Frieda Bloch, geb. Sack: 6th April 1893 to 1942
As far as we can tell from a notice placed in a local newspaper (see image above from Ostdeutsche Morgenpost), Frieda Sack married Kurt Bloch on Wednesday 2nd May 1923.
From the cutting above, it seems likely that Frieda was living in Beuthen when she met Kurt, who at the time seems to have been in business there with Jakob Gruschka (see Kurt’s page for more information on this). At some point, and certainly by 1931, they moved to Myslowitz/Mysłowice.
When war broke out, the family were forced to sell their business and flat in Mysłowice and had to move to Chrzanów – which was soon renamed Krenau by the occupying German army. Frieda and her family lived in the ghetto at Krenau until death from cold and starvation, or until deportation by February 1943, when the ghetto was closed and any remaining Jews were deported – mostly to Auschwitz.
When I began this project, I didn’t even know Werner’s aunts’ first names.
I worked for over a year, hoping that when we had the family letters translated they would shed some light on this part of the puzzle, and we would then be able to do something about searching for them.
After much work, we have met with considerable success, with letters telling us that there was an aunt Frieda, and recent confirmation from documents in Poland that this was indeed Kurt’s wife.
From the image above, which I was sent on January 1st 2017, we now know Frieda’s surname and the date on which she and Kurt were engaged to be married.
I know that this is the correct family name because we have letters to and from Werner and ‘Frau F Sack‘ in Colorado – dated 1939. They are trying to find a way to get Werner to the USA – and to get Frieda’s oldest daughter out too. It is always good to have more than one piece of information so that one confirms another and we know that we are on the right track.
They are obviously not close family – or not in close contact, as Mrs Sack of Colorado doesn’t know anything about Aunt Frieda’s daughters – but the family name being the same would seem too much of a coincidence otherwise. She must have married a brother of Frieda’s, or something similar. The Blochs and Weissenbergs are clearly trying to contact any family they are able to reach in the USA in order to try to obtain sponsorship to leave Germany and Poland.
The first mention of this is in a letter from Else, below.
Letter from Else to Werner: 8th February, 1939, Gleiwitz My dear boy ... I also asked Myst in a letter to give you the address of Frieda’s relations, who if they didn’t want to sponsor you themselves could, perhaps, inform their friends about your predicament and ask them for advice...
Letter to Werner from Mrs F. Sack: 2nd March 1939, Grand Lake, Colorado, Kansas City Dear Mr Weissenberg ... Can you also tell me if the eldest child of Aunt Frieda is male or female?
Letter from Werner: Frankfurt am Main, 19th March 1939 Dear Frau Sack I was exceedingly pleased with your letter, which I received yesterday. I haven’t found any other person who offered to help me without knowing me personally. For this offer I am most grateful with all my heart. You can have no idea how much better the future looks; it is like using a branch to save a drowning man reaching out for help. I am fully convinced that you will be able to find some way out for me and will continue your efforts. Thank you very much for making these efforts on my behalf and I will never forget how much trouble you have taken on my behalf... We also want to help my Aunt Frieda’s oldest child. She has two girls – one aged 15, the other 10. The little one is very attached to me. She is already saving up so that she can join me. I wish it were all as simple as children imagine. Could you try and find a camp for the older girl? I am told they enjoy their time there in US camps...
Letter from Werner: 9th June 1939, Richborough Camp, Hut 30/11 Dear Frau Sack ... I want to tell you a few remarks regarding another matter. I assume that you received a letter from Aunt Frieda, about the same time I did. I am very depressed about the circumstances in which my aunt and uncle are living. My uncle, a German in Poland, has lost permission for employment and has not received any funding, through no fault of his own, but because of the strained relationship between Germany and Poland. If he has to return to Germany the consequences are unimaginable; he doesn’t really know how terrible they will be. Apart from the fact that he would be unable to feed himself or his family there, because there are no employment opportunities for Jews, he would surely end up in a concentration camp, as has happened to the Jews who have arrived there from other countries. I can tell you from my own experiences what that would entail in all its gory detail, but I don’t think I need to tell you that. Those who get away with their lives can talk about being lucky. We have suffered much of its consequences on our health and our life. For these reasons I am begging for a way of escape for my aunt and uncle, which has to be found, if we don’t want to give up...
Problems of documentation
When my father carried out his search for family members at the end of the Second World War, his official search through the Red Cross and other aid agencies, and later through the International Tracing Service, included Kurt Bloch and his two daughters Ruth and Ilse, but it did not include Kurt’s wife, Frieda. Because of this, I did not have her date of birth, her maiden name, nor any other information about her, save what is written in the family letters. So, my next task is to go through those letters with a fine-toothed comb, to try to build up some kind of a picture of who Frieda was (see results, below).
I have no idea why my father did not search for his uncle’s wife – perhaps there was too much of a cost attached to each search (they were certainly very expensive to carry out by the 1960s); perhaps he was not allowed to do so – because she was not a direct-line-of-descent blood relative (which remains a problem today for searching the archives); perhaps he knew her fate already (although I have found nothing so far in letters and documents that suggests this is the case); perhaps she had surviving family whom he knew would themselves be searching for her. I have no idea, but I do know that it has proved very difficult, consequently, to find out anything about her without any of the basic information. (Having said that – I don’t even know the first name of uncle Fedor’s wife yet, from the family letters, nor anything else about her at all, so we’re doing comparatively well with great-aunt Frieda!)
I have searched the ITS database myself, but there is no Frieda Bloch with the right kind of date of birth or other identifying details, such as name of spouse.
Finally, there doesn’t seem to be a local archive of historical or personal documents for Jews or other residents of Mysłowice, which was where they were living before they were sent to the Krenau ghetto in May 1940 (see letter from Leopold, 22 May 1940). However, if anyone reading this knows of any other source of information for residents of Myslowitz / Mysłowice or Krenau / Chrzanów, in the 1930s and 1940s (or before), please do get in touch – I’d be delighted to hear from you!
Mysłowice, May 2016
On our recent visit to Mysłowice we were helped by the director of the City Museum (see http://cmp-muzeum.pl/?lang=en), who made a telephone call to a colleague, and then went online and found the following document that confirmed that the Frieda of Else’s letters was indeed Kurt’s wife and not, for example, Fedor’s wife, or someone else’s sister. You can see her name in the image below.
Frieda’s name (Fryda) takes the Polish rather than the German spelling, as one should expect here, as does her daughter’s name in the school registry books. (This kind of issue arises a lot in this border region that has changed hands among Prussia, Germany, Poland and the USSR over the last 100 years alone. It’s something any researcher must be aware of.)
For the time being, then, the only other way in which I can find out any more about great aunt Frieda and her life is to go through any mention of her in the family letters, and we’ll see where that gets us …
From Frieda to Werner: Myslowice, 7th October 1936
At the end of a long and humorous letter from Kurt to Werner, who is trying to cheer up his nephew, Frieda appends a short note. I believe it is the only writing of hers that has survived.
Frieda’s simple note translates as follows:
Stay well. Your long letter was received with joy. For your birthday would you rather have cake or cigarettes? From your Aunt
From Hermine to Werner: Gleiwitz, 2nd August 1938
So much has happened since my 80th. Uncle Kurt, Aunt Frieda, the children were all here then. Now there was no one.
Frieda was obviously a close and accepted member of the family to be attending great-grandmother’s 80th birthday. To understand why I should make this observation, please see Ilse’s page.
From Else to Werner: Gleiwitz, 8th February, 1939
I also asked Myst in a letter to give you the address of Frieda’s relations, who if they didn’t want to sponsor you themselves could, perhaps, inform their friends about your predicament and ask them for advice. Sunday afternoon Aunt Frieda was here; she sends her love. ... Aunt Frieda said that in a London broadcast in German last Saturday that Holland has accepted 700 refugees.
This is an interesting piece of information, in that it does suggest that Frieda had living relatives (at least pre-War, which might answer the question of why Werner didn’t search for her himself – although my best guess remains that he wouldn’t be allowed access to information about someone who was not a blood relative). This letter also indicates that her relatives may already have lived abroad – there is mention of ‘sponsoring’, which is usually what this was about. (With more information arriving from Poland in January 2017, I have now been able to update this, as above).
Finally, Frieda is clearly tracking the news and trying to help – like everyone else in the family – to get Werner out of the country after his release from Dachau, when emigration was the only means to save his life.
From Else to Werner: Gleiwitz, 28th February 1939 – 10.30pm
At 1.26 o’clock we received a phone call from the Villa Kuschnitzki that Aunt Frieda was passing by, and Father was to go to the station. Of course I accompanied him and aunt has already left for the station with father to travel to Beuthen from where she had come, to carry out some business. Early tomorrow morning she will return home and she sends you her love.
So, in 1939, Frieda seems to be in Beuthen quite a lot – was she living there, or working there, or visiting family or friends? Else mentions that she had ‘to carry out some business’, although it remains unclear whether this would have related to domestic family business or to paid work. At the end of this letter, Leopold adds a note that also mentions Frieda in passing – she was clearly used to travelling around on her own. (Note, she lives in Poland, not Germany, where severe restrictions on Jews were already in place by this time; however, she is travelling across the border frequently, which would have been unusual, and potentially dangerous.)
Aunt Frieda was here and I took her to the station.
From Werner to Frau Sack: Frankfurt am Main, 19th March 1939
When Werner is trying to find a way out of Germany to the USA, he also tries to find safe haven for Frieda’s oldest daughter Ruth, and he is obviously torn in having to ask for safety for only one of his young cousins:
We also want to help my Aunt Frieda’s oldest child. She has two girls – one aged 15, the other 10. The little one is very attached to me. She is already saving up so that she can join me. I wish it were all as simple as children imagine. Could you try and find a camp for the older girl? I am told they enjoy their time there in US camps.
I don’t think any one of us today could imagine – or even want to try too hard to imagine – what this must have been like for Frieda. She must have been both desperate to keep her eldest daughter with her, and also desperate to have her sent somewhere safe.
For those of us who are safe in our warm homes today, this life, and these kinds of choices for a mother, are unimaginable.
I’m curious that this letter states that Ruth is 15 years old, however, as I believe her to have been around twelve years old in 1939, according to the date of birth Werner provides in his post-War ITS search. Was this because no-one was likely to take a 12 year old in? Or because either this age, or the later search birth year, are incorrect? Unless I can find some solid documents for Ruth, I won’t have an answer to this.
From Else to Werner: Gleiwitz, 5th April, 1939
In the evening about ten o’clock, when both Father and I were contemplating sleep, Aunt Frieda came and Father had to make up a bed for her. She went back on Sunday afternoon. She was in Berlin the previous week. ... We will probably have visitors again on Sunday and Monday, Uncle Kurt and Aunt. If you should write to Aunt Frieda I will borrow your letter dear Werner (maybe the reply from her). I will give it back to you. ... Did you congratulate Aunt Frieda?
This last sentence suggests that Frieda’s birthday is around this time, so it will be useful to file away that information, in case we get anything to test it against. Of such bits and pieces may we make up a more complete picture! So, her birthday is close to 5th April …
From Else to Werner: Gleiwitz, 6th April 1939
Uncle Kurt has received the news that he has to close his workshop. Aunt Frieda says he has aged tremendously as a result of this in a few days – no wonder. Now he has, through a solicitor, written a declaration addressed to the Minster asking whether he can defer the closure for the time being.
Going through the letters like this actually does extract some significant information, and here we see almost the exact date on which Kurt has been ordered to close down his means of livelihood – the workshop he talks about in his humourous 1936 letter to Werner. The brief note here also tells us as much about Frieda’s worried reaction as it does about Kurt’s.
From Werner to Frau Sack: Kitchener Camp, 9th June 1939
I assume that you received a letter from Aunt Frieda, about the same time I did.* I am very depressed about the circumstances in which my aunt and uncle are living. ... For these reasons I am begging for a way of escape for my aunt and uncle, which has to be found, if we don’t want to give up. For we ourselves unfortunately can do so little for our emigration. For my part, dear lady, thank you from the bottom of my heart. If you have any news you don’t want to inform my aunt about directly, I will tell you in that case our present address is the one above.
*Unfortunately, this letter does not appear to be among our surviving family letters.
From Else to Werner: Gleiwitz, 15th June 1939
Aunt Frieda has asked if we can’t meet up at the border. If it just took an hour I would do so, but I don’t think it is worth it for just an eight-minute meeting. What is there to say to one another?
I am curious about this note – Frieda sounds desperate to meet up with the extended family and so she is probably isolated somewhere – because for her, an ‘eight-minute meeting’ is worth it. I don’t believe they have left for Krenau by this date, but ‘the border’ reference here suggests they have had no choice but to remain apart from the family, in Poland – they are probably still in Mysłowice.
From Else to Werner: Sunday, 7th April, 1940
By Tuesday I was back. Your Uncle Kurt was in a terrible mood. From the 1st March he was made to give up a quarter of his flat, because the forthcoming sale will take place, it is connected to it. Eight days since the sale, they haven’t found any alternative. I don’t know where they found any place to live. Aunt Freida was to have come here today but she is unable to. Uncle has sold many items. Elle misses school very much. Aunt Hedel wrote recently that she was prepared to look after the child, but who is going to pay the board and lodging? Aunt Hedel is really caring and looks quite well.
Wherever Frieda and Kurt have ended up, they are clearly having to share their accommodation with another family. Despite the various suggestions that Frieda is moving around various towns and cities (very different in this to the Weissenberg household, in which Leopold does the majority of the travelling), this does sound as though they are still in Mysłowice, waiting for the business to be sold out from under them.
Else also refers in passing to ‘Elle’ – almost certainly Frieda’s youngest daughter Ilse. (She is given several different names – the family generally use a range of derivatives of Elisabeth, basically – Bettina, Betty, Else, Ilse, Elle, etc. This was common practice among Jewish families of the time – a name repeated in various forms throughout a family line, often down many generations.) By this stage, of course, German laws applied in Poland too: school was forbidden to Jewish children, as were public parks, or gatherings of any kind for Jews of all ages. They were not even allowed to greet each other in small groups in the street, so the children as well as the parents would have been isolated at home. By this stage, all our remaining family members will have been forced to wear a yellow Star of David at all times.
Here, Else relates that Hedel has offered to help (presumably if the family are to be deported to the ghetto, as indeed they soon are) by looking after the youngest girl, but there are also practical issues of scant food and accommodation for everyone. It is likely in any case that Frieda would not want to leave without her little girl. What mother would?
But what an agony of a choice.
From Leopold to Werner: Zurich, 24th April 1940
From the 12th to the 13th Aunt Friede was here. She travelled back via *B., and she had hardly arrived on the street when she found that the only recently recovered roof, would be lost to her again. The family is living with Miss Ebel in Nebel's house, in a room on the 3rd floor. The rest of the furniture is partly on the floor and partly with Mrs Adler.
*’B’ generally refers to Beuthen in family letters – today, Bytom in Polish. At one time or another many of the family lived here, including Else and Leopold Weissenberg, Clara and Hedel Weissenberg, great grandfather Albert and great grandmother Bettina Weissenberg (we have very recently learned that our great grandparents were buried in Bytom; I believe that great grandfather Joseph Bloch also lived there for a time and indeed is buried here).
The kind of upheaval in housing described above was commonplace for Jewish families in the 1930s and 1940s. They were constantly being moved to ever-smaller premises, often at very short notice – sometimes with only a couple of hours’ notice. They were often forced to leave their furniture and valuables behind – the value of which, of course, accrued over time to the German state in various forms, or to local people who were moved into their homes. The weight of the physical and emotional work involved in these constant moves would have fallen on women like Frieda.
From Else to Werner and Leopold: Saturday, 6th April 1941
We are not sure who this Leopold was yet – given the name, he might be a cousin of my father’s, but we don’t know. It seems to be someone in England with my dad, who was by now serving in the British Army.
Uncle Kurt, unfortunately, was unable to come because he had a very bad attack of influenza; however, he has recovered quite well. Even Ilse, who was 12 on the 11th, was very ill. ... Freida is 48 years old today.
So, there are some intriguing parts to this extract from Else’s letter.
How on earth is Kurt leaving the Krenau ghetto at this stage to travel to Gliwice? The only thing that seems to have prevented him was an attack of ‘flu’. Yet, as far as I understand it from everything I’ve read, although there were no walls to the ghetto, Jews were forbidden to leave it. You didn’t ignore an edict like that, without running the risk of being the next body hanging in the main square.
Importantly for our purposes here, Frieda’s birthdate, we now know, is 6th April – so now we just need the year … and Else states that she is 48, which makes her full birthday 6th April 1893. One has to apply a certain amount of caution to such findings, as family recollections under extreme stress may not always be accurate, but it does give us something to work with.
I’ll add that to the top of this page now: domestic history in the making.
From Kurt to Wilhelmine Hoffmeister: Letter: nd (Krenau ghetto)
Because I am doing important work I hope that we will be spared from the journey which my sister and mother have had to undertake.
Kurt refers here to a hope that ‘we’ will be spared, which perhaps suggests that Frieda and the girls are at this stage still alive with him in the ghetto. He doesn’t mention them having died or been transported yet.
He does refer to the deportation of Else and Hermine, however, although not to his brother’s deportation to Riga in 1940, nor to Clara and Hedel’s in June 1942. Perhaps they seem a long time ago by now, amidst the horror of everyday life in the ghetto. Perhaps the list of the lost is now too long and too sad to enumerate them all. Like Else in her letters to Wilhelmina, and Werner’s to Frau Sack, the family seems to be trying to protect outsiders to some extent from the horror that is happening to them.
Presumably, as Kurt is ‘protected’ for the time being, so are Frieda and her girls, both of whom were almost certainly being sent to work as slave labourers, however, in the industrial factories built near the ghetto. This work was regarded as another form of ‘protection’, but again, we cannot imagine what Frieda must have gone through over these weeks and months, watching the degradation of her daughters, their starvation, cold and constant fear. Kurt no longer mentions any of them by name – another form of ‘protection’, maybe – not least for his own sanity.
From Kurt to Wilhelmine Hoffmeister: Krenau, 28th November 1942
When after having performed strenuous work and eaten warm thin soup and I lie in bed resting, my thoughts are always with my mother and sister, who are satisfied with my fate. Everyone has to work and I gather from your writing that you do not have an easy life, but we lack potatoes which would provide the necessary strength, not to speak of fats. The few potatoes we were provided with for the winter are already used. We can only live from day to day.
In this final letter about the circumstances in which the family are living in November 1942, again we can see that Kurt refers to ‘we’, so it would seem that at least until this point the family have managed to stay alive and stay together.
By February of the following year, however, the ghetto was cleared and all remaining Jews were sent to Auschwitz.
For Frieda – my great aunt