Today I’m wrapping up the tale of the two Doktors Kornmehl, Ezriel and Viktor, the dual subjects of this family history writing challenge, with kudos — and a mild kvetch. It’s one thing to find out that your relatives’ surnames were changed through mistakes in Ellis Island, transcription errors, illiteracy, etc. It’s quite another to discover that they made the changes on purpose — and en masse.
Koren, Carmel and… ?
Perhaps this is something I should have known as a Jewish person who is reasonably literate and aware of public events but somehow the practice of European Jews changing their surnames to sound more Hebrew when they went to Palestine eluded me. When a conversation with Hillel Koren, Viktor’s son, tipped me off that it had become popular, I poked around and sure enough, there was an article in Wikipedia about the Hebraization of European Jewish surnames.
I won’t go into great detail here because I have another story, about finding Ezriel’s family, to tell. I just want to put it on record that, although I very much understand the impulse of my ancestors to put the past behind them and deeply sympathize, I think they were being a little short sighted.
Couldn’t they have anticipated that name changes would mess with the heads of future family historians who were trying to find them, especially newbies like me?
And couldn’t they at least have coordinated and chosen one name to change to per family?
Consider the cases of Viktor and Bertschi Kornmehl.
Viktor changed his family name to Koren. His brother, Bertschi, changed his family name to Carmel. This information was not difficult to unearth because, happily, Hillel Koren, Viktor’s son, was considerate enough to keep in touch with Kornmehl relatives.
Things were not so simple when it came to Ezriel Kornmehl, however.
It’s been a long time, so let me refresh your memory. I left Ezriel on Day 9 of the Family History Writing Challenge after having identified his father; traced his military service; and found out who he married (Ernestyna Karp). According to History of the Jews of Jaslo:
[Ezriel] escaped to Russia with his family prior to the German arrival. He survived the war years in Russia and returned to Poland following WWII where he settled in Wroclaw and began to practice. He suddenly died of a heart attack while still very active. His wife and only son left Poland and reached Israel three years ago. The son finished in Israel medical school and works at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. [Note: The history was published in 1953, so "three years ago" would have been around 1950]
And that’s where the trail went cold. What happened to the wife and the son who finished medical school and worked at Hadassah Hospital? Jill Leibman Kornmehl contacted the hospital but they had no record of any Kornmehls. We were getting frustrated. I was even planning to go on a people-finder Israeli radio show that, with the time difference, would have had me trying to be coherent about the relatives whose trail had been lost at around midnight.
Then, happily, my friend Lydia found Ezriel’s mother, Chana Dwora Kornmehl, via a Yad Vashem testimony of her daughter-in-law, who signed herself A. Kornel. Where the A. came from for someone named Ernestyna is another question entirely. The point here is that suddenly there was a name to look for: Kornel.
Sure enough, googling the name “Ezriel Kornel” led to a neurosurgeon of that name who wrote on a blog* that he had a father named Ludwig, as well as a brother named Amiel (whose position I can’t sum up in one word, but who is extremely successful in semiconductors). Further research on Ludwig Kornel turned up an endocrinologist (diabetes/hormone specialist) in Chicago who had graduated from medical school in Wroclaw, Poland — where the original Ezriel had died.
*This should put the final bullet in the notion that blogging is only for people who sit in basements in their pajamas. Okay, I’m still wearing my PJs, but houses in Tucson don’t have basements.
Kornels and Farewells
No one has spoken at length with members of the Kornel family yet and their ties to — or awareness of — the rest of the Kornmehl clan, so I’ll leave them here. I hope that at some point I can write more about them.
In summation, then:
Dr. Viktor Kornmehl escaped from Vienna to Palestine, changed his name to Koren, practiced medicine, was the co-founder of a health insurance company, and had a very successful son, Hillel.
Dr. Ezriel Kormehl survived the war and died of natural causes in his native Poland, but his wife, Ernestyna, and doctor son, Ludwig, went to Israel where they changed their name to Kornel. Ludwig Kornel has two very successful sons, Amiel and Ezriel.
And on this, the 27th Day of the Family History Writing Challenge, I bid a fond farewell to the Doktors Kornmehl. The picture next to the title, from Wikimedia Commons, is of Gehenna or Jewish hell; oddly, it is an actual place called the Valley of Hinnom in Israel. I was only in genealogy Gehenna very briefly, but couldn’t resist the title — or the picture.