Ten generations of family history
Draft version generations 10 to 4
In Germany, the thirty-years war (1618-48) is the point where darkness falls on most attempts at family history, except perhaps for those people who can claim to descend from kings and emperors. In my family, a few lineages can be traced back to the early 17th century, with some reliability. Only some, because there is always the risk that a falsely stated paternity or an error in the documentation may invalidate the whole thing at any point. And even if the connections are impeccable, any genetic traits of a given 10th generation ancestor would compete with the genes of up to 1023 others, hailing from wildly different backgrounds, which leaves very little room for “typical” family traits to be passed on over centuries. (Except if you do a lot of inbreeding, which has other disadvantages, as it tends to release skeletons from the genetic closet!) So it rather conveniently happens that the curtain falls on family research at around the same point in historical time where it would become meaningless anyway.
In my case, the tenth generation (counting from my own as the first), with birth dates between 1645 and 1717, has the highest number of individuals 68 people out of a theoretical number of 512-64=448, taking into account the known cases of cousin marriages. Go a full century back, to the 14th generation, there are only 6 people out of 15344 known by name and very little detail.
Let’s therefore start at one particular point in the tenth generation, namely the lineage of the Weiß family. Thankfully, back in 1891, a many-times-great uncle of mine took the trouble of writing down the history of his family in some detail, in a document entitled “Familien Chronik der Familie Weiß” (cited as “the Weiß chronicles” below). My great great aunt got hold of this document in the 1930s, copied it and added details of her own family.
It’s a story of refugees from the troubled Eastern parts of Europe whose descendants ended up in the Hunsrück mountain range beween Rhine and Moselle, and settled there for many generations. In the 19th and 20th century, there were moves to the West and East respectively, each time followed by a rather hasty return to the Hunsrück.
What is also remarkable about this lineage is that there are nine different professions in 10 generations (myself included). Therefore, I used the professions in the chapter titles, as they will facilitate navigation. For the same reason, the chapter numbering goes backwards, counting down to my generation as the number 1.
Table of contents:
I. The Weiß chronicles (1680-1891)
10. The merchant
II. The Kauer family (1844-1972)
6. The shoemaker
I. The Weiß chronicles (1680-1891)
10. The merchant
Christian Weiß is regarded as the founding father of this lineage, only because we know very little about him and nothing at all about his parents. He must have been born around 1680 -- the only clues being the birth years of his son Johannes, 1704, and of Johannes’s future father-in-law, 1681. The Weiß chronicles state that Christian Weiß was a merchant who was born in Silesia, which then belonged to the kingdom of Bohemia, was evicted from there because of his protestant faith. The conflict between a largely protestant population and a catholic ruler in Bohemia was the ignition for the Thirty Years War. As the protestants lost and the catholic rule was re-established, many protestants fled. (By the way, all people in this story are Lutheran protestants, unless specified otherwise.)
However, Christian Weiß himself was probably too young to to be a Bohemian refugee involved in the immediate aftermath of the war, so maybe his parents were evicted. In any case, the chronicles say that Christian Weiß found refuge in Königsberg, without any further specification. We had always assumed that this was the city belonging to the Brandenburg-Preußen dukedom (which in 1701 proclaimed itself the Kingdom of Prussia under Frederic I, in a ceremony held at Königsberg). Another descendant of the Weiss lineage, however, found evidence suggesting that Christian Weiss (whose name may have been different, too) lived in a village called Königsberg in Hessen, close to the town of Wetzlar.
Christian Weiß settled there and had two sons with his wife Maria Elisabeth. We don't know her maiden name, but she may have family ties to the village of Seibersbach, because their son Johannes received his confirmation there.
A bit of number-crunching to fill the space: If, as 20th century research suggests, each person has a 90% probability of being the child of the man whom they believe to be their father, Christian Weiß still is more likely to be my ancestor than not, at 53 %. Just as well that we don’t know anything about his father, because that guy would only have just under 48 % chance of being the true founding father of the lineage.
9. The parson
Of Christian Weiß’s two sons, one stayed in Königsberg and took up his father’s trade, while the other, Johannes Weiß (1704-1772) studied theology at Gießen (which makes the village of Königsberg appear a much more plausible starting point than the city would have been) and came as a parson-in-training (Pfarrkandidat) to Dörrebach in the Hunsrück mountain range, just a few kilometers west of Bingen on the river Rhine. There he was appointed a parson in 1729. In May 1740 (according to the Eckweiler book, the Weiß chronicles claim it was 1742), he moved to a parsonage in Eckweiler (some 20 km deeper into the Hunsrück), where he remained a parson until his death in 1772. In fact the Weiß chronicles were written in that very same village nearly 120 years later.
The village of Eckweiler dates back to the 9th century, its church to around 990. Sadly, its history spanning more than a thousand years came to an abrupt end.
In 1979, the village was officially dissolved. Following the introduction of Phantom fighter jets on the nearby airfield of the Bundeswehr, the noise had become unbearable. The last 250 villagers were relocated to a brand new suburb of the nearby town of Sobernheim, and all buildings except for the church -- not the original building, but the same location where Johannes had held his service some 250 years earlier -- were demolished. Too hastily, as it turned out, as the end of the cold war also saw the Bundeswehr selling off the airfield to a car manufacturer who planned to use it as a test course, but never did. So Eckweiler, known locally as “the church without a village” is very nice and quiet nowadays.
There is a book about the history of Eckweiler, its church, and its parsons. According to this source, Johannes Weiß was a very assertive type of person, who would always make sure that everybody got their due. In first years of his 32-year tenure, he had the church renovated inside and out. His lasting legacy, however, was to be the village school, built in 1770.
According to the same book, Eckweiler had 157 inhabitants in 1769, all of whom were protestants. Johannes’s parsonage also extended to the neighbouring village of Daubach, with 80 inhabitants including 36 protestants.
In 1732, Johannes married Katharina Elisabeth Ebener or Ebner (1712-1750), the daughter of the parson of Alterkülz (still Hunsrück, but 40 km NNE of Eckweiler), Philipp Ebener (~1681-1734). The Weiß chronicles state that Ebener’s family was originally from Hungary and was deplaced by the Thirty Years War, but that must have affected Philipp's grandparents, as his father, Johann Jacob Ebner, was born in 1646 at Trarbach on the river Moselle, where he was a conrector, i.e. a teacher entitled to teach the final year pupils at grammar schools (Lateinschule). The school still exists today and has confirmed that Johann Jacob Ebner taught there from 1686 till 1708, and his son Philipp Nikolaus from 1708 till 1720, i.e. before becoming the parson of Alterkülz.
Johannes and Elisabeth had seven children, of whom the second will be of interest for our lineage:
1. Johannetha Weiß married a forester named Federkeil, at Gebroth (Hunsrück).
8. The village mayor
Johann Gottlieb Weiß was born in 1736 and went on to become the mayor of the village of Pferdsfeld (which, like Eckweiler, was evacuated in 1978-82 because of the military airfield). He married Anna Katharina André from Gebroth (a tiny village, just a few km E of Eckweiler). We know nothing about her family (except that the family name has survived at Gebroth to this day). Note, however, that Gottlieb’s older sister Johannetha had also married someone from the same village (see above), so there may be some sort of pattern.
Following the example set by his parents, they had seven children, of whom the sixth will be of interest for the continuation of our lineage:
1. Johann Philipp Weiß, a teacher at Weiler on the river Nahe, married Anna Margaretha Kaiser, from Merxheim (Nahe).
7. The teacher
Christian Gottlieb Weiß (1782-1867) worked as a teacher, at first in Hellenthal (Eifel, i.e. north of the Moselle). This is where he seems to have found his wife. In 1806, he married Anna Gertraud Käuer, (1777-1858; alternative spelling: Keuert) from Gemünd. Her parents, Tilmanus Keuert and Regina Catherina Freischmid were from Hellenthal (Eifel), but we don’t know any more about that lineage.
He then taught at Raversbeuren, and from 1819 until his retirement in 1853 at Simmern unter Dhaun, a village today known as Simmertal, not to confused with the main town of the region which is also called Simmern. They are both on the same little river, the Simmerbach, but Simmern unter Dhaun is close to where it joins the Nahe river (near Kirn), while the town of Simmern is upstream, on the highlands of the Hunsrück. Relative to Christian Gottlieb’s home village of Pferdsfeld, Simmern unter Dhaun is just 5 km SSE, so he may have jumped at this opportunity to work closer to his family home, after the previous jobs were much farther away.
The school at Simmern unter Dhaun can be traced back to 1563, for which year the village chronicles record that a teacher’s salary was paid. In 1824, five years into Christian Gottlieb’s tenure, the “protestant elementary school” had 126 pupils. The following year, 14 Jewish children joined them as well. In 1838, the position of a second teacher was approved, and in 1841 a Mr Schneider was hired.
In 1846, the school house, dating back to 1747, was extended with a second storey. Since then, it had two classrooms and two flats for teachers, plus a barn and stables. However, as these buildings were too small to get a proper farm going, the schools land was leased to local farmers. We don’t know whether either of the flats was occupied by the Weiß family (whose children were all grown up by then).
Christian Gottlieb’s earnings at that point were:
* 47 Thalers from the Fabry foundation
In 1851, Christian Gottlieb built a house with barn and stables where he then lived with his wife and the growing family of his daughter Henriette, who had six children with her husband Friedrich Kaiser. One of them, Johann Kaiser, moved into the house of his parents in 1913, after retiring from his job as a teacher in Cologne. The house stayed “in the family” for more than a century, until 1961.
In 1852, the government of the Kingdom of Prussia, of which the Hunsrück area was now a part, politely enquired whether Christian Gottlieb didn’t want to retire from his teaching job, as he was already 70 years old, and there had been complaints about him. He retired the following year, after 34 years as a teacher at this school. Mr Schneider took over as first teacher for a year, but in 1854 new teachers were appointed to both positions.
Anna Gertraud died in 1858, aged 81. Christian Gottlieb died in 1867, aged 85. The school house survives to this day, but is in residential use today.
Christian Gottlieb and Anna Gertraud had 8 children and at least 20 grandchildren. The fifth, and to some extent also the second child will be of interest for further developments, while the 7th is the author of the Weiß chronicles.
1. Karoline (Kornelia) Weiß, 1807-1877, married farm labourer and coachman (Georg) Philipp Fuchs, at Simmern unter Dhaun. Reportedly, there have been troubles related to alcoholism and tuberculosis in that family, but they still managed to have 11 children, born 1829-1851.
II. The Kauer family (1844-1972)
From this point onwards, we leave the original contents of the Weiß chronicles. My great-great aunt, Johanna Kauer, who had saved the chronicles for our family by copying them from an original held by her second cousin Karl Kehrein, seamlessly turned them into the Kauer chronicles by adding details of her own family. Increasingly, the following events are also backed up by original documents which we still hold.
6. The shoemaker
Sophie Weiß (1815-1862) was born at Raversbeuren, during the second placement of her father’s teaching career, but mainly grew up at Simmern unter Dhaun, where the family settled in 1819. In 1844, she married Mathias Kauer (1813-1885), a shoemaker from the town of Simmern, the administrative centre of the Hunsrück area, some 15 km N (and upstream) of Simmern unter Dhaun.
Simmern had officially been a town since 1330. More intriguingly, it was the capital of an independent country, the dukedom of Palatinate-Simmern, for a quarter of a millenium, from 1410 to 1673. Look at it now, and the idea seems absurd. Tragedy struck when the last duke died without a successor and the French king Louis XIV laid claim to the territory for his family, but didn’t get the approval of the German nobility assembled in the Reichstag.
In 1689, French troups burned the town, blew up the castle, and demolished the fortifications. The town’s archives were lost and Simmern’s time of glory went up in smoke along with the rest of it. Very slowly, the town recovered from its darkest hour. By 1800, it had some 2000 inhabitants and was the centre of the canton Simmern with some 12,000 inhabitants.
In October 1794, French troups conquered the Hunsrück area, and General Bernadotte took over Simmern. The town remained French throughout the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, who introduced his characteristic brand of administration to the Hunsrück. After Napoleon’s demise, Simmern fell to Prussia, where it remained until Germany was united in the empire of 1871. Today it is a perfectly average small German town. Practically nothing reminds the visitor that it once was the capital of a country.
When Sophie Weiß came to Simmern to marry Mathias Kauer, the Kauers had been at Simmern for two generations. Mathias’s father Christoph Kauer, also a shoemaker, had been born there in 1785, but Mathias’s grandfather Christian Kauer, a linen-weaver, settled there in the 18th century, coming from nearby Kirchberg. Christian Kauer’s wife, Maria Magdalena Hebel (1747-1790), on the other hand, came from an old Simmern family and had a minor claim to (reflected) fame, as a first cousin of the author Johann Peter Hebel (Das Schatzkästlein des rheinischen Hausfreunds). Hans Jakob Hebel, who may or may not be an 11th generation ancestor of mine, was a tanner and Bürger at Simmern. He got married in 1639 and died in 1651.
From 1XXX to 1XXX, the Kauers lived at No. XX in the Hundsgasse (dog’s alley!) at Simmern.
Sophie and Mathias had 6 children, the firstborn being the torchbearer for our lineage:
1. Christoph Gottlieb Kauer, 1845-1930, see below.
5. The railway man
August 18th, 1870, must have been one of those days when everything goes wrong. Either that, or some people in very high positions were extremely stupid. I’ll leave the decision to you.
In either case, the early morning of that day saw some 200,000 German soldiers moving at an angle of 45 degrees towards a line of 112,000 French soldiers who occupied a safe position on high ground a few kilometre from the city of Metz, and who had had time to dig trenches for their protection. The strategic vision of the German commander, Helmuth von Moltke, was to outflank the French line. There were a few problems with that plan. First that he didn’t know how long that line was, as nobody had actually gone to check. Second that some of the generals at the front just ignored his orders to hold still and drove their men into the gunfire regardless.
On the other side, things went just as spectacularly wrong. General Bazaine, a distinguished soldier who had simply been promoted one step too far (in an early example of the Peter principle), did not even consider the possibility that he might be able to win this battle. His only ambition was to secure his retreat to Metz, which was to prove the trap in which Moltke eventually caught him. A single day of supreme stupidity and pointless slaughter left more than 12,000 French soldiers dead, wounded or prisoners. The German side counted 20,160 men who were left dead or wounded. Among the latter was a 25-year-old from Simmern, Christoph Gottlieb Kauer.
Christoph Gottlieb Kauer was born at Simmern in 1845 as the first child of shoemaker Mathias Kauer and his wife Sophie Weiß. He completed an apprenticeship as a shoemaker, but then worked as a clerk for a notary.
Simmern was then part of the Kingdom of Prussia. For young men this meant that they had to do obligatory military service for three years, starting at the age of 20, followed by another four years in the reserve and one year in the “Landwehr.” Thus, Christoph Gottlieb will have done his service years from 1865 to 68. In July 1870, when Bismarck’s infamous Ems telegram tricked France into declaring war on Prussia, he was well within his reservist years. Within two weeks of the declaration of war, he must have been in the army of over 1.1 million men dispatched towards French border.
Christoph served as a corporal in the 8th company of the 3rd infantery regiment of the 29th brigade. This was part of the First Army led by General Karl von Steinmetz (1796-1877), a veteran of many wars, starting with the liberation of Napoleonic rule in 1815. This time, however, Steinmetz soon became a liability by following his own impulses and ignoring the subtle strategies and direct orders of the chief of staff, Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891).
This problem became most obvious in the battle of Gravelotte on August 18, 1870, the biggest and bloodiest battle of this war. Steinmetz was supposed to pin down his end of the French line near the village of Gravelotte while other parts of the German Army moved towards the far end to outflank the French. Moltke had stripped Steinmetz of the command of two of the Corps in his First Army, including the VIII Corps in which Christoph served. Furthermore, Moltke had ordered him to hold still during the 18th, to allow the left wing of the German armies time for the planned strategic move.
Around noon on that day, however, Steinmetz grabbed the command over the VIII Corps back without anybody’s authorisation. By 2:30 pm he had enough of sitting still and -- in clear breach of direct orders -- sent three of the four brigades of the VIII Corps, including Christoph’s 29th brigade, forwards in an attempt to take the farm St Hubert, an exposed outpost in front of the French lines. To get there, the infanterists had to advance across a ravine with no protection, utterely exposed to the French troups equipped with superior mitrailleuses and long range rifles.
The three German brigades didn’t have the slightest chance to get there and were mowed down within minutes. The survivors sought shelter and only much later managed to take St. Hubert, after the German artillery had forced the French out of it. And even then it didn’t bring them any luck and they had to evacuate it again before nightfall.
Legend has it that Christoph shouted “Hooray” a little too enthusiastically when storming towards French positions, allowing a projectile to enter his wide-open mouth and take a large chunk of his jaw-bone on the way out. He grew a rather large beard to cover up the disfigured jaw. But considering the many thousands who died on that day, he (and our lineage) had a lucky escape.
On the next morning, the German troups found that the French had given up and retreated to Metz, where Bazaine’s army surrendered on the 28th of October. By then, the empire of Napoleon III had collapsed, following the defeat of Sedan, where the emperor was taken prisoner. In compensation, Bismarck constructed a new German empire, under Prussian leadership, as King William of Prussia became the emperor William I on January 18, 1871. General Steinmetz was “promoted” to the position of governor of Posen in a move designed to keep him out of mischief (and out of what remained of Moltke’s hair!), while Bazaine was court-martialled and found guilty of treason for giving up too easily.
In spite of (or because of) this traumatic event, Christoph was an early enthusiast of the European idea, later inscribing his family bible with a short poem including the line: “Europa ist mein Vaterland.”
In 1874 he married Margarethe Imig (1847-1930), also from Simmern, daughter of Weißbender ??? Wilhelm Imig (1820-1877) and Regina Catharina Strack (1817-1877). These two had seven children and 40 grandchildren. Margarethe was number two, but number four, Elisabeth, is also of interest, as her son, Julius Düsselmann, married Margarethe’s daughter Helene Kauer, and these two happen to be my great-grandparents.
Margarethe’s ancestors are all from the Hunsrück area for as far as we can tell (to the 10th generation, counted from myself). The Imig lineage can be traced back to Mathias Immig, born 1657 at Fronhofen near Simmern. He lived to the age of 71, but his wife Magdalena outperformed him, reaching the age of 88, which for somebody born in 1651 must have been a miracle. This may be where Margarethe and her five daughters got their longevity genes from.
There is a lovely story of a bunch of would-be emigrants in the early 18th century, including an Imig family, coming from the Pfalz region and heading for America, who got stuck after some 200 km near Kleve, on the Lower Rhine, and founded a “colony” comprising the villages of Pfalzdorf and Luisendorf.
To this day, there are many Imigs in both villages. The most prominent of them was the historian and poet Jakob Imig, 1905-1994. The ancestors of the Imigs in this group of frustrated emigrants have been traced back to Peter Imig, born 1620 in Fronhofen and his wife Gertrud, who was born in Biebern (1621) but died in Fronhofen (1684). While the link to “our” Imigs cannot be established with certainty, Peter and Gertrud Imig might very well be the parents (or other close relatives) of Mathias Imig, who was born 37 later in the same village.
After the war, Christoph Kauer worked with the nascent railways in the Alsace region, moving along with the job, as becomes obvious from the different birth places of his children (Mulhouse, Morhange, Fontoy). His last appointment was that of a station master at Adamsweiler (Adamswiler), where three of his daughters got married in 1900-1907, and where he died in 1909. I have a picture postcard of Adamsweiler showing the railway station as one of the four “tourist attractions” of the village. In front of the station you see a lineup of a station master with a very big beard, his wife, his 5 teenage daughters, and the station staff. When I visited the place in 1989, the station at Adamsweiler was still standing, essentially unchanged, but boarded up and put up for sale.
After Christoph’s death, Margarethe went to live with her second daughter, Auguste Fuchs (see below) at Saargemünd (Sarreguemines), Lorraine. The area became part of France in the Versailles Treaty, and in June 1919 Margarethe was forced to leave. She moved to Bad Münster am Stein, where she lived with her daughter Johanna (correct ???) until she died in September 1930, aged 83.
There are quite a few objects from the household of Christoph and Margarethe still in the family today, including a 20-volume encyclopaedia (Pierer’s Conversations-Lexicon), a grandfather’s clock, the bible mentioned above, and six pieces of furniture.
Intriguingly, Christoph and Margarethe produced two sons who died in infancy, and 5 daughters who lived between 73 and 87 years (which, for children born in the 1870s and 1880s is quite an achievement). Clearly, they weren’t meant to spread the name Kauer any further. While two of the five daughters remained childless, the other three had a total of nine children, including my grandmother, her brother and sister, and their six first cousins. With a few of them my grandparents and my great-aunt still held contact when I was a child. Names including Nelly and Martha were mentioned frequently, only I didn’t have the faintest clue who these people were!
1. Christoph Gottlieb Matthias, born 12.10.1875, died within a month.
4. The businessman
Helene Kauer, born in 1885 as the youngest of the five long-lived girls from the household of railway man Christoph Kauer and his wife Margarethe Imig, later told her grandchildren that she wanted to be a teacher when she was young, but that her parents couldn’t afford the fees to send her to the teacher’s seminar. Equal opportunities, she said, ended at the age of 10. Up to the fourth year of school, boys and girls had the same lessons. After that, girls were taught things like needlework and home economics, while boys studied more academic subjects like maths. Helene said she always considered that unfair, and when the time came she made sure that her daughters were able to study at university just as her son did.
Around 1905/06. she was still living with her parents at Adamsweiler (at the small railway station mentioned above, of which her father was the boss), when her cousin Julius Düsselmann (son of her aunt Elisabeth Catharina Imig, 1851-1924), came to live at Merlenbach, Lorraine, not all that far away. Julius (1883-1950) was an adventurous type and already had made a trip to the German colony in South West Africa (today’s Namibia), where he took part in the suppression of the Herero uprising. Historians now think that the colonial rule was upheld quite heavy-handedly, with interventions bordering on genocide.
The most notorious episode is the battle at the Waterberg of August 11, 1904, in which the German troups under the command of Lothar von Trotha surrounded 6000 Hereros, including women and children. The Hereros managed to break out into the Omaheke desert, where they were left to die of thirst and starvation. However, apart from some vague hints to “horrible things” he witnessed, we don’t know in detail what Julius did there or what he thought of it all.
In any case, he came back with ill health and had to settle for a quieter lifestyle, becoming the manager of a grocery shop belonging to the mining company in Merlenbach, 50 km east of the village of Adamsweiler, where his aunt and uncle lived with their two youngest daughters, Regina Katharina (“Kätha”) and Helene. Auguste and Anna were already married and had children of their own, while Johanna worked at Saargemünd at the post office.
Julius was the 4th child of a bunch of six produced by Karl Düsselmann (1841-1927) and Elisabeth Imig (1851-1924). I remember that my great-aunt used to refer to Julius’s younger sister Alwine anagrammatically as “Tante Lawine,” i.e. Aunt Avalanche. He also had a half-brother from Karl’s earlier marriage to Maria Schledorn.
Julius’s maternal ancestors were the Imigs whom we met above. On his father’s side, they all came from the Niederrhein area, i.e. the town of Krefeld, where many of them worked in the textile industry which Krefeld is famous for. Intriguingly, Karl’s mother was called Elisabetha de la Strada (1804-1882), whose paternal line we believe to have come from Italy. The current theory is that her great-great-grandfather had immigrated from Italy (a family tradition says it was from Capri, specifically) and worked as a gardener at a castle, which we believe to be Schloss Oranienstein at Dietz, Lahn. We now have a documented Johannes de Lastrada whom we believe to be that immigrant (though the gardener may have been in a different generation, and one de la Strada who is documented in archives relating to Oranienstein was a traiteur, not a gardener) . This Johannes de Lastrada married Elisabeth Hemmler at Wetzlar in 1681, they had 6 children baptised there between 1682 and 1691. In the marriage entry and in one of the baptisms, it is noted that the father of the family is Italian.
The set of Karl’s ancestors is complete back to the 8th generation (i.e. Julius's great-grandparents), and there are some patches going back to the 10th generation, where we find the names Siepmann, Wilsberg, Röshof Wolffs, de la Strada, Hemmler, Jacob, Zeisen (=Zeutzem, Zeutzheim), Enkrich, Saur, Schönau, Giesen, Baxher (Bacher?) Vossen, and Gather.
In September 1907, Helene and Julius married. They spent their honeymoon at the Belgian seaside resort of Oostende, as my great-aunt told me in a letter. Apparently, Oostende was a very posh place back then, and the very posh ladies wore very posh frocks ensuring that their physical shape remained obscured even when they went swimming.
It is also said that, before they got married, Helene and Julius consulted a geneticist who assured them that their being first cousins would not affect their chances of having healthy children. (Which leaves me wondering exactly what kind of miracle diagnostic methods the geneticists of 1907 possessed?!)
And three healthy children they did have (although only one lived to an age commensurate to those of the Kauer girls):
It is reported that Julius had been keen to emigrate to America, as his step-brother Karl had done already, and his brother Wilhelm would do as well in 1924 (while his sister Elise only emigrated to the Netherlands to marry a Mijnher Finkensiepen). However, Helene dissuaded him from this plan.
Still, enterprising as he was, he set up his own shop in Louisenthal (Saar), which seems to have done well, as he opened a second one nearby, under the supervision of Helene’s sister, Kätha.
However, due to a heart defect that is believed to arise from a tropical disease he caught during his time in Africa (possibly typhus), he was forced to retire from business in 1918, at the age of only 35. The family, now complete after the arrival of the youngest daughter, Esther, moved to the Lower Rhine area, where the Düsselmann lineage came from. His brother Wilhelm helped him find a countryhouse with 6 acres of land and 200 apple trees at Mennrath, where they lived off the savings and the pension he received as a war veteran.
Only five years later, inflation put an end to this lazy life. Julius was forced to take on a sequence of jobs in various kinds of commerce. By 1928, the family lived in the town of Rheydt, Königsstr. 32, where the firstborn, Ruth, finished high school that year.
In 1932, after a short spell of unemployment, Julius became a salesman for the textiles company C. Brühl & Co. at Rheydt. Following successful business in East Prussia, Julius was given the opportunity to start a new branch at Königsberg, which became a success. In 1936, the whole family, including faithful Aunt Kätha, moved to Königsberg, Münzstr. 10, renting a fourth floor flat with 8 rooms. They bought some of the furniture from a Jewish dentist who read the signs of the times and emigrated to Palestine. They let out the Mennrath estate. The factory, based at Kantstraße 10, started to run under Julius’s name, producing professional clothing and uniforms.
In 1937, Julius suffered severe injuries in a car accident. While he stayed in hospital, his son Werner interrupted his medical studies to run the business. At that point, the company had 150 employees and a new branch at Zinten, 30 km south of Königsberg. Werner then stayed on as a deputy manager until he was called up for military service at the beginning of the war.
In 1940, Julius split his business from C. Brühl by paying back the investment and a share of the profit.
Werner Düsselmann, who served as a simple soldier and truck driver on the Eastern front, was shot dead by snipers on the day of his 30th birthday, in 1941. His wife and young son both survived the war.
A week before Werner’s death, his sister Ruth had already paved the way for the family to return to the Hunsrück area (where her aunt Johanna Kauer lived in the house she built on her retirement in 1934), moving to Hahnenbach on the pretext of having to care for her aunt.
In August 1943, Ruth went back west for good, taking both her children and Aunt Kätha to Hahnenbach. A year later, Königsberg suffered devastating air raids. Over 4,000 residents died, 200,000 were left without abode. Julius and Helene protected themselves from the firestorm by covering up with bath robes dunked into the water of the lake at the Königsberg castle. The factory was also damaged, but could continue production on a smaller scale, with 25-30 machines.
In December 1944, Helene went west and moved in with her sisters, daughter, and grandchildren at Hahnenbach. Julius stayed behind, but in January 1945, when visiting the seaside near Pillau, he spontaneously decided to board what turned out to be the last ship to leave the Königsberg area. Very wisely, he had been carrying his travel documents and essentials with him for a while. By the end of the month, the city was surrounded by Russian troups.
Julius arrived at Hahnenbach in February 1945. In August, as the war was over, and he set out to make a fresh start, he moved his family to Bad Nauheim (north of Frankfurt), where they lived at Frankfurter Str. No. 26 at first, then moved to Frankfurter Str. 12, a substantial villa from 1898, which was to stay “in the family” until 1979. Initially, the family occupied only one room of this building. Using his old business contacts, Julius set up a wholesale trade for textiles. However, he did not have the time to develop this last business venture very much, as he died suddenly, in March 1950, at the age of 66, when visiting his daughter Esther at Frankfurt.
Helene continued to live at Frankfurter Straße 12 with her daughter Esther, who remained unmarried. They sold the property at Mennrath and set up a guest house catering for visitors to the spa facilities that Nauheim is famous for. (Come to think of it, maybe the town is more famous for the fact that Elvis Presley spent his military service time there, but I don’t know whether any of my relatives met him! They’re not very musical on that side of the family.) The two main floors of the “Pension Düsselmann” had 12 rooms with around 300 m2 total surface area, not to mention the small flat in the loft and the vast basement including a derelict bowling alley. Esther and Helene used three rooms themselves, leaving nine rooms plus the flat for paying guests or visiting family members.
Helene lived to the age of 87 in full possession of her wit and mental abilities. She died in November 1972, the only great-grandmother I got to know.
Despite having a diploma in economics and a PhD dissertation in the drawer (it had become meaningless after the war, as it dealt with opportunities in Eastern Europe, or something like that!), Helene’s daughter Esther did not inherit her father’s business sense. She kept spending inordinate amounts on changes to the interior layout of the house (we made jokes about how the toilets ended up in different locations each time we visited!), while leaving the roof and structure to rot. On top of that, she also liked to spend generously on taxi rides, furniture made to measure, and antiquarian books. (I shouldn’t moan about the latter, though, as she left the books to me!) When a series of strokes left her paralysed before the age of 60, the family found out that the sale of the villa was only just enough to cover her debts. She died in 1983, aged 64, leaving my grandmother, Ruth, as the last survivor of the three children of Julius and Helene.
Familien Chronik der Familie Weiss (a previous write-up, from 1891)