I was saddened by the recent news that Nathan Kornmehl had died, initially in the way you are saddened by the passing of a historical figure — almost a fictional one. As Linda Chalmers Zemel, who interviewed him for the Buffalo Jewish Review in 2004 — see Nathan Kornmehl’s Story — said of Nathan, who died last week at the age of 97:
His life is the stuff authors draw upon for a book and screenwriters for a script. His story tracks events that resonate with that familiar sound of the pain and tragedy of the Jewish experience in the 20th century. But it is also the story of happiness and fulfillment realized by the relatively few Holocaust survivors who were fortunate enough to reach America and make a new life.
Nathan Kornmehl was a major presence on this blog, although I am only distantly related to him and never met him. That’s thanks to his daughter-in-law, Jill Leibman Kornmehl, a key source of genealogical information about my mother’s family, the Kornmehls. She had been very fond of his late wife, Frances, and she was very fond of Nathan.
Nathan’s presence here is also thanks to his profession. He was very likely — because you never know, at the rate new family members keep emerging — The Last of the Kornmehl Butchers (Maybe).
This is the bare bones of who he left behind, from the obituary in The Buffalo News:
KORNMEHL – Nathan August 22, 2013. Beloved husband of the late Frances Kornmehl; devoted father of Edie (Gus) Friedman, Bernard (Dr. Jill), Sharona Fae, Dr. Marvin (Dr. Carol), Dr. Ernest (Dr. Ellen) Kornmehl; loving grandfather of Brett Warren Friedman, Jason, Adam, David, Heather, Tyler, Chelsea, Lia and Jake Kornmehl; pre-deceased by four sisters; dear companion of Annette Levenson.
I was intrigued by this last reference. The name Annette Levenson was unfamiliar to me. And then I heard from Seth Levenson, Annette’s grandson, who explained:
A few years after his wife Frances died, Nate began spending a lot of time with my paternal grandmother, Annette Levenson — my Bubbe. They never got married; just visited and vacationed a lot together, so we referred to him as Bubbe’s boyfriend.
I considered him my grandfather since I never knew my actual paternal grandfather. (He died when I was about two years old.) Nate always treated me like family and helped me whenever I needed it. He made a huge impact in my life.
I’ve been really sad ever since he died. Thank you for posting photos and sharing information about his life and family history. It’s nice to find pieces of him still around. I didn’t even get to say goodbye, you know?
Seth didn’t think I would be interested in his thoughts, because he isn’t part of Nathan’s “real” family, but he couldn’t have been more wrong. I have been discovering how many lives he touched, not only his blood relatives, but also members of the Buffalo Jewish community, where his butcher shop was a hub, as well as many who just met him briefly. I’m sorry I wasn’t among them.
I welcome memories and pictures of Nathan here. I’m sure there are others who didn’t get a chance to say good-bye, or who would like to have their words about him known to the public. Please post in the comments section and let me know, too, if you have pictures. I’ll contact you and let you know the best way to send them. I’ll post them as they come in.
“From reading about your father in your family history postings we see that the saga of his life reflects the 20th century history of the Jewish people. His strength of character despite hardship have made him an outstanding role model for the family and the entire community. He will truly be missed.”
— Pinchas Cohen, a friend of Bernie Kornmehl’s.
“We are very sorry to learn that Nathan passed away. We met him several times and we were very impressed of his connection to the Kornmehl generation from Tarnow and his positive attitude to meet another branch of the Kornmehl family. The first time we met, already he gave us the feeling that we knew him as a close relative very long already. We pray, that his memory will be a blessing to all his children and grandchildren and he will stay in our minds forever.”
— Rob and Marion Kornmehl /Amsterdam
My Uncle Nate was a real mensch, and he held a special place in our hearts. I, my wife, and my children always enjoyed being with him. He was interested in us, curious, always looking to see what wisdom he could dispense. He loved to laugh, and had a zest for life that was infectious. His eyes reflected kindness and caring. He was a veritable font of knowledge. His sharp mind could recall dates and events of the past with clarity. He was the last of his generation, and we cherished the ties to the past that he represented. In his words and his actions, we could recall with great pleasure memories of his sister, my mother. They spoke with a singular voice, and being with him left us feeling happy for the experience.
Uncle Nate was one of the pillars of our lives growing up in Buffalo. He was your go-to guy, the voice of reason in the face of petty squabbles, the peace-maker who knew the value of humour and calmness in dealing with life’s challenges. When I think of him, I think of his butcher shop— he seemed to be always there, always with a smile and a kind word. And always, with a slice or two of rolled beef to brighten up a kid’s day. I fondly recall the times when he asked me to join his family at Glen Park to go on the rides, or for day of fun at Crystal Beach.
Uncle Nate had a reverence for G-d and for all religions, but it was so obvious that he cherished his Judaism. He reveled in it, lived it every day. He oft quoted from the bible in ways that were relevant and meaningful to the conversation. When my father, Leo, died, Uncle Nate was at the shiva house each day, usually leading the davening. A few times, with the prayers concluded, he would dispense a dracha, a little sermon which provided some piece of wisdom or comfort or insight into our sad circumstances. His words in one particular dracha have stayed with me to this day. He said that we must accept that death, for all the pain and suffering it causes, is part of life. You cannot have one without the other. A simple truth, but powerful nonetheless.
We are sorry to see such a gutte neshuma, a good soul, leave us. We will all miss him.
— David, Bonnie, Amy and Tamara Lilien, Toronto, Canada
If you knew our Great Uncle Nate, you know that he was caring, kind, sweet, generous and much more. I’m so happy that I had the chance to see him at our nieces Ilana Shapiro and Renee Shapiro’s Bat Mitzvah in November of last year. I always made sure that when I was in Buffalo, I would go see him. Gary, my husband, saw him in August when he was visiting. Nathan is going to be missed by so many people. So many of my friends knew him and my Aunt Frances. When I was younger, my friends and I use to ride our bikes over to their house. They lived so close to us. I’m so proud to say he was our Great Uncle!!!!
— Wendy Redlich Potter, great niece of Nathan Kornmehl