Category Archives: My Family

Looking for a house in Germany

It’s no secret that there has been a large increase in antisemitic incidents across Europe in recent years. No one I’m sure missed the events in France last month, where in addition to the murder of eleven employees of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo (and a Muslim policeman outside the office building), a different terrorist two days later murdered four people in a Kosher supermarket on the outskirts of Paris.

You probably also heard about the murder of five (originally it was reported as four, but one victim later died of their wounds) people in the Jewish Museum in Brussels, Belgium in May of last year. The terrorist believed to have carried out that attack was later caught in France, having French and Algerian citizenship, and having fought in Syria for ISIS before returning to France in 2013. If convicted he would be the first European to have gone to fight for ISIS and then to have returned to Europe to carry out an attack.

You may, however, have not noticed an event that happened last summer in a city called Wuppertal, Germany. Last August, three men, whose roots are Palestinian, firebombed the Bergische Synagogue in Wuppertal. The synagogue was originally burnt to the ground by Nazis during Kristallnacht in 1938, and had been rebuilt only in 2002. The synagogue did not burn to the ground this time, luckily, which is probably why the story did not receive a tremendous amount of mainstream coverage. The court proceedings were recently held, and the three men were found guilty of arson, but amazingly the court declared it was not an antisemitic act (presumably such a declaration would have been similar to the US hate crime designation which would have increased the punishment). The terrorists were given suspended sentences and ordered to carry out 200 hours of community service. I wonder if after the original synagogue was burnt to the ground, the courts then also gave a slap on the wrist to the perpetrators? Maybe they didn’t punish them at all in 1938, so this is I guess an improvement? It’s incredibly scary that terrorists can throw molotov cocktails at a Jewish house of worship, and it’s not considered a hate crime. If things continue to deteriorate in Germany in particular, and Europe generally, this moment might be looked back upon as a turning point where hate crimes were justified and allowed to happen without serious punishment. Certainly the next terrorists in Germany who are thinking about attacking a synagogue will decide the risk is low for them, since these terrorists only got community service as punishment.

So what does all this have to do with a house? and genealogy? I don’t hear about Wuppertal very often, so when I do it of course focuses my thoughts on my family that used to live there. My grandfather had two uncles that lived in Wuppertal. They both fled Germany as soon as they could after Kristallnacht, one making it to the US and one heading to British-Mandate Palestine. The one who made it to the US was a prolific collector of family photos, which I am grateful for in my genealogy research. One photo I came across many years ago was a photo of his house in Wuppertal:


It’s hard to read the street name, at least for me. I couldn’t find the street name easily online. I thought perhaps the name had changed over time. I then remembered that years ago I found an old map of Wuppertal (then called Elberfeld-Barmen) which had a list of streets:


I found the map years ago, and have long forgotten where I found it, but had kept it with a folder of historic maps that I keep on towns where I had family. Taking a look at the street list, I came across Katernberger Strasse, in squares D1 and D2 on the map. Remember using grid squares to find locations on maps? People who have only known Google Maps and other electronic options, probably have never had to use grid coordinates on a map to find the street they want. In any case, armed with the name I did a search on, of course, Google Maps, and found the following:


Seems to be a match. Note that there are what look like light-rail tracks running down the street in the photo from the 1930s, while the current photo shows no tracks.  Interestingly Wuppertal is famous for having the world’s oldest operating monorail, the Wuppertal Suspension Railway, which started operating in 1901. In any case, the building now seems to be a restaurant. From what I can find online the photo from Google isn’t current, because that particular restaurant is no longer there.

I wonder what the history of that building has been since my family fled Germany. Who was it sold to when my family left? Who lived in it since then? When did it become a restaurant? Did the various residents of the building know that a Jewish family once lived there? Is there still evidence in the building of things like outlines of mezuzahs in some of the door frames?

Remembering my grandfather

Two weeks ago, my grandfather passed away. I’ve mentioned him before on this blog in my post Friends from Antwerp – and is that a famous Yiddish poet?. Although we lived in the same city for only a few years we were very close and I spoke to him every week. As I flew to the US to attend his funeral, I wrote the following. It is exactly my thoughts as I sat in the airplane heading to say goodbye to my grandfather.

    Almost exactly 34 years ago my grandmother passed away. As a young child I didn’t fully comprehend what that meant. It was traumatic for me at the time, not understanding death, but moreover it was the intense sadness in my father that I think affected me. I didn’t get to know her well, although I have fleeting memories of her, more emotion than memory.

    Yesterday, my grandparents were finally reunited. At 98 my grandfather lived what by any standard is a long and full life. Having had the intervening years with my grandfather, of course I knew him considerably better than I did my grandmother. After college I lived in the same city as him for several years, and although I now live in a different country, he was always one of the people I made sure to visit when I was in town.

    My grandfather had a special connection to my oldest child, now the age I was when my grandmother passed away. It’s not the same, a great-grandparent compared to a grandparent, of course. She didn’t know him like she knows my parents, or my wife’s parents, but I like to think she knew he had a special place in his heart for her. We called him every week, and while he was happy to speak to my wife and I, he always seemed to light up when he spoke to his ‘little princess’. My younger children will likely not remember my grandfather, but I like to think my oldest will in some way remember him, more perhaps than the fleeting memories I have of my grandmother.

    Technology will help in some regard there, as I’ve been able to document the connection between them, with photos and videos that I’ve shot over the years. In some respect, my interest in photography and videography comes from my grandfather. Just like he lugged a camera loaded with Kodachrome and either a 16mm or an 8mm film camera around with him, I am usually not without similar, if a bit more modern, equipment. Just as he recorded moments from the 1940s through the 1970s, illustrating the youth and vibrancy of my grandparents and extended family, so I hope my own recordings more than half a century later will help my children and grandchildren understand what our lives were like, and the connections we shared between family.

    So to my grandfather, Yaakov Mordechai ben Moshe Tzvi, and my grandmother Lipka bat Chaim, now united once more, I offer the old Jewish prayer – may your names be remembered as blessings.


Tarnów and Thüer (Thier)

Inspired by Edie Jarolim’s post Tarnow Calling in her great Freud’s Butcher blog, I’ve decided to share this document I discovered in a family album. The document is from a factory owned by a relative of mine in Tarnów, Poland. From the fill-in date portion, it seems the document is from the 1910s

The factory’s owner, Jacob Thüer (I knew the name as Thier, but my surname also had an umlaut at one point), was a brother of my great-grandmother Sala Thier Trauring, who I knew as a young child.

Jacob Thier Tarnow_0001

Jacob Thüer shows up in the Yad Vashem Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names (spelled as Thier, although shown the alternate spelling Thuer as well) with a Page of Testimony (PoT), filed by his daughter. The daughter, Klara Linger, lists herself as living in Sydney, Australia. She says her father died in 1943, presumably murdered by the Nazis.

Oddly, in the transcription of the PoT on the site, the name of the town of last residence is given as Ulicz, Poland. The problem is that there no Ulicz, Poland. Taking a closer look at the original scanned PoT, it’s clear the town listed is actually Tarnów, Poland, and the town was mis-transcribed (from what appears to be a neighborhood or street address before the town name). This is a good example of why you should always view the original scan of a Page of Testimony. If you find a mistake like this, Yad Vashem has a form to submit corrections (which I’ve done in this case).

In addition to the submitter Klara Linger, two other children of Jakob Thier are listed – Samuel and Rudolph Thier. It appears they were all living in Sydney, Australia at the time the PoT was filed, although that is not listed. I don’t know these descendants, but if you know these families from Australia, let me know.