Unless otherwise noted, the basis for the information shared here is the Synagogue Vöhl website.
Ruben Rothschild was born in March of 1805, and was the son of Selig Salomo Rothschild and Ranchen Regine Rubino Rothschild, and the grandson of Salomon Abraham Rothschild.
As I’ve researched the Rothschilds of Vöhl, there are certain members of the family that stand out for one reason or another. Ruben is one of those people for me. He is fascinating, and he played a big part in raising and caring for my gg-grandfather, Abraham Adolph Rothschild. But I’ll get to that in a little bit.
The information on the Synagogue Vöhl website suggests Ruben was born the end of September of first of October in 1805. His death record, which you’ll find at the end of this post, shows he was 89 years and 9 months when he died in June of 1895. Calculating back from that date gave me March of 1805.
It’s interesting to note that Ruben’s primary profession was, for a while, saddle maker. Why interesting? Because in addition to listing his profession as saddle maker, the Military Conscript list of 1826 lists his financial situation as wealthy, and notes “can’t handle horses.” I guess if you can’t handle horses you make saddles?
Sometime before 1835 — though I don’t have an exact date — Ruben married Helene Sternberg. Helene was another daughter of Joseph Sternberg and Rechel Löb of Homberg/Ohm, making her the sister of both Ascher Rothschild‘s wives, Sprinza and Blümchen. Not sure what it was about the Sternberg sisters, but something made them very attractive to the Rothschild men. Homberg/Ohm is a little over an hour away from Vöhl by car, about 73.5 kilometers. In the 1830s, this would have been a significant journey to go courting.
Ruben must have been quite popular. In 1837 he was the witness of record for the birth of Ascher Rothschild and Blümchen’s first daughter, Auguste, on 4 March. And later in the year, he was the witness of record David Schönhof, son of Selig Schönhof. And in 1886, he reported the death of Minna Schönthal to the registry office.
Even though Ruben and Helene only had one child, a son named Selig Rothschild, born in Vöhl 9 October 1835, by 1840 they have a houseful of children. According to the “Register of Salt Requirements of the Mayor’s Office of Vöhl – Municipality Vöhl According to the Number of Souls and Livestock from 1840” there are 8 people over 8 years, 1 person under 8 years, 4 horses, 8 oxen, cows and cattle, and 40 sheep, goats and pigs. Two of the people over 8 are obviously Ruben and Helene, and the 1 under 8 is their son Selig. So where did the other 6 come from? They are Ascher and Sprinza’s younger children, most likely Moritz, Rebecka, Abraham, Friedericke, Jacob, and Bertha. There is a contract from 1841 between Ascher Rothschild and the religious community of Vöhl referring to Ruben Rothschild as the guardian of the children from his first marriage.
For me, this raises a lot of questions. Sprinza passed away in 1833, and by 1836 Ascher had married Blümchen. Ruben, very well could have been married to Helene in 1833, given they would have been 28 and 27, respectively. Knowing that they only had one biological child, it’s possible they had difficulty getting/staying pregnant. So my question becomes two-fold: (1) who was the guardian of the children between 1833 – 1840, and (2) why didn’t Blümchen take over as guardian/stepmother when she married Ascher? If I had to guess, I’d say sometime after Sprinza’s death, probably pretty early on, the decision was made for the younger children to live with their Aunt Helene and Uncle/Cousin Ruben. By the time Ascher married Blümchen, the children would have felt very much at home where they were, especially since they would have ranged in age from 3 to 12. And perhaps it was felt Blümchen would feel overwhelmed with such a large instant family. Heaven knows I would! Whatever the reason, Ruben and Helene remained guardians.
Ruben was very involved with the Jewish Community of Vöhl, and was a member of the Vöhler chapter of the Association for the Moral and Civil Improvements of the Israelites, which was founded in Darmstadt around 1832. (If you’d like to know more about that, I found an article published in 1954, written by Adolf Kober and published by the Indiana University Press entitled, “Emancipation’s Impact on the Education and Vocational Training of the German Jewry.”) As early as 1835, David Schönhof was one of the teachers at the Jewish school, and Ruben Rothschild wasone of 20 signatories on Herr Schönhof’s employment contract. He was also a member of the Municipal Council for Vöhl, and in 1847 was involved in a decision on the purchase of seed potatoes by the municipality, and their distribution to the needy.
In late 1847, though, things changed. In January of 1848 he sent a letter to the Grand Duke of Hesse, to the government offices in Biedenkopf, in which he states, in part: In the previous month, on the 15th of December, I informed the local Israelite board of my resignation from said congregation, with the simultaneous request to strike me off the survey list…” By the end of 1848, the government in Biedenkopf determined that it was “no longer a question of contributing to the needs of the Jewish Community,” and finally came to the conclusion that Ruben Rothschild could resign. The letter he sent has some blanks in it as part of the transcription, and I can only assume he was the member of a board that dealt with the needs of the Jewish community, and that he needed governmental permission to resign, which he eventually received.
What led him to make this decision? Did he have a fight with members of the Jewish Community Board? Did he lose his faith? Was he tired of politics? More than likely he converted to Christianity. While no baptismal records have been found to date, on 1 March 1849, he, together with Christian Rohde, was appointed guardian of Andreas Kalbfleisch, born in 1847. He would certainly not have been appointed guardian of a Christian child unless he were also a Christian. (I haven’t, as yet, been able to identify the family of Andreas Kalbfleisch.) By this time, all of Ascher’s children had reached adulthood, but I have to wonder how they would have been affected by Ruben’s actions. Did his actions influence their future decisions?
Despite officially leaving the Jewish Community, it didn’t prevent him from maintaining his close association with Ascher Rothschild. For instance, when Ascher was having his legal issues in 1849, Ruben pledged a cow against Ascher’s debt. Later in the year, when Ascher was seized because of the same debts, Ruben pointed out he’d already pledged a cow. And, like Ascher, he had his own issues with unpaid debts. In 1857, he owed Saloman Liebmann 8 florins 45 kreuzers, but Liebmann, in turn, owed Ruben 31 florins 28 kreuzers. In 1871, he was listed among 35 debtors, with an amount owing of 4 thaler 6 silver groschen 10 pfennig in the Vöhl register of garnishment and auction costs that arose from the collection of debts. In the same register for 1872, he’s listed as owing a debt of 22 silver groschen 10 pfennig.
In 1855, Ruben sold his estate. I find it interesting that he then has to pay high taxes to the Jewish Community, with the understanding he’d be refunded the following year. Why is that, if he’s no longer a member of the Jewish Community?
Ruben continued to be an active member of the Vöhler community — interacting with both Jew and Gentile — for the rest of his life. And he was frequently engaging in real estate transactions. This one in particular from 26 July 1855 caught my attention. He sold a field of 490 fathoms for the price of 120 guilders to the Vöhler farmer Christian Höhle. The purchase price was to be paid in 5 annual installments, with the first one due on 1 January 1856, paid to the Itter estate’s savings and loan fund. Despite having a 5 year contract, it appears the final payment wasn’t made until 1867. At the bottom of the letter, on the right, we can see the signatures of everyone involved, including Ruben Rothschild. And beneath his signature is that of his wife, Helene Rothschild. That seems very unusual to me that Helene would also sign it, but I love that we have her signature. The original letter of purchase is in the possession of Wilfried Fackiner, a descendant of Christian Höhle. I’m grateful a copy of this document has been provided to the Föderkreis!
Throughout his adulthood, he was listed in the most taxed half of the population, making him well off. And yet in 1877, he only had to pay 50 pfennigs and a contribution of 6 “goals”, putting him among the poorer Jews. And why, if he left the Jewish Community, is he still counted with the Jews? Did he renege on his conversion? Until more records are found, it’s anyone’s guess.
Proof of his wealth is evidenced by the number of maids he had throughout the years. Starting in November of 1844, he employed Jettchen Lazarus from Oberwerba; 1845 – Karolina Dittmar from Oberwerba; 1853 – Maria Bangert from Meineringhausen; 1857 – Maria Stockhausen from Oberwerba; and 1862 – Amalia Hochstätter from Oberwerba.
When I first started researching the Rothschilds of Vöhl, there was some confusion about which Rothschild Helene had married, primarily because at some point after Ascher Rothschild passed away (13 January 1859) Helene was living in the big house on Arolser Strasse. This makes sense. Being the guardians of Ascher and Sprinza children, and knowing how close Ascher and Ruben were, not to mention the immensity of the house, Ruben and Helene probably moved into the house following Ascher’s death, along with any of the children still living at home. Helene’s death record clears up any lingering doubts as to who she married. (Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Deaths, 1851-1958 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.) She passed away 6 October 1886 at the age of 80. It’s interesting to me that the informant was Selig Frankenthal. The Frankenthal family lived in a beautiful house next door to the Rothschild house. While small compared to Ascher’s veritable mansion, the Frankenthal house reminds me of a large, storybook cottage. It is very charming.
The Baird brothers outside their ancestral home, the Frankenthal house. Photo taken by me in May 2019.
There is no other mention of Ruben on the Synagogue Vöhl website after 1886. I don’t know why that is, as he lived another 9 years following Helene’s death, finally joining her on the other side on 6 June 1895, at the age of 95 years 9 months. The informant on the death record (Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Deaths, 1851-1958 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016; Original data: Sterberegister und Namensverzeichnisse. Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, Wiesbaden, Deutschland.) was Friedrich Gönner. I believe Friedrich Gönner was a Christian. Ruben’s death record lists Ruben’s religion as “mosaischer”. Jewish. I’ll be honest with you: I hadn’t realized that until just now, assuming he’d converted permanently to Christianity. Guess not. More and more I’m leaning toward the theory that he had a falling out with a member or members of the Jewish Community Board and decided he wasn’t going to be Jewish anymore. Wonder how long that lasted.
Ruben Rothschild continues to fascinate me. I love that, through writing this blog post, I learned more about him. I’m sure I’ll continue to learn more about him from time to time, and look forward to all the new insights.
My next post will be about the youngest child in this family, Abraham Rothschild. Until then, stay safe, stay healthy.