Saturday, July 25, 2015

Documents from the Jewish Community of Neuwied, Germany


The International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies had its conference in Jerusalem this year with about 800 in attendance. Last year's conference was in Salt Lake City and Seattle will be the host for 2016. Each meeting provides an opportunity for Jewish genealogists to meet, network and attend a wide variety of presentations and other experiences. One of this year's activities was a visit to the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People.

The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People (CAHJP) in Jerusalem, established in 1939, holds a vast collection of medieval to present day archives of hundreds of Jewish communities, local, national and international Jewish organizations and many private collections.  Their long range plans include making digital copies available on the internet. Their online record store can be searched to see a portion of what’s available, but visiting in person is the primary way to gain access.

From their web site:

“Central Archives staff members cannot conduct actual research, as staff of the Central Archives is too small to do so, even for a fee. At best we can inform you whether we have relevant genealogical material from a particular community for a particular time period. You are then welcome to come to the archives or send someone on your behalf to do the research. In some cases, members of the Israeli Genealogical Society can be privately solicited to do research for a fee. Nothing, however, is as good as a personal visit to the Archives, since additional research possibilities not thought of at the outset often crop up in the course of research.”


In preparation for my visit, I submitted a list of records of interest to me. The Archive responded that only two documents from Neuwied, Germany were available, setting low expectations.

While there were “only” two documents, they were quite interesting and useful. They were both clearly original documents of their time and were of a type that I had never seen.  They were original documents of the Jewish community of Neuwied with information on my family.

The first was clearly of interest, but its purpose was not clear. While sitting in the archive with limited time, I was unable to figure out this puzzle. The handwriting was difficult and faded. On top of that, I have difficulty reading the old script. I took photos of all the pages that might have relevance to my family, hoping to figure it out later.

Each pair of pages listed an individual with columns of text and numbers. Whetting my interest, I found a page for Salomon Aron, my second great grandfather and another for his brother Sussmann Aron.  Of note, is that these were the first in my family to take the Aron surname when patronymics were banned in the 1800s and surnames required.

As an example, here is Salomon Aron’s page:

Understanding had to wait. 

At the conference, during the day which included's German Special Interest Group sessions (GerSIG), I attended a very interesting presentation by Fritz Neubauer, a resident of Bielefeld, Germany and an Obermayer Jewish German History Award nominee. (He discussed the recent find of an archive of letters that German Jews submitted to local registrars in 1939 announcing their assumed new given names as required by law. Men were thereafter called Israel and women Sara.) After his presentation, I asked Fritz to help figure out what this first book was about.

He determined fairly quickly that this book was the book of financial accounts for the Jewish community. It took us a few minutes to decipher the title on the cover. It reads “Contos der Gemeindeglieder” or “Accounts of Congregation Members”. Each pair of pages included a journal of billings to each member and a journal of amounts paid - essentially double-entry bookkeeping.  The billings were for items including synagogue seats, student tuition and student taxes.  The first years' entries included the names of children for whom charges were billed, but later just included the number of children covered. The earliest entries were in September, 1856, the last in 1866.

An accounting book like this can provide information to support family history research.  For example, I found the page for Alexander Jacoby, who I believe to be my 3rd great uncle.  His first wife died in 1859 leaving him three children.  He then remarried and had a child with his new wife.  His ledger page in the book showed him paying student fees and taxes for his children. My prior research had shown that he died while his second wife was pregnant with their second child.  The book includes a page that was started for the widow Jacoby. She continued to be billed for and pay for student fees for the children from her husband's first marriage.

Books like this are apparently fairly unusual to find .  Neither Fritz nor I had ever encountered such a document. But once fully understood, it will yield a variety of information including what ages children would be when they started and finished school, when families joined or left the community, the economic cost of being a community member, as we’ve seen, when members died and probably more. 

In retrospect, I should have taken photos of every page, instead of those just relevant to my personal research. The long range plans of the Archive are to scan their collection and make it available online.  In the meantime, the images I captured from Contos der Gemeindeglieder are available here: Contos der Gemeindeglieder.


The second book I reviewed was a register of all students in the Jewish school of Neuwied from 1894 to 1938. It was labeled "Schülerverzeichnis". The value of this list was more apparent at the outset and I took photos of every page: Schülerverzeichnis. Each student is named; the information for each includes date and place of birth, father's name and other demographic information as well as their report card. Here is the first page:

As it starts with student number 116, either this book is a continuation from a prior book or the early pages were lost. 

Student 123 was of interest to me.  He was Sally Aron, listed as son of Adolf Aron. Adolf was my 2nd great uncle, the son of Salomon Aron, mentioned above.  I had not found any record of Adolf having a son Sally due to the unavailability of most vital records for this period in Neuwied.

I was aware of a Sally Aron who was memorialized as killed in World War I (yes, fighting for Germany, as many of my family did), but could not connect him to my family.  But the Sally Aron listed in the student record had the same birthday. As I looked at the records, his birthday was just a month after Salomon Aron had died. Following tradition, Sally was named after his grandfather, as was my grandfather who was born two years later than his first cousin of the same name.

I have forwarded my photos of both books to Rolf Wüst of Neuwied,  He generously offered to transcribe the student listing.  His transcription is available here


Mr. Wüst is the former Chairman of the Deutsch-Israelischer Freundeskreis Neuwied (German-Israeli friends of Neuwied). Under his leadership, this group placed 255 stolpersteine (memorial stones placed in the pavement in front of the former homes of Holocaust victims)  

This brochure describes this remarkable accomplishment:

1 comment:

  1. thank you Dennis. this was extraordinarily interesting. Plater