Wednesday, March 4, 2020

The Good Neighbor in Rotterdam

The Saga of the Dutch Postcards, Part 1

One night in late September 2017, two old friends were sitting around a table in Rotterdam drinking Jenever and Amstel ( I assume), and telling stories.  One of the two gentlemen, who I'll call F.C., turned to his dear friend and mentioned that he just had the most amazing luck reuniting an old photo with a family.  He'd had this old photo for many years, and he just recently had done an internet search on whatever version of Google that the Netherlands uses, and the name had just popped up.  He'd returned the photo to a rightful owner, and it really made him feel good.

And as most conversations go, the other kind soul, P.J. said something like, "well, that's an interesting story.... let me build on that and tell you a tale that will pull at your heartstrings and call upon your recent experience... " 

He continued, "Many years ago, during WWII, my father lived in Rotterdam. He had some Jewish neighbors at Graaf Florisstraat 104-A, and as things turned from bad to worse, he was asked by them to keep an old family photo album safe for them until things settled down. It was 1941, and they were arrested by the Nazis shortly after the album was secured. Nobody from the family ever returned from the camps. The whole family was lost in the holocaust, and while my father tried to find other relatives, sadly he never found any during his lifetime."
Graaf Florisstraat 104 today

P.J. went on to say that he had inherited this very photo album from his father, and had promised him that he would someday return it to the family.

"Well, that's fascinating, so let me see what I can do with my newly found mad Internet skills," said F.C., or more likely something similar to that in Dutch that comes across much more sincere and caring than anything I can come up with.

And so, the very next day, F.C. did an internet search on one of the names from the photo album. He typed in the father of the family's name, the man who had left the album with P.J.'s father over 75 years ago.

Well, low and behold, the top search results were numerous pages from Find-a-Grave and created by someone named The Cousin Detective.  It seems this Cousin chap had spent a lot of time and effort making sure that these lost family members were memorialized widely and never to be forgotten.

This of course is where I pick up the story.  At about 5:30 one morning I get a strange Facebook call from someone in the Netherlands.  I don't know too many people there, and I didn't actually know that Facebook did phone calls!  A message was left, and I think it's badly translated from the original Dutch:
Are you family of berthold bodenheimer? (16-5-1885) The father of a frind has Get them in1941 to keep them save for the family ww2. We are looking for a long time to Give them back to related family. 
Today we Find out that probely you are related family. Please contact us 
We have fotobooks and postcards of his family
Uh, yes. Actually.  I do happen to know Berthold Bodenheimer (1885-1943).  He's my great grandfather Siegmund's second cousin who was lost in the Holocaust.  His father, Isaak, was also lost, and he was my great great grandfather Benno's first cousin.  I've done a ton of research on this family, as they not only happen to have the same last name that I have, but they also have many of the same first names: Isaak for one.

Here's the deal with Isaak Bodenheimer and his family.  When I first started to do genealogy many years ago, I actually thought that this particular Isaak Bodenheimer from Waibstadt was my third great grandfather.  My own grandfather had visited the cemetery in Waibstadt, Germany and had taken a photo of his grave, maybe thinking that it was his own great grandfather -- I kind of doubt it now, as he certainly would have known if his own great grandfather had been lost in the holocaust. In any case, it sent me down the wrong path. And as years of research finally confirmed, it wasn't his great grandfather, it was his second cousin once removed. This Isaak was the nephew of "our" Isaak (my fourth great grandfather).

Waibstadt  grave of Isaak Bodenheimer (1854-1941)
However, by the time I'd figured out this was the wrong grave, I'd done a whole family tree of that branch of the Bodenheimers and more.  And way more...  I'd tracked down and traced pretty much anyone and everyone connected with Isaak Bodenheimer (1854-1941).  To be honest, I would have done that eventually anyway, but it is a little strange that I started with them. I then had to split it all up correctly when I finally found birth and death certificates in Waibstadt.  The tree on Geni is very solid now on the Isaak Bodenheimers of Waibstadt!

  • Isaak Bodenheimer (1813-1893) - My 3rd great grandfather; father of Benno
  • Isaak Bodenheimer (1854-1941) - My 1st cousin 4x removed; father of Berthold
  • Isaak Bodenheimer (1799-1881) - My 1st cousin, 5x removed; 3rd great grandfather of Rabbi Hans S. Bodenheimer
  • Isaak Bodenheimer (1870-1870) - My 2nd cousin, 3x removed; son of Aaron

I'd also found zero living relatives of Berthold and Isaak, as of yet.  I'd only found one lone descendant who'd survived the holocaust, Bertha Frank née Bodenheimer (1883-1970), who was Berthold's sister. All three of Bertha's children and her two grandchild have no trace after WWII.   I'm now fairly certain that it was Bertha who put up the very nice memorial in Waibstadt for her father. 

So back to the story.  I do in fact know Berthold Bodenheimer. And my Bodenheimer's appear to be his closest living relatives that I know of.  His children are the third cousins of my grandfather, and his lone grandchild (also lost in the holocaust) was my father's fourth cousin.

As much as I know about that entire lost Bodenheimer branch, I only have one single photo of one of Bertha's sons: Ludwig Frank.  No other photos for anyone else.  No photos exist.  And if they did, they surely didn't survive the holocaust.  They will never be found.  I did my best at documenting their memories with photos of gravestones and scans of documents.

Hold on, what was that last part of F.C.'s message?

"We have fotobooks and postcards of his family!"  Seriously?!  And you've been holding onto them for 75 years. Keeping the safe, and looking for some family to return them to? This is unbelievable!

"Yes yes," I replied calmly. "I certainly know Berthold Bodenheimer."

The Albums Arrive

And, on November 8, 2017, these two precious photo albums appeared at my front door.

The Bodenheimer Family Photo Albums from Graaf Florisstraat

The photo albums survived when many of the family didn't.  The photos are incredibly important in bringing them back into the present. Now that they are here again with us, they will never be forgotten. May the memory of the righteous be a blessing.   זכר צדיק לברכה

Continue on to part 2 to view the first and only photos of Berthold Bodenheimer and his family.

The Saga of the Dutch Postcards
Part 1: The Good Neighbor in Rotterdam
Part 2: Meet the Bodenheimers of Graaf Florisstraat 104
Part 3: The Postcards
Part 4: Family Updates, Family Found!

1 comment :

  1. Amazing story! I cannot believe that they held on to them all that time and that someone cared enough to track you down. I now am going on to Part 2!