By now, everyone who reads this should know Gertrude Priess-Spiro, the woman who arranged to have Pnina Gutman smuggled from the Warsaw Ghetto in August or September 1942. New information about her has recently been discovered that provides details about her marriage to Leo Spiro. It also explains why she was listed under her maiden name Gertrude Priess-Spiro on the Pawiak transport records to Auschwitz.
During my recent trip to Berlin, I was able to visit the address at 176 Brunnenstrasse, where Gertrude grew up and lived for a while after she was married. The building is about three blocks south of what was once the Berlin Wall running along Bernauer Str. It is located at the intersection of Brunnenstrasse and Invalidenstrasse, across from the Volkspark am Weinbergsweg. Interestingly, the address is a few doors down from 186 Brunnenstrasse, where Alfred Roehrs lived in the 1930s and 1940s with his wife Martha Maria Priess, Gertrude’s sister and about two blocks away from the intersection of Brunnenstrasse with Anklamer Strasse, where Alfred Roehrs had his furniture store at Anklamer Str. 52 in the 1920s.
Thanks to the Standesamtsregister Landesarchiv Berlin, I recently discovered what I thought might be Gertrude and Leo’s marriage certificate on their website. According to their marriage index, they were wed 3 February 1923 in Bezirk No 6 (6th District) in Berlin. However, I was not sure this was theirs. Although the only other two Priess marriages I had seen in the index were those of Gertrude’s two sisters Bertha and Martha, I misinterpreted the second column to be the name of the bride, and the word did not seem to match the spelling of the name Priess. As it was explained to me later by an archivist at the Berlin Landesarchiv, the column was actually the profession of the groom – in Leo’s case – “shoemaker”.
When I asked the Landeesarchiv for a search for Gertrude’s marriage record without mentioning what I had found online in the index, the Landesarchiv confirmed that the entry from 1923 was correct and send me the document.
It yielded some startling information about the couple.
The marriage record states that on 3 February 1923, a marriage license was granted to David Leib Spiro, a shoemaker, born 15 March 1897 in Garwolin, Kries Lublin, residing in Berlin at Bruckenstrasse 10, and Gertrude Anna Priess, milliner, born 24 February 1899 in Bladiau, Kreis Heilengebiel, East Prussia, residing in Berlin, at Brunnenstrasse 176. The license was witnessed by Friedrich Priess, wagon driver, 50 years old, residing at 175-177 Brunnenstrasse (presumably the father of the bride), and Otto Schade, (can’t read occupation), 45 years old, residing in Berlin at Bruckenstrasse 10 (presumably a friend of the groom).
Berlin, 4th March 1943. Through the court order issued by the German court in Warsaw on 20 August 1941, C 495/40, was the marriage between David Leib Spiro and Gertrude Anna Spiro nee Priess dissolved.
On behalf of the registry office: Rütter
Berlin, 4 March 1943
The undersigned, resident of Warsaw, Tamkastrasse 48, declared to the German notary Doctor Albrecht Cintner, in Warsaw, that she has adopted her former surname Priess.
Judging by the case number C 495/40, Gertrude must have filed her divorce papers in mid- to late 1940. This would have been about the time, or somewhat after the date Leo was to be released from Brandenburg Prison on 20 April 1940. It could be that when Leo was sent to the Berlin Police Prison instead of being released, that Gertrude realized that she would never see him again and decided to divorce Leo. It could also have been a mutual decision, perhaps over concern for the safety of their daughter Sonia. In 1940, Sonia was 15 years old. As half-Jewish, she was officially immune from deportation from Berlin, but the laws were different in Warsaw.
It is curious that Gertrude was still listed by her married name Spiro in the 1941 and 1942 Generalgouvernement telephone directories even though her divorce was finalized in August 1941. The 1941 directory was probably already published and in use – it could be the information for the 1942 directory was published sometime in 1941 before her divorce became official. Note that 4 March 1943 was only the date the Spiro’s marriage record was stamped in Berlin with the information about their divorce and Gertrude’s name change. Gertrude started using her maiden name again about the time of her divorce, and it took a while to have the divorce and her name change registered in Berlin.
Armed with the new information about Gertrude’s divorce, I contacted the Archiwum Panstwowe w Warszawie (Polish State Archives in Warsaw) for a search of the records of the German Court in Warsaw. The USHMM has only some of the collection- the rest is at the Archives in Warsaw. The response to my request was disappointing: The letter reads:
The Polish National Archives in Warsaw
Your inquiry of 15 Jul 2016
Date: 18 Aug 2016
In reply to your inquiry we kindly inform you that a search was carried out in the following surviving and incomplete collections for information about Gertrude Priess-Spiro and Soni Priess-Spiro, who were in Pawiak prison, and then transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II:
Special Court in Warsaw 1939-1944, – 72/643/0,
German court in Warsaw 1940-1944, – 72/1207/0,
Higher German Court 1940-1944, – 72/3703/0,
The prosecution at the Special Court in Warsaw, – 72/1601/0,
The District Court in Warsaw 1917-1944, – 72/639/0,
Court Grodzki in Warsaw 1939-1944, – 72/1946/0,
Prosecutor of the Regional Court in Warsaw, 1917-1944, – 72/640/0,
Office of the Chief of the Warsaw District 1939-1945, – 72/482/0,
Off of the Chief of the Warsaw Dist SS and Police Leader in Warsaw 1939-1944, – 72/482/0,
The collection of documents from the period of World War II 1939-1945, – 72/1978/0.
No documents were found that could be positively identified. In addition, we
did not find any evidence related to the divorce of Gertrude Priess-Spiro.
In addition, we note that we do not have in our collection any materials on the civil status of Jews from the Garwolin area, or notary acts of Albert Cintera, making it impossible to find a birth certificate for Leo Spiro or documents relating to the name change by Gertrude Priess-Spiro.
To continue the search, we must have the address (street and house number) in Warsaw of the persons you wish to research. Please send this information.
Furthermore, we would like to point out that we do not have information on where you can find records on the civil status of Jews from Garwolin in 1897.
If you have interest in further research, we advise you to contact the Jewish Historical Institute, ul. Tłomackie 3/5, 00-090 Warsaw and Pawiak Prison Museum, Branch Museum of Independence Street, Dzielna 24/26, 00-162 Warsaw.
Of course, I wrote them immediately with Gertrude’s various addresses and dates:
Waliców 7/21 June 1939
Długa 5 March 1941
Tamka 48 1941 – 11 May 1943
Gertrude’s liquor store:
Nowiniarska 2 1941-May 1943
Their response was that they don’t have books of residents for the street addresses: Waliców 7/21, Długa 5 and Tamka 48. They also state that Gertrude’s shop at 2 Nowiniarska St. is not registered in the Fond of District Court for Warsaw / Dept of Trade / Part A, but they don’t specify which years this Fond covers.
We will keep trying…