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The Kindness of Strangers

Finding My Turmann Family

"Karl mentioned in this article that he was the sole survivor of his Lemberg clan.... I wrote to him immediately—and quickly heard back from him by phone. We both had the same reaction—we were in tears. We are second cousins, once removed!"

By Karen Sanders as told to Nancy Siegel

Turmann tombstore

Turmann family Tombstone, Wiener Zentralfriedhof,
photo by Traude Triebel


Rose Zuckerberg TurmannLeon Turmann
My great grandparents Rosa (Reisel) Zuckerberg and Leon (Suche Leib) Turmann (both born in Lemberg and died in Vienna).

My story begins in 2007 when I found the names of my maternal great-grandparents, Leon Turmann and Rosa (Zuckerberg) Turmann, on the JewishGen Burial Registry – Austria. That information, and the many JewishGenners who responded to my inquiries, led me to discover the history of this branch of my family and to a tearful connection with an unknown family member.

Names on a Tombstone
Knowing that the actual tombstone might reveal more information, I posted a request on the JewishGen Discussion Group seeking someone who could photograph Leon and Rosa’s gravesite in the Wiener Zentralfriedhof cemetery. Traude Triebel, referred to me by several discussion group members, kindly took the photographs for me.

The photographs generated new information and raised many questions. The engraving on the tombstone read S.L. Turmann, not Leon Turmann. How did the name Leon appear on the burial database with only “S.L.” on the tombstone? What did the “S” stand for? In addition to my great-grandmother’s name, Rosa, the name Salomon Turmann also appeared on the tombstone. Who was he? The names of their parents were not listed on the tombstone, so I was still in the dark as to the names and vital dates of my great-great-grandparents.

Help from the Austrian-Czech SIG
I posted an inquiry to the Austrian-Czech SIG and was pleased to receive several helpful responses, including some from individuals who luckily had copies of vital records from Vienna that included the Turmann family. From these records, I learned that my great-grandfather’s given name was Susche Leib, known as Leon, and Salomon was his son. I learned the names and birth dates of their children, my grandfather’s siblings. The marriage record of my great-grandparents contained the names of my great-great-grandparents along with the maiden names of my great-great-grandmothers. All of this was exciting new information for me!

Marriage record of Leon and Rosa Turmann
Marriage record for Leon Turmann & Rosa Zuckerberg, 1877

The most intriguing piece of information gleaned from the marriage record, however, was the fact that my Turmann family was originally from Lemberg (Lvov), not from Vienna as I had thought. This would provide a new direction for me to follow in my research.

The helpfulness of JewishGenners didn’t stop there! A few months later Traude Triebel, the woman who had sent me the tombstone photos and the marriage record for my great-grandparents, sent me another record for a person with the Turmann surname who had the same parents as my great-grandfather! Yes, it was the marriage record of my great-great-uncle, Isak Mayer Turmann. Before this, I had never known the names of any of my great-grandfather’s siblings.

Searching for Great-Uncle Heinrich and his Son
Another Austrian-Czech SIG member sent me the obituary of my great-grandfather from the Neue Frei Presse, signed by my great-grandfather’s son, my great-uncle Heinrich Turmann. And then, to top off the generosity of the JewishGenners in this SIG, another person sent me the Gestapo mug shots and arrest record for the same great-uncle Heinrich. Heinrich was a well-to-do lawyer in Vienna who had converted to Catholicism to marry an Austrian woman, but this did not save him from the Nazis. With help from his wife, he escaped and made his way to the United States in June of 1941, via Kobe, Japan. Heinrich’s son had been sent to England at the beginning of the war to keep him safe and to attend Oxford, and at some point during the war, he had gone to Canada. (Respecting his family’s wishes, the name of Heinrich’s son is not included in this story.)

Uncle Heinrich's mug shots
Mug shots of great Uncle Heinrich, taken by the Gestapo, 1939

According to family stories, this cousin had been in a prisoner of war camp in Canada during the war, but I didn’t know whether he had come to Canada voluntarily or had been arrested as an enemy alien in England. I posted a question about this to the JewishGen Discussion Group and received many replies, including one from an individual who found a file on my cousin in the Canadian Jewish Congress Charities Committee National Archives. What a wonderful surprise! I contacted the Archives, they contacted his living descendants, and his family agreed to obtain and send me a copy of the 54-page file. It contained many letters from my great-uncle Heinrich pleading for his son’s release, a letter from my grandfather, and other interesting items.

Finding a Family Survivor
A JewishGen researcher sent a recommendation to the JewishGen Discussion Group to go back and revisit our research, to check for new and updated information—and so I did just that! In re-examining some Polish records in the JewishGen database and comparing them with names in the Shoah Names Database at Yad Vashem, I found that several pages of testimony from Yad Vashem for my family members were from the same person, Karl Blick of California.

Who was this Karl Blick? I googled his name and was amazed to find a recent newspaper article that told of his ordeal in a Siberian prison camp for five years during the war, his eventual release, marriage in Poland, and immigration to the US in 1954. Karl mentioned in this article that he was the sole survivor of his Lemberg clan. Finding his address, I wrote to him immediately—and quickly heard back from him by phone. We both had the same reaction—we were in tears. We are second cousins, once removed! I sent him my family history chart and he sent me photographs of our Zuckerberg family taken in Vienna and Lemberg. A cousin of mine who lives in California visited with Karl and his family, and we continue to keep in touch.

The Kindness of JewishGenners
The databases and discussion groups on JewishGen have been and continue to be invaluable resources for my family history research. The community of researchers on JewishGen is so supportive, intelligent, generous and far-reaching. In response to this generosity, I have helped JewishGen with donations and have assisted other researchers in their efforts, which I find very gratifying. I am proud to be a member of this tribe!

May 2010
West Haven, Connecticut

On September 4, 2008, Karen posted a message to the Austria-Czech SIG discussion list asking about some of the personal details on the photo of the Turmanns’ gravestone, and she also posed the following question:

I was quite surprised that there was no Hebrew or German indicating the usual "son of / daughter of" on the tombstone (unless it was not visible in the photo.)
Thank you for any information.
 Karen Sanders

Karen received some detailed personal information back from several list members, and she also received a lengthy post from Celia Male with some general information which should be useful for all researchers searching for burial information about people from Vienna (excerpts follow).

For newcomers, to this [Austria-Czech] SIG please learn how to use the IKG [Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien (Vienna Jewish Community)] database:

You can do a "reverse search" with grave co-ordinates only and *no names*. Remember to tick the box (and keep it ticked at *all* times) which says: "Show also records where date of deceased and date of funeral [do not exist]" - then all the people buried in one plot emerge.... Also some entries are incorrect and there may be other problems [including] duplicate entries.

You should also look at neighbouring graves; also try including suffixes "a" after the grave number. You cannot do this research with the JOWBR database, [but the JOWBR] has other vital information including, most important of all, an address to follow up for more records.

To erect a Vienna tombstone was costly; important plots were expensive so it was common to buy a family grave plot. On the JOWBR site it often tells you there is room for 6 Leichen [bodies] etc. Indeed sometimes cremated remains were also added to these graves.

As for the Hebrew, a high percentage of the Vienna tombstones are very secular - there may be token Hebrew and the KOHN/COHEN hands or a Levite jug. ...

Celia Male - London, U.K.

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Research Notes and Hints

Even when people aren’t related, they still may have information on your family. Karen submitted inquiries to the JewishGen Discussion Group and Austria-Czech SIG mailing lists. The people who responded – none of them related to the Turmann family -- took photos of the gravesite in Vienna and searched vital records information on the individuals whose gravestones were photographed. JewishGenners are generous and eager to help other researchers. Karen found the names of her maternal great-grandparents on the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOBWR), which contains names and burial information from more than 1.3 million cemetery and burial records worldwide.

You too can post emails asking for help in finding your ancestors and possible living relatives, by subscribing to the JewishGen Discussion Group mailing list, and to more than thirty Special Interest Group (SIG) mailing lists, here. You can also search the JewishGen Discussion List archives from 1993-current, for posts related to your family names and towns; and search the JewishGen SIG Mailing Lists archives for posts from 1998-current.

Karen also made use of the Yad Vashem database of Pages of Testimony, which contains information about more than 2 million Holocaust victims submitted by friends and relatives of the victims. This free public database is an essential tool in searching for family destroyed in the Holocaust and in finding surviving family members.

Karen made a donation to JewishGen in thanks for the help she received. Donations ensure our continued ability to serve the ever-growing worldwide JewishGen community. If you contribute a minimum of $100 annually to the JewishGen General Fund you can use an enhanced search that lets you combine multiple search criteria for more focused, targeted searches.

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Updated by MH on Monday, September 14, 2009.

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