I’m excited to welcome as my first guest poster one of my newly discovered relatives. Jill Leibman Kornmehl is the daughter-in-law of Nathan Kornmehl, at 96 years old the patriarch of the Kornmehl family. At least as far as I know. New branches of the family keep cropping up. I’m not ready to say anything definitive — thus the title I gave this post. The more genealogical research I do, the more I see that “maybe,” “possibly,” and other qualifiers are key to that discipline’s vocabulary.
Never the Twain Shall Meat
by Jill Leibman Kornmehl
The forced closure of the Vienna meat markets of the Kornmehl family by the Nazis marked the end of an era for the Kornmehl butchers. But not for long. Twenty years later, another Kornmehl found himself owning a kosher meat market — on another continent.
But let’s go back to the beginning, before the Viennese Kornmehls were closing up shop and Sigmund Freud was exiting Vienna.
Nathan Kornmehl was born in Cologne, Germany, in 1916. In 1938, one week before Kristallnacht, he found himself declared “stateless” by the Germans. Nathan’s mother had been married in a synagogue but not in a civil ceremony in Germany, so members of his family were no longer considered German citizens. The family was asked — and not very politely — to depart the country immediately.
Nathan’s family returned to Tarnow, Poland, where they had Kornmehl relatives. Shortly thereafter, Nathan crossed over into Russian territory and was shipped off involuntarily to Siberia. His forced odyssey ended in 1945, with the end of the war. Free to start a new life, he crossed the ocean with his lovely bride Frances Leder for a place that was just slightly warmer than Siberia: Buffalo, New York.
Frances was a distant cousin who came from a Chassidic home and insisted that her husband not work on Shabbat. That left Nathan with very few employment options. Anxious to please his wife, he left a well paying job in a factory to take a poor paying job with Mr. Yuchelson in his kosher butcher shop. He later said, “If I wouldn’t have come to America, I wouldn’t have been a kosher butcher.”
After a year, Mr. Yuchelson took Nathan in as a full partner, without asking for payment. In 1948, Nathan became sole owner and proprietor of Kornmehl’s Kosher Meat Market on Hertel Avenue. The sign went up and the tradition of Kornmehl meat markets was re-established.
The Kornmehl butcher shop became a family affair. Every Tuesday, Nathan and Frances would make the trip to Rochester to pick up large shipments of beef. Later their three sons helped (though the two daughters didn’t): Bernie made the deliveries, Marvin cleaned the equipment and Ernie washed the floors. Nathan was well known all over Buffalo for an old world deli specialty, rolled beef, which has been described as a cross between corned beef and salami. “What I loved most about my work were the customers,” Nathan said. According to his son Bernie, “His wonderful demeanor and kindness made him beloved by the entire Buffalo community.” He worked long hours, some days from 7AM until 11PM. But, Nathan said, “Working hard never killed anyone.”
As the years passed, the kosher butcher business changed. The concept of glatt kosher meat became popular and the needs of the community changed. Fewer people were keeping kosher and more people wanted glatt kosher meat, which was more expensive to produce. In 1989, after 41 years in business, Nathan closed Kornmehl’s kosher butcher shop. The tradition of Kornmehls as butchers, which started in Europe, reached its final chapter in upstate New York. [EJ: Maybe]
“I was satisfied, I always made a living. When I was in the war, I saw children die from hunger and I was happy my kids always ate well. But I never wanted them to be butchers,” Nathan said. He got his wish: Their professions are lawyer, doctor, dentist, teacher and talent agent.
Frances died in 1991, but Nathan still had a lot of naches left — especially watching his grandchildren grow up. He said, “When I was in Siberia, if you would have told me I would live to 96 and have grandchildren, I would have never believed you!”
Bio: Jill Leibman Kornmehl, MD, is a Professor of Radiology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and practices mammography in New York. In her (very little) spare time, she enjoys writing, genealogical research, reading and traveling. She is originally from Philadelphia and became a Kornmehl courtesy of her husband’s brothers who set her and her future husband up on a blind date. She is the wife of Nathan’s first son, Bernie Kornmehl, Esq., and the mother of three of the boys in the picture, Jason, Adam and David.