It boggles the mind, how little I knew about my family until I started writing this blog.
My mother was an only child and, as far as I knew, everyone in her immediate family had died in Europe. I had one living uncle on my father’s side, but he returned to Vienna after the war and I didn’t meet him until I was 19.
In effect, I grew up without relatives — at least not the kind my friends had. The ones with houses you went to for seders, the ones who had children you played with.
The kind you knew you were related to — and how you were related.
Some Fuzzy Recollections
But I do remember a few people whose connection to us seemed vaguely family-ish. My mother used to take me and my sister to visit people in Brighton Beach named Neugasser and Weiss. I don’t have a clear picture of who the Neugasser name was attached to, but I know the Weisses had a daughter named Rena — I even found a picture of her. Rena was closer to my sister’s age, i.e., some five years older than I am, which could explain why she doesn’t stand out in my mind. I doubt the “big girls” would have welcomed my company.
Then there were the Sternbergs. I don’t recall knowing them when I was a kid, but years later, when my mother had moved to Atlanta and I had made my own, less dramatic move, from Brooklyn to to a tiny Manhattan studio, she would take time out of a visit with me to see people named Otto and Hetty Sternberg. I knew they were somehow related and that Otto was a doctor. My friend Martha lived a block away from them on the Upper West Side — still does, though I don’t imagine the Sternbergs are with us any longer — so I would hang out with her while my mother saw her relatives, however she was related to them. I’m sure I met the Sternbergs, but my mother didn’t encourage me to linger– that’s a bit strange isn’t it? — so they made less of an impression on me than their spacious apartment, which I coveted.
OSK: The Other Siegmund Kornmehl
Now I know who the Neugassers, Weisses, and Sternbergs were.
They are all part of the family of the Other Siegmund Kornmehl (OSK), the brother-in-law who has the same name as Freud’s Butcher (I won’t call him FB, lest he be confused with Facebook).
The one in the family picture with the beard who looks like one of the Smith Brothers of cough drop fame.
The one who was the owner of the Cafe Victoria (pictured next to this post’s title).
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The story begins with Aron Juda Kornmehl, born in Tarnow, Poland, in 1852. In 1876, Aron married Rivka (Regina) Spiegel (b. 1848 — an older woman!). They had three children, Siegmund (b. 1875), Helena (b. 1887), and Mina (b. 1894).
Siegmund and his family
In 1899, Siegmund married Anna (Chana Jente) Kornmehl, born 1877, my great aunt. She was
a distant cousin of his his first cousin — which explains why they were both named Kornmehl. Siegmund died in 1938, of non-Nazi-related causes of unknown causes. Anna died in Theresienstadt on September 1, 1943.
Anna and Siegmund had four children: Alfons (b. 1899), Margit (Greta, b. 1913), Egon (b. 1901) and Henriette (Hetty, b. 1908), all born in Vienna.
Two of them, sadly, were eliminated from this story early on: Alfons and Margit Kornmehl were sent with their mother, Anna, to Theresienstadt in 1942, and were transferred to Auschwitz, where they died.
The other two fared better.
Egon married Gitta/Gisella Szabo, who was born in Yugoslavia, and moved with her to England in 1939; there Egon worked as a coffee house manager — experience acquired, no doubt, from working in his father’s business, the Cafe Victoria. In 1942 the couple immigrated to New York and lived in Brooklyn with Egon’s aunt Helena (see below). By June 1945, Egon and Gisella had moved to Manhattan.
Henriette, aka Hetty, married Dr. Otto Sternberg in Vienna in 1930. That clears up the mystery of one family member I vaguely remember: Hetty was my mother’s first cousin.
Incidentally, my mother was also named Henriette (pronounced Hen-ree-ET-uh, not the French way, On-ree-ET), but she was called Rita. Yet another first cousin in the family was Henriette Schmerling, known as Herma or Mimi. Three first cousins named Henriette, all with different nicknames — to avoid confusion?
I have already written about the three women in the family named Ernestine, with various spellings.
Helena and her family
Helena married a tailor named Isaac Neugasser, born in 1883 in Poland. They had two children in Vienna, Martha (b. 1913) and Walter (b. 1920). Isaac Neugasser immigrated to the U.S. in 1923; he was joined, six years later, by Helena, Martha and Walter. Initially they lived in the Bronx, but they later moved to Brooklyn, where Martha Neugasser married Aaron Weiss in 1935. They had two children, Marvin and Rena.
So there’s Rena identified. She was the granddaughter of my great uncle’s sister.
Mina and her family
Mina’s family doesn’t figure in my childhood recollections, but it was one of them who inspired all the research detailed here.
Mina Kornmehl married Ervin Allina, who was originally from Czechoslovakia, in 1917. They moved from Vienna to Prague to be near Ervin’s family.
Ervin and Mina had four children: Gertrude (b. 1918), Hans (Jan, b. 1919), Curtis (Curt, b. 1922) and Erika (b. 1924). Ervin left his family in Prague and went to America. After it became clear that her husband wasn’t planning to return to Prague, Mina moved with her children to Vienna to be closer to her brother Siegmund and his family.
Only Curt survived the war. He eventually made it to America, where he re-encountered his father and his aunt Helena Kornmehl Neugasser; for a while, he lived in Brooklyn. It is his fascinating story that I’ll be telling in a future post (or two).
Why some, and not others?
I am left with some answers — and many more questions. Egon Kornmehl was another of my mother’s first cousins and he also lived in New York. Why did I never hear of him? (His trail grows cold after 1945; maybe he moved before I was born?) Ditto Curt Allina, who had the same relationship to my mother as Rena Weiss.
I learned earlier that my mother’s uncle Rudolph Kornmehl and his daughter Paula lived in Queens when I was growing up. Why didn’t I ever meet them?
I have some theories. But they are for another post too.