Leopold – finding my grandfather

Grandfather Leopold Weissenberg: What information did I begin with?

My grandfather’s name and date of birth, and the assumption that he had abandoned his family to their fate, ending up in Switzerland, and at some point dying there (these assumptions about grandfather turned out to be quite wrong). I had also been told that my father‘s relationship with his father was very poor, which also turned out to be quite wrong, as letters indicated once translated: father and son were clearly very close indeed.

Update: 18 March 2015

Where to begin?

My family have an affectionate nickname for me: The Google Queen. This week, while Googling away quietly into the wee small hours, trying against all hope or expectation to find some new information online, as our family records in the ITS were coming to an end, I came across the most extraordinary family tree that another genealogical researcher has put together over the last few decades. It came up in my search because they also have some Weissenbergs in their family. I had a quick look, but didn’t see any names I recognised, and I was about to move on when I saw some links thoughtfully provided for others by the website’s owner.

What caught my eye was one that read ‘Breslau synagogue community address list’, c. 1930.

Of course, this was around the time that my father might have been in Breslau at university, was my first thought, so I looked up his surname – and ‘Werner Weissenberg’ appeared: the first time I’d ever seen a reference to his name in all my searches among many thousands of names.

However, the birth date was ‘all wrong’, and in my excitement I just assumed that … well, that the birth date was all wrong … and duly used the contact button to inform the website owner. For Britsh readers, it was a bit like that old Morecambe and Wise sketch with ‘Andre Preview’ – ‘all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order’: some of the numbers in the DoB were correct, so in my beginner’s excitement I just assumed an error of transcription or something similar.

Anyway, I eventually realised my error and that this WW was clearly one of two brothers and their parents; I then also found an envelope with my father’s address in Breslau, so that put paid to that bit of excitement. My next thought was to wonder whether this family with its two boys survived: only in this context is that among one’s first thoughts, I suspect.

In the meantime, on the same genealogy site, I found a link to another website that lists Gleiwitz residence cards, and here I found the first external reference I have ever seen to my grandfather. And this time it was kosher.

I can’t describe what it was like – like being able to hold grandfather Leopold’s hand down the decades.

I had, I think, pretty much given up hope of ever finding a link to his life outside the letters we have here.

So, before I go any further: here it is – an image of my grandfather’s Gleiwitz residence card, held on the Centralna Biblioteka Judaistyczna/Central Jewish Library website.

Leopold Weissenberg, Gleiwitz
Source and copyright: http://cbj.jhi.pl/documents/558194/

This gives us some new pieces of information – grandfather’s place of birth, as Peiskretscham. So this will be worth following up with a view to trying to locate other family in that area, as I don’t have any information to date about our Weissenberg branch of the family tree, except as regards my father and grandfather. It gives me confirmation of his date of birth, which is always good to get. (Sometimes it is *almost* as good to get confirmation as it is to find something new.) It also tells us that grandfather was registered as living in Gleiwitz, despite his travels to Switzerland for work. It tells us his profession (beruf), although I need someone to translate this for me, as I can’t read the writing in order to use Google translate. I’m also puzzled about what looks to be a date under ‘nationality’/staatsangehörigkeit. The card gives grandfather’s specific date of death, which I have now inserted at the top of this page (previously, we had only had an estimate of September 1941, which I believe is all my father ever knew). This might make it possible for me to find a death certificate, or a gravestone, or other information. We now know when the family moved to Gleiwitz: 8 August 1938, to 10 Wernickestrasse, which is another confirmation; and finally, this card confirms that they were previously living in Tost.

So, the next thing that happened was that, having got in touch with the genealogist I mentioned above, it turned out he has stacks of information from many decades of his own searching in this geographical area, and within a day he had very kindly sent me some infomation that enabled me to trace my grandfather’s shop in Pless.

In the images that are shown on Leopold Weissenberg’s page, this was further confirmed. The first is an advertisement for a shop called C. Montag’s, which Leopold seems to have run for a short while; the second image is a list of businesses, with the owner/inhaber listed as one Leopold Weissenberg! The black and white picture is from 1910, and these were sent to me by Slawek Pastuszka – a local historian, who saw the website and very kindly sent me these items by email. It shows the shop as it would have looked around the time that my father’s family were living here.

This kind of business goes some way to explaining our grandparents’ elegant appearance in photographs when they were a young couple, and to explaining the items with which my father travelled to England (for more on this, see Werner‘s page).

I can’t adequately express my thanks to Peter for his website links and the initial extra infomation he passed along – and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the elation and gratitude I felt when I saw these confirmations of my grandfather’s life, which were also our first externally located records of life, rather than of death. Thank you for your generosity of spirit and time, and for passing on some of what you have learned to a beginner.

Update: 8 June 2015

We have just returned from our first visit to Poland – to the area that was Upper Silesia when our family lived there.

I had learned from email exchanges with the archivists at Gliwice records office that they held my grandfather Leopold’s birth certificate. This was significant because it would give us the names of his parents (my other set of great grandparents), which in turn might give us a way to discover whether he had any siblings. From the family letters, we have long known that there were three ‘aunts’ who were so far unaccounted for – we didn’t know whether they might be sisters of Leopold, or the wives of Fedor and Kurt … so I was looking forward this opportunity to go and collect the record of birth – and to see where else it might lead us. My husband recalled hearing that Werner had lived with two ‘maiden aunts’ at some point, so we were keen to know who they might have been.

This was also my first opportunity to visit Pless, where my father was born. The records office here was likely to hold my father’s German birth certificate, and we would be able to see grandfather’s shop while we were there.

To assist our searches, we were met at Pless by Malgosia, who has been helping me by email for many months now. Without her help over the following two days, I would probably have come away with nothing. I don’t speak German – the language of the records – let alone Polish – the language spoken by many of the archivists – so without her dedicated help this visit would have been a non-starter. For an account of our visit and its finds, please follow this link.

August 2015: The ITS reveals another record card

I was recently carrying out an ITS search on someone else’s behalf when I came across a section I hadn’t realised was there: some records of the Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland. As I was scanning through this I discovered the only record for Leopold that exists in the ITS, which is a Gleiwitz synagogue record of his death, which can be viewed on Leopold’s page.