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Berlin 1939 / Berlin 2011

2 November 2011

Having inherited a great RAPHAELSOHN family tree from the work of Dr. Richard (Dick) PLOTZ, I had not worked much on my father's mother's family history.   From time to time, I would notice that the family of the mother of my grandmother Gertrud FALK geb. RAPHAELSOHN (1886-ca.1943) was almost unknown.   My great grandmother Ida RAPHAELSOHN, geb. JACOBSOHN was just a name and date, with no information about what she was like, or where she was from, or who her parents were.

I noticed this deficiency again last year when I happened to stumble upon some new information about Ida's husband's RAPHAELSOHN family.  That inspired me to write to the city archives in Allenstein, West Prussia, now Olzstyn, Poland on 18 Oct 2010.   I wrote to request a copy of Ida's death certificate, since I assumed she was living in Allenstein when she died on 12 Feb 1939.  On 6 Feb 2011,  I received a reply from the Olsztyn archive that told me that they did not have the German records from 1939, but that they should be in the archive of Berlin Standesamt I.   I immediately wrote to Standesamt I, but did not receive a reply (as of October 2011).

When Don's and my trip to Berlin and Silesia was getting close, I remembered my search for Ida's death certificate and I asked my cousin Inge in Berlin if she could confirm that Standesamt I was the right place to find Allenstein records from 1939.  She was able to confirm that, but she also learned that it can take 1-2 years to receive a reply to a written inquiry.  On the other hand, if you visit the office, you can leave with the results right away (more or less).  Unfortunately, since the office is only open on Mondays and Tuesdays, we had to decide whether to sacrifice some of our research time at the Centrum Judaicum for this cause.

We decided to do that.   As Inge recommended, we arrived early and got Nr. 4 from the pile of number cards on the table in the waiting area.  After about 30 minutes, we told the clerk what we wanted and filled out a form to request Ida's death certificate.   Two and a half hours later, the result was in.  A very nice man told us that they had not been able to find anything related to Ida RAPHAELSOHN, geb. JACOBSOHN.  They assured us that they looked on dates before and after the date we had given them.  We walked back to the Gesundbrunnen S-Bahn station to work our way back to Oranienburgerstrasse and the start of our research at the Centrum Judaicum.

That failure was very disappointing.  On the way to the Centrum Judaicum, I started to wonder whether Ida had moved to Berlin by the late 1930s, where her son Hugo and daughters Helene and Else were living by that time, and where their sister / my grandmother Gertrud also moved in 1940 (from Breslau).   I thought about asking the archivist at the Centrum Judaicum, but I did not want to be distracted from our research goal of finding (and copying) many, many Todesanziegen, Claassenstrasse Grabinschriften and Heiratsanzeigen.   For two and half days, we did that work, finding most of what we were looking for (and then some).

On Thursday afternoon, about 3:45, we called the archivist to let her know that we had finished our last set of copying -- they then needed to be stamped and counted, so that we could pay for the 1660 or so copies.   Moments later, after a brief discussion with Don "should we ask, or not, at that late date", I called again and said I had a question about how to find out if someone had died in Berlin in 1939.   The archivist returned and pulled a binder out from the same cabinet where we had been getting paper to re-stock the printers.  It contained a copy of the burial cards from the Weissensee Friedhof in Berlin, one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in Europe.  After being shown how to use the microfiche function on the machine we have used for 8 years to review microfilms, I quickly found Ida's burial card.

We again needed help to make a useable print of the burial card.  When that was done, the archivist noted that with the number from the burial card, she could check another set of materials for more information.  She did that, and we got copies of another document that gave Ida's birth place -- Liebstadt, Ostpreußen.  By now, it must have been 4 pm - closing time for researchers at the archive.   Still, I made a quick look in the catalogue of the Centrum Judaicum, looking to see what files they have related to the East Prussia town of Liebstadt (now called Miłakowo).   There were two, each related to a JACOBSOHN family.  The first one specifically mentioned that it contained a Stammbaum, a family tree.  I took photographs of the catalogue entries and thought we might have to wait until the next trip to see what they held.   Another call to the archivist (the researchers are in a room down the hall and on the other side of a locked door from the archivists and the archives), and she was willing to pull the microfilm with those two Liebstadt files.

Then came our great discovery -- a handwritten JACOBSOHN Stammbaum from 1893.   We quickly saw Ida JACOBSOHN at the bottom of the tree with her husband Louis RAPHAELSOHN, confirming we had the right JACOBSOHN family -- our family -- and the three of their children born already by 1893 (Else was only born in 1894).   We were amazed by our discovery.  We looked at the pages quickly, but our main goal was to get photocopies made before our time ran out.   We got it done.  We saw names (Widder / Victor, Moses, Caspar), but we did not have time to get the full picture of our new family line.

After paying our huge photocopy bill (over €500), we worked our way back to Charlottenburg.  We only had a couple hours before meeting a bunch of wonderful IMMERWAHR family cousins at Maximiians restaurant.  In that time, we had a chance to start to digest our new family tree -- new names and new places:
The next couple days were still busy with going places and meeting people in Berlin, but it was hard to make room for those experiences due to the continuing excitement from our unexpected discovery about the only part of the family tree that previously ended at the generation of a great grandparent - our little known great grandmother Ida.

Friday was going to be spent with cousins at the lectures and lunch and dinner related to the 100th anniversary of the Fritz Haber Institut (formerly, the Kaiser Wilhelm Institut).  We planned to be there at 9:30, in Dahlem in southern Berlin.   The Weissensee Friedhof is in northern Berlin.   But we had to try to find Ida's gravestone.

The cemetery opens at 7:30 am, and we got there in the early morning darkness.  We took a first stab at finding Feld B-VII, Reihe 8, Grab 100147, but we could only guess from which side to start counting the rows.  As it would turn out, we were only one or two rows off.   We went to the office and the always helpful Herr Pohl provide us with a plan of Feld B-VII and instructions where to start counting to find row 8 and the 20th grave, no. 100147 -- and he told us there was a gravestone that had been placed in 1941.  We still missed it.  But after some "re-orientating", we worked our way back down row 8 to a space that first appeared to represent 5 missing graves fairly close together.  The middle one should have been no. 100147, but it was just a low mound of ivy.  Poking around at one corner, I found the edge of a stone, but no inscription.  I then poked around the middle of the stone, and also found no inscription.  Don started pulling the ivy off the grave.  Then, with one of Cookie's unused poop bags on my hand as a glove (a bag i had been carrying around in my pocket through Poland and Germany), I started to remove the earth under the ivy from the middle of the gravestone.  There, an inscription started to be visible.  While Don made a video using his iPod Touch, I cleaned off the gravestone.  We had found the grave of our great grandmother which had almost certainly not been seen by anyone in the family for close to 70 years.  (And we got to "the Fritz" only a few minutes late.)

The Sunday before all this, we had finally made a visit to Auschwitz, where all four of Ida's children were murdered.
On Tuesday, on the way to the Gesundbrunnen station, we passed through the Westhafen S-Bahn station, under the Putlitzbrücke, where Gertrud and Helene and Else were put on a train to Auschwitz (part of Transport 27).
The next Sunday, we flew home from Berlin to London to Chicago to Philadelphia on Gertrud's 125th birthday, 30 Oct 2011.
This trip had become a memorial to our grandmother Gertrud FALK, geb. RAPHAELSOHN (1886-ca.1943) and her mother Ida. 

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Reader Comments (1)

Don has just been visiting with second cousin Gale outside Chicago. Gale's father Lutz had photographs of the gravestone of Ida RAPHAELSOHN geb. JACOBSOHN in his family photo album. They were photographs he took in 1947 around the same time that he and Ellen got married in Berlin. At the time, Lutz paid about $100 for "perpetual care" of his grandmother's grave.
So we were not the first to see the grave in 70 years. It had, at least, been seen by Lutz 65 year ago.

May 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Falk

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