Saturday, April 24, 2021

a Jewish ancestor

I’m currently reading the excellent family history memoir “House of Glass” by Hadley Freeman, about her grandmother and her siblings - a Jewish family who fled pogroms in Poland in the early 1920s and settled in Paris, only to be confronted with antisemitism and persecution again, two decades later. This inspired me to dig up what little we know about my own very small fraction of known Jewish ancestry (1/128, i.e. one of my 5-times-great-grandparents), in the hope that maybe somebody out there knows more about this than I do.

So, what we know is that on the first of May, 1768, a Jewish man born in 1744 or 1745 was baptised in the Lutheran faith at the church of Idstein (dukedom of Nassau) and took the name of Karl-Henrich Weyland. Although we don’t know his birth name or family, all the details of the ceremony suggest that he came from a well-respected local family. At the time, there were only four Jewish families in the town, who are known by name because they had to register and apply for a Schutzbrief (SB). Note that they didn’t have heritable family names yet, so the paternal line is indicated by the son putting his father’s given name behind his own (not sure if daughters did the same, I've seen many referred to only by their given name). Among these four families, based on the age match, my father identified as the most likely parents for Karl-Henrich:

Jakob Isaak, Krämer in Idstein, SB um 1744, + 1776
Libbet oo um 1744, + 1804 in Idstein.

Jakob’s parents are also recorded in Idstein:
Isaak Lazarus, seit 1731 (SB) Viehhändler in Idstein, * Usingen + 1761 Idstein.
Bele + 1761 Idstein

And Isaak’s father Lazarus came from the nearby town of Usingen

Many of the other Jewish residents of 18th century Idstein appear listed here but don't fit our age requirement.

Both the synagogue and the Jewish cemetery of Idstein are of more recent date. Jakob and his family would have been buried at the nearby village of Esch, where no gravestones survive.

And at this point we’re stuck, although getting stuck in the late 17th century isn’t so bad, as only very little information survived the 30 years war (1618-48), so we’re already quite close to that event horizon.

Idstein - Merian (Wikipedia)

The mystery that puzzles me even more though is: Did the five daughters of the station master (including my great-grandmother, see the Kauer clan) really not know that they had a Jewish-born great-great-grandfather? My father, who knew three of the five sisters really well (his grandmother plus two sisters who remained unmarried and close to his parents and grandparents) insisted they didn’t know.

But I have my doubts. They knew a lot of things about other ancestors in the same generation as Karl-Henrich Weyland. Just next to him in my ancestry list is Maria Magdalena Hebel, and they knew that she was a first cousin of the writer Johann Peter Hebel. I am increasingly inclined to think that they knew that very well, and that it became a buried secret after 1933, and was never mentioned again. Chances are that there are other cases of Jewish ancestry as well which were very hastily swept under the rug.

Conversely, if you take it as given that people in Nazi Germany swiftly forgot their Jewish ancestors, how many more could I have that were similarly forgotten? Karl Henrich Weyland is perfectly placed to be forgotten about (without the need to falsify records), as he’s just outside the depth to which Nazi authorities asked people to prove their non-Jewish genealogy. So his generation is essentially where Jewish “dark matter” begins.

In his generation, I have four other ancestors who are known by name but seemed to come out of nowhere, just like he did before my father found his adult baptism record. These are Franz Josef Kaiser (an Austrian infantry officer who had a daughter born in Grötzingen, near Karlsruhe, in 1794), and then three ancestors of the Düsselmann family at Krefeld, namely Henrich Düsselmann, Anna Elisabeth Siepmann, and Christophel Wilsberg. These I should perhaps investigate. And then there are 52 people missing completely, so I have no handle to grab them by. Depending on how often conversion happened in the 18th century, I could conceivably have more than 1/128 Jewish ancestry – although I suppose in the Christian population, the converts were a small fraction, so I wouldn’t expect to have more than one or two other examples in my family tree.

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