Leopold Weissenberg

24 February 1881 to 18 August 1941

img_1185
Leopold Weissenberg, 1910

Leopold does not appear in the ITS database (see the page on the ITS for an explanation of this), so the information we had when we began this project mainly took the form of the letters he wrote to my father. We also had some information written by my father and by other family members, which we have been having translated, and a number of documents that have now been discovered.

For some notes on how I found the following now-extensive information, please follow this link.


Leopold was born in Peiskretscham on 24 February 1881 to Albert Weissenberg and Bettina Weissenberg, geb. Pinoff. Albert was an Eisenbahngehilfe – a helper on the railways.

Leopold Weissenberg birth certificate, 1881

I don’t have very much information about Peiskretscham (now Pyskowice) yet, but in June 1882, not long after Leopold was born, the city was almost completely destroyed by a large fire. Over two hundred homes and other buildings were destroyed. In 1905, the town had a population of around 260 Protestants and around 132 Jews. In the referendum in March 1921, the population voted overwhelmingly to remain in the Weimar Republic; post-war, as with the whole of the Silesian region, it became part of Poland.

It is speculation on my part, but the fire in June 1882 might have been when (and why) the family moved to Beuthen. Certainly, Leopold’s parents Albert and Bettina were buried in Beuthen (now Bytom) in 1920 and 1921 respectively.


The next event we know about is that Leopold Weissenberg married Else Bloch on 30 October 1910, in Kottlischowitz (formerly Keßlern) Registry office, Kreis (region) Tost Gleiwitz, nr. /1910.

Leopold and Else lived in Pless (now Pszczyna) for some years; the Pless registration book has an entry for him and his family – extract below. This shows that Else and Leopold arrived here from Beuthen (now Bytom) on 29 October 1910.

Beuthen to Pless, 29 October 1910
Beuthen to Pless, 29 October 1910

During some of the years in which the family lived here, Leopold ran a haberdashery shop called Montag’s at number 13, on the market square.

Grandfather Leopold's shop in Pless
Grandfather Leopold’s shop in Pless

Elisabeth Dehnisch, geb. Montag was the owner of number 13 from 1905 to 1918. She was the daughter of hatter Max Montag, founder of the “C. Montag” company. Here, ‘C.’ is probably first letter of the name of Max’s father – Constantin. They were not a Jewish family.

The entry from the Pless registration book showing Dehnisch’s ownership of number 13 is given below. Interestingly, it also shows that she moved out on 1st August 1916, to Kottlischowitz bei Tost, which is where Else also moved in 1916, while Leopold was away fighting during World War I (see below).

Registration book

The following image is an advertisement for the shop, and beneath that is a list of businesses. You can see Leopold’s listing, under ‘M’ for Montag – just click on it to enlarge the image.Leopold shop advert_08.11.1910

Herewith a message to the highly respected residents of the town and country, that the firm owned for 20 years by C Montag, a store for cleaning materials, fancy goods and haberdashery has been left in the hands of Leopold Weissenberg. 

While I thank everyone for the trust and regard they showed me, I very much wish that they will do the same for my successor. 

Respectfully 
Elisabet Dehnisch iFC Montag. 

Further to the above article, I would like to ask the customers of Frau Dehnisch to transfer the goodwill and trust they have shown her to me which I promise to respect. 

Respectfully 
Leopold Weissenberg iFC Montag

Plesse list of businesses: C. Montag

 

The next significant event was significant indeed for our family – on 7th November  1911, Leopold and Else had a son, Werner – my father.

Birth certificate, Pless 1911
Birth certificate, Pless 1911

At the time, I believe, Leopold was still running the business here in Pless. It is a picturesque town in Upper Silesia, which in the 1921 plebiscite voted to remain in Germany, as did a majority of the small towns and villages across this region.

Pless
13 Rynek, Pless

Above, the shop in Pless, as it would have looked around the time that my family were working there.


Also while in Pless, Else sought a nanny for her young son, as can be seen from the newspaper advertisement below

09 - 30.01.1912 - 4aa


The First World War

In 1914, with the outbreak of the First World War, Leopold was conscripted into the German Army. He was wounded twice, but remained in the army until the end of the war in 1918.


Part way through the war years, two significant events occurred for the family. Else’s father, Joseph Bloch, died – we believe in 1916 – and in the same year the Weissenbergs moved from Pless to Kottlischowitz bei Tost (now Kotliszowice) on 1st August (see note on the owner of the Pless shop, Elisabeth Dehnisch, above, who also moved out to the same small town, on the same date). With her husband wounded in June 1915, and still away fighting in the war, and having also just lost her father, presumably Else was struggling to keep going with the shop and her son on her own; perhaps the owners just wanted the property back.

The date on which the family moved from Pless can be seen in this extract from the Pless registration book, below.

Pless registration book
Pless registration book

World War I

Leopold was conscripted into the Prussian Army during World War I, and I have been trying to find some information about this period. It seems odd to think of the two halves of our family – English and German – as having fought on opposite sides. My mother’s father, Joseph Barnes, also fought in the First World War, in the British Cavalry.

Having found the newspaper exact below, which lists the first time Leopold was wounded, I looked up Field Artillery regiment no. 112. From March 1915 this unit was part of the 56th Field Artillery Brigade/ Infantry Division, which was formed in March 1915.

Newspaper notification of First World War injury: 9th June 1915
Newspaper notification of the first of Leopold’s World War I injuries: 9th June 1915. Source: Verlustlisten 1. Weltkrieg, page 6829 Liste: Preussen 244; Feldartillerie-Regiment / Field artillery regiment 112

Around the time Leopold was injured, the 56th Infantry Division was involved in the Gorlice-Tarnów offensive; among German troops alone, from 2 May to 22 June, 87,000 men were killed, wounded, or missing. By the end of June, the division was back on the Western front.

The 56th division next fought at the Battle of Verdun, and was involved in the Battle of the Somme by the end of August 1916. In October, the division was reinforced, returning to the final phase of the Somme in November 1916, where they remained until early 1917. They then fought in Flanders, returning to Verdun from August 1917 to early 1918, before going back to the Flanders region. Around this time, Leopold was injured a second time (see below).

German Jewish soldiers in the Prussian Army were not allowed to hold the rank of officer in the regular army, unless they converted. Nevertheless, at the start of the war, 12,000 Jews volunteered for service: of the 100,000 who finally served, 70,000 fought on the front line. Around 12,000 German Jewish soldiers were killed; around 3,000 were made officers in the Reserve. The Iron Cross was awarded to around 18,000 German Jews. Despite this service, in 1916 the military high command issued a ‘Jewish census’ (Judenzählung), intended to prove that few Jews were fighting for their country. The results were not made public in the end, although an antisemitic publication put out falsified conclusions, which were later drawn on as part of dolchstoßlegende – the ‘stab-in-the-back’ myth – of the 1930s.

Whatever was claimed later, German Jews often volunteered for service, partly in hopes of being regarded as equal German citizens, no doubt, and partly to help liberate Jewish people suffering from pogroms and intense persecution under the Russian Empire.

In our family, on 18th June 1918, Leopold again appears in the lists of injured soldiers – perhaps unsurprisingly given the battles in which his regiment had been involved.

Leopold war injuries 18 06 1918
Source Verlustlisten 1. Weltkrieg, page 24385; Liste: Preussen 1166

Somehow, in the end, Leopold came through all these years of wartime combat, and lived to go home to his family once more.


Peacetime – the 1920s and early 1930s

In 1921, Leopold sent his young son Werner to the grammar school in Beuthen / Bytom – the Staatliches Hindenburg Gymnasium – a humanities grammar school. He must have worked hard and managed to keep his son in school until he gained his final school examinations certificate in March 1930. By summer 1930, he was paying for Werner to attend the University of Breslau to study mathematics and natural sciences.

At some point, the family moved again, from Kottlischowitz bet Tost into Tost (now Toszeg). Adressbuch shows that Leopold had a shop at number 20 on the market square in Tost in 1924 (source Amtl. Adressbuch der Stadt Gleiwitz und der Städte Peiskretscham, Tost und Kieferstädtel, der Gemeinde Sosnitza sowie der Gemeinden des Kreises Tost-Gleiwitz 1924, at the Silesian Digital Library website: sbc.org.pl); however, we do not yet know what date they moved there. There is a photograph of the building below, as it looked when we visited Tost/Toszeg in 2015.

Grandfather Leopold Weissenberg's shop on Tost square
Grandfather Leopold Weissenberg’s shop on Tost square

Following changes to legislation from 1933 onwards, after the election to power of the National Socialist party in Germany, and as a result of more general political and cultural changes that were rapidly gaining pace during this decade, Leopold lost many of his business connections after 1933, and was forced to travel to make sales for two or three companies.

These legal changes will have had far-reaching implications for the family in many ways, as they did for all Jewish families. For Leopold, it meant it was to become increasingly difficult to keep paying for his son Werner to remain at university. For a time, in 1933, Werner had to leave the university, in part because his father was struggling to meet the cost.

The other impact this had on Leopold was on his physical and mental health. Werner writes after the war of the effect on him (the full original and its translation can be found here):

Letter: 2nd November 1960
"My Father, who spent the war time years from 1914–18 at the front and was wounded twice, could not understand the development of events in Germany since 1933 when, in gratitude from the Fatherland, he was captured in 1938. He could not come to terms with the collapse of his outlook on life. In view of his condition, in deterioration of his health, sadly this led to his premature death; in my opinion German officialdom alone was responsible."

At some point Leopold developed a serious heart condition, which these and the ensuing circumstances almost certainly made very much worse. He was forced to continue travelling for work, despite his failing health.


From time to time over the years, while Else would write frequent and lengthy family letters, Leopold would append a short note on the bottom of them, and we have one of these notes from while they were living in Tost, in 1936. It was in response to his son having completed his studies at Breslau.

Tost, 30th May 1936 

Heartiest congratulations from me also, and I am glad that at last you have got it over with. 

In spite of my retirement I was nevertheless worried. 

You can tell us all the details when you get home. 

Your winter sweater, you can place into the box, that way you will have less to carry. 

A healthy au revoir.

Lots of love, Father

The late 1930s

As well as penning notes and letters, Leopold was constantly trying to send extra bits and pieces to his son in difficult times; on 3rd November 1937, he sent him two bottles to squeeze fresh juice into – his mother sends a lemon squeezer at the same time.

In December 1937, for Else’s birthday, he bought her three bars of Palmolive soap. It is clear from letters that he’s also the one doing a lot of the shuttling around, posting letters and packages – presumably to save Else from having to go out on the streets, where it was often unsafe for Jews to be. (There were few places they were allowed to go or to congregate by this time.) The women often seem to post cake to friends and family – they must have had a good way of containing it against damage.


To Gliwice

In August 1938 the family had to move again, and this time they went to a larger town – Gleiwitz (now Gliwice).

4th August 1938 Weissenberg – newspaper notice – see area marked towards the bottom left of the cutting. Source: Jüdisches Gemeindeblatt für Oberschlesien, nr. 15, page 7.

Thursday, 4th August 1938

Jewish Community Sheet for Upper Silesia Nr. 15, page 7

Family News

Newcomers moved from Tost – Leopold  Weissenberg and family.

Just above that highlighted section is another that reads:

Birthday – 2nd August, Frau Hermine Bloch, geboren Kohn.

(Translation by Helga Brown BA Dip. Ed. née Steinhardt)


In Gleiwitz, Leopold and Else lived with Hermine (Else’s widowed mother) in an appartment at 10, Wernickestrasse.

Wernickestrasse, Gleiwitz
Wernickestrasse, Gleiwitz

The online resource Virtual Shtetl is well worth consulting. It has some fascinating information, amongst which is the following demographic table of the Jewish population of the town of Gleiwitz from 1739 to 2002 (extracted here: Demography_002 – Jewish community before 1989 – Gliwice – Virtual Shtetl)

https://sztetl.org.pl/en/towns/g/76-gliwice/100-demography/20735-demography


By the following month, in September 1938, the Weissenberg family were advertising for lodgers – possibly to help pay their own rent.

September 1938 – Weissenberg family – advert for lodger. Source: Jüdisches Gemeindeblatt für Oberschlesien (Gleiwitz), 1st September 1938, number 17, page 5.

Good accommodation – meals included. Pleasant room, use of bath, old gentleman or lady, possibly a pupil or apprentice, rental charge to be negotiated. Apply to Weissenberg, Gleiwitz, Wernickstrasse 10, I.

(Translation by Helga Brown BA Dip. Ed. née Steinhardt)


Below is an image of my grandfather’s Gleiwitz residence card, held on the Centralna Biblioteka Judaistyczna/Central Jewish Library website.

Source and copyright: http://cbj.jhi.pl/documents/558194/
Source and copyright: http://cbj.jhi.pl/documents/558194/

Later in 1938, along with around 30,000 other Jewish men, Leopold was probably arrested during the November pogroms or ‘terror’ (sometimes still referred to as ‘kristallnacht’) and imprisoned, probably in Buchenwald, which is where many of the men from Gleiwitz ended up. At the same time, Werner was rounded up in Frankfurt am Main, where he had been teaching at Philanthropin school, and sent to Dachau.

The only documented source we have so far found that this was likely in Leopold’s case is a testimony written after the war by Werner:

Letter: 2nd November 1960

My Father, who spent the war time years from 1914–18 at the front and was wounded twice, could not understand the development of events in Germany since 1933 when, in gratitude from the Fatherland, he was captured in 1938. He could not come to terms with the collapse of his outlook on life.

We do not know how long Leopold was imprisoned for, and we can’t be sure where, either – that search is still ongoing. Only men between the ages of 18 and 60 were ‘supposed’ to be rounded up, so at the age of 57, he would almost certainly have been caught up in this. Given the content of family letters, he was out before his son, however, who was released from Dachau on 6th February 1939.

On 3rd January, 1939, Leopold had to add ‘Israel’ to his own name, as part of new German legislation to identify Jews more clearly; women had to add ‘Sarah’ (see marginalia in Leopold’s birth certificate at the top of this page and enlarged, below).

Leopold date of death


Letter: 9 January 1939

While his son is in Dachau, the family try to find a way out of Germany – because unless Werner can show that he can leave the country, he won’t be allowed out of the camp.

9th January 1939
9th January 1939


Letter: 1 March 1939

By March 1939 Leopold is still trying to find a way out to the USA for his family. The date of this letter has clearly been mistyped, as the letter itself refers to one written on 9 January 1939 (see above).

I don’t know how Werner came to have these letters in his possession; for some reason his parents seem to have passed them on to him. The second image here is a handwritten note on the back of the letter, which has not yet been translated, but may shed some light on why it has been with Werner’s documents.

1st March 1939, page one
1st March 1939, page one

Note: 1 March 1939

English translation to follow

1st March 1939, note on the back
1st March 1939, note on the back

 


His son’s release from Dachau

When Leopold heard his son had been released from Dachau, he penned the following quick note (see this link for the original full German letter and its English translation) on the bottom of Else’s own hurried letter –

Gleiwitz, 6th February 1939

Also greetings from Grandma who is lying in bed. 

Did you receive my last letter of the 2nd and the money? 

Enjoy your freedom and write in detail soon. 

Your Father

Two days later, Else wrote more fully, and again Leopold appended a short note; he must have written this just after having registered his son’s name with ‘Israel’ added (see Else’s letter on this date). This had to be registered in Berlin.

Gleiwitz, 8th February 1939 

Please be kind and acknowledge the receipt of this letter dear Werner. 

Praise be to God that the time has finally come. 

Much love, Father

Towards the end of the month, on 28 February, at 10.30 in the evening, Else writes again to her son, and again Leopold puts a note at the end –

My Dear Werner, 

I hope you enjoyed the cake and the orange juice. I like it. 

Aunt Frieda was here and I took her to the station. 

I hope you hear from Frankfurt soon. 

Look after yourself my dear. 

Father

A couple of months later, Werner was still needing to leave Germany or be incarcerated again. Else mentions in the last letter that Leopold had been trying to get his son on a ship to Shanghai, but that she had stopped him. However, they all knew that until his emigration was sorted out, Werner had to report to a police station every week, and he remained at risk of imprisonment until he had left the country. Somehow, Leopold must have used some remaining influence, and used some of the family money that must by now have been in short supply, to get his only son out of danger to England.

Leopold certainly seems to have pulled out all the stops to try and find the funds to save his son – and on 2nd March, Else observes that he has now tried to get Werner to Bolivia, but that again she had not been happy with this long-distance solution. In a letter she notes that Leopold is in Tost that day, “he wants to find out if there is anything to be had for us in the distribution of savings. I don’t believe there will be.”

On 5th April 1939, Leopold is having to work on a rest day, despite his poor health – “Frdl, Fathers co-worker, wanted him to work and he couldn’t refuse and they sat in the lounge”. He is also noted as shuttling family back and forth to the post office, and to the station, and seeing people home safely, to Beuthen and elsewhere.

In April, he again wrote a short note on the end of one of Else’s letters – presumably responding to the news that his son had been given a place in Kitchener Camp. The letter from the authorities had been sent to Werner on March 17th, so the dates match, and this was Leopard’s response –

Gleiwitz, 6th April 1939 

My dear Werner 

I was very pleased with your letter and read it at least three times. I was right to say in my letter to you that God will always be there for you. 

Anyway, I wish you much luck and lots of love – 

From your Father

Else writes frequently once their son has gone to live in England, and it is noticeable that Leopold more often writes a little something on the end of her letters at this point. The next one (below) was written in summer 1939 and suggests that perhaps Leopold has been picked up by the police again. Else had written on 20th July, sending love from father and grandmother, so all seems to have been quiet then. However, her next letter, on 27th July, observes:

As your weekly news only arrived today, I wanted to wait before I let you know that father arrived home on Tuesday afternoon at 1.25 after I phoned the appropriate authority in the morning. He is obliged to give evidence of emigration by the 1st of October. On Tuesday morning I collected the required from the assistance board. Frau Wienskowitz, whom you may remember, knew what to do and thought we had a son in England, that perhaps he could make arrangements for us. If that happened I would be very happy.

In the last three days, Sunday and Monday, father is very depressed; he weighs 134 lbs, which is far too little. Aunt Hedel, whom we informed after his return, arrived yesterday to welcome him.

To put this in context, 134lbs is about nine and a half stone. At this stage, then, Leopold weighs less than our smallest daughter, who is immensely fit and runs marathons. There’s no spare flesh on her, yet now her great-grandfather weighed less than she does.

At the end of this letter, Leopold puts one of his short notes (below). After the war, Werner writes about ‘a police action’ that made his father’s heart condition worse, so this is presumably what the following note refers to –

At last I am home. 

They were very strenuous weeks for me. 

How glad I am to be outside. 

I am on tenterhooks to hear your news. 

Your loving father

There is a clear confusion over time here – how would Leopold have sent his love by Else’s letter on 20th July if by 27th July he has only just been released ‘after a few weeks’? He has been told as a condition of release that he must leave Germany by 1st October 1939.


In a letter of Else’s dated 2nd August 1939, she says that Leopold has stopped smoking: “he was only grumpy for the first four days; he was weak but now he is looking better but he still has great problems with his heart. At the moment he is grumbling because I advised you to travel to Dover, so that you could get some money from the Aunt. Perhaps I am right in this case. Someone told him that Dover is 200 miles from the Kitchener Camp. I don’t think so.” My grandparents sound to have had a wonderful and very ‘married’ relationship!

This letter also mentions Leopold selling items that friends leave for them when they manage to emigrate – ” decent gas cooker, a bean cutting machine, an electric iron and a wine container for 200 bottles … in addition to other small articles”. Bearing in mind that Jews were not allowed to work formally at this point, such exchanges and goodwill will have been a vital means of survival. Even if he could have worked, it sounds as though grandfather was at this point too ill to do so consistently: “Father is not working yet. It is difficult for him in the heat.” They take in lodgers, and Else sometimes mentions the terms and something about the characters, but no real detail.

In the letter that follows, the usual family format is reversed. Leopold writes to his son one quiet afternoon while the women of the house are sleeping. It is clear from what he says that his health is deteriorating, yet while mentioning it, he also moves the subject along quite quickly. It is noticeable that the businessman and traveller is very much missing his travelling and their previously sociable life. More than anything, he strikes me as lonely, and he longs for some news from his son.

Gleiwitz, 12th August 1939 

My Dear Werner, 

I have just read in the Jewish Paper that the school has opened a branch in England and I am enclosing the extract for you. 

Have you written to Berlin about this and have you received a reply? 

Mother has just retired for her afternoon sleep, as has Grandmother. 

I went to work this week on Tuesday and Wednesday and returned on Wednesday at 4pm with pain in my heart and thought that was the end. 

The imprisonment probably provided me with the last rest; in spite of this, I will start again on Monday. I don’t know whether I will be able to keep it up. 

Did someone called Levisohn give you greetings from me? I worked with him and also with Neulander and Rosenthal. 

It is a great shame that you were not able to speak to Bujals, they were pleasant, kind people; unfortunately, the authorities released me too late to be able to converse with them. Now I know nothing about life, as we don’t go anywhere. 

Write very soon and in detail. 

Much love from Grandma, Mother and me – 

Your loving Father. 

Enclosed – newspaper article and reply coupon.

On 17th August 1939, Else writes again; Leopold has now been trying to get himself and Else out of Germany, to Shanghai. Again, her husband’s heath is on her mind: “Because of the bad weather Father has only just been able to resume his activities. Hopefully, he will be able to carry on with them. You will, meanwhile, have received his letter with the two enclosures.” With this, she refers to the letter above, but I have not found a second letter from around this date, and it’s possible it didn’t arrive in England.

Only a couple of weeks later, on September 1st, 1939, German troops invaded Poland, marking the start of the Second World War.


World War II

After this, it starts to become harder to get letters through, and of course, Werner is soon in the British Army, and moving about. After this point, it seems clear that his parents’ attempts to contact him are not always successful until some time later – and his own letters back to them seem to go astray too – not surprisingly under such circumstances. Also not unsurprisingly, Leopold and Else are very worried when they are unable to reach their son.

On 5th February 1940, Else writes to a family friend who is living in England, begging her to show her letter to Werner and get him  to write back. He had written for Else’s birthday, in the middle of December, but they have not heard from him since. It should be noted, no such letters are in Werner’s collection here, so we must assume that they never arrived with him.

On the end of this letter, hoping it will reach his son, Leopold writes –

My dear Werner, 

My heartiest congratulations and all the best. 

I hope we all receive some sign of life from you. 

Celebrate your birthday joyfully. 

From your loving Father

On 13 March 1940, Else writes that Leopold has had to stay at home for five days, “The house is very exposed, that is why it is so draughty, and there are no rooms that are heated below ours.” Conditions are clearly worse in the cold weather, but made worse still by the family’s deteriorating living conditions: “We had an extra special benefit since the beginning of January – a pipe in the yard; we have to fetch water from the villa – most of the time our lodger fetches it, which is most kind of him, as Father can’t carry anything so heavy.”

Towards the end of April 1940, Leopold is travelling again, somehow. He is managing to cross the Swiss border – which one would have thought was nigh on impossible during the war, especially for Jews.

Anyway, the next letter is addressed to his son from his friend’s home in Zurich –

Zurich, 24th April 1940 
Ettlinger 
Zurich Pestalozzistrasse 35 

Werner Weissenberg 
Kitchener Camp 
Richborough Kent nr Sandwich 

Dear Werner, 

Your letter of the 22nd February arrived soon after that of the 17th March, so we had the pleasant surprise of two lots of news in a short space of time. I have left myself more time for replying to the last letter than usual, partly because of lack of time, partly because I didn’t feel like writing.
 
As for that, you can imagine my delight, when the latter arrived, at seeing your handwriting. To be sure, I would have loved to see you personally now we have Passover, or at least more chance of that. Because this is impossible, the Festival spirit is too short, but you probably won’t miss what you never had abroad. 
This morning the last two letters from the Aunts arrived. They were delighted with them and send you greetings. Aunt H. received, after a year’s silence, a card from her doctor. She was so pleased with it she is replying by Airmail. 

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 the house of Nebel, in a room on the 3rd floor. The rest of the furniture is partly on the floor and partly with Mrs Adler. Uncle Kurt will try to come here. 

From the Philanthropin, Dr Henry Phillips has died. After a space of a year a serious illness befell him, so it is said. He was employed there for ten years. 

I don’t have any other news to write but I must tell you that Ruth has said she would rather spend the day cooking and baking, and Ilse added that she would like to be a Professor. It is very much unlikely that her wish will be granted. The child is most studious and wants to emulate her “Ideal”. 

Do you have Spring? Fourteen days ago we still had the heating on. Now it is 23 degrees in the shade. Our water and gas is functioning again; that’s the main thing. 

Many regards and best wishes. 

Your Leopold

I think what follows is the last letter from Leopold to his dear son Werner. Written in May 1940, Leopold speaks quietly of a family being torn apart. Kurt is having to move (to Krenau ghetto, we now know) with his wife and daughters – including Ruth who loves to bake, and Ilse who wanted so much to emigrate with her uncle Werner. He did try to get her a place out to the USA, but in the end didn’t even manage to get himself there. She had been saving up her money to be taken along with him – it’s heartbreaking all over again, sometimes, reading these things. We know the date on which this letter was written, because Leopold mentions that it is Fedor’s birthday. Presumably at this point Leopold is again away from home trying to earn some money, as he mentions receiving a letter from his wife.

The poignancy of Leopold’s words here – “it poured in streams at Sunday’s farewell in Stromen, like a year ago on that memorable day when we also made our farewell. So insanely fast the time goes. Will we see each other again?” – they could have been found in Eliot’s The Wasteland – are made all the more so with the knowledge that this was the final letter of Leopold’s to reach his son before he died a few months later.

To Werner Weissenberg 
Kitchener Camp, Richborough/ Kent, 
nr Sandwich 

Dear Werner! 
Thank you very much for your letter of 6 May, which I received 2 days ago.

You should know above all that we are all reasonably healthy. 

On Sunday, 19th March, I had to accept Uncle Kurt’s farewells because he is to be moved away [unbekannt verzogen - moved to an unknown destination] with his family. Now we wait with tension/stress for the first message from the folks Of your well-known uncle, who lived there a little earlier, writing something, quite satisfied, we dare therefore probably expect a similar to ours. 

Bertl S. also came to the farewell for just over an hour; in about 14 days they will take away her mother and sister. 

Hannele has become a large, strapping girl, while Ilse is the next biggest, but slim, with a fine face. 

Incidentally, it poured in streams at Sunday’s farewell in Stromen, like a year ago on that memorable day when we also made our farewell. So insanely fast the time goes. Will we see each other again? 

You know, when the year was nearly by, I caught the longing [yearning] becoming great inside myself, and now I must resign myself to the aimlessness [purposelessness] of such. 

Today is also uncle Fodor’s birthday; Betty had just one short message, that she was fine. Heinz and Margot have also nothing to complain about; they have for weeks not been in contact; we know of them only indirectly. 

The aunts are well and busy as ever and aunt Hedel particularly complains very much when nothing comes from you. 

Only be healthy. 

There I must leave you, dear boy, with affectionate sincere greetings. 

Oh yes, from Else W. I also had another letter; it gives me very warm greetings. 

So, good luck, 

Your Leopold.

Else writes again to Werner on 10th February 1941, observing that Leopold is “constantly under the doctor’s care because of his heart”. She also notes that he is about to turn 60 this year. By April, she notes, Leopold’s ‘condition’ varies with the weather, yet, still he has to work, so that they can stay in their flat and have food on the table. She mentions him taking two days ‘in’ for Easter. In an undated letter written shortly after the birth of Margot and Heinz’s little girl Reha (who was born on 31 March 1941), she notes to a cousin, of her husband, “There is little good to tell you about Uncle Leo, whose state of health leaves much to be desired”. However, he is clearly still travelling around, trying to look after everyone, and especially his dear sisters, Clara and Hedwig – Else mentions him visiting them in Beuthen again, as she often does. This is the last time Else gets a letter through to England, and no more news arrives about Leopold until the following year. Werner does not hear about his father’s death until April 1942. Shocked that he has not heard, a family friend has happened to mention it in correspondence from Switzerland.


After the war, Werner wrote of Leopold: “My father died in the year 1941 after a police action, as far as I can judge from the, at that time necessarily brief indications – he had a weak heart, which worsened into heart disease, and this caused his premature death.”


My grandfather, Leopold Weissenberg, died on 18th August 1941, in Hindenburg (now Zabrze).


In the ITS, there is a single unindexed card that refers to grandfather, in the section for the Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland. It is a Gleiwitz synagogue record of his death.

Leopold Weissenberg - Gleiwitz synagogue
Leopold Weissenberg – Gleiwitz synagogue record of death

To date, we have not managed to find out where grandfather was buried, although we now know that he died in Hindenburg: it was inserted on his birth certificate, enlarged below.

IMG_1977
Leopold: date of death

Death certificate

On our recent visit to Poland in May 2016, we visited the archive at Hindenburg / Zabrze, below.

Archive at Hindenburg / Zabrze, May 2016
Archive at Hindenburg / Zabrze, May 2016

Although we arrived past closing time, they very kindly agreed to find our document, as we knew the exact details from Leopold’s birth certificate (see image above). We very much appreciated this, as we didn’t have very much time available on our short visit from the UK.

Leopold Weissenberg: death certificate
Leopold Weissenberg: death certificate

As ever with the German documents, this actually gives us quite a lot of information – some of it confirming things we knew from other sources – some of it new.

From the top, the record confirms that Leopold Weissenberg, kaufmann (merchant), of Jewish religion, died in Hindenburg on 18 August 1941 at 10.30pm. It confirms his address as Wernickestrasse 10, Gleiwitz. It tells us that he died in St Josef’s krankenhaus (hospital).

The document goes on to state that Leopold was born on 26 February 1881 at Peiskretscham (now Pyskowice), and that his father was Albert Weissenberg – an Eisenbahngehilfe – a helper on the railways. It confirms the number on Leopold’s birth certificate as 31/1881.

His mother is given as Bettina Weissenberg, geb. Pinoff, who died in Beuthen / Bytom.

The record then goes on to tells us that Leopold was married to Elsbet Sara geb. Bloch, living at the same address in Gleiwitz. It gives the wrong year of birth in the margin – as 1883, instead of 1882 – these kinds of errors are not uncommon in such documents and can cause confusion.

It states that this was recorded in writing by the civil officer in charge at St Josef’s hospital on 18 August 1941, represented by [signature].

The final section gives cause of death: severe heart failure, liver congestion, and oedema. He was attended by Dr Drathschmidt.

Finally, it tell us that the marriage of the deceased took place on 29/10/1910 in Kottlischowitz (formerly Keßlern) Registry office, Kreis (region) Tost Gleiwitz, nr. /1910. I have now added this information into the chronology of Leopold’s life, above.


St Josef’s hospital, Hindenburg – an extraordinary story

As well as all the interesting pieces of family information this document provides, it also suggests something extraordinary happened here, for the times in which Leopold died.

The document states that the hospital knew Leopold was Jewish – and this was at a time when Jews had no rights to speak of, although regional laws varied from region to region. All German Jews had had to carry ID cards since 1937/38, identifying them as Jews.

Furthermore, in Düsseldorf, for example, Jews had not been allowed into hospitals since 1935: this was now 1941. And although I don’t yet know what the legal situation was in Hindenburg by this stage, it seems unlikely that it would have been common practice for Jews to be allowed into hospitals. There were some Jewish hospitals, but this was not a Jewish hospital.

In fact – and here is what makes this extraordinary – during the Second World War this was a German military hospital, as far as I have been able to ascertain from the website of local architectural historian (siles-ja.blogspot). It’s a detail I intend to follow up in due course.