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

Who Am I? What is My Name? – Part IX – Gertrude’s Sisters!

Who Am I? What is My Name? – Part X – Gertrude’s Marriage and Divorce

Who Am I? What is My Name? – Part XI – Berlin, Warsaw, and the German Soldier

Who Am I? What is My Name? – Part XII – Taking Stock

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Rocket Scientist turned world class Forensic Genealogist.
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9 Responses to Who Am I? What is My Name? – Part VII – Gertrude’s Other Children?

  1. Pingback: Who Am I? What is My Name? Part VI – Our Search for Gertrude Spiro | Identifinders' Blog

  2. Pingback: Who Am I? What is My Name? Part V – Gertrude and Sonia’s Escape | Identifinders' Blog

  3. Pingback: Who Am I? What is My Name? Part IV – Wolfgang and Adele’s Eyewitness Account | Identifinders' Blog

  4. Pingback: Who Am I, What is My Name? Part III – Gertrude and Sonia Spyra | Identifinders' Blog

  5. Pingback: Who Am I? What is My Name? Part II – Pnina, Wolfgang, and the Warsaw Ghetto | Identifinders' Blog

  6. Pingback: Who Am I, What Is My Name? Part I – Pnina, Otwoc, and the Kazcmareks | Identifinders' Blog

  7. N says:

    So, we don’t know for sure if Sonia was the youngest child of Gertrude? Could she possibly be the oldest from a relationship with possibly even Spiro, to whom Gertrude returned??

    Is it just me or is there a striking resemblance between Gertrude & Pnina?? Not to mention between her daughters & Gertrude! Could Pnina actually have been a child of a young Sonia??

    Just a questioning reader. I dearly hope that Pnina finds some answers & peace.

    • Dear Kmnf,

      Thank you for such a thoughtful comment. You raise many questions that we are anxious to answer.

      You are right that Sonia may have had brothers and sisters. All we know is that Sonia was the only child with Gertrude when she moved to Warsaw in about 1940. We do know, however, that once she moved to Warsaw, she did not see Leo Spiro again. While she was released from the Berlin Police Prison when her sentence was finished in April 1940, he remained in the system until he was killed at the Bernberg extermination camp in March 1942. This is mentioned in a previous blog article, I think Part VI.

      About Pnina’s relationship to Sonia – that’s actually an interesting question. We’ve never considered that before. But how to prove that? We believe that Gertrude and Leo Spiro were married about 1930, and have assumed Sonia was born after that. She would have been about 12 when Pnina was smuggled from the Ghetto. But if Sonia was born prior to 1930, whether or not Gertrude and Leo were married), she could have been old enough to have a child. Because the Pawiak Prison records do not list a birthdate for Sonia, she must have been a minor at the time of her arrest, so that the earliest she could have been born was about 1943 – 18 = 1925. Gertrude would have been 26 at the time.

      We are trying very hard to reunite Pnina with her parents. We are following up every clue we can find. Thanks for your suggestions, and if you’d like to write me directly, you con contact me at colleen@identifinders.com

      Colleen

  8. Elena Rivier says:

    Hello Colleen, I met about three years ago at Las Vegas NGS Conference, I hope you remember me! I have meant to write earlier but has been caught up in one thing or another. I am now trying to return to DNA and genealogy work. Recently, I recommended you to a Dr. David Cardona from El Salvador, who is interested in what he believes is his Jewish ancestry.

    For a bit of background:

    I believe that we talked about one of the genealogy projects I have been researching, that his, my children’s paternal ancestry. As it turns out, their Y-DNA results matched those of a USA Fox family, descendants of Col. Richard Fox and wife Hannah Williamson. It is assumed that Richard’s father was a George Fox of Surry County, England, however, that link is for now, weak as not sufficient genealogy research or DNA testing has been done.

    One of my children’s paternal ancestor was named Joachim Fox from New Orleans, Louisiana, who moved to Matamoros, Mexico perhaps in the 1820s, 1830s or later. In Mexico he had children with Maria Marta Rivier, who presumably was from Baton Rouge or New Orleans. One of their children, born in Matamoros, Mexico in 1844, was named Francisco Fox Rivier. Francisco Fox Rivier is shown as such in the 1900 US Federal Census but the US Federal Census shows him as Francisco Rivier. It appears the Census Enumerator “dropped” the Fox surname (for whatever reason) and left the Rivier surname, however, as DNA testing has shown, the correct paternal surname is Fox.

    I have been trying to find out who were the parents of Joachim Fox, who may have been born in the late 1700s or early 1800s in New Orleans, Louisiana. Joachim died in 1868 in the state of Nuevo Leon, Mexico. I have done extensive research on Joachim but have not been able to find birth data including location and parents names.

    Are you familiar with New Orleans and Louisiana genealogy records? Is this genealogy “brick wall” something you could assist me and or provide some guidance? Would you please let me know? Thank you so much for your help,

    Elena

    Tikkun Olam, for social action and justice Elena Rivier, Founder and Administrator Venezuela DNA Project

    ________________________________

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