They Never Thought I’d Find Them but I Did!


When people ask what I do for a living, I tell them “I read minds”.  This is not far from the truth.

The case of the Chedidi’s* stands out in this regard.

In about 2007, the international investment company I worked for gave me an assignment to find a couple named Jack and Lily Chedidi* who were owners of unclaimed property in the US. Their last known address was in London. My only responsibility was to return the phone number of the couple or their next of kin, leaving the business end of things to the investment company.

Easy enough.  I searched the UK phone books on www.numberway.com, to discover there was only one listing for a Chedidi in the UK.  So I called him. Unfortunately, he knew nothing about Jack and Lily.  Rats!

Since the property was in the US, I searched the US white pages and public record websites for Chedidi.  There were three, and even though they were never listed all together at the same time, pairs of Chedidi’s shared either a phone number or an address with each other at one time.  I figured that they must be relatives.

But alas! All the phone numbers were either disconnected or belonged to a non-Chedidi. Doing a Google search, however, I found a work number for a Chedidi who owned a computer company in Arlington, VA.  I dialed the number.  A young man answered the phone.

programmer-working-on-the-computer-free-vector-3734“Hello,” I said.  “May I speak to Michael Chedidi?”

“Speaking,” he replied.

I told him my name and that I was searching for Jack and Lily Chedidi.  Would that be his family?

“I don’t talk about my family,” he replied.  I was stunned.

“Oh, I am sorry to disturb you,” I said.  “It’s just that your name is so unusual that I thought you might be related.”

“It’s not unusual where I come from,” he said.  “But I don’t talk about my family.”

“Have a good day, ” I said.  A bit rattled, I hung up.  I had exhausted all my Chedidi’s.  Now what?

“Hmmm,” I thought to myself.  “Not unusual where I come from… I wondered where he comes from?”

Numberway LebanonSo I Googled Chedidi to find it is a common name in Lebanon.  Back to www.numberway.com for a lookup in the Lebanese phone book.

Bingo.  There was only one Jack Chedidi listed in the book.  I got my self together and took a deep breath, not knowing what a phone call to Lebanon would be like.

I dialed the number, mentally tuning my mind to French, just in case.  I don’t speak Arabic, so nothing could be done about that.  No problem with English.

“Hello,” a woman answered.

[Strategy kicked in here].  “May I speak to Lily?”, I said in English, figuring that if I could identify her as part of a Jack and Lily combination, I’d have it.

“Speaking,” she said.

Chocolate Layer CakeDouble Bingo!

I explained that I was calling because there was property in the US that someone wanted to speak to them about.  Then I rang off.  I turned the Chedidi phone number into the investment company and that was it.

As the say in Arabic “قطعة من كعكة” – a piece of cake!

 

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An Adventure in International Unclaimed Property – Seeking The Von-Fiorellos


Hyatt Regency, Merida, Mexico

The Hyatt Regency, Merida, Mexico

About ten years ago, when Andy and I were in Merida, Mexico on business, I received an email from the international investment company I worked for.  They had been trying to find owners associated with unclaimed property, but without success.  They contacted me, as usual, for a last ditch effort in solving the case.  The names they gave were Ernest and Maria Von Fiorello* with an address in Innsbruck, Austria, dating back perhaps ten or more years.

From what I was told, the company had sent a Private Investigator to the old address of the Von Fiorello’s, hoping that the neighbors would be able to tell them where the couple had gone.  The PI had also gone to Innsbruck city hall to find out if there were any records relating to the couple’s residency there.  Unfortunately, he had come up empty-handed and there was a deadline to meet just a few days away.  They needed a specialist on the case so they called me.

Since Andy and I were in Mexico, I had to be creative in pulling together resources that I did not have that would otherwise have been available in the US. At the time, we did not have internet access at the Hyatt where we were staying, so my first stop was the internet cafe across the street, where I would be able to check the international phone books online.

Map of Innsbruck and Ortisei - Marked UpThinking about it for a moment, I realized that the name “Von Fiorello” sounded more Italian to me than Austrian.  Since Innsbruck is only about 30 miles from the Italian border, I wondered if the couple could have moved to Italy.  Searching the Italian phone book on www.numberway.com, I came up with an Ernest Von Fiorello living only about 70 miles away near a town called Ortisei*, in the province of Bolzano.  Hmmm… The name was not common.  What was the chance I had the right Ernest?

Of course, my cell phone would not work in Mexico.  So my second stop was Oxxo, a small convenience store across the street where I bought a Mexican phone card. We headed back to our hotel, where we squeezed into one of the hotel’s public phone cabins in the lobby.  Calling from our room would have been too expensive, and a public phone on the street would have been too noisy without any privacy.

Convenience Store across from the Hyatt Regency in Merida - LargerHaving to call Italy many times in the course of unclaimed property work and heir searching, I have since taught myself enough Italian to explain the reason for my call and who I was looking for.  But at the time, my vocabulary was rudimentary:  “Hello”, “Please”, “Thank You”, “Lasagna” and “Goodbye”.  For linguistic insurance and to make things a bit more friendly, I looked up how to say “My name is Colleen”.

I was a little nervous dialing the Von Fiorello’s phone number in Ortisei.  A man picked up the phone. “Il mio nome è Colleen” I said. “Ernest and Maria Von Fiorello, per fervore?”, I asked, curling my voice up on the end to make them understand it was a question – a trick to avoid needing to use more words I didn’t know.  I was prepared to add “Innsbruck” in a pinch, since it is probably pronounced the same way in Italian.

calling_cards_store displayThe man said something I didn’t understand, but it seemed that he agreed his name was Ernest.  Then he added “Maria Marta”.

Wow, I thought. I don’t know Maria’s middle name.  How can I know if she was Maria Marta or Maria Elizabeth or Maria anything else?

“Maria Marta”, the man repeated several times.  “Maria Marta”.

I froze for a moment, at an impasse.  This really could be the right Von Fiorellos, but how could I know without further research on Maria’s middle name?

In a much needed moment of inspiration, it struck me what he was trying to explain – “Maria marta” = “Maria died”.  I realized I probably had the right couple.

I quickly emailed the investment company the current address and phone number for Ernest and Maria Von Fiorello. Missione compiuta!

The search involved four countries – the US (international investment company), Mexico (me), Austria (old address of the Von Fiorello’s), and Italy (new address of the Von Fiorello’s).  Not too bad for a day’s work.  This was not my most challenging search for the company, but it stands out as one of the most clever and satisfying.  Bravo!

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Who Am I? What is My Name? – Part VIII – Gertrud and Leo’s Trial


Das Bundesarchiv Trial Records

According to Widerstand in Berlin gegen das NS-Regime 1933 bis 1945 (Resistance in Berlin against the Nazi Regime 1933-1945), Leo and Gertrud Spiro were put on trial in Berlin in 1938.  Trying to locate their court records, I contacted the editor of the book Dr. Gunter Wehner, a scholar of the German resistance.  Dr. Wehner is 83 years old, and a well-known researcher at the Bundesarchivs (National Archives) in Berlin-Lichterfelde where the records are archived.

WiderstandinBerlin Leo and Gertrude Spiro_1 p1

Leo and Gertrud’s Trial Records

Dr. Wehner offered to help by locating trial records in the Bundesarchiv that mentioned Leo and Gertrud, including those included in his book. Although we would have to go through official channels to order copies of what he found, Dr. Wehner told me he would review the information included in each file he discovered. The Archives only copies whole files, even if the subjects of interest are a small part of what is available; having Dr. Wehner look at the files first would allow us to know which ones were worth copying.

A few weeks later, I was notified by Herr Andreas Grunwald, Archivist at the Bundesarchiv, that Leo and Gertrud were mentioned in quite a few of the Archive’s collections, but after some research by Dr. Wehner, it was discovered that this was incorrect. Only one collection included information relevant to the Spiros – the court proceedings of the resistance fighter Margarete Kaufmann who was arrested in 1936 for publishing and distributing illegal literature.  The Spiros were arrested on 20 June 1936 as her associates.

The Kaufmann court proceedings consisted of over a thousand pages. Fortunately Dr. Wehner discovered that only file R 3001/ 181466, dated 25 March 1937 – Berichtsakte des Generalstaatsanwalts bei dem Kammergericht in Berlin an das Reichsjustizministerium (Report of the Attorney General at the Court of Appeal in Berlin at the Ministry of Justice) – included information on Leo and Gertrud.

Scanned images of the court proceedings arrived in my mailbox the day I was leaving for a trip to the East Coast.  The folder was a goldmine of new information about the Spiros.

002002

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
The date of the proceedings was 25 March 1937.  The individuals on trial were:

  1. Friedrich Cyrus, laborer, resident of Schulzendorf, Kries Teltow, Kieferweg 11, born 17 June 1896 in Berlin; married, no previous record.  Arrested 25 August 1936; on the basis of the arrest warrant issued by the District Court on 25 September 1936 -710 Ge.1362.36- in custody in the Berlin prison on Lehrterstrasse.
  2. Anna Reffert, investor, resident of Berlin-Schoenberg, Templehofer Strasse 11, born 26 Jul 1898 in Rottweil/Wurttemberg, single; no previous record; on the basis of the arrest warrant issued by the District Court on 25 September 1936 -710 Ge.1362.36- in custody in the women’s prison in Barimstrasse.
  3. Franz Vettorazzi, bellhop, resident of Berlin N. 64, Ruckerstrasse 3, born 9 February 1891 in Strehlen (Breslau), single; no previous record.  Arrested 25 August 1936; on the basis of the arrest warrant issued by the District Court on 25 September 1936 -710 Ge.1362.36- in custody in the Berlin-Tegel prison.
  4. David Leo Spiro, leatherworker, resident of Berlin SW. 19, Kommandantenstrasse 55, born 15 March 1897 in Garwolin, Kreis Lublin, Poland; married; no previous record. Arrested on 20 June 1936, released 24 June 1936, re-arrested 22 July 1936; on the basis of the arrest warrant issued by the District Court, on 25 September 1936 -710 Ge.1362.36- in custody in the Plotzensee Penetentiary.
  5. Gertrud Spiro nee Priess, milliner, resident of Berlin SW. 19, Kommandantenstrasse 55, married; no previous record.  Arrested on 20 June 1936, released 24 June 1936, re-arrested 22 July 1936; on the basis of the arrest warrant issued by the District Court on 25 September 1936 -710 Ge.1362.36- in custody in the women’s prison in Barimstrasse.
  6. Elise Benzin nee Bruggemann, tap dancer, resident of Berlin No. 43, Meyerbeerstrasse 5, born 25 September 1886 in Asslerfelde, Kreis Stade; divorced; no previous record.  Arrested 13 July 1936, released again 26 September 1936.
  7. Leo Haedke, driver, resident of Berlin No. 43, 5 Meyerbeerstrasse, born 27 February 1898 in Deutsch-Krone married, no previous record.
  8. Robert Hubner, locksmith, resident of Berlin No. 34, 11 Kochhannstrasse, born 22 October 1888 in Klein Herzberg, Kreis Neustettin, widowed, twice sentenced for theft. Arrested 13 July 1936, on the basis of the arrest warrant issued by the District Court on 25 September 1936 -710 Ge.1362.36- in custody in the Berlin prison on Lehrterstrasse.
  9. Georg Selbiger, salesman, resident of Berlin No. 43, Meyerbeerstrasse 5, born 21 January 1883 in Berent (West Prussia), married, no previous record. Arrested on 20 June 1936, released 24 June 1936, re-arrested 22 July 1936; on the basis of the arrest warrant issued by the District Court, on 25 September 1936 -710 Ge.1362.36- in custody in the Plotzensee Penetentiary.

According to the records, these nine defendants were accused of having prepared to commit high treason in Berlin against the Constitution from 1933 until Summer 1936, by influencing the masses by the distribution of written material.

There is biographical information given for Leo and Gertrud:

The defendant Leo Spiro, a Jew, attended a private school in Warsaw run by his father between the ages of 6 and 14 years old.  After that he worked as a leather worker. After the occupation of the Warsaw by the Germans during the war, he moved to Freiberg, Silesia where he worked in the defense industry.  After the end of the war, he worked in Berlin as a porter. Since 1922 he has worked as a leather worker again.  In 1932 he founded his own workshop.

The defendant was not formerly politically affiliated.  Before its political takeover, he belonged to the union of upholsterers and paperhangers.

The defendant Gertrud Spiro attended her village school in East Prussia.  In 1912, her parents moved to Berlin, where she continued her elementary school education.  After she graduated from the 2nd class, she went to work(?) until she was 18.  After that, she continued her education as a milliner, and later worked from home in this profession until she married in 1923.

The defendant was not formerly politically affiliated.

The two defendants were acquainted with the Communist leader Margarete Kaufmann for some time. Their friendship resulted in many mutual visits, especially since in 1933 Leo and Margarete were found to be distant relatives.  When Margarete Kaufmann stayed at their home, she often discussed political questions with them. During this time, she hinted that she was active with the illegal KDP (Communist Party).  She tried to convince the defendants that Communism was the only right way.

In 1935, as “Emi”-Frau of the Berlin Central District, Margarete Kaufmann had to provide for the accommodation of Communist fugitives. She was assigned to a certain “Anton” by the Emi-Leader of the area, who also went by the alias “Kurt Lewinski”, and who for a while had been in the Berlin Central District.  Margaret Kaufmann brought this man to the two defendants and told them that he was a Pole who was a fugitive who could not register with the police.  The defendants were ready to take him into their house.  That they didn’t know that this was a politically illegal activity is hard to believe, considering their close relationship to Margarete Kaufmann.

In the fall of 1935, an official meeting took place illegally in the apartment of the defendants, during which Anton described a number of allegations against the then Organization Leader Urbschat that had to be discussed. Besides Urbschat and “Anton”, Margarete Kaufmann appeared at the meeting with a man known as “Hans” who served at a higher level in the area. The meeting led to the result that Urbschat quit his position and was replaced by Margarete Kaufmann. Although the defendants did not take part in the meeting, they were aware of it. The defendant Leo Spiro opened the door himself for Hans, and chatted with him in a way that Urbschat had the impression that the defendant was well known to Hans.

In early 1936, Margarete Kaufmann feared that the State Police would organize a search of her house. She entrusted her typewriter to the defendants, who were aware that the machine was used to produce illegal inflammatory publications. At first, the defendants kept the machine at their house, until they were asked by Margarete Kaufmann on 6 June 1936 to bring the machine immediately to the home of the co-defendant Röhrs (Prosecution B). Gertrud Spiro carried out the transfer at noon the same day.  Margarete Kaufmann arrived while she was still at the home of her in-laws the Röhrs. She handed the defendant jewelry and a pawn ticket for a watch, and asked them to keep them safe for her. The reason she gave was that she was afraid of her Aryan boyfriend, by which they assumed that he had betrayed her.

The defendants have confessed to only part of this.

So far, they deny that they were won over by the statements of Margarete Kaufmann and Gustav Urbschat.

*****

There are similar passages that describe the crimes of the other defendants. Later pages in the records give more details about Leo and Gertrud.

In the Name of the German People!

In the criminal matter against:

  1. The leatherworker David Leo Spiro from Berlin SW 19, Kommandentenstrasse 55, born 15 March 1897 in Garwolin, Kreis Lublin, Poland, now in the Plötzensee penetentiary.
  2. The milliner Gertrud Spiro nee Priess from Berlin SW 19, Kommandentenstrasse 55, born 24 February 1899 in Bladiau, East Prussia, now in the Barimstrasse women’s prison,

for preparing to commit high treason.

The following took part in the Fourth Criminal Division of the Appeals Court session of 26 April 1938 in Berlin:

Chariman: Senate President Ministerial Director Jager
Appeals Court Judge Eilers
Appeals Court Judge Halledt
Appeals Court Judge Strecker
Appeals Court Judge von Spoenle

As Associate Judges:

Court Assessor Kaster as the public prosecutor
Court clerk Boeck as recorder

The accused are sentenced for preparing to commit high treason:

David Leo Spiro to three years six months in prison
Gertrud Spiro to two years in prison.

Their civil rights are suspended:

David Leo Spiro for a period of four years
Gertrud Spiro for a period of three years.

This time period shall take into account time already served:

David Leo Spiro – one year six months
Gertrud Spiro – one year nine months

This trial, divided into several indictments, has dealt with the illegal KDP in the subdistrict Berlin Cental. The Communists Margarete Kaufmann, Gustav Urbschat and Willi Riencke have been condemned by the people’s court. Here we address two more defendants, the Spiros, who in 1935/36 were allegedly used by the illegal KDP.

They have given the following information about themselves:

The accused Leo Spiro is a Jew. He attended a private school run by his father in Warsaw between the ages of 6 and 14 years old. After that he worked as a leather worker. After the occupation of the Warsaw by the Germans during the war, he moved to Freiberg in Silesia where he worked in the defense industry. After the end of the war, he worked in Berlin as a porter. Since 1922  he has worked as a leather worker again.  In 1932 he founded his own workshop.  The defendant was not formerly politically affiliated.  Before its political takeover, he belonged to the union of upholsterers and paperhangers for a short time – five or six weeks.

The defendant Gertrud Spiro attended her village school in East Prussia. In 1912, her parents moved to Berlin, where she continued her elementary school education. After she graduated from the 2nd class, she went to work(?) until she was 18. After that, she continued her education as a milliner, and later worked from home in this profession until she married in 1923. Out of this marriage a child was born in 1925. The defendant was not formerly politically affiliated.

The accused, as both have stated, are familiar with the aforementioned Margarete Kaufmann, a Jew. This acquaintance developed in 1933 when Kaufmann visited Leo Spiro’s workshop and asked to have a purse repaired. She came often, and befriended Mrs. Spiro. She used this excuse to visit once or twice a week, although there were times she did not visit at all. Kaufmann was, as she testified, the “Emi”-Frau of the subdistrict Berlin Central. In 1935, she was the head of the organization in this subdistrict, and in the end of September 1935, certainly the Agit-Prop-Leader. She resigned from her post in Berlin Central in November 1935, and in the beginning of 1936 was active with the organization’s publications.  Later she became a field consultant.  She has testified that the accused were not informed about her illegal activities.

The defendants have also declared in the main hearing that they did not know that Kaufmann was an operative for the illegal KDP. This is impossible to believe. While they may not have been individually informed about Kaufmann’s activities, in the course of their acquaintance with her, they must have recognized that she was operating illegally, along with the others she brought to their house. From the beginning of their acquaintance, Kaufmann made the defendants understand that she disagreed with everything that was happening in the Third Reich. She often discussed Jewish issues and she spoke in general about Communism; she was always trying to influence the defendants with these discussions. At the end of 1934 or the beginning of 1935, Kaufmann introduced both defendants to the aforementioned Reinke as her boyfriend under the name “Hans”.  The defendants admitted to all of this in the main trial.

As all the witnesses have testified, Reinke, who was known as “the blonde Hans”, was until the middle of June 1935 the Pol-Leader in the subdistrict Berlin Central, and from the beginning of 1936, Org-Leader in the subdistrict Stettin. He had meetings with a Communist operative known as the “dark Hans” who was a landscaper. In the beginning of January 1935, the dark Hans was brought to the defendants’ house by Kaufmann to drop in at the end of a meeting. Kaufmann explained to him that the defendants were KPD sympathizers. He understood that Kaufmann had informed the defendants about her illegal activities.

During Kaufmann’s activities in subdistrict Berlin Central, the witness was on the average at the defendants’ residence once a week or once every other week. While he was there, he occasionally wrote reports for the illegal newspaper in pencil, while the defendants stayed in the kitchen. In April or May 1935 the witness brought his foreman, the landscaper Hans, to the defendants’ residence. This happened when the witness took Hans with him to the residence of the accused because he was tired of the meetings. The witness agreed with his foreman that in case the meetings failed, they would seek out the apartment of the defendants and come together there. That never happened, however; their two meetings never failed to take place.

The witness had only met Hans once accidentally at the home of the accused. In June 1935 the witness’ activity in the subdistrict Berlin Central came to an end. His successor was at that time a woman named “Grete”. The witness assumed that the landscaper Hans had brought Grete to the residence of the accused. In June 1935, shortly before his departure for Pomerania, he visited the accused to say goodbye. On this occasion, Frau Spiro said that the “tall Grete” had been at their home. From the middle of June 1935, the witness was in Pomerania to visit his relatives. From there he wrote the defendants a letter, in which he told them he was in the hospital. He also told them about the arrests that had happened in his small neighborhood in Berlin. The witness assumed that the letter would be read to Grete or to the landscaper Hans; the purpose of this false information was to be spared from other illegal co-workers. The witness had at that time no desire to continue with illegal activities, but was afraid to say that openly.  After his return from Pomerania, the witness visited the defendants a couple of times, as he says, to chat, once in October 1935 and then again in November 1935.  In November 1935 he accidentally ran into the landscaper Hans at the home of the defendants.  In February the witness visited the defendants to buy a pocketbook for his daughter.  During this visit, he accidentally ran into the landscaper Hans again.  They left the residence of the defendants together. In the street, the witness was brought up to date by Hans about further illegal activities.  The witness finally visited the defendants in March or April 1936, to pick up the pocketbook he had ordered; on this occasion he accidentally ran into Kaufmann.

It follows that from the beginning of 1935 until the year 1936, there was a constant flow of Communists at the residence of the defendants.

*****
The narrative continues for several more pages, but the most important part at the end describes their sentencing:

In determining the sentence it has to be taken into account that Ms. Spiro obviously acted under the influence of Margarete Kaufmann and her husband. Therefore she is given only the most lenient sentence of two years in prison.

The penalty against Mr. Spiro must be much more severe. For him, it should be considered that he is a Jew and foreigner who has carried out extensive activities to the gross detriment of the host nation. Therefore a sentence of three years six months is ruled necessary and sufficient.

The nature of the offense requires the suspension of the civil and political rights of the defendants.

The defendant Mrs. Spiro, who has spoken openly during the main trial, is given full credit for time served since her arrest. In contrast, Mr. Spiro who was very restrained in his testimony, will be credited with only part of the time he served pre-trial.

Issued:

Berlin, May 24th 1938
Rinarer, Secretary of Justice
As registrar of the office of the Superior Court

*****

Summing up, the narrative of Leo and Gertrud’s trial from the BundesArchiv offers a few more clues about Leo and Gertrud and their activities, including:

  1. Gertrud as born in Bladiau in East Prussia.
  2. Gertrud had a sister who was married to a man named Röhrs.
  3. Leo and Gertrud were married in 1923 in Berlin.
  4. Their child (presumably daughter Sonia) was born in 1925 in Berlin.
  5. They were arrested on 22 July 1936 and sent to prison 25 September 1936.
  6. Their trial took place on 26 April 1938, with sentencing on 24 May 1938.
  7. Gertrud’s release date would be 25 September 1938; Leo’s would be 26 April 1940, based on their arrest date, the sentences they were given, and the credit they were given for time already served.

International Traing Service Trial Records

The records from the Berlin Archives had just arrived as I was leaving for a trip to the East Coast, where I was planning to visit the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington DC. I am well-known there by the archivists and staff of the International Tracing Service (ITS).

While searching for information in the ITS, I came across more trial records for Leo Spiro, dating from his arrest in September 1936, his sentencing through his release on 26 April 1940. The ITS documents also include Leo’s vital information, in addition to relevant information about Gertrud.

According to these new documents, Leo Spiro was the son of Abraham Leiser Spiro and Lea nee Graf. As of 31 May 1938, the day Leo signed his personnel form, Leo and Gertrud had a 13-year-old daughter (presumably Sonia) who was living with his in-laws at 176 Brunnerstrasse, Berlin. This was the address of Gertrude’s parents, Friedrich and Maria Priess. This also checks out as the address of an Alfred Röhrs, presumably the husband of Gertrude’s unnamed sister.

It is poignant to see Leo’s signature at the bottom of the form.

david Leo Spiro's Signature

The most important part of this new collection, however, is a response by the Attorney General of the Court of Appeal to a request from Gertrud for clemency for her husband Leo. It reads:

12119813_0_18 12119813_0_19

The Board of the Prison and Detention Center
Brandenburg (Havel) – Görden

Subject:  Clemency for the Penitentiary Prisoner Leo Spiro

Reference:  Request of 27 Jun 1939

To the Attorney General of the Appeals Court

3 July 1939

The Jewish penitentiary prisoner Leo Spiro is serving a prison sentence of 3 years 6 months, less 1 year 6 months time served, for preparing to commit a treasonable act under the above referenced case number. His release date is set at 04/26/1936. In the accompanying petition his wife requests a pardon for Leo Spiro, who is to be expelled from the Reich at the completion of his sentence. His wife was also convicted of preparing to commit treason to 2 years in prison in the same criminal case. In the accompanying petition she asks for a pardon for Leo Spiro, who is to be expelled from the Reich after his sentence is complete.

Spiro has, in obedience to his responsibilities during his present imprisonment, behaved in an orderly manner and performed satisfactorily. Through his offense, he has abused the hospitality granted to him by the German Empire, by supporting the illegal KDP in 1935-1936 with his actions aimed at its violent overthrow. In this respect, any requirement for the granting of a pardon is negated. I therefore reject the request.

Senior Administrative Officer

*****

18 Jul 1939

The Attorney General of the Appeals Court
Berlin W 35, the 18 Jun 1939

Gertrud Spiro nee Priess
in Warsaw
Walicow 7/21

At the request of 23 Jun 1939, I have, after examination of the facts, found no reason to favor a pardon for your husband Leo Spiro. On the basis of my authority, I deny your request.

On behalf of
Dr. Weyermann
Attorney General

*****
There is another letter that describes Leo’s fate once he was released on 26 April 1940:

12119813_0_17Secret Police (Gestapo)
Control Center, Berlin

To the management of the prison and the detention center
Brandenburg (Havel) = Görden

Berlin, 26 February 1940

Subject:  The political prisoner David Leo Israel Spiro
                 b. 15 March 1897, Gorwolin (sic), Kreis Lublin
                 Last residence:  Berlin, Kommandenstrasse 55

According to the communication of 12 February 1940, David Leo Spiro is to be released on 26 April 1940.  

I request that Spiro be sent here to be questioned as against Spiro there are additional charges pending.

***
The pieces of the puzzle are now falling into place. Earlier, through the ITS, we discovered the records of Leo’s imprisonment in the Berlin Plotzensee Prison:

Brandenburg Prison Records _1 Brandenburg Prison Records _2


Inhaltverzeichnis:  Namenliste uber Gefängene des Strafgefängnisses Berlin-Plotensee 1933-1945.  
(Table of Contents: Name list of prisoners of the prison Berlin-Plotensee 1933-1945). Collection of the International Tracing Service, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington DC. Leo David Spiro’s name is the first on the list.

 

We now know for certain that Leo Spiro never left the prison system. As stated above in the letter from the Gestapo dated 26 February 1940, and also noted in the Brandenburg Prison records (see below) when Leo Spiro had completed his sentence in Brandenburg Prison on 26 April 1940, he was transferred to the Polizeigefängnis (Police Prison) in Berlin. As we found earlier, he was then sent to Sachenhausen and after that on 7 August 1941 to Ravensbruck. He final transport was on on 25 March 1942 when he was brought to the Bernberg Euthanasia Camp outside of Berlin, and executed the same day.

Alphabetical list of prisoners serving their sentences at Brandenburg Prison, 1933-1944, Deutsche Dienstelle in Berlin. Collection of the International Tracing Service, US Holocaust Memorial Museum Washington DC. 

Gertrude’s Fate

Thanks to the ITS trial records, we know a lot more about Gertrud’s activities before she appears in the 1941 and 1942 Generalgouvernment directories for Warsaw. We now have her chronology as:

24 February 1899              Born in Bladiau, East Prussia
1911                                       Moves to Berlin with her parents
1923                                      Marries Leo Spiro
1925                                      Gives birth to her daughter Sonia
1929-1931                            Listed with husband Leo in Jewish city directory of Berlin
22 Jul 1936                          Arrested with Leo for preparing to commit treason
25 Sep 1936                         Sent to the women’s prison on Barimstrasse, Berlin
26 Apr 1938                         Sentenced to 2 years in prison, with credit for time served
26 Jul 1938                          Presumably released from prison
23 Jun 1939                         Lives in Warsaw; requests clemency for Leo, still in prison
26 Jul 1939                          Presumed end of three years probation period
1941-1942                            Manages liquor and cigarette shop at 2 Nowiniarska St, Warsaw
1942                                      Lives at 48 Tamka St., Warsaw
11 May 1943                         Arrested with daughter Sonia; taken to Pawiak Prison
24 Aug 1943                        Listed on manifest for transport of 141 women to Auschwitz
25 Aug 1943                        Absent from list of arrivals at Auschwitz

We also have to rule out the Gertrud Preiss (note spelling of last name) who married Stephan Gryczak, as being the same person as our Gertrud. We don’t yet know where our Gertrud was in 1929-1931, but considering she married Leo in 1923, and her daughter Sonia was born in 1925, it would have been hard for her to go to Berlin to have given birth to two sons in 1929 and 1931 with another man. According to the records of the German Court in Warsaw, Gertrud Preiss-Gryczak registered her two boys Zdislaus and Richard in 1937, at the same time our Gertrud was in the women’s prison in Berlin.  The two women cannot be the same person.

Our aim in researching Gertrud Priess-Spiro is to discover the networks she belonged to, who she knew and who she worked with, hoping that somewhere in that network we can find a German soldier who had the courage to try to save a Jewish baby from the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto. Who knows?  Maybe his name was Wenglinski.

Who Am I? What is My Name? Part I – Pnina, Otwoc, and the Kaczmareks

Who Am I? What is My Name? Part II – Pnina, Wolfgang, and the Warsaw Ghetto

Who Am I? What is My Name? Part III – Gertrude and Sonia Spyra

Who Am I? What is My Name? Part IV – Wolfgang and Adele’s Eyewitness Account

Who Am I? What is My Name?  Part V – Gertrude and Sonia’s Escape

Who Am I? What is My Name? Part VI – Our Search for Gertrude Spiro

Who Am I? What is My Name?  Part VII – Gertrude’s Other Children?

Who Am I? What is My Name?  Part VIII – Gertrud and Leo’s Trial

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Calendar for May – August 2016


My calendar will be updated on an ongoing basis

May 18, 2016

7:00 pm
You Will Never Look at Your Old Photos the Same Way Again!

South Bay Genealogical Society
Katy Geissert Civic Center Library
Community Meeting Room
3301 Torrance Boulevard
Torrance, CA  90503

Contact:
Donna Braly
ndbraly@pacbell.net

*****

28 May – June 4, 2016

Lectures at the FHL TBD

Hooked on Genealogy Tour
Salt Lake City, UT
www.facebook.com/HookedonGenealogy/posts/418216061717914

*****

9 June 2016

1:00 pm
The Secrets of Abraham Lincoln’s DNA

Orange County Rotary Club
Grand Catering Events
300 S. Flower St.
Orange, CA  92866

Contact:
Warren Parchan
warrbarr@aol.com

*****

August 12, 2016

10 am
Topic TBD

Sunshine Club
Leisure World
12501 Seal Beach Blvd.
Seal Beach, CA  90740

Contact:
Anna Derby
annaderbylw@gmail.com

*****

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Who Was Joseph Smith – Close Calls and Possible Candidates


Joseph Smith, c 1945

Joseph Smith

We have just a few scraps of information to go on in searching for Joseph Smith’s original identity, many of which are questionable. But we have to make the most of what we have, since that’s all we have.

Joseph always said his birth date was 15 July 1896.  My experience has been that if someone changes his name, he usually keeps his original date of birth, but if he steals someone else’s identity, he is forced to use the date of birth of his victim. In Joseph’s case, we have to assume that he changed his name but not his date of birth; without a birth date, we lack a key search criterion, making the potential pool of candidates nearly limitless.

Another clue is that Joseph’s mother’s name may have been Anna Spivack, the name that Joseph’s son Irwin supplied for her on Joseph’s death certificate.  Her first name Anna is the most reliable information we have, because Joseph requested that his youngest granddaughter be named after his mother.  Of course, we have to take into account variations on the name – she could have been called Anne, Annie, Fannie, or something similar.  And her last name may have only been close to Spivack, perhaps even Litvak; it is common for a capital S to be confused with a capital L.

Joseph gave his father’s first name as either Isaac or Irwin.  Well, what do you think?

And what about his brother Jack who was supposedly in the construction industry?  If Joseph was Jewish, as Morton’s DNA test results indicate, was Joseph’s brother’s real name Jack, or was his real name Jacob and his nickname Jack?  The information about his brother came from Joseph himself as part of the story of the unidentified cousin, Jack’s son, who passed through Los Angeles on his way to serve in the South Pacific in WWII.  Someone surely did pass through Los Angeles, but was he really Joseph’s nephew?  If so, how did this nephew know how to contact Joseph several decades after Joseph had “disappeared”?  Was Joseph still in touch with his family?

Living in the era of “big data”, it is great to have access to so much information online, and to be able to connect with other researchers who can retrieve records for us that are thousands of miles away from where we sit at our computers.  The downside to this, however, is that the amount of data available is so large that we are bound to come across coincidences.  Sometimes it can be simple to recognize one for what it is worth, but in Joseph’s case, how can we distinguish a coincidence from the truth when we are not so sure what that truth is?

Along the way, I’ve confirmed some close calls for Joseph in the 1900 and 1910 census records.  I know they are close calls and not the real thing because I’ve been able to track the “calls” past 1913 using later censuses and military records.

Ancestry family tree of John Joseph Spisak

Ancestry family tree of John Joseph Spisak

One of the most interesting near misses is John Joseph Spisak, born 7 April 1897 in Suterville, a tiny community about 30 miles southwest of Pittsburgh in western Pennsylvania.   His parents were Istvan (Stephen) Spisak and Anna Stefanocski, who emigrated from Hungary in about 1895. Despite the obvious parallels – the initials or first names of his parents, his Eastern European ethnicity, and his middle name – John Joseph can’t be the same person as Joseph Smith. John J appears in the 1920, 1930, and 1940 censuses in Suterville.  In 1920, he is living with his parents; in 1930, John and his wife Florence live next door to his parents. By 1940, John and Florence have already had four of their five children and Anna is listed as a widow. Stephen had died earlier that year; Anna died in February 1941. John J and Florence are buried along with Stephen and Anna and a few other Spisak family members in the West Newton Cemetery in Westmoreland Co., PA.

1920-1940 census records listing John and Florence Spisak, Suterville, Westmoreland Co., PA

Istvan and Anna Spisak Tombstone, Find-a-Grave

A second close call involved another John Spisak.  According to his death certificate, this John Spisak was born 15 Jul 1894 in Pittsburgh, PA.  He was the son of Michael Spisak and Annie Timchak.  There are a few John Spisaks in the census records, but I have not been able to locate this one. I’ve also discovered a few couples named Michael and Ann Spisak from Pennsylvania or Upstate New York, but none who match the parents given on John’s death certificate.

John Spisak’s death certificate.

John Spisack, b 15 Jul 1894, d 6 Jun1949, son of Michael Spisak and Anna Timchak

Fortunately, John’s birth date is confirmed as 15 Jul 1894 by the image of his tombstone on FindaGrave.com. He and his wife Mary are buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery in McKees Rocks, Allegheny Co., PA.  The fact that they are buried in a Catholic cemetery probably also rules him out.  We don’t know if Joseph’s family practiced any religion, but Morton’s DNA test results indicate that Joseph’s parents were Ashkenazi Jewish from somewhere in Eastern Europe.


Still a third interesting possibility was discovered by Flynn Clarke Kennedy.  As she explains:

1900 Census Joseph Smith (line 74) and Irwin Smith (line 84), NY Foundling Hospital

1900 Census Kate Smith and her nephew Joseph, Phildadelphia, PA

I found a possibility: a 15-year old Joseph Smith is listed in the 1910 census living with his Aunt Kate on Nicholas Street in Philadelphia. This would fit if he was orphaned in 1908. She worked as a janitress at the Police Dept. and her nephew Joseph worked as a stock boy at a shoe factory. This Joseph Smith was exactly the right age. His census info was recorded on April 27, 1910, and it listed his age at last birthday as 15, which would be correct because he wouldn’t be 16 until July. Our Joseph married a woman whose nickname is Kate (at least that’s how she’s listed in the 1930 census), he worked at a shoe store, and he would have been 15 years old on April 27, 1910. The Joseph Smith in the 1910 census had an Aunt named Kate, worked in a shoe factory and is exactly the right age. Wow, how interesting. If we could look at the Guardianship records in the Philadelphia County Orphan’s Court, which I’m told is a division of the Court of Common Pleas, under the names Joseph Smith or Kate Smith, we might be able to find more info about Aunt Kate or Joseph, and would be able to eliminate him/them or confirm that this is our Joseph.

Aunt Kate’s Joseph is listed as having been born in Phila., but his parents are also listed as having been born in Phila. If they wanted to hide the fact that they were Jewish, this might be why the places were listed incorrectly. It might be that Aunt Kate wasn’t really an Aunt, just a friend of the family, and didn’t know or that Aunt Kate wasn’t the informant and the informant didn’t know.

William D, Vernon Williams, and Joseph D Smith, sons of William Deets and Alice Smith - Ancestry TreeBased on Flynn’s discovery, I’ve located a Kate Smith in the 1900 census who fits the description of the Kate in 1910.  This Kate was born in August 1865.  She was living with her mother Mary Flynn, Mary’s three grandsons (Kate’s nephews) William D (b Jun 1892), Vernon D (b May 1893), and Joseph D (b Sep 1895).  They were all born in Pennsylvania. Also in the household are Mary’s married daughter Annie D. Anderson, and Annie’s two children John W and Mary S.   This family can be traced back first to the 1880 census through Kate’s mother Mary (and her father W. D. Smith), and her married sister Annie Anderson, and then back to the 1860 census through Mary’s mother-in-law Susan (married to Jos T Smith).  The parents of the three boys are listed on an Ancestry tree as William Deets Smith Jr and his wife Alice.

It’s likely that this Joseph Smith who worked in the shoe factory was not Karen’s grandfather.


There is one additional possibility worth mentioning.  In the 1900 census for the New York Foundling Asylum in Manhattan, there is a Joseph Smith, b June 1896, listed on line 74.  This Joseph would not necessarily be a serious consideration, except that there is an Irwin Smith, b Jan 1897 listed on line 84.

Our Joseph Smith named his oldest son Irwin.

1900 Census Joseph Smith (line 74) and Irwin Smith (line 84), NY Foundling Hospital

1900 Census New York Foundling Hospital in Manhattan, NY

I’ve tried to find a Joseph Smith with this birth date in later census and military draft records, but to no avail.  It is impossible to know if he is the right one.

*****

Finding the candidates listed above depended on searching on names similar to Spivak for Joseph’s mother, or by assuming that Joseph’s name really was Joseph Smith.  Since the 1900 census gives birth months and years, another way to search for Joseph would be to include in the search his assumed birth date of July 1896, and to assume his mother’s first name was Ann (and variations), while leaving his first and last name out.

Unfortunately, this produces tens of thousands of possible candidates, but the number can be drastically reduced to 167 by entering the place of birth for his parents as Russia, Poland or another Eastern Bloc country.  When the search parameters are changed to allow his parents to be born anywhere, but limiting the number of hits by introducing a brother named Jack or Jacob, only 24 possibilities come up, including six with parents from Russia or an Eastern European country who also appear in the first search.

One of the most puzzling of these is Henry Mitzmon, who appears in the 1900 census for Manhattan.  His parents are listed as Barnett and Anna. They stated they had been married for 20 years, yet they only had six children, all under the age of eight, and all of whom appear in the household with them:  Dave (b Feb 1892),  Jack (b Mar 1893), Max (b Sep 1894), Henry (b Jul 1896), Benjamin (b Jul 1898), and Polie (b Sep 1899).

When the family appears again in then 1910 census, their story is different.  Barneth (sic) and Annie now state that they only have three children, all of whom are living with them – and Dave (18), Jack (16), and Max (14).  There is no mention of their three youngest children Heny, Benjamin, and Polie (perhaps Pauline).

There are several other records for Barnett and Annie and their three oldest sons.  In the 1915 New York city directory, David appears living with Barnett at 116 Eldridge St in Manhattan.  In the 1920 census, both Jack and David are living with their parents at 88 Attorney St. in Manhattan. The WWI draft registration cards are available for Dave, Jack, and Max. Although their birth dates are not the same as those recorded in the 1900 census, they are identifiable because all three gave their address as 88 Attorney St. and reported that they had to support their father and mother.  According to FindaGrave and Italiangen.org, Barnett died 21 Jan 1920 and Annie died 14 Jun 1930.  They are buried in Mount Judah Cemetery, Ridgewood, Queens County, New York.

Draft registration records for David, Jacob J, and Max Mitzman

Although these and other records give us the history of Barnett, Annie, and their three oldest sons, their three youngest children Henry, Benjamin, and Polie seem to vanish after 1900.  How could the couple have reported that they had six children, all of whom were living with them on 6 April 1900, and then have changed their story in 1910 to having only three?  What happened to their youngest children, and most importantly, what happened to their son Henry, b July 1896?  Could he have left the family by 1910, only to reappear as Joseph Smith at Fort Slocum on 4 November 1913?

One last effort I will mention is that I’ve also contacted the webmasters at www.italiangen.org, to ask for a search of the New York birth records for possible Joseph candidates.  They were kind enough to send me the list of 255 male and female births they had transcribed for 15 July 1896 for all the boroughs in New York City, but there were no Joseph Smiths on the list and nothing to call out one birth over another.  It will take some time to go through the list, but we will keep trying.

Part I – Who Was Joseph Smith?

 

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Who Was Joseph Smith?


The early life of Joseph Eugene Smith is a complete mystery.  Joseph’s son Morton and Morton’s daughter Karen have researched Joseph for over 20 years, yet they still don’t know who he was.  Hopefully by reading his story, someone may come forward with new insight into Joseph’s so far impenetrable history.

Joseph Smith's Death Certificate, 25 December 1973

Joseph Smith’s Death Certificate, 25 December 1973

Over the years, Karen has gathered an impressive collection of information about Joseph starting with his enlistment in the US Army in November 1913,  yet she has not been able to discover anything about him before that. Although Joseph Smith claimed he was born on 15 July 1896 in Philadelphia, his birth certificate has never been located.  His life prior to WWI is unknown; nothing has been found about his parents and family. Joseph died on 25 Dec 1973 in Los Angeles, taking with him the mystery of his identity.

The few pieces of the puzzle we do have lead us to believe that Joseph’s father’s name was Isaac, and that his mother was Anna Spivac and that she was from New York.  These names were on his death certificate in 1973, but Karen’s uncle (her father’s brother Irwin) filled it out. He knew as much as Karen and her father knew, although when Irwin’s last child was born, Joseph did ask that her middle name be Anna after his mother.

Apparently Joseph once mentioned he had a brother Jack who was in the
construction business and who had a son in WWII.  That son stayed for one night at Joseph’s home in Los Angeles while passing through from the East coast on his way to fight in the South Pacific. The Smith family never saw him again.

Joseph Smith and Kathryn Barkoff were married in Los Angeles on 20 Jun 1926.

Joseph Smith and Kathryn Barkoff were married in Los Angeles on 20 Jun 1926.

Joseph Smith married Kathryn Barkoff in Los Angeles on June 20, 1926.  The couple had been introduced by Kathryn’s cousin, who worked next door to Joseph in downtown LA. As silent as Joseph was, Kathryn was a warm and kind loving woman, upbeat and like an open book.  She could not keep a secret.

The Smiths have written several times to the National Records Center in St. Louis to request copies of Joseph’s military records, but they were destroyed in the archives fire in 1973.  Fortunately, they have Joseph’s personal copies of his two discharge records, dated 24 September 1926 and 25 September 1926, several years after he left the service. Joseph enlisted on 6 November 1913 at the age of 17 at Fort Slocum, NY for a seven year tour of duty. Sergeant Joseph Smith, No R50892, Company I, 28th Infantry was honorably discharged on 14 October 1919 by reason of reenlistment. He re-upped with a demotion to Private First Class and a cut in pay on 15 October 1919 at Fort Zachary Taylor, KY to serve 1 year.  He was honorably discharged on 14 October 1921 at Fort Zachary Taylor, and mustered out at Fort Lewis, Washington State.

Joseph’s First Discharge Certificates dated 24 Sept 1926 (two images to left), and 25 Sept 1926 (right).

Historically there is lot to say about his military career.  Joseph shipped out on June 14, 1917.  He fought in 4 campaigns and 4 battles.  One campaign was the hardest fighting in the Meuse Argonne Forrest. As a Sergeant he would have lead a 12 to to 24 man team, motivating his men time and again to go over the wall to certain death. He was gassed on October 2, 1918 and survived.  He fought along side famous people like Sergeant Alvin York, Black Jack Pershing, Future Generals MacArthur and Patton, US Marine Dan Daily, and Major Charles Whittlesey of the Lost Battalion. He was there during the Armistice 11th day, 11th month, at the 11th hour. He was part of the Big Red One, the oldest fighting force in America. His division returned to America September 5, 1919 and demobilized at Camp Zachary Taylor in Louisville, KY where he reenlisted.  Upon his second discharge in October 1921, when he mustered out at Fort Lewis, he took a bus down the coast to Los Angeles, where he found a job as a salesman at a shoe store in Huntington Park.

Joseph Smith’s Final Pay Statements
Joseph Smith's Social Security Application

Joseph Smith’s Social Security Application

Granddaughter Karen has searched the Family History Library records on FamilySearch.org. She hired an expert from Ancestry.com, but all he could do was to condense and validate what she already had given him.  She purchased Joseph’s original wedding certificate, but he only supplied his parents’ first names.  She purchased a copy of his original application for his SSN from 1936, but he gave his eldest son’s first name Irwin as his father’s name.  According to the 1930 census, his parents are from Germany, on his wedding certificate he says they are from Russia.  The 1930 census also indicates his education only went through the 6th grade.  Karen has written to every county in Philadelphia for a birth record, but without success.

1930 Census, Los Angeles, CA, ED  19-138, Supervisors District No 13, Sheets 12B & 13A

Joseph never spoke one word of Yiddish, he never went to synagogue and he could not read Hebrew.  However he did marry a Jewish woman.

DNA testing has not been much help either.  His son Morton, who is in his 80s, has taken the Family Tree DNA Y-DNA test and found his haplogroup to be RM124 (R2a) which apparently represents only 1% of Ashkenazi men.  His autosomal tests from 23andMe and Family Tree DNA indicate that he is is 98% Ashkanazi.  He has only 2nd-3rd cousin autosomal DNA matches that do not shed light on his family pedigree.

Karen’s father always had a hunch that he could have been an orphan or in foster
care. She has the feeling that he changed his name in 1913 enlisting in the army.  Her father Morton has his own theories:

“Entered the Army in 1913 at age 17.  Why would he do that as the war in Europe hadn’t even started yet.  My guess is that he was in some sort of trouble at the time and had to get away.  The Army would be very convenient.  But because he was in trouble, possibly had a police record, he enlisted with a name like Smith which would be hard to track down.  So he enlisted in November 1913 at Fort Slocum and was discharged October 14, 1919.  He then immediately enlisted and stayed another two years and finally discharged in October 1921.  He must have had good reason for not wanting to leave the Army in 1919, especially having to take a cut in pay and a reduction in rank.  I can only think the police were after him. So he left the Army and wanted to get away from the East Coast as far as possible.  Mustering out was offered at Fort Lewis, Washington and served two reasons.  First, he was able to collect more travel pay and second got him away from Philadelphia or NY where he may have been wanted.  He then took a bus down the coast to LA.  

“There is still some ambiguity about his father’s name and place of birth.  Some say Russia and some say Germany.  Also, some records indicate that his father’s first name was Irwin and others say Isaac.   It could have been Irwin because his father had already passed away when my brother was born.

“The initials of my brother and I are correct.  My middle name begins with an “A” for Anna and my brother’s begins with an “M” for Miriam on my mother’s side.

“I believe his job in the LA area was Huntington Park before he went to work in downtown LA. ”

Karen and her father would love to solve the  mystery of Joseph Smith’s true identity.

Left to right: Irwin Smith, newlyweds Joyce and Morton Allan Smith, parents of the groom Joseph Eugene and Kitty Smith, Los Angeles, CA, 9 Jun 1957

Left to right: Irwin Smith, newlyweds Joyce and Morton Smith, parents of the groom Kitty and Joseph Eugene Smith, Los Angeles, CA, 9 June 1957.


Part II:  Who Was Joseph Smith?  Close Calls and Possible Candidates

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Who Am I? What is My Name? – Part VII – Gertrude’s Other Children?


Holocaust research requires a lot of patience.  It can take years for a new development to occur.  Sometimes it is the result of hard work, and other times, a product of good luck. Sometimes new information will lead you in the right direction, sometimes it will lead you in the wrong direction.  And sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

Last week we received surprising new information about a woman who may be Gertrude Priess-Spiro.  This came to us thanks to Vincent Slatt, Archivist at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM).  On my recent visits to the Museum, I have discussed Pnina’s story with him along with the role that Gertrude played in her rescue from the Warsaw Ghetto, so that he is always on the alert for material that might be helpful to us.

72_1207_0_0_5876_3

District Court Office – Guardianship, Foster Care, Curatorship for Zdislaus Gryczak Richard – geb. 17.3.1929 – geb. 31.5.1931

Vincent explained to me that when he was browsing the USHMM’s newly acquired collection of the records of the German Court in Warsaw, he noticed a case involving two young boys, Zdislaus Gryczak (b 17 March 1929) and Richard Gryczak (b 31 May 1931).  The children had been born in Chylice, Nowa Iwiczna, a suburb of Warsaw.  Their unmarried parents were named Stefan Gryczak and Gertrude Preiss.  Note that the spelling of this Gertrude’s last name is “Preiss” (sounds like Price) differs from our Gertrude’s last name “Priess” (sounds like Preece).  Even so, this Gertrude could be ours, as the chronology spelled out by the court records fits almost perfectly with what we know about our Gertrude’s activities.  There are also numerous typos and handwritten corrections in the documents so that our Gertrude’s family name Priess could possibly have been misspelled as the more common name Preiss. If the mother mentioned in the court records is who we hope she is, we could have answers to quite a few important questions about our Gertrude’s activities that hopefully could give us clues to identify Pnina’s parents.

Vincent’s new documents consist of a court order for Stefan Gryczak to pay child support for his sons Zdislaus and his younger brother Richard.  Some of the pages are typed, and some are forms that have been filled out.  Some contain boilerplate legalese with signatures and stamps approving the court decision. A couple are in illegible handwriting. The most important pages contain information about the two children, and on their father Stefan’s family background that establishes him as German.  The document also states that their mother Gertrude Preiss had already obtained a German identity card, thereby establishing the two boys were of German parentage. Unfortunately, the documents give almost no additional information on their mother.

72_1207_0_0_5876_5 - HalfWarsaw
24 Jul 1943

It has been presented to me that the unmarried Gertrude Preiss, of the Evangelical Augsburger religion, resident of Chylice, Nowa-Iwiczna, Warsaw County, on the 17 March 1929 in Warsaw, gave birth to a boy by the name of Zdislaus Grycak.  No. 96 in the 1937 birth register of the Evangelical Augsburg Church in Alt Iwiczna.

The father of the child is Stefan Gryczak, railroad worker, who has acknowledged paternity.

Under Section 48 of the Reichs Law of Non-contentious Proceedings of 17 May 1898 and Section 36 of the Reichs Law for Youth Welfare of 9 July 1922 I hereby order the court decision to be entered into the records.

A certified copy of the document of the obligation to pay child support is enclosed with this package. I ask for a declaration of enforceability.

The German Court for Guardianship Affairs

*****

The next two pages give more information about Stefan and his son Zdislaus.  (A copy of a similar documentation for Richard is also included in the package).

72_1207_0_0_5876_14

Before the undersigned office of the Warsaw County district captain, authorized through the Office of the District in Warsaw Subdepartment of Population and Welfare – from June 24, 1943 – Reference number: InvIV. Tgb.3111 / 41 for authentication of declarations in accordance with the Civil Code in 1718, today appeared, sufficiently identified by his Polish identity card, Stefan Grycak, resident of Chylice, commune Nowa Iwiczna, Augsberg Evangelical Religion, presumably a Volksdeutscher with Polish affiliation, born on 15 June 1885 in Rozanka.

The declarant stated:

72_1207_0_0_5876_13On 11 May 1937, I acknowledged before the registrar of the Evangelical-Augsburg church Old Iwicna, in the manner prescribed by this Act pursuant to Article 100 of the Civil Code for the Kingdom of Poland from 1 / 06.13.1925, that I am the father of the illegitimate child recorded on civil birth certificate no. 96/1937 by Gertrude Preiss in the Evangelical-Ausburgischen Church in Warsaw, born on 17 Mar 1929, named Zdislaus Gryczak.  As such, I hereby acknowledge to be obligated by the act of law, to allocate support for the child appropriate to the income of the mother.

Accordingly, I agree, to pay child support of 30 (Thirty) Reichmark, or 60 (Sixty) Zlotys per month from the birth of the child until his 16th birthday. To fulfillment this commitment, I submit myself immediately to the enforcement of this decision.

Further claims related to Section 1708, paragraph BGB 2 remain unaffected.

About my parents I give the following information:

Father Maksym Grycak, born on 30 January 1844 in Rozanka, orthodox religion.
Mothers: Tatiana Grycak born 26/7 1845 in Rozanka. Maiden name: Mikulska.

I have applied for a German identity card from the district captain of Warsaw county.

The children’s mother obtained Volksdeutsch identity card No. 4965 from the same office on 10 Jul 1940.

The transcript of the above has been read to the declarant, approved by him, and signed by the officer named below.

*****

Is the Gertrude Preiss mentioned in these documents the Gertrude Priess we are searching for?  If the records indicate that the two women appeared at the same time in different places, they cannot possibly be the same person.  Unfortunately, it’s a little more complicated than that.

To avoid confusion with the names, I will call Gertrude Priess (our Gertrude), Gertrude Spiro, Gertrude Priess-Spiro, our Gertrude, or Gertrude No 1.  Gertrude Preiss, mother of the two children, will be designated Gertrude Preiss-Gryczak (even though she was not married to Stefan Gryczak), or as Gertrude No 2.

Gertrude Priess-Spiro’s Timeline:

1899 February 24 – Our Gertrude is born to Frederick and Maris Priess, location unknown but presumably Berlin, Germany.

1928 – “A” Gertrude Priess (possibly our Gertrude) is on the list of Communist Party Members. She remains a member even after the party is outlawed in 1933.

1931 – Leo David and Gertrude Spiro are listed in the 1931 Jewish City Directory for Berlin at Brunnerstrasse 175/177 (Same address as that of our Gertrude’s father through the mid 1940s).

1935 – The Gertrude Priess (mentioned above in 1928) lives at  64 Kottbusser Damm St., Neukolln, Berlin. She is involved in housing a KPD subversive named Ludwig Marmulla after he is released from criminal prison on 19 Jul 1935.

1938 April 26 – Gertrude Spiro is sentenced to two years in the Berlin Police Prison for preparing to commit treason.  Her husband David Spiro is sentenced to 3-1/2 years.

1940 April 26 – Gertrude Spiro presumably completes her sentence and is released from the Berlin Police Prison.

1941 – Gertrude Spiro appears in the General Government Directory as the manager of a liquor and cigarette shop at No. 2 Nowiniarska St. in Warsaw.

1942 – Gertrude Spiro appears in the General Government Directory as the manager of a liquor and cigarette shop at No. 2 Nowiniarska St., and as residing at 28 Tamka St. in Warsaw.

1943 May 11 – Gertrude Priess-Spiro and her daughter Sonia are arrested and put into Pawiak Prison.

1943 August 24 – Gertrude Priess-Spiro and her daughter Sonia appear on the passenger manifest of a train from Pawiak Prison to Auschwitz.

1943 August 25 – Gertrude Priess-Spiro and her daughter Sonia are not listed among the arrivals at Auschwitz.

There are a lot of gaps in the timeline leaving many unanswered questions about Gertrude Priess-Spiro’s activities, but the new court records might fill in some of these voids, if the two Gertrudes are the same person.

Poland-Partition-px800

Partitioned Poland in 1940

The most important question we have had about our Gertrude’s activities is why she went to Warsaw after she was released from the Berlin Police Prison, presumably in April 1940 when her sentence was completed.  Western Poland had been invaded by Germany on 1 September 1939; the Soviets had invaded from the east two weeks later on 17 September 1939 through a secret non-aggression pact they made with the Nazis in October 1939.  The Nazis had already designated the central part of the country as the Generalgouvernement (General Governate), a separate Nazis-controlled administrative region formed with the assumption that the country of Poland had ceased to exist.

Nazi-occupied territory was not a safe place for a Communist who had just completed a prison sentence in Berlin for preparing to commit treason. Gertrude Spiro may have been a member of the resistance, or she may have been coerced to go to Warsaw by the Nazis in return for better treatment for her husband Leo, who was still in prison.  Either way, if our Gertrude had two children living in Warsaw, she may have been willing to risk her life to ensure their safety.

The new court documents provided by the USHMM give us information about Gertrude Preiss-Gryczak’s whereabouts during the same time interval.

Gertrude Preiss-Gryszak’s Timeline:

1929 March 17 – Gertrude No 2’s son Zdislaus Gryczak is born in Warsaw.

1931 May 11 – Gertrude No 2’s son Richard Gryczak is born in Warsaw.

1937 May 11 – Gertrude No 2 registers the birth of her two sons with the office of the Evangelical Augsburg Church in Alt Iwiczna, District of Warsaw. Stefan Gryczak acknowledges he is their father.

1940 July 10 – Gertrude Preiss-Gryzcak obtains a German identity card from the District of Warsaw.

1943 June 28 – Stefan Gryczak comes before the German Court for Guardianship, Foster Care, and Curatorship in Warsaw to guarantee child support for his two sons.

1943 July 24 – Gertrude Preiss-Gryczak is said to be living in Chylice, Nowa-Iwiczina, District of Warsaw.

1943 November 3 – Child support documents gain final approval by the German Court in Warsaw.

The two timelines are surprisingly consistent, with only a few conflicts that may be resolvable.  When interleaved, they fit together as follows.  Gertrude Priess-Spiro’s whereabouts are indicated in black; Gertrude Preiss-Gryczak’s whereabouts are indicated in blue:

1899 February 24 – Gertrude Priess (Gertrude No 1) is born to Frederick and Maris Priess, location unknown but presumably Berlin, Germany.

1928 – “A” Gertrude Priess (possibly our Gertrude No 1) is on the list of Communist Party Members. She remains a member even after the party is outlawed in 1933.

1929 March 17 – Gertrude Preiss-Gryczak’s ‘s son Zdislaus Gryczak is born in Warsaw.

1931 May 11 – Gertrude Preiss-Gryczak’s son Richard Gryczak is born in Warsaw.

1931 – Leo David and Gertrude Spiro are listed in the 1931 Jewish City Directory for Berlin at Brunnerstrasse 175/177 (Same address as that listed for our Gertrude’s father through the mid 1940s).

1935 – The Gertrude Priess (mentioned above in 1928) lives at  64 Kottbusser Damm St., Neukolln, Berlin. She is involved with housing a KPD subversive named Ludwig Marmulla after he is released from criminal prison on 19 Jul 1935.

1937 May 11 – Gertrude Preiss-Gryczak registers the birth of her two sons with the office of the Evangelical Augsburg Church in Alt Iwiczna, District of Warsaw.

1938 April 26 – Gertrude Spiro is sentenced to two years in the Berlin Police Prison for preparing to commit treason.  Her husband David Spiro is sentenced to 3-1/2 years.

1940 April 26 – Gertrude Spiro presumably completes her sentence and is released from the Berlin Police Prison.

1940 July 10 – Gertrude Preiss-Gryczak obtains a German identity card from the District of Warsaw.

1941 – Gertrude Spiro appears in the General Government Directory as the manager of a liquor and cigarette shop at No. 2 Nowiniarska St. in Warsaw.

1942 – Gertrude Spiro appears in the General Government Directory as the manager of a liquor and cigarette shop at No. 2 Nowiniarska St., while residing at 28 Tamka St. in Warsaw.

1943 May 11 – Gertrude Priess-Spiro and her daughter Sonia are arrested and put into Pawiak Prison.

1943 June 28 – Stefan Gryczak comes before the German Court for Guardianship, Foster Care, and Curatorship in Warsaw to guarantee child support for his two sons.

1943 July 24 – Gertrude Preiss-Gryczak is said to be living in Chylice, Nowa-Iwiczina, District of Warsaw.

1943 August 24 – Gertrude Priess-Spiro and her daughter Sonia appear on the passenger manifest of a train from Pawiak Prison to Auschwitz

1943 August 25 – Gertrude Priess-Spiro and her daughter Sonia are not listed among the arrivals at Auschwitz

1943 November 3 – Child support documents gain final approval by the German Court in Warsaw.

The combination of the two timelines includes much travel between Warsaw and Berlin, but the two cities are only 5 to 6 hours apart by train.  Both before and during the war, this route must have been heavily used by both the military and civilians. If the two Gertrudes were the same person, the timeline indicates she moved between the two cities several times from 1928 (when she appeared on the list of Communist Party Members in Germany) and 1938 (when she was sentenced to prison in Berlin). This would have been before the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 when the rail lines between the two countries were still intact.  Note also that Stefan Gryczak worked for the railroad, which probably facilitated our Gertrude’s movements between the two cities, if she were his partner.

In 1940, we know that our Gertrude was released from prison and shortly after that traveled to Warsaw. Although much damage had been inflicted on Polish railroads in the meantime during the German invasion in September 1939, by mid October, the Deutsche Reichsbahn Gesellschaft (German State Railroad Co) had reinstated full rail service between the two cities, facilitating our Gertrude’s return east.

There are apparently only two conflicts between the timelines.  The first is that Gertrude Preiss-Gryczak (Gertrude No 2) had to be in Warsaw in May 1931 for the birth of her son Richard, but our Gertrude is listed as Gertrude Spiro in the Berlin Jewish City Directory in 1931. This inconsistency could be resolved depending on when the Berlin directory was compiled. If the directory was created later in the year, Gertrude No. 2 may have had as much as six months to leave Warsaw after the birth of her son to return to Berlin in time to marry Leo Spiro and be listed with him on Brunnerstrasse.  (This is a tight fit, but we can’t rule out the possibility).

The other conflict is the statement that according to the court records, Gertrude Preiss-Gryzcak, the mother of the two boys, was living in Chalice in July 1943, while according to the prison records, our Gertrude was in Pawiak Prison.

Note however, that our Gertrude is only listed on 48 Tamka St. in the 1942 General Gouvernment directory. She may not have been living there when she was arrested in May 1943.  She could have been living in Chylice near her children and only 10 miles from Warsaw.  Even though she had been sent to prison, her legal address could still have been in Chylice, or else the guardianship court may have been unaware that she had been arrested and was no longer living at her former address.

****

It is not just the way the dates fit together that is of interest, it’s also the way the combination of events seems to create a plausible description of a known member of the KPD (Gertrude No 1) who was also a caring mother (Gertrude No 2) working to ensure the safety of her children in wartime.  In May 1937, Gertrude Spiro could have sensed her upcoming arrest in Berlin, so traveled to Warsaw to register the births of the two children that she had had with Stefan Gryczak for the sake of child support, and to establish their German parentage.  In spite of her concerns about being arrested, she could have returned to Berlin, not only to distance herself from the children, but also out of her duty to the Communist party.  Shortly after she was released from prison in 1940, she could have returned to Warsaw to make sure they were safe and well cared for.

There is an interesting coincidence to consider.

Richard Gryczak was born on 11 May 1931.  Gertrude No 2 registered his birth (along with that of his older brother Zdislaus) in Warsaw on 11 May 1937. Our Gertrude No 1 was arrested and put into Pawiak Prison on 11 May 1943.  Could the date of her arrest have been related to some activity related to her younger son’s birthday? Was her visit to her son on his birthday the “clue” the authorities needed to identify Gertrude Spiro, owner of the liquor store, as Gertrude Priess (Preiss, Gryczak), the mother of the children?

There are a few questions that could be answered if the subversive Gertrude No 1 was the same person as caring mother Gertrude No 2:

1.  Why did Gertrude No 1 go to Warsaw after she got out of prison in Berlin in April 1940?  She could have escaped to somewhere much safer.

– To ensure the safety of her two sons.

2.  Why was Gertrude No 1 going under the name Gertrude Spiro when she ran the cigarette and liquor shop?  Spiro is a Jewish name and could have attracted the wrong kind of attention in a hostile environment.

– To disguise her identity as Gertrude Priess, the woman with the prison record from Berlin.  This would also help to protect her two sons from her past.

3.  Why was Gertrude No 1 sent to prison?

– Because someone discovered Gertrude Spiro = Gertrude Priess.

4.  Why was Sonia sent to Prison with Gertrude while the two boys were spared?

– Because Sonia had a Jewish father.  The two boys had a German father.

5.  Why was Gertrude’s name listed in the Pawiak arrest records as a double, hyphenated name (Priess-Spiro)?

– To make it clear that Gertrude Priess = Gertrude Spiro.

*****

Zdislaus Gryczak was born in 1929; his brother Richard was born in 1931.  Sonia must have been born after our Gertrude returned to Berlin and married Leo Spiro. Sonia was probably a younger child born in the 1930s.

Sonia could still be alive, but we’ve searched for her for a long time without success. There is a good chance she did not survive the war considering she was half Jewish and put into Pawiak Prison with her mother. Even if Gertrude and Sonia escaped the transport to Auschwitz in August 1943, the fact that their names appear on the passenger manifest indicates the kind of world they lived in and the challenges they had to face to survive.

Gertrude Spyra and Charlotte Rebhun, Warsaw, about 1942

Gertrude Spiro and Charlotte Rebhun, Warsaw, about 1942

The interesting news is that the two Gryczak boys may still be alive.  I’ve already started searching for them.  They may have information about what happened to their mother. More importantly, they may be able to tell us whether they had a younger Jewish half-sister Sonia, and whether their mother Gertrude Preiss-Gryczak was really Gertrude Priess-Spiro, the woman who helped smuggle Pnina from the Warsaw Ghetto.  If she was, we will have a lot to talk about.

Fingers crossed!

Who Am I? What is My Name? Part I – Pnina, Otwoc, and the Kaczmareks

Who Am I? What is My Name? Part II – Pnina, Wolfgang, and the Warsaw Ghetto

Who Am I? What is My Name? Part III – Gertrude and Sonia Spyra

Who Am I? What is My Name? Part IV – Wolfgang and Adele’s Eyewitness Account

Who Am I? What is My Name?  Part V – Gertrude and Sonia’s Escape

Who Am I? What is My Name? Pari VI – Our Search for Gertrude Spiro

Who Am I? What is My Name?  Part VII – Gertrude’s Other Children?

Who Am I? What is My Name?  Park VIII – Gertrud and Leo’s Trial

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