The Last of the Kornmehl Butchers (Maybe)

The Last of the Kornmehl Butchers (Maybe)

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

Nathan Kornmehl, lower left, in front of his shop in Buffalo, NY — slightly warmer than Siberia

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.”

Frances and Nathan Kornmehl, ca. 1990

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!”

96-year-old Nathan Kornmehl with four out of six grandsons:  Tyler, Adam, Jason and David Kornmehl

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.

31 Responses to The Last of the Kornmehl Butchers (Maybe)

  1. I’m enjoying following your family history,(which sometimes reads like a novel) and how nice to have your newly found relative contributing. Maybe this will become a whole family project.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Thanks — and I agree that the family story is more intriguing than I ever imagined. And I’m hoping more family members will contribute. There’s an award-winning Dutch writer in the family, Ariella Kornmehl, for example. Hint, hint…

  2. What an astonishing journey you have embarked on. Thank you so much for sharing your discoveries and your newly found family. It’s always a good day when I find a message in my email box with “Freud’s Butcher” in the subject line.

  3. Kristine says:

    I love the “maybe” at the end. Families are large and extended, with branches in the most unlikely places, apparently. There could even be a relation to the Kornmehls with a butcher shop in your own city!

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Exactly! I’ll have to start checking butcher shops around Arizona. That’s research that Frankie would like!

  4. Clare says:

    Jill, thank you for the fascinating narrative. To think Nathan survived Siberia at all, much less established such a full life in a different world. And the photo of Frances and Nathan is adorable. I’d love to see another guest post from you, whether about a particular part of Nathan’s life, or about how your husband and his father were influenced.

    Edie, thanks for the links to Tarnow, rolled beef and glatt–answered all my questions before I asked them. Keep the posts coming!

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      I concur — the story of Nathan and Frances is fascinating and it would be great to learn more about the (maybe) last kosher butcher.

      I didn’t know what rolled beef was either, Clare, and I was kind of unclear about glatt kosher too. And until I discovered a new relative who wrote a genealogy of the Kornmehl family, I had no idea of the Tarnow connection.

      • Tilda Kaplan says:

        Jill had a big surprise for me today. We have another living relative! The biggest surprise of all is that this relative, Edie (yes, Edie, there is another Edie) lives in Atlanta relatively close to where I live. Edie Kornmehl Friedman, is our cousin Bernie’s sister, which makes her our cousin also. Edie, her husband Gus, and son Brett came to breakfast this morning along with Jill (who organized the surprise) and her husband Bernie. So today I got to meet 5 more Kornmehl descendents/spouses. What a morning!

        • Edie Jarolim says:

          Ah, Jill told me that she had a surprise in store for you… when I first saw the piece that Jill wrote about Nathan, I knew about Nathan’s sons but it wasn’t until I did some editing and questioning that I discovered there were daughters, and that one had the same name as I do! Of course my name is from our paternal grandmother, but that’s still an amazing coincidence. And of course I’m envious (as well as excited and pleased) that you’ve been getting to meet all the Kornmehls in real life while I have to settle for an electronic relationship. For now, anyway.

          • Jill Leibman Kornmehl says:

            Lovely to be able to contribute and bring my wonderful father-in-law to your readers’ attention.

            It was great to set up this surprise reunion..and you never know what the Kornmehls will surprise you with.

            So stay tuned to the blog~it is sure to bring you many more interesting stories, adventures and tales of Freud’s butcher’s extended family!

            • Edie Jarolim says:

              So true, Jill. And of course the biggest surprise was finding you all in the first place.

              Thank you again for bringing Nathan’s story to life. I’ll look forward to more fascinating tales of the Kornmehls…

  5. Leo says:

    What a nice story. Glad to know that Nathan, after leaving Siberia, got all he ever asked for.

  6. […] has done his share of reviving the Kornmehl name through his three sons, all of whom worked in the last Kornmehl butcher shop in Buffalo as teenagers.  Since then, they have been smart enough to move somewhere warmer than […]

  7. Pat Gorman says:

    I lived on Huntington Avenue in Buffalo growing up and our next door neighbors were Max Kornmehl and his wife and children. he worked at that meat market, and I assume a relative. We were very close neighbors and their daughter, Doreen and I grew up together. Could you in form me if this is the same family, and where they went to?

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      I’m sure it’s the same family since all the Kornmehls seem to be related. But Nathan’s sons are Bernie, Marvin and Ernie, not Max. I will pass your comment along to Jill Leibman, the family historian who wrote this piece, along with your email address.

      Thanks for writing! I’ll look forward to hearing the answer to your question too.

      • Pat Gorman says:

        Thank you Edie for being so prompt in reply. The husband was Max, wife Esther, children Doreen and Sandra. Esther’s grandfather lived with them and he was just Grandpa Silverman to me, wonderful man. They worked at the super mart every day and I did visit it with Doreen many times. We lived on Huntington near Parkside, and they were right next store. Any information would be wonderful from anyone.

        • Edie Jarolim says:

          You’re very welcome. This blog connected another Kornmehl with his childhood friend in Buffalo. Hope I can do the same for you. I’ll pass your latest information along.

        • Jeffrey Lichtman says:

          I somehow stumbled on this web site. In 1961, I invited Doreen Kornmehl to my cousin’s sweet 16, which was a dated party. At first, Doreen accepted my invitation, but then called back and said she was going to Toronto with her family. As a result, my sister and her girlfriend fixed me up with Sheila Gilbert, who has been my wife for 45 years (mostly living in Atlanta).

          Jeffrey Lichtman

          • Edie Jarolim says:

            Jeffrey, what a funny coincidence! Thanks for writing in. Do you by chance happen to know what happened to Doreen, even though you didn’t marry her? Do you know anyone who knows her?

            • Jeffrey Lichtman says:

              No, I have not seen Doreen since high school.

              Jeffrey Lichtman

            • Edie Jarolim says:

              Ok, thanks for letting me now. Now I’m on a mission to find her!

            • alvin mintz says:

              Doreen lives in Rockville, Md. with her husband Russ. Her 2 children are Josh and Sara. Josh is a cancer physician in the Denver area amd Sara is an accountant in New Jersey.

    • Alvin mintz says:

      Max never worked in the butcher shop. He and his father Henry owned a kosher deli down the street from their cousin and nephews butcher shop.

  8. […] Kornmehl, was brought up Hasidic in Tarnow. Frances’ husband Nathan Kornmehl — aka The Last of the Kornmehl Butchers (Maybe) – was also from Tarnow, but he was more modern when it came to […]

  9. Alvin mintz says:

    My grandfather was Henry Kormehl, Nates uncle in Buffalo and owned Kornmehl’s Superette on Hertel .ave. My mother Sylvia Kornmehl Mintz is now 98 and the oldest Kornmehl. She lives in Margate ,Fl.

  10. Yolanda says:

    I am helping a friend at work to build his family tree and from the information I have so far Jill Leibman is related to him through Shraga Lishinski her great grandfather.
    I would appreciate if I could link with her to confirm my findings.

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