by Allan Westreich
Book excerpt from The Westreich Family Tree: Putting the Puzzle Pieces Together Using Traditional and Genetic Genealogy. Edited by Allan H. Westreich, Ph.D. Published by JewishGen Press, 2023.
I’ve been interested in my family history for a long time. My first active questioning about it was back in high school when my three living grandparents were over for dinner. My one deceased grandparent was my paternal grandfather, Abraham “Abe” Westreich, who died before I was born and I was subsequently named after. I was told that night by my grandmother that the name of Abe’s father (my great-grandfather) was Mendel and that he was from Austria. And that Mendel had a sibling named Angel who had emigrated to England and that is where his descendants live. This was the first I had heard of relatives living in a different country. And I remember getting confused about the name Angel, thinking this was a sister but really it was a brother (full name of Anschel). And this was also the first time I drew a family tree, eagerly trying to capture all this new and interesting information which started me on a lifelong (on-and-off) genealogical journey. If only I had asked more questions of my grandparents back then!
Gershon Westreich, born circa 1810, is the earliest-known patriarch of this branch. Gershon married Chaja Rojza “Bluma” Klaubauf (see picture below), daughter of Dawid and Rifka Klaubauf. Bluma was born circa 1812 and died in Brzesko in 1907 at age 95. She is buried in the New Jewish Cemetery in Brzesko — see gravestone (restored in 2020) and translation below.
An elderly, modest, and honest woman
Always treasured and feared God
Compassionate and kind with a good heart
Was pious and quick to observe the commandments
Mrs Chaya Rojza daughter of our departed
Teacher David of blessed memory. Passed away on the evening of ??
Shevat 5667 [Feb 12, 1907]. May her soul be bound in the bundle of life.
Gershon and Bluma had 4 known children, all sons — Joseph, Mendel, Israel Hillel, and Anschel.Little is known about Joseph Westreich, the oldest son of Gershon and Bluma. According to a family letter, he changed his surname to Koenigsberg to avoid getting drafted into the military and lived to 112.
I. Little is known about Joseph Westreich, the oldest son of Gershon and Bluma. According to a family letter, he changed his surname to Koenigsberg to avoid getting drafted into the military and lived to 112.
II. My great-grandfather Mendel Westreich (c. 1840 – 1925) was the next son of Gershon and Bluma. Reports of his livelihood in Poland include owning a “saloon,” making cabinets, and owning a small farm. He married Keile “Katie” Krautwirt (from Bochnia) and they had 6 known children — Gustav (c. 1868 – 1928), Rebecca “Beckie” (1876 – 1939), Chana/Anna “Annie” (1878 – 1968), Abraham “Abe” (1882 – 1955), Marjem (1888 – 1889), and Schewe (1888 – ?). The last 2 children probably died in childhood — Marjem and Schewe. Below is a family picture of Mendel, Katie, Beckie, Annie, and Abe, most likely taken in Brzesko circa 1890.
Based on the birth and death records of Mendel and Katie’s children, it appears that the family moved often, which apparently was common for families of modest means, primarily in the towns of Brzesko and nearby Nowy Wisnicz and Brzeznica. Abe was born in Brzesko in House #313 in 1882, likely the family residence at the time. See the photograph below for this location in current day, although it is likely that the original (wooden?) house was burned down in the major fire in 1904 in Brzesko and rebuilt as shown.
Based on the birth and death records of their children, Mendel and Katie were never married in an Austrian civil ceremony, although no doubt they had a Jewish/religious wedding ceremony. This was quite common among Galician Jews who, by and large, were not eager to assimilate into the Austrian/Polish culture.
Mendel’s oldest son, Gustav (c. 1868 – 1928, see picture below), appears to be the pioneer of the family. As a child, Gustav attended public school for 3 years and also went to a cheder, an elementary Jewish school where he was taught the basics of Judaism and the Hebrew language. He also learned to read, write, and speak German, Polish, and Yiddish. As an adult, the story goes, he was a faithful reader of German, Jewish, and English newspapers. Family lore also reports that one of his public school teachers offered to instruct the children to play the violin if they brought a violin to school. Gustav related this to his father Mendel who made him a violin. So he had musical instruction at a fairly young age.
Family lore also says that Gustav went AWOL from the Austrian army, buried his uniform, and left Austria in 1887 to live in England with Mendel’s brother Anschel and his family. (Although the less glamorous version of this story is that he simply left Austria for England when he received an order to join the Austrian army.) After a year in England, living in his uncle’s home, which was not an affluent one, and finding himself unable to earn a living in the glass and window business, Gustav decided to go to the US in 1888, first settling into the lower east side of Manhattan. He began working as a house painter, and then in 1895 decided to go into business with a friend (Isidor Greschler), who each invested their life savings of $300 into a paint store at 1674 Broadway in Brooklyn. As the business prospered, Gustav added hardware. (In fact, many Westreich’s from this branch went into the hardware business.) Gustav later built 2 buildings nearby, at 1664 Broadway in Brooklyn, each 4 stories high with a store, a loft, and a 7-room apartment. He moved his business and his family residence into one of these buildings.
Gustav married Augusta “Gussie” Spinard in 1889 in Manhattan (see picture below). They had 6 children — Bertha (1890 – 1985), Ann (1892 – c. 1989), Pearl (c. 1894 – 1920, died in the flu pandemic), Miriam (1896 – 1981), Jonas (1898 – 1974), and Abe/Albert/Al (1901 – 1982).
Bertha, the eldest, was the source for much of the family history of Gustav. In describing the household where she grew up, Bertha told of a father who was very successful in business and a mother who, without help from relatives or servants, successfully ran a home and raised 6 children. Her parents lived very carefully and would be described as middle class. Religion was not an important factor in family life. Although Gustav, and presumably Gussie, had a Jewish upbringing, their children did not. Gustav was a free thinker and a socialist. Religious education was not made available to the children and neither of their sons had a Bar Mitzvah, which was very unusual at the time. Both sons followed in their father’s footsteps and opened their own retail business – Jonas, a clothing store in Keyport, NJ and Al, a paint/hardware store in Brooklyn, NY (see newspaper clippings below).
Gustav’s move to the US (1888) was followed by his sister Beckie (1890) and then his sister Annie (1895). Mendel, Katie, and their youngest son Abe followed (1896) when Abe was approaching draft age. According to a fanciful family story, they snuck over the Austrian border in the middle of the night to board a boat to Ellis Island, NY. Immigration records indicate that they departed from Hamburg, Germany, approximately 600 miles from Brzesko, in steerage class on a ship named Persia, arriving at Ellis Island on May 29, 1896.
Beckie married Zelig/Sigmund Plapinger and they had 3 children — Mathilda “Tillie (1898 – 2000), Anna (1899 – 1976), and John “Edward (1907 – 1978). Tillie, who lived to the ripe old age of 102, supplied several of the above family stories. Edward owned a hardware store.
Annie married Henry Halbkram and had 2 children — Flora (1907 – 1990) and Abraham/Albert/Al (1908 – 1981). Flora supplied the above early pictures of Bluma and of Mendel’s family. Al owned a hardware store on 42nd Street, Manhattan.
Mendel, Katie, and Abe initially settled in the lower east side of Manhattan in a small 2- or 3-room apartment at 107 Pitt Street and later moved to 2998 Fulton Street in Brooklyn. Mendel reportedly did not work once coming to the US, financially supported by his sons Gustav and Abe. Mendel has been described as “smart” and “shrewd.” He often smoked a pipe.
Abe (see picture below), my grandfather, initially went into business with a partner, Mr. Moscowitz, who he later bought out. Abe then had his own hardware business, A. Westreich Co., in 1906 at 3134 Fulton Street in Brooklyn (see picture below), which was apparently very successful as it expanded to 3 store fronts. Abe has been described as “ambitious.”
Abe married Rose Yahre in 1914 (see picture below) and had two sons — Gerald and Harold. The family moved to 208 Norwood Avenue, around the corner from the store. When the sons were old enough, the entire family of four worked in the hardware store … a true “family business.” The family and the business all relocated to Jamaica, Queens, NY in the 1950’s, all living and working within blocks of each other yet again. The store existed into the 1970’s.
III. The next son of Gershon and Bluma was Israel Hillel Westreich (1850 – ). He was born in 1850 in Brzeznica, a small village near Brzesko. He operated a seltzer factory and was a wine dealer. He died relatively young, in his early 50’s (?), leaving his wife Ruchel to care for their 9 living children, all (but the first) born in Brzesko — Gershon (1877 – ), Chaim/Henry (1879 – 1980), Leib/Leo (1881 – 1966), Mendel (1883 – ), Natan (1886 – 1886), Rifka/Regina (1887 – 1942), Josef Salamon (1889 – 1939), Isaak/Izzie (1892 – ), Laje Freide (1893 – ), and Dawid/David (1898 – ).
Similar to his brother Mendel’s family, Israel Hillel’s children’s birth records indicate several different residences. Therefore, Israel Hillel’s family moved relatively often, which again was common for families of modest means. Another similarity with his brother Mendel, Israel Hillel did not have a civil marriage ceremony before having children, although no doubt had a Jewish/religious wedding ceremony then. However, Israel Hillel and Ruchel did eventually have an Austrian civil marriage in 1900 in the nearby town of Klasno. Perhaps this was done because Israel Hillel was in failing health and he wanted to legitimize his children in the eyes of the Austrian government before he passed on.
Israel Hillel’s wife Ruchel (nee Jakob, see picture below) lived to over 100 years old, when she was taken from her daughter Regina’s house in Jaworzno by the Nazis. Regina’s daughter Natalie recalled her grandmother Ruchel as always dressed in black and never wearing glasses, yet being able to sew on black material at a ripe old age. She was religious and every Friday night would cook food, deliver it to the poor, and spend a little time with them.
Israel Hillel and Ruchel’s family suffered the most at the hands of the Holocaust because they had not left Austria/Poland. Although Israel Hillel had already passed, Ruchel and 6 of their 9 children were killed in the Holocaust along with their families.
The surviving children were Henry, Leo, and Izzie. Henry (see picture below) married Dora Gawrilowicz in 1905 in Tarnow and moved to Frankfurt, Germany in 1908 where he opened a bicycle business. They had 3 children — Joseph, Rosalie (see picture below), and Regina. Henry and Dora moved to London, England with the help of Angel’s family in 1939, and then to the US in 1943. Henry lived to the ripe old age of 101. Their son Joseph worked for Warner Brothers in Paris, France and was able to relocate to California. Their daughter Regina barely managed to escape from Germany in 1939 to Manhattan with the aid of Jack Warner, her brother Joseph’s employer.
Henry and Dora’s daughter Rosalie emigrated to Paris in 1937, where she lived with her brother Joseph and his wife and worked as a nanny. A few months later, she accepted a job as a secretary and translator with the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and worked for them until the German invasion. She escaped to Bordeaux, France and made her way to England. In 1939, she emigrated to the US and continued working for the JDC, whose primary function was to help Jews emigrate to safe places. After the war, she was sent back to Europe in 1945, where she worked at the head JDC office in Munich, Germany helping displaced persons until 1949. In 1954, she was sent to Tehran, Iran by the JDC to observe and help the progress of Jewish communities in Iran. She later moved back to Manhattan.
Leo came to the US in 1914. He worked in the hardware business in the Bronx. He married Rifka/Ruth Gutfreund from Brzesko and they had 2 children — Ira and Sylvia. Ira and his wife Elaine were the first Westreich genealogists, spending much time and effort in this endeavor and generously sharing their information (see picture below). Their quest was spurred on by a letter in 1975 from Ira’s uncle Henry (above) who laid out the foundation of this branch.
Izzie came to the US in 1914. He was a businessman and a “go getter,” initially owning an Italian-American grocery and later a hardware store. He married Esther Nussbaum and had 1 daughter, Selma.
IV. The last son of Gershon and Bluma was Anschel “Angel” Westreich (c. 1857 – 1936, see picture below). He was the first Westreich of this entire branch to leave Austria when he emigrated to London, England, appearing in the 1881 England Census as a “lodger.” He anglicized his surname to “Westrich,” reportedly to not appear of German origin. He worked as a “master tailor.” He married Betsy Perrich at the Princes Street Synagogue in London in 1882, living in the impoverished and overcrowded (with immigrants) neighborhoods of Whitechapel and Stepney Green in the East End of London. (In fact, they lived there during the time of the infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper.)
Angel and Betsy had 9 known children — George (1883 – 1965), Joseph (1885 – 1958), Kate (1887 – 1960), Davis “David (1889 – 1921), Paulina (1892 – 1892), Annie (1893 – ), Fanny “Faye (1895 – 1984), Solomon (1897 – 1901), and Leah “Lily (1902 – 1933).
Son George married Charlotte “Lottie” Ostrowiecki/Hyman (see picture below) and had 1 daughter, Evelyn “Betty.” He owned a cinema (movie theater). He reached out to save his first cousin Henry Westreich and wife Dora (above) by helping them emigrate from Germany to London in 1939.
Son Joseph married Kate “Kitty” Lefcovitch and had 4 children — Cyril, Lillian “Lilykins” (see wedding picture below), Rosalind, and Doreen. Kitty, Lillian, and Rosalind immigrated to Canada and then to the US (California) in the 1950’s.
Joseph died in 1958 seemingly a very poor man, as evidenced by his extremely meager gravestone (see picture below).
Daughter Kate married Sid Solomon/Somerston and had one son, Eric.
Son David (see picture below) emigrated to Manhattan, married Deborah “Dolly” Epstein, and had one daughter, Leona. He died at the young age of 31 of cancer. His daughter was just 3-1/2 years old.
Daughter Annie married Sidney Myers and had 3 sons — David (political cartoonist), Geoffrey, and Michael.
Daughter Faye (see picture below) married Charles “Chas” Barnett and had 1 daughter, Gilda (1930 – 2019, see picture below).
Daughter Lily married David Davis and had 1 daughter, Patricia “Pat.” Lily passed away at the young age of 31, resulting in her sister Faye helping to raise Pat.
And that’s what is known today about this branch of the Westreich family tree … but who knows what new discoveries will surface in the future.
© Allan Westreich, 2023
This is what we managed to learn about the war-time destiny of the children of Israel Hillel and Ruchel Westreich:
Rifka/Regina Westreich married Kalman Bendetz. The couple lived in Jaworzno; both were murdered, but their daughter Natalie managed to survive. She emigrated to the US and in 1998 submitted testimonies on her parents to Yad Vashem.
Mendel Westreich married Ester Grin from Grybów; he was murdered together with his wife.
Josef Salamon Westreich married Sara Jakob, daughter of Tarnów merchants Isak Jakob and Ester nee Kehl. The couple married in Tarnów, but later moved to Germany. On October 28, 1938 they were deported to Poland; spent some time in Zbaszyn and then in Kraków; Josef Salamon was murdered together with his wife and two daughters, Freidel and Roza.
Laje Freide Westreich married Moses Mayer from Alwernia in Brzesko in 1922. The couple first lived in Brzesko, that’s where their daughter Hela Róża was born in 1922. Later the family moved to Kraków; their second daughter Erna was born there in 1926. On March 8, 1941 the family was deported to Tarnów and perished in the Holocaust.
May the memory of all Holocaust victims be an eternal blessing.
Anna Brzyska, 2023