return to Home page Leon and Esther Wiesenfeld's Adopted Grandchildren   
 

Editor's note

Our research on Leon Wiesenfeld, journalist, editor of the Yiddish language press and Jewish community leader (see our page) found an obituary for his wife Esther Amsterdam Wiesenfeld, shown below. (Source Cleveland Jewish News, December 25, 1980.)

The obituary's last paragraph mentions "adopted grandchildren". Unable to find evidence of a Wiesenfeld child who had grown to adulthood, we asked genealogist Cynthia Spikell to help. She soon found an online family tree that was relevant. Amazingly, the person who had posted the family tree, Michele Seligmann, was one of the "adopted grandchildren".

We devote this page to Michele's explanation - not because of its historic importance, but because it is a tender story of people rebuilding family life after the trauma of World War II and the horror of the Shoah. The story also shows a warm side of Leon Wiesenfeld whose public profile was that of a tough, often combative journalist.

Arnold Berger

 

Introduction by Cynthia Spikell

When asked about finding the grandchildren mentioned in the obituary for Esther Wiesenfeld, I suggested the usual places to look, like the archives of the Cleveland Jewish News and other Cleveland Jewish newspapers from the past. I looked in online sources like the probate files of the county and property records, which often give the names of heirs. Neither source held any information that would help.

Then I tried Ancestry.com. There were only five entries for Leon, which held little new information on him and nothing on Leonís family. There were only three entries for Esther, and none were of help. However, she was mentioned in a family tree, with only her birth, residence in 1940, and husbandís name.

I noticed that the name of the compiler of the tree, Michele Seligmann, was familiar. She had been a member of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland, and I had met her at a national conference. I still had her e-mail address, so I contacted her and was able to put her in contact with Arnold.

Genealogist Cynthia Spikell is editor of KOL, the journal of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland.

 

Michele Seligmann writes


My name is Michele Lowy Seligmann. I am retired and live in Port Chester, NY. My younger sister Ellen Lowy Fishman lives in Pepper Pike OH.

We are the "adopted grandchildren" mentioned in Esther Wiesenfeld's obituary. Esther and Leon Wiesenfeld had only one child, a daughter who died in infancy before Leon emigrated to America in 1920. Their daughter's death was caused by an infection which also left Esther deaf.

But let me explain how my sister and I came to be Esther and Leon Wiesenfeld's "adopted grandchildren". My mother Sandra Amsterdam was born in Krakow, Poland in 1918. Her father, Adolf Amsterdam, was Esther Wiesenfeld's brother and Sandra was Esther's oldest and most favored niece. In 1938, having declined many invitations to come and live with the Wiesenfelds in Cleveland, Ohio where they had relocated, 20 year old Sandra reluctantly left her family in Poland.

She arrived in America in early January 1939. My mother told me she never would have gone if her father, fearful of what he saw developing in Europe, had not insisted. At first Sandra she felt sad and rejected by her parents, but when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, she began to realize how fortunate she was and how wise her father had been to make her leave Poland.

She continued to live with the Wiesenfelds, working as a clerk in American Greetings. She quickly made friends in Cleveland.  

In 1940 Walter Lowy escaped from Prague, Czechoslovakia, traveled to Holland and left Holland on a travel pass on the last ship that came to England. Later his cousin Sidney Andorn, a well-known Cleveland journalist, sent him papers that permitted him to come to America. In the summer of 1941 he met my mother at a swimming pool in Cleveland. They married here on November 30, 1941 and after a one-night "honeymoon" in a downtown hotel lived with the Wiesenfelds. My father joined the army so he could remain in the United States and left for training in the south. Soon my mother followed him to his army base. When my father moved to another base before going overseas, my now-pregnant mother returned to Cleveland to live with Esther and Leon in their apartment on East Boulevard. I was born in Cleveland November 1, 1943. My father had a short leave to return to Cleveland to see me, then returned to his base and soon went to England. He landed in Normandy 19 days after D-Day, in General Patton's Third Army.

During the war my mother and I lived with Esther and Leon Wiesenfeld who were thrilled to have my mother and her little girl (me) living with them.

When my father returned from the war in 1945 he lived with us at the Wiesenfelds until we moved to our own home on Lee Avenue in Glenville, near East 105th Street, not far from the Wiesenfelds. Soon after, Leon and Esther moved to an apartment on Mayfield Road at Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights.

My sister Ellen (born in June 1947) and I had no living grandmothers. Sandra's father Adolf, who managed to survive the war in a Soviet labor camp in Siberia, never came to America. It was only natural that the Wiesenfelds, having looked after our mother, would think of us as their grandchildren and that we would think of them as our grandparents.

When Esther died in 1980 our mother wanted Esther's obituary to honor this loving relationship. Thus she had the Cleveland Jewish News obituary end with "two adopted children and five great-grandchildren".

Fortunately, I inherited many of my grandfather Leon Wiesenfeld's letters and documents, even his old Yiddish typewriter. I also inherited his fierce love of Israel which I have visited 40 times. When I am there I feel as if I am home. Sadly, Leon, a life-long Zionist, would never get to see this land he loved so passionately. ē

 

The Wiesenfeld entry in the 1940 U S Census
They lived at 1289 East Boulevard in Cleveland

 

Why we were all dressed up when my father Walter Lowy took this picture on a sunny day in early 1947? I don't know, but it's one of my favorite old pictures showing my "Grandma" Esther and "Babush" Leon. You can see how happy he was with me.

My dad had returned from three years of combat in General Patton's Third Army. He found us an apartment in Glenville, not far from the Wiesenfelds. Just a few months after this picture was taken my mother Sandra gave birth to my little sister Ellen.

In the picture of a picnic below, probably taken in the summer of 1948, my father is holding my sister Ellen on his lap and I am standing at his right. Leon is seated just left of my father and Esther is standing in the back at the right. My mother Sandra is seated across the table from my father. All the adults were war refugees. Leon and Esther came here in 1920, after the first World War; my mother just before WWII, my father in 1940, and the others after WW II, most with the help of my grandfather Leon.

 

1969 Cleveland wedding of Michele Lowy
Leon and Esther Wiesenfeld front row, left
 

1978 Visiting Esther Wiesenfeld at Montefiore
(left to right) Michele Lowy Seligmann, her sister Ellen Lowy Fishman, Esther Wiesenfeld and Sandra Lowy.
 

Leon Wiesenfeld's Yiddish Typewriter
Made by Remington in 1927
photo Jake Seligmann

 

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