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Searching for the right Erna Lippman - a researcher’s journey

When I was handed the research notes on Erna Lippman of a previous volunteer with the Jewish History Association of South Wales/Cymdeithas Hanes Iddewig De Cymru (JHASW/CHIDC)1, I was looking forward to the challenge of filling in gaps and finding new information on this individual. Erna Lippman is memorialised on the Cardiff Reform Synagogue (CRS) Holocaust Memorial Tablet, which gives her last place of residence as Berlin, Germany. As the forms submitted for the Tablet are no longer held, the details on it are the only information volunteer researchers have to go on when producing a biography for the person. That, and the fact that there must be a link to Cardiff in some way, given that their name was put forward by members of the CRS either in 1952 or in 1999. Upon reading the research notes, I discovered that, instead of the usual one or two, four different people had been found, all of whom matched the name and place of residence. Very intrigued, but perhaps slightly underestimating the task, I set about trying to find which was the Erna on the Memorial Board.

The research notes were well written and, on searching the usual sites like Ancestry2, Arolsen Archives3, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum4 and Yad Vashem5, only snippets of additional information were found. Nothing indicated that any of the Erna Lippmans had a link to Cardiff. Where children had been identified, I traced where they had lived in the hope it would lead to Wales. Nothing still. Frustrated, and thinking what a shame it would be to not identify the correct person, I typed “Erna Lippman Cardiff” into Google. The first result intrigued me. It was a profile on Geni6, a website where users build their family tree, for Eve-Inge Graf, whose death was in Cardiff in 1992. And her mother – Erna Lippman! This seemed like a major breakthrough. Further to this, Eve was listed as married to Louis Gerhard Graf. The name was irritatingly familiar and, after a while, I knew I’d seen it within the documents and records held by the CRS. This was in fact Rabbi Graf, the first Minister of the CRS (then Cardiff New Synagogue). The only drawback was that there was no evidence included on the profile to support these familial connections. I told the project manager, Klavdija, of this development and she immediately gave me the contact details of Eve and Louis’s son. What a result from a simple search (why didn’t I do this earlier!).

At this point I compiled a basic overview of what I had learned about Erna and her family – Erna Eichberg was born 21 September 1888 in Bochum7 to Moses and Bella Eichberg (née Wolff)8 and had 14 siblings8. She married Julius Lippman9, lived in Berlin7 and had 3 children – Kurt, Heinz and Eve8. In 1942 Erna was deported from Berlin to Riga ghetto7. This brief outline was sent to her potential grandson, inviting him to make additions, corrections and comments. I hoped to be told that this sounded familiar and, if I was lucky, to receive some further details. This was not the reply I got. Certain parts of what I had presented did not match up at all with what the potential grandson knew. From research done by his father and an uncle (a would-be son of Erna), the story went that Erna only had one brother, and had been deported to Theresienstadt ghetto, possibly perishing on the journey there. Clearly intrigued by the conflicting information, the relative asked that I send over everything I had found along with the sources. Despite this unexpected revelation, I was still optimistic that something contained in my research would ring a bell.

When assembling the story of Erna and her family in further detail, a lot of the initial information came from Geni profiles, which was backed up and supplemented by records from JewishGen10, Yad Vashem5, the Memorial Book - Victims of the Persecution of Jews under the National Socialist Tyranny in Germany 1933 – 194511, the 1939 German Minority Census12 and Ancestry2. Different sources didn’t always agree on the number of siblings of Erna, including entries in an Essen Memorial Book13 for one sister and a brother-in-law, and a letter submitted to Yad Vashem14 from the granddaughter of another sister. That they each mentioned a large family (number of children ranging from 13 to 16), however, gave credence to the details of the family tree on Geni, even though no birth records had been found to show it explicitly. Once a satisfactory amount of information had been gathered, I sent the email off.

After a period of waiting and wondering on my part, the relative was not convinced that this was his grandmother. Though obviously not the desired response, I remained some proportion of certain that there must be something to this. None of the genealogy websites seemed to have any evidence to back up the family links they suggested. But why would there be a profile if it were not true? My search for a definitive link was not straightforward. The birth records for Berlin, where Erna and Julius had supposedly lived, were only available up to 190615, while profiles put the dates of birth of their children at 191416, 19186 and an unknown date17. Though the marriage records are available up to 193615, I had no guarantee Erna and Julius had been married in Berlin, nor did I know which year to try within the indexes for the many district registries in the city. They only concrete record I had managed to find was the death record of Julius9 on Ancestry, which had been registered by a Kurt Lippman, living at the same address as Julius had been. Though this supported the profiles on Geni, it did not categorically state that Kurt was Julius’ son. When I looked closely, there was in fact nothing linking Erna to her other siblings either – the Yad Vashem page of testimony for Erna18 did not include the names of her parents, and was submitted by someone different from the person who had written many of the other siblings and relatives’ pages, so there was no chance there of showing a connection through a mutual submitter. Neither Ancestry2 nor JewishGen10 had any further relevant records. I tried searching newspapers through the site Europeana19, but the transcripts are not accurate and there were no helpful results.

Following hours of unfruitful searches, I was scanning profiles on the website MyHeritage20, which contains historical record sets as well as member-created family trees and profiles, when I noticed a small image within a profile for Heinz-Günther Lippman21. I immediately recognised it as an image of an announcement in a newspaper for his birth. My eyes were drawn to the names of his parents – Erna née Eichberg and Julius Lippman. This was what I had been looking for! Direct evidence that there was truth behind the unevidenced family trees. Unfortunately, the profile manager could no longer remember where the image was from; another challenge presented itself in finding the source. Through FamilySearch22, which is a treasure trove of guidance for how to find specific records, I was led to a list of online German newspaper collections23 and then to the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin State Library)24 for historical newspapers. They don’t have a search function on their site, but, able to browse the editions by date, I went straight to the Berliner Tageblatt published on the days following the birthdates given on Geni profiles for Heinz and Eve, and on FindAGrave25 for Kurt. To my delight, I found an entry for Kurt Hellmut26, son of Erna and Julius Lippman, the wording of which confirmed the date of birth on the FindAGrave site. I repeated this for Heinz27 and Eve28 and was very pleased to also find announcements for their births.

Announcement of Heinz-Günther’s birth in the Berliner Tageblatt und Handels-Zeitung, published on 8 May 1914.

Image: Berlin State Library - Prussian Cultural Heritage.

The relative I had spoken to had mentioned their uncle Heinz, and their mother was definitely Eve, so this was a success – there was now proof that the Erna Lippman I had been researching had strong links not only to Cardiff, but to the Synagogue where the Memorial Tablet is mounted. As is often the case in this kind of research, once one piece of information is found, it allows and facilitates further discoveries. The announcement for Eve’s birth included the address of Erna and Julius, which made it possible to confirm which entry corresponded to them in the Berlin address book29. Locating the Julius Lippmann living at this address, I saw the company Julius Lippmann & Co. listed at the end of the entry – of which Julius was the owner. Using this defining piece of information, I traced the family’s residential address through many years, as well as entries for Julius’ company.

This was all very exciting. It seemed like I had finally found the right person. But when I pondered the comments of the relative, I remembered how he thought Erna had only had one brother. All the genealogy websites linked Erna to multiple siblings, but none seemed to show any documentary evidence. Buried in the text of one profile, there was a link to a website30 which showcased the genealogical research of an individual, whose family at some point interconnected with the Eichberg family. Luckily this person had already completed a good deal of research, and upon consulting their sources I found links to birth records for a few of Erna’s potential siblings, from the Landesarchiv Nordrhein-Westfalen (State Archives of North Rhine-Westphalia)31. A search for Erna’s birth record on their website brought up no results so I contacted them to ask if they could find and provide it, to link her without doubt to those listed as her parents, and thus to the many other siblings. I was not holding out much hope after receiving an automated email to tell me my query may take four weeks, but happily I received a response within days. They provided a copy of Erna’s birth record32 and, after sending it to another volunteer for translation, I reviewed the text. Scanning the text for the names Moses and Bella, my eyes instead picked out Salomon and Rosette Eichberg née Wolf. Erna’s parents were not Moses and Bella as expected, but two different individuals. But – were they? I have previously come across people using their middle name interchangeably with their first name; was that the case here?

Through JewishGen I found burial records for both a Salomon33 and Rosette Eichberg34 in Bochum – since they had been living there at the time of Erna’s birth, this was promising. What’s more, it also showed different dates of birth and death to the records I had previously found for Moses and Bella Eichberg. On FamilySearch I was also able to find birth and baptism records for the Salomon35 and Rosette36 who both died in Bochum. Thanks to these records I could confirm that Salomon and Rosette were different people to Moses and Bella – not only that; Moses and Salomon were in fact brothers. The people I had been researching - thinking they were Erna’s siblings - were actually her cousins! With this information I got back in touch with the Landesarchiv Nordrhein-Westfalen – perhaps they could lead me to any real siblings of Erna.

A helpful archive employee not only sent me the marriage record37 of Salomon and Rosette, but also suggestions for searching birth38, marriage39 and death40 indexes compiled by the city of Bochum. Alongside the births of some of Erna’s cousins, there was an entry for a Louis Eichberg, born a couple of years earlier than Erna. There were no details on the parents but through Ancestry I found a death record41 for Louis which listed Salomon and Rosette as parents. Finally, the information I had found fit into place with the family knowledge.

As the Memorial Board project came to a close, I added the new details to the narrative for Erna Lippman and, at last, it felt that the twists and turns of the research had led to a destination. Though the possibility of telling Erna’s relative that she had many more siblings than previously thought brought me excitement, the lack of documentary evidence was a red flag. It was fortunate that the Landesarchiv Nordrhein-Westfalen could provide records to incontestably show Erna’s family links, and underlines the importance of verifying the family trees on genealogy websites. It can also be misleading when several websites show the same information, appearing to confirm its credibility, but in fact one has taken the details directly from the other. What I have found is that it is important to keep every detail in mind as you progress – the combination of certain details sometimes allows you to unlock further information. Despite all the challenges to be overcome when uncovering a particular story, it really is rewarding once something concrete is discovered.

Written by Catherine Le Ruez, JHASW/CHIDC Volunteer.

1 Jewish History Association of South Wales. “Cardiff Reform Synagogue Holocaust Memorial Tablet”. Accessed May 29, 2021.

2 Ancestry. “Search”. Accessed May 29, 2021.

3 Arolsen Archives. “Online Archive”. Accessed May 29, 2021.

4 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Holocaust Survivors and Victims Database”. Accessed May 29, 2021.

5 Yad Vashem. “The Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names”. Accessed May 29, 2021.

6 Geni. “Eve Inge Graf”. Accessed May 29, 2021.

7 Das Bundesarchiv. “Memorial Book - Victims of the Persecution of Jews under the National Socialist Tyranny in Germany 1933 – 1945 - Erna Lippmann”. Accessed May 29, 2021.

8 Geni. “Erna Lippmann”. Accessed May 29, 2021.

10 JewishGen. “JewishGen Unified Database Search”. Accessed May 29, 2021.

11 Das Bundesarchiv. “Memorial book - Victims of the Persecution of Jews under the National Socialist Tyranny in Germany 1933 – 1945”. Accessed May 29, 2021.

12 Tracing the Past. “Mapping the Lives”. Accessed May 29, 2021.

13 Historischer Verein für Stadt und Stift Essen e.V. “Gedenkbuch Alte Synagoge”. Accessed 30 May, 2021.

14 Yad Vashem. “The Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names – Emilie Meier”. Accessed 30 May, 2021.

15 FamilySearch. “Berlin, Brandenburg, German Empire Civil Registration”. Accessed 30 May, 2021.,_Brandenburg,_German_Empire_Civil_Registration

16 Geni. “Heinz Gunther Lippmann”. Accessed 30 May, 2021.

17 Geni. “Kurt Lippmann”. Accessed 30 May, 2021.

18 Yad Vashem. “The Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names – Erna Lipman”. Accessed 30 May, 2021.

19 Europeana. “Newspapers”. Accessed 30 May, 2021.

20 MyHeritage. “Search historical records”. Accessed 30 May, 2021.

21 MyHeritage. “Heinz Günther Lippmann”. Accessed 30 May, 2021.

22 FamilySearch. “Germany Newspapers”. Accessed 30 May, 2021.

23 Euro Docs. “Historic German Newspapers and Journals Online”. Accessed 30 May, 2021.

24 Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz. “Berliner Tageblatt und Handels-Zeitung". Accessed 30 May, 2021.

25 FindAGrave. “Kurt Lippmann”. Accessed 30 May, 2021.

29 Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin. “Berliner Adressbuch 1919”. Accessed 30 May, 2021.

30 Tobias Herz. “Stammbaum Eichberg”. Accessed 30 May, 2021.

31 Landesarchiv Nordrhein-Westfalen. “Search and Find”. Accessed 30 May, 2021.

32 Landesarchiv Nordrhein-Westfalen. “Urkunde No. 1410 (Sign. P 6/3 No. 50)”.

33 JewishGen. “JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry – Germany – EICHBERG, Salomon”. Accessed 28 August, 2021.

34 JewishGen. “JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry – Germany – EICHBERG, Rosette”. Accessed 28 August, 2021.

35 FamilySearch. “Germany, Hessen-Nassau, Diocese of Limburg, Catholic Church Records, 1601-1919 – Salomon Eichberg”. Accessed 28 August 2021.

36 FamilySearch. “Germany Births and Baptisms, 1558-1898 – Rosetta Wolf”. Accessed 28 August, 2021.

37 Landesarchiv Nordrhein-Westfalen. “Registry Office Bochum-Mitte Marriages No. 17/1885 (Sign. P 6/3 No. 447)”.

38 Stadtarchiv Bochumer Zentrum für Stadtgeschichte. “Namensverzeichnis zu den Geburtenregistern”. Accessed 11 August. 2021$File/FB_Geburtsregister.pdf

39 Stadtarchiv Bochumer Zentrum für Stadtgeschicht. “Namensverzeichnis zu den Heiratsregistern”. Accessed 11 August, 2021.$File/FB_Heiratsregister.pdf

40 Stadtarchiv Bochumer Zentrum für Stadtgeschicht. “Namensverzeichnis zu den Sterberegistern”. Accessed 28 August, 2021.$File/FB_Sterberegister.pdf

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