Adoption Musings, Part 2: What Happened to Helene Kornmehl?

Adoption Musings, Part 2: What Happened to Helene Kornmehl?

On Days 18 of the Family History Writing Challenge, I turn again to a topic that I’ve touched on before: Nazi record keeping.

In “Emigration Questionnaire Raises More Questions,” I discussed the agency created to “accelerate the forced emigration of the Austrian Jews and (starting in October 1939) to organize and carry out their deportation.” But it wasn’t all rush, rush, rush, get the Jews out of the country. The Nazis first took the time to dispossess the Jews of their property–very methodically.

I have a sheaf of documents detailing the forced sale of my family’s homes and businesses to Aryans at a loss–after they paid exorbitant “being Jewish” taxes. Many of them were stamped with the seal of the Reich and signed “Heil Hitler.” I have the most information about the properties of Siegmund Kornmehl, in large part because of the famous address of his primary butcher shop, 19 Berggasse–the same address as Sigmund Freud.

Sharing quarters with Freud meant that, when research was done into the milieu of the famous Austrian Jew, the butcher on the first floor was included. The Freud Museum Vienna catalog, “Freud’s Lost neighbors,” uses Siegmund Kornmhel’s seized properties (the three listed in the ad above) to discuss “The Politics of Reparation.” According to that essay:

Siegmund and Helene Kornmehl owned three houses. The sale of these domiciles was handled by the Property Registration Office and the proceeds for the three properties were placed in a savings account at the Central Savings Bank of Vienna with the designation “Jewish removal revenue.” Again and again “atonement dues” were deducted from the accounts of Jewish property owners. In this way the entire sale proceeds were ultimately forfeited to the German Reich…

Siegmund Kornmehl died in 1942 in Tel Aviv, and from 1945 on his wife Helene petitioned from Palestine for the return of her seized assets. In 1946, the “buyer” reported the house on Währinger Street as a seized asset, and two years later Helene Kornmehl reclaimed the property. However, under the Third Restoration Law, she had to repay the same sale price from 1939 almost down to the shilling, on the grounds that she and her husband had had full access to and free reign with the entire earlier proceeds.

From Another Perspective

Helene’s attempt to reclaim the property is confirmed by the several relatives. After Siegmund died, Helen “adopted” her niece Stella Schmerling; Stella and her parents, David and Mitzi went on to live on Währinger Strasse. I have a lot of information about this return to Vienna from David and Mitzi’s granddaughter, which is what I intended to write about today as a follow up to the adoption of Erika Schweizer.

But I’m embarrassed to report that, until now, I never looked at things from Helene’s perspective. In 1946, Helene was a 73-year-old widow living in Palestine, a land very different from what she was used to. She must have wanted to return home, to more familiar surroundings–albeit ones devoid of most of her family members. Bringing relatives with her would have provided some familiarity. Alternatively, she might have wanted to make a revenge return. She must have known that she wouldn’t live forever. Why should those who benefitted from the Nazi laws be allowed to keep what rightly belonged to her and her husband?

Even worse than not looking at things from her perspective? I realized that, when I was writing the family’s history, I entirely dropped her story. I didn’t even note–or know–her death date or place.

I had to turn to to discover that she died in Vienna in 1949.

I left the “viewed this profile” stat in because it’s really sad. 

Other things I don’t know:

  • What happened to Helene and Siegmund in Palestine? I don’t have any stories about or pictures of either of them.
  • Did Helene live with her sister- and brother-in-law and niece in Vienna, if only briefly?
  • If not, where did she live? 
  • On what date and of what did she die?

I’ll try to look into these things. In the meantime, Helene, please accept my apologies for dropping the ball on your story.


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