Click the links below for…
Ken’s blog, regarding his journey to document his family’s history
an audio interview with Ken’s uncles and aunt
an audio interview with Ken’s mother and father, discussing Germany
an audio interview with a yet-unknown Schoen woman and Ken’s uncle, Alfred Schoen
an audio recording of a ceremony held for Ken’s mother, Betty Schoen
an audio interview with Inge Wimmer, from Schoen hometown of Vacha
an audio interview with Günter Hermes, another historian from Vacha
Ken’s paternal family, the Schoens, once hailed from Vacha, Germany. Ken’s great-grandfather Yekutiel raised his family in Völkershausen – a village just south of Vacha. Together with his wife Hanna (maiden name Nelkenstock), Yekutiel had six children: Jütte – who is believed to have died in childbirth, Rosalie, Frieda, Kaufmann, Louis, and Ida.
Vacha is a small town in central Germany. The Schoen family owned a farm in Völkershausen, and traded cattle. Kaufmann, Ken’s grandfather, would marry Sophie Kahn in 1898. Sophie would die giving birth to Kaufmann’s first child, Sophie Schoen. Kaufmann remarried Therese Heimann, and they have four more children: Isaak, Selma, Siegfried Eliezer, and Alfred.
Ken’s father, Isaak, worked in Leipzig for a number of textile, cloth, and leather manufacturers throughout the 1920s. In 1925, he would begin efforts to emigrate to the United States. In order to emigrate, Isaak was required to provide work documents from his jobs in Germany, as well as references from past employers. In 1927, Isaak’s emigration request would be approved and he would arrive in New York by the end of the year. He began work in the New York coffee business. He took the name Irving at this time.
Throughout the 1930s, the Nazi’s rise in Germany was increasingly felt–even in small towns like Vacha. While Irving had made his way to Germany in 1927, the rest of the Schoen family remained in Vacha and the surrounding area (the state of Thuringia) as well as Leipzig. In addition to requirements of registering themselves as Jewish citizens with the local governor; increased fines and identification were issued regularly to German Jews.
The above “Jewish Donation Tax” became a regular injustice upon Jewish Germans beginning in November 1938, as the government levied a one-billion-mark fine against the Jewish people. The final paragraph of the citation reads: “If payment is not made on time, payment of a deposit of two percent of the amount due will be made. After expiry of the payment date, any amounts due will be collected without prior reminder and, if necessary, seized. The foreclosed funds are charged to the debtor.”
Above is a contract of sale between Kaufmann/Therese Schoen and the city of Vacha. The Schoen family sold much of their land and estates to the city as regulations about Jewish ownership became increasingly oppressive. Perhaps most sickening of all is the final, 11th clause: “If, due to the seller belonging to the Jewish race, dues or surcharges deriving from this contract are payable and required, they shall be deducted from the purchase price.”
The family was forced to sell their land back to the city of Vacha in November 1938. As the Nazis continued their persecution, the family saw the need to emigrate. Through Irving’s efforts nearly all of them would escape and survive the Shoah by emigrating to the U.S. In 1938-39, Irving sponsored 69 individuals who emigrated to the United States. Irving was required to obtain affidavits of support for each and every family member or friend whose emigration he wished to sponsor:
Irving, now living in Long Island, received numerous letters from cousins, friends, and neighbors throughout 1938 requesting his help in their emigration from Germany:
Below is an emigration questionnaire submitted by Kaufmann and Therese upon their emigration from Germany in 1939. In addition to questions regarding their religion and ethnic background, the questionnaire required all of their assets to be documented, accounted for, and partitioned for various fees of the regime. At the end, Kaufmann writes, “If, after submission to the Gold Discount Bank, I have another amount remaining, I will make it available to my needing family members for their exemption.”
Selma Schoen, Ken’s aunt, was killed by the Nazi T4 program as a “life unworthy of life.” She was hospitalized for an emotional illness that today no longer needs hospitalization.
Her exact death date is not known but it is thought that she was in her late thirties. In fact nothing specific is known about her after the last of her family left Germany in March 1939.
Her brother Irving (Isaak) emigrated early to the United States in 1927 and managed to find ways in 1938-39 to sponsor 69 individuals and bring them out of Nazi Germany. Irving’s older sister Sophie and her family, his brothers Alfred and Eliezer, his parents Kaufmann (Yekutiel) and Theresa are his closest relatives for whom he signed affidavits of support. But Irving was unable to bring Selma out.
The immigration laws of the United States were very strict about not allowing people with illnesses into the country. Knowing this, the family made financial arrangements with the mayor of Vacha to support Selma in the hospital indefinitely. What we know about Selma’s end can only be surmised by reading history books and accounts of the euthanasia programs the Nazis devised to rid their country of the “weak and powerless.”
Ken discovered his aunt Selma’s existence only after his parents had died. A family tree (stammbaum) revealed her named and surprised the younger family members. Who was Selma? No one wanted to talk; the sorrow or the shame may have been too great. More recently, her two surviving brothers shared their painful memories.
In 1986, Ken decided to honor Selma by naming his daughter after her. Today, Rebecca Selma Schoen is a living memorial to her great aunt. Although very little is known about Selma Schoen of Vacha, Germany, she is respectfully remembered. During his trip to Vacha in 2008, Ken and his son honored Selma in the Jewish cemetery in town.
~ From the Hatikvah Holocaust Center’s memorial book
A chilling letter written by the mayor of Vacha in 1938, addressed to the Schoen family as they prepared to leave the country: “I hereby confirm the agreement reached today that your daughter Selma must be buried in a Jewish cemetery in case of death.” Selma was never given a burial, nor was her death memorialized until Ken’s 2008 journey to Vacha.
Irving would marry Betty Sternberg in the US circa 1938. He started the Enterprise Coffee Company circa 1940. The company would be shut down during the Second World War due to the US coffee quota established in 1942. The company would resume business around 1947. After losing their first child in childbirth, Irving and Betty would have two children together: Carol Eva (Hanna) and Ken (Yekutiel).
Above is the Schoen-Katzenstein family, in America.
Back row: Gerry Katzenstein, Julius Katzenstein, Sophie Katzenstein (formerly Sophie Schoen), Irving & Betty Schoen (Ken’s parents), Alfred Schoen, Eliezer Schoen
Front row: Therese Schoen, Rena Katzenstein, and Kaufmann Schoen