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Kurt Bloch: c. 1886 to 1942
Kurt has been missing since the end of 1942: he “had two daughters named Ruth and Ilse Bloch. However, investigations after these people led to no results”.
The girls lived with their parents in Myslowitz / Mysłowice; they were moved “to the East” at the end of 1942.
(Source: a document from Werner’s search for his uncle).
Update: May 2016
Following our recent visit to Poland in May 2016, we finally have some more information about Kurt Bloch and his family, which we are currently updating below.
Update: January 2017
In an exciting start to our research for the new year, we were sent a clipping from a newspaper, Ostdeutsche Morgenpost, dated 28 January 1923, which suggests that at one point Kurt ran a confectionary shop with Jakob Gruschka. Given the subject of Kurt’s long letter from 1936, I have long assumed he was in this kind of line of business, alongside the reference to him working with the Hotel Polonia (see below). We also know that Jakob lived and worked in Beuthen (now Bytom) – as he was deported from that town. And of course he married into the Bloch family when he and Rosa tied the knot, so this would indeed seem to be our family. I will have to look out for Schiesshausstrasse 5, the next time we visit Bytom.
We know that at one point the family were living at Brunwaldzka 17, Myslowice, shown in the sketch below. The sketch was provided by a local archivist who is undertaking the extraordinary task of hand-sketching the old buildings of his town.
We also know from a newspaper cutting shown below that at one point the family lived/worked at Pszczynska 17, Mysłowice / Plesser Strasse 17, Myslowitz.
We knew from family letters that there was an aunt Frieda – and this cutting confirms her link to Kurt, rather than to another family member. It is what we had come to assume from the context of the letters, but as ever, it is always good to have external confirmation of such assumptions.
Letter from Hermine, Gleiwitz, 2nd August 1938 "So much has happened since my 80th. Uncle Kurt, Aunt Frieda, the children were all here then.
According to documents, Kurt and his family were in Mysłowice in 1931, and remained there until around 1941, after which they had to move to the ghetto at Krenau (now Chrzanów), about 15 miles (24.8km) away.
The family home/business premises at Plesserstrasse 17 was sadly demolished during the occupation by the USSR in the 1970s. However, if you imagine buildings where the photographer is standing in the picture below, we believe that this is approximately where the family home/business was.
We can get a pretty good idea of what building number 17 would have looked like from those directly opposite and surrounding it.
These buildings face an open square today, and at the other side of the square is a school – which Kurt’s daughter/s may have attended (see photograph of Ilse on her bike outside this building).
Next to this building was the main synagogue of Mysłowice, which I assume my family will have attended, given its close location to Plesserstrasse 17.
Today, there is just a car park on this site, as seen in the photograph below.
I am not sure what uncle Kurt did for a living, and must extrapolate from the scant information found in letters. In 1939 he had a workshop of some kind in Myslowice, for example.
Letter from Else, 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."
It is clear that he was also trying to get his family out, as his sister refers to this in June 1939.
Letter from Else, Gleiwitz 10th June 1939 "The questionnaires arrived from Myst on Tuesday, with the accompanying papers included. Uncle Kurt wrote, however, that with his certificate it is necessary to have permission to travel via other countries."
In August 1939, Else alludes to some arrangement of Kurt’s having been successful, but we don’t know what that might be; we do know it enabled him to stay a little longer in Myslowice.
Letter from Else, Gleiwitz, 17th August, 1939 "We didn’t know anything about the happy solution to uncle Kurt’s dilemma; the people only write once in a blue moon and then wonder why we don’t answer promptly."
Note the date of the extract above. It is only a few days now until the German tanks will roll across the border and into Poland, signalling the start of the Second World War.
Kurt’s relief was to be short lived in the new wartime environment, however, in which the net was closing ever tighter around him, his family, and the other Jewish people living in Silesia.
Letter from Else, Sunday, 7th April, 1940 "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?"
By the end of that summer, Kurt lost the struggle to remain in his home in Myslowice; the family were forced to move to the ghetto in Krenau.
Letter from Else, 22nd August 1940 "There is no good news from Uncle Kurt, he has a damp flat in Krenau and suffers doubly with the damp there and the bad weather. Ilse sent congratulations to Grandma on her 86th in German writing, with which papa had to help her."
As with so many other puzzles about our family, somehow, Kurt seems to have been able to leave the ghetto that Jews were forbidden to leave, to visit his family over the border in mainland Germany – something no-one I have spoken to would have thought possible – especially once war had broken out. Nevertheless …
Letter from Else, Gleiwitz Sunday, 27th October 1940 "Uncle Kurt spent five days with us, which we enjoyed. On the first day of the holiday the fact that he was here made us feel less lonely. The only drawback was that we had no sign of life from you. Other than that, Uncle and his family are not doing very well but at least, thank God, they are healthy."
Kurt has apparently managed to find some work that enables him and his family to survive the early war years.
Letters from Else, 10th February 1941 We are fairly well all of us, Uncle Kurt with the family, the Aunts.
By spring the following year, however, after another winter of cold and deprivation, conditions were starting to take their toll.
Letter from Else, Saturday, 6th April 1941 "Your two birthday letters, as I have already informed you, dear Werner, I received in February. We were completely alone on that day as the aunts only came on the 22nd February and 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."
Sometime later that year, in an undated letter, Kurt “complains about his rheumatism”.
Letter from Else, Gleiwitz, 18th May 1942 "We have to clear our place out. If you are not allowed to write in German, I will if necessary resort to turning to Frau Birnbaum to inform Kurt, who is the neediest."
Update: August 2015
Following translations of Werner’s letters and documents we now know that Kurt and his family had to move from their home in Mysłowice to the ghetto at Krenau (in German; part of Poland again today, it is now called Chrzanów). Many Jews died of cold and starvation in the ghetto, or were sent to labour camps nearby where they were worked to their deaths. Others were hanged in the centre of the town, or shot and left in mass unmarked graves.
We know that Kurt was living in Krenau ghetto in late winter 1942, because we have letters he wrote in which he asks a friend of Else’s for some of the money that she had left for him when she was deported to Auschwitz in May 1942.
These letters carry the address the family were living at over this period – 27 Berg Strasse, which can be seen at the top centre of the following map (source: http://chrzanow.dk/history.html).
Else left her money in safe keeping with Wilhelmine Hoffmeister – an old friend from her days as a young woman working in Osnabrück. She asked Wilhelmine to give it to Kurt, because ‘his need was greatest’. If she had simply sent a larger sum of money to Kurt, he would not have been allowed to keep it – hence this solution. By this point she and her son were unable to get in touch with each other between the British Army and Germany, her sister was already dead, and her other brother Fedor had been deported to the Riga ghetto in 1941. No-one had heard from Fedor since, and in fact it seems clear from records that he was long dead by the time Else was deported. She seems to have guessed at this, although we assume she couldn’t have been sure.
Tragically, any Jews who survived the cold, starvation and other depredations of Krenau were deported en mass to Auschwitz by February 1943, after which the ghetto was declared Judenrein.
For further general information on the ghetto, please follow the link to my research on Krenau.
We are still searching for further information on Kurt Bloch and his family.
Werner was an extraordinary chess player – he would play a roomful of people simultaneously, just to keep his hand in. He was taught to play by his uncle Kurt, so I am especially keen to find more information about this uncle, whom my father clearly loved very much.
Many kind people have got us this far with small pieces of information that are gradually adding up to something extraordinary. If you live in Mysłowice or Chrzanów and think you may have any information about our family or their circumstances, however small it might seem, we would love to hear from you.