can book the ship's passage by telegraph, and after that I can give you the Portuguese transit vise. 
Puzzled but hopeful, next day I went to the address - and it proved to be the Netherlands consulate which was still functioning "half officially." (Afterward it was closed at Hitler's order, with all other legations and consulates of occupied countries.) The official there was an angel of salvation. Without an indiscreet word, I obtained - together with dozens of Jewish immigrants who had followed the same tip - a tourist's vise for the Dutch island of Curacao. 
Now the Portuguese and Spanish transit vises were quickly obtained, though a black cloud loomed in the background - the French exit permit still had to be procured.
Elly has six days in Toulouse between getting the Polish passport and then the Netherlands and Portugal visas. Did she get the tip in the same way that Strasser did? Are our family members among the Jewish refugees he met that day on Avenue Strassbourg at the Chancellerie du Consulat des Pays-Bas?

So, let's recap. We have seen how Elly's domicile record for Hermann Ringel led to her acquiring a Polish passport, which enabled her to receive a Netherlands tourist visa to Curaçao, which in turn led to receiving the all-important transit visa to Portugal.

Continuing, with the Portugal visa, Spain must now allow passage and Elly picks up her Spanish transit visa in Perpignan. I'm not sure whether the French exit visa presented another hurdle or not, as with Strasser. We have her visa stamps showing a fee paid of 10 francs. 

Voila! Now, with the exception of a harrowing train journey to come, our travelers have accomplished the first major step of the journey. They will soon be in Lisbon.

I will continue with more in the next post. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sealed train in Bilbao July 11, 1940

Walter is right. There definitely were sealed trains. Here is a newspaper report involving a sealed refugee train in Bilbao just 12 days before our travelers went through. Could ours have taken a circuitous route through Bilbao, possibly accounting for the four days of transit?

LISBON, July 11-Refugees who went aboard the U.S. liner Manhattan, after arriving in a sealed train from Bilbao, declared that they saw uniformed Germans at Bilbao, where many posters referring to Gibraltar were displayed in hotels. The populace, they said, was uneasy about the possibility of future European developments involving Spain. A propaganda campaign has been launched de manding part of French Morocco.

Also, get this! The exiled "Black Front" Nazi Otto Strasser not only escaped from Perpignon to Lisbon on a sealed train, he also did it based on a Curacao tourist visa obtained from the Netherlands consulate in Toulouse. That tidbit comes from a recent book, The Lisbon Route: Entry and Escape in Nazi Europe, by Ronald Weber, 2011. I've downloaded a Kindle copy and expect to find much good material to come.

Also, just a shout out here to Aristedes de Sousa Mendes, the so-called Portuguese Schindler, whose amazing story I have just read in detail. He was the courageous Portuguese consul in the French Atlantic port city of Bordeaux who in the six weeks immediately preceding Elly getting her passport in Toulouse was defying his own government by giving out visas on humanitarian grounds.

I think Walter may have alluded to our women having been in Bordeaux. If so, they must have missed out on getting help from Mendes, and went on to Toulouse from there. On the surface, Portugal's consul in Toulouse goes more by the book. But maybe the Curacao connection with the Netherlands embassy was kind of a wink, wink, nod, nod.

One question. The Netherlands and neighboring low countries have been overrun by the German blitzkrieg two months earlier. How is it that its consulate in a southern French city is still issuing visas to refugees fleeing the Nazis?

Lani found Hermann's grave October 2007

Lani and Bill and I were so fortunate to have a chance to visit Berlin. It was the Toussaint break from International School of Paris. Dan had given us the plot number of Hermann Ringel's grave in the giant Jewish cemetery in east Berlin. The only guard there did not speak English, and gave us only a rudimentary map. We walked hours through beautiful overgrown, winding paths of twisted trees and fallen leaves, trying to decipher the logic to the location of the plots, with Lani mostly leading the way. I had practically given up when Lani shouted, "I found it".

Posting this now, with the awareness that we all may become German citizens, feels remarkable, and strangely comforting. Ogi held onto her photo of this grave through her escape and the rest of the years of her life. I love that we have the same photo.

Here are the numbers for U.S.-Germany migration—771 in 2010

Joanne found this interesting link about German migration from an Israeli perspective.

Especially worth noting are the first hard numbers I have seen about American Jews taking German citizenship.
German government figures show that 3,663 Americans acquired German citizenship between 2003 and 2010, most of them Jews, according to the German Consulate in New York. And the trend has been accelerating: In 2003 there were 232 Americans who became Germans; in 2010 there were 771.

Why is This Night Different From All Other Nights?

I am happy to be posting, finally, starting with these wonderful photos I found, while looking on this computer for the famous photo of Lani at Hermann’s grave in Berlin in 2007 (which Lani or I will post next.) I love this documentation of Dan & Walt in NYC in summer of 2005, showing just how hard at work my journalist brothers have been tracing our roots and Helga’s journey.

This was a great exhibit, "Starting Over: The Expeience of German Jews in America" that coincided with our family reunion on Long Island, a few months after Helga’s death, with Sandy, Mel, Marsha.

It is just so striking to me that Dan’s brilliant inquiry, fact-finding, mapping and documentation has been produced in one short week and has happened during the Passover season. As we gathered for our alternative Seder via Skype last Friday, I did say something muddled about how cool it is that we, on this Pesach, are coming out of our 'narrows' -- the reference for Mitzrayim (Egypt). What I was referring to was the realization we had last week - that we are eligible to become German citizens, and thus EU citizens, which truly opens us, and our children, to new possibilities. We can choose to leave our ‘narrows’.

What I forgot to say on Friday, is that mom’s escape from her ‘narrows’, her oppression, quite amazingly, ended in NY during Pesach 1941, 71 years ago. Dan’s accounting today reminds me that mom attended a Seder on Ellis Island before they shipped off again to their next port, Havana, in May. I can hear her telling me just how much that Seder meant to her, but now as I read these accounts from the NY Times, it all becomes so much more meaningful.

So like Walter, I feel the power of the Sheh heh cheh yanu -- the prayer that applies to us right now in this time and this place of our lives as we consider our heroines’ escape and as we ponder our potential participation in a new culture/ society:

Baruch ata ‘’ Eloheynu ru-ach ha-olam

Sheh-heh-cheh-yanu v-ki-y’manu v-higi-anu la-z’man ha-zeh

We bless the Source of life and strength, majesty of the universe,

that we are alive, and that we thrive, and that we have arrived at this very moment.

The other remarkable fact about time and place, or wonderful karma, is that Bill & I happen to be ticketed to fly to Lisbon in July. This wasn’t deliberate. It was one of a few European cities that we could fly into using United Frequent Flyer miles this summer. We are heading to a lovely seaside vacation with Hans & Carrie in Brittany, and are just now planning our route, Portugal through Spain to France. As Dan has documented on this cool map, I will be taking Elly & Helga’s route in reverse. Thank you, Dan, for giving me all this, and making my visit to Lisbon so much richer.

Walter and I are pretty sure we need you at the International Jewish Geneology conference in Paris July 15, so I hope to see you on the continent!

NYT December 12, 1940: Lisbon's Refugees Now Put at 8,000

And here is a very detailed report from the famous James 'Scotty' Reston about the refugee situation in Lisbon. Among other interesting tidbits are these:
The Portuguese Government first controlled the movement of refugees from France to Portugal by making sure that all those applying for visas actually had transportation to the United States or some other country and they also checked to make sure that the people sincerely intended to go to the countries for which they had visas.
The government has consistently extended their visas to allow them to remain here until new homes can be found. Salazar has even cooperated in establishing schools for refugee children 
The Netherland and Belgian governments are also helping by allowing refugees to go to the Netherland Indies and the Belgian Congo.
Lots more great information in the full report.

NYT July 23, 1940: Portugal Holding Delicate Position

This report from the New York Times covers the situation in Portugal the very week our travelers arrive in Lisbon.

Mapping our heroines' movements

Here's my crude attempt to create a map showing Elly's and Helga's movements from May 1940 in Nice to April 1, 1941 in Lisbon.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Toulouse to Miami — deciphering the visa stamps in Elly's passport

Speaking with Walter earlier about Elly's travel documents, I said I would take a close look at the many visa stamps and hand notations in her Polish passport, and thus see if we could reconstruct her journey with Helga to America. I've done that now and will do my best to summarize it.

First, here's the first page of the passport in full and then a close up on the photos of Elly and Helga. I'll put in a few photo details of visa stamps on subsequent pages as we go along.

Elly's Polish passport

The first point to make is that these documents cover only the last 11 months of their journey. The passport is issued to Elly in Toulouse, France, on July 5, 1940, and she will use it until May 23, 1941, when she and Helga enter Miami as legal immigrants.

Mother and daughter
We see in detail what happens in those 11 months, but I wish we knew as much about their activities and movements in the previous 20 months since their escape from Germany.

So we start in Toulouse. Why Elly receives a passport from the Republic of Poland at first seems mysterious, but we are given a clue. Among her papers is a French translation made in Nice on May 28, 1940 of a 1906 document establishing Hermann Ringel's original domicile in Polish Galicia. We don't know why Hermann needed that document when he was 18 years old, but it appears Elly is using that documentation in 1940 to establish her credentials for the passport.

Netherlands visa
Her name, birth date and birth place on the passport are accurate, although the notation about Katowice is puzzling. As it says, her birthplace is Elbing, in present day Poland, so it is ironic that she seems to need to her deceased husband's domicile record to obtain Polish documents.

But got them she did. The passport covers Elly and her daughter Helga. It is good for one year, until July 5, 1941. It is signed by Elly below the ID photos of mother and daughter.

Now we are going to turn the page and follow along carefully the dates and places.
Portugal visa
On July 11, the Consulate of the Netherlands in Toulouse grants a tourist visa for travel to the Caribbean island of Curacao. The same day, the consulate of the Republic of Portugal in Toulouse approves a transit visa to pass through Portugal for the purpose of travel to Curacao.

It appears that on the next day, July 12, Elly traveled several hours by train to the nearby city of Perpignan to obtain a transit visit from the consulate of Spain allowing them to pass through Spain on the way to Portugal.

Back in Toulouse on July 16, she prepares for the next phase of her journey, buying train passages for the several legs of the journey. We have the receipt for the first leg to Perpignon that records how much baggage she is bringing--a total of eight pieces at a weight of 206 kg.

French-Spanish border crossing
They travel to Perpignon on July 19, where it appears they stay for four days at the Hotel Moderne. On July 23, they pay 10 francs for a French exit visa. The next morning, they depart Perpignon and receive an exit stamp at the French border crossing at Le Perthus.

On the Spanish side of the border at La Junquera, there is an entrance stamp from the Spanish Direccion General de Seguridad. There is also an annotation mentioning transit to Portugal and something about Barcelona.

The next two stamps are on July 28 at the Spanish exit port of Valencia de Alcantara and the Portuguese entry port Biera Marvao. There they are stamped out by the Spanish DGS and in by Portugal's PDVE security service.
Every two weeks
The four days between entering Spain in La Junquera and leaving it in Valencia de Alcantara is unaccounted for. I believe the notation about Barcelana means they changed trains there. I wonder if they also stayed there a day or two since it doesn't seem that it would take four days to cross Spain by rail. The route would be Barcelona through Madrid to Lisbon, obviously a heavily served rail route. I know Walter has written about a sealed train, but this doesn't quite square with that.

So they arrive in Lisbon at the end of July. The transit visa is good for only two months, it seems, since they must get approved by the PVDE for a further extension every two weeks, as indeed they do 14 more times until the following April 2.

Ecuador's immigration visa
Presumably, if their purpose had been to book and make passage to Curacao that could have happened sooner, but the PVDE continued to authorize two week extensions.

The other stamps from the months in Lisbon are for various travel visas to South American countries and eventually the United States.

On October 4, there is a stamp by Costa Rica for an entrance visa. On October 29, the consulate of Venezuela issues another entrance visa. For whatever reason, these visas don't seem to be good enough, maybe because they are for visitation but not immigration.

New York transit visa with bond notation
Then on February 27, there is a visa with the hand notation "Immigrante" from the consulate of Ecuador in Lisbon. There are additional Spanish annotations that I have not yet translated.

Anyway, this seems to be the needed credential because now things start moving quickly. On March 3, the Polish embassy in Lisbon extends the Polish passport for another year, to July 5, 1942.

On March 31, they obtain a transit visa from the United States consul in Lisbon, and also pay for their exist visa from Portugal.  

Cuban transit visa
The next day, April 1, they are stamped out as "embarked" by the PVDE. Three weeks later, April 23, they are admitted at Ellis Island by United States immigration. They are in transit to Ecuador. The visa is good until May 10.

We know from other sources how Helga stays behind at immigration while Elly goes to New York and manages to find an American Ringel to claim  a family relationship. There must have been a notarized letter about that, but unfortunately we don't have that documentation.
Legal immigration to U.S.
What we do know is that on May 7, the Cuban consul in New York issued a travel visa to Elly. Then two weeks later, they are in Havana, where Elly has kept a souvenir postcard. On May 21, a clerk for U.S. Consul George R. Hukill issues immigration visas for Elly Wohlgemuth Ringel and Helga Fanny Ringel.

Two days later, on May 23, 1941, they enter the United States through the port of Miami, stamped in as full legal immigrants by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Their flight from Nazi oppression is finally over and their new life in America has begun.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Looking for Isaak Wohlgemuth in West Prussia

I recounted in the previous post how I discovered that we have been using the wrong name for our great-grandfather on our mother's mother's side. Also, in the post before that I mentioned the probability that our Wohlgemuth family must have come from West Prussia instead of the East Prussian areas I had favored earlier.

So with Isaak's correct name, as well as exact birth and death dates from the headstone, I hopefully dove into the various Jewish genealogy resources that could be helpful, particularly the JRI-Poland and the German SIG and databases, as well as into, which sometimes has sources that does not.

So first the bad news. There is no magic hit that says this is our Isaac. Lots of Wohlgemuths all over Poland and Germany, plenty of Isaac Wohlgemuths, but none that matches up the right dates and likely places. I would have thought we'd at least turn up the burial information we already have, since the Weissensee Cemetery is well documented. I wonder why it's records are not in JewishGen's JOWBR online burial registry.

So while we can't yet locate our Isaak, a cluster of Wohlgemuth hits shows up in a resource called the West Prussian 1812 Citizenship Database. Here's a list of the 10 citations, with their surname, given name (original and new) and town (Prussian name and Polish name).

WOHLGEMUTH    Lewin Marcus Lewin     Preuss. Friedland  Paslek    
WOHLGEMUTH    Moses Lewin Moses Lewin     Landeck Ladek Zdroj
WOHLGEMUTH    Moses Salomon Moses     Preuss. Stargardt Stargard Gdanski 
WOHLGEMUTH    Herz Moses Herz     Preuss. Stargardt Stargard Gdanski    
WOHLGEMUTH    Salomon Moses Salomon     Preuss. Stargardt Stargard Gdanski    
WOHLGEMUTH    Israel Ephraim Israel Ephraim     Flatow Zlotow   
WOHLGEMUTH    Jacob Abraham Jacob     Behrendt Koscierzyna    
WOHLGEMUTH    Moses Salomon Moses Salomon     Jastrow Jastrowiec    
WOHLGEMUTH    Meyer Joseph Meyer Joseph     Tuchel Tuchola   
WOHLGEMUTH    Wittwe Marcus Rose Wittwe Wilhemine     Christburg Dzierzgon

To get an quick idea of the geography, I used the Polish town name to locate them on a map in relation to Elbing and Danzig, the cities where we can locate our family members 80 years later. Here's the map with labels for the Prussian city names.  There is one outlier for the town of Landeck that doesn't fall in this region, but every other Wohlgemuth on the list is more or less within spitting distance of Elbing and Danzig.

Okay, so what is this list? Here is the description of it on
'This database is an extract of 2,382 records from the General-Verzeichniss saemtlicher in dem Departement der koenigl. Regierung von Westpreussen vorhandenen Juden welchen das Staatsbuerger-Recht ertheilt worden. ["General Register of all Jews residing in the Royal Governmental Province of West Prussia to whom Citizenship was granted"], Marienwerder, gedruckt in der Koenigl. Westpreuss. Hofbuchdrukkerey. [Marienwerder, printed in the Royal Westprussian Court Press], (1812).

In the foreword to the register there are "instructions to be observed in regard to the process of Citizens as opposed to the foreign Jews". Among others: "A further instruction is to be observed by the police authorities in relation to the Jews arriving from foreign lands as set out in the edict of 11 March 1812 regarding the citizen’s rights in relation to the Jews in the Prussian states".

The edict covered all Jews in West Prussia who were able to earn their keep. It differentiated - and excluded - those Jews who entered the province illegally, and lived off official and unofficial charity. In future they were to be deported summarily.
 Next the description defines the various columns of data that are presented, beginning with "Surname: - Newly opted family name taken by the new Jewish citizen"

Thus, we are seeing the outlines of the story finally taking shape, and how it is directly relevant to the questions we are raising today about German citizenship. For our ancestors in Pomerania, one requirement for obtaining Prussian citizenship was that they had to conform to the new convention of adopting formal surnames. Before then, these Jews on the list were called by their Hebrew name with a patronymic reference to their father. Solomon ben Moses. Jacob ben Abraham.

But now in 1812, thousands of Jewish workers and merchants and their families had to drop the patronymic and adopt a new surname. For whatever reason, it is evident that the name Wohlgemuth is assigned or chosen in a statistically significant number of cases, especially in this vicinity of Pomerania to the south and west of the port city Danzig.

Why Wohlgemuth? It means "cheerful" or "good-natured," possibly with a hint of "benevolent" or "charitable." We know that it was also a name that was also in use by non-Jews, and that today there are many lines of Jewish and gentile Wohlgemuth families.

I'm going to hazard a guess that it was more or less on a list of acceptable names that people could choose for a surname. Perhaps if you didn't pick a name based on your occupation or your town, you might choose to style yourself as a good-natured Jew, a Wohlgemuth.

And now I'll hazard a bigger guess, that one of the Wohlgemuths on the 1812 list, particularly one of those from the towns closest to Elbing, is a grandfather or great-grandfather of our Isaak Wohlgemuth, born in 1865 in one of those same towns but who later lived and prospered in Koenigsberg and Berlin.

Isaak is the source of our citizenship claim, at least on the Wohlgemuth side (we also have the Ringels). And now we have a pretty good idea, or at least a good theory, about how his forebearer and thus our family originally acquired those citizenship rights.

One final caveat and then I will end this overlong post. I don't know how Prussian and Polish citizenship was recognized under German law, either in the past or as it applies today. Here are Wikipedia excerpts that describe the complicated geopolitical history of the region.
Most of Royal Prussia was annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia in the 1772 First Partition of Poland, and became the Province of West Prussia the following year, with the exception of Warmia, which became part of the Province of East Prussia. The Polish administrative and legal code was replaced by the Prussian system
Further Polish areas were annexed in the Second Partition of Poland in 1793, including cities of Danzig (Gdańsk) and Toruń (Thorn). 
From 1807–13 during the Napoleonic Wars, southern parts of West Prussia were incorporated in the Duchy of Warsaw.
In 1815 the province, again annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia. From 1824-1878 West Prussia was combined with East Prussia to form the Province of Prussia, after which they were reestablished as separate provinces.
The region became part of the German Empire in 1871 during the unification of Germany. It underwent German measures aimed at Germanisation of conquered Polish territories.
After the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, most of West Prussia was granted to the Second Polish Republic (the Polish Corridor) or the Free City of Danzig, while small parts in the west and east of the former province remained in Weimar Germany.
The region was included in the Reichsgau Danzig-West Prussia within Nazi Germany during World War II and settled with 130,000 German colonists,[10] while between 120,000 to 170,000 Poles and Jews were ethnically cleansed by the Germans.
All of the areas occupied by Nazis were restored to Poland according to the post-war Potsdam Agreement in 1945, along with further neighbouring areas of former Nazi Germany. The vast majority of the remaining German population of the region which had not fled before was subsequently expelled westward.
In 1949, the refugees established the non-profit Landsmannschaft Westpreußen to represent West Prussians in the Federal Republic of Germany.
I know that this has been a lot to absorb in one sitting, but it represents a signifcant step forward in our understanding of this branch of our family, which accounts for one-eighth of our genetic material and cultural background.

German Again - An American Jew reclaims the citizenship her family lost under the Nazis

It is taking longer than expected to post the next Wohlgemuth installment. In the meantime, enjoy this recent article from Slate about the process and implications of asserting German citizenship.

German Again - An American Jew reclaims the citizenship her family lost under the Nazis

One rainy morning in December, I handed a guard my bag and stepped through a metal detector into the impeccably clean office of the German consulate in Los Angeles. I was soon gestured forward to the counter, where I handed over a copy of my birth certificate, passport, and my mother’s certification of naturalization. The clerk looked over the paperwork and thanked me. Three months later, I received notice that my application had been granted. And just like that, without ever having set foot in Germany, I became a German citizen.


Family video powwow and new Wohlgemuth developments

Last night, Joanne organized a wonderful sort-of seder for the three of us by Skype, or I should say four since Tanya was with Walter in Montclair while Joanne was with me in my dining room in Piedmont. She had decided a few days ago to call off her planned full seder, and instead instigated an family video powwow over wine and matzoh to discuss the recent developments regarding the citizenship question.

We learned much on that score and as the evening developed shared even more surprises. I will leave it at that for now and encourage both Walter and Joanne to post their thoughts. Meanwhile, this post is on a related tangent and grows out of last night's meeting.

I was sharing the various birth and death records that I have in my collection for members of my mother's family, the very documents that will substantiate our claims (if we proceed with them) to birthright German citizenship. Most importantly, I showed our mother's birth certificate showing her October 1924 birth to German parents in a Berlin hospital. I also showed the 1888 birth and 1938 death certificate for her father Hermann Ringel, and the 1921 death certificate of Hermann's mother Feigla Ringel nee Kaufler.

And there were more items among the collection. My own original 1952 birth certificate was in a file drawer. By now, people's eyes were glazing over and we didn't look closely at the items in the drawer with items about Elly Ringel, Hermann's wife, Helga's mother, the grandmother we knew as Ogi.

Later after the call, Jo and I looked at those items, including her amazing refugee travel documents and  photos in a worn leather pouch that she carried with her on long journey to America. All this was familiar to us from our earlier discovery of this material. The photos included headstones from the Weissensee Cemetery in Berlin for Hermann Ringel and for two Wohlgemuth family members, Isaak and Rose. Here they are (sorry for the quality, these are quick iPad snaps while my scanner is out of commission).

Joanne who had been in Berlin and visited Hermann's grave several years ago, looked hard at the photo and said that it looks just as it does now. Then she said that at the time she wondered who had arranged for the headstone, since under ordinary Jewish custom that would not have been placed until his first jahrzeit, anniversary of his death. From our mom we knew that Elly and Helga fled Berlin three months after Hermann's death.

And now Joanne is realizing that the photo she is holding was taken in 1938 between the time of Hermann's death and Elly's flight from Germany. So now she has the answer to her earlier question, that under the emergency circumstances of the time ordinary religious customs were sidestepped.

Then we turned our attention to Elly's death certificate, issued October 4, 1981 in Santa Clara County, California. When I looked at this document that I had studied several years earlier (it was the source of our knowledge of Elly's mother's name, Betty Katz) I suddenly realized that I have been mistaken for the last years of my research about Elly's father's name.

It is not, as I have written in this blog and posted in my family tree, and as Walter transcribed Helga's account in his family narrative, it is not Julius Wohlgemuth. It is Isaac Wohlgemuth. It says it right there on Elly's death certificate. And that's why she is carries headstone photos for Isaak and Rose Wohlgemuth, but nothing for Julius.

Doh. Earlier in this adventure, Walter described his Alex Haley moment of discovery. Well, this must be our Homer Simpson moment. A stupid mistake.

For years, I have been looking for Julius Wohlgemuth, constantly stumbling over several other worthies by that name, including a well known biochemist who worked in Berlin and published an important text in 1913. It was the name Julius that led me to my hypothesis that our Wohlgemuths might have come from the town of Angerberg in East Prussia (now Wegorzewo in Poland).

I haven't yet spoken with Walter since realizing our error, but we'll have to reconstruct where we went wrong. There is another Julius on our father's side in our story. And I was finding these tidbits on Juliuses in the records. At this point, I'm thinking Elly's father Isaac, spelled Isaak on the gravestone, had just one sibling, Rose, and there is no Julius at all.

So now I've started looking for Isaac and have some preliminary things to report in the next post.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Aunt Hilda's German citizenship was revoked under the 1935 Nuremberg Laws

Since I have some momentum today and I just mentioned Aunt Hilda's citizenship annulment, here it is:

Here's what it means: Index of Jews Whose German Nationality was Annulled by Nazi Regime, 1935-1944

This is a collection of individual index cards of Jews who had their German nationality annulled by the Nazis. The records were created when German citizenship was revoked because of the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws of 1935. The laws spelled out exactly who was considered Jewish and who was allowed German citizenship and its accompanying rights. The Nuremberg Laws also prevented Jews from marrying those of German descent.

These records were filmed from index cards at the Berlin Document Center in 1959. The records have some suffix names added, Israel for men and Sara for women, which were used to readily identify Jews. The records include information on:
Birth Date
Last address

This is definitely our Hilda, since it shows her surname as Peiser and her maiden name as Wohlgemuth. Also, her last known residence  in Germany is at an address in Berlin-Charlottenburg.

When I showed this to Walter a few months ago, he said that Hilda and her husband had already left Germany by 1935 and were living in Amsterdam (I need to confirm that he said this). That would explain why her name shows up in this annulment. 

 Importantly, this also provides an exact birth date and location for Hilda. If she was born in Danzig in 1906, and Elly was previously born in the nearby city Elbing, that suggests we need to look for their father Julius's origin in that area of West Prussia/Pomerania more than the East Prussian towns I had been considering before. 

Also, we have said the family was from Koenigsberg before moving to Berlin when Elly was of marriageable age, but they wouldn't have arrived there until after the 1906 date of Hilda's birth in Danzig. So quite a bit to chew on there.

Germany and restored citizenship

Joanne and Walter have been talking for some time about the possibility of Helga's descendants having the option of obtaining dual German citizenship based on Helga's status as a displaced former citizen. I have regarded that possibility with skepticism, but prompted by my latest health insurance woes my two siblings have gone to the trouble of learning the German law.

Walter spoke with an official at the German consulate in New York and found that all the relevant information is here. The applicable law reads: "Former German citizens who between January 30, 1933 and May 8, 1945 were deprived of their citizenship on political, racial, or religious grounds, and their descendants, shall on application have their citizenship restored."

The information page continues with the following explanation:
Between January 30, 1933 and May 8, 1945 there were basically two laws pertaining to the loss of German citizenship. With the 'Law on the Revocation of Naturalizations and the Deprivation of the German Citizenship' of July 14, 1933, some persons were deprived of their German citizenship individually. Their names were listed in the Reich Law Gazette ('Reichsgesetzblatt') and with the publication of the particular Reichsgesetzblatt they lost their German citizenship.

The main group of former German citizens, however, lost their citizenship with the 'Eleventh Decree to the Law on the Citizenship of the Reich' of November 25, 1941. This stipulated that Jews living outside Germany could not be German citizens. This mainly affected Jews who had left Germany in the years before or shortly after the beginning of the Second World War.
I recently came across a listing of our Aunt Hilda, Elly's sister, having her citizenship revoked by name, but the second paragraph is the one that would apply to Elly Ringel and her daughter Helga. Walter writes that the official told him that if we have the proper documentation (and we do), then we could become citizens of Germany and of Europe within a year of filing the application.

What that means for any of us Rubys remains to be fully considered, but it is certainly interesting to understand that acquiring European citizenship (presumably without renouncing U.S. citizenship) is a realistic option for any of Helga's children and grandchildren.

What year is this photo?

I just came across this photo in my files, and have sent it on to Toby Bell and his mom Jody Foster, who is at center with Toby's dad Rob Bell. I got a chance to connect with Toby about his technology interests when he, Jody and Jody's husband Bruce Cain visited in Piedmont last week. He didn't mention any interest in Pirates baseball, but he has the right pedigree for it.

I think this is from a Pirates vs. SF Giants game at Candlestick in around 1990. Who can figure out the year?

Selma Ruby census for 1940

Access to images of the 1940 census enumerations has just been made available though Ancestry and probably other sources. So far, the records are not searchable by name, but the actual enumeration sheets are browsable by population center.

So, I went to Long Beach in Nassau County NY and found six enumeration districts listed. Using Google Maps, I was able to figure that District 30-207 would include the section of West Walnut St. where the Ruby family resided. Clicking that link leads to 79 pages of image files, but I was lucky to find 138 West Walnut on just the third page. It is below.

 There's nothing very surprising here but interesting nonetheless. The enumeration date is April 3, 1940. Selma, age 40, is the head of household. The other household members are Stanley, son, 15, and Ruth Ratner, sister, 35. Selma is widowed, Stan and Ruth are single. Stan is an active student who has completed his third year of high school. (Is that right, or is he currently in his third year?) Selma and Ruth both finished four years of high school. All three were born in New York. All three have lived in the same home since 1935.

Selma and Stan are not in the work force because one is a homemaker and one a student. Ruth was employed full time as a stenographer for a book printing company and earned $1248 per year. Selma is the owner of the home at this address, and the home is valued at $15,000, which is the highest valued home on the page. Selma was not selected to be asked supplementary questions.

 Zach, as our resident census expert, do you see anything else that I may be missing? How does the 1940 enumeration form differ from the 2010 census you worked on? It seems surprising to me that they get income and home value/rent payment information for every citizen. If I'm not mistaken, this is the first year that used supplemental questions. It appears they are asked of everyone who falls on the 2nd or 6th line of an enumeration sheet, or five percent of all the names on a sheet.

 Click the image to enlarge. Our family members appear on lines 37-39.