On September 7, 1938, Dr. Seligman Weinberg, who was living in Bad Nauheim, Germany, penned an emotional letter to his nephew, Julius, in Chicago. Having had his medical license rescinded by the Nazis, he saw no other recourse than to immigrate to the United States. But in order to do so, a sponsor was required as a financial guarantor. At the time, Dr. Weinberg, married to Kaethe, was the father of three small children, ages eight, six, and three months. Although he planned to re-train in America, the most important step was to leave Germany as quickly as possible and thus save his family.
This moving letter was just one of many that were stored in Chicago for the past 84 years. They were recently discovered by my wife’s family when cousin Rich Silverstein arrived for the 21st Maccabiah games in Israel with his son, Sam. Rich and his sister and mother had assumed that the Weinberg family did not survive the Holocaust, and they were shocked and overjoyed to discover that they had direct relatives living in Israel. My wife, Judy, is the granddaughter of Dr. Seligman Weinberg.
Rich Silverstein located us after seeing the biography I wrote about my father-in-law, Rabbi Norbert Weinberg, appeared in the Jerusalem Post several years ago. Silverstein was here to watch his basketball star son play for the USA team in the Maccabiah Games. (Not only did the American squad win, but Sam was voted the MVP of the tournament.) We arranged to meet Rich and Sam in the lobby of the Dan Hotel on Mount Scopus during their stay here.
Present at the meeting with me were my wife, Judy, her sister Rena, Yehuda Holstein (whose grandparents were killed in the Shoah), Dani Blank (our nephew), and my father-in-law (Seligman’s son). When we saw Rich and Sam approaching, we were so excited to see the people behind the many e-mails. After posing for a family photo, Sam bade us goodbye and we sat down to get the whole story from Rich.
Rich explained that the treasure trove of letters had been kept in Chicago since the 1930s in the home of Delphine Weinberg (one of Julius’s children). As his mom wrote to me in an email, he was adamant that the letters should never be discarded. Rich explained that he had made contact with the Weinbergs in Israel when he was 18, but never asked about any other relatives that might be in the country. It was just assumed that all German relatives who remained in Germany had perished in the Shoah.
Rich came prepared with his personal computer, charts, and more to explain who was related to whom. (I get confused when family relationships are discussed, and often have to have things written down or repeated several times before I get it.)
Discovering unknown relatives is truly amazing, but discovering relatives you thought had perished is simply surreal. During the conversation, Yehuda Holstein showed us a tiny watch that he recently received that had belonged to his grandmother Rosalie (Seligman Weinberg’s sister, of blessed memory). We couldn’t believe that such a tiny watch band could actually have fit around someone’s wrist. The watch, Yehuda explained, was one of seven items that had been kept in a “Jewish Museum” in Rotterdam, the city in the Netherlands to which the Holstein family were transported before being taken to the Bergen-Belsen death camp. Only two of the children survived that ordeal. One of the questions I posed to Rich was why Julius’s efforts had not succeeded, and he suggested writing to his sister, Sarah, or his mother, Rose. The following is what I discovered about those efforts.
In the 1930s, the quota of German immigrants, Jews and non-Jews, allowed by law to enter America was limited to 27,000. The numbers never changed during the entire period from 1932-1945, and only 125,000 people were granted visas. Applying for a visa was a complex, bureaucratic process that could take up to two years. The most important part of that process was to obtain a guarantor who lived in the country to which one wanted to immigrate. Julius, according to Rose, went with his son, Irving (her father who kept all the correspondence), to the offices of HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) to arrange this guarantee and complete all the papers.
But Julius apparently did not have enough funds and so his efforts were fruitless. My father-in-law relates that eventually his family turned to Max Stern’s father in New York, who agreed to be their financial sponsor, and that is how they were finally granted visas to England. Unfortunately, only four visas were obtained, and Seligman and Kaethe had to make the extremely difficult decision as to which of their three children would not leave with them. Being the oldest child, it was decided that Hans would stay with Kaethe’s sister until he could get his visa and join them. And so the parents and their two small children made their way to England, where they lived in a rented apartment for approximately nine months. Eventually they all came to America, and the Weinbergs moved into their new home in Yonkers, New York, where Seligman practiced medicine until his death in 1970.
Dr. Seligman Weinberg was the son of Magnus Weinberg, who served as the chief Orthodox rabbi for forty years in Wurzburg, Germany, from 1895 to 1935. His wife, Judith (nee Judith Bamberger), was the granddaughter of the Wurzburger Rav (Rabbi Yitzhok Dov Halevi Bamberger). My wife, Judy (Yehudit Chana), is named after her. On September 23, 1942, Magnus Hand Judith Weinberg, along with 562 other Jews, were transported to the Theresienstadt ghetto, and died there.
Theresienstadt, located in the town of Terezin (an hour from today’s Prague) had two purposes. It served as a way-station to death camps and also as a “retirement settlement” for prominent Jews. On more than one occasion, the Nazis invited film crews there to demonstrate to the world that the rumors about the Final Solution were false, and that the “inmates” who were interred there were actually well off. The inmates played soccer, food was plentiful and concerts were held. But after the crews left, the deportations and suffering continued. Over 33,000 Jews died in Terezin.
On Kristallnacht (November 9-10, 1938), along with the burning of 92 synagogues and the destruction of many Jewish businesses throughout Germany, the main synagogue of Wurzburg and the teacher’s seminary that Rabbi Magnus Weinberg founded were totally destroyed. That same night, the Gestapo knocked on Dr. Seligman Weinberg’s door, arrested him, and took him to the Buchenwald labor camp for six weeks. As my father-in-law relates, his father never spoke to his family about those six weeks. He was miraculously released on the sixth night of Chanukah when the Germans were informed that he had a visa to leave Germany, and the family prepared to leave.
Dr. Weinberg’s brother, Harry, who is also mentioned in one of the letters, was first imprisoned in Dachau, but then obtained a visa and emigrated to England. His first wife and son both perished in the Shoah. We met him after he had made aliya and was living in an old age home in Tel Aviv. One time we decided to pay him a visit with our kids, but forgot to call first, figuring that he would be there. But when we arrived, Uncle Harry wasn’t there.
“Where could he have gone?” we wondered. After a short time, he arrived, and was very upset with us. “Do you think I stay here all the time?” he asked. Uncle Harry was a teacher and a scribe, and he also loved doing magic tricks. We always enjoyed our visits with him.
The patriarch of the entire clan, the illustrious Wurzburger Rav (1807-1878), in an introduction to one of his many books, wrote the following inscription: “Plant into our hearts Your love and Your reverence so that we shall follow Your commands and proceed in Your way.”
His prayer for his family, written over 150 years ago, has indeed come true. The saga of the Weinberg family, revealed through those personal letters, has brought the family together once again. I’m positive he would be extremely proud that many of his descendants have made their home here in Israel. For all those who have not yet made aliya, the Weinberg-Bamberger clan are here to welcome you with open arms!