The history of my wife's family
Liselotte's grandparents in Hamburg



Grosspapa – und Stammvater


Moritz was born on Tuesday, November 14, 1848. It was in the year of all the revolutions around Europe. But where he was born it was quiet and safe. It was in the small village Abterode in the northern part of Hessen. Or Kurfürstenthum Hessen as it was called in those days. The area was occupied by France during the Napoleonic wars. This has influenced not least the administration in the area.


Moritz was the youngest child of the family. His three older brothers and sisters were:


·        Sussmann ( Sigismund ) – 11 years

·        Jettchen ( Henriette )  - 10 years

·        Clara – 3 years


Their parents were an active part of the local Jewish community.


The father, Yitzhak ( Isaac ) Stern was 45 years old, when Moritz was born. He was Kaufmann in the village – probably a grocer. He was born in Witzenhausen about 15 km to the north of Abterode.


The mother, Gütchen, was born Kugelmann. She was 42 years, when she had her last child – Moritz. And she was herself born in Apterode. Her father, Samuel Kugelmann, was the rabbi in the village. And as a matter of fact, his father, Gumpert Kugelmann, had also been the local rabbi.  Samuel was still alive ( 76 years of age ), when Moritz was born.


Yitzhak and Gütchen were married on February 2, 1836.


Abterode and the region as a whole had at that time a substantial Jewish population. Lots of Jews had decided to settle there. The synagogue in Apterode was big and located in the middle of the village. The building is still there. It is today a bank. But a sign on the wall outside tells the story.


Where did the Stern family live in Abterode? In which house? Actually, the local archives in Eschwege recently by chance received a very detailed map of all houses in Apterode. With names of the owners or at least the people who lived there in the 18th century. But in many houses there were no names indicated. Why?  Because you did not write the names down, if the people in the house were Jews.


The large Jewish population at the time can also be seen from the relatively big Jewish cemeteries, which you find near all villages and towns in the region. In Abterode you find it up on a steep hill just outside the village. It is well preserved – the Nazis apparently did not manage to destroy this one – and very nicely kept in order. Around it you have a protective fence with a locked gate. You have to pick up the key at the local municipality to get in.


Normally, Jewish cemeteries were always located outside the village – and often in an awkward place ( such as a steep hill, a mountain, or a valley ). The authorities did not want to be too helpful to the Jews.


At the cemetery in Abterode – which we have visited – you find the graves and the gravestones of Moritz’s parents, his mother’s parents and his great grandparents on his mother’s side. The stones are nice and undamaged. Though not cleaned, as this is not supposed to be done according to Jewish tradition. Therefore, we had some difficulties in finding the stones. And to read them. But we managed.


One of the special characteristics of Jewish gravestones is that they on the front side have a text in Hebrew. With Hebrew letters, of course. That is where you find the most important text about the deceased person. In the very old days only this Hebrew side existed. Later – in the 19th century – a law required that a text in German should be written on the other side of the gravestone. Often with a shorter text – in principle only the name, the date of birth and the date of death.


In our case we took a number of photos of both sides of all our family stones. And afterwards we got a very interesting translation of the Hebrew sides of the stones from Israel via a good friend in London. That is how we know that two of Moritz’s ancestors were rabbis.


As far as the name Kugelmann – the maiden name of Moritz’s mother – is concerned it is interesting to know, that history tells that the name of the first Jew, who came to Germany in the 14th century, was Kugelmann.



Going back to the childhood of Moritz the good times were soon over. When he was less than five years old his mother Gütchen died. She was only 47 years old.  This happened quite often in those days. But the sorrow and the sadness were, of course, there nonetheless. In addition to a lot of practical problems, not least for the widower Yitzhak.


As far as we know Moritz was soon sent to a well known Jewish boarding school in Frankfurt – also in Hessen.


His father Yitzhak died in 1863, when Moritz was only 15 years old.  This probably meant that the young man now had fewer reasons to stay in Abterode. His older brother Sussmann was already in Hamburg, and his two sisters had either married ( Jettchen ) or had a fiancé and had already left the area ( Clara ).


What we know for sure is that Moritz got his first passport ( Reisepass ) on March 30, 1865. He was then 16 years old. He got it from Kurfürstliches Landrathsamt in Eschwege. He needed it, because he wanted to move to Hamburg , 320 km to the north. The big and lively city in what was then Prussia. His 27 year old brother Sussmann already lived and worked there, so he was probably supposed to look after the young Moritz.


He could not become a Hamburg citizen immediately. The minimum age at the time was 22 years. Actually he only obtained that status in 1903. But he was allowed to live and work there.


From his application to become a Hamburg and a Prussian citizen we know more about Moritz: he had blond hair, a low forehead, and brown eyes.  He had apparently also served in the army, because it is indicated that he in 1903 has an Ersatz Reserve Schein Nr. 117.


He settled down in Hamburg – in the Jewish quarter around Grindelallee – not far from the big synagogue in the city. When he in Eschwege applied for the passport he had as a reason given that he wanted to learn how to become a Kaufmann.


He got a number of different jobs – some with success, others without. In some of the official papers he is called: Agent or Curateur. 


Soon he needed help in the house. Therefore, he hired a 16 year old girl from Hamburg. Her name was Auguste Bichels.  It was in 1869. Four years after his arrival in the city.


Moritz and his maid lived in different houses in central Hamburg – though always in the same area. At one time he owned a double house, where an elderly Jewish couple had rented the other part of the house. After some time he wanted to sell the house and move to a bigger one – probably because his business already went very well. But as he said: I cannot sell the house , because what will then happen to the old couple next door. 


What we know for sure is that after a few years he was a very successful business man. He was a partner in the company Minten und Stern. Its main activities were to arrange insurance for all the smaller ships and boats ( Schuden ) which were active in the Hamburg harbour and on the Elbe river. This was a period with a very positive economic development. And it, of course, included all the transport on the river and in the huge harbour.  It went better year by year, and as time went on Moritz became one of the very rich business men in Hamburg.


His official title was General-Versicherungs-Agent.



But it wasn’t business and hard work all of it. More and more time was devoted to his young maid, Auguste.





Grossmama und Stammmutter


Auguste was born on Sunday, November 27, 1853 in Hamburg – at 5 o’clock in the morning. Her full name was Wilhelmine Louise Auguste Bichels.


She was baptised on March 26, 1854 in the Lutheran Saint Michaelis Kirche in Hamburg. And she was later confirmed in the same church on April 1, 1868.


Auguste’s father was Franz Hinrich Bichels. He was 33 years old, when Auguste was born. He was a  Gürtler.


Her mother was Elsabe Voigt, called Ehlers. And she was also33 years old and from Eddelack in Holstein.


Franz Hinrich and Elsabe were married on July 21, 1851 in the Saint Michaelis Church.


They had two daughters, who were older than Auguste:


·        Catharina Johanna Dorothea,  3 years

·        Caroline Wilhelmine Emilie, 1 year


The family lived in Ulriciusstrasse 23 in Hamburg.


After Auguste her parents had a boy on December 6, 1855. But he died at the birth.


These birth complications were probably the main reason why Elsabe died a month and a half later, on January 31, 1856.  She was only 36 years old.  And Auguste was only just 3 years old.

Elsabe was buried from the Lutheranische Gemeinde Maria-Magdalene-Kloster in Hamburg.


Her sudden death was a disaster for the small family.


Auguste’s father decided to remarry very quickly – already in September the same year. His second wife was called Johanna Friederika Wilhemina, born Jantzen. From Hamburg too – and 37 years old.


Auguste and her sisters grew up with their father and their step mother. We do not know yet, if they got any half sisters or half brothers.


What we know is that Auguste started as housemaid in 19 year old Moritz’s house, when she was 16.  And it was certainly not unusual that young girls ( and boys ) had such jobs at that age. It often started several years earlier. And Auguste had probably had other jobs as a housemaid before she come to Moritz.


What we also know is that she spoke “Platt”, which means plattdeusch. In a way the local north German dialect spoken in the countryside. Her family came from the countryside – from Holstein and Dittmarschen.  This was the language spoken there.


It was also said that Auguste was not a very pretty girl. She had for example very big ears.


But this was apparently not important for Moritz. He was more interested in the person and what sort of personality she was – than the way she looked.


It’s that part of the family history, which we come to now.



Moritz and Auguste together


The two of them had many things to talk about. First of all, they had both lost their mothers when then were very small. This had resulted in a childhood, which certainly was not always easy and pleasant.


They were also – both of them – energetic and ambitious. Moritz in his business, Auguste in organising their home. She was now and later always a very determined and well organised lady.


We feel that we have good reasons to believe that before long they both knew that they were in love with each other.


On Thursday, May 9, 1872 they had their first child. She was called Gertrude. Moritz was then 23 years and Auguste 19.


According to family recollection they soon had a second child. This time a boy. But he was dead by birth. Unfortunately, no official records have been found about this child. Not yet, at least.


Some years later they had another girl, Elsa. She was born on Tuesday, May 14, 1878.  And again four years later, on Friday, June 19, 1882, the third daughter arrived. Her name was Kätchen.


Moritz and Auguste were still not married. Probably because he was a Jew and she was a Lutheran.  This dilemma was solved, when Moritz decided to convert to the protestant reformist church. A church close to the Calvinists. And a church which like the Jewish synagogues had no decorations on the walls. In this way his conversion was less difficult.


The couple was married on Friday, October 6, 1882 in Hamburg.


The fourth daughter, Selma , was already on her way. And was born on Thursday, May 31, 1883.


Concerning Moritz’s conversion to the reformist church it is noted in the official papers that he got his certificate – his Taufschein – only on April 30, 1894. Why this long period?


After Selma another four children were born:


·        Meta born on Friday, December 19, 1884

·        Alice born on Sunday, March 3, 1887

·        Lilli – born on Wednesday, October 31, 1888

·        Franz – born on Friday, September 13, 1895


The family had for many years a big and lovely house at Rotherbaum Chaussee 209 . In a very nice part of Hamburg – not far from the Alster and the old city.


Moritz’s business in “Minten und Stern” went from success to success. And the family life in the big house was very lively, and everybody was very happy.


A very sad development was the health of Moritz. His sight deteriorated rapidly. He had a serious eye disease. And when he was about 50 – around 1898 – he became totally blind. As he continued his business life he – or Auguste – organised that one of the daughters accompanied him to his office every day. And picked him up again after work.  They all took part in this daily task. And one thing was also certain:  When Moritz arrived home late afternoon or early evening he called: Ist Mammie da ?  He was so close to Auguste all his life that he looked forward very much to come back home to her after work.


As already mentioned Moritz became a very rich man. In a public document from 1902 it is indicated that his tax related fortune is: 54.500 Mark. According to official calculations to currencies nowadays this is the equivalent of 3,3 million €.


This gave him and Auguste the possibility to give each child an amount of 1.000 Mark ( or 60.500 € ), when they had finished their school. The girls all went to a one year school in Switzerland, when they had finished their normal school in Hamburg.



As time passed on Moritz handed over his part of “Minten und Stern” to his son-in-law, Gertrude’s husband, Adolph Wölken.  Later it was taken over by Gertrude’s and Adolph’s youngest son, Gerhard. After some time he sold it, and the company left the family. But it still existed as late as in 1950.



Moritz ’ health deteriorated gradually. And on Monday, December 11, 1916 he died, when he by accident fell on a big staircase leading to the basement of the house. He was 68 years old.


He was probably also hard hit by the fact that his and Auguste’s one and only son, Franz, had been killed five months earlier near Dozière in the battle of the Somme in France. Franz had 20 years old in 1915 volunteered as a soldier in the German infantry.


Auguste lived for several years still in the big house in Rotherbaum Chaussee. Later she sold it and moved into a smaller house in central Hamburg. She was a passionate bridge player and in general a very active lady for many years to come. She died 88 years old on Sunday, March 8 in 1942. This was more than 25 years after the death of Moritz.


Both of them were buried in the family grave on Nienstedter Friedhof in the western part of Hamburg.


Liselotte & Niels Jørgen Thøgersen


September 2008.  


Have a look at the electronic photo album about the family:

FRANZ STERN 1895-1916


A Story About His Short Life 1895 - 1916

Friedrich-Franz Stern was born on Friday 13th September 1895. His family called him Franz. His parents were Auguste, born Bichels (42 years) and Moritz Stern (46 years). They lived at Rothenbaum Chaussee in the Alster district of Hamburg. Moritz was the co-owner of a large insurance company for small ships on the river Elbe. Franz was the youngest in a family of 8. The other seven were all girls. Liselotte's paternal grandmother Lilli was one of them. Auguste and Moritz second child was a stillborn son, but finally another boy came along. There is no doubt that he must have been very, even very much spoiled by his 7 sisters and also by his parents.

But the happiness in the family would not last. Already when Franz was 3 years old, his father was blind. He got an incurable eye disease. The daughters still living with their parents took turns to read the newspaper to him every day and also took turns leading him to and from his office in the morning and in the evening.

We do not know much about Franz’s childhood years and adolescence. He has certainly gone to good schools. The neighbourhood was - and is - one of the best in Hamburg.

Fortunately we have a few pictures of Franz as a child.

In this picture he is seen with his seven older sisters:


The girl on the far right, Lilli born in 1888, is Liselotte’s grandmother.

On the next photo we see him alone a few years later:

A small playful remark about Frantz could be that he was not born with the smallest of ears!

Peace in Germany did not last long, as we well know. In August 1914 the war which became The First World War started. It would be “Frisch und Fröhlich ” as many Germans arrogantly said. They – and the world – would become wiser.

There was compulsory military service in the Emperor’s Germany. All men between 17 and 42 years had a duty to defend the fatherland. And when you were 20 years old, you were automatically drafted into the military. It happened to Franz in September 1915, and then it was off to the barracks. He was part of the infantry (infantry Regiment No. 84), (the picture above has nothing to do with his military uniform ). The regiment was also called the “von Manstein Regiment” (after its first regiment commander, General von Manstein) or “Schleswiges Regiment”.   It was established in 1866 and was only dissolved in 1919.

Before long he was off to the front in France. Since the autumn of 1914 a trench warfare had been going on between the Germans and the allied armies. Franz and his regiment came to northern France – close to the small village of Pozieres, not far from Amiens. It was a typical French village with a few hundred inhabitants, mostly farmers. Here, the two armies were facing each other.

Sometimes it was peaceful - and boring - not to mention dirty - in the trenches. Much of the time was simply spent being on guard. As the saying goes: In war the waiting takes up most of the time.

We have a photo of a soldier from a German trench in the Pozieres countryside. It shows an officer and an ordinary soldier behind. It could very well be an image of Franz.

In July 1916 the allies decided to launch a major offensive against the German forces in the Somme area around Pozières. The Germans had entrenched themselves in advanced fortifications, known to the soldiers as the “Gibraltar Blockhaus”. It was mainly used for observations of Allied movements, and therefore it was of utmost importance to the Allies to defeat the enemy and take “Gibraltar”. It happened over a number of days from 23 rd July 1916. The attackers were Australian troops who had come here from the fierce fighting in Gallipoli in Turkey in 1915. The fighting at “Gibraltar” and throughout the Pozieres area was so hard that the Australians had over 5,000 dead and wounded in these battles. There were of course also thousands of dead and wounded on the German side, including some 3,000 missing soldiers, that is soldiers who could not be traced after the fighting.

Franz was among the missing. He fell in the fierce fighting on Wednesday, 26 July 1916.

This photo from “Gibraltar” close to Pozières was taken a few days after the fighting.

There was not much left of anything including the dead soldiers on both sides.

If you want to know more about the terrible conditions at the front, you should read Erich Maria Remarque’s famous book written in 1928: All Quiet on the Western Front (Im Westen Nichts Neues).

Remarque (whose real name was Kramer) was like Franz a German soldier on the Western Front in World War One. It is a horrifying story of how life was for the soldiers. As the newspaper Le Monde wrote in its review: A man has spoken on our behalf, all us ordinary soldiers.

Here is another interesting part of this story: When for Christmas 2014 we were visiting my daughter and her family in Perth in Western Australia, we came across a war memorial in the beautiful King’s Park for the Australian soldiers who fought and died in Pozières in July 1916 and who came from Perth. They had sailed from Albany south of Perth, had received additional training in the area around the pyramids in Egypt, were then put into the Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey and went from there to the Somme front. It is a small world.

Australian memorial in Pozieres.                      Australian memorial in Perth for the fallen in Pozières.

At home in Hamburg the local police conveyed the sad message about Franz’s death to his family.

It was a terrible chock for the whole family but perhaps worst for Moritz, who certainly had hoped that Franz - as the only son – would be the heir to the successful insurance company “Minden und Stern ”.   But it was not to be. Although Moritz had not seen Franz with his own eyes since he was 3 years (due to his blindness), they were nevertheless very close to each other.

This sad message left its mark on Moritz . He died less than five months later – falling down the basement staircase in the family house.

Although they could not give Franz a proper funeral, his name was added on the family’s large tombstone on Nienstädter Friedhof close to the river Elbe in the west of Hamburg:

It reads: In memory of our dear son and brother Friedr.Franz Stern, Res. Inf.Reg. No. 84, bornSeptember 13th, 1895, fallen for the fatherland July 26, 1916 at the Somme.

We visited Pozieres in 2012 which today is a peaceful small village.

There are, of course, lots of war cemeteries and war memorials in the area.

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, the German Kriegsgräber-Verband is setting up memorial plaques with the names of all the unknown fallen soldiers on the 1 st of July this year. It happens at the cemetery Fricourt, near Pozieres. Frantz will of course be among the names on the memorial. We are planning to visit Fricourt in the not too distant future.

To put it all into the proper context, it has to be said that The Battle of the Somme lasted only from

the1 st July to the 18th November 1916. Half a million German soldiers, half a million British and Commonwealth soldiers and 200,000 French soldiers lost their lives. And the only result was that the front line moved a few kilometers in one or another direction. A monstrous slaughter took place here, and in our opinion the generals on all sides should have been court-martialed for their deeds afterwards.


Liselotte and Niels Jørgen Thøgersen

May 2016


3rd edition.