Tag Archives: Traurig

Tracking down a couple that disappeared during the Holocaust

This is a story of memory, and how looking to find information on a specific person or persons, especially when they died in the Holocaust, can be very difficult.

I was recently contacted by a man in Germany who told me he was involved in arranging the installation of Stolpersteine for a couple that was related to me. The wife, Mindel Traurig, came from Kańczuga. The husband’s name was Aron Salzmann. I’ll refer to them below as Mindel and Aron.

Photo source: @stolpersteine Twitter account

Stolpersteine (Stolperstein is the singular form), for those unfamiliar with the term, are concrete blocks with brass plates that commemorate people killed during the Holocaust, that are generally installed in the sidewalk outside the last place a person lived before being murdered. Stolperstein in German means ‘stumbling block’, and the idea is that people living in these place now will stumble upon these memorials which start ‘Here lived…’ explaining that someone who lived in that very spot was murdered during the Holocaust. Started as an art project by Gunther Demnig in 1992, over 50,000 of these memorials have been installed in 18 European countries.

The person who contacted me was indirectly connected to this couple, had found me through the family tree on Geni, and wanted to find out more information about the couple before their Stolperstein was installed in a few months time. I knew a bit about the couple, although I had some open questions from past investigations. For one, while I knew the couple had live in Cologne (Köln), Germany before the war, I didn’t know what happened to them during the war, or how Aron had died. What I knew about Mindel was that she had actually survived the war, only to be murdered upon returning to her hometown of Kańczuga in 1945. The story is that she was participating in the second Passover seder there, when Polish men (possibly soldiers) came and killed all the Jews. It’s worth pointing out again that this was after Poland was liberated.

I wrote last year about a planned memorial for Jews murdered in Kańczuga, including the 13 Jews murdered at this Passover seder, in Memorial for Jews murdered in Kańczuga in 1942 & 1945 and More info about the massacre of Jews in Kańczuga in 1945 on the Kanczuga.org web site. In the memorial Mindel is listed as Mindla Saltzman.

Let me back up a minute. My knowledge about this couple comes from a few places.

Vital Records

It’s always a good idea when doing research to start at the beginning and what’s more of a beginning than one’s birth? I have a copy of Mindel’s birth record from 1885 in Kańczuga. I retrieved this record many years ago through a record request to the archive in Poland.

1995 birth record of Mindel Traurig
1995 birth record of Mindel Traurig

What can we learn from her birth certificate other than her birth date? It gives the name of her father (Markus Thurm), as well as the name of her mother (Taube Traurig), and additionally the names of her mother’s parents (David and Feige Traurig).

Family Letters

Another source of information is a letter from a cousin written over 30 years ago outlining what he knew of our family history.

The letter was written to his nephew (who shared it with me), and had the following line:
Excerpt from family letter
Excerpt from family letter

Just in case that isn’t clear, here is the text:
    “Minna, married Kesstecher-Salzman, and they had 2 sons and one daughter all in NY.; check with Leo Thurm for more details, Minna K.-S. husband Urisch managed to hide in Poland during the Nazi occupation but was shot down in the street by Poles when after the liberation he came out of hiding.”

There’s a lot to dissect in that sentence.

  • First, it gives the husband a hyphenated last name, Kesstecher-Salzman.
  • It mentions they had two sons and one daughters “all in NY” which sounds like they were born in NY, or at least that they all lived in NY.
  • It mentions another relative who might know more information, Leo Thurm.
  • It says the husband’s name was Urisch;
  • and that he survived the war only to be shot when he came out of hiding.

So let’s dissect these statements one at a time.

  • The surname of Kesstecher-Salzman was not really hyphenated, but rather at different times he used the Kesstecher and Salzman surnames. I haven’t been able to confirm the exact connection, but I suspect that like many Jewish families in Galicia, his parents had a religious marriage and not a civil one, and he and any siblings he might have had were forced to take his mother’s surname. That doesn’t explain which name is which, but I would guess that Kesstecher was his mother’s maiden name, and Salzman was his father’s surname. Mindel herself had a similar situation, which I can confirm, as her mother’s maiden name was Traurig and her father’s surname was Thurm (as shown in the birth record above). She and her siblings were all born with the Traurig surname, although at least one (the father of the above-mentioned Leo Thurm) later changed his surname to him father’s surname (after arriving in the US).
  • “All in NY” is a very misleading statement. As it turns out, the two sons were able to make it to the US as refugees, although the daughter was killed in Europe. The parents, Mindel and Aron, never made it to the US.
  • Leo Thurm, as mentioned, is the son of Mindel’s brother. He’s actually 100 years old now and living in Brooklyn.
  • It was certainly confusing to see the husband’s name listed as Urisch instead of Aron. A grandson of Mindel and Aron has said, however, that a copy of a yizkor notice sent to his father, lists their names as Minja and Ourish. It took me a little time to figure this out, but Rabbi Shmuel Gorr lists (in Jewish Personal Names) Arush and Orush as diminutive forms of Aron, pointing out that -ush, -ash, -ish and -esh are all diminutive suffixes.
  • This last part of the statement is questionable. We know, of course, that Mindel was killed when she came out of hiding. Was Aron similarly killed? One grandchild heard he died while in hiding of a stomach complication. If that the case then this may simply have been conflated with the death of Mindel.

Pages of Testimony

Another source of information on this couple are Pages of Testimony submitted to Yad Vashem.

Since the 1950s Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum, has collected forms filled out to commemorate victims of the Holocaust. Generally filled out by family members and friends of the victims, these forms give a general outline of the person – the name, the names of their parents, where and when they were born, who their spouse was, where they lived before the war, and how and when they died. Not every form has all of the information, in fact most don’t. Another important piece of information on the forms is who filled the form out, how they were connected to the subject of the form, and where the submitter lived. While the submitter information was likely not intended to be so important, the submitter information does two critical things. First, it gives us as researchers a potential connection to a surviving member of one’s family. The second thing is it connects the Pages submitted by the same person (although there are problems with this, see two below). You might be looking for one cousin’s Page, but by looking at all the Pages submitted by the same person, you might find information on dozens of common relatives. Page of TEstimony make up the bulk of Yad Vashem’s Shoah Names Database, searchable on their site.

As I looked into this couple and communicated with other researchers and family members, I realized there were three sets of Pages of Testimony for this couple. Different ones were sent to me from different people. At first glance these would not be the same people, but taking a closer look revealed them all to be the same. Here are the Pages of Testimony:

Mina KesstecherAron Kesstecher
David Turm
PoT submitted by David Turm of Mina KesstecherMaiden Name: Turm
Parents: Morechai and Feige
Born: 1897
Birth town: Kanczuga
Residence: Köln
PoT submitted by David Turm of Aron KesstecherBorn: 1891
Birth town: Sanok
Residence: Köln
Mindel SalzmannAaron Salzmann
Alex. Vogel
PoT submitted by Alexander Vogel of Mindel SalzmannResidence: Köln PoT submitted by Alexander Vogel of Aaron SalzmannResidence: Köln
Winna SalzmannAron Salzmann
Alex Salm
PoT submitted by Alex Salm of Winna SalzmannMaiden name: Traurig
Born: 1885
Birth town: Kanice
Residence: Köln
PoT submitted by Alex Salm of Aron SalzmannBorn: 1885
Birth town: Graditzk?
Residence: Köln
The first column shows you who submitted the Pages, the second column shows you what was submitted for Mindel and the third column shows you what was submitted for Aron. Key data-points, if submitted, are shown next to the image of the Page. The name above each image is the name submitted on the Page.

First things first. There is only one detail that all Pages agree on – which is that before the war, they were living in Köln (Cologne), Germany. Seriously, that’s the only thing that is consistent.

Let me step back for a moment to give some advice and to point out a problem when looking at Pages of Testimony at Yad Vashem. One thing I always like to do when I find a Page submitted is to click on the link of the submitter’s name, to see what other Pages they submitted. It’s common when submitting Pages to submit many Pages from the same family, so even if you were not looking for other relatives specifically, you might find relatives in the list of other Pages submitted. What I discovered is that one of the above Pages, the Page of Mindel Salzmann submitted by Alexander Vogel, was listed as submitted by Alexander Jogel, and thus not linked to any other submissions (compare the search of Pages by Alexander Vogel and Alexander Jogel). If you find a single submission (like for Jogel) it’s worth trying to figure out if there is a spelling mistake like this, so you find other submissions from the same person. In my experience, it is rare to find a person that submitted only one Page.

So back to the Pages.

  • All essentially agree that the husband’s name was Aron (Aaron is a form of the same name).
  • For the wife, we have Mindel and Minna (a shortened form of Mindel), so far so good, but then out of nowhere Winna. Presumably this is just a mistake and he wrote Winna instead of Minna.
  • Two of the sets of Pages agree that their surname was Salzmann, but one has Kesstecher. I’ve already written above about this inconsistency, but to be clear I believe they were known by the Kesstecher name when they lived in Poland (and were in contact with David Turm) and when they moved to Germany, switched to using the Salzmann name.
  • Only two of the Pages list Mindel’s maiden name, but they disagree on what it was – one listed Turm, and one Traurig. This is easy to figure out, however, as I mentioned above Mindel’s birth surname was Traurig, although her father’s surname was Turm/Thurm.
  • One of the biggest oddities of all the pages are the birth years given in David Turm’s Pages. He lists their birth dates as 1897 and 1891, although both were apparently born in 1885. Alex Salm actually listed them both as being born in 1885, although he duplicates the birthday of Aron for both Aron and Mindel.

It’s a pretty big mess. Now let’s look at who wrote these Pages of Testimony.

  • The first set was written by David Turm, a nephew of Mindel. They were written in 1957, 12 years after the war, and perhaps 20 years since he had last seen Mindel and Aron.
  • The second set was written by Alexander Vogel, a son-in-law of Mindel and Aron. Alexander Vogel has married Toby Salzmann, the daughter of Mindel and Aron. It’s not exactly clear when Toby Vogel died, although perhaps it was before the war because Alexander Vogel didn’t seem to submit a Page of Testimony for her (at least that I could find), even though he did for her parents. Both Aron Salzmann and Alexander Vogel were deported from Germany to Zbasyn, although not at the same time. I’m not sure if they would have overlapped there or not. Concerning his Pages, they were submitted in 1977, more than thirty years after the war.
  • The third set was submitted by Alex Salm, a researcher seemingly not connected to Mindel and Aron. Interestingly he submitted almost 7500 Pages of Testimony. The two for Mindel and Aron were submitted in 2000, some fifty-five years after the war. Doing some research into Alex Salm I discovered that he was a survivor himself, and he passed away in 2004.

So which of these three sources would you consider the most reliable?

  • I think we can clearly discount Alex Salm, who had probably had no direct knowledge of the family, and seemed to have worked from public documents. One can find the birth date and location for Aron Salzman in several places, including a list of refugees in Zbasyn between 1938 and 1939, the German Gedenkbuch (which lists the JDC Archive as a source), and the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolson, Germany which has a card on Aron Salzmann with the same birth date and location. Since Salm lists the wrong birthday for Mindel, and gets her first name and birth town slightly wrong, it’s not clear what source he was using for this information. Presumably there is something that lists her as living in Köln, Germany that he found. Maybe there is a typo in that document that uses the Winna spelling.
  • Alexander Vogel submitted the least amount of details on his Pages. Either he didn’t know, or he had forgotten where they had been born, his mother-in-law’s maiden name, etc.
  • David Turm gets the birth years off by more than a decade, and didn’t even know that in Germany his aunt and uncle had changed their surname to Salzman. He also lists Mindel’s maiden name as Turm, even though everyone else lists it as Traurig.
None of these are particularly compelling.

Let’s take a step back for a moment to look at something interesting about these Pages of Testimony. The ones submitted closest to the war were those by David Turm in 1957. As I’ve noted above he was a nephew of Mindel, the son of her brother Simon. David’s immediate family were all killed in the Holocaust, with only him surviving because he had gone to British Mandate Palestine. He had the same naming issue as Mindel, that their surname should have been Turm (I know this name as Thurm because another brother of Mindel made to America, where he changed him name back to his father’s name, and spelled it Thurm). Yet in these Pages, he lists his own name as Turm, and the maiden name of Mindel as Turm as well. According to David’s daughter who I spoke to a few years ago, her father never changed his name from Traurig. For whatever reason, he submitted those Pages under the name Turm, and said Mindel’s maiden name was also Turm (which if her parents had had a civil marriage it would have been).

As I usually do I looked at the full listing of Pages submitted by David Turm, and noticed something odd. His immediate family wasn’t listed. Thinking back to what his daughter told me about his name, I searched instead for the list of Pages submitted by David Traurig. Sure enough there is a whole different batch of Pages submitted by David Traurig, just a few months earlier. This includes his parents Szymon Turm and Miryam Traurig. Note that he uses the Turm surname for his father, and the Traurig surname for his mother. That’s a bit confusing.

So we see a bit of conflict in his use of the names Turm and Traurig. In his first batch he uses the name Traurig, but names his father Turm and his mother Traurig (presumably because while his father’s name should have been Turm, his mother’s married name was always Traurig). For his siblings he used the surname Turm, even while filling it out with his surname Traurig. What seems to make sense is that while their legal name was Traurig, they considered their surname to be Turm. A few months later when filling out more Pages, he used the surname Turm, and similarly assigns the Turm name to his aunt Mindel, even though she never used it legally.

I think we have a pretty good idea of why David Turm used the maiden name Turm in his Page of Testimony for Mindel, but we still don’t know why the birth dates are off. Whether all of this convinces you that three sets of Pages without almost nothing in common all refer to the same couple, I don’t know. When I sent these six Pages to Yad Vashem to ask them to link them without the explanation above, they thought there were too many contradictions to link them. I haven’t heard back from them yet after sending them more or less the same outline as above to convince them they are the same people, but they’re pretty good about responding so we’ll find out soon enough.

In case you’re wondering how I know that the two batches of Pages submitted by David Turm and David Traurig were submitted by the same person, in the Pages in both batches where he lists his address, they are the same. I suppose one could do handwriting analysis as well, but I think the address is enough evidence.

So what other sources are there out there to find out about this couple?

German Gedenkbuch

The couple lived in Germany before the war, and therefore if they were killed by the Nazis they should show up in the Gedenkbuch (Memorial Book) that is continuously updated on the web site of the German Federal Archives. As pointed out above, indeed Aron shows up in the Gedenkbuch, listing the date of his deportation from Germany to Zbaszyn, Poland, as well as his detention there. It also says he was declared dead, but doesn’t give any details.

Gedenkbuch entry for Aron Salzmann
Gedenkbuch entry for Aron Salzmann

Mindel does not, however, show up in the Gedenkbuch. Even though she lived in Germany before the war, she was not killed by the Nazis, but rather local Polish people, and therefore doesn’t make it into the Gedenkbuch.

American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) Archives

The JDC was, and still is today, a major relief organization operating wherever Jews are in need. Many Jewish refugees were helped by the JDC on their way out of Europe, and records were kept by the JDC are now available online their Archives site. The JDC helped many refugees make it to places like Australia, China, Cuba, and basically wherever there were places willing to accept Jewish refugees. They also helped refugees wherever they were, including as it happens the Zbaszyn internment camp where Aron was sent. Searching the JDC archives brings up a file listing those assisted in Zbaszyn by the JDC, which includes an entry on Aron.

JDC Archive Record of Aron Salzmann
JDC Archive Record of Aron Salzman

The listing give his birth town and date, his profession, his address in Germany, as well as the name and address of his son who was in New York. If you compare the details to the information in the Gedenkbuch above, you’ll notice they are largely the same, and indeed it turns out that the JDC records were used to help build the Gedenkbuch. Just looking at the Gedenkbuch wouldn’t have given you the name and address of his son, however. It also wouldn’t have given you the exact date of his deportation from Germany.

International Tracing Service (ITS)

The ITS in Bad Arolsen, Germany is an organization that was set up in the wake of World War II to collect all the documentation related to the atrocities carried out by the Nazis and their collaborators, including concentration camps, forced labor, and documenting post-war displaced persons. The archive contains more than thirty million documents, and for decades helped people trace what happened to their relatives who they became disconnected from during the war (as well as providing survivors the documentation they needed to receive restitution and compensation). Overseen by 11 member nations (Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, United Kingdom, and the United States), the ITS traditionally made it fairly difficult for people who were not survivors or direct descendants of survivors to access their information, especially if you were not going to travel to the archive in Germany. Over time, those rules have been loosened, and the ITS has made major progress in digitizing its archive and making those digital copies available to institutions in the 11 member nations. In the US the recipient of those digital copies is the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, in Israel the recipient is Yad Vashem, etc. These institutions have begun efforts to index these records and make them available to researchers in their own countries. In fact, you can request information from ITS through these organizations, such as through the Research Services page on the USHMM web site.

Before the digitization and indexing of their records, the primary way that ITS researchers would search for information on people in their records was through a card catalog. For those too young to have used such a system in their local library (where file cabinets were filled with cards with details of the books available in the library), at the ITS this consisted of having a single card with information on each person for whom they had information on in their archive. The cards were presumably organized alphabetically, and each time they found information on a person, they would find the card on that person, and add the information they found, which would hopefully point them back to the document they found that information when needed. It was, clearly, a very labor-intensive process.

I was able to locate two of these cards for Mindel and Aron, through a source other than the ITS. I have actually submitted a request to the ITS for information on Mindel and Aron, so at the very least I should receive the same cards from them, but hopefully some supporting documentation as well.

ITS Card for Mindel Traurig SalzmannITS Card for Aron Salzmann

There’s not a whole lot of information on the card. It has their names, Mindel’s maiden name (Traurig), their birth dates and towns (which matches the information in the JDC file for Aron), and that they were deported from Germany to Poland in either 1938 or 1939. Note that we haven’t run into any evidence previously that Mindel was deported with Aron to Zbaszyn. Indeed the next piece of information seems to call this into question, as it seems to say they both died in concentration camps (K.Z. on the cards). We have no story nor evidence that either of them were in concentration camps (other than Zbaszyn which was a kind of internment camp), nor that they died in them. Indeed, we know that Mindel did not die in a camp, but in a massacre in her hometown.

This tells us that while the ITS archive is immense, that it is not always accurate. When the ITS responds to my request for records on this couple, maybe they will send associated documents that explain why the card says what it does.

Another detail of the cards is that they show a name on the bottom left – RA Weinberg, Köln. RA is an abbreviation for Rechtsanwalt, the German word for lawyer. This seems to indicate that a lawyer with the last name Weinberg in the city of Köln was researching this couple for restitution claims. Could this have been a lawyer hired by the couple’s children? It’s unlikely we’ll ever know, as their children have passed away and their grandchildren were not told very much about what happened during the war (nor anything like restitution claims that their parents may have filed after the war).


Starting with very little information, we went through available sources:
  • Vital Records
  • Family Letters
  • Pages of Testimony at Yad Vashem
  • German Gedenkbuch
  • JDC Archives
  • International Tracing Service (ITS)
We’ve at least been able to put together the beginning of an outline of what happened to this couple. We know where and when they were born (Kanczuga and Grodinsk, both in 1885), where they lived before the war (Cologne, Germany), when Aron was deported from Germany (October 1938) and where he was sent (Zbaszyn, Poland), and where and when Mindel was killed (Kańczuga, Poland in 1945).

The next step would probably be to research available records in Cologne, Germany to find information on their when they lived there. Contacting more relatives whose families knew them and might have other letters and documents that reference them is also a good idea. Finding out which Grodinsk Aron was born in (there are several in Poland), and if there are other Salzmann descendants that came from there would also be important, as they may have been in touch with Aron before or during the war.

I don’t know if we will ever get a complete picture of this couple’s life (or their deaths), especially where and in what conditions they hid during the war, but as the above shows, it’s possible to find some information when you know where to look, and you are willing to spend the time to reach out to people and organizations. I hope this research effort is helpful to others. If you have more information on this couple, please share it either in the comments below or send it to me directly.

Typical name distribution? A preview of my lecture on Monday.

The following is a slide from my lecture on Monday in Jerusalem at the 35th annual IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy. My lecture is titled “Jewish Names, Red Herrings and Name Changes” and is taking place at 10am. This slide is about mid-way through my lecture, and takes a look at a family with confusing naming patterns (and is subject to change by Monday).

Typical Name Distribution 2
It’s a little hard to follow without some introduction in the previous slides, but in short there are two Taube Traurigs, including one who married a Schopf but was never named Taube Schopf.

There’s an actually Taube Schopf, whose father was a Wigdor Schopf. Her married name was Taube Engleberg, which is what the other Taube’s name should have been at birth (but wasn’t).

There are actually two Wigdor Schopfs, one married to a Taube, and one the father of a Taube.

The son of Taube Traurig and Wigdor Kessler was named Ephraim Engelberg. It all makes sense really.

Have your own confusing name stories? Share them in the comments.

Want to hear more and are in Israel? Come to my lecture on Monday. Details on the Facebook event page for the lecture. If you’re going to attend and use Facebook, please sign up on the event page.

Attending and have a question about Jewish names? Send me a message before Monday and I’ll try to include the answer in my lecture.

How surnames change – research into one name over two centuries

From sadness to happiness and wedding rings.

While my last article looked at changes from the surname Traurig to Trauring which were mistakes, this article looks at changes in the name Traurig that actually did happen – leading to Trauring, Vesely,  Smutny, and Al Yagon.

This article is a fairly long look at how names, or more specifically one name, changed over the past two centuries, using a number of sources including JRI-Poland (covers Poland), Genteam.at (Austria), Yad Vashem (Israel), Historical Jewish Press, FHL Microfilms, old-fashioned gumshoeing, and a bit of luck. While not so many people reading this article may be interested in what accounts to a one-name study of sorts, I think the research methods and family situations discussed would be useful for anyone trying to track down members of their family whose surnames in past centuries might have changed.

The Original Name

About 150 years ago, my family’s surname was Traurig. Traurig in German means ‘sad’. My family lived in the small town of Kańczuga, in the Galicia region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (the town is now in Poland). Only about 50 years earlier, most people in Galicia didn’t have surnames. Surnames were introduced in Galicia after its consolidation into the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a way to make it easier to tax citizens, and conscript them into the army.

Why Change?

When surnames became required, why would a family choose a name that meant sad? Family legend has it that indeed they didn’t choose the name at all, but rather were assigned it by an antisemitic local bureaucrat. The story goes on that this bureaucrat actually was something of a joker, and named two brothers differently – Lustig and Traurig, or in English – Happy and Sad. The chronicler of this family legend (a distant cousin) even mentioned some members of the Lustig family that were related to us, including the owner of the famous NY restaurant chain Longchamps – which I found out was founded by one Henry Lustig with funding from his brother-in-law Arnold Rothstein. Yes, that Arnold Rothstein. I’ve never been able to make a direct connection to the Lustig family, but interestingly enough I did find an Abraham Joseph Lustig in records that came from Kańczuga  Abraham Joseph was actually a very popular name combination in my family from Kańczuga  so that’s another connection. Maybe there’s something to that legend…

My Family’s Name Change

Our family changed their name within a generation or two to Trauring, which means ‘wedding ring’. I suspect it was simply to avoid the negative meaning of their original name. It’s not clear exactly when the name change occurred, but certainly by the 1880s my family was using the Trauring name. I suspect in fact that they used it much earlier, but only changed it officially once leaving Kanczuga and venturing out to other nearby towns. It is only in other towns that the name Trauring begins to show up, even while the Traurig name continued in Kańczuga until much later.

My original discovery of the name change came when I found my great-grandfather’s older sister’s birth record when searching on JRI-Poland. Kreindel Blime (later known as Katie) Trauring was born in 1882 in Rzeszów, a larger city not too far from Kańczuga. I didn’t then know the connection to Kańczuga and actually thought my family was originally from Rzeszów. When I ordered a copy of the birth record, however, it clearly showed that her father Isaac Trauring was born in Kańczuga. When I tracked down the birth records from Kańczuga (also through JRI-Poland) I was surprised to find there were no Traurings at all. There were, however, a lot of Traurigs. One Traurig was an Isaac Traurig born in 1862. So Isaac Traurig was born in 1862 in Kańczuga, and his first child was born 20 years later in Rzeszów with her father’s name listed as Isaac Trauring.

Detail of Kreindel Blime Trauring’s birth record from 1882
Let me be clear that just finding a person with the same name about the same age in a town does not make them the person you are seeking. I later went on to find many other documents that backed up this record, showing the same town and the same birthday for Isaac Trauri(n)g.

I’ll save you from the details, but another branch of the family shows up in Lancut, also nearby, also went by the name Trauring, and can also be traced back to Kańczuga originally. This probably either indicates that the name change was much earlier than documented (since two separate branches changed their name) or that the two branches coordinated the name change even after they were split between different locations.

Are All Traurigs Related?

With our family name having been Traurig for only for a few decades, and being a fairly common word in German (and a much more common surname than Trauring), I always suspected that that while there are lots of Traurigs out there, none (or few) were related to my family. Indeed, many of the Traurigs I’ve come across have been Cohanim (Jewish priests who receive that status via patrilineal inheritance). Strictly speaking, since my family are not Cohanim (Hebrew plural of Cohen), it should be impossible to be related to Traurigs who are Cohanim (since it is inherited patrilineally).

I said strictly speaking, since it’s not actually true, as many people in Galicia received their surnames from their mothers – as I have discussed in two previous articles: Religious marriages, civil marriages and surnames from mothers and Name Changes at Ellis Island. Thus perhaps one branch received the Cohen status from their father, but their surname from their mother. That said I’ve never found a connection beyond the Traurigs that originated in Kańczuga.

Other Family’s Changes

Since it’s possible some Traurigs are related to my family, I continue occasionally to look into Traurig records, and see if I can find any connection. In doing so I’ve run into something interesting. While my family changed their name well over a hundred years ago, other Traurigs have also changed their names. Indeed I’ve run into at least three other Traurig families that have changed their names.

Ferdinand Traurig (I)

If you look at the list of people on Schindler’s Lists (I use the plural here because there were in fact more than one version of this famous list) you’ll find one Ferdinand Trauring. JewishGen gives some background on these lists, and has two versions of the list included in their Holocaust Database. One version of the list is one that was published in 1944 in Hebrew in the now-defunct newspaper Davar.

While I’ve only mentioned it in passing before, one very important resource for Jewish genealogy is the Historical Jewish Press web site. A joint project of Tel Aviv University and Israel’s National Library, it is slowly scanning many Jewish newspapers from around the globe and making them searchable online. Many of these newspapers are from Israel and are in Hebrew, but of the 35 newspapers currently scanned, the languages also include English, French, German, Hungarian, Judeo-Arabic and Yiddish, as well as papers from Algeria, Austria, France, Hungary, Prussia, Morocco and Russia. One of the papers available on the site happens to be Davar. Searching for טראורינג (Trauring in Hebrew) indeed finds the Davar-published copy of Schindler’s List with an entry for Ferdinand Trauring born in 1892:

Schindler’s List Published Sep 3, 1944 in Davar

You might be wondering why I’m talking about a Ferdinand Trauring and not Ferdinand Traurig. Well, Schindler’s List was my introduction to this man, but not the end of the story. I didn’t know how this Ferdinand Trauring was connected to my family, if at all.

There were other Traurings I couldn’t find a connection to either, including a couple named Israel Wolf and Netti/Nelli (Wachtel) Trauring. I was introduced to this couple by accident. Another researcher who was looking into the Traurig family had received photographs from a researcher in Poland who had photographed graves of Traurigs in a certain cemetery. Except the photographs were not of Traurigs at all, but of Traurings. Since she didn’t think the photographs were relevant to her, and we had connected online to discuss possible connections, she had mailed me the photographs. I haven’t been able to locate the photos of the graves that were sent to me more than a decade ago, but the same graves are shown in records from JRI-Poland:

Cemetery records of Ignatz/Israel and Netti/Nelli Trauring (JRI-Poland)

In the cemetery records, there are two listings for Israel/Ignatz and Netti/Nelli using each variation of the first name. Nelli’s maiden name is given as Wachtel. Both died in 1910.

Later, while searching the site Genteam.at, an amazing resource for families that had relatives living in Austria, I found by chance the birth record of Ferdinand Trauring. Genteam.at, for those who don’t know about it, is a volunteer effort that has already indexed more than 7 million records from Austria, including many Jewish records. Here’s the record as listed in Genteam.at:

Birth record for Ferdinand Trauring from Vienna in 1892 (Genteam.at)

Two important things to notice in the record. First, his parents are the aforementioned Israel Wolf and Netti (Wachtel) Trauring. Second, Ferdinand’s last name is listed as both Traurig and Trauring. I’ve never seen a record before that listed two last names on a birth record, so this is interesting. Presumably, since we know that Israel Wolf and Netti, as well as their son Ferdinand, later went by the name Trauring, the use of both names indicates that the family name was previously Traurig.

Digging a little deeper, using the information from the Genteam.at index, I searched through the FHL Catalog of microfilms to see if they had made copies of birth records in Vienna from that period. I found a series of microfilms dealing with births, marriages and deaths from the Jewish community of Vienna called Matrikel, 1826-1943, and among those films is film 1175374, titled ‘Geburten 1890-1892’. Gerburten is German for Births, so that seems like the right film.

Using the information from the Genteam.at record, and the film umber I had found in the FHL catalog, I submitted a request on Genlighten.com, where you can request document retrieval from researchers who have access to various archives and libraries, including the FHL. A researcher, whom I can’t name not because I don’t want to, but because he’s no longer on Genlighten and it doesn’t show the names of previous service providers, looked up the original birth record of Ferdinand Traurig/Trauring for just $10. For that he retrieved not only the original birth record, but all the index cards that contained the surname Traurig or Trauring as well, which was on a different film (it’s good to hire someone familiar with the records you are trying to access). Here’s the index card that matches the record from Genteam.at above:

Index card of the birth of Ferdinand Trauring from FHL microfilm

You’ll note all the same information, although here the double-surname is listed for the father Israel Wolf, not for the surname on the birth record. That might be explained, however, by the fact that there is a second card in the index:

Index card of the birth of Ferdinand Traurig from FHL microfilm

Note that all the information is exactly the same (birth date, parents names, etc.), except in this card it only shows the surname as Traurig. They both reference the same ledger line (115). So what does the ledger, which is the original record, say?:

Ferdinand Traurig birth ledger entry (click to enlarge)

You may need to click on the image to enlarge it if you want to see it. Ferdinand is unquestionably listed as Ferdinand Traurig, as is his father Israel Wolf, who comes originally from Pilzno apparently. So where did the Trauring name come from at all? Well, the record continues onto the next page where you can see a note at the far right that mentions the Trauring name:

Ferdinand Traurig birth ledger entry, part 2 (click to enlarge)

Okay, so we have a Trauring which was originally Traurig, except they’re from Pilzno, not Kanczuga. Are they related to my family? Not sure. Possibly this is an independent change from Traurig to Trauring by another family. One additional piece of information that can be gleaned from the birth record is that it actually gives a file number and date for when the surname was changed (presumably in Pilzno). The date of the name change was April 1, 1873 (almost exactly 140 years ago).

I contacted the archive in Pilzno about the name change record and was told all Jewish records were destroyed in the war. Not sure how a name change record is a ‘Jewish’ record. Indeed it seems strange that name change records would be divided by religion at all. It’s very possible no name change records  exist from 1873 in Pilzno, but I wouldn’t rely on the response from the archive there to determine that for sure. Whether this is worth pursuing beyond this point is not clear to me. If this is a member of my family, the date of the name change would be consistent with my own family, which was Traurig in 1862 but Trauring in 1882.

Ferdinand Traurig (II)

There’s another Ferdinand Traurig, except he doesn’t become a Trauring, but rather he becomes a Vesely. This is a much simpler story, thankfully spelled out by Ferdinand’s niece in a comment on Yad Vashem’s photo archive. If you’re not familiar with Yad Vashem’s photo archive, it’s a great resource. Yad Vashem teamed up with Google in 2011 to make their massive photo archive searchable online. Searching for Traurig there returns several results, including this photo of one Ferdinand Traurig:

Ferdinand Traurig from Prešov, Czechoslovakia (Yad Vashem)

One of the great features of Yad Vashem’s archive is that visitors can add comments to the photos. In this case, someone named Vanessa (in fact it seems there are two comments merged together from two people) added the following comment to the above photo:

Ferdinand was someone who I loved being around and learnt alot from. A great man who fought the Nazi’s during the Holocaust and fought for Judaism after the war in Australia by setting up a synagogue and raising his child and grandchildren in a Jewish home. May his memory live on through the Judaism that his family practice for many many more generations to come.A wonderful man whom I am proud to call my uncle. Ferdinand was one of 12 children of Yitzhak and Malvina Traurig. Both of his parents and 5 of their children survived World War 2. The list of bothers and sisters were Heinrich, Izidor, Zigmund, David (my father) Ferdinand, Shanyi, Manu, Esther, Annus, Ruzena, Hugo and Josef .Together with their parents, Izidor, Zigmund, David, Ferdinand and Josef survived the war. Many of the other children were married with families who all perished during the Shoah. The family has and is a proud family of Kohanim. The parents and the surviving children [except for Zigmund who remained in Czechoslovakia and was a distinguished scientist ] moved to Australia after the war. The family remains an orthodox Jewish family with a proud heritage. After the war parts of the family changed their family name. Traurig in German means “melancholy or sad”–my father David together with Ferdinand and Josef changed the family name to” Vesely” meaning in Slovak “happy”. Zigmund changed his family name to “Smutny” which is the Slovak equivalent to “sad” The children, grandchildren and now hopefully the great grandchildren of the surviving brothers still keep in close contact and we try to fulfill the hopes and aspirations of those who have gone before us.This is a photo of my grandfather, Ferdinand Traurig. Passed away in 1997 in Sydney Australia. Ferdinand fought with the partisans during the war, his wife Ruzena (née Junger) was in a labour camp and then in hiding, with their only child placed in the care of a non Jewish family. Both Ferdinand, Ruzena and Judith (my mother) survived the war and came to Sydney to rebuild their lives with the remnants of their family.
May 29, 2011, 1:50 p.m.

From the comment we see that Ferdinand Traurig in this photo survived the war with his parents and several brothers, and most of them changed their surname to Vesely, which is Slovak for Happy. One brother changed his name to Smutny which is Slovak for Sad (keeping with the original meaning of the name in German). Here we have a real example of brothers with surnames that mean both Happy and Sad, and it wasn’t something forced upon them.

Doing a quick search online brings a bit more of the story, showing how the Traurig family arrived in Coogee, Australia (a suburb of Sydney) and started a new synagogue there that exists today.

No Sorrow

The Traurigs who made it to Australia were not the only ones to flip the meaning of their name in a new country after the Holocaust.

I originally came across information on this family in 2004 in the run up to IAJGS Int’l Jewish Genealogy Conference in Jerusalem. I had been in Israel less than a year at that point, and was not actively involved with genealogy in Israel yet, but I had volunteered to lay out the souvenir conference journal, and had met many of the people who were running the conference. For the conference, the local genealogy society had prepared a database of name changes that had been published in an official government paper between the years 1921-1948 (corresponding to the time of the British Mandate). This database was original created by Avotaynu, the Jewish genealogy publisher, and put onto microfiche. The database distributed at the conference was created by transcribing the images of the microfiche pages. This database was later put online (although it seems not to fully work now – oddly it seems the original surnames are missing from the search making it impossible to use for its intended purpose), but at the conference it was released on a CD to conference participants. Here is an image from the original microfiche:

Traurig name changes in British Mandate Palestine (click to enlarge)

I’m not clear on the first name change to Weinberger. That happened in 1946. It could of been because she married, or perhaps because she was taking the name of a different parent now that we was in another country. It’s probably not, however, an ideological name change.

The next three names, however, are a family that changed their name together in 1947 from Traurig to Al Yagon. Al Yagon in Hebrew means No Sorrow. Very similar to the change to Vesely by the Traurig family in Australia.

Another interesting change in the change of given name from Roza to Shoshana. A Shoshana in Hebrew is, you guessed it, a Rose.

After finding out about this Al Yagon family I tried to find them and indeed located descendants of those mentioned in these name change records. What happened next is an important lesson for genealogy researchers. As I was writing this article I decided to look back at my correspondance with the Al Yagon family. After a few e-mails back and forth confirming they were the ones whose family name was originally Traurig, I realized why the correspondance had ended. I was told there was an expert in the family history and I should contact him for more information. I was given his name – Meir Eldar – and his e-mail address. I had e-mailed him but not received a response. As I probably thought this family was not related to mine, I probably didn’t notice the lack of response and didn’t follow up. Maybe I had been given the wrong e-mail address, maybe my e-mail was swallowed by a spam filter, I really don’t know. What I do know is that I forgot about the e-mail in 2004 and I never reached this family history expert on the Traurig family. Now in 2013 while researching this article, I corresponded with another Traurig researcher, who informed me that her cousin, the same Meir Eldar, had only recently stopped responding to e-mails due to his deteriorated health. Had I reached him eight years ago, what might I have found out? It’s impossible to know now. This is why it’s important to keep tabs on all the e-mails and other correspondance one has out there at any given time.


So what do we have?

We have my Traurig family from Kańczuga that changed their name to Trauring around the 1870s.

We have the Israel Wolf/Ferdinand Traurig family that came from Pilzno, that changed their name also to Trauring around the same time.

We have the Traurig family from Prešov that changed their name to Vesely and Smutny in Australia, after surviving the Holocaust.

We have the Traurig family that arrived in Pre-State Israel in 1946, and changed their name to the Hebrew Al Yagon.

So four different Traurig families, who ended up with four different surnames. These, of course, being the ones I know about.

What name-change stories have you run into when researching your family history? Does anyone have other example of a name that was changed in so many ways?