Bär Stern, 1805 – 1877

Bär Stern is the third and youngest son of David Isaac Stern and Märle Rothschild Stern, and the grandson of Salomon Abraham Rothschild. Unless otherwise noted, the information for Bär comes from the Synagogue Vöhl website.

Bär was born sometime in 1805. The first mention of him as an adult is in 1826 on the list of conscripts which states “He is said to be wealthy. He can’t handle horses.” Which is probably why his profession had nothing to do with them. He was a dealer of fruit and cattle. Like many other members of this extended family, he belonged to the most taxed half of the population. He and his family lived at Arolser Straße 17 in Vöhl.

Sometime before 1844, Bär married Sara Bär, who was born about 1810. Sadly, we don’t know anything else about her. They were the parents of one known child, Emilia Stern, born 4 December 1844 in Vöhl.

Starting in 1841, Bär was a member of the Jewish Community Board for most of the rest of his life. In 1844, the Board of Directors, consisting of Bär Stern, Simon Kugelmann, and Isaak Rothschild, signed a letter regarding the new funeral orders. The Board agreed to the orders, but had financial reservations about it. By comparing the handwriting in the letter to the signatures, it’s believed to have been written by Bär. In 1860, he signed the “Estimate of Income and Expenditure for the Israelite Religious Community in Vöhl, Basdorf, Marienhagen, and Ob. Werba” for the years 1861 – 1863.

In 1862, as a member of the Board, he had to deal with Moses Kugelmann’s complaint about “synagogue demurrage.” It seems Moses, who was Bär’s first cousin once removed, believed he didn’t have to pay the synagogue fee since he was a local resident. It was proved that he had become an official registered citizen of Vöhl in February 1861, but that he attended the synagogue in 1859 and 1860, before he was a registered citizen, and therefore owed his membership dues to the synagogue.

In addition to being on the Jewish Community Board, Bär was a member, and possibly the chairman, of the Vöhler chapter of the Association for the Moral and Civic Improvement of the Israelites. This group was founded in Darmstadt around 1832. Bär’s membership fee was 15 kreuzers.

In a letter to the Vöhler local court in 1877, it is stated the Bär Stern company, owned by Bär Stern, had ceased to exist, and the local court was tasked with finding the rightful heirs. A penciled-in note, probably written by the court clerk, states “Family Jacob Strauss.” Bär’s daughter Emilia married Jacob Strauss in 1867, and they lived in Kirchhain.

There is no other mention of Bär after this point, so it’s presumed he passed in or before 1877.

That brings us to the end of this Stern family. Next up we’re going to start exploring the children of Giedel Rothschild and Kain Heinemann-Stern. They had 7 children, so we’re going to be with them awhile. Until then, stay safe and stay healthy!

A Little More about Selig Stern’s Second Wife, Helene Kugelmann Stern, and Her Family

I know, I know. I said the next post would be about the 3rd Stern brother. But on Sunday evening, I received some unexpected information from Karl-Heinz Stadtler in Vöhl and just knew I needed to share it.

Helene was the daughter of Joseph Kugelmann and Julie Belchen Goldenberg. Joseph and Belchen were married in November of 1823. In fact, they were married twice! They were married by a Rabbi in Adorf, then came back to Vöhl where they were married by the Mayor. They had one son and five daughters: Jakob (1826 – ?), Sarah (1828 – 1886), Bettchen (1832 – ?), Regine (1833 – ?), Theresa (1834 – ?), Helene (1839 – 1900), and Amalie Malchen (1840 – 1858).

Joseph was an active member of the Jewish Community Board, and, along with his next door neighbor Selig Stern, was the head of the Board for a time. According to the tax records, he was a large scale cattle dealer and horse trader, as well as a butcher. He did well for himself and was among the most taxed half of the population of Vöhl.

In 1856, things took a left turn, as it were. He was convicted of forgery and sentenced to a six month penalty in “cartionshaus”. I’m not sure what that word means.

By 1857, things are looking even worse. He’s widowed and his financial situation was sketchy. He sought a loan of 400 guilders at 5% annual interest so that he could provide travel money to his children were had or were planning to emigrate to America, and to pay his court costs. His properties were evaluated. He owned a riding school, a couple of fields, his home, and a “grave garden”, all of which was valued at 1130 guilders. So he was worth a fair bit, but it sounds like he didn’t have a lot of ready cash.

On 3 March 1858, Joseph Kugelmann applied to the Grand Ducal District Office in Vöhl to be released from the Grand Duchy of Hesse in order to emigrate to North America. The parish records, where such things were recorded, states:

Directory above emigrants with and without Discharge of the Vöhl municipality 1858
Joseph Kugelmann emigrated to America with his family. The family consisted of:

  1. Jacob Kugelmann 30 years
  2. Sara Kugelmann 28 years
  3. Bettchen Kugelmann 26 years old
  4. Regine Kugelmann 25 years
  5. Therese Kugelmann 24 years
  6. Lenchen Kugelmann 22 years old
  7. Malchen Kugelmann 18 years

The wife had died earlier. Assets were executed with about 2000M.
No. 1 – 3 – 4 – 5 have already traveled there on a passport. No. 1 secretly ran away on investigation.

“No. 1 secretly ran away on investigation”? So Jakob was also in trouble with the law. Well, perhaps life would be better for them all in America. And perhaps it was, for awhile. But by 1864, Joseph had returned to Vöhl, with daughters Sarah and Helene.

In his email to me Karl-Heinz indicated he suspects Helene’s “condition” may have been the reason for their return. He further suspects that Selig Stern married Helene to protect her, and to have a wife to care for him as he grew older.

In my research of Selig Stern, I got a sense that he was a stickler for rules, and him getting a young woman pregnant and waiting until the last possible second to marry her just didn’t seem to fit with the picture that had formed in my head. But I can see how a man of honor, with strong moral values, and who might have been a bit lonely could have stepped up to marry his neighbor’s fallen daughter.

I’ll be honest, all this information just leaves me with more questions. Why did Jakob secretly run away? When did the other children emigrate? What other reasons prompted Joseph to return to Vöhl? What happened to his children in the States? These all bear researching. And when I’m done digging into the Rothschild family, I’ll go explore the Kugelmann family in more depth. Sounds like they were a colorful bunch!

There will be another post soon. In the meantime, I encourage you to find/take part in a Kristallnacht commemoration event sometime on November 9th. I’ll be going to the online event hosted by Synagogue Vöhl. I know there is also one hosted by The Jewish Federation.

Never Forget.

Simon and Selig Stern

I’m combining the entries for Simon and Selig Stern because there’s so little information on Simon, and the two spent their lives together. As always, unless otherwise noted, the information comes from the Synagogue Vöhl website.

Both were the two oldest sons of Märle Rothschild and David Stern, and the grandsons of Salomon Abraham Rothschild.

Simon was born in 1799, and never married, most likely because he was deaf and dumb. In 1838, he was placed in the guardianship of his brother Selig. I would imagine this is because one or both of their parents were dead at this point. Simon is known to have lived with Selig until 1853, and there is no other mention of him after that point. I believe he probably died.

Selig Stern was born 22 March 1800 in Vöhl. His birth has been recorded not only on the Synagogue Vöhl website, but also on findagrave.com. His headstone was, luckily, returned to the Jewish Cemetery in Vöhl following the end of WWII. He is also referenced in the book by Hanno Müller entitled “Juden in Schotten (1629 – 1945) und Einartshausen (1800 – 1942).” NOTE: I do not currently have a copy of this book, but have purchased one, and it’s on its way to me from Germany. Always good to have another reference book!

Selig Stern and his family lived at Arolser Strasse 19. The house stood a very long time, long after Selig had passed, eventually burning down. It has since been rebuilt, but I’m sure looks different. This is what it looked like before.

Selig was married twice. He married his first wife, Reikel Hess, sometime before 1830. Reikel was born about 1810, probably in Einartshausen. Her father, Nathan Hess, was born there in 1751 and passed away there in 1813, when Reikel was just 3 years old. Her mother was Ela Meier, and does not appear to have remarried. (Juden in Schotten (1629 – 1945) und Einartshausen (1800 – 1942) by Hanno Müller).

Selig and Reikel were the parents of 6 children. Hannchen Stern Hess (1830 – 1855), David Stern (1832 – 1921), Helene Stern (1830 – 1871), Nadan/Nathan Stern (1834 – ?), Isaac Stern (1836 – 1857), and Madilde Stern Biermann (1854 – ?). Reikel passed away in 1854. Given that was the same year Madilde was born, it’s possible there were complications in childbirth. It’s interesting there’s an 18 year gap between Madilde and the next oldest child, Isaac. Were there other pregnancies in between? Was Madilde a “surprise” baby?

Selig’s second wife was Helene Lenchen Kugelmann. She was born in Vöhl in 1839 to Joseph Kugelmann and Julie Belchen Goldenberg. This means that she was younger than all of Selig’s children except Madilde. The text of the marriage certificate reads: The Authorized representative of the Großhl. Rabbinate of Giessen, teacher S. Baer of Vöhl, has today in the opinion of Gr. District official marriage certificate, like Gr. Regional court certificate, that the execution of the marriage is not an obstacle under private law, and that nothing stands in the way of the marriage of Selig Stern to Lenchen Kugelmann from here today in the presence of the two witnesses: Salomon Liebmann and Koppel Katzenstein, both from here, and they were married according to Jewish rite. Vöhl, 17 June 1864. S. Baer, Authorized Representative.

Less than a month later, on July 8th, the birth of a daughter was recorded, but no name was mentioned in the birth register. They do say the first baby can come at any time and all the rest take 9 months, but three weeks? They were cutting it a bit close. The birth register goes on to state the father’s year of birth as 1800, and that this was the first child born to this marriage, and to the mother. I haven’t been able to find any other information about this daughter. Helene Kugelmann Stern died sometime after 1900, presumably in Vöhl.

Starting in 1821, Selig was a member of the Jewish Community Board. He held many positions, including that of treasurer, and in 1835 was the head of the Jewish Community Board. In 1827, he was involved in dealing with our old friend “The Basdorfer” over the cost of the building of the school/Synagogue. And in 1829, according to Simon Kugelmann, Selig was one of the 14 members involved in the raffle for seats in the synagogue, and that he bought the first and most expensive seat for 12 fg. Since I know the Ascher Rothschild family secured Platz Nr. 1, I have to believe Ascher acquired it by right of having financed the construction. Does that mean Selig Stern secured Platz Nr. 2? In 1845, the District Councilor Zimmerman asked Mayor Wiseman to decide whether Selig Stern could retain his position or if someone else would be more suitable. The Mayor responded that both were good candidates, but that Selig had the better arithmetic and writing skills, and would therefore be better suited. In 1849, there was a vote regarding changes to the Board membership. In the end, the Board consisted of Selig Stern, Salomon Kugelmann, and Abraham Rothschild. For some reason, he stepped down from the Jewish Community Board in 1851, but was back again in 1853.

Selig was a merchant, dealing primarily in wool, some fruit, and occasionally horses. He was in the most taxed half of the population. But I have to wonder if he always paid his taxes. In 1838, there is a complaint about the trade tax, and the administrator of The Grand Ducal Hessian Tax Commission asks Mayor Prinz to determine “how large, approximately, the annual quantity of wool and fruit, as well as the number of horses, that Selig Stern buys and sells.”

In 1835, Dr. Nuss inspected the Mikveh in the basement of Selig’s house, and found it in very poor condition. Selig explained to Dr. Nuss that it would no longer be used for its original purpose, but didn’t want to fill it in either because the cellar would then be filled with water. Dr. Nuss did not agree with this assessment. Wish I knew what the final decision was.

I’m beginning to think the laws in Vöhl were either very strict, or the people of Vöhl were a litigious lot. In 1831 or 1832, Selig was fined 5 guilders “because he left a workhorse unburied.” Eww! The informant was District Administrator Diez. In 1833, he had a claim of 19 guilders against Peter Schäfer; District Judge Koch ordered an auction be held. In 1842, former resident Heinrich Heinze had debts to Selig Stern as well as the savings and loan fund. His village property and fields were auctioned off by Mayor Prinz at the request of District Judge Koch. The next year, Selig appealed against Heinrich Heinze in a bankruptcy matter. And in 1865, he was sued by his cousin Abraham Rothschild over a boundary dispute.

Selig had numerous servants throughout the years. Nov 1844 – Nov 1847, Maria Krum from Dorfitter as a maid; 1845 – 1847, Jettchen Goldberg from Höringhausen as a maid; 1845 – ?, Katharina Wilke from Langenfeld as a maid; 1853 – 1854, Wilhelmine Stein from Herzhausen as a maid; 1854 – ?, Annakatharina S_ese (?) from Höringhausen as a maid; 1857 – ?, Rosalie Ruttenburg from Rüthen as a housekeeper; 1860 – 1862, Elisabetha Neuman from Meinringhausen; 1860 – 1862, Rikel Hess from Schotten as a housekeeper; 1862 – 1865, Henriette Iske from Meinringhausen as a housekeeper; 1887 – 1889, Elisabeth Zarges from Nieder-Orke; 1890 – ?, Caroline Lamm from Dorfitter as a maid; and 1891 – ? Katharine Graves from Asel as a maid.

On 16 February 1893, the following appeared in the Korbach Newspaper: Vöhl, February 15th. Yesterday evening at 11 o’clock, Mr. Selig Stern died here at the age of 93 after a five-week sick bed. The deceased, who was probably the oldest person in the entire district, was in very good health, until recently, for such an advanced age, and had made numerous trips in the previous year.

While the obituary lists his age as 93, his death record lists his age as 92 years, 10 months, and 22 days. The informant was his wife, Helene Kugelmann Stern.

Selig was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Vöhl, and his headstone was returned there after WWII. It is in excellent condition, with a light covering of green moss. The lower Germanic portion of the stone reads, Here rests Selig Stern, born 22 March 1800, died 14 February 1893. Rest in Peace. The upper Hebraic portion of the stone reads, Here lies Yehoshua, son of the Levite Dovid, born 23 Adar 5560, died Wednesday 29, 5653. May his soul be bound in the bond of life. HUGE thanks to Tova Levi from Tracing the Tribe for help with the translation. You confirmed, and filled in the blanks, for what’s on the Synagogue Vöhl website. And thanks to my cousin, Camille Calman, who took pictures of all the headstones in the Jewish Cemetery of Vöhl and created memorials for them on findagrave.com. I meant to follow your lead, but got distracted.

Next time we’ll learn about Simon and Selig’s brother, Bär Stern. Until then, stay healthy and stay safe.

Abraham Rothschild, 1808 – 1887

Abraham Rothschild was the youngest son of Selig Salomo Rothschild and Ranchen Regine Rubino Rothschild, and the grandson of Salomon Abraham Rothschild. Unless otherwise indicated, the information about Abraham Rothschild comes from the Synagogue Vöhl website.

Abraham was born 19 November 1808 in Vöhl, the youngest of his parents’ children. The first mention of him is in the “Directory of Those Compulsory for Military Service 1828” in which it states “Financial Circumstances: Wealthy.” This is not surprising, given what we know about the Rothschild family of Vöhl as a whole. What it doesn’t say is whether or not he was able to buy his way out of military service. If one were wealthy enough, they could pay a fee, or pay for someone else to serve in their stead.

Sometime before 1841, or perhaps in the early months of that year, Abraham married Hanchen Johanna Hannah Speier. She was born about 1825 in Züschen, Schwalm-Eder-Kreis, Hesse, Germany. That’s all I’ve been able to learn about her origins, and haven’t yet been able to find a marriage document for this pair. If I ever do, that will certainly provide us with her parents’ names and her date of birth. Being born in or around 1825 means that she was just 16 when their first one, Selig Rothschild, was born 3 December 1841 in Vöhl. This Selig is different from all the other Selig Rothschilds in the family. As far as I know, he didn’t become a doctor, and he didn’t stay in Germany. According to the 1861 list of conscripts who were born in 1841, it states that Selig went to America a few years earlier. I haven’t been able to find him on a ship’s manifest yet.

Their second son, Ruben Rothschild, was born in Vöhl 8 November 1808. Ruben later married, moved to New York, and was the father of 9 children. I haven’t been able to determine if he had any grandchildren, though.

They had another son, Karl/Carl Charles Rothschild, born about 1855 in Vöhl. He also emigrated to the States, but I haven’t been able to fully track him down yet.

Their only daughter, Regina Rachel Rothschild, was born about 1860 in Vöhl.

There is mention of another possible child born to this family in 1851, but there is no birth record available. The only mention of it is a letter from the district Judge written in January 1852 to the Mayor of Vöhl, in which the former criticizes the latter for the fact that the birth register for Abraham Rothschild’s son does not specify a midwife. The thing is, there is no known member of the Rothschild family of Vöhl born that year.

Abraham’s profession seems to have changed from time to time. In 1841, the trade tax list states his main business was “Skins trader, fruit trader, and small cattle dealer.” I don’t think this means he dealt in small cattle, but rather that it was a side business. In 1843, in addition to these professions, it also states his main business is a peddling goods dealer. In 1854, his profession is listed as cattle dealer, butcher without a shop. Regardless of which profession he was pursuing, he did well for himself, as he belongs to the most taxed half of the population.

Abraham Rothschild did, like others, have dealings with the court. In 1844, Heinrich Heinze II owed Abraham 30 guilders. District Judge Koch ordered a garnishment and an auction, so Mayor Wiesemann seized one of Herr Heinze’s cows. And in 1865 this or another Abraham Rothschild had an argument with Selig Stern because he wanted to build on the boundary between their properties. Ah, the complicated judicial interactions in a small town!

Like other members of the family, Abraham served on the Jewish Community Board. In 1849, as a member of the board, he proposed that Salomon Kugelmann be elected to replace Isaak Rothschild. And in 1851, he was involved in selecting the successor of Selig Stern on the Board.

The last comment on the Synagogue Vöhl website regarding Abraham Rothschild is the property line dispute with Selig Stern. So what happened to the next 22 years? Well, let me tell ya.

In November of 1866, Abraham and his wife Johanna, along with children Carl (age 10) and Regina (age 6) made their way to Bremen, boarded the SS America, and crossed the ocean, steaming into New York harbor on 3 December 1866. Ironically, they arrived 6 months to the day after Abraham’s younger cousin, Abraham Adolph Rothschild and his family, arrived in New York.

Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957

Abraham and Johanna settled in New York, and appeared in the 1870 census. Abraham was 62, and his profession was listed “at home”, so he appears to be retired. Johanna was 50. Living with them were Charles (aka Carl), age 20, Rachel, age 10, and Rudolph, age 25. It took me a bit to figure out Rudolph was actually their son Ruben, who had emigrated prior to 1864.

Ancestry.com. 1870 United States Federal Census

By the time of the 1880 census, Abraham and Johanna, with Charles and Rachel, were living at 325 W Fifty-Second in New York. Looks like a very nice apartment building.

Rachel, by this time, was 20, and Charles was approaching 30. His profession was listed as “cutter”. This profession is described as “use hand tools or hand-held power tools to cut and trim a variety of manufactured items, such as carpet, fabric, stone, glass, or rubber.” It could also refer to meat. Rachel, like her parents, was “at home.”

Abraham passed away 21 July 1887 in Washington, D.C., where he and Johanna were presumably living. I have no idea what took them there. Johanna was in the Washington, D.C. City Directory of 1892, listed as the widow of Abraham. She passed away 17 August 1895. Their deaths and burials are recorded in both findagrave.com and Jewishgen Online Worldwide Burial Registry.

As I was researching Abraham and Johanna, Ancestry.com kept insisting the couple buried in DC were my Abraham and Johanna, but I wasn’t convinced. So I asked for volunteers on findagrave.com to get photographs of their headstones. Abraham’s is so worn, so faded, that I couldn’t be sure. Then I looked at the headstone for Johanna. I don’t know why his is so worn and hers is so pristine. But it is beautiful, and detailed, and states: “Hannah, wife of Abraham Rothschild, born in Züschen by Fritzlar, Germany. Died in Washington, D.C., 17 Aug 1895. May her soul rest in peace.”

I know there are plenty of women named Johanna or Hannah who married men named Abraham Rothschild. But in all of my research so far into the Rothschild family of Vöhl, I’ve only come across the village of Züschen once. For me, this was

Abraham, Johanna, and all of their children made it to The New World. Following their trail was fun! Next time, we’ll go back to Märle Rothschild and David Stern and start learning about their children. Until then, stay safe.

Ruben Rothschild, 1805 – 1895

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.

Mathilde Rothschild and Minna Minkel Mückel Rothschild

As with most of my posts so far, unless otherwise noted, the source for the information found here is the Synagogue Vöhl website, which has been an absolute wellspring of information, to be sure. HUGE shoutout to the Förderkreis Synagoge in Vöhl who have worked tirelessly for 21 years to provide this information, restore the synagogue, promote the so very important mindset of “Never Forget”, and continue to do amazing work!

Mathilde Rothschild is the 3rd child and 2nd daughter of Selig Salomo Rothschild and Ranchen Regine Rubino Rothschild, grandchild of Salomon Abraham Rothschild. She was born around 1801 or 1802, presumably in Vöhl, since that’s where the rest of her siblings were born. That’s it. That’s all we know about Mathilde. Did she die young? Did she marry and move away? We simply don’t know. There’s always the hope that at some point in the future we’ll find out more about her. Until then, she is a mystery.

About her sister Minna, we know a bit more. Her parents named her Minna, but she appears as Minkel or Mückel in various documents, namely the death records of her children. Everyone had their name and then the variations of their names. Minna’s variations make me giggle. She was born in Vöhl in June of 1803.

Sometime before 1830, she married Simon Kugelmann. Simon was born about 1797 in Vöhl and was the son of Isaak Kugelmann (1775 – 1834) and Sara Katz (1780 – ?). Minna and Simon welcomed their first child, Sara sometime in 1830 in Vöhl. In fact, all of their children were born there. Sara married Meier Gutheim and they were the parents of one child, Selig Gutheim. Salomon Kugelmann was born on 23 December 1831. Next was Moritz Moses Kugelmann, born on 29 June 1834. He married Johanette Meierhof, and they were the parents of Isaac, Bertha, Charles, Mark, Samuel, and Emil. Berta Kugelmann was born sometime in 1843. She married Jacob Kaufmann, and they were the parents of Siegfried, Leo and Isidor. Isaak Kugelmann was born on 27 July 1844. He married Sarah Brandenstein, and they were the parents of Recha, Siegfried, Antonie, Max, and Franziska. Minna and Simon’s youngest child, Rickchen Kugelmann, was born about 1853. She married Zadok Stern, and they were the parents of Paula, Selma, and Klara. Given the gap between Isaak and Rickchen, I have to wonder if there were other children who didn’t survive, still births, or miscarriages. It could also have simply been her age. She was 41 when Isaak was born and 50 when Rickchen was born.

Simon and Minna lived in what was then House Number 78, and which is now Kirchweg 4. The house is still standing, in good repair, and inhabited. As the street name suggests, it is on the street that leads up to the Martinskirche, which can be seen, I’m sure, from the back window of the house. This photo came from the Synagogue Vöhl website.

Simon Kugelmann passed away sometime in or before 1878. According to the Vöhler records of 1878, Minna, as Simon Kugelmann’s widow, owned property in Marienhagen and owed 2,06 Marks in property taxes. From 1883 – 1889, Minna’s profession was in the flour trade. The size of her business was very small, and her monthly tax rate was initially listed as 50 pfennigs. This was then crossed out and replaced with 25 pfennigs.

In 1890, Minna Kugelmann was fined 1 Mark for “violating the police regulations.” Sadly, the records don’t elaborate. Wonder what she did!

Minna passed away 20 December 1892 in Vöhl. She was 88 or 89 years old. In her will, she stipulated that her son Isaak Kugelmann, or his widow, should have lifelong residence of the house.

Join me next time to learn about another of Selig and Ranchen’s children, Ruben Rothschild.

Isaak Rothschild, 1799 – 1875

As promised, this is the first post about “What’s in a Name?” When I first started building up my family tree, and using the Synagogue Vöhl website as the primary source, I started seeing some things regarding this Isaak Rothschild, and his cousin, Isaac Rothschild born in 1820, that just didn’t add up. Turns out, the spelling of the first name had become interchangeable in the area records, making it very easy to combine information for the two men. It took me a long time to get it all sorted. Especially with Isaac Rothschild, I was able to find a lot of supporting documentation. Even though Isaak Rothschild’s (1799) name is sometimes written as “Isaac Rothschild”, and Isaac Rothschild’s (1820) name is sometimes written as “Isaak Rothschild”, I have decided to use “Isaak” for this one and “Isaac” for the other one. So now that we’ve got that cleared up, and without further ado, here’s what I know about this Isaak Rothschild, son of Selig Salomo Rothschild, grandson of Salomon Abraham Rothschild. Unless otherwise indicated, the information for Isaak Rothschild comes from the Synagogue Vöhl website.

Isaak Rothschild was born about 1799 in Vöhl, the second child and first son of Selig Salomo Rothschild and Rachen Rubino Rothschild. As a child, he attended school in Korbach, which is about 13km north of Vöhl. In 1829, he was listed as one of the 14 members of the congregation involved in the drawing of places in the synagogue. It’s interesting to note that the original painted numbers indicating where people/families should sit are still visible in the Women’s balcony above the sanctuary, and they number 1 – 14.

The tax records for the 1800s are interesting to me. Not only do they take in census information, and a person’s primary form of business, but secondary businesses as well. For instance, the tax records for 1842 show that Isaak’s primary trade is a Wool Retailer. His secondary trades are Butcher and Fruit Trade. Basically, he is a merchant, which is how his profession is often mentioned.

Sometime before 1843, Isaak married Jettchen Löwenstern. This is not the same Jettchen Löwenstern mentioned in the previous post as being the sister-in-law of Feist Kaiser, even though their names and ages are virtually identical. Isaak and Jettchen’s eldest son, Selig Rothschild, was born in Vöhl 21 December 1843. Selig became a doctor and often went by the nickname “Saly” or “Sali”. He is not to be confused with his first cousin Selig Rothschild, also born in Vöhl, who also went by “Saly” or “Sali”, and who also became a doctor.

Isaak and Jettchen had a second son, Minko Rothschild, who was born in Vöhl on 27 January 1846. Jettchen passed away sometime in 1846 or 1847. Sadly, Minko didn’t live very long either. He died 10 July 1852, just 6 1/2 years old. He spent three days in bed following a severe fall (I thought I read once that it was a fall from a tree but cannot at the moment find that reference), and passed away at 4 in the afternoon. It’s interesting to note that Germany kept close tabs on the births of male children so they could be conscripted at age 20 to serve their time in the military. Minko showed up on the conscript list of 1865. There was a cross next to his mother’s name. Below that was another cross and the date 10 July 1852.

I imagine Isaak must have been very depressed following the deaths of his wife and youngest son, and from this point onward it was just Isaak and his oldest son Selig.

By 1844, Isaak was on the board of the Jewish Community. In 1845, Isaak Rothschild, Michael Mildenberg, and Levi Blum wrote a letter to the district council in which they complained that the unmarried Jews didn’t bid for their seats in the synagogue. This action is attributed to this Isaak Rothschild, but the more I think about it, the more I believe this should be attributed to his cousin, Isaac Rothschild born in 1820. Levi Blum was born in 1820, the same year as this Isaak Rothschild’s cousin, Isaak Rothschild, was born. Michael Mildenberg was born in 1805, so closer to this Isaak Rothschild in age than to the other one, but it makes more sense to me that the younger generation might complain. Of course, this Isaak Rothschild wasn’t married either when the seats went up for bid. Makes me wonder if there was ever any end to the debate over who got to sit where in the synagogue!

There are about 15 years when the records of Vöhl and the surrounding area mention “Isaak/Isaac Rothschild”, and it could be either one of the two men. Once I realized that Isaac Rothschild (born 1820) was the husband of Friedericke Dilsheimer, that they married around the same time Jettchen passed away, and that their son Gustav was born in Frankfurt, it became easier to sort them out by process of elimination.

On 31 May 1851, the Grand Ducal Government Commission of the Biedenkopf administrative district asked the mayor of Vöhl to name four suitable persons from the most highly taxed half of the Vöhler Jews. The Government commission would then select two of them who would work with the other selected members on a Board. The mayor suggested Feist Saalberg, Isaak Rothschild, Moses Schaumburg, and Abraham Kaiser. I haven’t been able to find any other information about this board or it’s purpose.

In 1854, his professions are listed as wool and fruit trader, and butcher with no shop. From 1855 onward, his profession was listed as trader of fruit. He must have done very well, because he appears to have stayed in the most highly taxed half of the Vöhler Jews for quite awhile, but by 1877 he is listed as one of the poorest Vöhler Jews at the time, paying a tax of just 56 pfennigs, along with a contribution of 5.04 Marks. The tax records always fascinate me. Take this example from 1878: “Isaak Rothschild owns a garden of 2525 square meters, a house garden of 41 square meters in the village, courtyard of 269 meters in the village, another courtyard of 125 square meters in the village, and he pays a property tax of 0,71 Marks.” This lists suggests he owned 2 hours, each with courtyards and gardens. No idea why his tax would have been so low if he had two properties, though it may have been based more on income rather than possessions.

Between 1845 until at least 1868, Isaak had a number of maids from about the area. They were: Susanna Maria Bracht from Meinringhausen; Henriette Märzen from Meinringhausen; Friedericke Wilhelm from Meinringhausen; Maria Emde from Meinringhausen; Maria Sude from Nieder-Ense; Elisabetha Walber from Meinringhausen; Katharina Weber from Schmitlotheim; and Friederike Mehrhof from Höringhausen. Starting in 1866, for an undisclosed time, he also had Isak Heinebach in the home with him as a student. I haven’t been able to find any additional information on Isak Heinebach, so I’m not sure who he was. He may have been a boarder from another village who attended school with the other Vöhler Jews.

The last piece of information I have about Isaak Rothschild, unlike the rest of the information listed here, doesn’t come from the Synagogue Vöhl website. Instead, it comes from Ancestry.com, and is the Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Signatur: 11172 Ironically, it is his death record that gives us the best bit of anecdotal evidence that this Isaak Rothschild did not marry Friedericke Dilsheimer. German death records tend to list the most recent spouse’s name. And this one leaves us in no doubt as to whose son he was, nor whose husband he was. “The merchant Levi Kaiser of Vöhl states that the merchant Isaak Rothschild, 75 years old, Mosaic religion, lived in Vöhl, was born in Vöhl, married the deceased Jettchen, born Löwenstern, son of the deceased Selig Rothschild of Vöhl, died on the 6th of June in the year thousand eight hundred seventy and five, at the 11th hour.” The informant, Levi Kaiser, is his nephew through his sister Belchen’s marriage to Feist Kaiser.

Sometimes, as I’m researching a person, I get a sort of… well… my mom would have called it a “vibe”. A feeling, an impression of the person. The feeling I pick up about Isaak Rothschild is he was a simple, hardworking man, who must have loved his wife very much. When dealt with the harsh blows life sometimes threw his way, I suspect he took a breath, put his shoulder to the wheel, and just kept moving forward. Dear Cousin Isaak, I believe I would have very much liked getting to know you in person.

The next entry will be about two of Isaak’s sisters: Mathilde, about whom we know next to nothing, and Minna, who also went by Minkel and Mückel. Until next time.

Belchen Betti Rothschild Kaiser, 1798 – 1882

Belchen Betti Rothschild Kaiser is the first person in Generation 3. She was the daughter of Selig Salomo Rothschild and Ranchen Regine Rubino, and the granddaughter of Salomon Abraham Rothschild. Hers is one of the headstones that was restored to the Jewish Cemetery in Vöhl following WWII, and I remember when I saw it, it was like seeing an old friend.

Like most of my relatives from this time frame, Belchen went by many names. Belchen, Betti, Betty, and Berta, to name a few. She was born in Vohl in 1798. We don’t know much about her life from birth until her marriage. She married Feist Kaiser of nearby Basdorf sometime before 1832. The two villages are only about 3 km apart, so an easy distance for visiting and courting. Feist was born before 1798 in Basdorf, and was the son of Feitel Kaiser. The couple lived in Basdorf after their marriage.

According to the information on the Synagogue Vöhl website, the Kaiser family wasn’t very wealthy. But the sons of Belchen and Feist were, so it stands to reason the marriage definitely improved the fortunes of the Kaiser family!

Their first son, Levi Kaiser, was born 9 June 1832 in Basdorf. Lev married Selka Elias of Gutenberg sometime before 1864. They were the parents of Minna (1864 – 1945), Ferdinand (1866 – 1943), and Rosa (1867 – ?). Levi passed away in 1883.

Their second son, Salomon Keiser, was born 16 March 1834, also in Basdorf. He never married, and died in Vöhl on 18 October 1908.

Feist and Belchen, with their sons, lived at House #24 in Basdorf with Feist’s father, Feitel. Aside from Feist, Feitel had one other known child, Abraham.

In November of 1827, Feitel Kaiser refused to pay any additional contributions to the Jewish school, stating “as an old man [he] doesn’t need the school”. Two years later, when the building was dedicated as a synagogue, Feitel indicated he didn’t want to have anything to do with the construction of the synagogue or to participate financially. There’s an odd note to the comment from 1827 which states “he had never made an acceptance.” Stick with me on this, because I think I might be onto something.

Remember when I posted about Selig Salomo Rothschild and Ascher Rothschild having to deal with “The Basdorfer” over a dispute about the fees for the school/synagogue? Well, I just a few minutes ago read something that answers the question: Who is The Basdorfer? The answer is: Feist Kaiser. In 1831, Feist filed a complaint with the District Office against the Jewish Community due to excessive payment of the synagogue fees. It seems he pledged 50 guilders as his portion of the loan from Ascher Rothschild to build it. When he made this pledge, he thought everyone would be paying the same amount. He later found out others were only paying 25 guilders. So, after paying that amount, he quit making payments. The Jewish Community Board took him to court for non-payment. In the end, it was decided he didn’t have to pay more than the 25 guilders, but he did have to pay school fees. In his letter, he refers to “when he accepted the Jewry two years earlier.”

This was initially interpreted as meaning he’d converted to the Jewish faith, but that didn’t make any sense, since his family was Jewish. But when combined with his father’s statement about not having made his acceptance, I began to wonder if it meant something else. What if it meant accepting of or acceptance by the Jewish Community of Vöhl? That, to me, makes the most sense. Ironically, by 1834, Feist was a member of the Jewish Community board, and, in that capacity, signed a letter talking about payment for the stalls (seats) in the synagogue. Talk about irony!

In 1825, there’s mention of a women’s bath (mikveh) in the cellar of the Kaiser’s home, and that it’s no longer used for it’s original purpose but as a fountain. In 1835, Dr. Nuss is in the area, inspecting Mikvaot. He inspected the one in Ascher Rothschild’s house at the same time. Of the one located in the cellar of the Kaiser’s house, he described it as “small in a dull cellar”, and it’s continued use was prohibited.

In 1837, Feist again complained to the District Office about excessive payments for the synagogue. This time, though, things didn’t go his way. He was reminded that he had paid a voluntary contribution to the synagogue, but not school fees, which he was obliged to do.

The Kaiser family was poor. Yet by 1836, 3+ years after marrying a Rothschild, Feist had 12.3 acres of farmland. And by 1853 he’s in the highest taxed half of the population. Throughout the tax records, he’s listed as being a fruit and cattle peddler/merchant. If I had to guess, I’d say Belchen came with a healthy dowry.

A little more info on Feist. His brother, Abraham, married Jettchen Löwenstern, and they had 4 children before his death in 1853. I’m assuming Jettchen fell under Feist’s care, because in 1856 she wanted to marry Selig Frankenthal, and Feist initially wouldn’t let her, said he wanted time to think it over. Eventually he gave in, and the happy couple were married 18 March 1856 in Vöhl, then the entire family — Selig, Jettchen, and her 4 children — move into the house she shared with first husband Abraham, where they added 5 more children to the family. Their first son, Hermann, arrived in October 1856. Perhaps he’s the reason Feist relented!

Feist passed away in 1860, presumably in Basdorf, though I’ve yet to find any official documents supporting this. Belchen moved in with her unmarried son, Salomon Kaiser, and lived with him until she passed on 22 April 1882. She lived a long life, raised two sons, and at the time of her death had three grandchildren. Three g-grandchildren were born after her passing, all of whom emigrated to the States and survived the Holocaust, guaranteeing the continuation of this family line.

Unless otherwise noted, all the information cited here comes from the Synagogue Vöhl website. The photo of the headstone was taken by me.

Join me next time when I write the first of a two-part series on “What’s in a Name? Isaak Rothschild vs Isaac Rothschild.” It might not be called that, and part 2 is going to be several posts further down the line, but I promise the two are related and it took me forever to separate out all the facts between Isaak and Isaac.

Synagogue Vöhl

From the time I first stumbled across Synagogue Vöhl website back in 2005, I have been completely enthralled by the history of this building. Long before I had a confirmed connection to this place, I would spend hours pouring over the website, feeling the building pulling me, calling me. It kept me going through the next twelve years of research until I finally found that connection. As always, unless otherwise noted, the information about the Synagogue comes from the Synagogue Vöhl website.

The first record of Jews in Vöhl dates to 1682 and states: “60 pounds of iron for building work on the Marienhagen church were bought from the Jew of Voehle, from which nails for walls and beams were made.” The next mention of Jews in Vöhl is a housing list from 1705 which identifies 8 Jews as home and property owners. Of those 8, one was named Seligman Rothschild, and one was named Ascher Rothschild. The Rothschilds were in Vöhl from almost the beginning. And they were among the last to leave.

The building looks like a typical German timber-framed farmhouse, with exposed posts and beams that support walls and roof and tie everything together into a cohesive unit. There is nothing about this building to make it stand out from the rest. The only thing “Jewish” about it is the Star of David rose window on one end, not really visible from the street. If you were just strolling through town and stumbled across it, you could learn about it’s beginnings by reading he inscription carved into the beam over the door: “In the year 1827 on 17th of July this Sinego was happily completed with the help and strength of the Master Carpenters Hillemann from Kirchlotheim and Heinrich Lai together with apprentices. God bless this building and all, that go in and out.” I’ve always assumed the word “Sinego” meant synagogue. Except this was built to be a school. And the word “sinego” isn’t a Germany word. In fact, I haven’t found anyone who knows what it means. Makes me wonder if the intent all along was for this to be a synagogue, that they had to wait until their was an available Rabbi to make that transition, and the person carving the inscription made the equivalent of a typo. We’ll probably never know.

Upon entering, you’ll find yourself in a nice-sized foyer. About a dozen steps ahead are narrow stairs that lead up to the women’s balcony, with another small space above that.On the right is a door into the sanctuary, and on the left is a door into another room that probably served as living quarters. If you continue through that room, there’s another room in the back that is now a kitchen. In 1827, this was the schoolhouse for the children of the Vöhler Jewish Community, which comprised Vöhl, Basdorf, and Marienhagen. The school teacher and his family lived here. The number of Jewish students peaked in 1843 at 45, then began slowly tapering off until the mid – late 1800s. In 1864 there were 24 Jewish schoolchildren. By 1909, there were 8. Families were leaving to go make their fortune in other towns, other countries, with many of them setting sail for The New World.

The financing for it’s construction was obtained primarily from Ascher Rothschild, local merchant, money lender, and my 3rd great-grandfather. As I understand it, he would front the money, then the other members of the Jewish Community would make monthly payments to compensate him, presumably until the debt was settled. At least one member of the Jewish community, an unnamed man referred to only as “The Basdorfer”, agreed to this initially, then tried to renege once the building was completed. I’m assuming it got sorted out eventually, as there was only the one mention of it.

For me, the most striking feature of the sanctuary is the cupola ceiling. My photo does come near to doing it justice. I recommend looking at this photo, taken before the renovation. So many angles soaring up and up until they must reach the ridgeline of the roof. It is painted a pale, robin’s egg blue, and dotted with over 300 gold stars, and a gold sun in the center. It is stunning! And yet there is has this amazing tranquility about it. As if you’re gazing up at the heavens. The Sanctuary of the Vöhler Synagogue is truly one of my favorite places in the world to be.

The building was dedicated as a synagogue on Friday the 18th of August 1829. What a joyous event that must have been! If I close my eyes, I can almost see the celebration that followed, probably in the back garden, with music, dancing, food, laughter, more than a few tears, I imagine, adults talking in groups, children running about. The Jews of Vöhl, Basdorf, and Marienhagen had a place of their own to worship. I imagine the High Holy Days of 1829 were extra joyful.

For the next 109 years, the Jewish Community worshipped here. The school — and the school teacher — were moved to Ascher Rothschild’s house. At some point, the left-hand portion of the building was rented to Hermann Mildenberg, a shoemaker. His sign now hangs in the foyer.

In August of 1938, acting on behalf of the Jewish Community Board, Alfred Ascher Rothschild (my 1st cousin 3x removed), sold the building to a newly arrived Gentile family. The Torah Scrolls were removed, as was the Star of David rose window. From the outside, it was just another German farmhouse. A few short weeks later, on the night of November 9/10, all across Germany, was the Pogrom known as Krystalnacht. The Night of Broken Glass. Homes, places of business, and synagogues were looted, vandalized, destroyed. But the erstwhile synagogue of Vöhl remained untouched.

Some of our relatives saw the writing on the wall, and made their way to places like Palestine and Argentina. The rest stayed. Little by little, one here, two there, they were arrested, deported. And on 5 September 1942, the last three Jews of Vöhl were taken from their homes by the Mayor and another Nazi, and sent to the train station in nearby Itter. All three were women, elderly, harmless. Their only crime was being Jewish. They were Rickchen Katzenstein, Johanna Frankenthal, and my cousin, Selma Rothschild. The next day they were deported. Selma was sent to Treblinka, where she was murdered.

For the next 60 years, the building at Mittlegasse 9 in Vöhl was sold from one gentile to another. Then, in 1999, it went up for sale again, for 40,000 DM. And a couple of men, Kurt-Willi Julius and Karl-Heinz Stadtler, along with a few others, came up with this crazy idea: what if they could get the city to buy it, restore it, and turn it into some sort of a museum, or a place of remembrance, someplace that would instill the mindset of “Never Forget” into future generations. They presented their idea to the City Council, and it went for a vote. The people of Vöhl said no. But the Mayor had an idea of his own. If there were a club, he said, that wanted to take on this project, there were funds available to help with the purchase. 40,000DM, to be exact, meaning the club would need to come up with the other 5,000DM to make the purchase. And so the Föderkreis Synegoge Vöhl was formed, the building purchased. They had their first official meeting on a cold winter’s day in November of that year. In the sanctuary, under the sun and the stars of that pale blue cupola.

Since that time, they have held nearly 200 concerts, had countless art exhibits. They recruit high school students to volunteer to give tours during the summers. From these ventures, they managed to raise the money necessary to fully restore this precious piece of history! On that first, cold meeting, one of the first decisions was to install radiant heat in the place. Not just beneath the stone floors, but in the walls as well. Electrical was replaced, repaired. Plumbing installed. Each stone of the floor carefully removed so the foundation could be repaired. The walls were stripped back to bare timbers in many places. Wherever possible, anything original was salvaged, preserved. Including that magnificent ceiling. Surprisingly few of the boards had to be replaced, and a few stars had to be repainted. The new ones are black. It truly was a gargantuan undertaking, and you can see some of the pictures on their website, broken down by year, taking 5 years to complete. I’m sure there were times they wondered what they’d gotten themselves into! I don’t fully understand what drove them to undertake such a crazy, immense project, but I am beyond grateful that they did.

In the attic, along with finding the sign for Hermann Mildenberg’s shoemaking business, they found a section of woven screen that would have surrounded the women’s balcony. When the renovations were complete, one small section of the sanctuary, from floor to ceiling, was left as it had been, complete with that piece of woven screen, in memory of what was.

In 2017, I found my connection to Vöhl, and my emails to and from Karl-Heinz became more frequent. While in my heart I dreamed of going for a visit, I contented myself with knowing I’d made that connection. In March of 2019, I received a surprising email from Karl-Heinz. The Förderkreis was going to be celebrating it’s 20th anniversary jubilee in May, and I was invited. All I needed to do was get there, and the Förderkreis would take care of the rest. Ah, if only. Airfare was outrageous, and money that could be spent on a trip had already been earmarked for other things. In April, some miracles happened, all within minutes of each other. Airfare dropped to half what it had been. A friend of mine texted me out of the blue to ask if airfare had dropped at all. When I told her it had, she paid for my plane ticket, told me to pay her back after my trip. I just sat there and cried. I’m crying now just thinking about it. So I emailed Karl-Heinz with my flight information. He graciously extended the invitation to include my cousin/friend/research partner Camille.

On May 15, 2019, I arrived. As Karl-Heinz was driving me to Gasthaus Sauer, with his impish grin he asked if I would like to see the synagogue. Of course I said yes! Tired and grungy and jetlagged, almost but not quite understanding the language, I gently laid my hand on the door post, pausing just a moment before following him inside. I didn’t cry then, but I could hear the whisperings of my ancestors, and I felt at home.

Two days later, Friday the 17th of May, was the official start of the 3-day celebration. There was to be a shabbat service, then “Kaffe und Kuchen”, followed by the officially opening ceremonies. There are no Jews in Vöhl, so the Rabbi and the congregation from Marburg — about an hour away — made the journey. A few announcements were made before Shabbat service, and Camille and I were floored to learn this was the first Shabbat service to be held here in 80 years! My heart was overflowing. A Rothschild had built the synagogue. A Rothschild had sold it, and preserved it. A Rothschild was the last to leave Vöhl. And on this historic occasion, the Rothschild family had returned. What made the occasion even more special was when the other American guests — Daniel and Geoffrey Baird, were asked to say Kiddush. Their ancestors, the Frankenthal family, were our ancestors’ neighbors. It seemed perfect and right that we were all there. In a box of old papers, I recently found my first email to the Förderkreis, and my first reply from Karl-Heinz. Ironically, it was dated 17 May, 2005. Fourteen years to the day later, I celebrated Shabbat in my home synagogue.

After refreshments, and then all the speeches, Camille and I had a chance to speak. The first thing I did was present a painting to Karl-Heinz for the Förderkreis as a gift from my family. It was painted by my mother in the same year the Förderkreis was founded: 1999. Next I presented them with a big 3-ring binder. It contained biographical sketches of the first three known generations of the Rothschild family, with some supporting documentation. I read, in German, a two page letter telling them about my family’s journey to get back to this place. I thanked them for the incredible work they have done and continued to do. And I told them the notebook was the beginning of what would eventually become a book. Once finished, I promised to give them a copy. Until that moment, I did not fully comprehend all they had done. And I don’t think they had comprehended the far reaching effects of their hard work. When I sat down, the Rabbi — ancient of days with his shock of white hair — looked over at me, smiled, nodded, and gave me a thumbs up.

I went to Vöhl to see where my family was from. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined I what I would find there. Thanks to a concert on Saturday, I found my favorite music: Kletzmer! I never thought a Mormon girl like me would find her home synagogue, but I did. And after a lifetime of living many different places, I found the one town that makes my heart sing, “I’m home.” Only 5600 miles away from where I live.

Because of the vision and dedication of a small group, the Synagogue Vöhl is alive and well, educating, teaching, and touching the lives of everyone who goes there.

Ascher Rothschild and Blümchen Rothschild

Ascher Rothschild’s life took some surprising turns following the death of his wife, Sprinza. The first change involved the children, who ranged in age from 15 years old down to just a few days. While Siegmund (16) and possibly Isaac (13) were old enough to help with the family merchant business, the younger children needed looking after. According to the civic records of Vöhl, Ascher turned to his nephew, Ruben Rothschild (1805 – 1895), son of Ascher’s brother, Selig Salomon Rothschild, and appointed him and Ruben’s wife, Helene Sternberg, as guardians. Helene was Sprinza’s sister by birth and niece by marriage, and Ascher and Ruben were involved in numerous business deals together, so this was the perfect solution. Ruben and Helene had married sometime in 1833, so went from newlyweds to instant family in a very short time frame. Ruben and Helene were listed as the guardians of an undisclosed number of Ascher and Sprinza’s children as late as 1841.

In 1835, Heinrich Müller of Vöhl owes Ascher Rothschild a debt of 62 gulden. An auction was held to raise the money owed. Prior to the auction, Mayor Küthe takes as pledge a cow, two oxen, two sheep, and a mother pig. I’m guessing it was common practice to hold items or livestock hostage until after the auction to make sure a debt was paid, one way or the other.

There’s a very interesting notation regarding Ascher for this same year. Dr. Nuss, an inspector of mikvaot in Vöhl (and presumably the surrounding area), inspected the two mikvaot in Ascher’s home. Regarding the one for the men, “… Nuss finds a mikveh which has an elegant appearance and where a device has been installed to direct heated water from the boiler directly into the bath.” As for the women’s mikveh, he deems it not ideal, but recommends that it be used “in the absence of a better one.” I’m not sure which house this refers to. His original home, in which he lived with Sprinza, had burned down, and he was building a new one, which was completed in 1836. Perhaps the new mikvaot had to be inspected as they were being built, to make sure they met the requirements. Regardless, if you had a heated mikveh in 1835, you must have been doing very well financially!

The house. Honestly, I could write an entire blog post just about it! When we arrived in Vöhl in May 2019, Camille and I were thrilled to learn that the current owners were in the process of remodeling it, and had agreed to let us tour it. We spent well over an hour there, and could have spent much longer. They had taken the walls back to the original half-timbered frame filled with mud and straw, much like adobe. They had rebuilt those areas that needed attention. In several places, we were able to see the original hand-stenciled wallpaper. I remember at one point, Camille and I both rested our fingers lightly on some pink flowers, smiled at each other, and commented we could easily see Blümchen putting them there.

In 1836, it was the largest residence in the village. In 2019, it is STILL the largest residence in the village! The ground floor, entered from Arolser Straße, was eventually home to a bakery. While we were there, we found indications of where the the men’s mikveh had been, behind a wall at the far end of the floor from the bakery. Before it was a bakery, the ground floor was home to the Jewish school teacher and his family, and where classes were held. Ironically, it was in the bakery that most of the civic records from the nearby Rathaus met their demise. As WWII was coming to an end, the Nazis realized they had lost. For three days and nights, the ovens went non-stop as the records were carried from the Rathaus to the bakery and burned. My heart weeps thinking how much history for the entire village was lost!

The next floor is best entered from the back side of the house, which was built on a sharp hill. In fact, there’s a narrow lane that separates the house from an erstwhile barn in sad repair. We know that it was built and owned by Ascher Rothschild. The three floors located above the bakery are all identical, and all a rabbit warren of interconnected rooms, all large, all with 10′ ceilings. We kept wandering and wandering and thinking, “Surely we’re done with this floor,” and then we’d find another door! I don’t know how many people Ascher thought would live there, or perhaps he was making sure there was enough space for each of his children to section of a piece for them and their families. Best laid plans…

There is a spacious attic above the three floors of living space, and it has a unique feature: built in hanging racks for drying laundry in inclement weather. How ingenious! In case that’s not enough space for you, there is the attic above the attic! Here we could clearly see the construction methods used. The registration marks fascinated me, because the same marks are clearly visible on the posts and beams of the synagogue. I imagine Ascher hired the same builders for both projects. They do good work.

In case you’re wondering just how big this place is, the combined square footage of the three floors of living space is about 8000 square feet!

Sometime in 1835, Ascher married his second wife, Blümchen Sternberg. As previously mentioned, she was another daughter of Joseph Sternberg and Rechel Löb, and a younger sister of Sprinza. Born in about 1810, she was about 25 when they married, and Ascher would have been 46. She would only have been 12 years older than her oldest step-son/nephew, and the prospect of helping to raise some of the children must have been daunting.

Being a stepmother myself, I am in awe of any woman who willingly steps into that role. It is challenging beyond anything you can imagine. I’ve been blessed with three wonderful, handsome, compassionate stepsons. When I married their dad, they were 14, 12, and 9. Now they’re all adults and I could love them more if I’d given birth to them myself. As I’ve told my husband more than once, I wouldn’t trade being a stepmother for anything in the world. I also wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. It’s HARD! You have ideas of how it will be, how you think it should be, but you’re stepping into an existing dynamic and have to figure out how YOU fit into it.

Dearest Blümchen, thank you for helping to raise those children, especially my gg-grandfather Abraham Adolph. I have no doubt you influenced his life in countless unknown ways.

Ascher and Blümchen welcomed their first daughter, Auguste Rothschild, on 3 March of 1837, and her birth was announced to Mayor Küthe. Witnesses to the event were Ruben Rothschild and Selig Schönhof, and the midwife was Katharina Schröder. Their second daughter, Adelheid, was born just one day short of 2 years later on 2 March 1839. They had one more daughter, Mathilde, born sometime in 1841.

Ascher’s brother, Selig Salomo Rothschild, passed away in Vöhl sometime in 1840. They must have been close, and I’m sure this was a trying time for all of them.

According to the “Directory of salt requirement of the mayor of Vöhl – Municipality Vöhl after measure of the number of souls and the livestock of the year 1840”, the following belonged to the household of Ascher Rothschild: 12 persons over 8 years old; 4 persons under 8 years old; 1 horse; 2 oxen, cows, and cattle; 0 sheep, goats and pigs.

From the windows on the back of Ascher’s house one can very clearly see the local Lutheran church, Martinskirche. This picture was taken from outside of town, but it is literally right in the backyard. Seriously, you could throw a rock. Like most small villages, the church is located in the center of the village. Turns out Martinskirche is directly linked to Ascher Rothschild, because in 1841, he extended a loan of 18,000 Gulden to the municipalities of the Parish for it’s construction. The loan agreement between the Parish of Vöhl and Ascher Rothschild was dated 22 March 1841, and was signed by representatives from the municipalities of Vöhl, Basdorf, Marienhagen, and Asel. It states the Grand Duke had indicated the municipalities were responsible to raise the capital for the church, and “In accordance with Appendix II of the Kreisrath” empowered the communities to borrow the capital of 18,000 gulden. The loan agreement goes on to say “Ascher Rothschild commits himself to advance to the parish of Vöhl the capital up to the sum of 18,000 gulden at four percent annual interest.” “Since for now only a part of the amount requested is necessary, for the time being only five thousand gulden will be advanced on the capital and from now on interest will be paid in four weeks. The rest of the capital will be paid out as needed.” Since four different villages were involved, there’s a provision that indicates the agreement is binding for at least 10 years, and that none of the municipalities can back out before then. Also, since the capital is to be paid out gradually, and it would be too cumbersome to get the entire group back together each time more money is needed, Mayor Wilhelm Prinz of Vöhl was given authority to work directly with Ascher and request the money.

In 2018, Martinskirche celebrated its 175th anniversary, and received a light remodel and some needed updates. When Camille and I were there in May 2019, we attended Sunday service. Maybe not the best idea, as neither of us are Lutheran, and we don’t speak enough German to keep up. But I liked being there, liked knowing my family had a hand in its construction. Thank you, Herr Eisenberg, for allowing us to worship with you, to wander the church after the service, and for your participation of the Förderkreis Synagoge in Vöhl.

Ascher was frequently mentioned in the civic records of Vöhl. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes not. My favorite is from 1844 when a fine was levied against him for contamination of the road. On 15 August, the Grand Ducal Hessian Kreisrath wrote to the Mayor of Vöhl: “Since the indicated evacuation of the chamber pots from the house of Ascher Rothschild, when it is near the road, and the liquid rivulet flows into the gutter of the local road, you must inform Ascher Rothschild that all further downpourings of such disgusting excrement liquid is forbidden by him or his household members under threat of a police charge of 1fg 30kr for any contramotion hereby, and to report the publication of this prohibition within 3 days.”

In 1847, District Chief Koch asks Mayor Wiesemann to report on the reputation of Ascher Rothschild, because he has insulted the field gard Rieglitz from Thalitter. In 1849, there’s more trouble, starting with debts to the Korbach advocate Herr Schumacher in the amount of 12 Reichstalern and some silver groschen, and because of this debt, Ascher Rothschild is seized in February. Ruben Rothschild gives a cow as a pledge, and Ascher is released. Mayor Wilhelm Prinz delayed the required auction and was punished by Judge Koch. There was more trouble in June and July of that year, due to debts of 16 gulden at the trading house Rosenthal in Frankfurt. Legal fees and similar costs of about 46 gulden were added, and Mrs. Rothschild (Blümchen) placed a cow as a pledge, for which Ruben Rothschild vouches. At the same time frame of June and July, Judge Koch learned of an additional debt of 17 Reichstaler 20 Sgr at Mengeringhäuser Stadtcommissär, plus some kreuzer lien fees on garnishment, and instructs the Mayor to hold the pledge auction within 3 weeks. Ascher Rothschild’s wife gives another cow and a horse as pledge. In September, Mayor Prinz is threatened again by Judge Koch for not holding the auction, and threatens him with a fine of 45 Kreuzer if he doesn’t hold it within 3 days. Between then and the spring of 1850, Judge Koch warns Mayor Prinz several times, and fines him at least twice. I have no idea what the relationship was between Ascher and Mayor Prinz, but I can’t help thinking the Mayor must have been well-compensated.

Ascher and Sprinza’s son Selig “Sali” Rothschild became a doctor. In 1855, the civic records of Vöhl indicated Dr. Sali Rothschild reported the death of Mrs. Rothschild. Initially, it was thought this referred to Friedrich Dilsheimer Rothschild, wife of Ascher and Sprinza’s son, Isaac. Further research, however, proves Friedericke lived until 1903. I believe this actually refers to Ascher’s second wife, Blümchen. There is only anecdotal evidence to support this, and it is admittedly slim. Blümchen is never mentioned much, and not at all after 1855. She is not mentioned in Ascher’s death record, so she was deceased before that. Most telling, however, is that upon Ascher’s passing, instead of Blümchen and her daughters continuing to live at the house, the daughters are sent to Mainz where they live with their older half-brother Dr. Selig “Sali” Rothschild.

There are a few other mentions of Ascher in the civic records, day-to-day things like registering a pet dog, being owed money, being asked to provide a loan of 13,000 gulden to the community for an undisclosed reason just a few days before his death. The last information about Ascher is his death record. It lists his age as 79 at the time of his death, putting his birth year at 1780 or 1781. If this is correct, he was 37 when he married Sprinza, and 30 years older than Blümchen. Not completely unheard of, but a bit of a stretch. And as I mentioned in the previous post, I choose to go with his presumed birth year of 1789 as indicated in his marriage record to Sprinza. His death record reads as follows:

According to the allged statement, Ascher Rothschild, and 13 o’clock on January 13, 1859, after a long illness, passed away, and that in the survey and examination of the corpse made today, the following marks of death are recognized and noted to have been: (1) keeping eyeballs from pressure of fingertips; (2) brown, green, and black spots all over the body, especially on the abdomen and genitals; (3) the abdomen swelled. So that he is regarded as dead. Such certifies in Vöhl January 16, 1859, Friedrich Müller, Healing Servant.

Ten years after his passing, “A. Rothschild’s heirs had an estate sale, which was judicially confirmed by the royal district court on 20 July 1869. The payment of the purchase price shall be made to I. Bayerthal’s widow from Oppenheim.” It’s possible this refers to a different “A. Rothschild”, but I tend to believe it is Ascher. Ascher and and Blümchen’s youngest daughter, Mathilde, married Heinrich Bayerthal of Oppenheim. I have sometimes seen the letters “I”, “J”, and “H” mistaken for each other, and it’s possible Heinrich had another name, perhaps Isaac, or Isiah, or Israel. Again, anecdotal evidence at best.

I have learned so much about the type of person he may have been through these records, and through his legacy, which continues to live in his hometown of Vöhl. He built a school to make sure Jewish children were well-educated. He ran a thriving business as a merchant and as a money lender. He was a scoundrel and had at least one politician in his pocket. And he was generous. I’m very proud to be descended from him.

I was planning to next write about Ascher’s oldest son, Siegmund. Instead, I’m going to write about the synagogue. Seems like the right time. Until then, L’Shanah Tovah!

Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

Adventures in Genealogy